Apropos of my comment yesterday, E.J. Dionne has an op-ed today commenting on the spate of Christian lawsuits seeking a greater recognition of Christmas in public venues.

The great Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that “the chief source of man’s inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men.” I fear that in these Christmas debates, Christians are behaving not as Christians but as a tribe: “We will pound them if they get in the way of our customs and rituals.”

Tribal behavior is antithetical to the spirit of peace and good will. In this season, we ought to be taking the most expansive possible view of our obligations to others.

Update: Margaret Edds also had a column about this yesterday.

The controversy is gaining traction, however, because it fits a popular, post-election narrative: A “values” divide is supposedly rending the nation – secularism and multi-culturalism on one side, traditional Christianity on the other.

If that’s the case, and the premise is certainly open to dispute, this latest outgrowth strikes me in three ways: silly, odd, and – if it’s genuine – not nearly far-reaching enough.

Silly because, seriously now, who cares? A strong, vibrant religious movement isn’t going to be undone because a storefront says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Odd because I view militant Christianity as an oxymoron. The most convincing faith radiates from a well-lived life, not from pushy actions such as boycotts or sit-ins.

And ultimately short-sighted, because if we’re determined to go this route, even “Merry Christmas” isn’t exactly “O Holy Night” and the real apostasy in the season is spending more time in a shopping mall than at the local homeless shelter.

Any Christianity-based objection to Macy’s “Holiday 2004” press release ought not to stop with the word “holiday.” Consider this marketing twist: “Throughout the store, shoppers will see alluring signs highlighting holiday-season sentiment … Who can resist a display of recliner chairs labeled ‘Goodwill Toward Men’ or cashmere sweaters under a sign reading, ‘Comfort and Joy’?”

The Committee to Save Merry Christmas’s real complaint ought to be the national linking of lavish consumerism to its holy season.