At the summit of national power, politicians and bureaucrats are terrified at the idea of endorsing the religious views of the majority of Americans. Our First Amendment forbids the establishment of a state religion, but many of our governing elites are taking it a step further, outlawing its very existence from the public conversation.
Congress can turn this into an unintentional comedy of manners. On December 11, the House considered a rather meaningless resolution "recognizing the importance of Christmas" - and nine members of the House voted "nay." The roll call of Grinches are, surprise, largely from blue states: Gary Ackerman and Yvette Clarke of New York were on the list, as were California's Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, and Lynn Woolsey. The Politico newspaper applauded with "God bless them!"
This goofiness surprised Iowa Congressman Steve King, who merely thought it would be consistent with similar resolutions passed in the House this year for the holy days of minority religions. The resolution noting the Muslim holiday of Ramadan passed 376 to 0, and the resolution for the Hindi holiday of Diwali passed 358 to 0. (There were 42 House members who voted "present" on the Ramadan resolution, and eight who voted "present" for Diwali. In addition to the Grinchy Nine, another ten House members voted "present" on the Christmas resolution.)
I thought of this odd situation when presented with a beautiful holiday gift: a DVD of "The Birth of Christ," a contemporary Christmas cantata composed by the Seattle-area composer Andrew T. Miller. For his musical retelling of the Gospel of Luke's Nativity story, he had an idea: he wanted Protestant choirs in Dublin, Ireland to sing his piece from the same churches that Georg Friedrich Handel used to unveil his "Messiah" in 1742. He added a Catholic choir to symbolize a unity between Irish Catholics and Protestants, still a difficult proposition in that country. Miller said "I was determined to premiere this work abroad to underscore the universality of the Christmas story, and the power of music to overcome strife and conflict."
It premiered on the Seattle PBS station KBTC and quickly raised thousands of pledge dollars and hundreds of new station members. Comments were overwhelmingly positive. Station executives recommended to other PBS stations that it "would make a wonderful last minute addition to a Member's Choice Night or best-of line up."
But guess what? Most major PBS stations echo the sentiments of the Grinchy Nine. They have been wary to put on a show titled "The Birth of Christ." Now, these same PBS stations aren't scared to run "Frontline" documentaries spreading the Gospel-shredding theories of agnostic academics like John Dominic Crossan and Elaine Pagels who question the divinity of Jesus, but they're wary of appearing to give aid and comfort to a simple concert that might present a warm glow toward Christianity.
This is where PBS station managers look like the House members voting "No" to recognizing the importance of Christmas. To date only 48 of the more than 300 PBS stations have picked up the show. Most of the stations that have signed up to air the concert during the Christmas season are in smaller markets and in red states, from Wyoming to West Virginia. The biggest PBS markets, stations in Boston, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Washington, DC have resisted signing on at this writing.
Since their release on November 6, the CD soundtrack and DVD of this concert, narrated by Liam Neeson and performed by some of Ireland's best vocalists, have been a sales sensation. There is an irony here, too. The producer of the "Birth of Christ" CD and DVD is the Sony Corporation. Sony is the single most arrogant, deliberate supporter of offensive junk on television. Remember, it was Sony Pictures that chose to be the sole and official sponsor of the fourth-season premiere of FX's ultra-sleazy series "Nip/Tuck" last year.
But beggars can't be choosers. Sometimes you should simply choose the good works as they appear, and hail each gem as they surprisingly bubble up. The same is true of New Line Pictures, which put out "The Nativity Story" last December and the atheistic "Golden Compass" movie this December.
As more people learn about this "Birth of Christ" effort, they will wonder why on Earth a PBS station manager would pander to pledge-drive viewers every year with every kind of music from doo-wop to disco, but won't sign on to an inspirational concert that warms millions of those viewers' hearts, making them cry about the Christmas story.