Column: Struggling with Christmas cynicism
Vail CO, Colorado
It’s easy to be a cynic at this time of year. A quick stroll through Wal-Mart is probably all one needs these days to feel the hard shell of misanthropy encircling the heart.
Inflatable creches with “Happy Birthday Jesus” blinking in the background can accomplish much in turning even the most amicable agnostic into a sneering skeptic.
I’m actually quite an admirer of Jesus but I bemoan what much of religion and society has turned him into. I suppose it was inevitable that we’d get a miracle story surrounding his birth but turning those few pleasurable biblical paragraphs into a multi-trillion dollar industry seems a bit over the top to me.
Still, I don’t want my creeping cynicism to prevent me from remaining objective about divine intervention. After all, the Texas Board of Education is still claiming legitimacy for the six days of creation and a friend of mine admits to praying each time she goes into the City Market parking lot for a spot close to the front doors and, she claims, it inevitably appears although she also admits it sometimes takes 10 or 15 minutes for the miracle to actually take place.
Someone once said that coincidences are miracles where God chooses to be anonymous but I have a hunch the Almighty might be missing entirely from some of the recent allegations of celestial interference. “It was meant to be” claimed a bride named Mary from Provo, Utah. She married Brian Christmas earlier this year. Think about it. Or take the inevitable reports this time of year that claim someone has discovered Jesus’ actual manger in the basement of a home in Toledo or a similarly stretched astronomical assertion that exactly pinpoints a certain star’s earth-illuminating rays two thousand and six December 25ths ago. Such contentions only provide additional fodder for our growing cynicism. Christmas letters are similarly suspect. We tread perilously close to wading into a sea of cynicism when we sit down to read our December mail.
I mean, after all, what are the odds that every one of your Christmas correspondents’ kids are graduating summa cum laude from Oxford or just returned from a three- year mission trip to the Amazon? (Disclosure: Even as I write this my wife is racing to the post office to mail the first of our thirty-three thousand yuletide epistles, each one claiming similar feats of progeny wonders.)
Christmas Eve holds its own temptations toward cynicism, particularly for the cleric. It is difficult at best for the pious pastor to look out upon the crowds that pack the sanctuary on this particular night and not wonder where all the folk were during the last fund drive. I especially remember the midnight service some years back when an inebriated part-time disciple loudly demanded change for the ten-spot he dropped into the offering plate.
Nevertheless, and despite anything Pat Robertson has to say at this time of year about Jesus coming back to damn to hell all homosexuals, Democrats and liberal-leaning Lutherans, I will continue to fight the good fight, trying desperately to resist temptation as I struggle against Christmas cynicism and so, in the best St. Perry Como tradition (Indeed, picture me, if you will, wearing a Santa hat and offering the grandest of smiles!), I wish you all the happiest of holidays.
I would like to add, however, for the sake of my own integrity and the future of all religions everywhere and with the foreknowledge that such action reveals my own moral and spiritual weakness, that I will be withholding my aspirations of goodwill from those folk who have, over the course of the past year, angrily flipped me off while driving speedily by … only to reveal a fish sticker swimming upon their back bumper.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.