Saturday, December 17, 2005

Two Christmases

I have several readers who have let me know that they are devout Christians. I count myself as a believer, although admittedly not the best Christian in practice. But neither of these facts shields the "Christmas Police" from my taking a swipe at them.

Here's my take on Christmas:

Everything Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas is true. It's also incomplete. Just as the Catholic Church co-opted a pagan solstice holiday and established Christmas in December (when weather conditions mentioned in the Gospels would indicate Spring), so has a secular holiday risen around the religious one. The religious holiday is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah and is represented by manger-scene animals, a bright star, angels, trumpets, etc. The secular holiday and its traditions are drawn from the religious (today's gifts deriving from the gifts of the Three Wise Men from the East), but the symbology of a decorated evergreen tree, snowmen, and a fat guy who lives at the North Pole are about as far from the religious as one can get. Accordingly, when I brought Christmas decorations with which to decorate our faculty lounge, I brought only decorations of the secular variety--didn't want to create any turmoil amongst people who sometimes seem to have nothing better to do than to complain about something.

There are two Christmases, one religious and the other secular.

To picket outside Wal*Mart because they don't mention the word Christmas in their advertisements doesn't sound to me like something Jesus would do. He didn't try to force himself or his beliefs on people; in fact, he let people come to him. To complain about the White House's Christmas card, which didn't use the word 'Christmas' but did have a quote from the Book of Isaiah that took up about a third of a page of the card, is more than a little penny-ante.

Don't force your religion on others. Don't force your religious practices and observances on others. In fact, practice your religion in a closet (Matthew 6:6). To do otherwise is reminiscent of the Pharisees, and we aren't supposed to think too highly of the Pharisees.

Now do not take my words above and then, with a note of triumphalism, ask how I can sanction government recognition of anything religious. I see no reason why government has to pretend that religion doesn't exist. We have Eid al-Fitr, Hannukah, and Christmas stamps, for instance, and fortunately there aren't throngs screaming about those. There is nothing contradictory about what was written above and what I said in this post. Having to view a lighted angel in a city park is not having someone's religion forced on you in the way that being accosted outside Wal*Mart by picketers is.

What prompted this post? This story. Wal*Mart just can't please anyone. First it was the teachers unions (on the left), now its the Christian zealots (on the right).


Edward said...

I do recall reading about some kind of boycott of the US Postal Service concerning the Eid stamp. Probably coming from the same kind of people who would nominate George W. Bush "Dhimmi of the Year," presumably next to such "dhimmi" figures in history as Genghis Khan or Heraclius.

As an aside, the only Eid stamp I've seen (it was pictured in the web page about the boycott it inspired) just says "Eid Mubarak" in Arabic calligraphy, not "Eid-al-Fitr" or "Eid-al-Adha."

Anonymous said...

This is just like when you drive by on the roads and someone has spray-painted "Jesus Loves You". Some people flip out. Personally, even if I didn't believe Jesus was the messiah, I would be happy that a prophet loved me. People always look for something to complain about. This religion deal is just another one. Does anyone really get offended? I don't think so. But why be happy and just accept another belief when you can complain and draw attention to yourself? (that was sarcastic, in case you didn't catch that)