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The So-Called “War on Christmas”: Waged by Ignorant Armies on Both Sides

 by Dwayne Eutsey

There’s a controversial billboard in New Jersey featuring what appears to be a traditional nativity scene:

 A bright star shines in the night sky above the silhouettes of a man and a woman kneeling beside a manger in a humble barn, with three men riding on camels approaching.

 What’s causing the big controversy (if the strife-hungry news media can be believed, anyway) is not this rather conventional representation of the birth of Jesus; it’s  the eye-grabbing message above it that creating a stir:

 “You know it’s a MYTH! This season, celebrate REASON!”

 According to American Atheists, the group sponsoring the billboard, the message is targeting what they call “closet atheists” who are supposedly afraid to express their true beliefs, or nonbeliefs, during this time of year.

 However, as you can imagine, the billboard has also caught the attention of many Christian believers.

 The Catholic League, in fact, has sponsored a billboard across from the atheists’ sign featuring a large image of people dressed as the stereotypical Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus with “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.” written above it in large letters.

In the report I saw on TV Wednesday morning, the CBS correspondent, known for her quirky focus on offbeat stories, featured representatives from the two opposing sides. The atheist basically derided people of faith for believing in a God that everyone “knows” doesn’t exist, while the believer accused atheists of believing in nothing or in the “fairy tale” of evolution.

Blah blah blah humbug.

This “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” level of discourse illustrates for me what I find so frustrating about the alleged “War on Christmas” we hear about as the holiday season approaches, as well as the grudge-match these two groups have year-round.

What both sides don’t seem to get is that yes, Virginia, the Christmas story IS a myth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Before you think I’ve been sampling the spiked eggnog early, let me explain.

When we hear the word “myth,” it’s often used as the opposite of “fact.” You may have heard this stark dichotomy used in cheesy documentaries with titles like: “Bigfoot: Fact or Myth?”

However, myths are more accurately defined as metaphors that attempt to represent deep truths about human existence that are indeed real but are beyond our words to describe in terms of “fact”.

Famous mythologist Joseph Campbell once observed that a believer who takes his or her myths literally is like someone who goes to a restaurant, sees something they want to eat described on the menu, and proceeds to eat the menu. Conversely, I’d say that someone who rejects the menu for not being what it represents misses the real purpose of the menu.

In both cases, neither side is feeding the deeper hunger that humans have felt throughout the ages to name and attempt to understand the essential mystery of our very existence.

In a season of growing darkness when all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, could benefit from celebrating our mythic hope in an eternal, undying light, we get instead the empty clamor of what poet Matthew Arnold called:

…confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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