December 27, 2004
Martin E. Marty
The text for our morning meditation is the Christmas Eve day edition of the Wall Street Journal, which is crowded with many subtly polemical, and some insightful, good cheer items. The lead-off is the annual reproduction of the late Vermont Royster's well-conceived editorial "In Hoc Anno Domini," a classic -- and who will argue with a classic? It does mix two kinds of "liberties," the Christ-truth and the civic, but so does everybody else. It is theologically accurate in mentioning Christ as "the Son of Man," a messianic title, but backs up a bit and says Jesus sent out the gospel of "the Kingdom of Man."
Next to it is Daniel Henninger's column celebrating America's generosity, its gift-giving spirit, which is indeed impressive, even as Henninger admits that "of course the material world is now very much a part of what gives in the U.S." We had noticed. The columnist gives his slap at Macy's and Target for being grinches and praises Wal-Mart for offering a $1 million match for gifts given at its stores. "God bless not-very-tiny Wal-Mart." Any of several multi-billionaire Walton women could clean their fingernails and from that glean and garner a million to spare. God bless 'em. Henninger swipes, as one must, at the Scrooges who give little or nothing. He celebrates the fact that 57 percent of American giving is through religious institutions which, he assumes, being non-governmental are hence not corruptible. Still, cheers.
James Q. Wilson's op-ed continues the griping about politically correct public school districts and the like that banish Christ, as in Christ+mass. Then, self-contradictorily, he notes that the decline of Christian participation and worship in Europe resulted, in no small part, because Christianity was privileged by governmental ties. All this while arguing that public governmental privileging here in America is good for faith and contributes to religious prosperity. Can one have it both ways? "Our Christmas buying habits are a sign, not of materialism, but ... " and there he quotes the Pope. How can one argue with that?
Katherine Kersten attacks "the kitschy sound of Christmas -- replacing traditional carols" in the world of "jittery merchants" and school principals. She thinks classic hymns are dying because "cultural traffic cops" deem them non-inclusive and too old-fashioned. Blame not them, but the generation of Christian leaders who themselves repudiate the classics for pop music in worship.
On the book review page, Stephen Prothero takes on Stanley Hauerwas's new book Cross-shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words, agreeing with the theologian-ethicist that "you cannot understand the birth of Jesus ... without wrestling with his death." Prothero has his own arguments with Hauerwas and praises this "notorious pontificator" for "pondering" at the foot of the cross. He does suggest that liberal and conservative critics alike will scorn Hauerwas's familiar ethical themes, such as "that authentic faith is hostile not only to capitalism and war but also to family values ... " Prothero thinks the book will frustrate many seekers but, to paraphrase Henninger, "God bless the not-very-tiny Journal" for giving the public some worthy ideas.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.