Saturday, December 20, 2008

It’s OK to say “Merry Christmas”

Debatable Opinions; Letters to the Editor
(originally published by OpEdNews)

Let me say right up front that it is not my intention to marginalize and disparage any religious belief in this article.

I’m an atheist. Yet, I think it’s perfectly OK to say “Merry Christmas” during what’s become Christmas season in the US. In fact, out of respect for their celebratory feelings, I might just be inclined to respond with a “Merry Christmas” of my own. By doing this, I’m not recognizing the existence of any supreme being or the story of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m merely informing a Christian friend that I hope he or she has a merry Christmas.

I may do the same with a Jewish friend who wishes me a happy Hanukkah, although, as much as I don’t believe that the New Testament is an intellectual or historical narrative, I believe that the Old Testament or Torah is even less valid. But I will tell people that I hope that their respective seasons are happy and all that they anticipate they’d be. After all, I want people to respect my lack of belief.

I’ve never had the opportunity to say “Happy Ramadan” to any Muslim friends. I just so happen not to know any Muslims personally and I don’t even know that Muslims say “Happy Ramadan”.

The same goes for Kwanzaa. I know quite a few African Americans, yet none has wished me a happy Kwanzaa. In fact, I’ve recently become aware that “Happy Kwanzaa” is not the official greeting of Kwanzaa, but the Swahili phrase “Habari gani?” is. Yes, it is expressed in the form of a question and, depending on which day the question is asked, the answer references one of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. With Kwanzaa, Africans reference spirituality, but Kwanzaa is not so much a religious holiday as it is a celebration of culture and family. It’s for certain that I don’t know enough about this celebration to greet Africans properly, but I hope that their season of celebration is every bit as satisfying as Christmas is to Christians, Hanukkah is to Jews and Ramadan is to Muslims. Why should I want any less for my brothers and sisters in the world? Why should I want to interfere with their religious celebrations?

So, with all due respect to Christians, why is it that they, like a writer to The Bangor Daily News, insist that everyone should be as enthusiastic about saying “Merry Christmas” as they are. Not everyone is Christian and, even if people like me respond with a “Merry Christmas”, some, many or most, far too many for my taste, become incensed if someone else responds with “Happy Holidays”.

“Merry Christmas. What does that mean to so many? Apparently nothing. Hence, “Happy Holidays.””.

This is the opening paragraph to the above mentioned letter. It’s really a non controversial paragraph as it is a statement of fact. I would bet that the writer from Caribou didn’t write the paragraph for educational purposes, however. The problem, of course, is that we can’t extract voice intonation from the written word. The phrase “apparently nothing” may be a giveaway that this woman is not writing the paragraph as merely a statement of fact. It “sounds” a bit offensive to me, as if “Merry Christmas” should mean more to me, an atheist, that it actually does.

If “apparently not” isn’t proof that the author means to express more of a message and not so much a statement of fact, what she follows the first paragraph with is, indeed, proof.

She bemoans the fact that, “Now I look around and there seem to be many stores or restaurants celebrating not Christmas, only holidays.”

Would the writer expect stores owned by Jewish-Americans, Muslim-Americans or African-Americans to heretically display “Merry Christmas” in their places of business? Would she expect businesses owned and run by atheists to disingenuously display “Merry Christmas”? It seems to me that she would.

In fact, because 78% of Americans consider themselves Christians, many Jewish, Asian non-Christians, Muslim, African-American and even atheist business owners do, indeed, display signs which read “Merry Christmas” and/or have Christmas displays in their places of business. Many businesses have Holiday Parties or Holiday Bashes for their employees, but many, even those owned and/or operated by non-Christians, have Christmas Parties for their employees.

In a land which had, until recently, encouraged other nations to:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

we have become quite selective about who we let through what has morphed from a “golden door” into a velvet rope. Only those who don’t make us uncomfortable need apply.

To say that non-Christians make the writer of the letter to the Bangor Daily News uncomfortable may be an understatement.

There are two books that most people have to prioritize. People have to weigh what the Torah, The Bible or The Quran say against what The Constitution of the United States says. That, in itself, shouldn’t be a problem. I am familiar with The Bible as well as The Constitution.

Even in The Bible, Jesus of Nazareth, if one was to believe he existed, was believed to have said, not once, but twice, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” – Matthew, 12:17, Matthew, 22:21

Was this man not saying that there is room for both secular government and religious belief?

If he wasn’t saying that, it’s for certain that the best and the brightest have said it throughout American history.

A hundred and fifty years before the American Revolution, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, said, “The Church and State need not be…inextricably linked: 'A Pagan or Antichristian Pilot may be as skillful to carry the Ship to its desired Port, as any Christian Mariner or Pilot in the World, and may perform that work with as much safety and speed.”

Those who are disappointed that more Americans aren’t as enthused about Christmas and, ultimately, Christianity, may very well have familiarized themselves with only one of the two books mentioned above and more than likely it is the book from which they’ve gleaned their religious beliefs.

The other book, The Constitution of the United States, contains laws which people, no matter what religion they practice or even if they practice no religion at all, should be very familiar with if they want to be law abiding members of The American Society. Unfortunately, it seems that far too many people have familiarized themselves with their religious books in lieu of The Constitution and, consequently, use some of the laws contained in their religious books as laws that should be followed by everyone living in The United States.

Even though there are Christians who want everyone in the US to believe that “…our Savior was born and that makes (Christmas) a time of true celebration for us” or “God already has blessed each of us with his most precious gift: his son. His gift is yours for the receiving”, there are many Biblical laws that these very same people may not want Americans to follow or would not follow themselves.

For example, people who follow the following laws should be investigated by The Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services:

“He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” -- Exodus 21:17

“The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” -- Proverbs 30:17

To repeat, it is not my intention to mock anyone’s religious book and religious belief. However, if one wants to force those Americans who, by law, are free not to be Christians or Jews, to become enthused about the religious implications of Christmas, it would almost seem that they would want the rest of us to become enthused about whatever else is written in their Holy Book. I know that I’m not the least bit enthused with the two passages above. Furthermore, in reading the passages, I’m happy that the Founding Fathers reassured Muslims in the very early days of this nation that there would be no religious test for conducting commerce by stating that “…the government of The United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…” Can you imagine the laws of The United States, based upon the laws of Christianity and/or Judaism, enforcing what the above passages suggest?

When George H. W. Bush stated on August 27, 1987 that, “No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God”, he was directly contradicting Article VI of The Constitution of the United States of America. Article VI states that “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Constitution was talking mostly about US Representatives, US Senators, The President, The Vice President and the members of The Supreme Court. However, it’s obvious that The Constitution includes all “office(s) or public trust(s) under the United States”.

Surely if the authors of The Constitution specified that “no religious test” would be administered for those wishing to serve in high public office, they would have extended the freedom from such a test to those wanting to become citizens of The United States.

When Bush made that statement, he, I’m sure inadvertently and unknowingly, added the words “as long as they’re believers” to the inscription on The Statue of Liberty.

Bush buried himself in the deepest hole in trying to define patriotism. Patriotism is a personal characteristic, a personal belief. The word and the concept are stretched almost to their breaking points during times of war.

Some say it’s patriotic to unquestioningly engage in warfare because “your government says it’s necessary”. This is patriotism through protecting your country by fighting a war.

Some say it is patriotic to at least question the government’s reasoning before engaging in warfare. This is patriotism through certainty and the genuine elimination of alternative approaches.

Some say it’s patriotic to oppose a war that the government says is necessary if it becomes clear that it, indeed, is not. This is patriotism by truly protecting your country and all who inhabit it.

Some people are pacifists who say that love of one’s fellow man or woman is enough reason to avoid a war, no matter if it’s considered patriotic or not.

Attempting to paint a segment of the population unpatriotic because of their belief toward religion flies in the face of Article VI and the inscription on The Statue of Liberty.

The last paragraph of the Caribou woman’s letter, in its entirety, is, “God already has blessed each of us with his most precious gift: his son. His gift is yours for the receiving. But it is your choice. I pray you choose wisely. Merry Christmas.”

Although I hope that she has a very Merry Christmas, I also hope that, when Christmas has come and gone, this woman searches the internet for a copy of The Constitution of The United States and I hope that she, consequently, “choose(s) wisely” before publishing another un-American, unpatriotic, exclusionary letter.

To friendship,

“Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.” - George Santayana

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