By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Ross Douthat and the politics of self-pity

The Passion of the Douthat

Those of us who are non-Christians would like to apologize to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat for our continued existence.

In a piece remarkable for its self-pity, Douthat declares, “Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.” Among other things, Douthat declares that Christians feel “embattled” by “Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism.”

But according to a survey by Trinity College, about 76 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, which surely makes them our largest oppressed minority group, both proportionately and by sheer numbers.

Douthat is slick enough to poke fun at bozos on the right who rail about the “war” against Christmas. Yet he’s essentially engaging in the same tactic. Since Barry Goldwater, if not before, the conservative movement has been fueled in large measure by whipping up a sense of resentment. The laughable idea that it’s somehow difficult to be a Christian in this country has become a big part of that.

When Douthat was hired to replace William Kristol on the Times op-ed page, he was supposed to represent something new, different and better: a younger, more analytical thinker who might not persuade liberals but who would at least be worth reading for the strength of his arguments.

Instead, he’s proved to be a hack who offers neither entertainment nor insight.

Michelangelo’s “Martyrdom” via Wikimedia Commons. Click here or on image for a larger view.

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  1. Here’s a MassMoments link for the last man in Massachusetts jailed for blasphemy — in the 1830s!

  2. C.E. Stead

    DK- Douhat as ‘new’ is part of an interesting trend. In my experience, younger conservatives tend to be MORE doctrinaire. Maybe it’s an Alex Keaton effect, to shock the old folks.

    Take a look at the comment on your ‘new, different, better’ link. That’s the kind of rhetoric he grew up with, a level of disrespect that you or I would have found uncalled-for and unthinkable in our youth, but routine now. Younger people seem ‘mad as hell’ about having to carefully parse expression of their ideas while denigration of them is cheerfully accepted.

    I’ve read his stuff over time, and he’s not exceptionally right-wing. But in certain areas – this being one of them – younger conservatives are less tolerant than older ones.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: I agree that Douthat isn’t all that conservative. Or all that good.

  3. Andy Koppel

    I too found the column somewhere between strange and offensive. However, compared with Kristol, Douthat thinks like Socrates and writes like Camus.

    Douthat’s columns at least appear to have been thought out and written with some care and originality, as much as I don’t agree with them.

    Kristol’s dealt with hackneyed subjects and were written like a college student’s first drafts.

  4. john stewart

    I read this as essentially a review of two books, maybe you’re over-thinking this, or have a bigger problem with Douthat that you are not laying out here.

  5. Nancy Mades

    As a teacher, I designate students who turn in work that resembles Douthat’s boring, directionless column as those who will endure “no heavy lifting.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      Every defense I’ve read of Douthat’s column — and we’ve really mixed it up on Facebook — is rooted in pretending that he didn’t open it like this:

      Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

      In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism.

      This is miserable, toxic stuff. If only it weren’t for the Jews and the blacks, we could have a, uh, white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know! Every word he writes after that has to be filtered through the prism of how he chose to open.

  6. Bill Duncliffe

    He also bemoans the materialism associated with the season. In fact, he bemoans that first.

  7. Mike Rice

    Ah yes, my most favorite time of the year when the religious wars break out(again). Oy.

  8. BP Myers

    @Bill Duncliffe said: He also bemoans the materialism associated with the season. In fact, he bemoans that first.

    A Times commenter points out the (I’ll use the kinder of two word choices) irony that he shills for those same forces of materialism the other 364 days of the year.

    Hard to have it both ways.

  9. Bill Duncliffe

    I would submit that is the opinion of the Times commenter.

  10. Aaron Read–1198/

    It may seem like Christmas has always been celebrated in the United States, but that’s not the case. In fact, the joyous religious holiday was actually banned in America for several decades – by Christians themselves.

    The original war on Christmas was waged during the sixteenth and seventeenth century by Puritans, or Protestant Christians who believed that people needed strict rules to be religious and that any kind of merrymaking was sinful.

    “Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism,” according to “Shocked by the Bible” (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). “Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.”

    In my book, anyone who whines about the so-called “War on Christmas” is automatically a bonehead not worth listening to.

  11. Mike Rice

    … and to all a good night.

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