Tinsel and Values

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Whereas there are approximately 300 million apple pie lovers in the United States, making apple pie the dessert of choice of 99 percent of the American population;

Whereas the holiday season (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) is a festive occasion in which pigging out is not only permissible but de rigueur, and no pie (with the possible exception of pumpkin or, in some regions, Key lime) is quite as “go to” for Americans, in their joyous surrender to weight gain at this time of year;

Whereas no pie says America like apple pie . . .

Sarcasm in progress! Stop me, please, before life imitates art, before Congress passes a resolution recognizing the importance of oxygen or, I dunno, leisure suits.

Stop me from making fun of Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa . . . merely making fun, I should say, rather than standing in appalled condemnation of his sneaky tunneling project, in the form of a feel-good resolution “recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith,” beneath the Big Wall, the constitutional one that separates church and state in this country.

Part of the original wording of King’s resolution, HR 847, which passed recently, 372-9, was appropriate for a Bible study group, not the corridors of Congress: “Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible . . .”

Perhaps the strange sound you hear, as you imagine members of Congress debating this matter (“The Son of God, you say?”), is the moaning of the Founding Fathers. Others apparently heard it, too. The wording was amended thus: “Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of Western civilization . . .”

The resolution goes on to commit the House of Representatives to recognizing “the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world” and five other bullet points of comparable give-me-a-break value, the significance of which Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle summed up to a local reporter: “It’s Christmas time. There are lots of Christians in the U.S. Hurray for Christmas. It’s ridiculous.”

McDermott, a Democrat, was one of only nine congressmen — all Democrats, of course — who stood their ground on the separation of church and state and, indeed, on actual Christian values. McDermott, who is in fact an Episcopalian, angrily accused King of diverting attention from issues that actually matter, such as funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, i.e., SCHIP, a bill that President Bush vetoed last week for the second time, and that King voted against.

If I thought about it, I could probably come up with a few other grimly cynical acts of legislation and policy committed by Bush and other Christian showboaters that expose the hollowness of their proclaimed values: waging an illegal war in Iraq that has claimed as many as a million lives; expanding the use of torture as a U.S. interrogation technique; refusing, as the world’s largest polluter, to adopt standards for limiting greenhouse-gas emissions that most other countries embrace. And so on.

But rather than participating in congressional action on such matters, King decided to worry, instead, about the assault on Christmas. Explaining the import of his resolution, he noted that, for the second year running, Americans have been afraid to greet one another with a hearty “Merry Christmas” because the ACLU has declared the phrase offensive. So we’re stuck with the generic, and wickedly secular, “happy holidays.”


As further proof that there’s “an anti-Christian bias” out there, King and various bloggers angrily cite two other resolutions passed by the 110th Congress, both, ahem, unanimously. In October, it honored, for some reason, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light. And in September, Congress conveyed “respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world” on the occasion of Ramadan, a resolution that actually had a valid point: to demonstrate solidarity with Muslims “during this time of conflict” and in light of post-9/11 bigotry and violence against Arab-Americans.

But in a nation as divided and combative as this one, any largess, however modest, must generate backlash. When people with wealth and power want to feel like the underdog, the castrated bete noire they sic on themselves is called political correctness. Well, fine, but say what you mean:

Whereas uninsured children should be encouraged to get their own health insurance; and whereas any war is justified as long as we start it; and whereas torture, if it saves the day in movie-thriller reality (rescuing Manhattan or whatever), then it’s forever OK for us to use as long as we call it something else; and whereas the world is going to hell in a handbasket anyway (so what’s wrong with global warming?) . . .

Happy holidays.