Back when I was in high school, I happily attended an Episcopalian boys’ school. The quality of education there was better than in public schools, the class size (about twelve) was smaller, and the teachers were better qualified. That’s why I wanted to study there; it was entirely voluntary and had I not wanted to do so my parents would have helped me find another school. Attendance at chapel services where various religious things were said and sung was required. When the others stood, I stood. I refrained from singing the hymns and saying the prayers because I could not in good conscience do so. Nobody seemed to take offense or even to notice. In senior year, weekly sacred studies classes conducted by the headmaster, an Episcopalian priest, were required. I of course attended and engaged Father Hoy in discussion. He understood my position, as I tried in my adolescent way to articulate it, and we talked at some length. Neither of us was bashful. He did not try to “convert” me and I made no effort to “convert” him. I enjoyed the entire process. Actually, I still enjoy discussing religion, when it can be done sanely.
I don’t much care whether Christmas trees, Chanukah bushes, Easter eggs, Thanksgiving turkeys and the like are viewed as religious symbols; they are part of the national heritage of the United States and that’s very important to me. Our currency (of all things) has “In God We Trust” emblazoned upon it, and the House and the Senate (and all branches of the military) have chaplains. Unless and until we become so politically correct that we get rid of these and other vestiges of our national heritage, which doubtless irritate the easily offended, the Christmas trees, Chanukah bushes, Easter eggs, and Thanksgiving turkeys should be enjoyed by those who like them and tolerated or ignored by those who don’t. It is easy. But that probably won’t happen, because I am convinced that the easily offended actually enjoy being offended. It makes them feel extraordinary and therefore superior. It gives them power they would not otherwise have over others. It gives them something about which to gripe and they get some sympathy for the gross oppression to which they consider themselves unjustly subjected. Aside from their (alleged) religious symbolism, there would be no basis at all for complaining about a Christmas tree, a cute little bunny, a yummy turkey, or eggs with colors. It would probably be a kindness to leave Christmas trees and the like around, to spare the easily offended the difficulty of finding other things about which to be offended (not that they would have much difficulty, of course).
Partisans of Islam, the “religion of peace,” to the contrary notwithstanding, religion is a personal matter, not something to force on people. Neither is abhorrence of religion, but that’s what seems to be happening in the United States. When I first moved to Panamá, a nominally Roman Catholic country, I anticipated some minor difficulties. There have been none at all. Perhaps the Roman Catholics are so convinced of the merits of their beliefs that they feel no need to try to impose them on others. It’s been my limited experience that those least convinced of their professed beliefs and non-beliefs are the most likely to try to impose them on others. The religion of man-made global warming seems to fit into this box, with true believers and heretics, but more than enough has already been written about that. It has, in a sense, become an officially established religion in the United States and, it appears, among the elites in many other places.
There are so very many things about which to complain, and some of them actually make a difference in our lives. Officious busybodies, rapists, and terrorists come immediately to mind. Having a Christmas tree on display in a public place — i.e., the White House lawn — should not offend anyone. It can just as easily be considered a secular symbol as a religious symbol, depending on one’s views. I have found no recorded instance of anyone being attacked by a Christmas tree, and only one instance of someone being attacked by an enraged bunny. That was President Carter:
Carter had gone on a solo fishing expedition in his hometown of Plains, Georgia when the rabbit approached his boat, “hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared and making straight for the president,” trying desperately to enter the boat, causing Carter to flail at the swimming creature with the oars from his boat.
Upon returning to his office, Carter found his staff disbelieving of his story, insisting that rabbits couldn’t swim, or that they would never approach a person threateningly. The incident was captured on footage taken by a White House photographer.
I can only guess that the rabbit was more prescient than many humans. PETA must have suffered some form of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, bunnies may be considered religious symbols by some at Easter, yet here was the president attacking one. It is probably a very good thing that Governor Palin doesn’t go around shooting possible religious symbols.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article arguing that the United States was losing its sense of humor:
Political correctness, from which all suffer to some extent in the United States and in Europe, has played a major role in this. It teaches us not only to avoid giving, but to take offense. More of us are easily offended than at any time I can remember.
Political correctness appears to be the driving force behind the moves to eliminate actual and perceived religions symbols from public places, and to my non-religious mind, that is not only nonsense, it is a bad thing. If there were actually an attempt to establish an official religion, in the sense that the “Founding Persons” feared and tried to prevent, that would be bad as well. It is not happening yet, and probably won’t, despite the disturbing trends. The United States Constitution prohibits the “establishment of religion.” It mandates neither freedom from religion nor oppression of religion in its many forms. There are, obviously, exceptions. Human sacrifice is unlawful, as are “honor killings,” no matter how devout the practitioners of those rites may be. And that should be about it.
The Christmas season is as good a time as any to ponder these things. It is a time when (in addition to shopping for lots of neat stuff) people actually seem to think kinder thoughts than usual about others. It is a time when the unfortunate are remembered, happy songs are sung, and people seem happy. Let’s not destroy those things to spare the easily offended.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Winter Solstice, and Glorious [fill in the blanks] to all! But as Uncle Jay says, “Only appropriate behavior.”