Over the holidays, much ado was made of a “war on Christmas.” This was almost a nightly feature on the conservative media. A number of commentators claimed this to be a mere skirmish in a broader culture war between Judeo-Christian traditionalists and secular progressives. Many of them equated the Judeo-Christian worldview with traditional Americanism. Not limited to conservatives, progressives also are touting war language. To them, there are wars on women, on minorities, and on gays. The usual suspects aligned themselves with the usual factions that line their usual pockets.
To refer to differences of opinion over Christian symbols in the public arena as a “war” trivializes war’s carnage and disparages the ultimate sacrifice. Yesterday, I went into the kitchen and had a war on tuna fish, because my wife wanted it on crackers and I wanted whole wheat bread.
The English language has become so bastardized that hyperbole serves where adjectives once drew the attention of the reader. “My IPad is awesome!” Really? Does an IPad really inspire fear and wonder, a term once used for deity alone? Glitterati are notoriously effusive with praise. Fawning toadies praise sashaying luminaries with terms like, “great, breathtaking, and gorgeous.”
Whether inflationary expressions are feign attempts to recalibrate the emotionally dead who have been jaded by visual effects or simply slouching towards Gomorrah (Bork, 2003), the question begging to be asked is, “What do we do when we run out of superlatives?” Do we become like Dathon of the Tamarians, and create a language based upon nothing but stories and ancient lore (Roddenberry & Menosky, 1991)? In this episode “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” meant two on a journey have a common enemy. In this scenario, for someone to say they believe in God would be the same as saying, “When Picard met the Q Continuum.” If your preference is the Action Adventure genre, the person would say, “When Indiana Jones closed his eyes as the Nazis opened up the Ark of the Covenant” (Lucas, 1981).
Like the ancient Greeks, we would all sit around campfires and recite oral traditions like Homer’s Iliad, so we can communicate in a manner that we all understand. We can all be singing from the same sheet music.
Indeed, a common metanarrative that was enjoyed by generations of Americans is now missing. Although Christian theology profoundly disagrees with Derrida on many points regarding his view of différence, it agrees that an assumed narrative is part of trace knowledge and serves a valuable function (Derrida, 2003). The point of departure, however, is not that it is made up by the individual, but as Thomas Aquinas wrote:
… words are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things, it is evident that words relate to the meaning of things signified through the medium of the intellectual conception. It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it. (Aquinas, 2010, p. 58)
The angst behind the “culture war” language has a deeper significance. It is pining for a loss of common stories. It is the generation that grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, who heard the American stories told many times. The Pilgrims came to America seeking religious freedom. George Washington was a great statesman and general. God intervened to help us overcome British rule. The Founding Fathers were great men, highly intelligent, and wanted to ensure that all Americans be free from the tyranny of government. Many of these ideals were gauged by those found in the Bible, as the ethos of Americans still held it to be a true and accurate portrayal of history.
American iconoclasts have muddled the metanarrative. Sixties rockers who felt betrayed by the Vietnam War raged against the Establishment. The new avante garde was to pull down any previously held notion of truth, beauty, and goodness. Thus, George Washington was a slave-owning racists. The founding of America was setup to secure white and aristocratic privilege. The history of early America is one of racism, sexism, and homophobia. The pilgrims came to force Christendom upon the unwitting, through genocide if necessary.
Like a scratch on a cherried out ’33 Buick Sedan, crushed icons of the American ideal have marred the body politic beyond recognition. Without a widely held unifying metanarrative like that provided by the Bible for the first two-hundred years, factions have raced to fill the vacuum with endless historical revisions.
In summary, this satirist asserts that the war on Christmas is neither a war, nor a skirmish in a broader clash of cultures. It is the futile attempt to restore the American ideal without the unifying Judeo-Christian metanarrative. Without a massive shift in public opinion like that of the Great Awakening, it is a mere schoolyard spat about who gets to play with the soccer ball. Or to put it in a way that others can understand it, “It is like when Truman steps out of Seahaven and realizes his entire life has been a farce” (Niccol, 2001). Or better yet, “It is like when Neo takes the red pill from Morpheus” (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999).
Aquinas, T. (2010). Summa theologica. Complete & Unabridged. Coyote Canyon Press. Kindle Edition.
Bork, R. (2003). Slouching towards gomorrah: Modern liberalism and american decline. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Derrida, J. (1997). Of grammatology. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Lucas, G. (1981). Raiders of the lost ark. Paramount Pictures. Los Angeles, CA.
Machowski, A. Machowski, L. (March 31, 1999). The matrix. Warner Brothers Studio. Burbank, CA.
Niccol, A. (June 5, 1998). The Truman show. Universal Studios. Universal City, CA.
Roddenberry, G., Menosky, J. (September 28, 1991). Darmok. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 5, Episode 2. Paramount Pictures. Los Angeles, CA.