The 'war on Christmas' has been declared

Now that the “war on Christmas” has been declared, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

I never quite figured out what that “war” was all about, but the talkshows dote on it and Rick Perry complains that the mere act of throwing a Christmas party invites a media firestorm. Most of the Fox News pundits agree with him, thus spurring Jon Stewart to declare his personal (and presumably facetious) war on Christmas.

Most of us steer clear of Christmas controversies, but they confront us in specific areas. Should our cards explicitly wish friends a Merry Christmas, or duck into the blur of “happy holidays”? The corporate HR types urge a blur but a minority of folks still go for Christmas (including Jerry Bruckheimer, but he’s a Republican so it doesn’t count).

I checked into my own cards and they are 50-50, but I don’t know whether this reflects political correctness or disorganization.

All this is relevant to Hollywood because it has long had a vested interest in Christ, from the days of Cecil B. DeMille to Mel Gibson. Only last week Chris Columbus acquired the rights to the Anne Rice tome “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” which focuses on the 7-year-old Jesus and his return to Nazareth. In the course of the story Christ discovers the truth about his birth and defines his life purpose.

According to John A. Murray, an academic who has studied this realm, Hollywood’s forays into religion have been bountiful financially but also have had a major cultural impact around the world, introducing millions to Christianity. DeMille’s “King of Kings” was viewed by some 800 million people by 1959, asserts Murray. As a silent film, “Kings” was useful to Protestant and Catholic missionaries in selling the gospel in non-English speaking territories.

Even a flop like the Warner Bros. film, “Jesus,” in 1979, was ultimately translated into 1,000 languages, making it perhaps “the most watched film in history.” (Missionaries tabbed it lovingly “the Jesus film.”)

While “The Greatest Story Ever Told” remains the most famous Hollywood film in this genre, Mel Gibson’s effusion, “The Passion of the Christ,” was surely the most profitable (it grossed more than $500 million worldwide). To be sure, “Ben Hur” performed mightily as well thanks in part to Charlton Heston playing Judah Ben Hur (the movie related Jesus’ birth, ministry and death but didn’t have time for his resurrection.)

DeMille always reiterated that his films were simply “translations of the Bible to another medium,” thus overlooking the reality that the words of the Bible are themselves subject to varying interpretation. Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof noted recently that the Bible offers contradictory positions on such issues as homosexuality, divorce and even the naughty behavior of the people of Sodom.

Mark 10 envisions a lifelong marriage of one man and one woman, but King Solomon gloried in his 700 wives, and still other references suggest that the most practical approach for men was to remain stolidly celibate. Rather than obsessing about homosexuality, Kristof points out, “early commentators were very concerned about sex with angels as an incorrect mixing of two kinds.”

Every ideologue supplies his own Biblical references. Tony Perkins, head of the right-wing Family Research Council, pointed out recently that Christ would have condemned the “Occupy” movement because the Bible establishes Jesus as a “free marketer.” (So much for God’s approval of the 99%.)

I’m pleased that a healthy reciprocity exists between Hollywood and Christ. Even as Hollywood has spread the word, Christ has helped spread the wealth. This puts me in a much cheerier mood as I sign my Christmas cards.

Column Calendar: Monday: Peter Bart Tuesday: Peter Caranicas/Cynthia Littleton wednesday: Brian Lowry Thursday: Andrew Barker/David S. Cohen Friday: Tim Gray/Ted Johnson

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