Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Catholic League President: William Donohue's NYTimes Ad pleading for Diversity at Christmas.

So, this ad appeared yesterday in the New York Times"

Celebrate Diversity: Celebrate Christmas

The United States is 85 percent Christian, which means we are more Christian than India is Hindu and Israel is Jewish. Moreover, 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas. So why do we have to tippy-toe around the religious meaning of Christmas every December?

There is 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 public 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.

All of this madness is done even though 97 percent of Americans say they are not offended by Christmas celebrations. So as not to be misunderstood, it is important to recognize that the few who are complaining do not belong to any one religious or ethnic group - there is plenty of diversity to be found among the ranks of the disaffected. No matter, fairness dictates that their intolerance should not trump the rights of the rest of us. Diversity means respect for the traditions and heritages of all groups, not just hose which have been cherry-picked by the multicultural gurus.

To be excluded is normal. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veteran's Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Parades - they all exclude someone. The Olympic Games are a showcase of segregation - men are barred from women's sports - yet not even radical feminists call it sexist. Should all of these holidays and events be banned because some feel excluded?

By celebrating Christmas we are celebrating diversity. Don't let the cultural fascists get their way this year.

William A. Donohue, President


I thought I would post this ad and see what people thought about it.

Okay. Here's what I say: I agree with Donohue (!!!). Well, I agree that it's silly to take Jesus out of Christmas. I mean, we call it "Christ" mas, fer chrissake.

When I discussed this ad with my friend Jim Emerson (who sent it to me to begin with) he said, "Yeah, but you could also argue that the Christians took a perfectly good pagan holiday and made it about Jesus!" Which is also true.

But it kills me that Mulan can't sing any religious songs at school for Christmas. Everything is all about Santa (as if that is less religious than Jesus!) and holiday-time. Which I really hate. I love the story of Jesus' birth. A baby born in a barn, after a long trip? Born in the humblest circumstances and yet became a leader and revered? This is a great story. It's a myth, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great story. That means that if I want her to hear the Jesus birth story I have to take her to a church. Which sucks. I mean, this is the myth of our culture! Why do we have to pretend it is not?

I think it's silly to distinguish between myths-that-everyone-accepts-as-myths, being okay (i.e. Easter Bunny, Santa Claus) and the myths that people actually believe in as real (Jesus, Santa Claus...)

Plus, de-emphasising Jesus over Christmas inevitably leads to over-emphasis on Santa Claus, which means presents and THINGS and buying, etc.

So, I tossed and turned last night thinking this through. If I think Jesus is okay at Christmas, then what about crosses on government land? No. That is not okay. What about prayer in public schools? No, that is not okay. I think a moment of silence so the kids can be thankful should be part of the school day. Meditation, yes. Prayer, no. What about "under God" in the pledge? No. What about Bibles in schools? Yes! I think they should be reading the Bible and learning Bible stories along with stories from the Qur'an and everything else.

But I have to say, I really miss the story of Jesus being born in a manger. I love that story. And kids like it too, unlike, say the Fourth Of July, which is a really hard concept to understand for a little kid -- a baby being born in the barn is a fantastic story that should not be banned from the public square.

I really love that William Donohue rejects "political correctness" as well. He's right. We should be concerned with the facts and not whether those facts upset someone or not.

I listened to a speaker at a skeptic conference from Australia who said that he was amazed at all the hoopla surrounding Christmas in the states. Australia is highly secular and they sing about Jesus in school at Christmastime. Same thing in Sweden -- a highly non-believing population and they just go crazy at Christmas. The holiday lasts a month long and a lot of their celebration has to do with Jesus and the story of his birth.

Okay, I am thinking out loud here:

Maybe Easter is perfect example of my mixed feelings. I mean, the Christian Easter story: Jesus dying and then rising from the dead. Gawd - that's a great story too. It's much better then just symbols: eggs, bunnies, or concepts: fertility. On the other hand, I like all the symbols of spring at Eastertime - I like eggs and bunnies.

Maybe it's the writer in me that likes the details of the crucifixion story. It's a real story. Characters, events, surprising endings! And the bunny is just... well, a bunny. And... eggs. But in the end, when it comes to Easter, I like the religious story AND I like the symbols. But at Christmas, I think I just like the religious story the best.

But the point is, why can't it just be everything? I think it's a mistake for people like me (atheists) to argue that Jesus should not be taught and shown during Christmas in public schools. That's just the kind of thing that makes a lot of parents send their children to religious schools. I think it's a mistake not to have Jesus and a creche and the kids singing Silent Night.

When it comes to Christmas, even though it was originally a holiday with pagan roots, I like to be reminded of the story of Jesus. I think those garish Santa Claus' are creepy compared to a creche, which I think is beautiful and poignant. Maybe we should just pick 10 holidays and just go for it. Tell the whole story - whatever the story is. And just enjoy it, it's a STORY.

Well, I just thought I would throw that out there to see what people thought.

43 comments:

Sheldon said...

Okay, have I received a substandard education or something? This is the first time I've ever seen the word "creche," and I had to look it up. I mean, I'm American, speak English as my primary language, have several degrees, etc., but I've never seen that word. Wow!

I have to say that I was a little disturbed by this post at first, Julia. I mean, to have a fellow Atheist taking the side of the Christians is a little unsettling at first glance.

As I read, I began to see your point. It is ridiculous to try to ignore the 400 lb gorilla in the room, even if he is lying in a manger. The problem with this, of course, is the old "give 'em an inch" thing. We've only recently been able to convince a tiny portion of people that it's not okay to assume that ours is a "Christian nation," and to proceed as such in education, politics, law, etc. Part of that pendulum swing included trying to respect the fact that not everyone celebrates Jesus' (supposed) birth and (nonexistent) holiness. To allow schools to begin teaching about Jesus in December would likely lead to those same teachers slipping in the impression that 1) it's a true story, 3) it's the ONLY story, and 3) it's the story you should use to organize your life.

All this reminds me of a visit to my niece's Kindergarten class about 15 years ago. It was Spring, and the teacher had spent a lot of time with Sarah and her classmates, getting the classroom all decorated for St. Patrick's Day (another quasi-religious celebration). Upon entering the room, Sarah grabbed my hand and gleefully pulled me over to one corner of the room, saying, "Come look at the leprechaun footprints!" And sure enough, across the countertop, across an adjacent desk, and down onto the floor were a zillion tiny green footprints (obviously done with a stencil of some kind in green paint). I said, "That looks great! Who did that?" Sarah said, "A leprechaun!" I said, "Oh, I know it's supposed to be leprechaun footprints, but who did it." Sarah repeated, but more forcefully, "A leprechaun! It came last night, and Miss So-and-so said if we had come to class earlier, we probably would have seen him."

I tried to explain to Sarah that there are no leprechaun's and that her teacher was just playing, but Sarah was having none of it. She was absolutely convinced that there certainly are leprechauns, and that I was a dolt for suggesting otherwise. I asked her teacher about it, and her only response was, "Well, how do you know there aren't any leprechauns?" I said, "Because I'm not some lunatic brainwashing 5 year olds for my own amusement, that's how!" She ignored me for the rest of the visit.

It took us a full year to convince Sarah that leprechauns aren't real. Given how surrounded we are by Christianity, had it been little baby Jesus footprints, we might still be fighting that battle.

Louis said...

I think the Christmas conundrum is rather foolish. The court houses don't need crèches if the Churches will provide them. Why not sing religious songs in the schools, since so much classical, western music is religious anyway, and if you cut out Silent Night, you may as well cut out Bach and Mozart. The problem is that everybody approaches the season looking for a fight. If everyone goes to the table with some good sense and the dual goals of celebrating a holiday that is as American as it is Christian and not offending non-believers, most of whom are like Julia and enjoy the stories, the songs and soft glow of candles, then there wouldn't be such a fuss.

On the other hand, I have no patience for church-goers who expect government to provide religious services. The advertisement Julia posted perturbed me because when people complain about schools "neutering" Christmas, I want to ask them if they go shopping at midnight on Thanksgiving? Do they buy their children more presents than the family can afford? Do they allow the market to set their holiday priorities (more shopping, more presents, more debt) instead of making a commitment to the priorities suggested by spirit of the season (more quiet, more time with family, more meaningful music, more charity towards others)? The choice to make the season meaningful is a personal choice, but --unlike complaining about secular government -- it involves sacrifice.

But yeah, silent night is a splendid song and makes for one of those hushed and lovely moments at the school pageant.

Susan S. in Spokane said...

I too like the story of Christmas. I like creches and have made several of them out of various materials. I like the beauty of the season if you can find it under the fru-fra these days. I love buying presents for children and grandchildren.

That doesn't necessarily mean that I believe in God or that I believe that Jesus was God in disguise. I also don't think it is up to me to fight any battle about someone else's belief. If we truly believe that every person has the right to his belief, whatever that may be, then we have to accept that many of those beliefs won't jive with ours.

I'm the atheist Mom who has the pentacostal son and I do know that when he and his family celebrate whatever they believe in, they are at least doing it together as a family. That doesn't mean I want to join them, but they do it together as a family and that makes them happy. Who am I to tell them to stop?

I can't begin to join in the arguments you all have on the high intellectual plain you achieve, just a simple grandma who long ago took a look at the fact that the bible was written many, many years after the supposed events, and that modern biographies, histories, stories written now about anything disagree with each other.

I saw that man was very unkind to his own and that saying that we were given "free will" didn't cut it for me. I learned that our memories play tricks on us even after a very short time let alone hundreds of years after something happened. So it is easy for me to believe that we are born, live and die the same way that any other creature does. Just that, we are born, we live and we die.

I believe that we should be kind to others because it is the right thing to do...for no other reason... just it is the right thing to do.

Susan S. in Spokane said...

IN THE NEWS
• Mexican lawmakers brawl ahead of inauguration
• Pope visits Virgin Mary's house in Turkey | Video
• Ex-fugitive pleads guilty in fatal cop shooting
• Rights groups to help judge Madonna adoption | Video
• 3 goats found spray-painted, surrounded by porn
• Special report: Can stress actually be good for you?


These are the headlines from MSNBC as of now (9:54 am on Wed). The second one makes it sound as though someone knows for sure that there was a Virgin Mary and that she actually lived in this house in Turkey. And, this is a NEWS channel. How impartial is that?

Wonder how they decided which one to put first, second, third, etc.?

passionatebright said...

OK folks, I gotta say it. Do you realize that when someone like me, who is an atheist but was raised Jewish, sees a nativity scene, I see my ancestors being raped and killed in the name of Christ?

And this isn't Sweden where people think the story is just a myth. Many people here take it literally, which is very disturbing, and have irrational prejudices because of it. Yet, as long as separation of church and state are respected, it is just decoration.

For some reason, music doesn't have the same cringing effect on me, maybe because the music overrides the content. Once, I was in an international choir where we sang songs from all over the world, including carols. It was the best.

Yet, let's keep our priorities straight. I think it would be best if people would focus on charity and kindness and happy times, and not obsess about these things that are not that important. But that does seem to be a theme with the dominant Christians today, they have their priorities wrong.

Matthew said...

I must disagree. The problem with Christmas and Easter is the same problem as with marriage. What, you may ask, does Christmas and Easter have to do with marriage? They all have a secular meaning and a religious meaning, and people keep trying to combine the two, which is where you get into trouble.

Whether you like it or not, Christmas has become a secular holiday. Secular Christmas is about buying gifts for your friends, decorating your house, and waiting for Santa Claus. It has nothing to do with the birth of the king of the Jews, or the divinity of the son of God. I have Jewish and Hindu friends who decorate Christmas trees and give gifts on Christmas day. Do you think they believe it the divinity of the Christ child? No way! They celebrate secular Christmas.

Christians just have to live with the fact that there is a secular Christmas that coincides with their religous holiday. The horse is already out of the barn. Just like if you don't defend your trademark it becomes diluted and you don't own it any more, Christmas isn't owned by the christians any more. We can and do create new traditions around Christmas that have nothing to do with the religious holiday.

In my opinion when christians start complaining about Jesus not being part of secular Chistmas, they are injecting their religous views into something that is quite clearly not religious.

-Matt

Ivy said...

(Well, the internets ate my first response. You'll just have to trust me that it was SUPER witty and thoughtful. Here's the replacement:)

I must admit that I got a tiny sinky feeling when I started reading your post. I've been reading and posting here (seemingly into a vacuum-- it must be more interesting to argue evolution with my-way-or-the-highway creationists than to discourse with "glorified agnostic" Christians who are A-OK with evolution and don't really care that you don't believe like we do-- but, as usual, I digress) for a couple of weeks. Occasionally it starts to feel like the comments turn quickly into ATHEISTS VS. CHRISTIANS! SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY! IT'S HOT HOT HOT! I figured this would be another, well-deserved I admit, "those darn Christians and their pushy ways!" post.

I am often uncomfortable with side-taking and strife. Sheldon's "taking the side of the Christians" comment gave me another oogy feeling, because I don't think we have to be at odds. I usually find myself sitting on fences, arguing for reconciliation over designating a winner and a loser, looking for that "third way" among the squared-off factions. Occasionally this translates into "has no convictions or strongly-held ideals," but to the contrary it's just that I very strongly believe in meeting in the middle.

For this reason, I say, bring the myths and stories and symbols and songs into the public square. (Within reason.) I'd rather have everybody's than nobody's. Allowing, not forcing-- no prayer in schools, I agree. But the stories, let's have those. All of them.

ben turk said...

So, the thing that most bothers me about this ad is this part:

To be excluded is normal. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veteran's Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Parades - they all exclude someone.

First off, as a straight man who's been to Pridefest, let me tell you, they aren't excluding anyone from those things.

Secondly, other cultural holidays (from Hannukah (sp?) to MLK or Cesar Chavez birthday to Marxmas) are themselves actively excluded from our society and vilified or mocked by xtian organizations (look at how they treat kwanzaa). Donohue's attempt to paint himself as a victim of exclusion by straw-man 'multi-cultural gurus' is an attempt to 1. reaffirm the dominant culture's symbol set. 2. make that dominant culture feel threatened and incite a backlash.

I can't take the moderate tone of the rest of his statements at face value in this context. So while I agree that Julia is on to something, I think Donohue, on the other hand is up to something.

Rebecca said...

I agree that it's a shame the traditional Christmas songs and stories can't be taught, and that what's left--Santa, Rudolph and the Grinch--wears pretty thin by December 25th. The problem with offering them in school is that you would have a hard time--in my school district, anyway--finding teachers who would be willing to offer the Christmas myth as a STORY not as the literal truth; that is, to remain noncommittal on the issue of truth. Plus, you would have parents complaining that the birth of Jesus was presented as "just a story" and you'd probably have other parents complaining that their kids were having religion rammed down their throats. I think both sides have an interest in keeping Christmas out of the public schools. I don't know what other atheist parents do, but we have a Bible and we have taught our kids the main Christian stories, since they are a part of our culture. Of course we also show them the really nasty and bizarre passages, so they get a sense of the whole package.

Marcel Cairo said...

Yeah, Julia, great posting. I totally agree with you this time around.

...in my best Borat accent...

"Me like you what write about the Curse-mas tradition. In my great country of Kazakstan we also have tradition... we like put plow on humorless atheist bloggers and make them dance with mating goat."

Thank you for adding some humor and wit back to your blog.

ben turk said...

On Creches-

We always called it a "nativity scene" for the past ten years or so I've been swapping out baby jesus for one of the little goats in my mom's little table top set up.

Ivy said...

Ben, that is hilarious. The goat thing. Very subversive! I love it. :)

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Ms. Sweeney,

Season's Greetings! :). But seriously, I'm not sure how I feel about this. My gut response would be my usual, "Celebrate and believe all you want, that's your right, but no state sponsorship." While you have definately got me thinking I can't come to the same conclusion as yourself. In a perfect world we would be able to discuss the the multitude of stories involved in Christmas, from pagan roots, to christian worship, to modern commercialism. (Flashbacks to Linus' speech on the meaning of Christmas). But I will have to agree with Sheldon on the "take a mile" thinking. It's too soon. I fear that the lack of most public school systems to incorporate a comparative religion class without protest, or to be able to study the Bible in literature class without massive protests of it being devalued to "mere" literature, bodes poorly to the idea of Christmas being discussed without the religios fervor snaeking back in. However I really don't know how I feel about the music. Athiest, non-believer and everything, but I can't help but look forward to attending Handel's Hallelujah Chorus in person. Like PassionateBright said, mabe the music seems independant of the meaning, or it's a personal preference I have yet to let go of *shrug*

Ivy - Guilty as charged. Was it Robert E. Lee who said "It is well war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it." The call to battle often overides quite contemplation. I shall endevor myself to speak more on reconcilitory topics than conflict and I thank you for making that point, but I will have to disagree and say we should go with nobody's myths until we are ready to have everyone's.

-Veritas Imprimis

Ivy said...

Carl, very well said and I thank you for your response.

What do you think it would take to get ready to represent everyone's stories? Does it mean everybody getting on board, or could we just go ahead with it and let the ones who just want their own stories told deal with it? (That would be my vote, idealistic though it may be.)

I completely agree that the only valid choices are to represent "everybody's" or "nobody's, and that "nobody's" is preferable to "somebody's."

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Ivy,

Not an easy one to answer, but I would have to say what I mentined in my other post, roughly 5 or so years of wide spread teaching of comparative religion is schools would be a great start. The problem as I see it is that the dominant religion in an area assumes a certain special consideration due to being in the majority, and since the majority of Abrahamic religions cling fiercely to the idea of you stand with them or against them, accepting other religions on equal terms as religions would prep the way for consideration of their holy books as fine literature, and eventually for people to consider their myths as myths, and be pleased that if someone cannot see the "truth" of their religion, they can at least appreciate the beauty of their traditions. I know that may sound a little odd, but I was quite pleased with the send up of atheism on South Park, even if atheists were on the receiving end of most of the jokes. At least ideals I feel strongly about were heard if not heeded. And I hope this happens soon. I have no intention of teaching my son the bible as true history. .....well anymore. He's 12 and I was a believer at the start...., yeah, thinking on how to fix THAT, but I digress. But he MUST know of the Bible and it's contents. This should be required reading in Literature. How on earth would a child raised with no exposure to the Bible understand the bulk of the Divine Comedy, much less it's subtler shadings, or most of western music or literature. Andf also, I have heard of the wonderous poetry of islamic writers, and wonder what I'm missing with no cultural reference. I am painfully aware when I watch anime, and the movie reaches it's "Ah-hah!" moment, that I'm missing something because I've never been deeply exposed to their beleif system. So basically half a page to say...comparative religion cources and the study of most major world religious texts as literature. Darn I ramble :)

- Veritas Imprimis

Atheism Quotes said...

We JUST had this conversation with a lesbian Jewish mom (really!) from our son's class this morning! Too funny!

I NEVER buy the whole "we're in the vast majority" argument from Christians. The whole *purpose* of the Bill of Rights is that some rights are SO important that NO law can take them away, regardless of the majority.

Freedom from imposed religion is one of them. It doesn't matter one iota if it's 90% or 99.9% of the population are Christian. The government CANNOT take sides. Period.

Private companies and citizens and schools can put up creches all they want. It makes me chuckle, but I can't stop them.

At the public school, though, how rude and ignorant is it for someone to say "well, screw the 30 kids in the school who aren't Christian" and put on a true Christmas program.

The bottom line is that, just because people "have always done it that way" isn't a reason for continuing to discriminate.

I never used to go out of my way to let people know I'm an atheist.

That's changing. Maybe these people need to know that we ARE out here, and that they know more atheists than they think.

Yes, there will be exclusion. Our son has already been picked on for having parents who don't believe in god.

But when we heard our son was talking to someone about Easter and the other child said it's Jesus's birthday, but that our son must not like it, our son said "It doesn't matter what you believe. You can believe whatever you want!"

We were so proud we almost cried. If only more Christians had such accepting children.

David said...

marcel, your response to Julia's Christmas post was by far the best in my opinion. I heartily agree that our discussions of religion and science often lack sufficient humor and I commend you for your Baratian contribution to our cultural debates. I do, however, wonder about your previous post in which you raised the issue of survival of consciousness beyond death and referred to, among others, Gary Schwartz at UofA. I must say that Schwartz lacks total credibility in my mind. You might take a look at James Randi's comments at http://www.randi.org/jr/040805how.html
I certainly would not wish to argue that nothing exists "beyond our own physical limitations" because I must admit that it appears to me to be simply unknowable by definition. However, that said, the fact that there may be "a slew of university experiments and study done on consciousness survival" is in no way evidence of such survival. In fact there is also a slew of study in the opposite direction. In a NYT article by Francis Crick before his death http://plaza.snu.ac.kr/~premed/The%20New%20York%20Times%20%20Science%20%20Scientist%20at%20Work%20%20Francis%20Crick%20After%20the%20Double%20Helix%20Unraveling%20the%20Mysteries%20of%20the%20State%20of%20Being.htm
he states his strong opinion that there is no life after death. A new book, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge, by Gerald Edelman reaches a similar conclusion through much different arguments. Both Crick and Edelman are Nobel scientists although I would not wish to argue this subject argumentum ad verecundiam. I am happy that you agree there is no personal God in the form many Christians still believe in. That there remain many mysteries some perhaps unsolvable is certainly a fact but not evidence for supernatural forces or for life after death. Mysteries, until they are solved, are just that, mysteries. The process of finding solutions, always tentative, is what we call science.
Getting back to Christmas and Santa Claus which was what prompted this post--I would simply like to paraphrase LaPlace and say that I personally have no need of either hypothesis although I am not inclined to argue this point with my grandchild to whom I would simply suggest that they search for the truth on their own.

bookboy said...

I always wanted to lay in the manger. Always thought Jesus was so lucky, just look at the way his parents looked at him. And Joseph wasn't even his real father. I see your point Julia, but oh god, will they behave. Like the kids I used to have, you tell them one cookie and the next day you go to the jar and its empty. I just don’t feel this guy is on the up and up. Oh and right on Ivy.

Ivy said...

Carl, wow. I can't see anything in your post that I disagree with. This whole reconciliation thing gets boring quick, huh? :)

But yes. I think comparative religions in school from a NEUTRAL perspective is a bang-up idea. The neutral part could be difficult to achieve in some areas-- you'd end up with subversive teachers putting their own slant on the material. But, an effort has to be made to give kids all the perspectives and let them arrive at their own place via critical thinking, rather than brainwashing. And they have to have this information, not only to make their own personal journeys, but like you say it's needed just to understand most canonized literature.

A few years can make a huge difference in a child's perspective. I went to Quaker school for 6th through 9th grades, and the word of the day every day there was "tolerance." There was no religious indoctrination, but there was a lot of ethical and critical thinking practice. I come from a fundamentalist background and I'm happy to say that I survived it with my critical thinking intact, thanks in part to the good neutral religious education I received at a Quaker school.

Marcel Cairo said...

David,

Thank you for your reply and your acknowledgement of the humor. On a quick note, my comment was that I don't believe in the traditional Judeo/Christian view of God as an overseer of truth, morals and justice. I do believe that there is a higher dynamic force (call it what you will) that coarses invisibly through our lives much as the jet stream runs hidden below the seas. Just cause I cannot fully define it does not mean I don't believe that this "God stream" exists.

As far as James Randi is concerned, please don't use him as a reference. He is no more credible or authentic as say Sylvia Browne (who I cannot stomach).

My belief in life after death is based on one simple fact. I am a spiritual medium. I have been exploring mediumship at all levels (student and teacher) for over 22 years. Two years ago, I began to see a limited number of clients on a professional basis. I did so to accomodate the small problem that doing readings on buses, subways and at Denny's is not always the best plan. All the fees I charge go to paying office rent and other office related expenses. If you google my name, you can find some links to other blogs where people put my readings to a personal test. I also have a bi-monthly internet radio show called "In Good Spirit". It's a bit of Click and Clack, Howard Stern and Crossing Over... light fare.

Anyway, if any card-carrying atheist from this blog is ever in LA and wants a free reading, give me a buzz and we'll try to set something up.

David said...

marcel, thanks. you explained your point of view quite well and I am afraid I have no further comments. Spiritual media are beyond my ability to perceive. I might point out that Randi was the first recipient of the Richard Dawkins award in 2003 and Julia Sweeney received it in 2006. In 2004 it was Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan and in 2005 Penn & Teller.

Branko Collin said...

"the cultural fascists"

Ah yes, Donohue is clearly sending out a message of tolerance and acceptance. And his comparison with the Olympics; women are not allowed to compete in the men's events. Fine. What Donohue wants is to force all women to watch the men's events, or at least to shut up until the games are over. Everybody likes sports, right?

Norma Manna Blum said...

First off, and in honor of the season that is not quite so jolly as the advertising insists, I must register shock at Sheldon's deprivation - AND more than a little envy: HOW did Sheldon manage to reach adulthood WITHOUT having heard the word "creche" up the wazoo, and then some?
Lucky Sheldon.

Creche, manger, Magi, frankincense,myrrh,"no room at the inn" what "7 year old "outsider" in first grade wasn't - and isn't- aware that all those mysteries are denied him/her and will, short of conversion, always be,
They do not roll off the non-Christian tongue naturally, and they certainly don't touch the heart and mind.
And much as I sympathize with Mr.Donohue's distress at having his Christian Nation usurped by the outsiders and their (our) sour grapes - he is in many ways correct:this WAS a Christian nation in terms of numbers and beliefs, and at one time (in my own lifetime, the outsiders understood our place and behaved accordingly.
No longer: ideas as well as demographics alter, and with alteration comes change, not all of it to the liking of the old guard.
I think that Mr.Donohue actually GETS it, he just doesn't like it, and to emphasize his dislike, he wishes to announce his objection to some imagined persecution which leads to the argument of so many religionists (similar outcries occur from the religious in Israel, in Turkey, in Lebanon, and now even in France) that he is prevented from enjoying the beauties of his faith in his own country.
But is that true?
Mr. Donohue can teach his children all about the creche, the manger, the Magi, the Lamb and the Mother of God in his own home, and enjoy their celebration in his own church,
He can dress his home to reflect his piety and his pride in it;he can insist that his children do the same.
It has simply been suggested that it isn't fair: in a multicultural, multi religious, multi-hued society, not EVERYONE either understands OR gets any great pleasure out of doing the same.
And atheists?
Come on, guys... you can't be serious about atheism as a gateway to human enlightenment if you insist that the story of Joseph,Mary, "no room at the inn," the manger, creche, North Star,Magi, all the supernatural hoopla should be taught as "just another way of looking at the world."
It isn't.
I sometimes think with nostalgia of the lovely Passover Seders at my Grandparents home, full of family, friends, festive, gorgeous food, wine, solemn, yet happy. CHOSEN!!
Damn, those WERE the days! God led us out of slavery and iterated that he held us in special regard..
My poor kiids NEVER got to feel the power and the glory of such special attention.
But it was bull shit 5,000 plus years ago, and it's bull shit now, and nostalgia is NOT an excuse for perpetuating fraud.
It has to stop sometime,somewhere, and SOMEBODY has to say "no more.."
And if atheists do ANYTHING, we say "NO MORE!"
How much longer are we going to argue about something the very nature of which creates divisiveness?
Am I unduly cranky, cantankerous?
Because I am certainly not militant as I would not lift a finger to keep anyone from enjoying whatever pleasure religion imparts to him/her;
I simply believe that to think of religious fictions as harmless because "The LIttle Drummer Boy" is a knock-out song, is underestimating both the roots and the results of the incredible staying power of the idea that long ago passed its expiration date. How much more proof does one need to acknowledge that nothing really very positive has come out of religion since Michelangelo got off his scaffold in the Sistine Chapel?

When you argue for the perpetuation of the religious meaning of Christmas, OR any other religious symbology outside your own acre , and the walls of your own church (or mosque,synagogue, temple) , you are arguing for the perpetuation of religion.
That's it: it can't be dressed up to reflect any other idea.
Totally understandable for religionists.
Somewhat understandable for those who simply don't give such matters much thought. (How I wish that could be me!)
But COMPLETELY (to me - I speak only for myself) odd for an avowed atheist.
NMB

Marcel Cairo said...

David,

To get back to the core of Julia's post... I would choose Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch or even a slighly chipped ceramic mold of Baby Jesus any day over Richard Dawkins. Sure, Richard Dawkins possesses credentials, wisdom and followers, but no amount of adulation gives him exclusivity over truth.

Yes, Richard Dawkins may be the flavor of the month, but in this world of rocky road vs. pistachio nut, Letterman vs. Leno and theism vs. atheism, flavors come and go. The only constant is the truth... and luckily, truth is subjective, even if you're the big man on campus.

In the end, each will believe their own version and flavor of truth, and you can bet, most will want theirs covered with sprinkles of myth.

Thank "????" for all the mystery in life.

:-)

Norma Manna Blum said...

To Marcel:
I like Richard Dawkins well enough,
What's not to like?
He's educated, an accomplished scientist, witty, humorous.
But it NEVER occurred to me that I might have to choose between Dawkins and Jesus, or for that matter between Dawkins and my old Barbie doll.
The world - lucky us! - is simply too full of viable choices, no matter what the individual bent...
From the ridiculous to the sublime.
EITHER/OR, good/evil, right/wrong is the mind set that religion impresses upon us.
There are - just as an example- the Greek dramatists, whose views of the world, its
pleasures, disappointments, and even horrors, still have the power to give us serious pause.
EITHER/OR is perhaps one of monotheism's most unattractive facets - beyond being inaccurate.
NMB

David said...

Having been raised with Christianity and the "lovely" aspects of Christmas, I'm not eager to chuck it wholesale even though I'm now a nontheist. In my view, atheists (with a Christian background) should continue to observe the traditions if so inclined, I think it would aid in the removal of actual religiosity from Christmas. I think Christmas will eventually, perhaps a hundred or more years hence, become similar Halloween, a fun but even meaningful holiday, devoid of real religious content.

A favorite conversation from Brideshead Revisited:

Charles: But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.

Sebastian: Can't I?

Charles: I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.

Sebastian: Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.

Charles: But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.

Sebastian: But I do. That's how I believe.

Anonymous said...

I grew up celebrating 'secular Christmas', and my mother had a wonderful way to put it: we are celebrating the spirit of giving and charity. We don't have to believe tales of the supernatural to appreciate humanity coming together in friendship and true "Christian" brotherhood. -Bryce

Anonymous said...

I have studied what the Germans used to call "higher criticism" (detailed textual / historical critical analysis of the Old Testament) for about 25 years now because, as an agnostic nontheist, I have found it fascinating "detective work" to figure out why the anonymous editors/redactors of the gospels (and of some of the epistles) made up, collected, or wrote what they assembled out of bits and pieces of oral history, folklore, borrowed Hellenistic mythology, Palestinian urban legend, etc. The Old Testament tells us a lot more about what these superstitious folks -- obsessed with the imminent end of the world -- were thinking about, and very little about the historic Jesus, if there ever was one.

A good starting point for reading about the historical / partly legendary Jesus would be any of the books by G. A. Wells or Roberr M. Price, especially Wells's earlier book "Who Was Jesus?"

Fascinating as all that stuff has been, it's also made it impossible for me to have any "Christmas spirit" of the regigious sort. So, I have just resigned myself to going along with celebrations of Christmas as a purely secular American holiday. It's not hard to get through the season without hearing any Christmas carols or religious music. I tend to favor the ones that are non-specific and don't explicitly mention Jesus, such as "The Holly and the Ivy."

I am not personally bothered by explicitly religious Christmas displays such as Nativity scenes. As for reciting the pledge of allegiance, when I come to the "under God" part that was added in 1954, I either stop speaking or (taking a cue from Robin Williams) say "under Canada."

Jeff D

Sheldon said...

Norma:

Dad's a Jew. Mom's an Atheist. Never really got the "creche" brainwashing at home. Wish you'd had the same benefit. : )

maria said...

Hi Julia!

Well, I'd feel better about the Jesus-at-Christmastime thing if they'd teach in schools the myths that the Jesus myth supplanted, like Mithras. Mithras was the god who was born in a cave to a virgin on December 25th. Did you know that? Most people don't! I wrote a silly song about it called, "Don't Cry Baby Mithras Cos Jesus Stole Your Birthday." Dude also had 12 disciples, died and was resurrected, yada yada. And check this out -- according to Plutarch, Cicilian pirates worshipped Mithras in 67 BC. Pirates! I bet kids everywhere would rather hear about the Pirate God than that scrawny Jesus poseur born in a manger. Arrrh!

Merry Mithrasmas! (Arrrrh!)

Austin Cline said...

Well, I agree that it's silly to take Jesus out of Christmas. I mean, we call it "Christ" mas, fer chrissake.

As your friend noted, it was originally a pagan holiday. There is little about modern celebrations of Christmas that are Christian or Christ-centered. Older Christmas celebrations were more religious, but people today wouldn't recognize them - or like them very much, I think. Religious Christmas was a somber affair for reflection.

Note also that it's Christmas - whatever happened to the mass? What happened to all the masses that occurred during the Christmas season? Protestants killed them. Catholics still observe them, but not to the same degree they once did. Christians killed the masses in Christmas and thereby eliminated most of the seasons's religious content. Now they complain that the very little bit left is decreasing in importance.

Plus, de-emphasising Jesus over Christmas inevitably leads to over-emphasis on Santa Claus, which means presents and THINGS and buying, etc.

Note that the Christians who complain about the lack of Jesus in Christmas are not complaining about the commercialization of Christmas - the process that is a major driving force behind the decline in religious content. Wal-Mart will never use Jesus in its advertising, only Santa and similarly secular figures. Yet, the "defenders" of Christmas go to these retailers for help.

Christmas is no longer an exclusively Christian holiday; it's now a cultural holiday. This means that Christmas is no longer represented exclusively by Christian symbols, stories, and beliefs; non-Christian and secular symbols, stories, and beliefs (songs, decorations) have equal status. This means that Christians are responsible for holding up their "religious end of the stick" all on their own - Christmas has religious significance only insofar as they maintain it. They cannot rely on the rest of American culture to help carry the weight.

This is the conflict that lies at the heart of the rest of the so-called Culture Wars: American culture, politics, and society no longer reinforce Christian symbols, ideas, institutions, and beliefs like they once did. Christians and Christian institutions are wholly responsible for that. As it turns out, when the weight of culture and government aren't behind Christianity, it doesn't do as well. That annoys people. They miss the special privileges that their beliefs used to give them. They regard their privileges as rights and aren't happy that they aren't treated special anymore.

That's what the Christmas Wars are about; they are just a microcosm of the larger conservative Christian assault on a religiously pluralistic, secular modernity where Christianity isn't privileged anymore.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding like a major suck-up, I really do have to agree with Julia's thought, "But the point is, why can't it just be everything?" Christmas...today, post-paganism...IS about Christ. And Hanukkah is what Hanukkah is about. And Kwanzaa is what Kwanzaa is about. And Ramadan is what Ramadan is about. (Apologies to anyone if I butchered the spelling of your personal holiday.) And they all seem to fall around the same time of year, more or less, give or take a few weeks. But in our culture today, it's ALL about the Benjamins!! The season has become just an excuse to wallow in materialism, greed and excess even more than we do at other times of the year, and the season starts after Labor Day with the appearance of Christmas trees and boxes of cards in the stores. I'm disgusted by the hype and helter-skelter to be the first kid on the block to have the latest toy. "Love thy neighbor and get the hell out of my way, I saw it first!" The hypocrisy of the people who profess to truly believe is what sickens me. Celebrate it right or don't celebrate it at all.

I had a dear friend who died several years ago that I miss terribly. He was Jewish, very into his faith, knew that I (at the time)was very into my Catholicism, and he would call me during our respective spring and winter holidays and we'd have a great time rejoicing in each other's faiths. (I expect he'd be a bit disappointed in me if he could see how I'm feeling and thinking these days.) He loved it when Passover and Easter would occur at exactly the same time, he got a lot of warm fuzzies out of it. (Personally, I like it when Easter and Daylight Savings Time occur at the same time because it allows me to torment my husband with my lame joke: If we have to rise an hour earlier, so should Jesus.)

Anyway, IMHO, either CELEBRATE everything, or BAN everything...don't try to fix years of what one might see as injustice by tolerating all the other religious celebrations but discriminating specifically against the Christian celebration. Fair is fair, right?

Happy Retail Season, everyone!!

Leftdog said...

OK, this analogy will probably seem a little weird, but hold on with me. I'm an artist and as such I tend to think in that realm.
When Modernism had reached a certain point and needed to be overthrown because of its biases and problems, including misogyny, we ended up with Anti-Modernism...which quickly led to Post-Modernism, which very slowly has led us to where we are now (sorry, no name for it at this time. When you can define it, it's already dead as a movement.)
The point is, you have to have an Anti- movement to get to the next step. There are some nice things about Modernism that shouldn't have been tossed out, but we needed to do it first off, to get to the point where we could reclaim those attributes. Christmas, etc. is the same. Sure, it's a good story. I understand that, but it needs to be discredited before it can be reclaimed. Think Norse Mythology or any other similar; great stories, but only acceptable now because they have been defanged.
Thanks for the space to write and everything else. Later.

Anonymous said...

Julia,

Great topic. I struggle with the same issue (and have Celine Dion's "These are special times" on my itunes playlist) but I have to agree with Sheldon and Norma. Why does taking Mulan to a church to experience the Christian elements of Christmas suck? I actually think it's a good idea. It sounds like you're just having more trouble letting go of the manger story than God...


just my $0.02

Rebecca said...

(Second posting, since the first seems to have gotten lost...but it wasn't witty, I can assure you)

This blog loaded v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y this morning (computer upgrades, gotta love 'em!) which meant since I was sitting here I read everything, and even took a few moments to think about what I read, as opposed to skimming so that I could get to the part where I put in my two cents' worth! (Hey! Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!)

Yes, I was raised Christian and went to church--every Sunday for eighteen years. Christmas for me was less about spirituality than about relief from the tedium of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and sermons on obscure Bible passages. Christmas meant the Jesus story, new colors, songs, smells, candles. It was far and away my favorite time of the church year. So I still have a fondness for those stories, and "We Three Kings" and "Silent Night."

BUT what I realized, reading the comments and waiting for the 'Leave your comment' box to load, was that these stories, songs, etc. are sentimentally valuable to me only because I grew up with them and because they recall happy times in my childhood. If I hadn't grown up with them I would have at best a neutral response, and comments like Ivy's remind me that the response can be very unpleasant for some. And there is just no way to permit public celebration of the biblical Christmas story without its appearing, because of the majority view, to renounce minority views.

I agree with leftdog that we can only bring out the Christian myths when they've been universally discredited.

So, are we left with nothing? Not if we appreciate that there is a profound importance to our commitment to protect the rights of the few from the domination by the majority. We should, instead of being apologetic and defensive about it, explain to children that whatever is religious belongs to home and church, and that what we celebrate in public is the stuff that isn't religious so that no one can tell anyone what to believe. As many have noted more eloquently, if you look back at the history of religion on this earth, a rule that prohibits any religion from being enshrined or officially endorsed is a VERY good thing, something to be PROUD of. NOT 'sick' or 'fascist' or whatever Donohue calls it. Often, being in a minority means being called a party-pooper by the majority. As someone with a Christian upbringing I am in the majority but as an atheist I am learning what it is to be in the minority. We need to better celebrate the value denigrated as "religious fascism." I'm sending a check this Xmas to the ACLU!

Thanks for the thought-provoking forum. Sorry about the length of this comment.

Luna said...

"Plus, de-emphasising Jesus over Christmas inevitably leads to over-emphasis on Santa Claus, which means presents and THINGS and buying, etc."

This is a comment I have heard made many times before, a comment I normally associate with Christians who are worried that their religion isn't getting enough exposure. I have to agree with Sheldon that this post disturbed me.

Santa is an old myth. Lots of great stories out there, from before the Jesus stories. Check out the Tomte stories too. Our family loves the idea of a bearded guy--the old skinny Santas are my faves, but fat is okay too(goes along with the fattening of the US, but I digress,) who is thoughtful and kind and giving, and overlooks your misdeeds to see the real you. As our kids get older and figure out it's us, they participate in "Being Santa". They love they idea of doing something anonymously, either as a gift or a deed, for their relatives. It's fun to sign mysteriously, "From Santa".

It's a myth that teaches people to be thoughtful of others. It's the spirit of giving. We grow out of the story, but hopefully not out of the idea.

Kind of like Christianity was for some of us I suppose. We grew out of it, but kept some of the better ideas from it. Like be nice to others and help your fellow man.

Please don't slam Santa. He may leave coal in your stocking!

Luna

Andrew said...

Heya!

I've just started listening to the second disc of your 'Letting Go Of God' CD and I think it is brilliant. I first heard about it from the 'TED talk' you gave and, living in the UK, I've been waiting impatiently for months and months for the CD to arrive.

I think I agree with you on the whole Christmas thing. Of course in the UK we have long had no trouble accepting Christmas as very much a secular affair where all the connected symbols be it the commercial image of Father Christmas, the religious image of Jesus, or the old pagan images of mistletoe and decorated trees, are allowed to be out in the open for all to enjoy - at whatever level.

But isn't 'the war against Christmas' a kind of rallying point for the self-righteous anger of (mostly evangelical) Christian communities? Isn't the problem with Jesus in the public domain more a matter of principle than a matter of organisations like American Atheists making a fuss?

I actually suspect that while it is the Christian right which complains about the absence of Jesus from the public domain, it is also the same people who benefit most from this rule. I can just hear them saying "well obviously we can't allow ALL religious symbols in the public domain because before then we'd have forced Islamic prayer, then Islamic terrorist cells in our schools, then Sharia law, and before you knew it'd be the end of democracy!" They don't want religious symbols in public. They want THEIR religious symbols in public.

Personally I'd like a few more religious holidays secularised like Christmas seems to have been. I'd like it if we could all celebrate Diwali too. (Read about what that festival involves. It's really neat.) But naturally I wouldn't want a Diwali with the gods taken out. All I'd want is the right to abstain from believing in the underlying mythology.

I'm currently hoping to become a Religious Education teacher in the UK. I recently finished a Masters in Philosophical Theology and would describe myself as a Humanist. (I quite like the label 'Post-Christian' as well.) Wish me luck! :)

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