A new Pew survey shows overwhelming majorities of Americans believe in the historical actuality of the Christmas story, including the Virgin Birth, the angels appearing to shepherds and the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. These majorities include young and old, Catholic and Protestant, black and white, male and female, even large numbers of the religiously unaffiliated.
Some have sardonically noted that the “war on Christmas” has been decisively lost. Meanwhile manger scenes continue to appear on public spaces (now sometimes accompanied by Satanic displays in a perverse bid for diversity), and shopping malls are filled with piped in Christmas hymns.
The Christmas Pew poll might surprise many secularists and religious alike, both of whom too often subscribe to the myth, peddled by popular and high culture, that America is more and more secular as part of an arc of historical inevitability. The truth is more complicated. Church attendance has remained roughly the same for 80 years, according to Gallup. Americans were never as wholly pious in the past as often imagined, nor are they forsaking religion whole-scale now.
Chronic attempts to secularize/neutralize Christmas keep failing. The Christmas message is irrepressible, and Christmas is almost certainly celebrated by more billions now globally than at any other time in history. Many celebrants of course don’t realize fully Whose birthday they’re celebrating, but they are unconsciously, providentially perpetuating the remembrance and themes of good will rooted in divine incarnation.
Christmas is the eternal, undefeated counter narrative to tyranny, hatred, poverty, prejudice, chicanery, peevishness and pessimism. When FDR and Churchill worshipped on Christmas Day 1941 in Washington at Foundry Methodist Church in the gloom of WWII, they robustly sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” with the affirmation and promise that “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
In his radio address to America the night before Churchill foreshadowed this hymn by urging that on Christmas Eve “each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace,” in anticipation of “a free and decent world.”
The Christmas story is the promise of ongoing and ultimate redemption for the whole world from all tragedy and evil. That promise is winsomely irresistible and will be celebrated forever, long after the skeptics, scoffers and scolds are long forgotten.