Happy universal day of gift exchange

Posted in Society, Travel at 17:05 by RjZ

Fox News’ John Gibson needs to travel outside the U.S. once in a while. It might open his eyes. He thinks there is a war on Christmas and, worse, this war on Christmas is actually a war on Christians. It’s difficult not to pity these poor persecuted Christians who are forced to choose between either boycotting their local Wal Mart or Target or bearing declarations of “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas”.

Mr. Gibson’s war on Christmas raves about a liberal plot to ban Christmas. One grievous example he names is renaming Christmas break to winter break in schools, as obviously doing so means that Christmas has been banned and his children will neither receive coal in their stockings nor even be allowed to have stockings. It’s not just Mr. Gibson. Google “war on Christmas” (In quotes no less) and get nearly two million hits!

This issue arises so frequently in the U.S. thanks to the first amendment of the constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note: that’s not the last time you’ll see that quote here.

Contrary to the belief of many who are engaged in this ‘war on Christmas’, the first amendment does not forbid celebrating Christmas while on winter break. What it does forbid is government from getting involved with religion; any religion. Why did our founding fathers do this? To protect religion! European countries from which the Pilgrims fled did not have the Establishment Clause in their governments and citizens were forced to change their faiths with the whim of a monarch. Even today, religion has flourished in the U.S. in part due to it’s private nature. When the government funds religion it must also select which religions it deems appropriate and which not. Mormonism, for example, was only recognized in Germany in the last decade. Worse, if tax revenues are down, churches often go unfunded. Neither of these conditions occurs in the United States. The Establishment Clause doesn’t just acknowledge that our nation is not a religious theocracy but instead a melting pot of diverse faiths and even the freedom to be free of faith. The first amendment also helps to protect religion from the meddling and vagaries of government.

There is no war on Christmas simply because those of other faiths do not wish their tax dollars to be spent on beliefs in which they put no stock. Forget what American Muslims (1.5 million people) think about Christmas vacation. Forget what American Hindus (1 million people) think about Easter break. We can see how difficult establishing a religion would be simply by asking which Bible we should teach in schools? King James or NIV? Leaving religion home seems like a good place for it. If you believe strongly in your faith, you’re welcome to speak proudly about in a public forum (I hear people will actually read blogs!) but the government doesn’t have to support it.

But doesn’t forcing religion out of schools and court houses automatically support the religion of secular humanism? It continues to be frustrating to me that any deeply held belief is considered a religion. Just because the vernacular uses the word religion as such doesn’t make it so. A Boulderite with an almost religious fervor for rock climbing is not a member of the rock climbing religion even if he calls the crags his cathedral. Capitalism is not a religion. Members of the Republican party are not (necessarily) part of a religion. Atheism is not a religion and even the Supreme Court admits that secular humanism is not a religion:

In this 1994 case, a science teacher argued that, by requiring him to teach evolution, his school district was forcing him to teach the “religion” of secular humanism. The Court responded, “We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are `religions’ for Establishment Clause purposes.” The Supreme Court refused to review the case; they refused to reverse a ruling that secular humanism is not a religion.

The absence of government funded religious activity hardly constitutes a religion and strikes me as a weak excuse to go against the Establishment Clause and choose a religion or group for government support.

So what do we do in multi-cultural United States? We might be able to learn from other parts of the world where many faiths and cultures have found themselves as neighbors. There are many religions in India. Some of the most popular are Hindu, Islam and Sikhism. Traditions for each of those religions influences the outward appearance and even styles of dress for adherents and, as a result, it’s often easy to see, just by looking at someone’s hair and clothes which religion he is. And so it is considered polite to greet someone with the customary greeting of his religion. The Muslim man will greet the Hindu with “namaste, ji.” In return, he’ll hear “a salam alaikum” from the Hindu. When Mr. Singh drops by (names too, are often reliable religious indicators) they’ll both likely offer: “Sat shri akal, ji.”

Some translate “namaste” as ‘the deity in me greets the deity in you.’ I imagine this sentiment is partly responsible for this considerate tradition. This wonderful custom shows respect for the person with whom you are speaking. I must admit, however, that even if U.S. Americans thought this was a great idea it would be difficult to implement here. It’s not nearly so obvious what religion someone is when you meet them. Religion is practically a taboo subject and so we either blithely send our Jewish friends Christmas cards hoping not to offend or just retreat to innocuous wishes of “happy holidays.”

The Indian tradition shows real tolerance and respect for people of other faiths. The U.S. too is a melting pot of religions and traditions, so perhaps we can adapt the south Asian custom to our religious anonymity and simply send out cards that profess our own beliefs and promise not to be offended by the sincerely expressed beliefs of others. I decided to start this tradition myself when my boss, knowing I am not Christian, asked me what he should send me for a holiday card, I told him the story of Indian greetings and suggested he send me a Christmas card.

There is no war on Christmas just because we uphold the first amendment to the constitution but that doesn’t mean we have to drive religion from all corners of life. Perhaps we can choose to respect each other and greet the deity in each other even if that diety is only as supernatural as the regard we have for each other.


  1. Tim Rohrer said,

    December 22, 2005 at 11:35

    Oh my! the deeply endangered rights of the Christian majority in this country! Gee, why can’t they just accept that they live in a multireligious nation…heck, if you want a Christian nation, move to Germany or Denmark where Christianity is state religion. Or maybe even Indonesia, where it is at least one of their four offical state religions.

    All sarcasm aside, isn’t the so-called “war on Christmas” just a specific example how the rabid right wing (and their mouthpieces at FoxNews) continually claim that there is a “culture war” going on in this country? Mostly they seem to use the war metaphor to drum up their own side’s emotions and get more $$$ from their followers. First we had “the abortion wars” (the backlash against the legalization of abortion), the “war on life” (extending it to matters like Terri Schiavo and the right to die), then the “the war on marriage” (ie the backlash against gay marriage), and this is just their latest attempt to polarize us. Why do we have to have a war about this? Why not a civilized discussion? Oh I forget–that doesn’t happen on Fox. Everyone just shouts all the time, except some producer somewhere controls the volume of your mike.

    Interestingly, what I have seen of the right wing’s latest pathetic attempt at fomenting a cultural jihad also seems to be targeted less at the government’s omission of Christmas and more at the corporate neutralization–e.g., Lowe’s calling Christmas trees “Holiday trees”, or policies directing employees to use neutral terms like Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings in advertising circulars from Target and Walmart. My goodness! When will the president send the paratroopers into Lowe’s to take down those offensive “Holiday Tree” signs?!? And when will he have the Postal Service confiscate the holiday advertising from Walmart?!?

    Now, the only thing sillier than calling a Christmas tree a Holiday tree is getting upset about it on national television. Besides, didn’t the Christians steal the Christmas tree ritual from Teutonic pagans as Christianity spread into northern europe during the middle ages? Damn, where’s Fox’s coverage of “the war on pagan rituals”?

    In sum: who cares! It’s just another war that isn’t a war, brought you by the many of the same blowhards who underwrite the war on terror metaphor. Yawn.

    And by the way, have a merry christmas, happy hanukah, namaste, season’s greetings, happy holidays, a jolly Kwanzaa, and a good pagan solstice –or whatever. Plus a grumpy Festivus to all!

    (By the way Ron, it’s spelled “deity” not “diety.”)

  2. RjZ said,

    December 22, 2005 at 11:49

    Tim, Thanks for the correction.

    First it was sports analogies and now it’s war. I guess it’s escalation! I mean aren’t most sports little analogies for war anyway? You’re right though, that’s two posts in a row that comment on a ‘war on…’ Maybe I need to have a war on war metaphors.


  3. Tim Rohrer said,

    December 23, 2005 at 9:34

    reposted from http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1222-31.htm

    Published on Thursday, December 22, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
    How the Grinch Stole Christmas “The Holidays”
    (with apologies to Dr. Suess)
    by Suzanne Smith and Susan Goering

    Every holiday shopper Liked Lowe’s stores A lot.
    But the Grinch (aka Jerry Falwell) did NOT!
    The Grinch hated Lowe’s during holiday season.
    You might wonder why. It’s an odd sort of reason.

    For you see, Lowe’s had hardware and plumbing and paint
    And enough yard equipment to make the Grinch faint.
    But the reason the Grinch hated Lowe’s was that they
    Had for sale “Christmas” trees they renamed “holiday.”

    And he also announced, with a sour, Grinchy frown
    There were even more culprits, like Target and towns
    That were trying to bring season’s greetings to all,
    And not just to Christians who shop at the mall.

    “It’s an ACLU plot!” he snarled with a sneer.
    “They’re against Christmas, Christians, and all we hold dear!”

    Just thinking about diverse faith populations
    And the way the Supreme Court had urged toleration
    And warned against making the public square stand
    For one faith in the face of the many at hand,

    Made the Grinch see a bright shade of seasonal red.
    (He viewed civil liberties lawyers with dread.)
    “You just wait ‘til Alito ascends to the Court,” said the Grinch as he shook his fist backwards and forth.

    Then he growled and he grinched. (He was over the top.)
    “I MUST find a way to keep Christmas on top!”

    Then he got an idea!
    An awful idea!

    “I know JUST what to do!” The Grinch laughed to himself
    (which made him look more like an oversized elf).
    And he chuckled, and clucked, “What a great Grinchy trick!” “We’ll threaten to boycott! They’ll all give in quick!”

    “All I need is exposure…” The Grinch looked around.
    But with wars and disasters,‘twas none to be found.
    Did that stop the old Grinch? No! The Grinch simply said,
    “If I can’t get exposure, I’ll make some instead!”

    So he called Bill O’Reilly, his personal flack,
    And together they plotted their Christmas attack.
    With conservative show hosts and old Fox News anchors
    They’d mobilize Christians (and fundraise like bankers).

    So they said, “Friend or Foe – Us or ACLU!”
    They urged all to boycott, they’d help people sue.
    “We’ll make Christmas safe, for all Santas and elves.
    We’ve got to commercialize Christmas or else!”

    They ignored, in the process, good folk of the cloth
    Who warned them they’d mixed up the Bible with froth
    And had focused on Roman Saturnalia and sloth.

    “With Jesus born humbly midst Wise Men on knees,
    Christmas day was not ever about tinsel and trees,”
    Said the ministers. “Open the secular fest
    To Christians and Muslims and Jews and the rest.”

    But that did not stop the old Grinch and his friends
    Who were clearly less worried about means than the ends.
    His Grinchiness jeered, “We’ve gone on the offensive.
    We’re kicking their butts and they’ve gotten defensive.”

    And indeed, all the Lowe’s stores and others as well
    Called their holidays “Christmas” to stave off the swell.
    And the Senators spent precious time on the floor
    Talking “Christmas” or “holiday,” rather than war

    And the Grinch and Bill laughed with a mad sort of glee
    At the letters and money they’d managed to free
    And the outrage they’d sparked with their “holiday” spree
    Making stores safe for Christians (the hypocrisy!)

    For as much as the Grinch made things sound like fair play
    All the nonsense he spouted was aimed the wrong way.

    See, Christmas is all about peace and good will,
    Which the Grinch DOESN’T want in abundance UNTIL
    Only Christians control every valley and hill
    And the Jews and the Hindus and all who lack Yules
    Must defer to the mass and majority rules.

    But Grinch Falwell can’t stop us from festing this year.
    Of course not! No, they’re not his fests to declare.
    For Hanukkah, Christmas, and Ramadan too
    Live safely in hearts of all people like you.

    And no government officer, petty or high,
    No celebrity, preacher or corporate guy
    Can decree how you worship or deign to decide
    If you worship at all. That’s for you to decide.

    And none of these holidays comes from a store.
    And all of them really mean so much, much more.

    So celebrate all of you, believer or no.
    May the spirit of all that is welcoming flow.

    Suzanne Smith is the former Legislative Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Susan Goering is the Maryland ACLU’s Executive Director. Her e-mail is goering@aclu-md.org.

  4. Penelope said,

    December 24, 2005 at 20:10

    Ah, well, thanks to a Christmas miracle (called “family obligation”), my brother has been kind enough to explain all of this to me. It makes so much more sense now. Let me enlighten you:

    You see, there is a group of Miliatant Atheists (capitalized here because my brother’s description has them as a well-planned organization, more pervasive and structured than the Democratic Party) out there who have a lot of time on their hands and a goal of spoiling all the fun for everyone. I’ve been hearing about them since I was a child, actually, since about the time I was being told that the Hammer Man would get me if I forgot to lock the back door when I came in from playing, or if I didn’t go to bed on time. Unlike the Militant Atheists the Hammer Man had some basis in reality. When I was about 7, somebody in the Denver area actually did break into a house and kill an entire family with a hammer. The killer was never caught, so he became a great way to describe the Bogeyman, since there really was some chance that he could drop by our house, too.

    The Militant Atheists, however, have never materialized in the real world as far as I’ve seen. There was a failed attempt many years ago to get a cemetery in Conifer to quit shining a giant, lit-up cross over a mountainside clearly visible from Denver. The citizens group who brought suit against the cemetery never said anything about religion, though my mother was sure they were Militant Atheists, who were coming to shut down our church next. They claimed that the cross was a gigantic billboard (far beyond the legal limit (there is one) on the size of advertisements) and an eyesore to boot. Despite the fact that they were right on both counts, these folks lost the suit, and as far as I know, that goofy cross is still there.

    Now, though, my brother–and surely everyone else who mindlessly listens to the same talk radio programs he mindlessly listens to–is truly convinced that there is a movement of Militant Atheists out to destroy everything that anyone else might possibly hold dear. (No, Ron, you aren’t one of them. You’re one of those far rarer reasonable atheists. You can’t be one of the militant ones, because you don’t have horns or scales, and you actually exist! Ahem. Not that I’m not taking my brother seriously, mind you.) They’re out to ruin Christmas, and Easter, and the entire elementary school experience. They’re out to crush our children’s spirits when they (since they secretly run the government, and thus the schools) shove science down their throats to prove that there is no God–that’s the whole reason for teaching evolution, or any science, really.

    (Incedentally, they’re also illiterate, since these atheists who are offended by the idea that anyone believes in God are apparently satisfied with replacing “Christmas” with “holidays.” (Can anyone see the word roots in this one? Anyone? It’s a compound word. We went over this in first grade… That’s right, kids! “Holy days”! All religions at once! What atheist could be bothered by that?) When I asked him about this, my brother simply explained that the Militant Atheists have never been known to be very bright.)

    These Militant Atheists are, of course, in league with the Communists (capitalized again, since they are secretly a far more powerful party than Democrats or Republicans) who have been running the country since the days of that poor, misunderstood hero, Joseph McCarthy. Everyone who doesn’t believe this should read Ann Coulter’s “Treason.” Ann would never lie or misrepresent facts, you know. Everything she says is as pure and true as her hair color. We should be far more afraid of George Clooney and Warren Beatty and the Dixie Chicks and all the rest of those God-hating Communists who are out to crush everything we hold dear!

    Seriously. This is what I hear all holiday weekend, every holiday weekend, and I’m the only one in the house who is being sarcastic. I believe that my brother is one of the more reasonable people in this camp. He had an IQ about the same as mine before 2001.

    There is a genuine paranoia out there, and it’s scarier than the Militant Atheists, the Communists, and the Hammer Man combined. By the way, the monsters in this worldview also include the Jews who murdered Jesus and are therefore responsible for everything wrong with the world, and the Gays who are at the same time out to get special treatment for themselves in all matters and to convert everyone to their way of life. This would be funny if the people shouting about these “problems” realized that this is the stuff of a schizophrenic attack. They don’t. They’ve put their faith in their preachers and their pundits, and they are not thinking rationally. They are considering gossip and urban legands above any direct evidence.

    I realize that I’m beginning to sound paranoid, myself, but I think there is real reason to be afraid of the spread of unreasonable fears. A lot of otherwise intelligent people are giving into the habit of jumping in with whatever their favorite pundits say, and the less intelligent people are even further gone. I agree with Franklin Roosevelt (that commie!) that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It’s just that all of the fear out there is getting really scary, inded.

  5. dan clegg said,

    December 27, 2005 at 17:55

    Jon Stewart showed a perfect example of this craziness from Bill O’Reilly. I put a short Quicktime clip here.

  6. Traveling Hypothesis » Why didn’t you get any presents? said,

    December 29, 2005 at 16:18

    [...] I’ve made an argument earlier that we should all just wish each other whatever greetings we wish and not get to upset about it. I will stick to that claim, but let me mention that it would also be nice if we, the wishers, would at least acknowledge that not everyone celebrates the month of December the same way, or even at all. [...]

  7. Bills Baseball Bats said,

    January 26, 2006 at 19:59

    Fun website.

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