By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
If a meteorite crashed down on the White House today, the conversation at the Pearly Gates might go something like this.
"Oh-h-h. Where am I? St. Peter?"
"Welcome, Mr. President. I just need to see if you belong here."
"Well, St. Peter, you know I'm a born-again Christian. I pray every day. I'm very religious. I brought Bible study classes to the White House."
"That's terrific. And have you helped any lepers lately?"
"Not exactly. But my cuts in the top tax rates will create wealth that will trickle down and help lepers. I'm getting there indirectly, instead of barging through the eye of a needle."
"And St. Peter, I've been upstanding in defending Christian values. We made sure that we call the tree at the White House a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. And we sent out 1.4 million White House Christmas cards!"
"Wow! But I don't suppose any Christmas cards went to lepers. Or to prostitutes or beggars."
"I don't send cards to Democrats."
"Mr. President, our checklist doesn't have anything about sending out Christmas cards, or putting up Christmas trees. It's more about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless."
"Well, my administration spent $8,000 for a drapery that was used for years to cover up a breast of a female statue. That was clothing the naked."
"That was so silly that Lady Godiva went on a ride to protest it. We always get irritated with religious blowhards who proclaim that faith is just a matter of covering up, saying grace, looking dour and denouncing others for being lax - the Taliban approach. This latest culture war over Christmas is a perfect example of religion based on denouncing others instead of loving them."
"But St. Peter, they're just trying to put Christ back into Christmas. They see how faith is threatened by people saying 'Happy Holidays,' instead of 'Merry Christmas.' Fox News has covered 'Christmas Under Siege,' and one of its anchors has a new book called 'The War on Christmas.' The American Family Association is boycotting Target, and the Catholic League threatened a boycott against Wal-Mart. This hasn't been my issue, but these are my people, St. Peter. They're doing this to glorify Christ."
"Frankly, Mr. President, here in Heaven, I say 'Merry Christmas,' but others prefer 'Happy Holidays.' Gandhi prefers it. And a Jewish rabbi told me that his family felt more comfortable with that as well. ..."
"But St. Peter, that's one rabbi. ..."
"Whose name is Jesus."
"Jesus says Christmas shouldn't be about picking fights and organizing boycotts. All that legalistic nitpicking just reminds him of the Pharisees. Do you really think that if Jesus returns to Earth tomorrow, his priority is going to be organizing a boycott of Target stores? You think he's going to appear on Fox to say, 'Worry about genocide and hunger later - first, let's battle with liberals over what holiday greeting to use'?"
"But St. Peter, I increased aid to Africa hugely. I launched a major program to fight AIDS."
"Yes, your aid programs have been almost divine. And your administration helped lead the way in fighting sex trafficking. On the other hand, Jesus has a particular thing about genocide, and you and Congressional leaders just cut out $50 million that was supposed to go to stop the slaughter in Darfur."
"Sorry, but it's been so hectic this month with 26 Christmas parties at the White House. I've just been too busy to deal with genocide."
"Which Gospel did you say you read each day? Up here, we canceled our Christmas party, and held a vigil for the victims of Darfur."
"St. Peter, you don't mean to say - how do I ask this? Jesus isn't ... isn't a Democrat, is he?"
No, no. He's nonpartisan. His gripe isn't with conservatives or liberals; it's with blowhards. We're always cheering the National Association of Evangelicals because it spends its time fighting genocide, battling sex trafficking, struggling for religious freedom. And there are so many others, like Senator Sam Brownback, who win respect from everybody because their humanitarian work shows they are trying to live the Gospels, not play charades. They're the conservative Christians who make God look great."
"I guess I was just too busy with Christmas to pay attention to any of this."
"Up here, we just pray that Christmas could be more than cards, trees and greetings. Jesus is so upset that he's talking of suing the blowhards to regain control of Christmas."