It is the unilluminated ignorance of those who seek and find offense, and retaliate against the Warriors for Christmas, rarely the content of that retaliation, that indicts the latter as bad missionaries, “blind mouths” of an old type.
They forget and betray their self-assigned objectives in their pre-emptive hostility, like many other would-be “Tyrants of the Kingdom of Heaven,”1, but to say so says nothing for their opponents. Among the latter, Dan Savage dependably offers an exaggeratedly foul and willfully uncomprehending version of self-righteousness. In his review of Sarah Palin’s Christmas book, the result is, predictably, a descent into inane counter-inanity.
In a culminating passage, Savage quotes Palin’s criticism of “secular” holidays. Writes Palin (or her ghost-writer):
The other vision is a secular winter festival, which launches on Black Friday and ends sometime after Kwanzaa. People who hold Christmas in contempt believe the holiday can be ‘saved’ from its religious heritage. The secular vision wants the ‘peace’ and the ‘goodwill toward men’ without the miracle of the Virgin Birth—forgetting, of course, that there is no ultimate peace apart from Christ, and it is Christ who empowers every act of ‘goodwill toward men’ in our otherwise fallen hearts.
After informing us that he “just threw Sarah Palin’s book across the room” – just after writing the above sentences down, we must presume – Savage proceeds to two arguments.
First, he claims that neither he nor his friends have any “contempt” for Christmas. He even has “a crèche for the baby Jesus,” though he also has “strings of lights for the Roman god Saturn.” He asserts that he and his friends “honor Christmas’s religious heritage—[both] the Christian and non-Christian bits.” In his second argument he demonstrates that honor, for him, does not include much apparent interest in understanding what he is honoring – inevitably raising questions about the value or meaning of the gesture. He interprets Palin’s statements about “ultimate peace” and “empower[ment]” of “every act of ‘goodwill toward men’ in our otherwise fallen hearts” as follows:
You read it here first: No Jew—or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or atheist—ever performed a kind, loving, or selfless act. Or if a Jew ever did such a thing, that Jew was “empowered” to do so by Christ. Unwittingly inspired. And no human being ever performed a kind, loving, or selfless act before Christ was born.
The two-sided spectacle, taken in its entirety, is of the exclusionary expression by Palin of an all-inclusive belief, and its reception by Savage according to the expression, in other words the pre-emptive rejection of a never-comprehended belief prompted by ardent or possibly distorted testimony offered on its behalf: “The violence of [the] claim takes revenge upon it.” Yet Savage displays and encourages no interest in getting beyond the mode of expression to that which might be worthy of expression. He happily plays along, one blind mouth to another.
I suspect that at some level Savage understands or understood why a Christian cannot help but see Jesus Christ in any “kind, loving, or selfless act,” and why his own statements on “no Jew… or Muslim or Hindu” and so on are so perfectly backward. He may have at some point come to consider a misapplication of the doctrine as effectively the same as the doctrine, or as a necessary result of its dissemination. An alternative is to take the religious or theological questions seriously, or at least to begin to approach them on their own level. To do so will, of course, tend to deprive the polemicist of an easy target.
In regard to Palin’s statement and Savage’s response, we can note that to believe what believing Christians believe, or what believing Christians of a certain type however well or not very well represented by Governor Palin believe, about “Jesus Christ” – in brief, that an historical individual was and, resurrected, can and must be said to be “Lord,” incarnation and being of the loving and incomparable god of the all – would mean to believe that he or He is or embodies or also embodies or embodied an infinite, time-transcendent, and all-encompassing being; or that, as some might say, all plural and inherently lesser beings are “in” him as he he is “in” all beings. Taking this religious discourse as a discourse – an act which always entails the risk of seeming to reduce belief to mere discourse – the proper name “Jesus Christ” becomes or is revealed to be a signifier for the essence of every “kind, loving, or selfless act,” of every possibility and actuality of the truly good, including all events, to use a word that implies the perspective of merely historical time, that occurred “before Christ was born.”
This truth would be a truth regardless of the nominal religion of the particular individual associated with the particular act. This being like no other named or also-named or necessarily named “Jesus Christ,” as universal essence of anything possibly and actually good, can be said to have been, if not the true actor in every such act, then at or comprising its origin, in or entirely its substance, and also at or comprising its destination. The Christian concept, or an aspect of it, is expressed in Catholic doctrine as the “corpus Christi mysticum,” the mystical body of Christ, whose purpose eventually includes us all, regardless of state or statement of belief, or national origin, or date of birth or death, or exposure to and acceptance of the Gospels.
The full implications of such belief will always escape those who propound its doctrine as well as those who reject it, and this universality of such escape or failure, this certainty of having been less or worse than one might have been (or so one must believe), is addressed as another such implication of such belief, centrally within the belief system itself – not merely by tenet and emblematic narrative moment, in prophecy and in realization of prophecy, but as observation of necessity – very much as ever and over again, from Palin to Savage to me to you, and in relation to its overcoming, the last announced to us as Xmas.
- “The zealot, the sectarian, in short all tyrants of the Kingdom of heaven, instead of accelerating the coming of the Kingdom, sooner delay it…” Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, tr. Barbara E Galli, p. 289 [↩]