“Anything Goes”: The Meaning of the Phrase
If you look at various dictionary definitions, then you will find whenever a person says “anything goes,” what they mean is that there are no rules for behavior, or dress at this party; that anything people say or do is tolerated and considered acceptable by the party under consideration; that everything is permitted; any type of behavior is allowed; everything is okay: I’m okay, you’re okay, everyone’s okay; and there are no rules or restrictions. It’s a non-judgmental environment in which there are no virtues, house rules, or standards of etiquette–written or unwritten, tacitly or verbally agreed upon, by that rag-tag gang of folks you have wandering around your house on such an occasion.
Why Anything Often Goes at Thanksgiving and Christmas
In my observation, most American families follow an “anything goes” philosophy. This becomes especially evident around the holidays. Inside their hearts, they all believe different things: about religion, politics, economics, etc. Their individual families are governed by completely separate values. Yet, when they come together for the holiday season, they all pretend as if this were not the case. A lot of pretending is going on. Why is this? Because they want to have parties, or it’s expected of them, or it’s to give the children a positive experience by lying to them about Santa, and show off their possessions to their relatives. Maybe there’s at least one person they look forward to spending time with, even though there’s others present who could easily be classified as enemies and weeds in the family garden. They pretend that all is well at these holiday parties, but they know in their hearts that things are not well at all. There is no social alignment, no agreement, and usually no theological or spiritual unity. None of them hardly ever see eye to eye on anything. The only way to pull off holiday gatherings with such a disparate, eclectic group of people, is to create a business like environment in the dining room and family room, where anything goes. Cussing, unedited movies and music, inappropriate jokes, irreverent speeches, deceptive, cruel Machiavellian attitudes, competitive displays, and financial arrogance all find their way in though, if only through subtlety. Of course, all of these little devils can be swept under the rug while everyone tries to be on their best behavior. In some families, this may be the case, but we would be fools to assume this is the general experience of all families at Christmas; and even if it was, what value is there in that? It’s still pretending to love people you actually hate. It’s living a lie, at least on December 25th every year. One thing’s for sure: Christmas has almost become a symbol of the dysfunctional family. Take a look at our most popular Christmas movies, which almost unavoidably feel the need to address the theme of the dysfunctional family: Jingle All the Way, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, The Family Stone, The Preacher’s Wife, The Santa Clause, Little Women, Edward Scissorhands, Die Hard, and even A Christmas Carol, Scrooge, and It’s a Wonderful Life!–which are among my personal favorites. It’s like Hollywood’s trying to tell us something about the American family. Maybe it’s stumbled upon a very unpleasant reality here: maybe the family is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe the currently running family philosophy that many, many Americans are living by just doesn’t cut it. I think Hollywood is right about this, if this is what they’ve been trying to say through these movies, with all of their satirical and dramatic screenplays. But maybe they don’t know the answer to the problem. Maybe all they know how to do is make observations about the problem, without knowing how to fix it. The answer is in the Bible and obeying it in faith, but that’s not Hollywood’s area of expertise. All they can do is lampoon the problem, but not try to fix it with the Golden Rule or Christian theology. The only movie that comes remotely close to doing this is Scrooge.
Come Out From Among Them
In John Wesley’s sermon “On Friendship with the World,” which is one of my favorites, he makes several Biblical applications to socializing that could easily apply to the holidays. For starters, he quotes James 4:4 where he says it is spiritual adultery for a Christian to seek friendship with worldly-minded people. It goes without saying that Christians should not seek a close, intimate attachment or friendship with non-Christians, even in this age of so-called “friendship evangelism,” which is an antinomian idea. This includes liberal Christians, agnostics, and atheists, or really just anyone who is non-Biblical and non-evangelical. He believed, and I think rightly, that people easily backslide in their faith and commitment to God, when they seek a close attachment to earthly-minded people who don’t fear God or Hell. He points to John 15:18-19, and tells godly Christians not to be surprised if worldly people hate them. This is to be expected, since none of them live by values other than self-interest, competition, deception, and cruelty, just like they do when they are in the office during the work week. Having conversations with worldly-minded people during the work week at places of business cannot be very much avoided–especially if you’re not a telecommuter–and should be kept to a bare minimum (1 Cor. 5:10). But to make it a normative experience is to become desensitized to sin and a “partaker of other men’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22). Christmas parties and get-togethers, are just the kind of places, where such unprofitable conversations are made a little bit more normal (2 Tim. 2:16). It is here, as with those who partake in that abominable practice called missionary dating, where Biblical Christians can become “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Spiritual contagion and infection are contracted there. Pride, self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, Epicureanism, vanity, hot temper, lust, and other “foolish and harmful desires” can be acquired there (1 Tim. 6:9). Nine times out of ten, such holiday parties come down to playing with fire, and getting burned. Humanists, liberal Christians, deists, and people like this populate Christmas parties–family and non-family parties–because Christ is not in the center of these families. They are taking part in a secularized activity. Mr. Worldly Wiseman from The Pilgrim’s Progress: you can see him sitting over there in the rocking chair by the fire, puffing his pipe. Wesley says, “Beware of them!” Because they are the most spiritually dangerous people you can talk with. Generally polite in the business sense, but total anti-Christians at heart! 2 Corinthians 6:17: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord!” You should not seek a friendship with such a man, but only what is necessary at your place of business “lest even by that converse with them which is necessary, while your fortune in the world increases, the grace of God should decrease in your soul” (1.23).
But what SHOULD be done around the holidays? Well, the holidays should not occasion any inconsistency in your Christian walk. You should follow the same Biblical rules for socializing that you live by for the rest of the year. Wesley gives two directions for this. 1. Psalm 16:3: “The saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” Koinonia, or fellowship with real Christians, should be the objective of all holiday gatherings. It is only in this that there ever is any grace of God or true love of your neighbor in the gathering. The word holiday comes from the old expression “holy day,” and hearkens back to the Old Testament, when God commanded the Jews through Moses to celebrate an array of Jewish holidays for family recreation, extended Sabbaths, and reverence for God’s providence through the year. 2. Psalm 39:1: “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” It’s hard to talk about God and the Christian life when you are surrounded with people who don’t fear God. What can you do in such a situation, but render yourself a mute, or else someone who throws pearls to swine? (Matt. 7:6). Wesley, echoing what Richard Baxter said a century before in A Christian Directory 126.96.36.199, said this about family members that do not have any fear of God: “In general, if they do not fear God, you should leave them as soon as is convenient. But wherever you are, take care (if it be in your power) that they do not want the necessaries or conveniences of life. As for all other relations, even brothers or sisters, if they are of the world you are under no obligation, to be intimate with them: You may be civil and friendly at a distance” (1.25).