Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I've been out of town for a few days visiting the larger family Musing in Southern California. Much eating, much drinking, and we managed to avoid talking about politics and religion so everything went pretty smoothly.
Now I'm back and I want to write a bit about a strange thing I saw in today's New York Times. The Times usually has one quarter page ad on its editorial page every day. And today that ad comes from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. One William A. Donohue wrote an impassioned statement to the effect that Christmas should be celebrated every year.
To be honest I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what he's so worked up about. We do celebrate Christmas every year. It's pretty hard to avoid all the hoopla that gets thrown at us by the advertisers and the media. And my neighbors' yards are lighting up with Santas, angels, reindeer, mangers. I've got to say that as a non-christian, I feel bombarded by the Christ-ness of this time of year. But he says
There's something sick about Friendship Trees, Winter Solstice Concerts, Holiday Parades, and Holly Day Festivals. The neutering of Christmas extends to the banishment of Nativity Scenes from the buplic square, the expulsion of baby Jesus from creches not otherwise forbidden, the banning of red and green at school functions, the censoring of "Silent Night" at municipal concerts, etc.
I just don't see the earth-shaking things happening that he's talking about. People I talk to talk equally about what they're doing for Christmas and what they're doing for the Holidays. But the Holidays includes New Year's Day so I figure that covers a longer period than just Christmas. And people for decades have referred to this time as "The Holidays" so again, there doesn't seem to be a big and recent attempt to sweep Christmas from the national stage.
I'm a pagan and I refer to my tree as a Christmas tree. I send out Christmas cards. And at the same time I enjoy a Solstice Concert, a Hanukkah lighting, a Holiday Festival. There are a lot of different ways to refer to this time of year; there are a lot of different traditions in this country.
It sounds like Mr. Donohue's main problem is that there are others celebrating at the same time as he is. Certainly no one is stopping him from saying "Merry Christmas" to any and all people he meets. He seems unhappy that someone might be moved to say "Happy Solstice" in response. Somebody get this guy some egg-nog, he needs to seriously calm down.
(Added the next morning) I was lying in bed thinking that these peoples’ faith must be pretty weak if they’re worried that a few menorahs or solstice concerts are going to harm them somehow. Then I got to thinking that it’s not that their faith is weak, it’s that the forces they’re fighting are so strong. I’m thinking of those double whammies in current life that might lead them astray: sex and diversity.
Many of these christian religions are telling themselves that god doesn’t want them to use their bodies in the many sexy ways that they know feel unbelievably delicious. It takes an awfully strong faith to counter that basic human urge. And it doesn’t help that our culture is full of temptations all the time, movies and music and tv. It must be enough to make these people want to withdraw into their houses and close the door.
Secondly, when I say “diversity”, I mean all the alternatives that our modern culture exposes us to constantly. If you have a certain religious belief, there are hundreds of other beliefs around that are so different and, to my eye, equally valid. Add to that the rough and tumble of modern day life in which any idea is examined from all sides, poked and prodded and alternatives bandied about. Again it would take a strong faith to stand against all others as the one correct way.
Here’s a third consideration – for some of these people the alternative to their faith is a hell so terrible that the very thought of going there is literally a “fate worse than death.” They’re trying to save their children from an eternity of damnation. Looked at from that perspective, I suppose any extra temptation would be a very bad thing. And that could lead to the strange dialog we’re getting from people like Mr. Donohue:
Partier to Christian, “Happy Holidays!”
Christian screams back, “Why are you trying to destroy Christmas?”
I’m not saying these people are right. I’m just trying to understand the vast amount of anger in writings like this ad. Why are they so intense? What are they so afraid of?