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In a post earlier this week, I wrote about how retailers and advertisers play on the sentiments associated with the holiday season as a way to make money, and how the religious right is actually, unbelievably, accelerating this trend by demanding the commercialization of their most sacred symbols. However, I failed to note at that time that the religious right is not stopping at encouraging others to commercialize Christmas. On the contrary, they are actively taking part in it themselves. As reported by The Wall of Separation:

As the Religion News Service recently reported, perpetuating the “war” has become a lucrative business. In 2005, the “Christmas Project” groups brought in a combined $188 million. There’s no way to tell exactly how much of that revenue comes from making the mall safe for Santa Claus, but every group has produced special holiday materials designed to suck in the bucks.

Alliance Defense Fund boasts it has sold 20,000 “Christmas Packs” (suggested donation: $29.) That’s over a half million dollars for a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins. The Mississippi-based American Family Association has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers emblazoned with a stylized Mary and Jesus and the slogan: “Merry Christmas: It’s Worth Saying.”

If anyone had ever wondered about the true motivations behind the claims of a “war on Christmas”, look no further. In a nation that is 85% Christian, with churches on every street corner and nativity scenes on nearly every lawn, with decorated trees in every home, Santa Clauses in every shopping mall and carols playing non-stop on the radio, and Christmas a federally recognized holiday that has now grown to consume virtually the entire last three months of the year, it should be beyond dispute that Christmas has never been less threatened than it is in our country right now. But admitting this would not serve the religious right’s primary purpose, which is to make profit and gain power by whipping its followers into a frenzy of unreason over imaginary threats (see also: gay marriage). The “war on Christmas” is, in reality, just another fictitious story of persecution the leaders of the religious right have drummed up to scare their flock into opening their wallets wide.

A recent editorial, written by a Christian no less (there are still good ones), makes this point effectively with humor (via Americablog):

I remember a time when people of faith bemoaned the over-commercialization of Christmas.

Now some are shouting persecution because sales clerks at some stores are wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or because the tree behind the City Market building was called a holiday tree in press releases instead of a Christmas tree last year.

When it comes to persecution, Christians have come a long way from being fed to the lions, my friends.

I especially laughed at this line:

[Bill O’Reilly] and Sean Hannity teamed up to try to browbeat Macy’s, Target, Wal-Mart and other retailers into shouting, “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” at their customers until everyone feels the love of Jesus deep in their eardrums.

Yet though the religious right has profited handsomely from scaring its followers with invocations of ACLU boogeymen, I think money is not their primary motivation. Certainly, they are obsessed with making it through fair means or foul, but I think most of them care about it as a way to achieve a deeper goal: bolstering their smug sense of self-righteous superiority over others.

Just consider – why would they care about store greeters saying “happy holidays”? Clearly, that statement includes Christmas. It is the major end-of-year holiday, it is the reason this time of year is even called the “holiday season” at all. No one is going to mistake what that statement refers to. No, as far as the religious right is concerned, the problem is not that Christmas is not getting recognition, but that it is not getting sole recognition. They want their holiday, and their holiday alone, to be commemorated and recognized, and they want all other cultures, traditions and beliefs treated as if they did not exist.

If anything endangers Christmas, it is the religious bigots who want to turn it into a divisive and exclusionary event in honor of themselves, rather than the largely secularized and inclusive event it has become. When Christmas is a holiday everyone can enjoy, merchants will not be concerned about using it in their advertising, but if it is a day identified primarily with the regressive and widely despised agenda of the religious right, businesses would be likely to think twice. If the religious right were actually to achieve its goal of re-coopting Christmas in the service of their beliefs, they, more than anyone else, would largely bear responsibility for the dramatic decrease in Christmas-themed media events that would be very likely to occur as a result.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...