Christmas and the Fourth In “Christmas in the Year 2000,” Bellamy reveals the factors necessary for transforming a society into one where perfect justice and equality was available for all its citizens. To contrast the dissimilarity between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries he compares the differences in how each celebrated the Fourth of July and Christmas Day. The denizens of Boston, in the year 2000, had difficulty understanding their great-grandparents’ choice and method of celebrating these two holidays. For starters, they were totally bewildered as to why their forebears made such a fuss over the Fourth. “To us it would seem of quite invisible importance that America was independent of England if Americans were not independent of Americans.” They wondered, “what on earth our fathers meant by being zealous for the mutual independence and equality of the nations as collective bodies, while remaining so entirely indifferent to preserving a mutual equality and independence among the citizens of the respective nations.” They were sure that any visitor from the nineteenth century would be shocked to find the Fourth of July was completely forgotten.
In their Millennial Society, where the ideal of universal human brotherhood was foremost, the Fourth of July joined “an interminable list of anniversary celebrations of international conflicts and victories.” All were passed over as inappropriate for observance because celebrating the triumph of one people over another might send the wrong message to their children, that violence was a useful tool for solving conflict.
The surprise of this visitor from the 1890’s over the demise of the fourth was mild though, compared to the absolute amazement felt by the Bostonians of year 2000 about how enthusiastically their ancestors celebrated Christmas! From what they knew of the nineteenth century, they would have expected that, as the 25th approached, the police would be doubled on every corner to arrest anyone mentioning the name of Jesus.
They reasoned, “For what treason so black could there be to the social state of that day, what sedition so dangerous as any act in honor of the mighty leveler who laid the axe at the root of all forms of inequality by declaring that no one should think anything good enough for another which he did not think good enough for himself.”
What could be “more absurd on the face of it than that a society illustrating in all its forms and methods a systematic disregard of the Golden rule, would permit any notice, much less any open celebration of Christ’s birthday?” From their reading of history the nineteenth century was one that systematically substituted the law of strife and competition for the law that simply states, “if men would live well together every one should see that every other fares as well as he.”
Folks, you do remember this is being discussed in The Ladies’ Home Journal of 1895? Today, you would only expect such a revealing lowdown in the more progressive publications. But before anyone starts feeling depressed about how far we haven’t come in the last hundred years, let me point out that in the same magazine of that year, there’s an article written by the Reverend Parkhurst, D.D. called “Andromaniacs.” It starts out with a Biblical proof of woman’s intrinsic superiority. And how the “queenliness of God’s favorite sex” justifies the “heavier penalty which a woman is publicly required to pay” when caught doing you-know-what. The Rev. goes on to say how this seeming discrimination is actually a Scriptural Tribute because “dishonor can be only as deep as the honor is high from which it has declined.” But he’s just warming up. The purpose for his article is to warn us of a disease sweeping the nation—Andromania! Defined as a “passionate aping of everything that’s mannish.” Those affected attempt to “minimize distinctions” between men and women to the detriment of the “Divine Order.”
So we can’t go characterizing the period as one of enlightened sensibilities. This only makes Bellamy’s article all the more interesting.
Especially, as it explores how the nineteenth century felt justified in professing a form of Christianity stripped of its Golden Rule. Bellamy’s Bostonians of the year 2000 were completely baffled by this dichotomy. How could Jesus’ message become so distorted? Simple. By emphasizing the celebration of Christmas as something principally done with family and friends “with curtains drawn against the world without,” nineteenth century Bostonians avoided extending the Golden Rule to workers, minorities, and the indigenous peoples of lands recently expropriated. In contrast, the Utopians of the year 2000 felt “Christ came to preach not the love of kindred, but humanity. He came not to teach men to love the children of their own bodies, but the children of God’s spirit.”
By emphasizing Jesus as the Son of God, the importance of a future Day of Reckoning, and having to wait for our rewards in Heaven, the revolutionary message was squashed in its tracks in the nineteenth century. Those in the 1890’s who professed the message as being for the here and now were “hounded down as disturbers of the peace, and as such imprisoned, killed and persecuted, and ridiculed as fools and visionaries.”
To consider the celebration of Christmas as a time of family reunions, as pleasant as that might be, was considered the height of perversion in Bellamy’s Boston of 2000. They instead felt the only true purpose for celebrating this birth was to open our eyes “to the practical meaning and perfect reasonableness of Christ’s social ethics.” Which, in the nineteenth century, would have led to the “instantaneous over-throw of the whole order of things, and the breaking into fragments of every human yoke.”
To emphasize their Utopian perspective, their celebration consisted only of a “world-round trumpet chorus” timed to the first sunbeam seen on the 25th in Bethlehem. The symbolism being that “the tie of universal human brotherhood, should have no moment that all mankind does not share in common.” Amazing.
Almost Looking Backwards The first time I almost read Looking Backwards was in the Summer of 1969. I was living in Cambridge, Mass., just across the Charles River from Boston. I was an outrageous Hippie with a pad on Massachusetts Ave, above a leather shop, directly across from the Harvard Widener Library. I say almost read because, with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix and Grace Slick playing in my head, nineteenth century prose was a little outclassed in terms of its attention getting potential. I was thinking of joining a commune in Vermont. After mentioning this to a friend, a librarian from across the street, I was asked if I had read Looking Backwards. Never heard of it. The next day I received the book as a gift. Over the next six months I browsed its pages. To be honest, I found it a bit creepy. While universal brotherhood and the equitable distribution of wealth were high on my list, the idea that it would come brought about through Technocracy was doubtful.
I do remember being impressed that they made their clothes from recyclable paper to eliminate the drudgery of washing and ironing. For me, it didn’t matter if this was a solution or just shifting the drudgery to workers making the clothes. What was significant was to think of a society that would consider the hardship caused to menial workers as a design factor. From the nineteenth century perspective, menial workers warranted no consideration because their condition was obviously the result of sloth or some other defect of character. They deserved minimal pay for their lack of diligence or intelligence.
There were many other features of this Utopia that frightened me. I was even frightened that Bellamy wasn’t frightened. I think this came from his assumption that the Golden Rule would always prevail. As an example, there was this intricate apparatus of mirrors and peepholes that allowed unseen officials of the benevolent National Party to observe everyone’s actions and make appropriate corrections. “Corrections?” Yeah, I bet! It didn’t take much to bring out the paranoia of hippies. We were so, for good reasons. Especially, if involved in anti-Vietnam War and mind-expanding activities. Being the first group of people to have intensely awakened from the amoral catalepsy of the 50’s, we were a clear and present danger to the State in just being fully alive!