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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's that time again...

According to Andy Williams, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." It's that time again. The Winter Holidays. Christmas. A time that runs the emotional gamut from the unhinged glee of the suicidal shopper to the desperate desperation of the suicidally depressed. A time when shoppers' faces are all a-glow with cheer and drivers' faces might as likely be a-glow with road rage!

Yes, Christmas is quite a paradox; a holiday loved by both Santa-esteeming sons of fundamentalists & money-lusting moguls of corporate America, and loathed by both left-leaning liberals who hate the sound of Jesus' name & "ultra-conservative" Christians who take the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice. It is a holiday that carries the name of Christ but has more than its share of secular and pagan symbolism and history. During this holiday carrying Christ's name, Kwanzaa songs, Hanukkah songs and "Granma got run over by a reindeer" may be considered beneficial to the well-rounded education of a public school student, while "Joy to the World" might well damage their psyche!

Whacky political correctness run amuck
Students at Unity Drive Elementary School in Centereach, New York were given an assignment by a teacher to decorate a Christmas ornament which would be displayed in the hallway. "Here’s a Christmas ornament -- please have your child decorate it and have it back by Wednesday," the assignment note that was sent home read. One student decorated his ornament, including a cross symbol and the words "The Reason for the Season" and "Jesus". When this particular student brought his decoration to school the next day, the teacher refused to display it, claiming it was "too religious and it cannot be put up." Whoever are making these kinds of decisions need to get more sleep, eat right, stop watching too many horror movies, and/or drop their membership in the ACLU! Purveyors of such ideas often cite separation of church and state. But this is actually state-sponsored viewpoint-based discrimination, in which the state approves and disapproves of viewpoints of its students based on religious criteria. This type of discrimination violates the First Amendment and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it -- that public school students "do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." (1969,
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District)

On the other hand, you might be surprised that I would agree with the ACLU when they filed a lawsuit to have a Wiccan symbol included on a deceased American soldier's headstone. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a policy that allows many religious symbols to be included on headstones in military cemeteries. This policy excludes Wiccan symbols. Is not this the same state-sponsored viewpoint-based discrimination, in which the state approves and disapproves of viewpoints based on religion? I'm not keen on seeing Wiccan symbols in military cemeteries, but freedom of religion is freedom of religion regardless of whether I like the religion.

For the Christian American*, there are at least two sometimes opposing ideas that come into play -- politics and religion (both of which are not supposed to be the subject of polite conversation!).

Political -- For us U.S. citizens (it is different for some of my readers), freedom of religion in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution secures the citizens' right to celebrate or not celebrate Christmas or any other religious (or secular) holiday. Some confusion clearly exists, though; we discuss whether the "government" should support a religious holiday, yet Christmas is a national/federal holiday and has been since 1885. As Christians, the religious/biblical considerations should trump the political.

Scriptural -- Clearly there is no New Testament command, precept or example that indicates Christians are intended to celebrate Jesus' birthday. We are given by Jesus Himself a celebration of His death, but not of His birth. That being true, any complaint we have about the "treatment" of Christmas versus Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or whatever must be tempered with the knowledge that these things do not cause us to disobey God -- since there is no obedience demanded or expected to engage in such a celebration. The New Testament teaching, so far as I can tell, is to obey the governmental powers that be unless they require us to disobey God.

What about private schools, employers, businesses, etc? Some "Christmas Christians" are ready to cry foul (and boycott if necessary) should someone not share their enthusiasm for "Merry Christmas" and merely wish them "Happy Holidays". A private entity or person is under no obligation to use a particular greeting, or any greeting at all, in this regard. Of course, the "offended party" is also free to not shop at a store that doesn't use the particular greeting that he or she wants to hear. I guess I have a problem getting too enthusiastic about "boycotting", seeing that Paul didn't even have a problem with buying meat for sale in the markets that had previously been used in some kind of idol worship. It was only meat, after all.


* I write here as a U.S. citizen who feels to have some understanding of our system, but with little of how other nations approach "freedom of religion".
** I had a little to say about Christmas songs, but since this is running long, I'll wait till later.

14 comments:

Jim1927 said...

I know that the USA is unique in adopting religious freedom in its Constitution. Many other countries do not have such a charter. In Canada we have a Bill of Rights, which protects all peoples with certain rights, including the right to worship and the right not to worship.

Often those in America confuse us with them, and hence mix freedom rights with religious rights. For example, I have the right to worship according to the dictates of my own conscience. You have a right to attend those services, but you do not have any rights to interrupt those services.

When I joined the Canadian armed services and became a chaplain, I had the right to be a Baptist, but I had to follow the Church of England form of services. It was the prescribed form for all "protestant" chaplains.

I agree that I would support anyone's right to religious views whether I liked them or not. At the same token, and under that same charter, I must allow gays to some form of union as Canadian citizens. I also have the right to object to it being called a marriage.

Cheers,

Jim

amity said...
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amity said...

Jim, I beg of you to elaborate on what you mean by "follow the Church of England form of services." I can't wrap my mind around this one.

Jim1927 said...

Amity,
The military follows the Church of England, uses the Prayer Book, wears the robes, etc. We are allowed our individual theologies, but we dress the same and we conduct our services after the order of the prayer book.

It is based on our hertiage, as a country, in the Church of England, the Queen being the human head of the church.

Hope that clarifies what I said.

Cheers,

Jim

amity said...
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amity said...
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amity said...

There is also a heritage of about 400 yrs of Nonconformity to draw on. So I am wondering if some Canadian Baptists or others have issues with the established church being the only practice available to military personnel? I would be surprised if the issues are totally moot now.

Or are they? Did you have to actually join the Anglican church to serve as a military chaplain?

I am just curious, and I surely hope I don't sound confrontational in asking this, because I don't mean it that way. Really! I have been reading up on 17th and 18th cent. religion in England for about the last 4 mos or so, so I do have this subject very much on my mind here lately.

Jim1927 said...

Amity, No, we didn't have to join the Anglican Church. I think I mentioned that we remaiined Baptist. It was the service protocol that remained Anglican. For example, I actually immersed a few converts, My sermons were free choice. For intents and purposes, the Anglican Church was UNOFFICIALLY deemed to be the national church. Nothing was ever declared as such.

In England, the Church of England, with the Queen the official human head of that church, makes the Church of England the official state church. As you know, there is relative freedom of religion in England, but there was a period when other religions were not tolerated and some were even burned at the stake.

Nothing is written in Canada, but some things are assumed, and one of those assumptions is that Canada was founded on Christian principles. Even the motto, "From sea unto sea" was taken from the Psalms. Canada, however, is no more Christian than is the USA.

Cheers,

Jim

amity said...

Thanks for explaining, Jim.

amity said...

I gotta confess there is more than just a little Puritan in me. Having the Book of Common Prayer imposed would rub me the wrong way.

clinch64 said...

The U.S. Constitution never promised tht an individual would not be offended. It's getting to the point that everything must be generic for fear of offense.

Neil

amity said...
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amity said...

Oh, yeah, the original question.

I hate to wind up on the same side as atheists, so I do go around blithely wishing one and all a Merry Christmas. Even though I myself do not celebrate Christmas particularly. I am never averse to eating turkey and dressing and opening presents, however.

Where I live, kiddos religious artwork is posted. A week ago I was in a classroom where there was a assignment to solve picture riddles of Christmas carol titles. This got the kids started singing carols, and I sang right along. No one complained. I also worked awhile for Head Start, a federally funded program for pre-schoolers. At the local Head Start, kids were taught to say grace before meals. We would show them how to hold their hands, etc. (allright, I do have a bit of a problem with folding 3-year-olds hands into the "correct" posture for praying...) and then we would say "We thank you for all the good food we are about to eat, and for our friends and our families" or something similar. Note nothing specifically Christian about this. But I do think it is was good to encourage an attitude of gratitude and mindfullness in kids. Community standards I guess would be the defense if it came to a test. I was a little surprised, but glad to see it happen.

amity said...

too late to give anyone the chuckle it would have a week ago, but I just found this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Geddes