I’ve got a friend in Nashville–let’s call him Jake, because that’s his name–with whom I meet every week or so and have what I like to call “Gloom and Doom” time. G&D time occurs every week because, without fail, there’s generally one thing that happens that makes us both ashamed to be Americans. Generally speaking, these events are solely the fault of people in Washington—generally Republicans, but Obama’s contributed to our G&D sessions as well—and, though we’re usually at a lunch place having wings or Mediterranean, you’d think we’re hunched over some derelict bar knocking back whiskeys.
All that started at UT, around the time when the first recession hit and Bush announced the bailouts for the automotive and banking industries. We were at Einstein Brothers’ Bagels in the Art and Architecture Building (back when they had challah rolls there—oh, man, those were the days). I took the position that finally this meant that industry was coming under the warm embrace of The State, inexorably leading to a socialist paradise. Jake took the position that it was all cronyism. Jake was, of course, right, and I was wrong.
Then, when the health care bill was first getting rolling we were back at EBB and talking about all the ways that the Republicans were going to neuter this thing and render it the limping mostly-mess we see today. (Mind you, they don’t feel they did enough to it. You listen to the rhetoric of the right when it comes to the Affordable Health Care Act and it sounds like they’re the medieval Church screaming about infidels.) This time, I saw no way to give it an optimistic spin and was right there with Jake, groaning about how this was a pretty good indicator that, as long as Obama’s in office, the Republicans won’t work with the Democrats, and the Democrats will compromise their platforms as much as humanly possible.
And then, as many of these stories go, I went away to England for a year and had a good life. Then I came back and it all came crashing back to normality.
The reason I told you all of that is to get you good and used to the sorts of conversations we had, because this week’s G&D session was a fun one. Jake, who’s been teaching at a high school around town, was joking about how we need a Great Terror to get the country on track again. I didn’t agree, mostly because I have as one of my mottos, “Don’t be a dick,” but then that changed around one PM.
That’s around the time when I watched Rick Perry’s new campaign ad, titled “Strong.” It should have been called “Insane.” Have you seen this fucking thing? Look at it. Look.
Holy shit, right? Now, if you’re like me, you went “holy shit,” first when he used the term “gays” said like that, which I’ve only ever heard comedians use when they’re doing an act (well, that’s an exaggeration; I’ve heard it plenty of times, honestly–I live in the South, remember?), and then, second, when he pulled the dual-punch of the Christian persecution bullshit and “Obama’s war on religion.”
That’s what this is going to be about. The insanity of the sense of Christian persecution and then the further insanity of Obama’s war on religion. Because they’re interwoven, you see, and I’ll tell you why.
First of all, Christianity in the U.S. is the same as Islam in the Middle East. (Except, of course, Israel, where my people thrive and make damn good hummus.) The only time when Christians have been persecuted on this continent is when the first settlers were arriving, and that was more because they were trying to take land from natives than religion.
I don’t think a sane person could see someone claiming that Christians are beleaguered and endangered in this country and not twitch—even a little bit. That goes double is someone’s a Protestant. I mean, Jesus, Kennedy was under huge scrutiny because he was a Catholic and people didn’t want the Pope running the country.
Even though we have a de facto separation of church and state—Congress shall pass no law and all that—we have the Bible oozing its way into public schools. Par example:
When I was in high school, my biology teacher started talking about evolution and he prefaced it by saying, “Now, I don’t want you to feel like you have to believe this. Because I don’t. I don’t think it’s right, and I think it contradicts the Word of God, but I have to teach it.” This, by the way, is about something that’s as close to as a fact as we can get. You want proof? Humans were totally lactose intolerant until cows were domesticated in Europe. This is why you have Asian populations that are lactose intolerant, but not Europeans, who exist on cheese and nothing else.
The Christian Right seems to believe that they’re under attack by science. They’re not. Science does not exist to obliterate religion from the face of the Earth. Science exists to actually explain the face of the Earth. If the discoveries that we make—say, quantum mechanics, which is why I can hit a key on this plastic board in front of me and, milliseconds later, pixels on a LED monitor change from white to black to form a letter—happen to contradict what the Bible says, well, okay.
The Bible clearly defined the way the universe worked as it was seen by a nomadic tribe, who eventually built a kingdom on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in a region that was a proving ground of empires. Since the Greeks started having conversations in Athens, the sciences have been showing us how the world works instead of trying to explain it away as the work of a deity.
This is not a war on religion, this is the progress of the human mind. Religions evolve over time. If they don’t, then they become what’s termed “fundamentalism.” If you want to see what fundamentalism breeds, look at the Jews who killed a Prime Minister; look at the Christians who bomb mosques; look at the Muslims who flew planes into towers; look at [yammers on in that vein]. The point is, progress brings us to the realization that no man is an island, we’re all interconnected, and what affects one of us affects the rest of us. It’s the basic morality lesson taught in every religion, but the payoff is that you have to be good to everyone—yes, Perry, gays included—if you don’t want to live in a world full of hate.
Now, the idea that Christianity is under attack shows itself in this whole idea that you can’t openly celebrate Christmas without being lynched. Whenever you hear this, it’s usually followed by “Damn political correctness.” Another favorite buzzword, this, like the term “Obamacare,” is said with the disdain one would hear from a country pastor in the 50s talking about the Satan-inspired rock-and-roll.
But consider this: Political correctness stems from the idea that it’s not cool to alienate people because they’re not part of your in-group. So, when we liberals say “happy holidays!” we’re not trying to kill Jesus and Santa, we’re acknowledging that there are other holidays going on around the same time as Christmas, and people want to feel welcome.
Now, hear me out here. I’m not offended when a surely well-meaning Christian says, “Merry Christmas” to me. Chances are they think that Jews worship Jesus. (Because he was Jewish, right? So it would just be weird to not worship him as the Lord and Savior.) But that’s not to say that my left eye doesn’t twitch a little bit. I mean, think about it from the outside perspective. Going around and saying “Merry Christmas!” to everyone you meet in a region that’s as surprisingly international and multicultural as Nashville can make those people feel like their beliefs don’t matter as much as yours. Which, then, translates into a feeling that their voice doesn’t count as much as another person’s. (That might not be right, mind you, but emotions are a tricky thing.)
Now, you could try to get around doing that to another person by asking their religion, and appropriate holiday, but let’s take a look at a list of winter festivals:
- Bodhi Day – Buddhism; December 8
- Chinese New Year – anywhere from early January to mid-February
- Advent – Christianity; Four weeks prior to Christmas
- Christmas – Christianity; 25th of December
- St. Stephen’s Day – Christianity; 26th of December
- St. John’s Day – Christianity; 27th of December
- Yule – Germanic; Winter festival (“Yuletide” ring a bell? Pagan!)
- Pancha Ganapati – Hinduism; five day festival for Lord Ganesha; 21st – 25th December
- Chanukah – Judaism; All over the place, but generally lands around mid- to late-December. (Starts the evening of the 20th this year. [COUGH HINT COUGH]
- Tu Bishvat – Judaism; New Year of the Trees, January or February
- Yalda – Persian; 21st December
- Saturnalia – Roman
- Sol Invicti – Roman; Day of the Invincible Sun, 25th of December
(“Aaron!” you may be saying. “You’re twisting the facts! The Romans don’t celebrate those holidays anymore, no more than anyone celebrates Yule!” True, but those are in that list to make you realize that Christmas is what it is because of those pagan holidays. [And many others.] And, hell, did you read the article on Saturnalia? Sounds like Carnivale! We should start that back up in the U.S.)
And there are probably more than that. Now, notice that a lot of them fall around the same time—late December. So, if you think about it from the perspective of not trampling on the fun of others, just saying “Happy Holidays!” is an easy way to say, “Hey, I don’t know what you believe—if anything—but have a good one, whatever it is.”
Personally, I like that a whole lot better than assuming that everyone around me is the same religion as I am. If I went around wishing everyone I met a happy Hanukkah, I’d get strange looks, and probably wary glances from the Jews—because it’s a reminder that we’re all getting shitty gifts, and the only way to get over that is drinking a lot of Manischewitz.
So, to finish this section: Your kids can celebrate Christmas. No one’s begrudging that. It’s your duty, though, to remember that there are other belief systems prevalent in this great country of ours, and your kids probably go to school with other kids of different backgrounds. It’s another way of teaching them the Golden Rule: Don’t be a dick.
But what about Obama’s war on religion? Well, fuck, I don’t even have the energy for this. Does Rick Perry have proof other than Obama doesn’t fill every speech with glorifying the Christ? I doubt it.
So, happy holidays everyone. May your mead flow and may you die honorably and revel in the warm fires of Valhalla!