What we have here is a failure to communicate.
An interesting wave of misconception that a lot of people are subjected to around this time of year (especially those of us that live in the South) is that there is a war on Christmas. According to the more religious end of the argument, “leftists, progressives, and atheists” are attempting to remove the notion of Jesus and the religious aspects of the holiday season from the public forum. The antithesis of that idea is that the “religious majority, especially Christians” are trying to force-feed the religious principles around the Christmas season down the throats of everyone in an attempt to make more people Christian. However, both sides can agree upon the idea that it’s ideological fervor and an attempt to “brainwash” people into their way of thinking.
None of those points could be further from the truth.
While it’s said that the truth to any argument lies somewhere in the middle, I do believe that the idiosyncratic banter that is associated with the “War on Christmas” has no middle; no truth, at all. It’s little more than a talking point, exploited by a minority on both sides of the argument for the sole purpose of getting the American public to react. It, in itself, is a brainwashing tool, a vain attempt to start (and in some cases, exacerbate) conflict between those with religious affiliation and those who believe that religious affiliation isn’t necessary for the interpersonal relationships of anyone. However, let us not confuse the argument for what it really is: an example of a larger argument, the “War on Secularization.”
It’s not surprising that religious groups would have an issue with secularization, especially when that secularization is occurring in a country that has boasted a religious majority for most of its existence. Here in the 21st century, secularization in the American landscape is on the rise, and it’s upsetting a lot of people who are religious. I can only assume that they feel it’s an attack on their faith. They’re disturbed and up-in-arms that there are more and more people out there who view their idea of a God and a savior and Divine Trinity as “wrong”, further citing that science and history are proving the idea of a Biblical past as being little more than a fairy tale. It really comes as no surprise that they would be upset by it. As far as our species is concerned, all we have at the end of the day is ourselves, and since religion is a very important part of a lot of us (to some it’s the most important part), to have that piece of our condition mocked and criticized and speculated feels like a personal attack, despite the fact it’s actually an attack on an organized faith system with stringent guidelines and patterns of belief. Just because someone thinks that a religion is a cult of personality, doesn’t mean that they view everyone who follows that religion as hypocritical, self-entitled bastards.
Or, at least, it shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, at this time there really isn’t a way for religious Americans and non-religious Americans to coexist efficiently because American’s are not the brightest crayons in the box. Collectively speaking, Americans are uneducated, nihilistic, self-entitled, and destructive — all of which could possibly derive from America’s recent history of affluence in the wake of the Second World War, despite the age of the country being 224 years, or 237 years is you subscribe to the idea that America’s birth was in 1776 and not 1789 (the fact that such a debate exists further proves my point). The end of the Second World War brought about the Cold War, where the idea of a country blessed and created by God, and the entitlement that came with that (the basic tenant of McCarthyism) ran through the veins of the country like a disease; for the first time in history, Americans collectively subscribed to the idea that there are pieces of music, films, and literature that are demonizing family values and must be done away with, atheism is the same as “that evil Commie shit”, and America was the supreme ruler of the world, for we had mom, apple pies, and God. In reality, the only way music, film, and literature could even remotely be considered a “demonizing influence” would be because it is interpreted as such, atheism doesnot have a fundamental tie to Communism, America is not the supreme ruler of the land (especially since the idea of a “superpower” is a subjective term), and mom, apple pies, and God do not influence the prosperity and legitimacy of international status or moral supremacy.
I know the above phrasing my seem fairly hyper-specific, but it does prove a point. The Cold War set the United States back about 44 years.
Enough time has passed since the McCarthyist plague swept the nation that these “stigmatized” aspects of American culture are, once again, free to be expressed without fear of legal recourse. Of course, even though being an atheist or an artist who creates explicit, or “morally bankrupt”, content leaves the door open for people who disagree with your ideas and philosophies to turn the switch and demonize you, for no other reason than your ideas and philosophies are in defiance of their own. Because religiosity played such a fundamental part in the Cold War philosophy of ‘Murica, religious groups began moving to, and influencing the progression of, the forefront of American socio-political affairs, with such people as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell becoming very prominent figures in the American landscape (Robertson ran against George H.W. Bush for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination and Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, spent a lot of his time waging war on pornographic magazines). McCarthyism continued to exist (and continues to exist) because of the power granted to religious groups during the Cold War.
That’s the abridged version of why I believe a War on Secularization exists today, and that those who believe in a “War on Christmas” are looking at a symptom as the condition.
Over the past nineteen days, I have seen “newsworthy” story after “newsworthy” story regarding nativity scenes and other Biblical displays coming “under attack” from atheists and other groups challenging the position of Christian displays in the public square. While I understand that it’s actually not a right for any one group to be represented in the public forum, and that if one group is represented, then all must be represented, I think that these incidents happening in the first place is a great example of just how ridiculous this debate on religion versus secularization has become. Fox News talking-head Megyn Kelly made it a point to tell the world that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, while Bill O’Reilly is working on Season 9 (I think it’s been nine years) of “The O’Reilly and Jesus Christmas Variety Hour”, while Gretchen Carlson is screaming about a six-foot Festivus pole made from beer cans being in proximity to a nativity in Florida, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster is hanging out the Baby Jesus at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Also, as a way to move from the Christmas-inspired headlines of the last three weeks, let us not forget the story that broke earlier this month about how the Oklahoma Statehouse Capitol’s Ten Commandments statue could soon be joined by statues of Satan and Lord Hanuman. I find it disheartening that the media feels these stories to be worthy of our time and effort, and even more disheartening that there is a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to the separation of church and state in the United States, and even more disheartening that I will be accused of propagating these ideas, despite that I’m using them as examples in a piece regarding the defiance of American secularization by it’s religious communities.
Beneath all of this hysteria and hoopla and uproar, there are two important factors at work here, both of which explain so much whenever we see Bill O’Reilly or Greg Gutfeld “talk” to Sam Harris or Dave Silverman: 1.) there is a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to debates involving conflicting ideas, and 2.) there is a fundamental lack of communication when it comes to debates involving conflicting ideas. As I mentioned before, our society self-identifies, and because of that self-identification, compounded with the importance of religious beliefs within the religious, anyone who publicly (or even privately) criticizes those beliefs are committing a personal attack on those that believe them, whether or not the criticism is prefaced with a point that the criticisms lobbied are against the institution, and not necessarily those who are a part of the institution. No matter how it’s worded, it’s considered a malicious assault on someone’s character and credibility. This ideology is wrong, and it doesn’t take that much effort to realize that when I say “Christianity, and all of organized religion, does more harm than good”, I’m not necessarily talking about people who identify themselves as Christians. If I were, I would say something to the effect of “Christians do more harm than good.” See the difference?
Our culture has a problem with not being able to empathize with people who don’t believe the same things as others. Granted, the human race has historically had a problem with that. Differing early-hominid tribes frequently killed each other before they realized coexistence was a means for survival, which then ushered in an age where the
progress of the human species came into full-swing. However, down the line of advancement, barbarism began to manifest itself once more, especially when comprehensive ideas and philosophies began influencing the human condition. We’re talking about philosophies that transcended the instinctual order of the species. The Athenians and the Spartans frequently fought each other because they were “different”. The Roman and Egyptian Empires spilled copious amounts of blood to cement their ever-changing borders. The first millennium or so of Catholicism is ripe with bloodshed and holy wars. The Protestant Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, the long, drawn-out history of conflict, violence, and talking points; basically, almost the entire history of “civilized” mankind has been in a constant state of violence married to ideology. More specifically, American history has shown us that peace cannot exist, since all but 21 years of U.S. history involve some kind of war going on. To further hit the ideological nail on the head, the United States was one of the biggest proponents of African slave labor until the 1860’s, and one of the reasons the American Civil War happened was an ideological difference between the Northern states and the Southern states. Granted slavery was not the main cause, but it contributed to the disagreement over the rights of the individual states, which caused the secession of the Confederacy in the first place. American history in the Nineteenth Century also contains chapters upon chapters discussing Manifest Destiny, where the American westward expansion resulted in the systematic killing and internment of Native Americans. This practice contained religious origins, despite being frequently contested, most notably by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and the majority of Whigs and Republicans. At the time, it was considered to be an “extending the area of freedom.” Today, we all know it as genocide.
American history also contains Jim Crow laws and segregation in post-Reconstruction. Black civil rights leaders fell victim to assassinations, despite many of their protests being peaceful. Lynching was commonplace. The Ku Klux Klan, one of the most disturbing hate groups in all of history, stood at the forefront of “white supremacy”, a common belief of Caucasians at the time (and one that is a little too common, even today). Japanese-American’s were forced into camps in the United States during the Second World War, despite the fact the enemies of America during that conflict supported (and in Germany’s case, acted upon) that very same resolve. Today, America is a convoluted environment, where people are blindly affiliated to political and religious groups (where both are, at times, one in the same), consistently misinformed by men and women in broadcasting, scrambling to hold onto “the glory of capitalism” (despite it’s glaring flaws and long-standing problems becoming very relevant), and in a constant state of varying degrees of “fuck the government” ideology, especially since the current President is half-black (see: birthers and Tea Party Republicans). The other side of the American people are made up of secularists, environmentalists, leftists, socialists, and the like. Unfortunately, there isn’t much middle ground anymore; the American landscape has become a “one-or-the-other” type of field. We are constantly in chaos and feeling the sting of the wordplay by the other side.
To make it all just that much worse: we all talk at each other, and not to each other. Do you know what two other groups have a problem with communication and understanding over ideology, and who have been at war with each other for nearly a thousand years? The Israeli’s and the Palestinian’s.
There is a way for all of us to peacefully coexist, but it requires give-and-take from both sides, and since America is not a state where the collective 380 million of us can do that, we have to find another way to start the coexistence. When you look at a conflict such as religion versus secularism, the pundits we see making points on behalf of the conflicting groups tend to be the radicals within them, who do not represent the collective ideas. For example, as an atheist, Sam Harris and Dave Silverman do not represent me. They represent their specific view of what atheism and secular humanism is, and what these viewpoints should do to the public square: to remove any and all mention of religion. To them, saying “Merry Christmas” or “God Bless You” to an atheist is cramming their beliefs down their throats. To me, as an atheist, “Merry Christmas” means “Merry Christmas”, especially since I celebrate Christmas as a cultural, commercialized holiday that exists for the purpose of good will toward others and the possibility of being electrocuted by strings of lights. I do not take it as a means of forcing Christian doctrine down my throat. I do not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I celebrate humanism and the good humans can do to others who are in need. To me, “God Bless You” is a phrase that is equivocal to “good fortune”, making it the Christianized version of “gesundheit”, which is German for wishing good health on someone. I’m not offended when Christians reference God when speaking to me because they’re Christians. God is important to them, and just because I don’t believe God is real, doesn’t mean that I have to get my underwear in knots whenever God is referenced either in the wake of me or directly toward me. It’s equivalency. As I stated before, if someone says “God Bless You” toward me, then they are wishing good fortune to me in a Christian way. Why in the hell would I get upset about someone wishing me good fortune? Also, people like Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, and Gretchen Carlson do not represent the entirety of Christianity. They represent their specific view of Christianity. Not all Christians are zealots. Most of them really don’t care about what other people’s religious viewpoints are because they understand that those who do not believe in what they believe have the right to do so, and that those beliefs do not influence their lives in any way.
But, as I mentioned before, it’s the radicals who get the face-time, which is unfortunate, since the radicals of all sides of this debate have misconceptions about what the other parties actually stand for and take an accusatory stance, thinking that they’re the victim, when in fact, they are part of the predatory aspects of the debate. Basically, the fact that one of America’s biggest problems is the radicalized division of religious affiliation speaks volumes to our societies inability to see transparent hypocrisy laid out in front of us like a buffet spread.
The only real difference between the two sides is that one is religious and one is the antithesis of religion, meaning that these religious groups have to abide by the rules of establishment in the United States Constitution. Congress shall not respect an establishment of religion, meaning that it is unconstitutional for the Ten Commandments to be displayed at the Oklahoma Statehouse Capitol, and if someone were to complain about any sort of religious display on any piece of public property, then by the United States Constitution, the display must be permanently taken down. Here’s the thing, though. These infractions upon the Constitution still exist and are up, in a lot of places, nearly all the time. Why? Because most people, religious and non-religious, don’t really care. We don’t find it offensive. We’re not members of the vocal minorities who are trying to start (and, in some aspects, continue) a stupid “war” because of a fear of, and an inability to accept, change. For example, as I mentioned before, I celebrate a secularized Christmas, but Christmas carols that are religious in nature (such as “The First Noel” and “O’ Holy Night”) don’t bother me because they are synonymous with Christmas. In fact, I like many of the renditions of religious Christmas carols. I think they’re beautiful songs. I also don’t get pissy about nativities. Again, they’re pretty much synonymous.
Basically, I’ve coexisted the secularized Christmas that I celebrate with the religious aspects of Christmas. I can still appreciate these religious aspects of Christmas, without having to believe in their religious messages. How? Because despite my lack of belief, I understand the importance of religion to people, and can see the beauty that does exist within religion. Everything has it’s negative qualities, and it’s the focusing on those negative aspects that causes the division in people and creates these debates like religion versus secularization. All it takes is a little empathy, and a little communication.