Taking a few days off. See you in a few days.
Come on conservatives, it’s OK to smile. 🙂
Saturday Night Live strikes again:
- Retailers have ruined Christmas by commercializing it.
- Christmas cards are a venerable tradition
- Clement Moore wrote the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”
- Christmas trees are traditional
- Santa was always fat and jolly.
See how Rick unpacks these points here.
This is a very funny collection of tweets about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, compliments of Ed Mazza at the Huffington Post.
Here is what you can expect this Christmas at Robert Jeffress‘s First Baptist Church in Dallas:
“A Night of Christmas” at First Baptist Dallas is on December 14, 15, & 16! Join us for an incredible theatrical performance with acrobats, aerialists, spectacular percussion performance, gospel presentation, and more! Get tickets now: https://t.co/PkDT8MUo7M pic.twitter.com/MQ27PSAf6f
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) November 13, 2018
Looks like the Little Drummer Boy’s Par-rum-pa-pum-pum has transformed into a “spectacular percussion performance.” Muscular Christianity at its best (worst?).
Sleep in heavenly peace….
At the State Department’s recent “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that there is a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.” This “dangerous movement,” Sessions added, “must be confronted and defeated.”
I am part of the camp that believes people with deeply-held religious beliefs on social issues should be free to uphold those beliefs in a pluralistic society. In other words, there are times when liberty of conscience in matters of religion should be protected despite the fact that others might see these beliefs as discriminatory. When it comes to living together with such deeply-held convictions, I hope for what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”
Having said that, I am not a fan of the way the Trump administration uses “religious liberty” to invoke fear. I wrote about this kind of fear-mongering in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Sessions’s use of words like “dangerous” and “undetected by many” and “confronted and defeated” wreaks of political scare tactics and culture-war rhetoric. I am surprised he did not roll out the phrase “deep state.”
Sessions claims that “ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit.” First, I don’t know of any contemporary cases, if any, in which government has threatened ministers from preaching from the Bible. Fear is often based on false information. Second, I suspect Sessions is conflating the preaching of “holy writ” from the pulpit with the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit. This is how many pro-Trump evangelicals understand “religious liberty.” This is why Sessions and Trump get so bent out of shape by the “Johnson Amendment.” (Frankly, I think Trump could care less about the Johnson Amendment, but if he can promise its repeal he can gain political points with the evangelicals in his base).
Sessions goes on. He talks about the ways the Pilgrims in Plymouth, the Catholics in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Scots-Presbyterians in the middle colonies (Sessions apparently does not realize that Pennsylvania is a middle colony and most Scots-Irish came to Penn’s colony), and Roger Williams in Rhode Island championed religious freedom. He adds: “Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against.” What Sessions fails to note is that the Pilgrims (and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay) did not provide this precious religious freedom to people who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did. He fails to note that Roger Williams founded Rhode Island because he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay for failing to conform to Puritan orthodoxy (among other things). He fails to note that Puritans executed Quakers in Boston Commons.
I could go on, but I don’t have the time or inclination right now to exegete Sessions’s entire speech. It is worth noting, however, that all of Sessions’s examples of religious liberty are Christian examples. There is no mention of religious liberty for Muslims, Jews, or other people of faith. Parts of Sessions’s address read like a Trump stump speech. He lauds Trump for making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again. Really? Is this what the Trump administration means when they say they are going to champion religious liberty? This sounds more like the kind of Christian civilization those “liberty-loving” Puritans and Pilgrims wanted to create back in 17th New England. (Ironically, these early American Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday).
OK, I am rambling. But if you want some context on the way Trump and his minions think about religious liberty, I encourage you to check out Jason Lupfer’s recent piece at Religion & Politics. It is worth your time.
This Advent season, on the recommendation of several The Way of Improvement Leads Home readers, I am reading Biblical scholar N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.
I don’t know Wright’s body of work very well, but I am sure that somewhere he has written about the incarnation. But in Surprise by Hope, the focus is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, even to the point of taking a few shots at the church for spending far too much time commemorating Christmas and not enough time celebrating Easter.
Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year–a move that completely reverses the New Testament emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can’t in fact sustain such a thing. We then keep Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday so thoroughly that we have hardly any energy left for Easter except for the first night and day. Easter, however, should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left. (p.23).
…we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins.
I think Wright may have overstated his case here about “taking Christmas away” because it is only referenced in two chapters in two Gospels. But I get his point.
In his piece at The Washington Post following Donald Trump’s Values Voter Summit announcement that “we will be saying Merry Christmas again,” philosopher James K.A. Smith reminds us what it really means to think politically about Christmas.
Here is a taste:
The biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ is drenched in political significance. His genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew makes Him royalty, the heir of King David. The titles Savior and Messiah, which we imagine are merely religious, carry political connotations of deliverance and liberation. When his mother hymns her Magnificat, she praises a Savior who “has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:51-52).
None of this was lost on Herod, ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great — Herod the infrastructure king, the tyrant who was the biggest, best, greatest ruler — knew that Christmas meant a rival was in town. When he caught wind that people were paying homage to a “king of the Jews,” he summoned priests and teachers for intel. They reminded him that the prophet Micah had promised that a ruler would emerge from Bethlehem. So Herod unleashed the heinous solution we know as the slaughter of the innocents, which was (he thought) a surefire way to eliminate any pretenders to his throne.
So yes, Christmas is political.
Read the rest here.
We are taking a few days off here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but before we do I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and thank you for a great year. It’s been a pleasure to continue delivering content at the “intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life.”
As many of you know, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is more than just a blog (or a book). It is a multi-faceted effort to bring history and historical thinking to the public. Here are some highlights from 2016:
- In January we launched The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. After sixteen episodes and two seasons we have established what appears to be a relatively strong listener base. Please, please, please consider partnering with us at our Patreon site. We need your help to keep the podcast going.
- We wrote many pieces, both here and elsewhere, on the 2016 presidential election. We published dozens and dozens of posts on the election here at the blog and another fifteen at other venues, including Religion News Service, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Christianity Today, the Washington Post, USA Today, Sojourners, Fox News, and History News Network.
- We offered extensive coverage, with our team of correspondents, of both the annual meeting of the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. (Stay tuned for our coverage of the AHA in Denver early next month. We can still use correspondents!)
- We produced twenty-six “Virtual Office Hours” videos. This year we focused on the question of “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” and on my Fall 2016 course on the American Revolution.
- We interviewed eighty-one authors this year as part of our “Author’s Corner” series.
- We added two more features to our “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” series.
- I hit the road eighteen times this year to promote our work, including a trip to Oxford University in January. I also appeared on eighteen radio shows (and C-SPAN!) to talk about everything from the Bible in America, religion and politics, and the role of history in public life.
- In July we spent a week in Princeton leading a seminar for history teachers on Colonial America. This Gilder-Lehrman summer seminar is always one of the highlights of the year.
- I was also pleased with the release of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. It appeared in April with Oxford University Press.
Some of you may notice that I often use the first-person plural pronoun “we” to refer to what happens here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. That is because I could not do all of this alone. So let me end this post by saying thanks to everyone that made it all happen this year: Joy Fea, Caroline Fea, Allyson Fea, John Fea Jr., Joan Fea, Kim Phipps, Randy Basinger, Pete Powers, Christine Walter, Barb and Dwayne Dobschuetz, Abby Blakeney, Katy Kaslow, Nate McAlister, Abigail Koontz, Devon Hearn, Drew Dyrli Hermeling, Mikaela Mummert, everyone who wrote for us this year as correspondents and guest posters, our podcast guests, and everyone who invited me to come and speak at their schools, colleges, universities, churches, museums, historical sites, and other organizations.
See you in 2017 (if not sooner!).
“Christmas Morning–Not a Gun is heard–Not a Shout–No company or Cabal assembled–To Day is like other Days every Way calm & temperate–people go about their daily Business with the same Readiness, & apply themselves to it with the same Industry, as the used.–“
“Preached to day at New England-Town (Fairfield, NJ) on Matt. 4:23: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach,’ & c. I used my Notes some, but was none afraid. My Brother Josiah is now very ill in a Pleurisy.”
–Diary of Philip Vickers Fithian, December 25, 1774 (Greenwich, Cumberland County, NJ) in Journal of Philip Vickers Fithian, ed. Robert Greenlaugh Albion and Leonidas Dodson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1934), 248.
“I was waked this morning by Guns fired all round the House. The morning is stormy, the wind at South East rains hard. Nelson the Boy who makes my Fire, blacks my shoes, does errands & c. was early in my Room, drest only in his shirt and Breeches! He made me a vast fire, blacked my Shoes, set my Room in order, and wish’d me a joyful Christmas, for which I gave him half a Bit.–Soon after he left the Room, and before I Drest, the Fellow who makes the Fire in our School Room, drest very neatly in green, but almost drunk, entered my chamber with three or four profound Bows, & made me the same salutation; I gave him a Bit, and dismissed him as soon as possible.–Soon after my Cloths and Linen were sent in with a message for a Christmas Box, as they call it; I sent the poor Slave a Bit, & my thanks.–I was obliged for want of small change, to put off for some days the Barber who shaves & dresses me.–I gave Tom the Coachman, who Doctors my Horse, for his care two Bits, & am to give more when the Horse is well.–I gave to Dennis the Boy who waits at Table half a Bit.–So that the sum of my Donations to the Servants, for this Christmas appears to be five Bits, a Bit is a pisterene bisected; or an English sixpence, & passes here for seven pence Halfpenny, the whole is 3s and 1 1/2 d.
At Breakfast, when Mr. Carter entered the Room, he gave us the compliments of the Season. He told me, very civily, that as my Horse was Lame, his own riding Horse is at my Service to ride when & where I Choose.
“There was many guns fired last eve and I heard of some frolicks. To day we had a Sermon upon the 4th Chapter of galations., the 4th and 5th Verses. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son made of a woman & c. We dressed flax.”
-Diary of Philip Vickers Fithian, Thursday, December 25, 1766 (Greenwich, NJ) cited in F. Alan Palmer, The Beloved Cohansie of Philip Vickers Fithian (Greenwich, NJ: Cumberland County Historical Society, n.d.), 58.
I heard Ellen Brown talking about the history of holiday cards the other day on The Takeaway and thought it would make for a nice Christmas Eve post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
Here is a taste of Brown’s piece at JSTOR Daily:
Cultures have enjoyed sharing written New Year’s greetings for centuries. The English-speaking ritual of sending holiday cards, however, dates back only to the middle of the 19th. Some sources say it originated with Thomas Shorrock, of Leith, Scotland, who, in the 1840s, produced cards showing a jolly face with the caption “A Gude Year to Ye.”
Credit more commonly goes to Sir Henry Cole, who would later become the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. He commissioned an artist to create 1,000 engraved holiday cards in 1843. Cole’s greeting featured a prosperous-looking family toasting the holidays, flanked on both sides by images of kindly souls engaging in acts of charity. A caption along the bottom read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
With advances in printing technology and mail service, the practice of sending commercially produced Christmas cards caught on. By the 1880s, it was an integral part of the holiday season for many American families as well. In “The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship,” Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo explains that the practice thrived amid postbellum industrialization and the demise of the family farm. As relatives spread out geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.
As the Christmas card habit took hold, manufacturers rushed to meet demand. Best known was German emigrant Louis Prang, who produced attractive and reasonably priced chromolithographed cards for the mass market. He is often referred to as the father of the American Christmas card.
Read the entire piece here. You can listen to the interview below. Allen comes in around the 24:00 mark.
Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, Pennsylvania suggests some stocking stuffers for the history buff in your family:
Springteen, the E-Street Band, the cast of SNL, and let’s not forget Paul McCartney:
Andrew Henry, at Religion for Breakfast, explains: