Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Liberty Counsel and the war on Christmas

November 23, 2008

I was sort of hoping not to touch so much on the “On War Christmas” this year. The whole thing is patently absurd and I suppose I had a secret wish that most Christians would realize that they were being played with the standard methods of fear mongering to which they often seem to be all too susceptible. Everybody is free to celebrate Newton’s birthday as they wish, even if they get it confused with mythological figures or stories from 2000 years ago. The latest round from this one sided war comes from the Liberty Counsel which has decided to waste their time by compiling a Naughty and Nice list. This list is a feeble and pathetic attempt to divide companies into us vs. them combatants. Companies that use the word “holiday” are sorted into the “naughty” bin, and those who say “Christmas” into the “nice” bin. For example, Disney has a “Holiday Shop”, so they are “naughty” (and so Micky will presumably get coal in his stocking). mentions Christmas, so they are “nice”.

Once again, as a message to Liberty Counsel, even I, as an atheist, don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” to me. I am not offended. Neither I nor anybody I know is out to take it away. I do think it is important to recognize and be aware of the fact that the holiday does mean different things in different traditions. Solstice days have been celebrated by human societies for years, before the advent of Christianity. There is also considerable doubt that Jesus (if he ever existed, which is extremely doubtful already) was actually born on Dec. 25. The date Dec. 25 was not chosen until the 4th century CE, and was chosen primarily because the birthdays of other pagan gods were already being celebrated on that day. They were simply incorporating existing traditions.

Whether you want to call it Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Bhodi day, or whatever, to me it will still be a time of festivity, Christmas trees, family gathering, and honoring whatever traditions belong to your own family. As this is also the time we arbitrarily label as the ending of the year succeeded by renewal, it is also a time for reflection.

But what is this Liberty Counsel anyway? I decided to take a quick look at their web site. They claim to be a standard bearer for protecting religious freedom. As nobody is advocating getting rid of religious freedom in this country, that immediately rouses suspicion. In their “About” section, they mention, in brief, some of the actions in which they were involved. Several of them were about banning same sex marriages and they tout their success in those efforts. I suppose this has to do with the religious liberty of enforcing their own religious views of marriage on others. Apparently they fought in Kentucky to say the the Ten Commandments were historical documents contributing to American law and thus it is constitutional to include them as such in public documentation. In fact, the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with American law as eloquently discussed here. To include them as official documents is divisive as it officially favors certain religious traditions to the exclusion of others.

There were some other cases I would actually have to agree with them on, regardless of how uncomfortable I am with them. Students do, I think, have the right to meet after school or distribute religious literature, as long as it is not disruptive to the learning process. Teachers and administrators, however, must not give any type of sanctioning or have the appearance of condoning or favoring any religious tradition. In the particular instances mentioned in their web site, I’m not sure which of the above factors may have been in play, but those are the principles with which I would view those types of cases. The “Graduation Prayer” link under “Projects” is obnoxious, but I don’t know enough about the legal aspects to say much more. Certainly for a student speaker at a graduation ceremony to invoke his or her own religious traditions is tactless and excludes, by definition, any of the student body who do not follow those traditions.

A Very Merry Christmas to Wall Street

November 22, 2008

A quite amusing little article has been unearthed in the Opinion Section of the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, we atheists, what with our War on Christmas and all, are responsible for the current financial meltdown. From the article:

What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of “Merry Christmas.”

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines.

The pseudo-reality in which Henninger seems to live seems like a scary place. Without God there to draw in the chalk lines, people just go all willy-nilly, no personal responsibility, no sense of morals, cut the brakes, no restraints in place! If the only thing keeping Henninger from a murderous rampage and defaulting on his loan payments is his belief in God, I’d be worried. When my wife and I bought our house, we made sure we had adequate down payment and would be able to meet the monthly payments. It was that strong faith in God I have that made me able to behave in a responsible fashion. Oh wait, I’m an atheist. In China, there is a strong cultural attitude towards saving money and not spending beyond your means. It must be that strong Christian heritage in China. Wait just a minute.

I’m also quite curious what are these useful virtues that Southern evangelicals are espousing? Was it the divisive attacks against atheists by Elizabeth Dole? Is it the perennial attempts to undermine science education by including creationist nonsense? Is it allowing business interests to overrun the environment?

It strikes me that the deregulation that helped fuel this mess was brought on in part by politicians from both sides of the aisle, who by the way, are declared Christians (one of whom said Jesus was his favorite philosopher). Since the majority of Americans are Christians, it also stands to reason that the many of the people who took out these subprime loans were also Christians. It also stands to reason that many of the bankers and financiers writing the horribly complex investment products containing the bad loans are also Christian. I don’t say though that their Christian beliefs caused them to behave in an irresponsible manner (indeed, there are many home buyers who were not aware that they were getting into bad loans). I don’t recall the Bible saying anything about hedge funds. It was simple human greed. A fairly well known trait that has been around since homo sapiens first evolved and probably even before that.

That’s the reason for government regulation. To help keep the playing field level for competing companies and to keep the chalk lines drawn. Critical thinking is also a necessary component for a well functioning society. At the time many of these bad loans were going through, housing prices were going up. Not a good assumption, but many blithely assumed this trend would continue. Better regulation that kept up with the latest financial instruments would have kept such gambling in check.

Oh yes, it’s still too early for it, in my opinion, but Merry Christmas! We’ll be putting up a Christmas tree again this year, visit family, and generally have a great time celebrating Newton’s birthday.