December 23, 2004
Christmastime in a red state means the evening news leads off with a story of a local Christian group protesting stores' use of "Happy Holidays" to greet shoppers instead of "Merry Christmas." The newscasters report this with gravely serious voices, as if somehow this was an full-frontal assault on Christianity itself. They cut to an "expert" who insists that "if a space alien were to land here, they would think this was a celebration of trees and lights, not of the birth of the Christ child." The report wraps up with one well-groomed newscaster turning to his look-alike partner, shaking his head sadly and sighing, "unbelievable, isn't it?" before cutting to the fifth weather report of the evening.
Churches are everywhere here--huge and white and built out of cement and tar and glass. They appear overnight, seemingly out of nowhere, their massive parking lots and light-up signs making them look more like malls than places of worship. They offer a super-sized salvation that I can't understand at all, having been raised a "small-C" christian with yearly trips to see the Christmas Pageant and the occasional family funeral my sole churchgoing experience. Yet even my limited knowledge of the subject has me wondering if the gaudy, overstuffed religion offered by these churches isn't as far removed from Jesus's teachings as you can possibly get.
When you became born again after years of drinking, Mr. Bush, was it this kind of religion--this big-box approach to something so seemingly intimate--that attracted you? Was it the promise not only of being saved but also of belonging that drew you in? Because being out here and seeing how pervasive these churches have become and how powerful they are, I can understand how that would be appealing; these churches offer not only a savior, but also warmth and certainty and community.
But seeing the power these churches have amassed and the way they choose to wield it has the opposite affect on me. Two days before Christmas, watching these church groups being taken seriously about something as inconsequential as how stores greet their shoppers, I just feel cold and scared and alone.