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“The Disagreement Was Between Christians”: What Did The Puritans Have Against Christmas?

Another Christmas, another string of outrages about the supposed “War on Christmas.”

In November there was the social media furor about Starbucks’ red cups, as Ed Simon relates here in RD.

Then this month, 36 Republican U.S. House members introduced a resolution “that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.”

And in the most recent CNN-sponsored debate among Republican presidential candidates, Wolf Blitzer’s closing Merry Christmas wish prompted two Fox News hosts to declare victory, claiming that their side had won the War on Christmas: http://youtu.be/hgUaXo9URCM

Whatever the recent skirmishes, this kind of controversy is not new. American disagreements about the celebration of Christmas reach back to the nation’s colonial beginnings—where ironically, it was a Christian group, Puritans, that offered the discouraging words.

When the Church of England broke away from Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, Calvinist reformers (those Puritans) felt that the new English church did not go far enough in removing Catholic elements. One practice the Puritans opposed was the annual December celebration of Christmas, which they saw as a Catholic innovation not justified by scripture. They claimed that the earliest Christians had no such observance (which was true, because it took more than two hundred years after Jesus’ lifetime before Christians began an annual observance about the nativity of the Christ child).

Puritans also disapproved of the wild partying that seemed widespread on Christmas Day in England. Thus, during the Puritan Revolution in England in the 1600s, Puritans banned special church services on December 25 and mandated that businesses remain open.

In the American colonies the result was more complicated. Puritan New England actively discouraged Christmas: for a few years the Massachusetts General Court threatened fines for anyone found feasting, or absent from work, on Christmas Day. The long term result was that English-speaking dissenters from the Church of England, in the colonial era and in the early years of the new nation, tended to either actively oppose or at least ignore Christmas—that included Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers.

However, other colonists came from parts of Europe not affected by Puritan opposition, and they brought their Christmas celebrations with them, unhindered: Germans, Scandinavians, and the Dutch who founded New Amsterdam (later New York). So Lutherans, Catholics, and the Dutch Reformed celebrated Christmas, along with the Church of England that continued restrained Christmas observances.

As a result of this mixture, in the American colonies and then in the new nation, there was no national consensus supporting Christmas, and the disagreement was between Christians.

American Christmas wouldn’t come roaring back, becoming nearly universal, until the mid-1800s, but it was not because of any campaign by churches. Most credit for the return and advance of Christmas goes to  major cultural influences like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the morphing of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus. Dickens’ famous story did not reflect the Christmas of his time but instead was an attempt to resurrect and reinvent Christmas, and it was incredibly successful. A Christmas Carol contains very little direct reference to religion and says nothing about a baby in a manger—but it does promote a spirit of giving and care for others that can be embraced by almost anyone.

The point here is that the Puritan suppression of Christmas created a vacuum, and when Christmas re-emerged and flourished in the 1800s its new form had less of a religious emphasis and was centered more on family and generosity. Christians could embrace those themes gladly, as very consistent with their values and beliefs, but others could also embrace that kind of a Christmas spirit without being especially religious.

In a sense, what emerged were two kinds of Christmas: a Christian Christmas and a cultural Christmas. In modern-day expression of Christianity, some are able to combine the two seamlessly, but others strongly emphasize one or the other. What has been called the secularization of Christmas might also be described as an emphasis on the cultural Christmas, with less interest in the religious version. The outworking of this two-fold Christmas continues to this day, and it is part of what enlivens the ‘War on Christmas’ debates.

But it was the Puritans who started it.

 

By: Bruce David Forbes, Religion Dispatches, December 22, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Christmas, Puritans, War on Christmas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great Establishment Hope”: Was Marco Rubio Overrated All Along?

That was a rough debate for Marco Rubio. He finally got that long-awaited challenge on his previous support for the “Gang of Eight” immigration-law overhaul, which he handled well enough. But any way you look at it, this puts him to the left of the field on the major animating issue of the campaign. He continually took fire from a surging Ted Cruz and a feisty Rand Paul. He spent much of the night on the defensive.

He acquitted himself adequately enough through all that, sure, but what do we really have to support the idea that this is the guy who can prevent Cruz or Donald Trump from capturing the GOP nod? To unite the factions of the party that recoil at the thought of nominating either Trump or Cruz, Rubio may well have needed a much bigger, better night than the one he had Tuesday.

And what Rubio really didn’t need was another establishmentarian like Chris Christie putting points up on the board. Part of the reason Cruz and Trump and Ben Carson have been so successful has been that the moderate vote is divided among so many candidates; the best thing that could’ve happened for the anti-insurgent effort is for a clear alternative to the Cruz/Trump emerging in the very near future, and that sure didn’t happen Tuesday night.

Let’s get the usual caveats out of the way: We’re still a month out from Iowa. Cruz and Trump might yet destroy each other, which would give Rubio more room to rise. Buoyed by a last-minute ad blitz, Jeb Bush could somehow, in theory, come back from the dead. Or maybe, just maybe, we just get to the convention without a clear winner, and the GOP’s muckety-mucks figure out a way to draft an attractively boring guy like Mitch Daniels to run against Hillary Clinton.

But the trend lines should be pretty obvious at this point: Cruz is surging at a good time, maybe a half-step too early; Trump has a legion of diehard fans and solid polling numbers; Rubio, meanwhile, is lagging behind. And if you don’t think Rubio can stop Cruz or Trump, the pickings get awfully slim.

Christie? The guy who spent the last debate at the kids’ table? Sure, I guess, if he can capture New Hampshire and roll into the Southern states with a big win under his belt. But let’s not forget that the Fort Lee traffic jam will continue to haunt him, that he’s squishy on plenty of big issues that are important to the base, that his embrace of President Obama is still ready-made footage for an attack ad, that he’s deeply unpopular in the state he governs and that his temperament hasn’t exactly endeared him to voters outside the Northeast.

But without Christie or Rubio, who is there? Poor old Jeb? Is anyone still holding out hope for a John Kasich surge?

Yes, Rubio has soaked up the Beltway buzz, but no one seems to know what primaries he could actually, you know, win. Right now Rubio is stuck in a distant third in Iowa, some 16 points or so behind Trump in New Hampshire, and fourth in South Carolina. Sure, you say, polls change. As the pollsters themselves remind us, those surveys we get so breathless over are just “snapshots in time.”

Yet with Jeb dead in the water, Kasich unable to gain traction and Christie struggling at the back of the pack, Rubio had what looked like a perfect political moment. Polls indicate he’s the most electable Republican in a race against Clinton, and pundits and the GOP establishment waited for his seemingly inevitable surge.

And waited. And waited.

Now, instead of talk of a boom for Rubio, we increasingly have Republicans wondering how the guy is getting so consistently out-hustled on the ground. “[U]nderneath the buzz, GOP activists in New Hampshire are grumbling that Rubio has fewer staff members and endorsements than most of his main rivals and has made fewer campaign appearances in the state, where voters are accustomed to face-to-face contact with presidential contenders,” The Boston Globe wrote this month. Iowa Republicans, meanwhile, are likewise annoyed that he doesn’t have much of a presence there.

Rubio’s apparent reluctance to really work the trail is all a bit mystifying. He says he’s missing Senate votes because he’s busy campaigning, and then people in New Hampshire and Iowa get miffed that he’s nowhere to be found. You don’t need a lot of money to barnstorm, which is why it’s usually the preferred tactic of candidates like Rubio, who has lagged behind Cruz and Bush in the fundraising race.

TV ads are expensive, so candidates light on cash, the thinking goes, need to really be working voters on the ground. Rubio’s staff, meanwhile, has indicated that they reach enough voters through Fox News and the debates to make up for whatever deficiencies on the trail. So far, his stable but not-great primary polling doesn’t provide a lot of evidence to back up that theory.

As he showed again Tuesday night, Rubio may be the most eloquent speaker in the party—especially on foreign policy. He’s also cut a number of good ads and has a rightly respected communications team. But there’s no reason to think he can continue to run his campaign out of a cable-news greenroom.

It’s possible Rubio still takes off, but the GOP has never nominated a guy who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire, and the latter, where he’s still struggling, is probably a must-win for him. It’s a weird year, sure, but why should we think, in a primary season that’s been dominated by talk of restricting immigration, the guy whose biggest legislative push was for a bipartisan “amnesty” bill will capture the nomination?

So what if the Great Establishment Hope, the insurgent-killer so many of us were waiting for, never emerges? It’s kind of hard to process the Republican nomination coming down to a choice between the Senate’s least-popular showboat and a New York billionaire who’s basically been a liberal all his life. Perhaps that’s why we keep coming back to Rubio and Jeb and maybe now Christie.

But right now it looks like only Cruz and Trump have clear-ish paths to the nomination. Cruz takes Iowa, Trump wins New Hampshire, and then those two duke it out for the Southern states.

Maybe it’s because the other guys just kept committing a series of own goals. Or maybe, when we look back at 2016, we will see it as the year when the GOP transformed into something more akin to the populist, nationalist, anti-immigrant parties we’re seeing in Europe – i.e. the kind of party for which Trump or Cruz would be the obvious standard bearer. Either way, this is starting to look like a two-way race between Trump and Cruz, which means Rubio and company are quickly running out of time to show they can win this thing.

 

By: Will Rahn, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

December 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Stretching Facts To Fit His Preconceptions”: Only Softballs? Transcript Shows Trump Lied About Democratic Debate

By now you may have noticed that Donald Trump exists in his very own reality — a pleasing world where the Mexicans will pay us to build a border wall, where industrial nations will capitulate instantly to his trade demands, and where global climate change is merely a myth “created by and for the Chinese.” Lunatic as The Donald’s confident assertions often may be, not all of them are as easily debunked as certain remarks he made at today’s press conference in New York to introduce his new book.

Discussing the presidential debates, Trump complained more than once about the free ride that Hillary Clinton supposedly enjoyed at the last Democratic debate, which was televised by CNN and moderated by Anderson Cooper. According to the real estate mogul, the questioning by Cooper and his colleagues “was very unfair because Hillary Clinton was given all softballs. They didn’t ask her one tough question! They didn’t talk about the foundation, they didn’t talk about the emails….She only got softballs, that’s all she got…Hillary had only softballs, all night long. ‘Here, Hillary, hit this one over the park.’”

That struck me as a pandering and distorted account of the debate — so I checked.

It is true that Cooper didn’t inquire about the Clinton Foundation, but the questions he did ask (reproduced below without Clinton’s answers, which can be found in the full transcript here) indicate just how far Trump is willing to stretch facts to fit his preconceptions. Not only did Cooper pose several tough questions to her, from the very beginning of the debate, but he seized every chance to pillory Hillary in framing questions he put to the other candidates. (And he did ask her — and the others — about the damned emails.)

Unlike the Republicans, she spared us the post-debate whining.

From the transcript:

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency. You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the “gold standard”. Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it. Will you say anything to get elected?

COOPER [following up]: Secretary Clinton, though, with all due respect, the question is really about political expediency. Just in July, New Hampshire, you told the crowd you’d, quote, “take a back seat to no one when it comes to progressive values.” Last month in Ohio, you said you plead guilty to, quote, “being kind of moderate and center.” Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, Russia, they’re challenging the U.S. in Syria. According to U.S. intelligence, they’ve lied about who they’re bombing. You spearheaded the reset with Russia. Did you underestimate the Russians, and as president, what would your response to Vladimir Putin be right now in Syria?

COOPER [to Martin O’Malley]: Secretary Clinton voted to authorize military force in Iraq, supported more troops in Afghanistan. As Secretary of State, she wanted to arm Syrian rebels and push for the bombing of Libya. Is she too quick to use military force?

COOPER [following up insistently]: Does she — does she want to use military force too rapidly?

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, on the campaign trail, Governor [sic] Webb has said that he would never have used military force in Libya and that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was inevitable. Should you have seen that attack coming?

COOPER [following up]: But American citizens did lose their lives in Benghazi.

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, you are going to be testifying before Congress next week about your e-mails. For the last eight months, you haven’t been able to put this issue behind you. You dismissed it; you joked about it; you called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more challenging crises as president?

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Clinton, with all due respect, it’s a little hard — I mean, isn’t it a little bit hard to call this just a partisan issue? There’s an FBI investigation, and President Obama himself just two days ago said this is a legitimate issue.

COOPER [after Bernie Sanders dismissed the email controversy]: It’s obviously very popular in this crowd, and it’s — hold on.

(APPLAUSE) I know that plays well in this room. But I got to be honest, Governor Chafee, for the record, on the campaign trail, you’ve said a different thing [challenging Clinton’s ethics]. You said this is a huge issue. Standing here in front of Secretary Clinton, are you willing to say that to her face?

COOPER: Governor O’Malley, you expressed concern on the campaign trail that the Democratic Party is, and I quote, “being defined by Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.”You heard her answer, do you still feel that way tonight?

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, how would you address this [income inequality] issue? In all candor, you and your husband are part of the one percent. How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, Governor O’Malley says the presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth between two royal families. This year has been the year of the outsider in politics, just ask Bernie Sanders. Why should Democrats embrace an insider like yourself?

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 3, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | Democratic Primary Debates, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Candidates Weren’t The Only Ones On Display In Tampa

The point of presidential candidate debates is to offer the public a chance to scrutinize and evaluate those seeking national office. Occasionally, though, voters get the chance to scrutinize and evaluate those in the audience, which is nearly as interesting.

The candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination are a pretty scary bunch — remember, one of them stands a reasonably good chance of becoming the leader of the free world in about 17 months — and the two-hour display on CNN last night was a depressing reminder of what’s become of the GOP in the 21st century. That said, maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to find the audiences for these debates even more disconcerting.

Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical scenario to Ron Paul, asking about a young man who makes a good living, but decides to forgo health insurance. Then, tragedy strikes and he needs care. Paul stuck to the libertarian line. “But congressman,” the moderator said, “are you saying that society should just let him die?”

And at that point, some in the audience shouted, “Yeah,” and applauded.

Earlier in the debate, Blitzer asked Rick Perry about his attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous,” Perry said. “I think that is a very clear statement of fact.”

The audience loved this, too.

What’s more, note that in last week’s debate, the mere observation that Perry has signed off on the executions of 234 people in Texas, more than any other governor in modern times, was enough to generate applause from a different GOP audience.

Taken together, over the last five days, we’ve learned that the way to impress Republican voters, at least the ones who show up for events like these, is to support letting the uninsured die, accusing the Fed of treason for trying to improve the economy, and executing lots of people.

There’s a deep strain of madness running through Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse. Those wondering why the GOP presidential field appears weak, insipid, and shallow need look no further than the voters they choose to pander to.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 13, 2011

September 13, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, Elections, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Tea Party, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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