A Strange Grinch
by Arleen Lorrance
At Christmas Eve dinner several of us reflected on meaningful Christmas times past. Having been raised in a Jewish family that celebrated practically no holidays of any kind, I was in my teens, and attending a school outside my ghetto neighborhood, before I had my first taste of the Christmas spirit. Sharing a life with Mariamne for 34 years has brought me the joy of many Christmas events in a large and wonderful family.
As I reflected this year I expressed my deep sadness that Christmas has been stolen by an unlikely group: Christian fundamentalists. I have seen over last decade and more how they have sought to take over our government and make infringements on our constitution. But this last year, they went over the top, seeking to deny human rights, to infuse, through devious means, religion (THEIR religion) into public schools, and most recently, attacking “happy holidays.”
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given their belief that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. Nonetheless, at each new assault from their judgmental and demanding camp, I am not only surprised but sometimes shocked by their blatant attempts to take over the nation (and maybe the world.) In this regard I can easily see the seeds of a potential holy war between Christian and Muslim fanatics.
The denial of human rights to which I refer has to do with the issue of gay unions. I could make room for Christian objection to gay marriage, even though I thought it was an artificial usurping of marriage. But I could deal with their insecurities; their need to keep marriage for themselves. However, when they showed their mean-spiritedness by denying gays the right to civil unions and to equal benefits, I drew a line in the sand. In this case, they were saying that gays did not deserve equal rights in our society and should be discriminated against. I used to like our Senator John McCain until he stated loudly and clearly that he would be against gay unions and equal rights and benefits.
It is important to state here that when I talk about Christian fundamentalists the emphasis is on fundamentalists. There are many other Christians of different stripes. In Phoenix recently more than 100 people walked to the Capitol in time for the governor’s State of the State address. The group, “No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice,” marched in support of Gay and Lesbian rights. Frank Loulan of Lutherans Concerned, an organization that promotes gay and Lesbian causes within the Evangelical Lutheran Church, said, “I think it’s important that people who are involved with churches speak up for equality and justice.”
The issue of “intelligent design” fits the current political climate perfectly: find the appropriate sound bite and use it to get what you want. Slip religion in under the radar and define it as a scientific theory even though it can’t be tested or proved. Anything to eventually remove the theory of evolution. Religion is not science, religion is a belief system. It belongs in the various “houses of God”, not in our public school systems. What is amusing to me, however, is that I always thought of evolution as an incredible intelligent design! Surely evolution is a grand scheme envisioned in a brilliant Mind and each of us is a minute part of the unfolding wonder.
Lucky for all of us, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican church-goer, barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching “intelligent design” in a biology class, calling it creationism in disguise. He went even further, decrying the “breathtaking inanity” of the Dover policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion. “ID is not science…it violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking…supernatural causation.” It relies on “flawed and illogical” arguments.
Recently, a writer to the editor of our local paper took liberals to task (doesn’t everyone) and said that if they were so open-minded they should all allow the teaching of intelligent design along with everything else. I wondered as I read that if the writer would be equally willing to have other theories and/or belief systems taught in his church to stretch the minds of his congregation.
And then, this Christmas, Pat Robertson, the glib Christian televangelist who recently called for the assassination of the President of Columbia, started the war on “Happy Holidays.” I must admit it was a clever campaign to get people all riled up and it took off beautifully, just in time to pit Americans against each other for Christmas. What an irony. In Sacramento, California 50 religious protestors demonstrated outside Wal-Mart condemning the retailer for using happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas in its ads. The pastor said it was insulting that Wal-Mart chose to ignore the reason for the season. It is any wonder that his church is called the Church of the Divide?
The reason for the season, another clever phrase to stir the rank and file to do battle. What season? The season of frenzied consumerism? The December shopping season that now begins before Halloween and like a bulldozer runs right over Thanksgiving as if it had no meaning at all. What season? Is it the season of Chanukah, another commemoration of an event? Or is it the season of Kwanza, another celebration like Christmas that was invented, made up, for the followers?
Religious groups are taking on retailers who have toned down the religious aspects of Christmas. This makes religious fanatics very angry. So much so that The American Family Association (so many fundamentalist conservatives have co-opted “American” and “Family” as if no one else should dare to claim it as their own) gathered over half a million signatures in an online petition to demand that Target include Christmas in its promotions or face a boycott. I want to shout, get a life! I mean, are they kidding? Will fundamentalist Christians set themselves up as the determining force of how private enterprise shall conduct their business? What next?
I say bravo to stores that have toned down religious aspects. As a consumer, as an American, as a non-religious person, I don’t want to have anyone’s religion dominate my shopping experience or my life. Religion belongs in the church, the mosque, the synagogue, and the hearts of the believers. I don’t need to be saved because I am not going to the hell some believe in. If Christians want to say Merry Christmas instead of happy holidays, by all means feel free. But for Christians to think that they can dictate how others will choose to express themselves is beyond the pale.
It is amusing to me that this latest issue, this ruckus over “their Christmas” and how it is to be talked about and celebrated, is as trumped us as many aspects of the Christmas holiday (if I am allowed to use those two words together) itself. I quote from research Marilyn Nyborg, a member of our love family, put together for a letter to the editor. “Most Christian traditions “...are based on Pagan traditions. The Christmas tree was a symbol of the rebirth of Mother Earth. The Babylonians celebrated the birth of the God Tammuz during winter solstice and people would leave him gifts under the tree. The Romans created the tradition of standing under the mistletoe for a kiss. The Yule log and Yule Day have Babylonian origins. Yule is the Chaldee name for an infant or little child. December 25 was called Yule Day by Pagan Anglo Saxon ancestors.
“Christian scholars acknowledge that December 25 was not the actual date of Jesus’ birth.” The Christian church settled on that date because “...they were having trouble converting pagans who did not want to give up their celebrations.” It coincided with the five-day pagan festival and Chanukah.
So what is all the fuss about? Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is not even Christmas. It is all conveniently invented and constructed and offered up as a holy day. What about the rest of gospel, what about the validity of what is proclaimed as the absolute truth? The more fundamentalists push to dominate, the more questions are raised and the more those of us who support the basic tenets of our constitution will rise up to say, “You may not jam your beliefs down our throats.”
I remember Christmas time in New York. The enormous and magnificent pagan tree at Rockefeller Center, the wonderfully decorated windows at Macy’s with skaters and drummers and Santa and elves. I remember beautiful music and people delighting in one another over a glass of egg nog. But I do not remember Christian bullies and I regret that they have stolen Christmas. Perhaps it is that they are desperate because they can feel change moving beneath their feet as more of us in the world celebrate our Oneness rather than separatist divisiveness, as more of us move away from belief systems and toward personal experience and knowing, as more of us love godliness rather than fear a vengeful God.