Wednesday, November 18, 2009

War on Christmas!

It's started already.

Defensive Christians all over America have once again begun to pick the rallying cry over the "War on Christmas". For those of you who have blissfully missed this silliness over the last few years, it started in Kentucky this year. Why am I not surprised? But I digress...

The governor there, Steve Beshear, insisted on calling the Christmas tree... a "Christmas tree". Apparently some of the state legislators were caught referring to it as a "holiday tree", which got the loonies in a lather. Last week, the Mississippi-based
American Family Association announced a boycott against the Gap because supposedly it aired a "holiday" commercial and failed to mention "Christmas". They actually did, but far be it from the AFA to let facts and reason get in the way of a good tantrum.

And so it goes. Conservative Christians for years now have lamented the secularization of their holiday. "Jesus is the reason for the season", they would remind us, and pray mercy on those who forget. They've managed to recruit Bill O'Reilly to be their mouthpiece, spewing propaganda from his pulpit at Fox News regarding this atrocity.

Any time a nativity is represented in a town square, you can hear the veritable pin drop as these warriors for Christ wait for some ACLU no-goodnik to start whining about the separation of church and state, and how displaying religious holiday paraphernalia on government land, on the government's dime, is a constitutional violation, blah blah blah. I'd love to see how these same Christian Soldiers would feel, should the government wish to dedicate some tax dollars to sponsoring pilgrimages to Mecca for its Muslim citizenry, or festering Main Street with signs wishing passers-by a happy Ramadan.

They would remind us that America is a Christian nation (it’s not), and that all the founding fathers were Christians (they weren’t), and that our laws are based on the Bible (they aren’t). It is true that Christians far outnumber any other religion’s members in this country. No debating there. It’s true that Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, is generally and traditionally recognized as the birth of Jesus. Again, no contradictions here.

But I thought, as we enter the holiday season (too damned early, if you ask me), we remind ourselves of a few facts:

First off, the reason the early church leaders chose December 25th as the date for Christmas was to coincide with the winter solstice, traditionally revered by Druids and other various pagan groups. They figured out that this was when the days started getting longer, and the sun “returned” to the earth. Druids would decorate trees with candles to celebrate the returning of the light. Feasts were enjoyed. Gifts were given. Thousands of years before there was such a thing as Christianity, these pagan traditions were firmly embedded in the culture. In an effort to capitalize on this festive time, early church leaders started weaving in the story of Jesus’ birth to coincide with this date, and many of the existing traditions were simply re-written to give them a Nativity spin. Now we give gifts like the three Wise Men gave them, etc.

Secondly, there’s no way Jesus could have been born in late December, if the Nativity account in the Bible is to be believed. “Shepherds were watching over their flocks by night” in a field when a bunch of angels showed up, scared the crap out of them, and announced the birth of Jesus. In Bethlehem in Israel, late December is a very cold time of year. Shepherds were not likely to be out in a field at night. More likely in December, they’d have the sheep in a barn somewhere so they didn’t freeze to death. Jesus was born (again, if we are to accept the biblical account as fact) in warmer months, like late spring or summer.

Finally, late December, and the solstice in general, host many different holidays, sponsored by many faiths. We have Hanukkah. We have Kwanzaa (which while not a religious celebration per se, is still separate from Christianity). We have Yule, the modern version of the pagan solstice celebration.

So to assume that “Happy Holidays” is somehow a refusal to acknowledge Christianity is just plain silly. All it assumes is that there are several holidays being celebrated around that time, and person “A” is simply wishing person “B” a nice one, whichever they’re celebrating.

This whole “war on Christmas” is pure bunk. It really isn’t a Christmas tree, when you get right down to it. It’s a Yule tree, and the Christians outright stole it from the Druids. But you don’t hear them complaining. Not because they don’t exist anymore (they do), but because unlike Christians, they’re not that defensive. They accept the existence of other religions, and they are willing to share the season’s goodwill with anyone, regardless of their theology. Would that Christians were so gracious.

These Christian zealots see challenges to the dominance of their religion in every harmless little statement. They pick fights where none exist. No one is seriously trying to eradicate Christianity. But it must be acknowledged that not everyone celebrates Jesus' birthday, and there's no crime there. They are simply embracing our right to not have to be included in it. So they say "Happy Holidays". Where's the harm? There is no underlying sinister footnote. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and pardon the hell out of me for not joining in. Why must clerks say "Merry Christmas"? What, their low-paying jobs are stressful enough without taking time out to appease the fundamentalist right wing under threat of boycotts as well? Why do stores like Target and KMart have to deal with the threat of boycotts just because they acknowledge that not everyone is a Christian? "How dare they wish those jews and pagans a happy holiday? Don't they know that Christmas is the only thing worth mentioning?" Or did I get it wrong, Mr. O'Reilly?

I’m reminded of the Christians’ Bible, Paul’s first letter to the church of Corinth, thirteenth chapter:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

I humbly submit that this notion of a war on Christmas is borne of pride, of self-seeking, of an unwillingness to share, of a desire to keep a record of alleged transgressions. Insisting that people say “Merry Christmas”, insisting that store clerks say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” reflects selfishness and insecurity. If your god is the one true god and every other religion is an exercise in futility, then it shouldn't ruffle your feathers when you encounter others who believe differently. It’s no threat to you it does not negate your truth, and you do your god a disservice by not being gracious and demonstrating his supposed grace and forgiveness.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hate, Inc.

This weekend in Phoenix, Arizona there was an anti-immigration protest held, organized by "American Citizens United". I checked their web site, and behind the patriotic lip service is a clear message: we hate Mexicans. One wonders, as the organization is based in Arizona, if you hate Mexicans so much, why are you living in a state that borders Mexico? I mean, it's just unrealistic of you to not expect to see Mexicans, here legally or not, all around you. By my count, there are 34 states that do not border other countries. You can't move to one of them?

That aside, some neo-Nazis showed up at this rally, and a scuffle ensued. Tea-bagging Mexican haters apparently don't wish to include the Nazis in their protests. I mean, hating Mexicans is one thing, but when someone shows up at your rally waving a picture of Hitler, it takes away from their credibility.

It occurred to me watching that, that there's no shortage of anger today in America. Most of it is from white folks, red state patriots who are convinced that our country is circling the drain, and that their opinions aren't being taken into consideration, and they want their country back. Okay, but back from whom? Who "stole" your country? Back when Bush was (failing at) running things, liberals like myself had the same mantra: "what happened to MY America?" In the case of the anti-Bush crowd, we felt our economic and foreign policies had been usurped by small minority, bent on world domination, both militarily and economically, at the expense of the poor and the overall majority. Despite massive disapproval of the war in Iraq, they would not consider changing course. Why should they? They were getting rich off the back and blood of brown people and their oil, much like the settlers in the Old West and plantations owners of the South. And even though we thought we'd evolved beyond such imperialistic domination fixations, our leaders were intent on reverting from being a Republic to an Empire. Thus, Rome fell.

Ever since the 2008 elections, the losers (Republicans and the Right Wing in general) have been scrambling to define themselves. The unspoken understanding was that Republicans were the party of the white Christians in America, the gun owners, the religious, and usually the more affluent. Democrats were the ones who always suggested increasing the federal minimum wage, and Republicans were the ones fighting for the poor business owners who would be forced out of business when they could no longer exploit their workforces for such slave wages. Democrats (synonymous with liberals and progressives for the sake of this piece) are typically the ones to champion the rights of minorities - blacks, women, gays, you name it. Democrats introduce hate crime legislation, Republicans argue that it's unnecessary. (No shit, fellas, no one is lynching white christian straight men, of course you think it's unnecessary.) Democrats argue for gay marriage, Republicans argue that civil unions are the same thing. Of course they're not, but the message is clear - don't rock the boat.

White Christian men have run America from the beginning. All the signers of the Declaration of Independence were white men, most were Christian. Same for the Constitution. And with the exception of Barack Obama, all U.S. Presidents have been white men. Only one was never married. We were a nation for 140 years before we had a woman in Congress. We were a nation for nearly a century before non-whites were allowed to vote, and over a century before women were allowed. So there is a strong tradition in this country of white male leadership, and legislation that primarily benefited white straight Christian men.

It stands to reason that when women and minorities got the right to vote, and started showing up in Congress and the Supreme court, that our rules and laws would undergo a change as well. No longer do our laws only allow for the rights of white straight men to win. Now women have rights, minorities have rights, and the white straight Christian men have to get used to a nation in flux; a nation that isn't all about them anymore.

With the election of a black president, we've put the final piece in place. America is no longer White Man Land, officially. Now, granted, Obama is mixed race - his mother was white, but such distinctions are lost on those afraid of change. He's not white if he's not 100% white.

Which brings me to hate. Let me say first that hate is simply the fear of the unknown. We fear what we don't understand, and we instinctively feel separate from things and people that are different. We are encouraged to fear, which leads to distrust, which evolves into hate. And that hate gets perpetuated through the generations. When I see men calling Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton a bitch, I know what they're really saying is that they resent having a woman in a position of authority over them, or indeed any man. When I hear people saying "I want my country back", I know it's not that they want it back to Republican or conservative rule, they just want a white man in charge. Case in point: when Bill Clinton was president, no one was going around talking about wanting their country back. That's because he was white, he was a man, he was straight, and he was a Christian. The right wing disagreed with his politics, but they didn't claim to have had their country stolen out from under them.

With Obama in the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi in charge in the House, it's apparent to all straight white men that their reign of power has come to an end. And this has a lot of the Old Guard uneasy: does this mean the end of an era, referred to in hindsight as the Caucasian Men's Period of American Power? Or is this simply a reaction to the anti-Bush sentiment borne of eight years of failed leadership? When will we have another black president? When can we expect a female president? How about a First Couple of mixed race? For that matter, when can we expect a gay or lesbian president? The first overtly non-Christian president? Surely the election of Barack Obama has many of us on the left and right wondering if the mold has truly been shattered, or what's next.