By Gary P Jackson
NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez sat down with Sarah Palin about Christmas, and her hot selling book about the holiday.
Here’s a taste of the interview:
“When people hear of the ‘war on Christmas,’” Sarah Palin writes in her new book, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, “they sometimes don’t get it.” The former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee explains:
Americans live in the red-and-green mistletoed world of Christmas in December, hearing “Santa Baby” on a perpetual loop at the mall, hushing the kids in the Swagger Wagon when “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” comes on the radio, and dealing with Christmas ads even before November’s Thanksgiving turkey has time to cook to the appropriate internal temperature. If there is a “war on Christmas,” they must wonder, surely the green glitter and constant car-with-a-gigantic-bow ads mean Christmas is a winning battle.
“Sure, the commercial aspects of Christmas are stronger than ever,” Palin goes on to observe, “but the essence of Christmas is being lost in the shuffle. And that’s at least partly by design. What is the essence of Christmas? The magic of Christmas morning and seeing the joy that comes when your kids discover Santa really did give the new Lego sets — or dictionaries — they desperately wanted?”
What is the essence of Christmas, what the true joy of it? How is it all about so much more than December 25? In the hours before Christmas, Palin answered some e-mail questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “People who reject Christianity, who turn their noses up at the religious origins of Christmas, are also rejecting the faith of many of the men and women who have made this world a better place: Martin Luther King, Jr., William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa.” Why do you find this important to point out? Non-Christians, too, make positive contributions to the world, after all.
SARAH PALIN: It’s amazing that people like Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, and Mother Teresa are universally loved while their faith is scorned. Has it not occurred to the secular elite that faith motivated these great heroes’ actions? In an age when Christianity is increasingly scorned, few people realize they live with and take for granted the benefits of Christian thought. Ending slavery, ending segregation, the great wave of concern for combating poverty — each of these movements has been motivated to a large degree by Christian faith. The fact that these movements also had non-Christian supporters does not diminish the truth of this point, and we are not dishonoring other religions when we honor Christianity.
LOPEZ: You dedicate your book to your mother and father, crediting them with giving you a “unique and inspiring upbringing.” What was unique and inspiring about it?
PALIN: The greatest gift they gave me was my upbringing in Alaska, where I gained respect for the work ethic and competition and a foundation of faith.
LOPEZ: What is Eskimo Bingo, and do you recommend it?
PALIN: I’m literally, right now as I take a minute to email you these answers, baking and wrapping gifts for tomorrow’s big game. You’ll have to read my book to learn the rules.
LOPEZ: What’s the Alaskan difference — from the lower 48 — and yet what’s uniquely American about it?
PALIN: My brother and dad recently wrote a book about Alaska where they spent chapters answering this by discussing everything from what motivates people to move here to what kind of humor they develop because of living in Alaska. I could spend days discussing this and we’d still only scratch the surface. You need to live here for at least a decade and become a Sourdough before you really “get” it. Alaska is uniquely a land of extremes — extremes in weather, in vastness, in rich natural resources, in awe-inspiring beauty, and in independence. It was the inexpressible beauty of Alaska that led me to truly know that God exists because only an omnipotent Creator could create something as complex and wondrous as my surroundings up here!
LOPEZ: “It’s a miracle what families can endure,” you write. You’ve had some incredibly public family challenges. How does a family do it?
PALIN: I don’t know how other families deal with problems without having a sustaining faith. Our faith in God and knowing all things happen for a reason, our love for each other, our recognition that others take tougher shots than we do, our compassion for those with unique challenges — these things sustain us. And keeping a sense of humor when the yahoos come out in force to spew their frustration when they spend their time reading interviews like this one!
LOPEZ: Is there something about that sense of family that we’ve lost as a culture?
PALIN: Sometimes it seems that way. I sure appreciate having a big extended, diverse family. They’re my rock and I hope others have that same bedrock foundation in their lives. There’s no substitute for the multigenerational love, wisdom, and support of an extended family.
LOPEZ: How can Christmas help?
PALIN: Traditions matter, especially this tradition. There is tremendous value in gathering annually in a spirit of love, generosity, and festivity. Most importantly, we need to remember the “reason for the season,” that God sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. When we gather for Christmas, we enjoy each other and we honor Christ. What could be better for a family?
LOPEZ: Do you worry about gifts at Christmas? That they miss the point of the holiday? How can we redeem Christmas so it is about the Savior?
PALIN: Nope. I don’t worry about gifts — I love that part of the tradition! When people wring their hands about the presents, I get it, though. It costs money and sometimes people aren’t as thankful as you think they should be when you spend your time and money on them. But presents aren’t the problem. Our hearts — as ungrateful as they sometimes are — need a fresh application of the gospel at Christmas more than ever.
LOPEZ: What do you mean when you write that “Mr. McScrooge is a legal force to be reckoned with”?
PALIN: As I wrote in the book (and, by the way, why’d you wait until two days before Christmas to ask me about my book?!), there is a unique legal doctrine that gives the “Mr. McScrooges” of the world (my stand-in for angry atheists) the ability to sue over public religious displays even when they’re just offended by what they see. Then, if they win, a town can be on the hook for huge legal fees. We can’t sue simply because we’re “offended” in other areas of the law, but courts allow these atheist lawsuits to go forward. It’s a quirk in the law that wastes resources and stifles the First Amendment. Your rights aren’t violated when you’re offended or your feelings are hurt. Hey, Mr. McScrooge: Buck up, grow thicker skin, and become tolerant, as conservatives are constantly told to do.
LOPEZ: “The atheists are trying to make Nativity scenes such a pain for cities to maintain that the public officials will simply remove all religious displays entirely.” Why, really, do we need religious displays on public property? Aren’t they more appropriate at church?
PALIN: It’s about history and truth. It’s a simple fact that America was built largely on a Judeo-Christian foundation, and it’s a simple fact that our nation has a rich Christian history drawn from the thousands of years of our Judeo-Christian tradition. Without this tradition, our nation would be distinctly different. These displays acknowledge faith while reminding us of our very real history. They’re appropriate at church, yes, but they’re not inappropriate in the public square. They remind us of our heritage — a heritage that our founders clearly acknowledged was crucial to our long-term well-being as a nation. In fact, in my book, I quote John Adams, who wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
LOPEZ: “Christmas has come under attack in recent years, and it’s not just some figment of the religious Right’s imagination.” But do you ever hesitate to use the phrase “war on Christmas,” given that there are actually people in the world who risk their lives to go to church and to live as Christians out in the open?
PALIN: I care very deeply about Christians being persecuted for their faith. In fact, I’ve been talking for months about the American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is tortured in Iran simply for his Christian faith. The Obama administration is cutting deals with his torturers, and it’s shameful.
So, absolutely, other Christians experience much worse injustices, and I certainly do not in any way want to belittle the suffering and persecution that Christians in other parts of the world are enduring for their faith. However, we can also honor their struggle by being vigilant here at home in protecting our religious liberties. America has long been a haven for religious freedom, and that fundamental liberty is increasingly under attack.
We know the difference between a shooting war and a political or cultural war, and so do those who hear this term. Here’s the bottom line: There is — unquestionably — an effort to drive Christ from the public square, and since Christmas is inseparable from Christ, that effort shows itself most publicly during the Christmas season.
LOPEZ: Are Christians part of the problem? We can surrender to secularism ourselves? We’re not all living lives that overwhelm the world with the radical call of the gospel, are we?
PALIN: I’ve personally never met a Christian who claimed to be perfect. Christians are by definition people who recognize their imperfection and hence their need for Christ. In fact, we’ll never overwhelm the world with our own goodness. It’s Christ who overcomes the world, not Christians.
LOPEZ: When you write that “there is no ultimate peace apart from Christ, and it is Christ who empowers every act of ‘goodwill toward men’ in our otherwise fallen hearts,” what does this mean to you, practically speaking?
PALIN: It means that I can take the kids to the soup kitchen over Christmas and not leave with a puffed-up sense of pride because we “did the right thing.” Rather, I identify more with people in need because I’m so desperately in need of Christ in my own life.
LOPEZ: How is it that A Charlie Brown Christmas is still airing on prime-time TV and remains so popular given its explicit Christianity?
PALIN: It’s a beautiful expression of the gospel. The Bible teaches that God set eternity in the hearts of men. I tend to think that short, sweet cartoon touches the longing for eternity in the human heart.
LOPEZ: Is there a secular case against secularizing our culture? Why should an atheist want to defend Hobby Lobby?
PALIN: An atheist should want to defend Hobby Lobby if an atheist supports the right of conscience. Would an atheist business owner appreciate being compelled to buy Bibles or evangelistic material for his or her employees?
LOPEZ: Is it a bit much to say the “logical result of atheism” is “moral decay”?
PALIN: The morality of atheism rests on individual choice, with each person doing what’s right in his or her own eyes. Of course there are many decent and moral atheists, but if you take an objective look at atheism’s historical track record you’ll see that its natural progression is moral decay. Don’t take my word for it. Look at what might be called the great atheist empires of the 20th century, and you see a horrific legacy of death and despair — from Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.
LOPEZ: What’s so troubling to you about Kwanzaa?
LOPEZ: What do you have against women-only gym hours at Harvard?
PALIN: I find it inconsistent that universities will bend over backwards to protect some sensibilities even as they spend enormous effort and endure many lawsuits in the quest to kick others — like Christian clubs — off campus. It’s a ridiculous double standard. What I’m opposed to is the double standard.
LOPEZ: Will you ever stop referring to the “lamestream” media?
PALIN: Sure, when they stop lamely applying double standards, lamely and lazily getting facts wrong when the facts run against their ideology, and lamely buying into and perpetuating stereotypes of conservatives. So, it’s entirely up to them.
Read more of this interview, where Governor Palin talks about the sanctity of life, her own weaknesses, and her reliance on God’s strength, Pope Francis, and much more here.