Christmas fades in a world that needs it
by Salim Mansur
A few days ago I received a letter from a dear friend visiting Vietnam to attend a physics conference in Qui Nhon.
My friend is head of the physics department at a Catholic college in upstate New York.
Vietnam, he wrote me, is "a country of our heartache, of our youth in many ways."
This is true for our generation that came of age in the years after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963.
We became first aware of politics and then took part in anti-Vietnam War protests during the decade beginning with the U.S. bombings of Hanoi, sometime after Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964, and ending with the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
My friend wrote, "In spite of the hammer and sickle flying in public places, business is booming.
Tourists abound, markets are flourishing and, oddly, Saigon is preparing for Christmas.
"Lights are strung up in public parks, my hotel has a huge Christmas tree in the foyer, the country and its people are preparing for Christmas."
The appeal of Jesus is near universal and love for Him is potentially such an immense force it can topple tyrannies, as we witnessed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union's communist empire.
"A country under godless communists celebrates Christmas," continued my friend with an irony very revealing of our upside-down world, "while in a God-fearing country (referring to the U.S.) Christmas is under attack and its citizens are paralyzed by the forces of godless totalitarians."
Yet it is more than odd; it is sad and frightfully bone-headed in countries such as ours, with majority populations being at a minimum nominally Christian, where the authorities strive to curtail or even push back public celebrations of Christmas.
This is done, so it is explained, not to cause public discomfort to non-Christian minorities and to maintain the secular nature of society.
Instead, it illustrates the disconnect of the political-intellectual elite with a majority of Christians increasingly distressed by the assault on their religious tradition.
Among non-Christians, and apart from atheists, hostility to Christmas and Christians in general is mostly to be found in recent years among Muslims (though, it must be said, not with all Muslims).
Driven by Islamist ideology — a reprehensible mix of religious triumphalism and political fanaticism — Muslims have become increasingly hostile to Christians in their midst.
Over past several decades, towns and cities in the Arab-Muslim world, such as Bethlehem, that once had significant Christian populations have seen their numbers decline precipitately.
Across the Holy Land, Christians have become an imperilled minority, and they are departing from the Middle East where once there was a vibrant Christian presence.
In From The Holy Mountain, William Dalrymple writes, as a result of this Christian exodus, "Christianity will no longer exist in the Holy Land as a living faith; a vast vacuum will exist in the very heart of Christendom."
Hence, ironically while there is Christmas celebration in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), it is curtailed in public squares in the West and, even more tragically, Christians are vanishing in numbers across Arab-Muslim lands where Jesus' loving presence is most sorely needed.