Paul Craig Roberts - December 19, 2001
Christmas is a time of traditions. If you have found time
in the rush before Christmas to decorate a tree, you are
sharing in a relatively new tradition. Although the
Christmas tree has ancient roots, at the beginning of the 20th
century only one in five American families put up a tree. It
was 1920 before the Christmas tree became the hallmark of
the season. Calvin Coolidge was the first president to light
a national Christmas tree on the White House lawn.
Gifts are another shared custom. This tradition comes from
the wise men, or three kings, who brought gifts to baby Jesus.
When I was a kid, gifts were more modest than they are now,
but even then people were complaining about the
commercialization of Christmas. We have grown accustomed
to the commercialization. Christmas sales are the backbone
of many businesses. Gift-giving causes us to remember
others and to take time from our harried lives to give them
The decorations and gifts of Christmas are one of our
connections to a Christian culture that has held Western
civilization together for 2,000 years.
In our culture, the individual counts. This permits an
individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a
stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take
This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western
civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in
rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical
government by the rule of law and free speech. These
achievements are the products of centuries of struggle,
but they all flow from the teaching that God so values
the individual's soul that he sent his son to die so we
might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity
gave him a voice.
Formerly only those with power had a voice. But in Western
civilization, people with integrity have a voice. So do people
with a sense of justice, of honor, of duty, of fair play.
Reformers can reform, investors can invest, and
entrepreneurs can create commercial enterprises, new
products and new occupations.
The result was a land of opportunity. The United States
attracted immigrants who shared our values and reflected
them in their own lives. Our culture was absorbed by a
diverse people who became one.
In recent decades, we have begun losing sight of the
historic achievement that empowered the individual. The
religious, legal and political roots of this great
achievement are no longer reverently taught in high
schools, colleges and universities. The voices that reach
us through the millennia and connect us to our culture
are being silenced by "political correctness." Prayer
has been driven from schools and religious symbols from
public life. Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, is
too fearful of offending diversity to display the crucifix.
There is plenty of room for cultural diversity in the
world, but not within a single country. A Tower of Babel
has no culture. A person cannot be a Christian one day,
a pagan the next and a Muslim the day after. A hodgepodge
of cultural and religious values provides no basis for
law -- except the raw power of the pre-Christian past.
All Americans have a huge stake in Christianity. Whether
or not we are individually believers in Christ, we are
beneficiaries of the moral doctrine that has curbed power
and protected the weak. Power is the horse ridden by evil.
In the 20th century, the horse was ridden hard. One
hundred million people were exterminated by National
Socialists in Germany, and by Soviet and Chinese
communists simply because they were members of a race
or class that had been demonized by intellectuals and
Power that is secularized and cut free of civilizing
traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples.
V.I. Lenin made this clear when he defined the meaning of
his dictatorship as "unlimited power, resting directly
on force, not limited by anything."
Christianity's emphasis on the worth of the individual
makes such power as Lenin claimed unthinkable. Be we
religious or be we not, our celebration of Christ's
birthday celebrates a religion that made us masters
of our souls and of our political life on Earth. Such a
religion as this is worth holding on to even by atheists.
©2001 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
By Cal Thomas
9/11 has changed everything, including the way we look at
this Christmas. The daily portraits in The New York Times of
lives lost in the attacks reads like a yearbook of sadness
and unrealized hopes.
The shopping malls, our temples to secular society and
altars of conspicuous consumption, are less populated
and less prosperous now, while many churches are full of
people and richer in hope. Some radio stations broadcast
traffic reports on Sunday morning because more cars are
on the road, destined for places where their passengers
hope to discover ultimate reality.
Before 9/11 is consigned to the history books and, like
Pearl Harbor, the generation that lived (and died) through
it has to explain to succeeding generations what it was like
to "be there," perhaps we should consider what
differences the terrorist attacks have made.
Chief among them must surely be that things which
seemed important pre-9/11 are less important, or even
trivial now. One definition of the word trivial offers
perspective: "of little worth or importance."
Oh, the things we consider important, especially in
Washington, D.C. and as portrayed in films and on TV:
fame, wealth, power (or the presumption of power; the two
are not synonymous), position, pleasure, things. Post 9/11,
when none of us knows - or can ever know - what today will
bring, much less tomorrow, all these pursuits seem so
trivial, meaningless and a chasing after wind.
No relative of anyone who died in the 9/11 attacks is
looking at life today the way he or she did before. Who
wouldn't give everything they have to buy back the life of a
loved one who was lost?
None of the firefighters, police officers and others who
escaped with their lives from the World Trade Center or
the Pentagon is expressing ingratitude this Christmas.
An acquaintance writes to tell of nearly losing her baby
daughter to a cancerous tumor. Surgery was successful
but she and her husband will view this Christmas and
every future Christmas in a different way. A man tells a
Washington, D.C. radio talk show host that he called the
airlines to get lists of laid-off workers at area airports.
He says he's giving them the money he would have spent on
presents. His family approves. 9/11 has changed him.
Great social transformations occur when large numbers of
people individually decide to live differently. It's too
early to tell whether people will commit to their
families in ways beyond making money and buying stuff,
but 9/11 gives us permission to make, or renew such
commitments without societal disapproval.
One newspaper has reported it's now "in" to be square.
Those who always thought square was "in" didn't chase
the trends and simply stayed in one spot, waiting for
culture to come to its senses and return to the place
they never left.
In the film "It's A Wonderful Life," the angel tells
George Bailey he's been given a gift - the chance to see
what the world would have been like had he not lived.
What has 9/11 given us this Christmas? In both a secular
and religious sense, it has shown us that properly used,
power is important if our way of life is to be preserved.
It's also shown us that evil exists and must be opposed.
To some, that's obvious. To many others, it's a revelation.
9/11 has given us something else. It's reminded us that
the best things are small things - a touch, a kind word,
an assurance of love, an act of forgiveness, a kindness
to a stranger, a trip to visit a someone in a prison or
hospital, a note to a lonely person, a visit to a baby
in a manger.
That baby is a rebuke to the way humans think. His
contemporaries wanted a political deliverer. They were
offered deliverance from a greater oppressor.
They got nothing that they wanted --
but everything that they needed.
Cultures, civilizations, leaders and threats change,
but the message of Christmas doesn't. It isn't about
reindeer, a fat man and material things. It's about a
miracle baby and eternal things.
As the Christmas card says, "Wise Men Still Seek Him."
Post 9/11, more apparently are seeking and that is a
valuable gift to all who do.
©2001 Tribune Media Services
by Suzanne Fields
It's the most serious of seasons. It's the most
unserious of seasons. For all of our political
correctness, we're still looking for a grand era of
kindness, tolerance and brotherhood. (Uh, better
make that siblinghood.)
Officials in Ramsey County, Minn., banned "red
poinsettias" from display at the capitol in St. Paul because
they're symbolic of something, presumably religious.
Exactly what the symbolism is is not quite clear, since the
plant was named for James R. Poinsett, an early U.S.
minister to Mexico, who discovered it there in 1828. As
Freud might have said, sometimes a red poinsettia is just
a red poinsettia.
When the town council of Kensington, Md., an affluent
suburb of the nation's capital, banned Santa Claus at the
community tree-lighting ceremony - to enforce patriotic
solemnity, the officials solemnly said - the citizens
rebelled, and a gang of Santas rode in on a red fire
engine. That jingled their bells.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, along with
other homosexual groups, are stuffing the Salvation Army's
red kettles with phony $5 bills (passing counterfeit?)
because the Salvation Army, an evangelical Christian
organization, opposes as a matter of religious doctrine the
"normalization of homosexual relationships." The
characters in Damon Runyon's "Guys and Dolls," played in
the movies by Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, took bets
on whether Jean Simmons, a lovely Salvation Army lassie,
was seducible, and would never understand. (She wasn't.)
The children in Washington public schools no longer make
Christmas or Hanukkah presents (although this year
celebrating Ramadan is probably OK). They can't
decorate trees or light menorahs. Snowflakes are OK,
though a few flakes of my acquaintance should sue,
Now that Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey is being sued for
animal abuse for prodding an elephant with a hooked stick
into the circus parade, the animal rights flakes will next
demand that Santa motorize his sleigh and put Donder,
Dancer, Prancer & Co. out to the great reindeer pasture in
the sky. Then the enviro-geeks can decry sky pollution at
the North Pole.
The National Labor Relations Board should investigate
whether his elves have been denied a union. The fat
people lobby could claim discrimination by building codes,
which should be changed to accommodate fatter Santas.
The feminists should demand affirmative action for Mrs.
Clauses (fat or not), and it's an outrage that we don't
have multicultural translators for letters received at
the North Pole. (Everybody knows that Santa, bigot
that he is, speaks only English.)
Well, I exaggerate, but not by much. The holiday
spirit ain't what it used to be.
One of my fondest memories at John Greenleaf Whittier
Elementary School in Washington was the year I was
assigned to be one of the three kings in the Christmas
pageant. It was no secret that I was one of a tiny
number of Jews, and was thought, inaccurately, to be
rich, "like most Jews." (My father didn't even own a
department store.) When I was asked to carry my very
own jewelry box, overflowing with imitation diamonds
and rubies, I was flattered. Today the American Civil
Liberties Union would lean on my mother to sue.
Hiding differences, it seems to me, hardly prepares
anyone for the real world. Better the example at Siena
Heights University in Adrian, Mich., in a course called
"Animated Philosophy and Religion," which highlights the
wit and wisdom of the "The Simpsons," the animated
television cartoon. This two-credit course might not
really belong in the philosophy department, but it
could sharpen the ability to understand the humor and
biases in the popular culture. Writers for Homer
Simpson have a sharp eye for hypocrisies.
Homer goes to church where he goes to sleep, and only
prays out of desperation (unlike most people we know):
"God, if you really are God, you'll get me tickets to
that game." Such lines are unseriously serious. When a
pious character shows himself to be overly righteous,
the exasperated parson asks him: "Have you thought of
one of the other major religions? They're all pretty
much the same."
One quirky character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, is a
vegetarian who sells spoiled meat at his Kwik-E-Mart
while trying to remain a good Hindu (speaking of adapting
to American mores). Apu is urged by another character,
a mobster, to pretend to have been born in America,
subtly mocking multiculturalism and its antagonists.
"Remember you were born in Green Bay, Wis. Your parents
were Herb and Judy Nahasapeemapetilon."
What "The Simpsons" acknowledges is that religious and
ethnic differences are well integrated into American
life. We ought to delight in difference rather than
dictate sameness, even, maybe especially, in our public
institutions. Then we could lighten up and enjoy the
poinsettia, red or not.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
©2001 Tribune Media Services
by Emmett Tyrrell
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Back in the days of the Cold
War, when low-lying anxiety about the world's future
quivered through this comfortable country, I used to
write a special Christmas column.
Perhaps it was the spirit of the Grinch that got hold of me,
but I always looked beyond our shores to those suffering under
communism and wrote a column called "Christmas in
(blank)." Putting a little damper on my fellow Washingtonians'
seasonal good cheer, I would fill in the blank each year with
the geographical name of a place where suffering really was
taking place thanks to the bully boys. One year it was
Christmas "in Warsaw," another "in Cambodia," another "in
Cuba." During the Cold War, every year there was suffering
and sadness for a foreign people.
This year I could write about the suffering in Afghanistan.
For the bully boys of Islamic fundamentalism certainly have
brought suffering there. But our troops have moved in to put
an end to that suffering just as eventually American resolve
against communism put an end to much of the suffering of
communism's victims. Admittedly, the communists still
impose misery on Cuba, and, for that matter, that other
recipient of the anti-anti-communists' ignorant meddling,
Vietnam. Yet American resolve, aided by the resolve of our
British friends, has brought hope to the Afghans. This
Christmas, in scanning the world for a site where innocents
have suffered at the hands of the bully boys, I might settle
on "Christmas in America."
Though "'tis the season to be jolly," America is still
touched by sadness for the people we lost on Sept. 11.
We grieve also for the families and friends of those lost
Americans. Moreover, I should think, we are saddened that
three very great American buildings were either totally
destroyed or badly damaged by the demented bullies who
America remains prosperous and powerful. In fact, precisely
how powerful can be judged by those with a sense of history.
In the 19th century, the world's most powerful empire could
not subdue Afghanistan. The British army suffered grievous
defeat in its Afghan wars, and that mighty army to
Afghanistan's north, the Czar's, fared no better. America
conquered the Taliban in less than three months, and any
other nation that would be foolish enough to take us on
would do not much better.
Still, an inescapable fact of this Christmas season is that
Americans are saddened. The media echo with the pained
sentiments of ordinary Americans expressing grief and of
American leaders grieving at memorials. Just the other day,
in a ceremony beginning at 8:46 a.m. and synchronized with
ceremonies around the world commemorating the Sept. 11
attacks, President George W. Bush reminded the world that
we shall never forget "the cruelty of the murderers and the
pain and anguish of the murdered." In his newfound
eloquence, he observed that "every one of the innocents
who died on Sept. 11 was the most important person on
Earth to somebody," and,
"Every death extinguished a world."
One of the season's mysteries for me is not that Bush has
performed so magnificently from the White House. He was
obviously a better man than his opponents made him out
to be. His fine record as governor of a huge state had
made that clear. The mystery for me is that he has almost
totally ceased to mangle the English language. His
speeches are eloquent, but so are his extemporizations.
How do we explain such a transformation? The poet
Goldsmith in "The Deserted Village" speaks of "The silent
manliness of grief." Joseph Addison in "The Spectator"
in 1712 writes that "Grief has a natural eloquence
belonging to it, and breaks out in more moving sentiments
than can be supplied by the finest imagination."
This nation at Christmastime has been brought together
and ennobled by its grief. When America grieves, however,
others best not think us despondent. The president has
made clear our intentions. When the vibrancy and
intellect of my friend, the commentator Barbara Olson,
was extinguished forever in American Airlines Flight 77,
grief bore in on all her friends, but on her husband
The other day at a commemoration at the Justice
Department, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson
expressed some of the sentiments that tinge this season
in sadness. "We will never forget our loved ones who
died or who were wounded on Sept. 11," he said.
Then he added: "I say this for every American --
we will fight this evil as long and as patiently as
it takes. We will prevail. We will comfort and care
for those who have suffered. We will not forget."
America's grief ought not to give comfort to those
who caused it. Rather, America's grief ought to give
them pause to reflect on their future. They who have
been so eager to greet Allah in Heaven may soon
discover that their everlasting host is not Allah, but
the smiling innkeeper at Hell.
©2001 Creators Syndicate, Inc.