Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Twelve Days of Christmas Begin Today (or Tomorrow)

The 12 Days of Christmas begin today. That's right. They are not the 12 days prior to (and including) Christmas Day. Rather, they are 12 days running from either December 25th to January 5th or from December 26th to January 6th, depending to which tradition one follows. Either way, the 12 days take us to Epiphany (January 6th), which commemorates the Wise Men presenting their gifts to the infant Jesus, who may have been as old as 2-years when they finally track him down. That is why the Wise Men shouldn't appear in Nativity scenes until Epiphany, but, of course, many people have taken them down by then.

When most of us think about "The 12 Days of Christmas," however, we usually think of the song. The song's origins are unclear, but one story, which has little historical support but's fun to consider, claims that the song originated as a Roman Catholic "Catechism Song" during a time when Catholicism was "strongly discouraged" in England (1558-1829): 

  • The "true love" in the song refers to God, while the "me" refers to those who receive the gifts mentioned in the song from God 
  • The "partridge in a pear tree" refers to Jesus Christ whose death on a tree (i.e., the cross) was a gift from God 
  • The "two turtle doves" refer to the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God 
  • The "three French hens" refer to "faith," "hope" and "love" three gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13) 
  • The "four calling birds" refer to the four Gospels, which sing "the song of salvation through Jesus Christ" 
  • The "five golden rings" refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah. 
  • The "six geese a-laying" refer to the six days of creation 
  • The "seven swans a swimming" refer to the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:8-11) 
  • The "eight maids a milking" refer to the eight beatitudes 
  • The "nine ladies dancing" refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) 
  • The "ten lords a-leaping" refer to the Ten Commandments 
  • The "eleven pipers piping" refer to the eleven faithful disciples 
  • The "twelve drummers drumming" refer to the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed
For a more scholarly take on the song's origins (but far less entertaining), see the Wikipedia article.

BTW: If you add up the number of gifts for each of the twelve days -- one for the first day, three (1 + 2) for the second, six (1 + 2 + 3) for the third, and so on -- you get 364, which is the total number of days in the year if you don't count Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

24 Movies for the Christmas Season

Here's my annual post a handful of Christmas movies worth watching. Not all are technically "Christmas" movies, but in some way they're related to the Christmas season. As always, I've updated the list from the previous year, bringing back some old ones and adding a few new ones.

1. The Bishop's Wife (Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven)

Dejected by his efforts to raise money to build a cathedral, Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) beseeches heaven for guidance, and is visited immediately by an angel Dudley (Cary Grant). Henry, as a good theological liberal, is skeptical and then becomes annoyed when Dudley wins the attentions of Henry's long-suffering wife, Julia (Loretta Young). Dudley falls for Julia, but in the end Julia tells him it's time for him to go. Dudley leaves, all memory of him is erased, and later that night at the Christmas Eve service when Henry delivers his sermon, Dudley watches from the street. If this plot sounds familiar, it was remade as The Preacher's Wife starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston in 1996. 

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles Schultz)

It's been over 50 years since "A Charlie Brown Christmas" first appeared on TV. It's probably the best of the Charlie Brown movies (although "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is right up there) and is one of the few Christmas movies that refers to the biblical story. After Charlie Brown asks, "Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?," Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and  the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"
And then Linus concludes, "... and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." Amen.

3. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott, David Warner, Susannah York, Roger Rees)

There are several great versions of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," but this is my favorite. Scott is (was) such a great actor. When he (Ebenezer Scrooge) yells, "Mr. Cratchit!", there's little doubt that he holds poor Bob in contempt. And, the supporting cast is quite good. David Warner (who once upon a time played a reporter in "The Omen") is an excellent Bob Cratchit, as is Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit (Note: two of York's children played two of the Cratchit children). And I really like Roger Rees as Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Finally, Angela Pleasence and Edward Woodward are excellent as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, respectively. There are, of course, several other versions are worth considering, such as the one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge ("A Christmas Carol"). When I was kid, I was especially taken with "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Jonathan Winters' reading of Dickens's book is also quite good.

4. Christmas in Connecticut (Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet)

While recovering in a hospital, war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) grows familiar with the "Diary of a Housewife" column written by Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). Jeff's nurse arranges with Elizabeth's publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), for Jeff to spend the holiday at Elizabeth's Connecticut farm with her husband and child. However, the column's a sham. Facing a career-ending scandal, not only for herself but for her editor, Elizabeth is forced to comply. In desperation, she agrees to marry her friend, John, who has a farm in Connecticut. She also enlists the help of her uncle, a chef, who's been giving her the recipes for her column. Elizabeth and John plan to be married immediately by Judge Crowthers, but Jefferson arrives, interrupting the ceremony, and it's love at first sight between Elizabeth and Jefferson. To complicate things, Jefferson has a fiancée, but that isn't as straightforward as it seems either.

5. A Christmas Story (Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon)

Adapted from a memoir by Jean Shepherd (who narrates the film), the movie is primarily about Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a young boy living in Indiana in the 1940s who desperately wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas and tries to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that it's the perfect gift for him, while they counter that he'll shoot his eye out. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." I confess that it isn't one of my favorites, but I'm clearly in the minority.

6. Christmas with the Kranks (Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Akroyd)

It's too bad that the movie's producers didn't keep the title of John Grisham's book on which the movie is based: "Skipping Christmas" (see picture at right). The movie's title leads people to expect one kind of movie when in fact it's something quite different. It tells the story of a couple (Luther and Nora Krank) who, because their daughter (Blair) is going to be Peru for Christmas, working for the Peace Corps, decide to skip Christmas (i.e., don't buy a Christmas tree, hold their annual Christmas party, decorate their house, etc.), and use the money they save to go on a cruise. Their decision to skip Christmas sit poorly with their neighbors (especially Dan Akroyd), who pressure them to get into the holiday spirit. A battle, of sorts, plays out between the Kranks and their neighbors. Then Luther and Nora learn that Blair coming home for Christmas (with her fiancé), and they have less than 24 hours to prepare for their annual party. How the neighborhood comes together to pull this off and what Luther does with their cruise tickets speaks to the true meaning of Christmas.

7. Die Hard (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson)

OK. Not your traditional Christmas movie. In fact, there's a debate as to whether it really is (see "Is 'Die Hard' a Christmas Film?"). I obviously fall on the side of those who think it it. It takes place on Christmas Eve, is a battle between good and evil, and includes some traditional (and not so traditional) Christmas songs. It stars Bruce Willis as NY city police detective John McClane, who flies to LA to reconcile with his wife. He meets her at her company's Christmas party, but while he's changing clothes in the men's room, the party's taken over by a terrorist group (headed by Hans Gruber -- played by Alan Rickman, who a few years later played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies), which holds them hostage, all except for McClane, who sneaks away before they know he's there. The rest of the movie is the battle between McClane (good) and Gruber (evil) and includes a lot of classic lines ("Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..."; Yippee ki-yay...").

8. Elf (Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel)

This movie is too fun. Will Ferrell is great as someone (Buddy) who thinks he's one of Santa's elves but is actually a human being who, through a twist of fate, was adopted by an elf (Bob Newhart) when just a baby. Unfortunately, he's not a very good at elf things (e.g., making toys), and once he learns that he's not an elf, he heads to New York where his biological father (James Caan) lives. There he falls in love with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), helps NY recapture the Christmas spirit, and has a heck of a lot of fun along the way (well, most of the time). The movie is also educational. We learn, for instance, that the four main elvish food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. There's also allusions to other Christmas classics like "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer" (see #18 and #20 below).

9. The Family Man (Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle)

One of my favorites. It's is a cross between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol." It tells the story of Jack Campbell (JC = Jesus Christ?; his boss/advisor is named Peter), played by Nicholas Cage, who chooses to spend the year after graduating from college in London as an investment banker rather remaining in New York with his girl friend (Tea Leoni). Unsurprisingly, the relationship doesn't survive, and when the movie begins (13 years later), Cage is a successful investment banker who loves money and fine things, but cares little for women or family. However, when he wakes up one Christmas morning, he's living the life he would've lived if he hadn't moved to London. He's married (to Tea Leoni), has two kids, and works as a car tire salesman (for his wife's father - Big Ed). Although he initially despises this life, he eventually comes to love it more than the one in which he drove fast cars, wore designer suits, and had his pick of women. The movie's climax occurs after he wakes up back in his old life, tracks down his old girlfriend, and convinces her not to leave for Paris to take a new job.

10. The Family Stone (Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson)

This tells the story about a Christmas gathering of the Stone family when the eldest son (Dermot Mulroney) brings his very uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) home with him to introduce her to his family, as well as propose to her with his grandmother's wedding ring. Parker's reception by Mulroney's family -- played by Diane Keaton (mom, who is dying), Craig T. Nelson (dad), Rachel McAdams (younger sister), Elizabeth Reaser (older sister), Luke Wilson (younger brother), and Tyrone Giordano (youngest brother) - is chilly, to say the least. So chilly, in fact, that Parker begs her sister (Claire Danes) to join her. Mulroney ends up falling for Danes (and vice versa), Wilson for Parker (and vice versa), and McAdams for her ex-boyfriend (and vice versa) played by Paul Schneider. Chaos ensues, poignancy follows, and although it was greeted with mixed reviews, it has become a holiday favorite for many.

11. Hallmark Christmas Movies (Various)

There isn't one Hallmark Christmas movie, of course. There are hundreds. A new one premiers every weekend beginning in October. And almost without exception, they're corny and predictable. They're almost always a love story, and one or other of the (future) couple has sworn off Christmas because of some bad experience (e.g., divorce, death in the family). Moreover, you can pretty much count on them breaking up with about 15 minutes to go (usually due to some sort of lack of communication) and then getting back together with only a few seconds left on the clock (before the next movie starts). However, in a world that seems hell-bent on becoming more polarized, I (and evidently several others) can do with a corny (cue the next movie on the list...).

12. The Holiday (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Eli Wallach)

Definitely one our family's holiday favorites. This movie tells the story of two women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) who, suffering from guy-problems, swap homes with each other (they don't know on another -- they "meet" through an on-line home exchange website) where they each meet someone and fall in love. Diaz's character (Amanda) lives in LA, is a producer of movie trailers, and breaks up with her boy friend after she discovers that he's cheated on her. Winslet (Iris) is a journalist working in London, who's in love with someone who wants to keep her around but doesn't want to commit. When she learns that he's engaged to another journalist, she becomes suicidal, but luckily chooses to spend the holidays in LA instead. A side story concerns elderly gentleman (Eli Wallach--the "Ugly" from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"), who lives near Amanda and whom Iris befriends. It turns out that Wallach is a widowed and retired screen writer whom the screen writer's guild wants to honor. He doesn't want to attend, but Iris talks him into it. I believe Wallach should've at least received a best supporting actor nomination for his role, but this isn't the type of movie that actors and actresses win awards for. One of the biggest surprises is the revelation that Jack Black actually can act. It's too bad he doesn't get more parts like this.

13. Home Alone (Macaulay Culkin, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Robert Blossom)

When adjusted for inflation, Home Alone is the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time at the North American box office. It tells the story of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), an 8-year-old boy who is accidentally left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. Kevin initially relishes being home alone, but soon has to contend with two highly incompetent burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), whom he continues to foil with numerous booby-traps. The rest of his family doesn't realize they left him behind until they are mid-flight to Paris and then struggle to find a flight back (all her booked). Kevin also ends up befriending Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom), who is rumored to have murdered his family. Like many holiday favorites, it received a mixed reception from critics, but many consider it one of the best Christmas films of all time.

14. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff)

One of the best holiday movies ever (the animated version, that is, not the one that Opie Taylor directed several years later). In it the Grinch, a cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small," lives on Mount Crumpit, a steep mountain above Whoville, home of the Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max. Every year from his perch atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch hears the "clangy" noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed and unable to understand why the Whos are so happy, he sneaks into town on Christmas Eve and takes all of their Christmas presents, decorations, and food in order to prevent Christmas from coming. However, when Christmas morning arrives, the Whos still celebrate Christmas even though all their presents and decorations have been stolen. Realizing that Christmas is more than gifts and presents, the Grinch's heart grows three times in size, and he returns all the presents and trimmings and joins the Whos for the Christmas feast. There are now three Grinch movies, one with "real people" directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Cary in 2000, and a 2018 computer-animated version with Benedict Cumberbatch in the leading role.

15. It's a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore)

I'm not sure how much I need to say about this movie since it is so well known. Briefly, it stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has repeatedly given up his dreams in order to help the dreams of others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve (because of a financial disaster not of his own doing) brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his  wings (he's an angel second class). However, by showing what the world would have been like if George had never been born, Clarence keeps George from committing suicide (and thereby earning his wings). George sees that his life hasn't been a waste but has in fact touched (and improved) the lives of almost all those around him in Bedford Falls. He is, as his younger brother Harry puts it, "The richest man in town." Although the movie opened to mixed reviews, it has become a perennial Christmas classic that captures the true meaning of Christmas. There is a scene at the railroad station when George Bailey learns that his younger brother is not going to take over the family business so that George can go to college. For about 5 seconds, Stewart says nothing; his (i.e., George's) disappointment and frustration only shows in his facial expressions. It's a wonderful example of why Stewart was one of the greatest actors of all time. For more on the movie, see the following post ("It's a Wonderful Life").

16. Last Christmas (Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson)

Most critics disliked this 2019 movie, which is very loosely inspired by Wham's song of the same name, but it's light-hearted (so to speak) with a somewhat surprising twist at the end, which makes it a little different from the typical Christmas movie fare. Emilia Clarke plays Kate, who is a singer who supports herself working as an elf at a year-round Christmas shop. We also eventually learn that she recently received a heart transplant from which she hasn't mentally recovered. She, in fact, appears to be careening through life with something of a death wish. One day, while at work she notices Henry Golding (Tom) outside the shop, whom she gets eventually falls for, but it's never entirely clear whether he feels the same. Nevertheless, he has a positive affect on her, and she slowly gets her life back in order. She stops drinking, having one-night stands, and restores her ties with her mom (Emma Thompson), dad, and sister. Like most Christmas movies, it's ultimately a story about redemption, in this case, Kate's, and the effect this has others. Michelle Yeoh plays "Santa," the owner of the Christmas shop where Kate works (she also played Henry Golding's mother in Crazy Rich Asians, was a Bond girl (Tomorrow Never Dies), and starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

17. Love Actually (Numerous)

A 2003 British Christmas-themed romantic comedy explores several separate stories involving a wide variety of individuals, whom we learn as the movie progresses are connected with one another. The movie begins five weeks before Christmas and plays out in a weekly countdown to Christmas, followed by an epilogue that takes place a month later. The movie includes numerous British stars, including Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman. You may be skeptical, but recently FiveThirtyEight called it the greatest Christmas movie of all time ("The Definitive Analysis Of ‘Love Actually,’ The Greatest Christmas Movie Of Our Time").

18. Miracle on 34th Street (Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood)

Although the 1994 remake of this movie, starring Sir Richard Attenborough (as Santa Claus), Dylan McDermott, and Elizabeth Perkins, is decent, it doesn't come close to the original with Maureen O'Hara and a very young Natalie Wood. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and focuses on the impact of the Santa Claus hired to work at the Macy's on 34th St. in NY City, who claims to be the real Santa and acts accordingly. For example, he some times he ignores instructions to steer parents to goods that Macy's sells like the time he directs one shopper to another store for a toy fire engine that Macy's doesn't have in stock. And he tells another mother that Macy's rival Gimbels has better skates for her daughter. The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gentleman's Agreement with Gregory Peck.

19. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat)

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (OHMSS) is a "Christmas film" of the way that "Die Hard" is (see above): It involves a battle between good and evil, it's set at Christmas (or quite a bit of it is), it includes Christmas songs, and it even throws in a little bit of redemption. It also involves a chase scene through a Swiss village celebrating the holiday and includes some of the skiing scenes ever. Recently, in an article in which The Economist considers whether "Die Hard" is really a Christmas movie, the author makes the case for considering OHMSS as one ("Is 'Die Hard' a Christmas Film?"). OHMSS is, of course, the only movie in which George Lazenby plays James Bond. He was chosen after Sean Connery retired from the role after "You Only Live Twice," although Connery changed his mind and came back to play Bond in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) and "Never Say Never Again" (1983). Although OHMSS was a commercial success, its reception was mixed. The film's reputation has improved greatly over time, however. The director Christopher Nolan named it as his favorite Bond movie, and it has slowly moved its way up the "all-time Bond film lists" ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "50 Years Later, This Bond Film Should Finally Get Its Due"). It's no wonder. OHMSS contains some of the best action scenes of the series (which are similar to those of the more recent Bourne movies), Lazenby plays a capable Bond, Diana Rigg's excellent as his love interest and future (and only) wife, and Telly Savalas's "Blofeld" is by far the best of all the Bond films (although Christoph Waltz's portrayal in Spectre is a close second). It also follows the original novel much more closely than the other Bond films. It's definitely worth a watch.

20. Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (Burl Ives)

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for this to come on TV. I only got to see it once a year, and it was a big deal when it came on. Not just for me, but for most of my friends. Now, of course, you can get it (and virtually any other Christmas movie) on DVD or Blue Ray, or download it from iTunes or Amazon, so it (and other Christmas movies) has lost its "specialness." Nevertheless, I still love watching this retelling of the original Robert L. May story ("Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer"), in which Rudolph's rejection by his peers (for his shiny nose) leads him to run away from home with by a similarly-outcast elf (Hermey) whose dreams of becoming a dentist. These two eventually join up with a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and after a battle with the Abominable Snowman, they return home to the North Pole just in time for Rudolph to lead Santa's sleigh through a terrible snow storm, thus keeping Christmas from being cancelled.

21. The Santa Clause (Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz)

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a cynical, divorced, advertising executive for a toy company, who accidentally causes a guy dressed like Santa Claus to fall to his death from his roof on Christmas Eve. Scott and his son Charlie (who is spending Christmas Eve with Scott) discover a sleigh with eight reindeer on the roof, and they conclude that the man must have been Santa Claus. They also find a card in the Santa's suit, instructing that if something should happen to him, that whoever finds the clothes, should put them on and get in the sleigh. Charlie convinces Scott to follow these instructions, and the reindeer take Scott to children's houses around the world to finish Santa's deliveries. After this, the sleigh takes them to the North Pole where they learn that Scott is the new Santa (because of the clause in the instruction card they found -- that is, the "Santa Clause") and convince his former wife that he's the new Kris Kringle.

22. White Christmas (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen)

What more can you say about this one? It's got Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" (not once, but twice); it has Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dancing (several times); it has George Clooney's aunt singing and dancing; and it tells a nice, heart-warming story that some may think is  a bit corny. But, to paraphrase Kate Winslet's character in The Holiday (see above), sometimes corny is just what the doctor ordered. The song, "Count Your Blessings" (written by Irving Berlin), was nominated for an Oscar (White Christmas won the Oscar 12 years before for the movie, Holiday Inn), but my favorite (aside from White Christmas) is Snow, sung by Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, and Vera-Ellen on the train from Miami to Vermont (pictured above).

And here's two more movies that appear on other lists but I haven't had time to watch but plan to eventually (summaries pulled from Google, Wikipedia, etc.):

23. Holiday (Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant)

Holiday is a 1938 American romantic comedy that is a remake of the 1930 film of the same name. I tells the story of Jonathan "Johnny" Case (Cary Grant), a self-made man who has worked all his life, is about to marry Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), whom he met while on holiday in Lake Placid, New York. He actually knows very little about her and is surprised to learn that she is from an extremely wealthy family, the youngest daughter of banker Edward Seton (Henry Kolker). Assured that Johnny is a worthy suitor, Edward approves of the pairing. But, as Johnny's wanderlust surfaces -- he is more interested in traveling than in business -- Edward starts to have doubts. Johnny also begins to wonder if he might not be a better match for Linda (Katharine Hepburn), Julia's outspoken younger sister, with whom he has much more in common.

24. Holiday Affair (Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh)

Seasonal clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) catches Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) in a fraudulent shopping scheme during the busy Christmas rush. But when he discovers that Ennis is a war widow and single mother, he decides not to turn her in. His supervisor takes notice and fires him. Mason befriends Connie and her young son, Timmy, and complicates her plans to marry boring nice guy Carl Davis (like Meg Ryan's fiancé in Sleepless in Seattle). The movie is based on the story Christmas Gift by John Weaver, which was also the film's working title. Set during the Christmas season, the film was not well received on its initial release. However, Turner Classic Movies airing the film over Christmas has led to it becoming a minor holiday classic. A made-for-television remake was produced in 1996.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Songs for the Christmas Season

Here's my annual (and updated) list of songs related to the Christmas season. Some are traditional, some are modern, some are secular, and some are somewhat humorous. Like last year, I've sorted them into categories, although there are some that could easily be sorted into more than one. When possible, I've linked them to iTunes Preview, YouTube, etc., so you can listen to (preview) or watch them. (Note: Please let me know if some of the links don't "link," i.e., they need to be updated; Apple Music updated several of its links).

Classics
  1. Auld Lang Syne - Colbie Caillat
  2. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
  3. Christmas Canon - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  4. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
  5. Frosty the Snowman - Jimmy Durante
  6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  7. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  8. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Michael Bublé
  9. In the Bleak Midwinter - Phil Coulter
  10. I Wonder As I Wander - Sandi Patti
  11. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  12. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Frank Sinatra
  13. Jingle Bells - Michael Bublé
  14. Let it Snow - Dean Martin
  15. Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger
  16. Mistletoe and Holly - Frank Sinatra
  17. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie
  18. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Burl Ives
  19. Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) - Elvis
  20. Silver Bells - Andy Williams
  21. Snow - Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Allen (dubbed by Trudy Stevens)
  22. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Perry Como
  23. What are You Doing New Year's Eve? - Ella Fitzgerald
  24. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  25. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft
  26. 'Zat You, Santa Clause? - Louis Armstrong and the Commanders
Contemporary
  1. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
  2. Believe - Josh Groban
  3. Carols Sing - Michael W. Smith
  4. Celebrate Me Home - Kenny Loggins
  5. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
  6. Christmas Can't Be Very Far Away - Amy Grant
  7. Christmas in Dixie - Alabama
  8. Christmas in Your Arms - Alabama
  9. Christmas is Coming - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  10. Christmas Island - Jimmy Buffett
  11. The Christmas Shoes - NewSong
  12. Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  13. Christmas Waltz - Michael W. Smith
  14. Cold December Night - Michael Bublé
  15. Do They Know It's Christmas - Glee Cast
  16. Extraordinary Merry Christmas - Glee Cast
  17. Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano
  18. Going Home For Christmas - Phil Coulter
  19. Grown Up Christmas List - Amy Grant
  20. The Happiest Christmas - Michael W. Smith
  21. Happy Xmas (The War is Over) - John Lennon
  22. Hey Santa - Carnie and Wendy Wilson
  23. High Plains (Christmas on the High-Line) - Philip Aaberg
  24. This Holiday Night - Margo Rey
  25. It Snowed - Meaghan Smith
  26. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
  27. Last Christmas - Glee Cast
  28. Linus and Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  29. Merry Christmas Baby - Bruce Springsteen
  30. Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters
  31. Mister Santa - Amy Grant
  32. Nothin' New for New Years - Harry Connick, Jr. & George Jones
  33. Please Come Home For Christmas - The Eagles
  34. River - Joni Mitchell
  35. Santa Claus in Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
  36. Santa Baby - Madonna
  37. Santa Tell Me - Ariana Grande
  38. Skating - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  39. Sleigh Ride - The Carpenters
  40. Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen
  41. Song For A Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan
  42. Tennessee Christmas - Amy Grant
  43. This Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  44. To Be Together - Amy Grant
  45. Where Are You Christmas? - Faith Hill
Traditional Hymns and Carols
  1. Angels We Have Heard on High - Glee Cast
  2. Ave Maria - The Carpenters
  3. Away in a Manger/Child in a Manger - Michael W. Smith
  4. Carol of the Bells - The Carpenters
  5. Deck the Halls - James Taylor
  6. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
  7. Emmanuel, God With Us - Amy Grant
  8. The First Noel - Josh Groban & Faith Hill
  9. Go Tell It On The Mountain - James Taylor
  10. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen - Glee Cast
  11. Greensleeves - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  12. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Diamond Rio
  13. The Holly and the Ivy - Choir of King's College, Cambridge
  14. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear - Johnny Cash
  15. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Casting Crowns
  16. I Saw Three Ships - Craig Duncan
  17. Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring - Amy Grant
  18. Joy to the World - Hillsong
  19. The Nutcracker Suite - Various
  20. O Come All Ye Faithful - Pentatonix
  21. O Come, O Come Emmanuel - The Piano Guys
  22. O Holy Night - Josh Groban
  23. O Little Town of Bethlehem - Nat King Cole
  24. Pat-a-Pan - Various
  25. Silent Night - Sarah McLachlan
Contemporary Gospel
  1. Almost There - Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
  2. Breath of Christmas - Amy Grant
  3. Christmas Hymn - Amy Grant
  4. Christmas Was Meant for Children - Sandi Patti
  5. Christmastime - Michael W. Smith
  6. Christ is Born - The Carpenters
  7. God is With Us - Casting Crowns
  8. Little Alter Boy - The Carpenters
  9. Newborn - MercyMe
  10. Sweet Little Jesus Boy - Casting Crowns
Humorous
  1. Baby, Just Go Outside - The Holderness Family
  2. The Chanukah Song - Adam Sandler
  3. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
  4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - John Mellencamp
  5. Walkin' Round in Women's Underwear - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio

 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Reinhold Niebuhr, Religious Nationalism, and the Appeal of Authoritarianism (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part VII)

When in 1948 Time magazine looked for someone to put on the cover of their 25th Anniversary issue, they could have chosen a Hollywood celebrity, notable politician, or perhaps a decorated WWII veteran. Instead, they chose an ethics professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York: Reinhold Niebuhr. Today, many Americans have not heard of Niebuhr although most are familiar with a prayer he wrote in the 1930s (but for which until recently he seldom received credit):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things that should be changed,
And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Niebuhr did much more, however. He was an activist-scholar who influenced not only his parishioners and students, but others as well, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who drew extensively on his insights on power when crafting strategies during the Civil Rights movement. The State Department also sought Niebuhr's advice on different aspects of U.S. foreign policy, which is ironic since at the same time the FBI had placed Niebuhr on its watch list, suspecting him of un-American activities.

Niebuhr continues to influence people today. Some of his books are still used as texts in political science classes, and former President Barack Obama counts him as one of his favorite philosophers. Obama once remarked that Niebuhr taught him "the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.” President Jimmy Carter has expressed similar sentiments, and the philosopher/theologian Cornel West considers Niebuhr to be a "soul mate."

Reinhold Niebuhr and Religious Nationalism

Two interrelated threads seem to lie at the heart of Niebuhr’s thought: One, was his belief that many of us have an overly optimistic view of human nature. Although there is goodness to be found in the human heart, there is also pride and self-deceit. The quest for and access to power and status are ongoing temptations to which we often succumb. Like the biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Niebuhr 1937), we are tempted to become god-like, not recognizing our own finitude and limitations. Unlike many liberal theologians of his day, Niebuhr embraced the language of “original sin” and argued that a minimal amount of coercion, although seemingly incompatible with Jesus’s vision of the kingdom of God, was an unfortunate necessity (Niebuhr [1929] 1957:193). He also challenged the utopian visions of some secular philosophers, such as John Dewey, who believed that education, coupled with reason, was all we need to make the world more just:
Though educators ever since the eighteenth century have given themselves to the fond illusion that justice through voluntary co-operation waited only upon a more universal or a more adequate educational enterprise, there is good reason to believe that the sentiments of benevolence and social goodwill will never be so pure or powerful, and the rational capacity to consider the rights and needs of others in fair competition with our own will never be so fully developed as to create the anarchist millennium which is the social utopia, either explicit or implicit, of all intellectual or religious moralists. (Niebuhr [1932] 1960:3)
A second thread was his extension of the first beyond private morality. Niebuhr argued that although privately, people can, and often do, live morally upright lives, they will often embrace, tolerate, or identify with immoral policies and institutions that harm thousands (e.g., laws that sanction racial segregation, economic policies that heighten inequalities, movements that promote one group over another). Collective pride and self-interest kick in, limiting the impact of reason. Niebuhr believed that because reason was “always, to some degree, the servant of [self-]interest” (Niebuhr [1932] 1960:xiv-xv), collective morality was difficult to attain:
The development of social justice does depend to some degree upon the extension of rationality. But the limits of reason make it inevitable that pure moral action, particularly in the intricate, complex and collective relationships, should be an impossible goal. Men will never be wholly reasonable, and the proportion of reason to impulse becomes increasingly negative when we proceed from the life of individuals to that of social groups, among whom a common mind and purpose is always more or less inchoate and transitory, and who depend therefore upon a common impulse to bind them together. (Niebuhr [1932] 1960:34-35)
Although Niebuhr believed that “at times the proverbial voice of reason can prevent a group from behaving rashly, people can also use the power of intellect to manipulate, cajole, and coerce others. The human will, in other words, can weaponize reason to do harm as well as good, and human relations attest to the fact that self-interest consistently prevails over generosity” (Sabella 2017). If he were alive today, Niebuhr would probably consider intellectuals such as Steven Pinker (2019) as being overly-optimistic about reason's ability to overcome the power of self-interest.

Niebuhr concluded that getting one’s hand dirty in the political process was necessary. “Moral man,” he believed, “had to be willing to engage immoral society on society’s own terms” (Sabella 2017:26). Moreover, although he saw the value of social movements and often worked with them, he believed that in order to bring about genuine social change, one needed “to enlist the power of government” (Ronald H. Stone, quoted in Sabella 2017:45).

Niebuhr’s cynicism was tempered by his faith. He believed Jesus’s life and teachings pull us toward an ideal which although we will never realize in our lifetimes, can lead to us to act in ways that can make the world a better place:
For Niebuhr, the kingdom of God is the state of perfect harmony among human beings. As such, it is an ‘impossible possibility’: although we will never succeed in building the kingdom in this life, we must strive for it nonetheless because we know it is real. And in our striving, we manage to catch glimpses of the kingdom in human life... A vision of the kingdom is key, if not achieving, then at least to ‘approximating the kingdom of God on earth,’ as Andrew Finstuen puts it." (Sabella 2017:126)
Niebuhr held that we are inherently tribal beings, and our tribal tendencies can manifest themselves in religious nationalism, which he saw as highly dangerous. “What makes [religious nationalisms] so dangerous is that they conjoin so many different forms of collective pride—not only spiritual and national pride, but race and class pride as well—and then arm them with the power of the modern state" (Gorski 2017:125).

Niebuhr believed that every nation has its own form of collective pride, and he traced America’s back to the Puritans and Jeffersonians: in particular, the belief that America is God’s “American Israel” (Niebuhr [1952] 2008:24) and that with the founding of the United States, we had turned our “back upon the vices of Europe” (Niebuhr [1952] 2008:28) to “make a new beginning in a corrupt world” (Niebuhr [1952] 2008:25). Moreover, although we initially saw our nation's increasing prosperity as evidence of God’s grace, over time we came to see it as proof of our moral superiority and virtue (Niebuhr [1952] 2008:51). That's why, he argued, we tend to respond poorly to criticism “since we [believe] that our society is so essentially virtuous that only malice could prompt criticism of our actions” (Niebuhr [1952] 2008:25).

In many ways, Niebuhr anticipated how social identity theorists have highlighted our tribal tendencies, in particular, our tendency to see the groups to which we belong as better than others. Not only do we tend to favor members of our own groups, we often pull for them to “win” even if winning leaves us worse off than compromising. A corollary to this is that when members of our groups' are attacked, either verbally or physically, we also feel “attacked.” This often leads groups to close ranks and increase the "distance" between ourselves and others. In practical terms this suggests that if we are truly interested in decreasing the polarization in our society, attacking our opponents (e.g., making fun of them, characterizing them as morally or intellectually inferior than us) isn't the answer.

Nationalism and the Appeal of Authoritarianism

So, what has contributed to the current wave of Christian nationalism? Anne Applebaum's persuasively argues that the rise of authoritarianism in the West lies, at least in part, in the sense among some that a cherished way of life, a sense of national identity, is slipping away. And individuals such as Victor Orbán in Hungary, Boris Johnson in Britain, and Donald Trump in the United States promise to halt this slide. For (some) Americans this means that "any price should be paid, any crime should be forgiven, any outrage should be ignored if that's what it takes to get real America, the old America, back" (Applebaum, p. 171). Applebaum notes how for some conservatives, the Reaganite optimism has given way to something akin to apocalyptic despair, and she holds up Laura Ingraham as an example ("Laura Ingraham’s Descent Into Despair").

David Brooks observations from the recent "National Conservatism Conference" ("The Terrifying Future of the American Right") seem to bear this out:

"Conservatives have always inveighed against the cultural elite—the media, the universities, Hollywood. But in the Information Age, the purveyors of culture are now corporate titans... The national conservatives thus describe a world in which the corporate elite, the media elite, the political elite, and the academic elite have all coagulated into one axis of evil, dominating every institution and controlling the channels of thought... "At the heart of this blue oligarchy are the great masters of surveillance capitalism, the Big Tech czars who decide in secret what ideas get promoted, what stories get suppressed... The idea that the left controls absolutely everything—from your smartphone to the money supply to your third grader’s curriculum—explains the apocalyptic tone that was the dominating emotional register of this conference:
'The left’s ambition is to create a world beyond belonging. Their grand ambition is to deconstruct the United States of America.' (Josh Hawley) 
'The left’s attack is on America. The left hates America. It is the left that is trying to use culture as a tool to destroy America.' (Ted Cruz) 
'We are confronted now by a systematic effort to dismantle our society, our traditions, our economy, and our way of life.' (Marco Rubio)
"My old friend Rod Dreher [an Eastern Orthodox Christian] of The American Conservative argued that because the left controls the commanding heights of the culture and the economy, the only institution the right has a shot at influencing is the state. In these circumstances the right has to use state power to promote its values. 'We need to quit being satisfied with owning the libs, and save our country,' Dreher said. 'We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power.'

"This is where Viktor Orbán comes in. It was Dreher who prompted [Tucker] Carlson’s controversial trip to Hungary last summer, and Hungarians were a strong presence at the National Conservatism Conference. Orbán, in Dreher’s view, understands the civilizational stakes of the culture war; he has, for instance, used the power of the state to limit how much transgenderism can be taught to children in schools. 'Our team talks incessantly about how horrible wokeness is,' Dreher said at the conference. 'Orbán actually does something about it.'"

If Applebaum and Brooks are right, it makes no difference to folks like Dreher, Hawley, Cruz, Rubio, and others that Donald Trump is morally challenged. That's because he's willing to do what ever is necessary to get the "real America" back, or at least their idea of the "real America." Thus, appeals to reason and rationality, right and wrong, or simply common sense are not going to change their minds any time soon (if ever).

Previous Posts
  1. Introduction (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part I)
  2. Who are the 81%? (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part II)
  3. The Rural-Urban Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part III)
  4. The Economic Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part IV)
  5. Ideas Matter (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part V)
  6. The Appeal of Christian Nationalism (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part VI)
References

Applebaum, Anne. 2020. Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1937. "The Tower of Babel." Pp. 25-46 in Beyond Tragedy. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

____. [1929] 1957. Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. New York, NY: Living Age Books.

____. [1932] 1960. Moral Man and Immoral Society. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

____. [1952] 2008. The Irony of American History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Pinker, Steven. 2019. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. New York: Penguin Books.

Sabella, Jeremy L. 2017. An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Appeal of Christian Nationalism (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part VI)

In previous posts, I have explored possible explanations as to why such a large portion of conservative Christians supported Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections. To recap (since it's been awhile):
  1. Introduction (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part I)
  2. Who are the 81%? (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part II)
  3. The Rural-Urban Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part III)
  4. The Economic Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part IV)
  5. Ideas Matter (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part V)
In this post I explore the positive association between Christian nationalism and support for Trump. No one has probably explored this relationship more than Andrew Whitehead, Samuel Perry, and Joseph Baker (2018). They have shown that holding beliefs associated with Christian nationalism is a strong predictor of whether someone voted for Trump. Consider, for example, the following graph, which plots the predicted probability of someone voting for Trump in 2016 (Y-axis) by the degree they embrace Christian nationalistic views (Christian Nationalism Index, X-axis), broken down by whether someone identifies as a Republican, Independent, or Democrat (Whitehead et al., p. 162).


It shows that as the higher one rates in terms of Christian nationalism, the more likely they were to vote for Trump. Moreover, it shows that this was true across party affiliation although (unsurprisingly) Republicans were more likely to vote for Trump than Democrats with Independents falling in between. None of this is to suggest that of all Trump’s supporters are white nationalists, of course. It is merely to note that those who hold white nationalist views are more likely to vote for Trump than those who do not.

To construct the Christian Nationalism Index they combined six measures from separate questions that ask for agreement with whether
  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values”
  • “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state” (reverse coded)
  • “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan”
  • “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools”
Possible response options for each question range on a five-point scale from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree” with (3) “Undecided” as the middle category. Scores ranged from 6 to 30 (0 to 24 when rescaled) and meet standard statistical thresholds for combining multiple questions into a single scale.

In a book-length study, Whitehead and Perry (2020) sorted Americans into four categories or perspectives concerning Christian Nationalism: Ambassadors, Accommodators, Resisters, and Rejecters. Ambassadors are "wholly supportive of Christian nationalism" (p. 35), Accommodators tend to believe "that the federal government should advocate for Christian values, [they are] undecided about the federal government officially declaring the United States is a Christian nation" (p. 33); Resisters "lean toward opposing Christian nationalism" but "may be undecided about allowing the display of religious symbols in public places" (p.31); finally, Rejectors "generally believe there should be no connection between Christianity and politics" (p. 26). Ambassadors score from 24-30 on the scale and account for 19.8% of Americans; Accommodators score from 18-23 and account for 32.1% of Americans; Resisters score from 12-17 and account for 26.6% of Americans, and Rejecters score from 6-11 and account for 21.5% of Americans.

What interests us here is whether conservative Protestants are more likely to embrace Christian nationalist views. The answer is yes, but but not by as great of margin as one might suspect. The graph below (from the Baylor 2017 Survey, same one used by Whitehead et al.) plots the average Christian Nationalism score by religious tradition. Unsurprisingly, conservative Protestants, on average, score higher on the index than other religious traditions, but other traditions (e.g., Black Protestant, Roman Catholic) are not too far behind.


Although nationalism and authoritarianism do not always go hand-in-hand, they are often found together (Tudor and Slater 2020), as they are now in parts of Europe and the United States. So, why is that in the U.S. it is conservative Christians who are more likely to embrace Christian nationalism and support someone with authoritarian tendencies like Donald Trump? We can no longer assume that individuals attracted to authoritarianism (commonly referred to as the "authoritarian personality") are only found among conservatives, although that has been the working assumption among social scientists for decades. However, recent research, such as that by the psychologist and behavioral economist Karen Stenner, have found authoritarian attitudes among both conservatives and liberals (see also, "The Experts Somehow Overlooked Authoritarians on the Left"). Stenner prefers the term, "authoritarian predisposition," because predispositions do not always manifest themselves. They can lay dormant and are only triggered in certain situations.

It is likely that some of the factors I've considered in previous posts helped act as triggers among conservative Christians. Moreover, according to Kristin Kobes Du Mez (2020, pp. 4, 6-7) white evangelicals have long been primed to support someone who embodied a “rugged, aggressive, militant masculinity” and embraced “patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism.” Thus, Trump's mix of authoritarianism and Christian nationalism fit an image long embraced by evangelicals and help explain why he's become their "new high priest" in spite of his moral shortcomings (Du Mez, Chapter 15).

The question remains as to the appeal of the Christian nationalism embodied by Donald Trump. I'll take this up in my next post when I consider Reinhold Niebuhr's reflections on religious nationalism, as well as Anne Applebaum's recent exploration of the rise of authoritarianism in the West (and not just the United States). Part of the answer lies in the sense among some that a cherished way of life, a sense of national identity, is slipping away. For some Americans this means that "any price should be paid, any crime should be forgiven, any outrage should be ignored if that's what it takes to get real America, the old America, back" (Applebaum, p. 171). And they see Trump as the only one who can restore America to its former greatness, and that is reason enough to vote for him.

References

Applebaum, Anne. 2020. Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Du Mez, Kristin Kobes. 2020. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Stenner, Karen. 2005. The Authoritarian Dynamic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tudor, Maya, and Dan Slater. 2021. "Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Democracy: Historical Lessons from South and Southeast Asia." Perspectives on Politics 19(3):706-22. doi: 10.1017/S153759272000078X

Whitehead, Andrew L, Samuel L Perry, and Joseph O Baker. 2018. "Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election." Sociology of Religion 79(2):147-71. doi: 10.1093/socrel/srx070

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Giants and Giants fans would like to thank...

The Giants and Giants fans would like to thank...

...the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans for blaming Gabe Kapler for their woes. The Phillies win % under Kapler was .497; under his successor, Joe Girardi? .497. You might have noticed that the Giants won 107 games this season.

...the so-called experts who prematurely declared the Padres and Dodgers to be the new rivalry in the West. Rivalry? To quote Inigo Montoya, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." Did you happen to watch the playoff between the Dodgers and Giants? Now, that's a rivalry. I know I was put off by this declaration; I can't imagine what kind of motivation it provided to players like Posey, Crawford, and Belt.

...and finally, the Dodgers. Thanks for "panicking" when the Giants kept winning and mortgaging a good chunk of your future by trading several top prospects for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. And although both Scherzer and Turner played well during the regular season, neither had memorable playoffs. By contrast, the Giants didn't give up much to acquire Kris Bryant. And while it was a bitter pill to swallow when the Dodgers beat the Giants in the NLDS, by winning the West, the Giants did deny the Dodgers home field advantage in the playoffs, which probably cost them in their series against the Braves. So, to paraphrase Carl Spackler, we got that going for us, which is nice.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Ideas Matter (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part V)

In 2000, the sociologist Rodney Stark penned an essay criticizing social scientists of religion for attempting to reduce explanations of religious behavior to material causes (Religious Effects: In Praise of "Idealistic Humbug"):
Although social scientists involved in most other areas of study have long acknowledged the truism that, if people define somethingas real, it can have real consequences, this usually has been denied in the areaof religion. Instead, there has been a general willingness to agree with Karl Marx that any attempt to explain 'reality' by reference to an 'unreality' such as religion is "idealistic humbug..." (p. 289)
He goes on to point out several historical cases where religious ideas did matter. Take, for example, the abolitionist movement where religious leaders and groups such as Lyman Beecher (whose daughter wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin), Charles Grandison Finney (who turned Oberlin College into a center of the movement and a key underground railroad station), and the Quakers (who founded the Abolition Society in 1787).

Nevertheless, "social scientists have been able to see through these righteous 'poses' and to reveal that, far from reflecting moral commitment, abolitionism was but disguised "economic self interest" (p. 292). He notes that some scholars have argued, for instance, that the Quakers opposed slavery because they "were in the vanguard of the industrial revolution," and slavery "had become an impediment to the further development of capitalism" (p. 292).

Stark believes that such arguments are nonsensical. He's the first to admit that material conditions do impact human behavior, but he also believes that ideas have consequences. I agree.

Stark's point is helpful to keep in mind when trying to understand why so many theologically-conservative Christians voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. I've already explored a couple of "material" explanations, such as the "rural-urban" and the "economic" divides, but beliefs also play a role. One reason why so many white Christians support Trump is because he told them he would promote policies near and dear to their hearts, such as banning or limiting abortion, embracing religious freedom, and advocating Christian values in the public square. Many theologically-conservative Christians really do believe that life begins at conception, that their religious beliefs are being trampled on, and that America is in moral decline. And that all of this has contributed to America no longer being "great." R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, reflects this perspective nicely:
Legalizing marijuana and prostitution are part of the overarching policy of moral deregulation that our establishment has endorsed for the last two generations: no-fault divorce, the abortion license, lifting taboos against homosexuality, normalizing pornography, blurring distinctions between men and women, and more. The fact that our leaders should endorse moral deregulation in the face of 80,000 drug overdose deaths a year, declining marriage rates and rising illegitimacy rates, a broken male-female dance, increases in anomie, isolation, and suicide is astounding (First Things, June/July 2021, p. 70)
So, when Trump told evangelicals that they "would have power," he wasn't simply telling them that with him in the White House they would enjoy a level of political clout they hadn't in years, but he was also signaling that their values would no longer be ignored:
I will tell you, Christianity is under tremendous siege, whether we want to talk about it or we don’t want to talk about it... Christianity will have power. If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power, you don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.
To be clear: material factors have clearly played a role. But so have beliefs. So have ideas. Perhaps, one of the more intriguing arguments comes from the historian (and evangelical) Kristin Kobes Du Mez (Jesus and John Wayne), who argues that white evangelicals have long been primed to support someone like Trump who embodied a “rugged, aggressive, militant masculinity” and embraced “patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism” (pp. 6-7). Ronald Reagan fit this mold to an extent, but it is Donald Trump who has become their high priest. In spite of his personal moral failings, Trump is seen as the only one who can truly restore America to its former greatness. And that is reason enough to cast their votes for him.