Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The attack on those who are "killing" Christmas 

I'm Jewish, but I've never minded the country's Christmas-centric nature. Non-Christians who get all pissed off that someone says Merry Christmas to them are too sensitive (though I really don't think there are many of these people). I long ago got used to people asking about my tree and my Christmas plans. And even though fully 25% of Americans aren't Christian, I don't get offended that they assume I am. I find that most people are (at least openly) respectful if they find out I'm Jewish.

On the other hand, the recent attacks from the religious right about those who are "killing Christmas" are overblown, misleading, and downright scary. Rush Limbaugh calls it an "all-out assault." Jerry Falwell says a bunch of his usual stuff. These loudmouths repeat the same fringe examples of excessive sensitivity -- like a school district somewhere that won't let people bring red and green cookies to class. Or a school that won't let Christmas songs be played, but will play other religious songs. Yes, I agree: those are stupid things. They're also (surprise) not very common!

As Anna Quindlen points out, as a Jewish kid in a public school, I spent years singing in holiday concerts about the birth of "our savior" and whatever else. I didn't complain, and I don't complain when similar instances crop up today. So I will not tolerate these crusading religious righters who object when the clerk at Wal-Mart says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." How traumatic that must be! May I suggest that if that sort of thing puts a damper on what is supposed to be a private, religious holiday, then that's your problem, not mine.

Christmas isn't being attacked. Christmas is everywhere. And it's not Jews or Muslims or atheists who have taken this religious holiday and commercialized it. When Christmas becomes primarily about gifts, it naturally becomes less religious. Christians have always generously encouraged me to participate in Christmastime events, pointing out that they're "not religious." Maybe that attempt at inclusion -- which I dare say Jesus would like -- is part of what Falwell perceives as an "attack." Indeed, maybe these fanatics are cleverly making Jews and "secular liberals" the enemy instead of criticizing the vast majority of Christian Americans, who simply aren't hankering for nativity scenes in the public schools like they are.

Just like with so many other issues, these warriors make offense seem like defense. When you're just an ideologue trying to push the nation further to the right, you're going to have a hard time winning sympathy. But when you make it look like you're being attacked, you're justified in fighting back. The bottom line is that they're not simply angry because one public school isn't allowing red-and-green cookies. It's much more than that. They can only win by perpetuating the notion of a culture war, and that's just what they're doing.

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