Christmas Flap

I see there is the usual flap going on about the secularization of Christmas. That’s mainly the fault of Christians, many of whom in their personal lives are about as secular as you can get.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. Santa Claus, though based on a Christian saint, and Christmas trees really have nothing to do with the religious aspect of the celebration. To that extent, anyone is welcomed to celebrate it. The Protestant denomination in which I grew up is a literalist denomination. Since there is no mention of Dec. 25 in the Bible, it does not observe Christmas as a religious event. Nevertheless, we did the Santa Claus and the Christmas tree bit.

It is mainly the original church, the Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, that seriously celebrate the religious holiday, though a number of Protestant sects have concerts or special services.

I don’t think nativity scenes belong on courthouse lawns and or other government properties. For one thing, in its usual weaselly way, the Supreme Court said that such scenes must include secular symbols. Well, what’s the point of having them then? Christ wasn’t born under a tree, and Santa Claus wasn’t present. True nativity scenes belong, appropriately, on church property.

Christmas carols, however, are another matter. It is stupid and intolerant in the extreme to ban the singing of Christmas carols by school choirs or glee clubs. Much of the most beautiful music written has been inspired by religion. I’ve never heard of anyone claiming that a symphony orchestra that performed Handel’s "Messiah" was attempting to establish religion. Singing religious songs is not establishing religion. It is recognizing that much of the world’s great art has been religious-based.

People who claim to be "offended" by the sights or sounds from another religion brand themselves as bigots. Beauty is beauty, whether its inspiration is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist. In a plural society, there is no room for such bigotry. Religion as art or history is allowable in public schools. Timid school administrators should just say to bigots, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, and if you think hearing ‘Joy to the World’ is going to make your ears fall off or endanger your soul, then don’t attend the concert."

I read an article once by comedian Jack Benny’s daughter. She said that even though they were Jewish, they always had a Christmas tree and joined their neighbors in caroling. That is the true spirit of religious tolerance. Joining one’s neighbors in their religious observances does not threaten one’s own religious beliefs.

In the end, religion is an individual affair, and no one who is genuinely religious can be "secularized" by others. What jaw-flappers on television say, what the government says or doesn’t say, can have no effect on a religious person unless he or she allows it.

Most of the cultural elite in Europe and America are secular, which might explain why Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. It is always a mistake to think that you can take the "magic" out of religion and still have a religion. All religions, with the exception of Zen Buddhism, are based on belief in supernatural events and beings. They are a matter of faith, not reason or scientific proof.

Ecumenicalism, which goes beyond simple good manners and tolerance of differences, is a false hope. Religions are mutually contradictory. If the religious Jews are right, then the Christians are wrong. If the Christians are right, then the Jews are wrong. If Islam is correct, then both Jews and Christians are wrong. There is no way to reconcile fundamental religious beliefs.

The great advantage of our freedom of religion is that nobody has to reconcile conflicting beliefs. Americans can believe what they want, and their only obligation is to leave others free to believe as they wish.

Finally, let us please eliminate the merchant-inspired euphemism "Happy Holidays." If you don’t wish to recognize Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever, then don’t say anything. There is no such event as a generic holiday.

And, by the way, have a Merry Christmas.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.