The Right Coast

December 24, 2004
James Q. Wilson on Christmas and Christianity
By Mike Rappaport

An excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the attempt in recent years to secularize Christmas. James Q. Wilson writes that in Europe, churches had sought and attained monopoly power from the state, which they had used to oppress the people and which had made religion unpopular.

There has been in Europe very little that resembles the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Here, where the free exercise of religion is guaranteed and there is a ban on laws "respecting an establishment of religion," there has never been a national church. Without one, there is no enemy to defeat, and so there has never been a political reason to either rebel or become secular.

In this empty space of religious freedom aspiring ministers compete for adherents. The more skilled the ministers and the more demanding the benefit of becoming an adherent, the more people join them. As a result, mainline Protestant churches, lacking both evangelical zeal and a deeply meaningful religion, have lost the struggle for members to fundamentalist churches that recruit members and expect a lot of them.

This fact worries many people in the Blue States just as it pleases many in the Red ones. Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. In insisting that we describe our late December holiday as having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, in fighting to keep every nativity scene away from any government property, by arguing that our freedoms will be compromised by any reference to Christianity, they have succeeded only in intensifying religious beliefs among the great majority of our people who are angered by these assaults.
Wilson seems to be suggesting that the movement against Christmas in the public square ironically shares something with the excesses of intolerant religion. In both cases, these efforts are intolerant and lead to a backlash.