And a Happy Boxing Day to you, Garrison Keillor!

I must have been doing a spectacularly poor job wasting time over the last week, because only today did I see Garrison Keillor’s Christmas rant:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Golly. For the record, he also says bad things about Lawrence Summers and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and unaccountably refers to the good people of Cambridge, MA, as “Cambridgeans.”

One has to wonder exactly how serious this is intended to be. On the one hand, Keillor is a professional humorist and satirist. He’s also an inveterate rewriter of lyrics, Christmas lyrics not excepted. On the other, well… it isn’t very funny, now is it?

I’m leaning towards thinking it’s satire, or at least thinking that he thinks it’s satire. I am hardly Garrison Keillor’s biggest fan1—I find A Prairie Home Companion both precious and grating, not to mention endlessly, mindlessly, numbingly repetitive—but I don’t think he’s stupid. I can easily imagine him being sufficiently egotistical to blast the UU’s for rewriting lyrics even as he does it himself (possibly by distinguishing “serious” and “humorous” rewrites). I can’t imagine him being so ignorant of musical tradition as to think that lyrics haven’t been rewritten continually since there were lyrics to rewrite. Or that Christmas music was universally wonderful and timeless until those Unitarians and Jews had to go and spoil it all.

I think he’s adopted a sort of vaguely anti-Semitic (and anti-Unitarian (and heck, while we’re at it, homophobic)) curmudgeonly Andy Rooney persona, full of misty nostalgia for those good old days that never existed. Perhaps he’s also kidding on the square.

And this wouldn’t be the first time Keillor’s attempted satire was taken more seriously than he claims to have intended. Here’s his apology, in the context of Dan Savage’s response to same, for the above-linked column.

FWIW, I looked up the offending Godless Silent Night. I’m not sure which of the two versions in the UU hymnal so offended Garrison. The first is just like the one he’s used to, except that it replaces “son of God” with “child of God” and ends each stanza with “Sleep in heavenly peace”—no Sons or Lords here. The second is a much more literal translation of two of the original German verses, very mildly Unitarianized so as to avoid the word “savior.”

Lots of responses to this on the internets, of course. Here‘s one from folk-singer-(pretty good folk singer, in fact)-turned-Unitarian-minister Fred Small, whose church it was that Keillor was talking about. This piece includes links to other Unitarian-Universalist responses (some of which seem angry and wounded—UUs, like “Cambridgeans,” are natural Keillor fans). Here‘s something pretty icky from Powerline, the gist of which is that Keillor must be sublimating his anger at the Jews (isn’t it really the atheists, and those who like the First Amendment?) who have so rudely driven Christmas from the Public Square.


1. Garrison Keillor’s biggest fan is Garrison Keillor.

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2 Responses to “And a Happy Boxing Day to you, Garrison Keillor!”

  1. Robin Edgar Says:

    I think that *one* of the reasons that some Unitarian*Universalists aka U*Us are so taken aback by Garrison Keillor’s “rant” is because he hit a bit too close to home for many U*Us. The UUA has systematically edited out aka “memory holed” God and Jesus from many if not most of the songs in UUA produced hymnals, not just Christmas carols. It seems that Garrison Keillor touched a nerve. . .

    Here is part of how I responded to one U*U blogger’s post about this U*U controversy –

    Garrison Keillor seemed to be quite specifically sharing his concerns (as it were) about the rather problematic U*U propensity to remove any and all reference to God and Jesus from traditional Christian hymns, not just Christmas carols by any means. . . in a manner that is not all *that* far removed from the Stalinistic purging of persona non grata from historical records and similar “memory holing” as described in George Orwell’s 1984.

    Or at least that is how I read his saying –

    “I discovered that “Silent Night” has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God. . .”

    I have reasonable grounds to believe that is precisely why he went on to say –

    “it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough.”

    Perhaps Garrison Keillor should have spoken about spiritual vandalism. . . Besides being comparable to Stalin’s purging of the images and historical records of political rivals, the Unitarian purging of God and Jesus from many if not most U*U hymns is not that far removed from how some ancient Egyptian pharaohs chiseled out the cartouches of problematic predecessors from their monuments.

    I happen to believe that *those* concerns of Garrison Keillor are quite legitimate having seen no shortage of U*U hymns that have been subject to the UUA’s Stalinist “pogrom” against God. How many “churches” do you know of where a “pastor” can dogmatically preach from the pulpit that God is “a non-existent being” and that belief in God “seems primitive”? Heck I well recall how Rev. XXXXXXX XXXXX of the Unitarian Church of XXXXXXXX (just making a point while complying with the Code of Silence that is written into the UUMA Guidelines that I am not actually a party to in any case. . .) somewhat gratuitously concluding a Sunday sermon in which he spoke about witnessing bush fires in Australia by declaring –

    “God can be a son of a bitch.”

    Not that God *can’t* be a bit of an S.O.B. every now and then. . . but this is hardly the kind of public pronouncement that one expects to hear from the minister of any “church” during a Sunday service.

    So it would *appear* that when Unitarians aren’t busy purging any mention of God or Jesus from their hymnals *some* Unitarians are busy publicly denying the very existence of God or even calling God an S.O.B. in front of a “captive audience”. I am pretty sure *that* is more or less what Garrison Keillor was “ranting” about.

  2. Endings and beginnings (of the year, of blogs), Garrison Keillor, and more « : The Interdependent Web Says:

    […] He’s also an inveterate rewriter of lyrics, Christmas lyrics not excepted. On the other, well… it isn’t very funny, now is it? (“Michael Lauer’s Weblog,” December […]

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