The Religious Right's Paranoia Over Obama: Christmas Edition

I remember when Barack Obama was running for office, and there were emails circulating "warning" people that he was, among other things, a Muslim and the Antichrist. Despite the fact that Obama is a practicing Christian, the fact that he doesn't go trumpeting it around – coupled with the fact that, unlike George W. Bush, he doesn't claim that God speaks to him to guide his public policy – makes him a target for paranoid religiots (I claim copyright on that word!) on the political right. Actually, what really makes him a target for these nutcases is simply that he's not a right-wing nutcase. He's a democrat, and according to the Almighty Doctrine of Neocons, democrat = Satan.

The old "No True Scotsman" fallacy can be seen in full effect, with innumerable religiots claiming that he's not a "real" Christian. What they mean, of course, is that of all the thousands (millions?) of religions in the world, and of all the major branches of Christianity and its innumerable denominations, their particular brand of Christianity is the one that is 100% true and infallible, and people like Barack Obama who profess to be Christians but don't have the same theological views are not real Christians.

The Infamous "Holiday Tree"

The religious right is in an uproar (aren't they always?) again, this time over emails that have been circulating claiming two things: one, that the Obamas, in an appeal to make Christmas more inclusive, won't be calling the White House Christmas tree what it actually is, but a "holiday tree". Worse, rumor has had it that the Obamas – gasp – are not going to display the manger scene in the East Wing, a long-held tradition in the White House.

I'm not sure which deserves more facepalms – the fact that America is not a theocracy, and what Obama chooses to do in his house with his family does not in any way infringe on the rights of anyone to practice their own religious beliefs freely – or the fact that this is all simply not true.

What really grinds my gears about all this is how easy it is to crack the truth. It took me literally about ten seconds to type "Obama nativity" into Google and find numerous news articles (not paranoid, unsourced emails or blogs) demonstrating this stuff as complete crap.


We can quickly dismiss the false claim about a "Holiday tree." No less an authority than the National Christmas Tree Association states that this year’s tree was chosen in August and is a Fraser fir grown by Eric and Gloria Sundback of Shepherdstown, W.Va. The news was duly reported by the Associated Press, which noted that other trees grown by the Sundbacks also had been displayed at the White House during the terms of presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The Christmas tree association states that "the Sundbacks will present the official White House Christmas Tree to First Lady Michelle Obama for the 2009 Christmas season."

And according to the New York Times, the nativity scene is, in fact, already on display.

Bigger issues

The larger concern is not whether those claims were true, but the Christian right's paranoid reaction to them. We liberals agree that America is a free country, and that each of us has the right to freely practice our own religion in our own homes and communities, so long as said religious beliefs do not infringe on the rights of others. But the religious right is not satisfied with that. No. They want Christian religious displays in places paid for by American tax dollars. They complain that kids aren't allowed to pray in school, when all that happened is that teachers, paid for by tax dollars, were not allowed to lead children in prayer. They want Christianity to have a special place front and center in American culture, all those millions of Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, Jews, Wiccans, Satanists, Mormons, Scientologists, and whatever else be damned.

We do not live in a Christian theocracy. We live in a secular nation filled with a diverse variety of religious faiths, including 30+ million Americans who profess no faith at all. In no whatsoever does it infringe upon anyone else's religious freedoms whether the President wants to have a nativity scene, a "holiday tree", a menorah, an inverted cross or a Slayer concert in his house. It is, however, worth asking why any religious tradition is being endorsed in a place paid for by American tax dollars – the East Wing in particular.

The xenophobia, bigotry and ignorance of the religious right know no bounds, but a fearful and reactionary mind is the hallmark of one that is indoctrinated by irrational dogma rather than reason. The Christian right seeks to demonize those who do not subscribe to their narrow world view; they scorn freethinkers and rail against others who threaten their dominion over cultural mindshare. What are they afraid of? Let the Obamas celebrate their religious beliefs however the like in the privacy of their own home. You can do the same. That's the freedom we are guaranteed by our constitution. Why make it any more complicated than that?

Further reading:

Christopher Hitchens: "It's Not the White Christmas House"


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