Breaking: Christianity is Not a Religion.

Philosophical but not ReligiousIn church time, we may have just started Advent. But in cultural time? We’re already a month and change into Christmas. All the symptoms are present, garlands wrapped on lampposts, lights strung on houses, Santa at the Mall, Red Cups at Starbucks.

Oh, and the other big giveaway, Bill O’Reilly is getting angry with people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

But O’Reilly’s war on the “War Against Christmas” seems to have taken a strange new turn. Just a few nights ago, while sparring with Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, O’Reilly advanced what seemed to be a new line of argument minted specially for the 2012 Holiday, er, Christmas Season: Christianity is not a religion. It is a philosophy.

Yes, you heard that correctly. And in case you missed it, you can catch up here. (Warning: there is far more heat than light in this six minute video. You’ve been warned.)

I’m not entirely sure what O’Reilly was driving at with this distinction, because the conversation (read: two men repeatedly interrupting each other until someone got called a “fascist”) devolved too quickly to provide us any real clues. If the overall point of the war on the “War on Christmas”1 is that cultural celebration of December 25 is becoming too secular (hence “war” against it), then we don’t gain too much ground by conflating Christianity and philosophy. The event Christmas celebrates is not a philosophical milestone, but the birth of a child – The Child – and has been historically worthy of celebration precisely because of the theological claims made about that particular birth and that particular child. We don’t commemorate it because Jesus was a philosopher.2

In any event, the Interwebs lit up with discussion of the segment, culminating with this gem from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

Then last night, the plot thickened a little bit more. Chatting with Fox’s priest-in-residence, O’Reilly seems to have backed away from the claim. It turns out that now Christianity is a religion and a philosophy being “administered by different religions.”

Somehow, I don’t think this means the conversation is going away. So, TJP readers, what say you? Is Christianity a religion? A philosophy? A little bit of both? We’d love to hear from you, but if you’d be so kind, give us just one Christmas wish.  Please don’t reduce the conversation to calling each other fascists. As we’ve seen, it just doesn’t help.3

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  1. Yes there is a war on the war on Christmas. Stay tuned for the coming war on the war on the war. Maybe Anderson Cooper can cover it using excessive shaky cam?
  2. Although he did have a beard, wear sandals and walk around the town talking to the youth and upsetting the authorities. Paging Socrates!
  3. Calling your conversation partner a fascist is just one small step away from the fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum — it’s called Godwin’s Law, and the rule is that whoever mentions the Nazis first has lost the argument.

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