12/02/2005

thoughts on this Christmahanukwanzakah

I have a confession to make. I usually don't read the Boston Metro unless I'm in it. But friends tell me when I've written something that's set the op-ed page ablaze. I have heard personally from some people about the Christmahanukwanzakah tree suggestion. No one really seems to like it, alas, so I don't think it's got a chance of getting through City Council.

When my friend Robert emailed to summarize today's "feedback" in the paper--"To be brief: You're a unabomber, you need to check your meds, and you are offensive to the extreme. (2 ltrs) "--I have to admit my interest was piqued, and I went ahead and read them.

One said, in part: "There is no such thing as a Hanukkah or Kwanzaa tree. If we were to call a tree a Hanukkah tree, it would be offensive to Jewish people, so why does he think it is not offensive to mix the word Hanukkah into a description of the Christmas tree? It would be equally offensive to call a menorah a 'Christmas menorah.'"

Because Jews actually have a sense of humor, "Hanukkah tree" would not be as offensive as it would be just outright eye-rollingly ridiculous. I do agree a "Christmas menorah" would be offensive (much more offensive, in fact, than a "Hanukkah tree"), but that's because the menorah is a sacred object. A Christmas tree is not. FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL, THE CHRISTMAS TREE IS NOT A RELIGIOUS SYMBOL, PEOPLE. The menorah IS. And it is an ancient one, central to the story of the Jews with a sacred role in worship. If you don't get the difference, I can't help you.

Now, if you want a Christian symbol, the cross is one. or palm leaves. Or the communion chalice. But as beloved as it is (and I love Chritmas trees with their sparkly lights as much as the next guy), the Christmas tree is not. It has no sacred function, and Christianity was just fine without it for nearly two thousand years. And if *poof* it turned into a "holiday tree" just like that, Christianity would survive utterly unscathed. No doctrinal or liturgical changes would be necessary. Again, it serves no sacred function. Sentimental? Yes. Sacred? No. (And, yes, there's a difference.)

The other ltte must be reproduced in its entirety for the full effect:

"Will someone please check Mike Mennonno’s medication levels? His anti-religion and Christo-phobic rants are sounding more and more like the paranoid manifestos of the Unabomber. Mr. Mennonno should be reminded that the 'culture war crusade' was started by the left’s attack on the definition of marriage, Christmas and the word God. The true fear in today’s changing society comes from Mr. Mennonno and his ilk. The rising tide of immigrants is coming from religious cultures, and that’s a threat to his pagan, politically correct tribe of 3 to 4 percent of the population."

So now I'm a pagan! Groovy! Let's fuck!

No, really, my meds are just fine. At the moment I feel like I'm floating on a sort of pink, feathery wave of good vibrations that smells like Hubba Bubba bubble gum.

I'm not anti-religion, people. Just because I'm anti-your made-up "religion," doesn't mean I'm anti-religion in general. We clear? Right-wingers take note. Christ wasn't one of you. No matter how you twist it, and how hard you hate it, Christ wasn't right-wing. You all seem to have been hoodwinked, and hooked up with, erm, the anti-Christ. An honest enough mistake, I guess.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of twisted shit that's out there being passed off as "Christian," I happened upon a website run by "Got Questions Ministries," that boasts "73,403 Bible Questions Answered!" Everything that is wrong with this counterfeit Christianity can be found on this site, starting with claims like: "With over 700 answers to frequently asked Bible questions published online, approximately 70% of the questions we are asked already have answers available to you instantly." Wouldn't want to actually read the thing and think about it yourself, would you? That would require developing a real sense of conscience, and we don't want that, do we? Not to Jesus-out on you all, but Christ himself spoke in such a way, with parables, that suggests the answers aren't easy, or instant. We're supposed to think about things. Deeply, in fact.

By the way, I've read the book and about the only thing Christ was totally straightforward about was this: "The first of all the commandments is...thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."

I'd stumbled upon GotQuestions.org after googling "hate the sin, not the sinner." One of the site's 700 FAQs happens to be "Are we to love the sinner but hate the sin?" And the answer, in part: "Many Christians use the cliché 'Love the sinner, hate the sin.' However, we must realize that this is an exhortation to us as imperfect human beings. The difference between us and God in regard to loving and hating is vast. Even as Christians, we remain imperfect in our humanity and cannot love completely, nor can we hate without malice. But, God can do both of these perfectly well, because He is God! God can hate without any sinful intent at all. Therefore, he can hate the sin and the sinner in a perfectly holy way." Well, that's reassuring. God is hate.

This version of "religion" is really more like a form of mental illness. It reminds me of nothing so much as Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death--those who are in despair from not knowing they're in despair. So often this type of personality projects it outward. It's the world that is sinful and sinning against her, and it's her duty to "minister" to the sinners. She is the one shining light of holiness in the office where she works, or the only righteous one on the bus, or the only true believer in Filene's Basement, or Burger King, or wherever she finds herself. This is a flattering picture of oneself, the perfection of hypocrisy.

As for the "culture war," it didn't start with gay marriage. The idea of the American kulturkampf is that on a whole constellation of issues, people fall on one side or the other of all of them, not based on religious affiliation but based on ideology. We know the issues because they have been relentlessly exploited by politicians who use them as "wedges" in election years. James Davison Hunter, in his 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America identified the battleground as Progressivism versus Orthodoxy. To say that the left is responsible is either appallingly naive or just pathetically ignorant. It takes two to tango.

Which was partly my point in the piece. The right jumped on this non-story (I mean, call the friggin tree whatever you want) and got the troops all worked up into their customary froth. But the truth is, any Christian worth his salt would have seen through it. Only these counterfeit Christians took the bait. Christ was not a divider. The same can't be said for the Rev. Falwell. His modis operandi is to spread the fear of the Other, and the hatred that always attends such fear (because, remember, God is Hate). He and his followers are flattering themselves thinking they're Christians when, actually, they're doing the devil's work.

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