When a man looks at himself through any lens other than the Gospel, he will inevitably be devoured by one of two sins. Either he will be consumed by pride or he will be consumed by despair. He will either conclude that God must be pleased with him because he is good, righteous, and holy, or he will conclude that God must despise him because he is evil, worthless, and useless. He will either conclude that He doesn’t need Jesus and His salvation, or he will conclude that He could not possibly receive Jesus and His salvation.
For quite some time, our culture has aided the devil in leading our young men and women into the tw0-sided pit. And as a general rule, it has done so by casting young men into the chamber of despair, while casting our young women into the chamber of pride.
Our culture has taught men that they are worthless, that their masculinity is toxic, that they are a hindrance to a just and equitable society. It has taught them that they were sexist for wanting to provide for women, that they were discriminating by maintaining male-only spaces, and that they were immature for socializing in ways that women didn’t value. It demanded that they get out of the women’s way. Then, when they obliged, our culture condemned them for being underemployed, unaccomplished, undersocialized schlubs. If you want proof of this, just look at young men’s waning college graduation stats, their waning income, and their skyrocketing rates of pornography addiction.
Conversely, our culture has taught women that they are perfect just as they are, that all their suffering is caused by others not recognizing their perfection, and that they have earned the praise of the world merely by existing. If you want proof of this, just watch a few Hallmark Christmas movies.
To understand how these seemingly wholesome exercises in yuletide sweetness reflect the pride-producing nature of our culture, one must first recognize that most Hallmark Christmas movies are essentially underdog stories—the female version of “Rocky.” In each film, the heroine, let’s call her Lindsay Snowfall, must fell a superior opponent who stands in the way of her achieving a goal. That goal is marriage with handsome Flannel Shirt Joe. That superior opponent can be many things, but is often Flannel Shirt Joe’s romantic partner, Fancy Fiancée. In the same way that Rocky must summon the strength to defeat Apollo Creed, Lindsay Snowfall must summon the strength to defeat Fancy Fiancée, who wears sunglasses and fur coats to indicate her superiority and who is also the worst woman who has ever lived in the history of the world.
The difference between Apollo Creed and Fancy Fiancée, however, is that Fancy Fiancée is not actually better than Lindsay from Snowfall Village. She’s not actually prettier. She’s not more intelligent. She’s certainly not more nurturing. She probably spits on babies and dry shaves puppies.
Likewise, the difference between Rocky Balboa and Lindsay Snowfall is that Rocky actually engages in acts of self-improvement. He runs up stairs. He punches cow guts and drinks raw eggs. He recognizes his weaknesses and sweats and cries and pushes himself to the limit in order to become strong enough to overcome his foe.
What does Lindsay from Snowfall Village do to defeat Fancy Fiancée and steal her man? Nothing. She doesn’t train. She doesn’t try. She doesn’t reflect on weakness because she has none. And her only real problem is that Flannel Shirt Joe doesn’t recognize this. So she simply waits for him to do so. She waits for Fancy Fiancée to be so mean to her that Flannel Shirt Joe dumps her, then chases our heroine down at the train station, and confesses his love.
Or, if the film doesn’t feature a Fancy Fiancée, she simply waits for Flannel Shirt Joe to push the other obstacle out of the way for her. She waits for him to quit his job at the Small Town Christmas Farm Destroying Law Firm or the Rustic Christmas Cabin Lodge Foreclosing Bank. When it seems like he’s not going to, she runs away. Then he tracks her down and tells her that she was his Christmas wish all along and they kiss underneath the clock tower at 8:57 pm.
To summarize, Hallmark Christmas movies are underdog stories where the underdog is not actually an underdog, where her biggest challenge is that people don’t realize that she’s already perfect, and where she waits for someone else to overcome the challenge for her.
Likewise, the prideful soup in which we’ve basted our women is evident in the way that Hallmark Christmas films justify their sins by covering them in a veneer of wholesomeness. Just as a prideful gossip justifies her reputation-destroying speech by saying, “I’m only saying this because I’m worried about her,” so the Hallmark Christmas movie reflects a culture that has trained women to justify their self-worship and covetousness by cloaking it in G-rated sweetness.
It’s ok to steal another woman’s man if you’re kinder and gentler and more loving than she is. And, whaddyaknow, you are kinder and gentler and more loving than she is! It’s ok to entice a man away from his betrothed by batting your doe eyes at him if you’re better and purer than the woman wearing his ring. In fact, it’s the right thing to do! You’re being righteous by stealing that man away from Lady Hitler in a mink.
Sure, Ephesians 5 says that wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives. But that only applies to women like Fancy Fiancée who aren’t already perfect and pure. You tested out of needing to sacrifice anything for your husband. And you’re only improving his life by making him abandon everything he knows to join you in your cozy existence. So make those demands! Make him quit his job! Make him leave the big city! Make him get over his dead wife, already! It’s what you deserve!
Is it any surprise that Hallmark Christmas movies, despite all their external righteousness and love of tradition, never mention Christ? The characters almost never go to church. They are entirely silent about the reason for the season, as your aunt who ironically doesn’t go to church on Christmas likes to put it on Facebook. Why? It’s not because Hallmark’s audience would be offended or their advertisers would be scandalized. It’s because the role of the savior has already been cast in the movie. The savior is the sinless, spotless little Christmas ewe who saves the day by being super worthy of everybody’s love and praise despite not actually doing anything especially lovable or praiseworthy.
But we need not throw the yuletide baby out with the narcissism bathwater. There’s no reason we can’t keep the external wholesomeness of Hallmark Christmas movies while also infusing them with far greater theology, especially when one considers that the cost to make the average Hallmark Christmas movie is equivalent to lunch for a table of six at the Cheesecake Factory. So, as a gift for those suburban housewives who, every December, hunger for G-rated, low stakes entertainment, let us pool our resources and produce one of the following theologically correct Hallmark Christmas movie pitches:
Charlotte’s Chocolate Christmas: A mountain town chocolatier is thrown for a loop when Handsome Banker strolls into town ready to foreclose on the sweetshop her parents founded. Handsome Banker falls in love with her and relents, but when he won’t go to church with her on Christmas Eve, she dumps him because she recognizes that fleeting is the loyalty of a man whose supposedly new heart has not been made new by the Holy Spirit.
Melanie’s Mistletoe Surprise: A thirty-something florist has a hostile meet-cute with Widower Architect after she knocks him over with a tray of poinsettias. She hopes to win his love by bonding with his precocious daughter but fails because exploiting a young girl’s tragedy to improve your romantic prospects is actually a very psychotic thing to do. Realizing that she is a selfish, shallow person unworthy of a man’s loyalty and protection and that she needs more than a general love of winter aesthetics and puppies in order to be righteous, Melanie begs her local pastor for a crash course in the Christian faith and is baptized on Christmas Eve. A year later, she meets a normal looking accountant named Jeff and they get married.
Holly’s Jolly Christmas Pageant: Holly has directed the Christmas program at Shepherd of the Cove Lutheran Church for years to great fanfare. But trouble begins to brew when new pastor Rev. Bachelor Jawline rolls into town and insists that the kids learn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” instead of “The Little Drummer Boy.” Holly takes great offense until a mysterious white bearded stranger reminds her that Christmas is all about proclaiming the incarnation, not foisting atheological fluff on innocent children. Then Rev. Jawline asks Holly on a date and proposes very awkwardly before the Caesar salads arrive because he went to the Fort Wayne seminary and can’t tell the difference between a woman being polite and a woman being interested.