Keep the Chrazies out of Christmas

‘Tis no longer the season to be jolly, but to be bitter and derisive. Too many people have a stake in Christmas and that stake has nothing to do with peace on earth and goodwill toward others.1 Christmas has become a platform for political platitudes and posturing. To listen to the religious right and their secular opponents, the fate of America’s soul, and every Christian or free thinker’s soul, depends on the outcome of the war.
Two recent examples:
A post office manager raised the ire of Fox news when he allegedly evicted Christmas carolers from his branch. I say allegedly, not because they were asked to leave, but because differing accounts depict him as irate or conciliatory. He claims he simply asked them to move to the sidewalk outside; according to Fox News, he was irate.
Of course, if you managed a post office and had to answer to bureaucratic supervisors who held you responsible for running things smoothly and avoiding customer complaints, you might be irate if a group of costumed carolers started singing during the rush at Christmas without even asking your permission. To me, their would be no “might” about it. I would be pissed.
Nor does this excuse the carolers for overlooking the need to ask for permission. I understand the philosophy that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but if you practice that philosophy you should consider yourself lucky you don’t end up in jail. To protest their removal is disingenuous, if not dishonest. So I side with the post office manager on this one.
We would expect people to get upset if pro-life or pro-choice protestors tied up business in the post office. Or girl scouts selling cookies when we’re just trying to get to the counter. Or JW’s started passing out Watchtowers. Or even if a guitar player set up shop and let loose a riff from Jimi Hendrix on his Stratocaster.
In another culture clash, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), representing atheists in Pittman, New Jersey, protested the constitutionality of a sign “Keep Christ in Christmas” hung by the local Knights of Columbus. Maybe, they should have kept their mouths shut because the sign maker is now selling the sign as a bumper sticker at cost, so it should be popping up all over the country.
The constitutionality question borders on the placement of the flag. The mayor and town council claim that one side of the sign is anchored on private property and can only be removed by zoning restrictions. The FFRF says the other side is on public property and therefore impermissible.
My feeling is that members of the FFRF should just post their own banner, “Keep Christ out of Christmas,” and attach one side to their own private property. Then they could listen to the Christians howl.
To both the carolers and the FFRF, I say, get over it. We’re all Americans and we’re allowed to celebrate holidays as we choose. We’re also allowed to piss and moan about people we disagree with. In public. What we have is not a war on Christmas, but a war of words.
Speaking of wars of words, President Obama has evidently declared a war on faith itself. I didn’t know that, but Texas Governor Rick Perry says it’s true. According to the esteemed Texas Governor, Obama was responsible for banning prayer in schools, even though the Supreme Court ruled on the issue when Obama was in grade school. (Perry also thinks the Supreme Court is unelected and unaccountable and wants to stop this practice and restore the original intent of the Constitution.) Perry also believes Obama initiated “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and insists on stopping foreign aid to countries with policies of suppressing homosexuals.
Let’s be honest. Faith can not be reduced to gay rights, or even abortion. Not even the Christian faith. Even if we consider abortion to be murder, it still doesn’t make it into the top five commandments. In the Bowl Championship Series of commandments, it would never reach the title game. Being gay, or even marrying someone of the same sex doesn’t even rank until lying under oath or adultery become involved.
Nor can Christmas be reduced to the expression of personal faith or political opinion. Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church considers the modern church to be part “civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview and lifestyle match theirs.”
Christians on both sides of the political spectrum would smugly smile on reading this and know, in their hearts, it applies to those “other Christians.” It applies to all Christians, including me. But, at Christmas, we need to recognize that the holiday Christmas no longer belongs to Christians.
Christmas has become a social festival to be enjoyed by all. We are supposed to celebrate the Joy of God in the world even if we don’t believe in him. Peace on earth, good will toward everyone. If Christmas isn’t for everyone, even those who choose to celebrate differently or not at all, then we should remove it as a Federal and national holiday.
But the Christian Right would never accept that. They want us all to celebrate Christmas on their own terms. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one! As long as we celebrate the way Jesus intended.” Bah, humbug, indeed.


1 Oops, I already did it (to twist the words of that great philosopher Britney Spears). I misquoted the Bible. It should be “good will toward men.” If God wanted good will toward women, he would have said it that way.2back

2Who, to be honest was merely parroting the words of song writers Max Martin and Rami. But what a great excuse to chain a footnote off a footnote. If it seems as though I’m treating the war on Christmas with too much levity, I would say that, to the contrary, levity is all the subject deserves.back

The new Newt

Herman Cain is gone. His apparent peccadilloes seem to have left him unnominable (if that isn’t a word, perhaps it should be). Who stepped in to the leadership role to take his place? Newt Gingrich. 

 
I don’t need to comment on the irony of Newt replacing Herman Cain as front runner for the Republican nomination. Plenty of others have already risen to that challenge. Few, I might point out, have commented that Cain, at least, remained with his wife and will most likely continue to stay should she let him.
 
Newt abandoned his wife on her death bed for his little side bet. In fact, he left two wives. It feels funny to suggest that Cain may have been the more honorable adulterer, as though such a thing wlere possible. To put the situation in perspective, however, we need to remember that Cain’s infidelities are still only alleged. Newt made no bones about his.
 
So why has Newt been embraced by the religious right? Because Newt found Jesus. That’s right, he became a Catholic. Everything he did was okay because he saw the light.
 
I find this rationale doubly ironic since when I was a kid the religious right (who had yet to identify themselves as such) would have seen his being embraced by the Pope as certain proof that Newt was the antiChrist. The only thing more Satanic than Satan was the so-called Church of Rome. When ministers read the passage about the whore of Babylon in Revelations, they made it clear that passage should be translated as “the Catholic Church.”
 
<a name=”return1″>I don’t feel</a> like launching my Baptist Preacher’s Kid spiel, but I remember the only thing worse than marrying someone Black was to marry a Catholic. It wasn’t until my high school civics class that I learned most of the country meant bi-racial couples when they referred to “mixed marriage.”<sup><a href =”#note1”>1</a></sup>
 
I don’t think Newt’s being Catholic qualifies him as the antiChrist, nor does his embrace of Catholicism disqualify him as a Christian.  Nor does the religious right feel Catholicism disqualifies him anymore. We can thank abortion for that.
 
I remember a Christmas dinner when my father and uncle got into an argument over politics. Both were die-hard Republicans, but my Dad was sitting out the gubernatorial election out because he decided that choosing between Clayton Williams and Ann Richards was no different than choosing between Satan and the Pope.
 
My dad had also helped Catholic Charities with a fundraising campaign and his participation deeply disturbed my uncle. At some point he proclaimed that he would never help the Pope. In fact, he knew that whatever the Pope said Christians should do, Christians should do the opposite.
 
Later the argument turned to abortion rights. (If you get the feeling that family dinners were long and frequently indigestible, you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, you probably weren’t raised Baptist.) My uncle made it clear he was adamantly opposed to abortion.
 
“So is the Pope,” my father reminded him.
 
I’m not saying that this one conversation finally ushered in the alliance of the evangelical right with the Catholic right, but at some point evangelicals realized babies trumped the Pope thing.
 
My problem with Newt is penitence. Or, rather, the lack of it. When someone embraces the faith, they are supposed to renounce their past and seek forgiveness. Newt not only doesn’t seem to be seeking forgiveness from God, he doesn’t seem to be seeking forgiveness from anyone.
 
It’s easy to write of the religious right, but they delivered two of the last three Republican presidents, the two Presidents who presided over the largest budget deficit increases in US history. 
 
Bush II’s support among evangelicals is easy to understand because his compassionate conservative stand was wrapped in the cloth of Christianity.
 
Reagan was more like Newt. Like Newt, Reagan ran against an evangelical Christian (Carter and Obama). Not only were both active in their churches, both refused to reduce their faith to their politics. Reagan, when asked if he was a Christian during one of the Presidential debates, answered that he believed in a “higher power” but didn’t attend church because he didn’t want to endanger churchgoers should someone try to assassinate him.
 
Romney won’t pass muster because he’s Mormon. Of the lot of current candidates, he seems to be more devoted to his faith than the rest, but, unfortunately, once the religious right embraced Catholicism, Mormonism had to take their place as the pretenders to the throne of heresy.
 
I think Americans, especially the religious right, need to admit that none of the current crop of candidates meets their litmus test. Perry should come the closest, but even his protests of Obama’s “war of faith” doesn’t seem to carry much weight with evangelical voters. Perhaps it was his decidedly unChristian decision to protect young girls from sexually transmitted diseases.
 
Perry’s and Romney’s soft support among evangelicals makes me think it’s time for the religious right to acknowledge that it’s not about faith at all. They intend to vote their politics, just as they always have.
 
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<h5><sup><a name=”note1″>1</a></sup>My civics teacher was a died in the wool socialist and my algebra teacher a died in the wool atheist. They would not be allowed to teach in today’s political climate.<a href =”#return1″>back</a></h5>
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Charity begins with generosity

A couple of weeks ago CNN ran a feature on education in America. One of the main premises was that corporations only ship jobs overseas because Americans aren’t educated enough.Even Bill Maher has criticized American students for preferring liberal arts degrees over degrees in science and engineering. The question he never asked is why students would choose an art degree over a degree in a lucrative field like engineering. The pressure on American students is not to rise to a challenge but to improve their GPA.Students aren’t dumb. They will find the best strategies for achieving the grades that will keep their parents and scholarship boards happy. This includes negotiating with teachers, wearing them down, and selecting the classes most likely to earn them the highest grades.I find it ironic that we pressure students to come home with the highest grades possible, and then complain about grade inflation.Of course, we also complain about paying the taxes the education system needs. The same corporate tycoons who claim they must go overseas because students aren’t educated are the first to undercut American education by dodging their tax responsibilities.Who do they think pays for the education systems for the high tech work forces in India and China? The people who pay taxes. Sure, wealthy families will always find good educations for their kids, but, as with the families of privilege in America, families of privilege anywhere want their kids to go into management and influence peddling.Should these same corporations move overseas, they would be the first to demand cuts to taxes to fund the education systems there.Rather than acknowledging their responsibility for the problem, they lay out every red herring possible to distract us from their ploy. They blame teachers unions, and the lack of quality coursework, and the grade inflation caused by demands that students have good resumes with good GPAs rather than sound educations.Are teachers unions the reason teachers are so bad? Partly, but why do they protect incompetent teachers? Because the pay we offer is so crappy the schools can’t attract the top performers. Of course, the unions protect mediocre teachers. They understand that if we let the mediocre teachers go, the odds are they will have to pick up the slack themselves, and they are already facing a workload with more class hours and more students.The demand for standardized tests to “prove” students learned what they needed handcuffs the best and most innovative teachers. Why do we need those tests? To prove the few tax dollars we begrudge education are doing their job. It’s kind of like telling auto manufacturers to make cars for half the price with half the resources, and then demanding each car pass more rigorous inspections than before to prove they’re still reliable and safe.The real joke is the lack of high level classes, such as engineering and advanced calculus, especially in high schools. Here’s the reality of offering high level classes. You need to hire teachers qualified to teach them. But those guys are working for six times as much in the private sector. The few teachers who might be qualified are overburdened with five other more mundane classes with thirty-five students. This hardly leaves them time to prepare.The same thing has happened in our universities and community colleges. Administrations, looking to maximize every educational dollar in terms of numbers, no longer hire as many full-time professors with a reduced class load that gives them time to research and prepare. They hire adjunct professors who have to carry six classes at several different schools to earn anything close to a decent living.In addition, you have to offer smaller classes because you can’t teach advanced calculus to a class of thirty-five students. Even if you could attract them, which you probably couldn’t. Usually the advanced classes attract twelve to fifteen students, and high schools can’t justify classes that small on their budgets. So they either don’t offer the classes, or pack them with students who don’t want to take them, and that creates an unmanageable situation for teachers.Even community colleges and universities have stopped teaching the smaller classes, because they don’t justify the teachers’ salaries. Even if students have an interest in and talent for these specialized fields, they may have to stick around another year or two just to find the class on the schedule and hope it doesn’t compete with another class required for graduation.Corporations love to create endowments, but endowments come with strings attached. Sadly, so do the few tax dollars that trickle down to the schools. If corporate America really wanted a highly motivated and educated class of students they would support more education, demand higher salaries from teachers, give their own top-level employees teaching sabbaticals, and make sure that the advanced classes we need are taught. Best of all, they would kick in the tax dollars to make sure important classes are limited to ten or twelve students so that teachers can give students the time and attention they need.In the meantime, the Christian right wants to decimate education, because it doesn’t teach children to be Christian enough. Home schooling and school voucher programs diminish schools further, and create an entire class of children who see no value in the education corporations need to keep jobs at home.Jesus made it clear that when we share gladly God gives back abundantly. Not necessarily in direct payment with interest. If we meet other’s financial needs when we’re financially well off, he will meet other needs—usually through other Christians. If we aren’t financially well off, we still share and others will return with what we need.The riches in God’s kingdoms are trickle up. God blesses us as we bless others, and we don’t have to restrict those blessings to those who share our beliefs. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan stresses that we shower our own blessings on those who don’t believe as we do.Corporate leaders may think they’re protecting the bottom line by refusing to pay taxes to support education (not to mention defense and infrastructure), but they’re only hurting themselves. Christians should remember this as well. God commands us to give more, not less, and to give with a glad heart as well.