Sunday, December 20, 2009

Taking Christmas Back From Christ

"It's the season for earthly pleasures, and embracing the spectacle is no sin."

US News and World Report recently published ARI's Onkar Ghates' op-ed, "Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays". He starts off by stating: "I'm an atheist, and I love Christmas. If you think that's a contradiction, think again." It's not a contradiction to anyone already familiar with Ayn Rand's defense of Christmas:

...The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .

One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle. -The Objectivist Calendar, Dec. 1976.

So, why would one be "terribly depressed" at such a spectacle? Because America's current corruption of capitalism is not Rand's "unknown ideal." I'd like to use Rand's own words to zoom in on WHY Christmas and commercialism have gotten a bad rap. In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart's comments on the problems at a fancy party mirror those of Christmas commercialism:

…do they think it's in reverse?…The lights and the flowers. Do they expect those things to make them romantic, not the other way around?...There wasn't a person there who enjoyed it…or who thought or felt anything at all. They moved about, and they said the same dull things they say anywhere. I suppose they thought the lights would make it brilliant.

Isn't that what we often see at Christmas? People running around, stressing about the details, the lights, the presents, the shopping, running up credit card bills on presents that they really can't afford, for which they'll pay with sleepless nights and bailouts for bank failures? They get so caught up in the concrete details, expecting those things to make them happy...but as Dagny observed, those things only have meaning if they are an outward manifestation of the joy within. It's no surprise, given the dominant anti-life morality, that people would feel betrayed when the happiness promised isn't delivered, and they blame all the commercial aspects and not their religious values. The depression and suicides associated with the holidays are not the result of Rand's commercial Christmas, but that of Gordon Gekko's consumer capitalism, where value is gained second-hand, or worse, a materialism divorced from values. It's the work of Immanuel Kant, with his sacrificial "call of duty." With that said, I'm going to conclude with some words from Onkar Ghate's op-ed:

...there is no commandment, "Thou shall buy a present for every one you know." This is the religious mentality of duty rearing its ugly head again. Do and buy only that which you can truly afford and enjoy; there are myriad ways to celebrate with loved ones without spending a cent.

Merry Christmas, Whoville.