Times Square is not, despite its perennial attraction to tourists, one of the nicest places in the world to visit. In fact it’s rather alarmingly tacky, windblown, and uninviting, surrounded by businesses I would never willingly patronize, and a number of large but unimpressive buildings. For many years however, it has been one of the centers of American popular culture, from the annual New Year’s Eve revels, to historic events like the V-E Day celebrations.
Now we see that a number of the gigantic electronic billboards in Times Square will be honoring the work of artist Yoko Ono and her late husband, pop star John Lennon, by displaying a three-minute film by the former. Every evening at three minutes to midnight, a montage of the words “Imagine Peace” will be presented, in different languages, along with accompanying imagery. One official involved in this project stated:
John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is the last song played on New Year’s Eve just before 11:59 p.m., when the ball on 1 Times Square begins to descend. Yoko Ono’s IMAGINE PEACE is undoubtedly a perfect match for the December Times Square Moment program as it taps into many people’s hope for a better world, the sentiment of both the holidays and the New Year.
Given that the “holiday season” is religious in origin, and that the song “Imagine” is the atheist equivalent of “Amazing Grace” – asking us to imagine how much better the world would be if there was no religion and no heaven, for example – one wonders whether the Times Square officials who green-lighted this project have been to church or synagogue recently.
The idea of “Peace on Earth” at this time of year is not just some idealistic wish for something better. As a matter of fact, it comes from the song which the angels sang before the shepherds, when Christ was born in Bethlehem. I would draw your attention to the fact that not only is the idea of hoping for peace on earth at this time of year fundamentally based in the Christian religion, but the peace which the angels call down upon humanity is, in fact, conditional.
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
(St. Luke 2:13-15)
Many other religions pray for peace and an end to violence as well, of course. Yet praying for peace at this particular time of year is fundamentally tied to the mystery of the Incarnation, which we Christians celebrate at Christmastime. Ms. Ono could certainly have broadcast her message of universal harmony and equality for all – except for the celebrity intelligentsia, of course, who naturally must live in luxury – at any time of the year, but she chose to do so now. Why?
The answer, sad to say, is our own stupidity. For it must be said, dear friends, that we have become both spiritually and culturally lazy. We have allowed people who do not believe in Christianity – and indeed, in many cases those who openly despise it – to co-opt a Christian holiday by degrees, to the point where we have forgotten what the point of this celebration is.
Christmas is not about achieving peace on earth, whatever Hallmark or Hollywood or some aging Japanese con artist may tell you. Rather, it is about God choosing to become Man, in order to save us from ourselves. It is the awesome reality of the Eternal stepping into our linear timeline, purely out of love for us.
Unfortunately, projects such as Ms. Ono’s, which were once considered counter-cultural, are now in fact the cultural norm among so-called elites, or at least, those who imagine themselves to be so. Hers is not the first nor the last such message we will see during the month of December. We are going to continue to be bombarded with both overt and subtle messages that all religion, but particularly Christianity, is nothing but rot, and that only uneducated, prejudiced people would believe in such things. The solution to this insidious message, it seems to me, is two-fold.
The first is to simply laugh at it. I mean, honestly: a bunch of animated billboards in Times Square, where as soon as your “holiday” display time is over, there will be a nearly naked ten-story tall model hawking the latest Calvin Klein underwear? Forgive me for being unimpressed with your substitute for a house of worship – or maybe you won’t forgive me, but since you do not believe in an afterlife anyway, presumably you do not care.
Secondly, it is for you, gentle reader, to take this season into your own hands, in the way in which you choose to celebrate it. Too many of us, as a very wise priest pointed out in a reflection I heard last evening, start celebrating Christmas during Advent, when we have not even reached December 25th. And by the time the 12 days of Christmas roll around, we have packed away the tree and the tinsel and are concentrating on after-Christmas sales. Many of us are not commemorating the birth of Jesus, but rather celebrating the holy days of obligation as ordained by Madison Avenue – which, by the way, are designed to make you feel inadequate and lonely, so that you will empty your bank account in search of meaning for your life.
We are at the beginning of the preparations for Christmas, so you still have time to pull back from the cliff of nothingness from which modern atheism and materialism wants you to jump – and as it happens, Ms. Ono still has time, too. For however much we may roll our eyes at her work she, too, is still capable of being brought to the truth: that God created her, loves her as His own adopted daughter, and wants her to get to know Him. The rather obvious subversiveness of her message is so very easily defeated, if we recognize that God is infinitely more good and more powerful than any mere human being, no matter how vociferous they may be.
As a final thought, I must admit that I did have a little germ of an idea, when reading about this video installation. Imagine – ahem – what would happen if a group of Christians were to meet in Times Square every evening during this Advent and Christmas season, to pray together for the conversion of Ms. Ono? Now THAT’S what I would call counter-cultural.
Yoko Ono’s “Peace” installation in Times Square