Happy Holidays: Christmas Cheer And Bitter Divides

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There is not a War On Christmas.

If there were, I would know. I would be at all of the strategy sessions.

Growing up, I was not bothered by all of the classroom festivities that accompanied the holiday season. I mean, what kindergarten student does not enjoy a break from classroom tedium to clumsily assemble gingerbread houses or to make tacky felt ornaments? I mean, my family set up a tree and lights and had presents—basically Christmas. More accurately described as Santamas, perhaps.

What I did not enjoy, particularly in elementary school (where it was extra abundant), was the default assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas. And feeling left out when other people knew songs that were not taught in music class but that classes were occasionally expected to sing towards the end of December. It was not a feeling of jealousy that, for other students, celebrating Christmas involved more than it did in my household. It was a resentment that I was excluded. That events were planned and that, even as an eight-year-old, I was very aware that the presence of myself and other students at my school who did not actually celebrate Christmas was mostly an afterthought. There was a token Hannukah song for any students who might be Jewish, and that was about it for non-Christians.

As an adult, I have no real desire to ruin anyone’s Christmas. What I want is for, in public spaces, as much inclusion as possible. While one could argue—and I would even agree—that having a decorated evergreen tree has almost become a secular symbol at this point (and, at any rate, at least decorating evergreen trees is not exclusively a Christian practice this time of year), a Nativity display on public property certainly is not. It is an exclusively Christian, religious display and it is not appropriate to display that on public land—certainly not on its own. I …

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Children Of The Same God

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In at least two of the Presidential debates, Mitt Romney mentioned that he believes that “we are all children of the same God.”

Romney is no stranger to alienating large groups of voters with casual remarks. I mean, there was the video in which he dismisses forty-seven percent of Americans as irresponsible government-dependents who will never vote for him. His history of strong opposition to marriage equality (that’s a view that’s actually remained consistent over the last decade) is dismissive of gay voters, even after the President of the United States has publicly endorsed marriage equality. An estimated one-third of women will have an abortion in their lifetimes; Romney’s stance is strongly opposed to the reproductive rights of those women—and others.

So, in a country where even the most liberal, inclusive politicians say “God bless America,” it comes as no surprise when a politician like Mitt Romney announces: “I believe that we are all children of the same God.”

Because that is not a genuinely inclusive statement, any more than: “pale or tan, we’re all white folks.” And while I am not comparing the life of living as a religious minority to the experiences that one encounters when faced with racism, and while I am not comparing the Abrahamic faiths themselves to “white power” groups, there is one simple parallel: including individuals with minor differences in order to form a more powerful majority that can exclude more significant differences.

Romney faces some difficulties with some evangelical voters who consider Mormonism to be merely an offshoot of Christianity (or, in more extreme cases, “a Satanic cult,” but that’s with the people who believe that about every religion and denomination save their own). Elections are a numbers game, and if you can attract or reassure more voters than you alienate, it’s a “good move.”

This is one of the reasons for which I abhor democracy.

Alienating religious minorities who believe in different Gods or in no Gods at all is a necessary move to court much of the Christian majority. And because Mitt Romney’s line includes Jewish and Muslim adherents, it tries to appear to be inclusive. Members of both parties are guilty of using lines like this, but it is not usually by someone like Mitt Romney who, more than most Presidential candidates, should know what it is like to be ignored or dismissed because of his faith.
It is not inclusive.



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Persecution Complex

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Your religious liberties are not in any danger from the government.

Ahem. I should clarify: If you live in the United States, your religious liberties are not in any danger from the federal* government.

I am not going to list other countries in which individual religious liberties are oppressed on a daily basis. If religious freedom in the US were “under attack,” as some keep insisting, then the fact that Iranian Christians cannot meet in churches or the fact that China sometimes uses tanks against unwanted religious groups would not lessen any such “attacks” within the US.

What a number of the groups who are claiming that the US government (or President Obama) is oppressing their rights are really saying is that President Obama is giving slightly less special treatment to Judeo-Christian beliefs than usual. That is not oppression. That’s acknowledging, from time to time, that there are millions of adherents of religions other than Christianity—other than any Abrahamic tradition—in the United States and all around the world.

I believe that it was The Daily Show that said: “Christians: a long-oppressed majority.” Because a persecution complex has been a part of Christianity’s modern political outlook for about a century, when increased global travel and trade brought Christian Europe and Christian North America into contact with Eastern religious traditions.

I am a very devout Pagan, but I have no desire to oppress Christianity. Even if I did, I would have no idea how to do so. If I were US President, I wouldn’t know how to. It would be difficult to even begin oppressing an overwhelming majority that is also a majority in both major political parties.

There is an even better quote from The Daily Show‘s Samantha Bee that I think really embodies the unthreatened dominance of Christianity in American society:

Christmas: It’s the only religious holiday that’s also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services and everyone else can stay home and reflect on the true meaning of Separation of Church and State.

To use a trite expression, Samantha Bee really hits the nail on the head. I was not raised in a religious household, and while I enjoyed receiving presents for secular Christmas (which I call “Santamas”), I was resentful in elementary school that Christmas was such a big deal. I was resentful that there were classmates who could all break out into “Silent Night” and other religious songs that I had never heard. I was not upset that I had not been raised in a Christian household—I was upset that it mattered that I had not been raised in a Christian household.

If the US government were forcing women to take birth-control pills against their religious convictions, that would be oppression of beliefs. Forcing employers to cover all necessary health costs is not oppression. The government forcing someone to marry someone else is oppression. Treating two citizens who love each other but happen to be of the same sex with the same rights and dignity is not oppression. The government banning any mention or celebration of one of your religious holidays would certainly be a violation of your religious liberties and rights to free speech. Someone at the check-out wishing you an inclusive “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” is not only not an attack on your beliefs, but is refreshing for those of us who are more than a little weary of people assuming that we celebrate Christmas.

Also, here is a tongue-in-cheek “quiz” on the Huffington Post about whether or not your religious liberties are being oppressed.

*I have heard of cases in which certain religious minorities are obstructed when trying to obtain registered certification to be a minister and officiate weddings in states that require registration for these things. These are, I believe, local and isolated incidents, likely born of ignorance or bigotry, rather than signs of a massive conspiracy to undermine adherents of all faiths.



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