Today begins Advent.
Lent, the other significant Christian season, has passed into popular culture, mostly as “the season to give up chocolate and beer.” Advent has not, perhaps because it is overshadowed by the “let’s drive ourselves crazy by overspending getting presents for people that in some cases they don’t need and occasionally don’t even want” frenzy.
Sadly, in the past few years Advent has become the time for spurious claims of a faux “War on Christmas.” The flashpoint this year was the plain red Starbucks cups, which those who look for persecution in every nook and cranny proclaimed that Starbucks was anti-Christmas. After all, last year they had red birds and snowmen, and those are clearly symbols of Christmas, right?
Those who claim that Starbucks is throwing away Christmas should go into one of their stores sometime. There, in the merchandise section, or maybe near the registers, sit the Advent calendars.
Advent calendars count down to Christmas. To the arrival of the Christ. They are about as Christian as you can get: more than Santa or his reindeer, more than mistletoe. Certainly more than generic red birds or the snowflakes which graced the cups in the past.
Starbucks doesn’t dismiss Christmas, it embraces it with both mermaid arms. If anything, people of other faiths should be understandably unhappy with the chain, except that almost every other chain in America does likewise.*
The entire issue would be entirely too silly to spend breath over, except it obscures a very real problem with Christianity in America. Far from being persecuted, all too often American Christians — especially fundamentalists — insist on persecuting others. Matters which properly belong between a person (usually a woman) and God become the province of a stern and oppressive government. State legislatures felt no qualms about outlawing Shariah law and following that up with outlawing same-sex marriage because “it’s contrary to God’s law.” Abortion, even contraception, is forbidden because they decide what God requires for all of us. Contrary to what they claim, they are not interested in freedom of religion, if that means that other people get to express opinions or act in ways that do not comport with what they believe their stern and unforgiving God requires.**
Not all American Christians, of course. I know too many good and honorable Christians who nonetheless get tarred by the abusiveness that passes for religion in some quarters. Not all priests were pedophiles, either, not be a very long shot.
So, the squeaky fundamentalist wheel gets the media grease. Their insistence that they are persecuted would be laughable, except that there are Christians in this world who are killed or tortured for their faith. There are places where being found carrying a Bible can mean prison. And, lest we forget history, places where a few decades ago wearing a simple silver cross might get you hauled in by the KGB.
Next to that, complaining about a paper cup looks almost obscene.
*The Resident Shrink, who is Jewish, for the past two years has been waging a letter writing campaign to our neighborhood store to get them to hang Hanukkah decorations. It hasn’t worked, yet.
**They claim that theirs is a forgiving God. They don’t act like it.