Thursday, December 08, 2005

Thanks for the holiday, or, "You're enslaved! You're a fool!"

There's been some debate on campus about sign put up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to accompany holiday decorations at the capital. It reads:
At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
I initially considered citing it as an alternative to trying to get decorations removed, a sort of, "You can have your nativity scene, but we get ours." The last line, though, makes the sign more offensive than strictly necessary.

These thoughts came before reading the editorial linked to above. This last paragraph stuck in my mind, enough to make me determined to write on it. See if you can guess why:
At this time of celebration, regardless of what the celebration is for, people should remember what is really important in life. The holiday season is about gathering with loved ones to celebrate the closing of one year and the beginning of the next. Regardless of religion, the majority of people celebrate the season in some respect. It is about helping others. Demoralizing other people’s beliefs is hardly the definition of goodwill.
I decided before writing, I'd go down to the capital to see the thing.

When I got inside the capitol building, I saw a great two story tree with various decorations - no nativity scene. The decorations were all made by local school kids, and included two angels (one of which could have been mistaken for a butterfly). Other than that, it was the standard Santa&snowmen, not religious in the least.

The sign wasn't on the first floor. When I went to ask about it, a woman working behind the desk pointed me upstairs before I had finished my sentence. There I found a large variety of information desks for various religions: Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha'i, Wiccan, and something callled Eckankar. There was also a table for an "Eigth annual interfaith awareness week." Then there were three signs: The FFRF one, one by the Family Research Institue of Wisconsin (which has pictures at its website) and one by Madison Baptist Church. The FRI one was specifically in response to the FFRF one, and was topped by a quote from Psalms: "The fool hath said in his hearth 'there is no God.'" The Baptist one, as far as I could tell independent of the other too, had John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in him would not perish, but have everlasting life." This one sounds nicer, until you wonder what happens to those who don't believe. (John 3:18 has the answer: they're condemned. For some reason, 3:18 isn't quoted as often as 3:16.)

At any rate, what we have is an obnoxious response to a almost entirely secular display, and an obnoxious response to the obnoxious response. This is one of those symbolic tussels where I wish each side would just stuff it.

Now to the other issue that got me to the capitol building in the first place: the secularization of Christmas. The tree ornaments were almost entirely secular. And notice how the above columnist describes the holiday season: about gathering with loved ones, no mention of the associated religious beliefs. This is a general feature of how Christmas is treated. Stores don't care about the religious aspects, they just want people to buy their stuff. Personally, I'm not big on the yearly frenzy of materialism, but when someone says, "I'm getting you a present whether you like it or not" (as one of my friends recently did), I can't say I really mind.

Just this morning, we watched a movie in anthropology class about Native Americans protesting the use of their symbols by sports teams. Why don't Christians similarly protest the use of their symbols to sell stuff and put on blandly secularized public displays? Why don't they take offense at New York's tongue-in-cheek "Jewish Christmas" tradition (which, as my uncle on the easy coast has told me, involves mainly eating Chinese food)? Why don't they fight the hundred other secular co-optings of their holiday? Some have, but mostly they're insisting that when stores take advantage of their opportunity to sell stuff, they say "Christmas" and not "holidays." I mean, they can't rightly demand the tree and the date be kept religious - both have pagan origins - but you'd think they'd demand we call it something else.

Anyway, until they do in greater force, I'm going to keep using the term "Christmas." Talk of exchanging "holiday presents" just sounds weird. So Christians, thanks for letting us use your holiday.

2 comments:

Francois Tremblay said...

"So Christians, thanks for letting us use your holiday."

What are you talking about ? It's OUR holiday and has alwyas been. There's nothing Christian about Christmas, except the carols they made up to try to fight off the pagan Santa Claus.

Please don't spread disinformation : Christmas is OUR holiday, and the Christians are trying to take it over, as they've done all throughout history. WE are on the right side of the War Against Christmas.

Ahab said...

It's so funny how Christians (at least the politically conservative ones) love to moan about how they are being discrimmanated against. They have more freedom than ever before to practice their faith in this great country and all they can do is whine about some poor overworked retail clerk saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.'
Chris, it may be ad hominen, but when you got guys like O'Reilly, Cal Thomas and Michelle Malkin making a fuss about this your bull-shit sensors should start to go off.
You would do well to check out Michelle Goldberg's analysis of this phoney-war on salon.com. Unfortunately you do have to sit through an ad to read it.