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The chasm

The pieces on this site and in our various Ridenbaugh Press publications are written with an audience in mind: What we used to think of as a mainstream American audience, generally reachable through the kind of voice you find in most American daily newspapers.

The notion that words and concepts mean somwhat the same to us all, though, is becoming increasingly questionable. A great case in point: Today’s column by Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times.

Last week, as he noted, he wrote a facestious, sarcastic “open letter” to the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who has claimed that Merry Christmas is being swept underfoot of Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays. “This is a war. You’re either for Christmas, or you’re against it,” he wrote. “After we [Christians] are persecuted from the malls, how are we supposed to observe the birth of the Lord? “What’s left for us? Just church? The family hearth?”

Westneat was not wrong in assuming that his readers – the mainstream American readership of decades past – should take that as satire, whether they agreed with his point or not. But significant (and, we will argue here, growing) portions of the citizenry simply don’t see things through the same lens.

I returned this week to find more than 200 e-mailers and 25 phone callers extolling me as a key bulwark against an atheist plot to steal Christmas.

One person thanked me for being one of the few journalists in the city to express a sentiment many feel deeply about. “I am so sick of ‘Happy Holidays’ as a greeting I could scream,” the reader wrote.

“You are right on target about how Christmas is being taken from us,” wrote another.

“God bless you,” wrote another. “It’s true we are at war, and we Christians better take a stand and be salt and light.”

“Obviously these people don’t speak for all Christians. But it’s still sad that so many seem to feel Christmas joy depends on words in Macy’s store ads. And telling that it’s more about a public contest than personal observance,” Westneat concluded. “To be crystal clear, what I meant was this: Forget about shopping, Christians. Even the Grinch figured out that Christmas doesn’t come from a store.”

Half a century ago, Dr. Seuss could write about the Grinch and make a few points, some of them satiric, that most of us would get. Westneat’s experience shows he might not be able to confidently do the same today.

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