Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The War on “Holidays”

Not too long ago we used to hear concern among Jewish families about the “December dilemma,” wherein Jewish children, surrounded in school, in stores, and on TV with the iconography of Christmas, would suffer a kind of religious identity crisis and feel left out of the mainstream culture’s most important holiday.

Today we are seeing a different December dilemma. Most people in the United States have become aware of and sensitive to the fact that (a) this is probably the most religiously diverse country in the world and (b) the Framers of the Constitution intended expressly for the government to be neutral on the question of religious in order to ensure freedom of and (if desired) from religion for everyone in the United States. As a result of this increased awareness and sensitivity, the Christian Religious Right (hereafter “Christianists” – think “Islamists”) is crying “foul” and attempting to retake what they see as their right to declare the US a “Christian Country.” Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson have decried what they call the “war on Christmas” and urged boycotts of stores such as Macy’s and Target, who use the word “holidays” in their ads and do not mention Christmas. (Wal-Mart, also a target, has already backed off and changed its ads to Christmas), and even the Bush White House has come under fire for its “holiday” cards and tree (The tree is now a Christmas tree).

Actually, this supposed war on Christmas is nothing new – Henry Ford, writing in 1929, blamed it explicitly on the Jews, and the John Birch Society in the ‘50’s updated it to the Communists (and we all know who they are, wink wink). Today’s Christian Right do not blame the Jews explicitly but rather what they consider the encroaching forces of secularism, conveniently ignoring that the country has been secular since 1789. Not aggressively secular like France, where no hint of religion is allowed in public, but inclusively secular – open to all religions and to the non-religious and anti-religious, while founded on the assumption that there is a God and that what God has granted to one God has granted to all.

The Christianists insist that this is a Christian Country, founded by Christians for Christians, and the rest of us are here out of their generosity and Christian love. The Supreme Court under both Conservative and Liberal leadership has repeatedly rejected the Christian country notion, but they are not deterred by this.

It seems to me that as Jews and as human beings we must resist this latest attempt to hijack the national culture by one group who claim to represent a majority view. The term “holidays” is inclusive of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and unless it comes early as it did this year, Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Christmas does not even include Orthodox Christians who celebrate Jesus’ birth on January 7th or sects such as Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not celebrate it as a holiday at all.

I know there are those, including some in this Congregation, who consider the Christianists our friends because they are pro-Israel, albeit for reasons that have nothing to do with the welfare of the Jews. I don’t think that’s relevant here and mention it only to forestall their cries of anguish as I risk insulting our “allies.”

By the time you read this, the holidays will be over, but the Christianist effort will not end there. This is a case where those supposed allies, led by the likes of O’Reilly, Gibson and Falwell are attempting to bend a quasi-religious argument to their own political ends. Edmund Burke said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We cannot afford to do nothing in this case or we will, indeed, find ourselves living in a “Christian Country.”

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