Yearning for a Believers' Christmas

2020 taught me how much the world has changed.

Toward the end of 2020, a difficult year for many, I found myself feeling something I'd never felt before. I yearned for a believers' Christmas. By "believer" I mean anyone, including non-Christians, who recognizes the Christian roots of Christmas, who respects and participates in the impact of that tradition, who knows that there is more to this life than the material, and who feels part of a community formed by Christianity, and wants that community to continue. In 2020, I yearned for the public, shared, communal Christmas I remember from my childhood. That Christmas was significantly contributed to by Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Atheists, gays and straights. Now I know that that Christmas is gone and will most likely not return in my lifetime.

In this essay, I will talk about my own faith, not to proselytize anyone. Rather, I want to invite the reader to ponder the impact of our society's departure from its foundational narrative. Bart Ehrman is a former Christian. On Christmas Eve in 2017, Ehrman posted a powerful essay. He spoke of how, though an atheist, he still loves Christmas. "Christmas embodies for me most of the things in life that I think of as inherently good … The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance. He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption." What happens to a society, once founded on that belief, when it surrenders it?

For decades, activists like the Freedom From Religion Foundation have agitated aggressively against any mention of Christmas in the public square, insisting, for example, that Madison, Wisconsin city buses should not be allowed to display signs saying "Keep Christ in Christmas," and also insisting that public places should include displays mocking Christmas. In a 2019 poll, 65% of Americans identified as Christian. Though that 65% is still a majority, it is but one data point on a rapid and steep decline. In 1960, over 92% of Americans identified as Christian.

In spite of America's secularization, Christmas is still a very big deal. Christmas decorations start appearing in stores in August. As of November 6, 2020, eighty popular radio stations had already started playing Christmas carols. Christmas is a national holiday and the entire country shuts down. Why, then, am I yearning for anything?

Here's a couple of things I don't mean. I'm not a Puritan, a Quaker, a Jehovah's Witness, or a member of any of the other denominations who denounce Christmas. We Catholics practice a "smells, bells, and spells," full-body faith. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch Catholicism. The same is true for Christmas. The smell of fir trees and frankincense at midnight mass, the sound of a language reserved for the sacred in lyrics like "Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes, Venite, venite in Bethlehem," the glow of Christmas lights transforming the longest nights of the year into a hint of what the Bible means when it says that God is the "light of the world," the taste of sugar cookies, the confounding feel of shiny paper and scotch tape as you try to wrap a present perfectly: we believe that our bodies require full involvement in our spiritual lives.  

Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding, that is a traditional, ritualized, communal feast – something like Christmas! Jesus turned water into wine. Those six stone jars contained dozens of gallons – much more wine than a wedding party would be able to consume. Jesus provided not just wine, but good wine. "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now," the Bible quotes a guest as saying.

Scholars say that the six stone jars of water bespeak the wedding hosts' focus on ritual purity. Leviticus 11:33 places clay containers on a lower purity rung. Stone was closer than clay to ideal purity. The water that those six stone jars contained would be used for ritual washing purposes. It's hard not to interpret Jesus' first miracle as a big thumb's up to celebration, and a diminished emphasis on ritual purity.

Jesus and his family were observant participants in rituals, feasts, and holidays. Jesus' parents had him circumcised and offered a pair of birds in sacrifice. Jesus observed the Feast of Tabernacles, and Hanukah, and at least one commentator argues that Jesus observed Purim. Jesus' last meal before his crucifixion was a traditional, ritual meal, the Passover supper. I interpret all this to mean that Jesus was pro-holiday, pro-celebration, and so am I.

There's a popular misconception that Christmas is nothing more than a Pagan holiday with a thin veneer of Christianity. Jehovah's Witnesses say this today, and Puritans made this accusation in the past. Sadly, folks who oppose Christianity have picked up this "Christmas is Pagan" theme and run with it. Too many Atheists repeat this canard. Modern-day Pagans insist that Christians "stole" "their" holiday. The claim that Christmas is a Pagan holiday merely disguised as a Christian one is not true. See Atheist Tim O'Neill's December 23, 2020 "Pagan Christmas" blog debunking "pseudo historical nonsense about the pagan elements of Christmas." YouTube's "Inspiring Philosopher," Michael Jones, goes back to original sources, centuries-old, in this December 22, 2020, puncturing of the "Christmas is Pagan" canard.

So, no. I'm not anti-holiday or anti-Christmas. I just yearn for the believer's Christmas of my youth.

If you live alone in an apartment, one of your constant tasks is keeping the number of your possessions trimmed. You don't have a garage or storage space and you, you alone, are responsible for moving, upkeeping, and cleaning every single thing you own. I don't keep an artificial Christmas tree in storage, and my budget doesn't allow the annual cost of a fresh-cut tree. On Halloween, I make a jack-o-lantern; they are cheap and easy and don't take up much space. On Fourth of July, I break out my mini American flag. Rolled up, this flag doesn't take up much more storage space than a supersize magic marker. On Thanksgiving, I do cook stuffing on the stovetop. Christmas trees are just too hard.

The spectacular aspects of Christmas, the lights, the trees, the wrapped presents, the choirs singing: I absorb them by basking in the wider culture. I enjoy the landmarks of the season by walking through malls, attending office parties, hearing public concerts, watching Christmas movies, and driving around and looking at lights. So, yes, I am grateful when the Christmas I absorb through osmosis is one that contains hints of "the reason for the season."

I couldn't do most of these in 2020. No mall. No concerts. No office party. Because I'd been sick, I didn't dare attend mass. I couldn't be sure that I didn't have Covid-19, and I didn't want to expose anyone else to whatever I did have. My 2020 Christmas was the Christmas I got from the radio, from YouTube, and from online movies. I felt the hijacking of Christmas, the cultural appropriation of Christmas, by armies of hostile, imperialist culture warriors.

I don't have a TV and listen to the radio throughout the day, including BBC broadcasts during morning and afternoon drivetimes. My own impression is that the BBC exhibits the anti-Western flavor typical of the Politically Correct, that is, the BBC is anti-Israel, anti-Catholic, and soft on Islam. I haven't done the research to support these assertions, but others have; see here, here, here, and here.

It astounds me that bestselling Christian author C. S. Lewis was actually allowed, during World War II, to broadcast his beliefs via the BBC. Those broadcasts became the book "Mere Christianity." Air Chief Marshal Sir Donald Hardman wrote, "The war, the whole of life, everything tended to seem pointless. We needed, many of us, a key to the meaning of the universe. Lewis provided just that … I am sure that he deserved the high decoration that was offered to him by Winston Churchill." It isn't just amazing to me that a Christian was able to voice Christian ideas via the BBC. It also astounds me that the BBC cared about its audience's need for meaning in life. I can only imagine today's hip, woke, postmodern audiences scoffing at the very concept of meaning in life.

It also astounds me that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen won two Emmy awards, and that mainstream networks broadcast him, on the radio and then on TV, during primetime. I recently watched, on YouTube, Sheen's 1956 "True Meaning of Christmas." I can't imagine such an overtly Christian message during primetime from a major American broadcaster today. Of course not only has the reception of such messages changed since Sheen's day, the concept of "primetime" and "major network" has also changed. With streaming and hundreds of channels, we, the American public, no longer watch the same shows at the same times. Society has not just secularized since 1956, it has fragmented.

The believers' Christmas I could access from the wider culture in my childhood was not a pure, pious, exclusively Christian Christmas. It was warm and all-embracing. It was a Christmas that Jews, Atheists and sinners could and did participate in and contribute to. Bing Crosby, in song and onscreen, was one of the unavoidable characters in this American Christmas.

Crosby was one of the biggest stars in world history. Crosby was also a devout Catholic. Crosby, like you and me, was an imperfect person who struggled to live up to his religious beliefs. Crosby drank, he cheated on his wife, he gambled, he consorted with Mafiosi, and he abused his children.

There is a depth in Crosby's work that transcends his personal imperfections. Crosby sang America through the Depression and World War II. His voice didn't say "It's all okay." In Crosby's voice one could hear the darkness, the difficulty, the struggle, the gaping void we all confront. Crosby had been there, and come back, and sang "White Christmas." Crosby's voice traces the encounter of a flawed human struggling to reach a divine ideal. His voice resonates with the wisdom, depth, humility and joy that that encounter engenders.

One of New York City's top radio stations, WLTW, plays Christmas music in November and December. Along with Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, and Meghan Trainor, Bing Crosby is one of the most frequently played artists. Crosby had his first hit ninety-two years ago. He's been dead for forty-three years. And yet audiences today still need what Crosby offers. Will anyone be listening to Cardi B's "sex positive" "WAP"  ninety years from now?

Crosby's voice epitomizes the believers' Christmas: a liminal time, a ritual doorway that offered a charged opportunity for the most flawed seeker to encounter the sublime. Crosby played Father O'Malley in "Going My Way" and "The Bells of Saint Mary's." You didn't have to be Catholic to love these very human movies. See this scene for a taste of their humor and universality, even when treating overtly Christian themes. These films' director, Leo McCarey, was a Catholic who smuggled religious material into box office hits – no easy aesthetic feat. John Ford, one of the most successful and acclaimed Hollywood directors, limited his cinematic Catholicism to  subtleties. When Ford tried to make a more overtly Catholic film, 1947's "The Fugitive," it flopped.

"An Affair to Remember," Leo McCarey's 1957 film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, offers a perfect example of the kind of public, shared, take on Christmas that used to be found throughout American popular culture. McCarey's early forte was comedy. He directed the Marx Brothers in "Duck Soup," their "masterpiece" and "best film." McCarey brought Laurel and Hardy together and helped mold their schticks and concoct their chemistry. Peter Bogdanovich tells, at the end of this clip, a great story about McCarey's work with Laurel and Hardy. McCarey also made a series of Yiddish "dialect comedies" with Max Davidson, whose career was built on a "comedic Jewish persona." The great French director Jean Renoir said that "Leo McCarey understood people better than any other Hollywood director." Some say McCarey is less celebrated today because of his politics. He made the anti-communist 1952 film "My Son John." Being anti-Communist did not help him in mostly left-leaning Hollywood.

So, no, McCarey was not a pious, one-note director who made only religious films for religious audiences. Like you and me and Bing Crosby, McCarey was no plaster saint. He abused alcohol and painkillers. He was not always faithful to his wife. He didn't allow his imperfections to push him away from his faith, and his faith is visible in his films.

In "An Affair to Remember" Cary Grant plays Nicki Ferrante, a gigolo about to marry a rich woman who will support his lavish lifestyle. Deborah Kerr plays Terry McKay, a singer who depends on her square-jawed fiancé to support her.  Nicki and Terry meet onboard a cruise ship and, though they are both committed elsewhere, they begin a flirtatious shipboard romance, a mere amusement before they return to their real lives.

Everything changes during a shore excursion. They enter a small chapel. Terry kneels and prays in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Nicky is confused. He looks at her, as if asking, "What the heck is going on?" He's not sure how to interpret Terry, a fun flirt, kneeling in prayer. Not sure what to do, he kneels as well, and attempts to make eye contact with Terry. Terry drops her head and communes, not with Nicky, but with the divine. She silently invites Nicky to do likewise, and he attempts to pray. Previously, Terry and Nicky were connected by their mutual attraction. Now, Terry, Nicky, and the infinite are a triangle. Yes, two people can fall in love, but for their love to last, they need a third focus, a mutual commitment to something larger than themselves.

The scene is completely silent. Later, onboard ship, Terry says, "We're heading into a rough sea." Nicky concurs. "We changed course today." Before, it had been about fun sex. Now, it was about love. They realize that they can't support each other financially. As their cruise ship arrives in Manhattan, they plan to separate from each other temporarily. They will try to do something new – earn their own livings at salaried, work-a-day jobs. If, in six months, they have been able to be self-supporting, and if they are still in love with each other, they will reunite atop the Empire State Building.

Nicki breaks up with his rich sugar momma and takes a job as a sign painter. Terry breaks up with her fiancé and takes paying work. When the six months are up, she rushes to the Empire State building and is hit by a car. She loses the use of her legs. Terry decides not to tell Nicki of the accident because she wants him to have a happy and fulfilling life rather than devote himself to a woman who can't give him everything that another woman could. This self-sacrifice theme warms the cockles of my Catholic heart. I have never been able to watch this movie without crying. The 1993 Nora Ephron movie "Sleepless in Seattle" riffs on "Love Affair"'s ability to wring tears.

Nicki, through a series of fortunate coincidences, discovers what happened to Terry. In the scene where he insists he still loves this now physically marred human being, there is a modest, table-top Christmas tree in the background. Any Atheist or other non-Christian could enjoy this movie, and millions have. But to me, "An Affair to Remember" has a big, fat, Catholic heart. It's all about the redemption of a gigolo and a kept woman, who cast aside their lives of hedonistic pleasure. He commits to a woman who might not even be able to have sex any more, and she graciously offers him his freedom. That Christmas tree, glimpsed so briefly in the background that you could miss it, is not just decoration. It's the reason for the season and the ultimate source of the real love in this Hollywood love story.

Terry says that she was hit by the car because, "I was looking up. It was the nearest thing to Heaven. You were there." This line echoes what occurred in the chapel. The erotic, the sexual, in "An Affair to Remember" is animated not just by lust. Lust is fun, and good, but "An Affair to Remember"'s love is something infinitely more powerful. It is divine.

Director Mitchell Leisen was probably gay, and I don't know anything about his faith life. Screenwriter Preston Sturges once wrote to his first of four wives, "Though I believe in God, I don't believe in religion for everybody. Some people who are a little weak and don't want to shoulder any responsibility need Catholicism … I think a powerful conscience is worth all the religions put together … I do not believe Christ was the son of God." Though neither Leisen nor Sturges was overtly religious, they produced one of my favorite Christmas movies, 1940's "Remember the Night."

Barbara Stanwyck, the queen of fast-talking dames, plays Lee Leander, a professional jewel thief. Fred MacMurray is John Sargent, the assistant district attorney who will do anything to send her to prison. After a series of madcap adventures on a cross-country road trip, culminating in a Christmas visit to John's family in Indiana, Lee voluntarily chooses prison to protect John from himself. He wants to bend the law, and sabotage his own career, in order to keep her out of prison. It's "The Gift of the Magi" onscreen. Two people love each other so much that one is willing to sacrifice her freedom, and the other is willing to sacrifice his career, to protect the other. For all this sermonette aspect of the film, "Remember the Night" is no less funny, irreverent, or, indeed, sexy. Other than the Christmas tree dominating a few scenes, there are no overtly religious references in "Remember the Night." But its focus on self-sacrifice and redemption is core Christianity. Lee must confess her sin, and she must atone. After she serves her prison sentence, she tells John, she will be clean and worthy of his love. Maybe Leisen and Sturges were not believers, but their audiences were, and the film's focus on redemption is a reflection of what was once America's common culture. Lee and John, like Terry and Nicky, enjoy a love that transcends mere sexual attraction.

Movies didn't have to be uplifting to reflect the values of a shared American Christmas. Christmas features significantly in 1960's "The Apartment," as does adultery and a couple of suicide attempts. "Buddy Boy" C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemon) is an ambitious young drone. He seeks advancement by allowing higher-ups to use his apartment for their adulterous assignations with secretaries. Baxter has a crush on elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Baxter doesn't realize that she is being used, his own apartment, by big boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). There's an orgy-like office Christmas party where a secretary does a mock strip-tease atop a table. It's at this party that Baxter realizes that Fran is Sheldrake's mistress. There are two Christmas trees in "The Apartment." There's an elaborate family tree in Sheldrake's palatial suburban home. The tree is in the background as Sheldrake pretends to be a loving husband to his clueless, deceived wife and a concerned father to his inquisitive son. In fact, Sheldrake is on the phone to Baxter refusing to do anything to help when Baxter phones Sheldrake to report that Fran has come close to killing herself in the apartment.

There is a smaller, shabbier tree in Baxter's bachelor apartment. It is in front of this tree that Karl Matuschka, Fran's brother-in-law, beats Baxter bloody, thinking that it is he, not Sheldrake, who has compromised Fran. Later, Fran suspects that Baxter, who has attempted suicide before, has killed himself in front of his tree.

Those two trees are not there to redefine or culturally appropriate Christmas. Those trees are not there to mock believers or faith. Those trees are there to break your heart. Billy Wilder directed "The Apartment" and wrote the script with his partner I. A. L. Diamond. Wilder had every justification to believe that the world is a dark, twisted, hopeless place, and that the promise that Christmas trees offer is merely pap for fools. Wilder's Jewish mother, grandmother, and stepfather were all murdered by Nazis. But Wilder is not selling cynicism or nihilism. In "The Apartment," there are two very good people: Dr. Dreyfus and his wife, Mildred. Dreyfus and Mildred watch as a stream of women slink in and out of Baxter's apartment. They assume he is a reprobate. But when Fran attempts suicide, they both step in and help save Fran's life. In Wilder's "Apartment," there is light, a light reflected on its Christmas trees. The darkness never overcomes that light.

The Christmases of my youth, again, had room for everybody, not just Christians, and the "reason for the season" may have been present, but not overt. The good folk gathered around C.C. Baxter's humble bachelor Christmas tree are Dr. and Mildred Dreyfus, two Jews. Even though it has no overtly religious content, I read the 1964 Rankin-Bass stop action film "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," as a very Judeo-Christian story. The God of the Bible loves underdogs asserting their worth, even as the world rejects them. The Biblical Joseph was an unloved brother sold into slavery by his jealous siblings; he redeemed his entire family. David was a shepherd boy who conquered a Philistine giant, Goliath. Jesus was tortured to death by the most powerful empire on earth. He rose from the dead and overthrew that empire with his teachings alone. Jesus said, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." The line appears in both the Old and New Testaments. It's the very essence of the Rudolph story. Not only Rudolph, the previously rejected and mocked reindeer, is redeemed in the 1964 film. The Bumble, an abominable snowman who menaced Christmastown, is also. The Bumble's great height, previously so monstrous and threatening, is now put to good use. He places the star atop the tree.

Liel Leibovitz reads "Rudolph" differently than I. Leibovitz penned the 2012 Tablet analysis, "A Very Gay, Jewish Christmas: The Rankin-Bass Animated Specials are Yuletide Staples, So Why Do They Look Jewish and Sound Gay?" Leibovitz cites 1970's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," in which "the film's villain is a Lederhosen-wearing, German-accented despot named Burgermeister Meisterburger who rounds up all the toys and burns them … a gaggle of kids, most of them dressed in tatters, look on with horror." Leibovitz calls this scene "specifically Jewish," and an "allusion to the Holocaust." Rankin-Bass Christmas specials are "about … anti-Semitism." Leibovitz says that Romeo Muller, Rudolph's scriptwriter, "might have been Jewish" and "never married and had no kids." Muller may have been gay and "Hermey" – the name of the misfit elf dentist – is short for hermaphrodite," Leibovitz theorizes.

The author of the original "Rudolph" was indeed Jewish, but I don't read Rankin-Bass features as Leibovitz does. Not only Jews suffered under Nazis, and not only gay kids are teased at school. But no matter. I am happy that Leibovitz found material that worked for him in Christmas films. That's how it should be.

So, what was different about Christmas 2020? As we secularize, fewer and fewer creators and audience members are believers of any kind, and more and more films reflect that total absence of any investment in the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its themes of light in darkness, self-sacrifice, redemption, and transcendent meaning. As mentioned above, there is a persistent, and false, myth that Christians "stole" Christmas from Pagans. The facts say otherwise. But something like that is happening now. The trees, the trappings, are all being culturally appropriated, and given a new meaning, by non-Christians.

2003's "Love Actually" wrenches Christmas out of the hands of Christians. In "Love Actually," Christmas is about two nice young folk making a porn movie. It's about a degenerate drug-addicted rocker cutting a record. There is a Nativity scene in "Love Actually," one that includes a couple of treyf lobsters, an octopus, and a blue whale. "Twee" is the word you get if you condense "Love Actually" into four letters. Twee means "excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental." The president of the United States – a Bill Clinton-esque character – sexually harasses a woman who looks a bit like Monica Lewinsky? Twee! A man cheats on his wife and the mother of his children? Twee! A widower is torn up with grief over his wife's death? Twee! Drug addiction? Twee!

This is what happens when you extract Christianity from Western Civilization. You can't allow an aggrieved widower his pain. You can't allow the woman fondled by a US president her rage. You can't allow Laura Linney to have both a crazy brother and a boyfriend. You can't allow aging, drug-addicted rocker Bill Nighy his desperation. Because when you let real grit into your story, you lose twee, and twee is the new, highest good, along with diversity and political correctness. Superstar Keira Knightly is married to Chiwetel Ejiofor, a black man! Virtue signaling so radiant you need sunglasses!

A movie with even a hint of Judeo-Christian substrate could allow real agony, and, yes, still be a romantic comedy, or even a musical. Watch, or re-watch, Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the 1944 musical comedy "Meet Me in Saint Louis." Garland earned everything she brought to this performance. She had been devoting much time to entertaining American soldiers. She knew that these soldiers "needed to believe;" she knew she "needed to bring hope." "This wasn't just another song to Garland; this was a prayer." In the film, Garland's character is singing to a sad, frightened child (Margaret O'Brien) whose world is crashing down around her. In 1944 many people were having that experience. "Meet Me in Saint Louis" was released the day after Thanksgiving, even as American troops were liberating the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, Imperial Japan was still winning battles in China, and the Red Army advanced on Eastern Europe. The Battle of the Bulge would shortly begin.

There are moments when the expression on Garland's face seems perfectly suited to a mortal communicating with a God the mortal loves, fears, doubts, and clings to. Throughout the song, Garland's focus appears to fly back and forth between heaven and earth, between faith and doubt, between hope and resignation, between the crying little girl she struggles to comfort and her own knowledge of how hard life can be. In the end, she commits to carrying on in the most "one foot in front of the other" manner possible, but you know that on some level she believes, and that belief gives her an internal glow that lights her path. I can't imagine such a performance being produced in a post-belief era. "The Apartment" pulls off a similar high-wire act. The Judeo-Christian narrative offers hope, redemption, and meaning. With those roads out of pain, real pain is bearable. Twee offers no such road, so everything has to be a joke.

In 2005's "The Family Stone," the cultural appropriation of Christmas is complete. The family Stone lives in a four-million-dollar, New England colonial mansion. Snow falls. Lights and evergreens festoon every available surface. Christmas songs punctuate the soundtrack. But the message of this Christmas is utterly not Biblical. At key moments, family scion Ben Stone quotes not the Bible, but Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. "Let your freak flag fly." Ben also quotes Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are."

Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the film's villain. She is bad because she is "uptight," "conservative," and a successful capitalist. She lives in Manhattan and makes a lot of money in the business world. Her fiancé takes her home for Christmas. He wants to acquire an heirloom family wedding ring for Meredith. Meredith makes an awkward, but well-intentioned, comment about gay people to a black, gay man who is married to a deaf gay man. The movie, written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, who is gay, hates Meredith. She is belittled, bullied, and humiliated for most of its length. When wearing a pristine white blouse, she is doused with a sticky mixture of raw eggs. The family declares that Meredith is unworthy to acquire the wedding ring. It is given, instead, to her younger sister, a free spirit who has a job awarding grants to artists.

Scholars like Douglas Murray and Tom Holland, though atheists themselves, have commented on how the West's rejection of the Judeo-Christian tradition leaves the West lacking a road to forgiveness and redemption. The Religion of Woke is judgmental and self-righteous. Meredith must be punished for her faux pas, no matter how innocent. Redemption was possible for the thief, Lee Leander, the mistress, Fran Kubelik, the kept woman and the gigolo, and even for the Bumble. The post-Christian church of Woke allows no such redemption.

The 2020 Netflix romantic comedy "Holidate" stars Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts' niece, as Sloane, and Luke Bracey, a tall, handsome Australian, as Jackson. These two don't like each other but they date each other only on holidays. They drink to excess. When Sloane's sexually promiscuous lifestyle causes her emotional pain, she is urged to take a drug – possibly Ecstasy – to feel better. She takes a laxative by mistake, after which she has painful diarrhea. Much scatological hilarity ensues. Sloane and Jackson possibly have sex, but they have both been too drunk and drug addled to know if they've had sex or not.

"Promising Young Woman," a "feminist revenge thriller," opened on Christmas day, 2020. It stars Carey Mulligan as a woman obsessed with avenging a college rape of a drunken woman. The movie ends with a very grim murder.

Got that, guys? If your life is a romantic comedy like "Holidate," it's twee if a girl gets drunk and can't remember if she had sex with you. If your life is a "feminist revenge thriller," it's very bad if a girl gets drunk and can't remember if she's had sex with you. Oh, and let's compare the twee porn stars of "Love Actually" with another Carey Mulligan movie, "Shame."

"Shame" depicts the day-to-day life of a sex and pornography addict (Michael Fassbender) and his suicidal sister (Carey Mulligan). "Shame" has no real plot, and its ending offers zero hope. One has to assume that the lead characters will live out their lives tethered to degrading, dead-end sex addiction.

In real life, many addicts insist that Twelve Step, which asks members to rely on a higher power, has offered them release from their addiction. We are all very sophisticated now, and we realize that there is no higher power. There's another problem in our post-Christian morality. For a sex-and-porn addict to benefit from Twelve Step, he would have to judge. He would have to say, "I am addicted to sex and porn, and that is bad." The Church of Woke can condemn "uptight, conservative" Meredith to an eternity of humiliating, misogynist punishments for making a clumsy comment about homosexuality to a gay, black man at a Christmas dinner. But the Church of Woke forbids anyone from making any judgment about any sex act whatsoever, including incest. This refusal to judge slams the door shut on any hope for recovery in the movie "Shame."

There is no hope, there is no redemption, and "Shame" ends hopelessly. So, if you star in "Love, Actually," porn is twee. If you star in "Shame," porn and attendant sex addiction drive you to incest and your sister's bloody body on your bathroom floor. That's how we sort out morality in post-Christian America. By deciding what genre film our lives are.

Hey, but being post-Christian doesn't mean that we've lost meaning, right? Of course not. My local NPR affiliate, WNYC, assures me of that. WNYC is the Vatican of Woke. Religion attempts to address the problem of evil. WNYC has that question answered. White people are evil. How to live a virtuous life? Get as close to non-white people as you can.

On December 18, 2020, WNYC broadcast "food-justice activist" Bryant Terry, who "blackifies" food "as part of his project to uplift Black culinary traditions from the global African diaspora." Terry is "disappointed by the emphasis on classical European techniques." He wants to improve how people "talk about Black food." Confession: the one international cuisine I have heard people mock, and I have mocked myself, is British cuisine, a cuisine of very white people. No matter. WNYC fixed this problem I didn't know I have. On Christmas Eve, WNYC broadcast a salute to "Hawa Hassan, the Brooklyn-based founder and CEO of the Somali hot sauce line Basbaas." She discussed her cookbook, "In Bibi's Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from Eight African Countries." WNYC also featured, on Christmas Eve, "Chicano Eats," "a delicious tour through the diverse flavors and foods of Chicano cuisine," and also Alexander Smalls discussing his new cookbook "Meals, Music and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen." There was also a feature about a cooking contest in Zimbabwe. So, yes, Christmas is a big deal to the diehard leftists at WNYC. Why? Well, because, apparently, non-white people cook and eat on that day. I have to tell you, if I were nonwhite, I would feel so used by these SJWs.

The Nazis culturally appropriated Christmas. They erased Christ and inserted their own Pagan violence and hate. The Nazi lyrics to "Silent Night" begin with

"Silent night, Holy night,

All is calm, all is bright.

Only the Chancellor stays on guard

Germany's future to watch and to ward,

Guiding our nation aright."

No outside force, no invader, no pathogen, robbed 2020 America of its cultural matrix, a background belief, shared, to a greater or lesser extent, by Christians, Jews, and Atheists, in a powerful narrative, a narrative that provided hope, light, and redemption. We the people stopped going to church, stopped believing, and chose other north stars. There is a "god-shaped hole in man," according to Pascal. That hole is being increasingly filled by The High Church of Woke.

I liked living in a country where my bedrock beliefs, however much in the background, provided the foundation for cultural forms as diverse as bestselling records, screwball comedies, and dystopic views of moral turpitude in corporate offices and bedrooms. During Christmas 2020, I missed those shared a priori premises that once wove our country together. I acknowledge that my country is shifting beneath my feet, and that fewer and fewer of my fellow citizens share my beliefs, or even have any idea of what those beliefs are. I don't know the best solution for people like me. Lacking my own hopeful, well-written conclusion, I will fall back on quoting the Gospel of John.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.

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