At first blush, the notion that contemporary American culture is somehow hostile to Christianity doesn’t pass the giggle test. The country still stands out from the rest of the developed world for its high religiosity – Nicholas Sarkozy never even thinks about closing a speech with “Que Dieu benisse la Republique Francaise!” – and Christianity remains the dominant faith. So it’s easy, from the outside, to dismiss the whole “war on Christmas/Godless public square” nonsense as either paranoia or deliberate manipulation. The Red team in the cutlure wars is certainly crazy enough and dishonest enough for either explanation to fit.
But James’s Easter post links to a survey showing that only 42 percent of Americans think of Easter as being primarily about the Resurrection, while only 2 percent “would describe Easter as the most important holiday of their faith.” The 18-to-25 crowd is least likely to think of Easter as the season of the Passion. Apparently the holiday is now mostly bunnies and eggs, just as Christmas is now measured in “shopping days.”
Seventy years ago, H.L. Mencken, an atheist writing for an audience of sophisticates, irreverently described the Abdication Crisis as “the greatest news story since the Resurrection.” It’s hard to imagine anyone making that quip today: not only would the Limbaughs be all over him like a cheap suit, but most of the audience simply wouldn’t get it. Today’s increasingly politicized and fundamentalist Christianity (for these purposes the Catholic/Protestant distinction is largely irrelevant) is increasingly assuming the characteristics of a cult, or a faction. (You can see the same sort of thing happening within Judaism, with more and more Black-Hattery on the one hand and more and more utter indifference on the other.)
So cut your cultural-conservative friends some slack. It’s tough being on the losing team.
As for me, I continue to think that Christianity and Judaism have within them great resources for good, and that the loss of those bits of cultural heritage – following the substantial loss of Classical culture – will constitute a major loss. But if Ratzinger and Peter Akinola and Tim LaHaye define Christianity, and Chabad and Dennis Prager define Judaism, then any tears I shed will be for the corruption of the traditions, not for the fact that the corrupt traditions exert less and less pull on our common life.
If only someone on the New Age side of things had Cranmer’s literary talent!