Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Nostalgia for Hypocrisy (and the War on Christmas)

    It's Christmas time, which means "War on Christmas" time, which means a whole bunch of bizarre complaints about persecution by members of an overwhelmingly privileged religious majority group. This bad behavior is often understood as part of the most intense and fire-breathing American Christianists' fire-breathing intensity. But that's only half the story, or maybe less. The support for more public displays of Christianity comes from two very distinct groups: one group of very intense church-goers and another group that spends little or no time in any kind of formal worship. (Flavia got me thinking about this second group with a great post about Rick Perry's appeal to the people who aren't "in the pew every Sunday" but who nonetheless feel uncomfortable with gays.) If that seems paradoxical, the thing to understand is that the second group wants more public religiosity precisely because they have no particular religious practice of their own.

    The familiar Christianist groups take the position that they can't exercise their freedom of religion unless they can exercise it everywhere, and for them exercising their religion means constantly attempting to spread it by any means necessary. Those believers cannot tolerate any religiously neutral public square, because they feel obligated to claim everything they can for their particular version of Christ. That's a coherent but wrong-headed position, which basically insists on the bitter sectarian struggles that the Establishment Clause is designed to prevent (struggles that the Founders could picture all too clearly). These groups want school prayer, public Nativity displays, and monuments to the Ten Commandments because they want to establish their (very, very specific) version of Christianity and disestablish the rest. As part of that process, they want to turn every inch of the public square into a site of red-hot theological controversy.

    But the other group who's interested in public displays of religion is interested in an extremely bland and unobjectionable Christianity, with no religious controversy or debate at all. They want religious displays that are specifically Christian, but not specific to any group of Christians; the goal is something that 90%-95% of self-identified Christians can sign off on without feeling bothered. Yes, that excludes and marginalizes all of the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and so forth. But it turns out that excluding only the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews without also excluding more than 5 or 10% of the Christians is a very complicated proposition. It demands minimal content and superficial symbolism; since Christian groups agree on so little, you can absolutely not afford to get into even a limited discussion of what any of this means. The question of how to be a good Christian, of how to put Christian moral values into action, is right off the table. There's a reason that so much Christmas and Easter symbolism is not actually religious; Christians don't have centuries-old disagreements about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But we can't talk about Mary for more than five minutes before hitting some deep-seated differences. Santa Claus is a much safer topic of conversation. The need to avoid controversy makes America's public Christianity so watered-down and superficial that it's really religion in name only, symbolism without content.

    Now, taking away those nominal and minimal expressions of Christianity, the Nativity scenes in front of Town Hall or the little rote prayer in home room, doesn't change anything if you actually, you know, go to church, or read the Bible, or pray. If you have an active faith life, you're going to get plenty of chances for devotion without needing to have a cross displayed in the airport around certain holidays. I don't need a big Nativity diorama in the public square.There's one in my church. My spouse and I own one. If I needed to see one on my block, I'd buy an outdoor version and put it in front of the house. I have no need for little gestures of public piety because I actually go to services, which (unlike the little gestures), involve genuine religious content and require genuine religious thought. But you really miss those empty and trivial religious gestures if the empty and trivial gestures are all you have. It's not a blow to me if the staff at Target don't say "Merry Christmas," because Target is not my primary place of worship.

    There are plenty of Americans who like to think of themselves as Christians without actually doing anything about that, who don't go to services, don't read or think about any religious writings, and certainly don't do anything so outrageous as to give to the poor or follow any of Jesus's directives about mercy or compassion. But they like to think of themselves as Christians, and taking away the token gestures makes them face the reality that they don't even have a church to go to. The "War on Christmas" bothers them because it impinges on their no-cost, no-effort religious identity. 

    What many of these Christians-in-their-own-minds miss is the sense of an established national religion that those lame and superficial Christian gestures helped to create. They're not longing for America as a Christian Nation, in the current idiomatic sense: they don't want a society where religious hard-liners set the agenda for the rest of us. They want a strictly notional but national "Christianity," a shared recognition for a lukewarm and nearly content-free faith. They want Christianity as a badge of social cohesion and a symbol of tradition. In fact, they like public expressions of Christianity precisely because it excludes Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews. But they don't actually want any public practice of Christianity. The actual teachings of Christianity are irrelevant, because they're not using Christianity as a religion per se; they're using it as a way to promote social solidarity and in-group identity and other goals that are not religious in nature. It's very common for national religions to become more national than religious. That's another reason that the Founders didn't like them. National churches bury the genuine believers inside a crowd of conformists and hypocrites who are there to get along or get ahead instead of getting to heaven. (You may have heard a claim that no one can serve two masters at once. That never gets mentioned in those vague and nominal expressions of public Christianity.)

    When you read conservative pundits, especially "moderate" or "centrist" pundits bemoaning our secular age and the loss of our civic religion, etc. etc. etc., remember what they're pining for is an era of meaningless lip service to a vague and denuded parody of Christianity. In essence, those pundits are feeling nostalgia for hypocrisy. And I suppose that hypocritical expressions of loyalty to a lukewarm religion have their uses, but I don't want any part of them. National and civic goals should be pursued by national and civic means. Religions, on the other hand, should be left to their own goals, thinking about their followers' spiritual and moral development rather than serving sociological cohesion. It's a pretty simple principle, really: give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God's what is God's. And no, that's not from The Federalist.

    Season's greetings, all. May you each keep the winter holidays in your own ways, and prosper in the New Year.


    I think you've really done a good job describing a segment of the population:

    There are plenty of Americans who like to think of themselves as Christians without actually doing anything about that, who don't go to services, don't read or think about any religious writings, and certainly don't do anything so outrageous as to give to the poor or follow any of Jesus's directives about mercy or compassion. But they like to think of themselves as Christians, and taking away the token gestures makes them face the reality that they don't even have a church to go to. The "War on Christmas" bothers them because it impinges on their no-cost, no-effort religious identity.

    Jumping off from a thought in my recent blog, back when I was in the urban Northwest I would say that this described the "typical" American Christian.  Now that I am in the rural industrial Mid-West, I am not so sure about that.  As with most anything that regards humans, it falls along a spectrum.  There are those who attend their church kind of regularly, at times reflect on what Jesus would do when confronted with their problems or what side of an issue Jesus would fall on, and so on.  In other words, there is some cost, some effort that is related their religious identity.

    At the same time they feel uncomfortable with controversy, religious or otherwise. They have a similar discomfort when they watch the confrontations between police and OWS protesters as they do when they witness a street corner fundamentalist atempting to scold into heaven passerbys doing their holiday shopping downtown.  Obama's popularity is based in part on his ability to represent or express to this segment of the population (the moderate Republicans and Democrats, with the operative word being moderate) this confrontational-free approach to life, a desire for the superficial we-all-get-along.

    In the end, you touch part upon what emerged for me as I wrote my recent blog on religion in America - just what is it that binds our Nation together.  There is dynamic relationship between the individual and the nation in that how "I" understand my identity is influenced and driven by my understanding of my nation, and how I understand my nation is influenced and driven by understanding of my "I" or self-identity.  If one of those understandings is altered there is some alteration in the understanding of the other.

    Sometimes this alternation is minimal, even unnoticeable in the day to day flurry.  Other times is can be quite profound.  Part of the problem we face, and what is under the surface of the appeal to the War on Christmas, is people generally don't like the discomfort which comes from a shifting self identity.  We generally prefer to think this thing we know as "I" is a concrete entity whose contours we can fully outline if we so chose to, rather than merely a floating construct of which part of it will always remain a mystery or forgotten as with a dream. 

    Perceiving this thing we call the Amercian nation as, in significant part at least, as a Christian nation is reassuring.  It is comfortable.  It provides in their minds easy to follow contours, and as a consequence, provides a self-identity that is also understandable.  Tossing Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and agnostics and atheists and Wiccans into the mix tosses them in essence into a personal identity crisis, under the surface if nothing else.  It is experienced as an uneasiness, some how confrontational in way they cannot define.  And they don't like this discomfort to which they cannot name.

    Yet there is a question that lingers out there.  What constitutes the bond of the American nation?  Is it merely citizenship?  In a way that seems what some of the Founding Fathers believed, even if they didn't actually say exactly that.  As the post-colonial countries in Africa and elsewhere have demonstrated, creating a national identity based solely on the details of which political boundary one happened to be born within is not an easy task.  There are too many other forces such as religion and language and ethnicity which have more power in claiming a relation to one's self-identities. 

    When everyone was basically Christian and those who weren't were quiet and rarely seen, it was easy to make the citizenship basis of the nation as the explicit bond.  The state and the nation were one and the same.  Meanwhile there was the wink wink of religion behind that binding us together.  How could God be on the side of America if we worshipped as a people a diversity of Gods.  Whose God put Manifest Destiny into motion, and how did the other worshipped Gods feel about that.

    For many in modern America, there is no discomfort in believing their God and the other's God are one in the same in spite of the differences in doctrine and doctrine.  Yet others cannot quite make that leap. 

    And now that so many are speaking Spanish instead of English (dang illegals!), we don't even have our language to bind us. 

    The War on Christmas is driven by and in part a manifestation of the desire to sustain a conception of the American nation, that did at one time exist, and yet never quite did exist.  How discomforting.  Where is Reagan when you need him.


    Thanks for the comment, AT.

    Yes, maybe I haven't been fair to the large number of church-going but non-confrontational Christians, a group of whom I'm fond, but perhaps that's because I don't view them as part of the "War on Christmas" nonsense. It's certainly true that if we ever (God forbid) amended the Constitution on order to establish a national Church, that national church would likely be a low-key, can't-we-all-get-along brand of mainline Christianity: a mild-mannered Episcopresbygationalism. And all of the other Christians would be infuriated by that.

    As for what creates national identity, I would say lots of things. But the cultural bonds are secondary, and in any case when one cultural bond weakens others take their place. We might not share a religion, but we share Hollywood movies, cable TV, Disneyworld, and the NFL. Americans' cultural identity is pretty distinct. A quick trip outside the country will demonstrate that.

    I think what provides our American identity is our loyalty to American institutions. America is to countries what Esperanto is to languages, except that it works. We're an invented nation, and we take all comers. Sign up and you're one of us. That's the American way.

    a mild-mannered Episcopresbygationalism.

    Ha! Love it.  Maybe because, in part, it would infuriate the evangelicals (I admit to a dark side that wants to poke the hornets' nest).

    It does remind me a description of Presbyterians (the denomination in which I was raised, off and on) by the author David James Duncan as "God's frozen people."

    And there is a lot of truth to what you say about the American nation.  Growing up in Seattle, I used to go watch the parade in the Ballard District celebrating their Scandanavian heritage, the flags of Norway, Sweden and Finland proudly flown and displayed in store windows and in the parade.  No one felt threatened that these people didn't consider themselves Americans or would turn over state secrets to the their handler Lars or Sven.

    I guess I brought up the ones in the middle because one of those who are not Christians, it is easy for me (and I think the others like me) to view the Christians as being on either side of the extremes.  Like the ugly American in the Paris cafe, they are more noticeable.

    Sure. One of the things that annoys me about our public life is the way the loudest and most extreme Christians get presented (and present themselves) as "the Christians."

    "America is to countries what Esperanto is to languages, except that it works." Sorry, Doctor Cleveland. Esperanto works very well and deserves respect. This planned language has been bringing ordinary people of different nations together for nearly 125 years.

    Where is Reagan? Isn't he the guy that helped get US hooked up in free trade with China, who has sucked us dry of industrial jobs, and flooded America with disposable crap? You might remember him by his "tear down this wall" speech in Berlin, which was decided on in the UN, not the US. I however will remember him for his often repeating of the new American mantra during the "contra" hearings: "I don't remember, I don't recall"(which has evolved into: we don't need to know), which has been apparent in our recent approach to history concerning Christianity. How many know what William Penn did, that so influenced our Bill of rights? Or why Foxes book of Martyrs** was so influential likewise? The answer to both involves reading the Bible for what it says, not popular opinion from the pulpit, religious traditions, or self help gurus.

    Christian Americans should ask themselves: What did we really accomplish in Iraq that UN security council resolutions 666 through 678 demanded? Of the millions of "Christian" Iraqi citizens before we went there, how many are left? Why in a nation that claims a Christian majority didn't UN(one world government) security council resolution 666, cause more discussion?

    Didn't Obama say "We are first and foremost Americans"? Was I the only Christian that didn't agree with that statement? I attended a church service just before July 4th where a projection display with the image of the statue of liberty, from different angles, wrapped in a flag, with the words worship through prayer superimposed, was used to fill the stage..isn't that the graven image of Isis, originally planned for the Suez canal in Egypt?

    Isn't "Liberty" the image of our name? If we view it from a different angle,hasn't "freedom of choice", been hijacked to refer to child(unborn) sacrifice, in worship of this personal "liberty goddess", where women make the decisions, while the rest of us argue about scientific terms, like zygote?

     It is only with study, we make our connection, in God's words recorded by Isaiah:

    3:12 "As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths."

    Why is it that God's view of Sodom's sin recorded in Ezekiel 16:49 is avoided in the gay debate? The sin of Sodom:

    #1 Pride, (Proud to be an American? Parade anyone?)

    #2 Fullness of bread, (Obesity problems? Fast food?)

    #3 Abundance of Idleness, (Got Entertainment?)

    #4 Failure to "strengthen" the hand of the poor, (Big bank bailouts? Government dependence?)

    #5 They were haughty, (were #1 were #1?)

    #6 They committed abominations, (Do we teach our children we were created by God, as the Bible and the Declaration of independence says, or that we "evolved" from the elements? and "fill in the blank"?)

    Or Hosea 4:6 "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast  rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.."

    Looking at our "Christian" nation today, it's hard to argue with that!

     You know at this time of year Isaiah 9:6 is quoted: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.....",  How many times have You heard other parts of Isaiah 9 quoted to make a point?, like: 9:16 "For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed. Therefore the LORD shall have no joy in their young men, neither
    shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly."



    Thanks for your thoughts, Theophile. Naturally, as a fellow-Christian, I come from a shared tradition but still disagree with at least half of what you say.

    Instead of quibbling over details on this holiday, I'll just wish you a Merry Christmas.

    But we can't talk about Mary for more than five minutes before hitting some deep-seated differences. Santa Claus is a much safer topic of conversation.

    ​I'd argue that about 90% of soi disant "Christians" know far more about Santa Claus than they do about Mary. I suspect even many Catholics don't know what the "immaculate conception" really means. Most people I talk to think it refers to the virgin birth (of Jesus).

    True. But those soi-disant Christians are unlikely to discuss Mary for more than four and a half minutes.

    Meta Alert:

    Which is snarkier, "so-called" or "soi-disant".?

    I go with the latter, hands down, cause no one is snarkier than the French, n'est-ce pas?

    I think "self-proclaimed" is a better definition of "soi disant" than "so called". In my mind, "so called" can imply being called that by others.

     fair enough.

    Soi-disant, mon vieux, has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi que j'aime. But I preferred "admitted," which carries a delightful soupcon of guilt. Try it: "Newt, an admitted Catholic, ..."

    ...doesn't speak the French.

    He drinks his own bath water,

    Not his soi disant



    And what exactly does the "immaculate conception" really mean?  I was unaware there was an official account of that particular fairy tale.  Might as well wonder how many levels of the candy cane forest there really are?  Both stories are equally preposterous.  Yet it's strange to me how most folks eventually accept that Santy Clozz is a fiction, but hang on to Jesus and all that jazz 'til the end.  C'mon, virgin birth?  Close enough.

    The "immaculate conception" is a specifically Roman Catholic concept, and a fairly late one, which holds that Mary was born without sin so that she would be spiritually pure enough to give birth to Jesus.

    Historically, when the Catholic hierarchy is feeling a need to make itself more distinct from the Protestants, it formalizes a new teaching about the uniqueness of Mary, which it knows the Protestants will never go for.

    Wow. I didn't anticipate a response, let alone a serious one. But since you bothered and I'm still up, I will say I generally agree with your short description of the Immaculate Conception, although it's some pretty heavy, complicated dogma.  And the notion actually goes back centuries and is still debated by Catholics, Roman and otherwise.

    I just think it's kinda silly to hold it against folks for not knowing some of these details, especially Catholics.  They've got a shit ton of these sorts of details to keep track of.  When you factor in that none of it actually happened anyway, it becomes absurd.  So we should just as soon know more about Santa.  There are no facts about him (or his mother or her parents) either. 

    To clarify:  yes, there is literally an official account of the Immaculate Conception.  The question could be asked "in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, what does the 'immaculate conception' refer to?"  And sure, I suppose it has meaning beyond a correct response.  But it can't ever really mean anything.  It's all just make believe.  

    Pluck your average Catholic off the street and ask him about the levels of the Candy Cane Forest.  If he says there are four or five or ten, close enough.  

    As a non-Christian, there are times I definitely find it difficult to keep a straight face when I listen to some of the things thrown out as to what really happen.  As a non-Monotheist, I find it difficult to believe in a lot of things thrown out about God is they take literally.  But referring to it as the 'Candy Cane Forest' seems to me to be a little too confrontational and a little too self-congratulatory and arrogant. 

    Based on my spiritual and non-spiritual beliefs, I could assert your seemly consistent belief in the autonomous entity known as 'Kyle Flynn' is one of the numerous levels of the Candy Cane Forest, and how sad (or amusing depending on my mood) it is to see someone caught in such a delusion.

    When it comes to the spiritual beliefs of others, how they understand the manifestation of that which is behind the curtain of this material world, the rituals and language that express this other reality, we do need to maintain some humility.  There is indeed more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 

    So much for heckling from the cheap seats.  All right, I'll continue to take this seriously.

    To clarify, I'm not referring to notions of Christianity like the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth as the Levels of the Candy Cane Forrest.  I'm simply claiming they are equally believable and we should just as soon be arguing about those details as opposed to squabbling over whether or not the mother of Jesus was without Original Sin.  Neither are reality based, and both myths have objective historical origins (see VA below) that vary wildly.  If that seems offensive or lacking in humility, don't despair.  As one of your own posts of late asserts, I'm alone in claiming this.  For all intents and purposes no one agrees with me.  I'm a stranger in a strange land.

    Here's the thing.  I don't really understand the thrust of Doc's post.  It seems to me just an end run on the theme of "we're more Christian than they are" which it pushes back on, all the while flirting with the notion of hypocrisy.  I mean proclaiming "I have no need for little gestures of public piety because I actually go to services, which (unlike the little gestures), involve genuine religious content and require genuine religious thought," (my italics) smacks of irony considering the context.  Where's the humility in that.  While the digs at Catholics via disparaging The Church and suggestions of their ignorance  -- go largely unnoticed.   

    So I say let's get into some of the disagreements out there about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  There's a four year old in my home who is certain of his existence and has some strong opinions about some of the details.  He could lead the discussion.  Talk about more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  Just give him five minutes of your time.  Sure, you and I know that Christmas Elves are extinct, but man, what a story.  It's way out there.  And nobody gets tortured and killed.






    For me, Doc's post was not about the validity of any particular beliefs, or which one's were believable or which ones were not believable.  It is about those who seek to skim along the surface of religious belief, regardless of the belief (in this country that is more often than not Christian beliefs), and how they want to outter world to conform to this shallowness so as to not confront the fact that they do not fully engage or try to engage their faith deeply. 

    An example is two people who go to an art museum because it has an exhibit of their favorite artist.  Both can be said to be museum-goers.  Now one could get into debate about whether the artist is good or great or just plain bloody awful.  Some may see what the so-called artist does and claim it isn't art at all.  But that is besides the point.  Both are museum-goers who have come to see works of their favorite artist.

    Now museum-goer #1 dashes in, moving quickly from one installment to the next, spending what little time he or she is there taking a photo of the works with their smart phone.  In and out in less than a half hour. Another five minutes in the gift shop to buy some memorabilia of the exhibit, maybe a poster of the advertisement the museum used to promote the exhibit that can then be framed and hanged up in the kitchen at home.  The museum-goer #2 takes his or her time with each piece, allowing it to resonate or not resonate, questioning it, comparing to other pieces, with memories of the artists' former work, and the work of others, how it shifts his or her understanding of him or herself, the world outside the museum.  Hours past.  Finally museum-goer comes to the end of the exhibit.  He or she heads to a cafe, and pulls out a little notebook and jaunts down some thoughts and impressions.  Maybe inspired a little sketch of the scene around him or her in the cafe to express the influence of the day.

    It is not arrogant or lacking in humility to claim that museum-goer #2 is more deeply involved or engaged with the work, that museum-goer #1's experience with the exhibit was superficial at best.  Claiming such has nothing to do with whether the artist was good or great or bad or a poser, or whether either museum-goer would know what art is if it bit them in ass.

    Now imagine, museum-goer #2 writes a long blog, explaining how he or she was moved or not moved by the exhibit, what he or she thought the artist was attempting to say, and how successful or not the artist was in this endeavor.  Others come on and join in the conversation, giving their two-cents from their time at the exhibit, giving their thoughtful impressions and conclusion.  Now museum-goer #1 comes on and says "I liked it.  And everyone else should just say whether it is good or bad, whether they liked it or not.  All this other stuff is just plain nonsense.  Blah blah blah about nothing.  If I had my way, I'd do away with all this blathering."

    And soon more and more people become like museum-goer one, and whenever one seeks to read a review of the latest exhibit all one gets is "It was good." or "It was bad."  And no one seems to have a problem with it, in fact people seem pleased and at ease with the situation.  Now they can just enjoy their art without troubling themselves with things like deeper meaning and their place in the world.

    This is all quite different, indeed, than claiming the validity or believability of the artist as being a great artist or not an artist at all.  It may seem to one person, such as yourself, that is quite self-evident that what this person creates is not art. That it is no different than say someone who made a chair in their woodshop in the garage, by a person who says "this isn't art, it just a chair" - just like someone who creates a story about a reindeer with a red nose who says, "this is a religious text, it's just a made-up story about a reindeer with a red nose."

    (Heckling is always a risky affair at Dagblog)

    Ya had to bring art into it, didn't you?

    You see, I'm a bit of a philistine myself, and I tend to have very common tastes* with respect to music, paintings, literature, etc.

    So, I was all inclined to take exception with what you wrote.

    Unfortunately, I couldn't, because you didn't get into specifics about what museum-goer #2 did or didn't like about the art, just that s/he allowed it to resonate.

    Alas, I'm afraid I must say that I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. Well said!

    *There are some exceptions to that rule, but I think that those exceptions are just exceptionally good (in a concrete, objective manner, of course!) and if the rest of the masses could just experience them, they'd agree with me.

     I agree that the post isn't there to validate any particular set of beliefs, but I do think it nibbles around those edges. I mean who's to say what's shallow and what's fully engaged? Take your museum goers. Sure, it isn't arrogant or lacking in humility to conclude as an observer that one is more engaged than the other.   But it's both when you do it from a first person point of view. Try it with me. Museum-goer #2 believes he was more deeply involved and engaged with the exhibit than museum-goer #1, whom he is sure had a superficial experience at best. How could MG#2 possibly know that?

    As for the rest of your metaphor, I don't see what you mean.   "If I had my way, I'd do away with all this blathering."  Are you suggesting that is somehow my point of view?  Because it's all there in writing.  I haven't tried to suppress anyone's input.  Believe what you want.  Or as Doc put it, "may you each keep the winter holidays in your own ways."  (Although Scrooge's nephew would protest to that phrasing.)  But I have made some assertions, among them that the myths of Santa and the Nativity are equivalent.  And one thing about that that's sort of weird to me is millions of people think I'm going to hell for believing it, where as I just think those millions simply believe a fairy tale (the Nativity myth, that is), with or without meaning .  And I'll reiterate I think this post suffers from a small case of howtobeachristianitis.  And your reply suffers a bit from the howtobeamuseumgoer flu.

    After posting it, it occurred to me you might think I was referring to you with the "blathering" remark, but that was not my intention at all.  I was just trying to find something that would be public in a somewhat similar fashion as all of the Christmas - Holiday expressions, which is in its own way rather unique from a national point of view.  I wasn't attempting to say you were trying to suppress anyone from saying thing here, nor is the candy cane forest remark some attempt to suppress in my first or current impression.  It was just another way of saying 'may you each keep the winter holidays in your own delusions.' Which is another way of saying you're one of the elite (chosen few) who have had the scales removed from your eyes and can see what is truly there between heaven and earth.  It is a fine line between acknowledging that such things appear to as fairy tales and asserting that such are truly fairy tales.  That might be splitting hairs, but I don't believe so.  Or so I believe now.  But as saying goes, I could be wrong, caught as I am in my own delusions.

    All right trope, have it your way.  It seems you aren't satisfied until everyone approaches these issues with the same sensitivities as you do.

    From my limited understanding of the ways of the heavens and the earth, it appears that a particular salvation myth may be a fairy tale.

    Of course, it also appears as if physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass.

    And while we're at it, John 14:6 seems pretty rigid to me.  Do something about that, would ya?


    being satisfied is not one of strong suits.  not to get into a lot of details, this particular issue is one i've struggling with and so i am probably a little over sensitive about it.  which is probably a way of saying that i am projecting on to you facets i am struggling with on a personal level.  i apologize if i've been a little over the top on this.

    long ago I read Rollo May's The Courage to Create, in which he spoke of the courage of our convictions:

    A paradox characteristic of every kind of courage here confronts us.  It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong.  This dialectic relationship between conviction and doubt is characteristic of the highest types of courage, and gives the lie to the simplistic definitions that identify courage with mere growth.

    The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one.  Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.  To believe fully and at the same moment to have doubts is not at all a contradiction: it presupposes a greater respect for truth, an awareness that truth always goes beyond anything that can be said or done at any given moment.  To every thesis there is an antithesis, and to this there is a synthesis.  Truth is thus a never-dying process.  We then know the meaning of the statement attributed to Leibnitz: “I would walk twenty miles to listen to my worst enemy if I could learn something.”

    I have fallen way short of this ideal, not I would expect to be perfect.  But in the recent days, these words have a deeper resonance as does the fact of the wide gap between of how I have chosen to live my life and the ideals swirling somewhere inside me.

    I dig the quotes Trope.  I've just always assumed that's how folks approach conversations like these.  But for the record, I reserve the right to be wrong as hell about pretty much everything and invite all comers to do the same.  Happy New Year!

    Happy New Year!

    我得罪了! (That's "I'm offended" in Mandarin.)

    Speaking of which, for those who missed this (like me), here's Fox News and Newt Gingrich claiming that not only can staffers not say Merry Christmas, but they also can't say Happy New Year:

    Here's PolitiFact's response:

    So we should just as soon know more about Santa.

    Here you go!

    Read also 6-8 Black Men by David Sedaris.

    Let me point out that I didn't bring up the "Immaculate Conception" example, and would never use that as an example of something that a serious Christian ought to know. In general, I'm not terribly interested in theology per se. And I'm not very interested in strictly theological debates. But the "Immaculate Conception" example does nicely illustrate a topic about which Christians radically disagree; it's a doctrine that some consider extremely important, and others consider downright blasphemous.

    What does matter is that the superficial expressions of Christianity required to avoid sectarian debates also exclude any serious discussion of Christian ethics or Christian moral philosophy. Our lukewarm public "Christianity" excludes debates over theoretical abstractions like the question of Mary or the exact significance of Christian ceremonies, but it also excludes practical questions such as "What do we need to do for the poor?" and "Are our prison systems just to our prisoners?"

    Hey, I didn't bring it up, either.

    I'm sorry your lukewarm, public "Christianity" excludes the important, practical questions you mention.  It's among the many reasons I left the faith behind long, long ago.  Hopefully some of you can figure out how to resolve the issue, although I  have my doubts that anything can be done about it or that it was ever any better.  What I do know, and this study supports, is that among us secular folk it's not one of our problems.  We're far more likely to wrestle out in the open about social justice issues and work toward solutions.  And while it seems you and I share a lack of appetite for certain things theological, I think we part ways dramatically when it comes to the role we think Christian moral philosophy has in contributing to a better life on earth for all of us.  There is simply too much garnish cluttering that plate.  What we need isn't "better Christians" or a "different Christianity," it's more non-believers.  Santa and otherwise.    

    Great piece, doc. I don't even have my usual quibble to offer. Merry Christmas.

    Yep, solid post. Merry Christmas and Chappy Chanukkah all round, folks.

    Thanks, G! And Happy New Year to you!

    Give them the Nativity scenes, give them under God in the Pledge, give them crosses in the Xmas street designs for chrissakes!

    Who cares?

    I like Christmas anyway.

    And to simply piss off independents (whoever they are) for no good reason is folly.

    Nativity scenes might actually fill up food shelves. Crosses might fund more soup kitchens.

    But all these court battles over symbols is just plain silly!

    It hurts the Democratic Party, it hurts liberalism, it hurts progressive causes.

    And then there is the argument that Santa Claus (who has nothing to do with a Catholic Saint) has something to do with religion or that trees have something to do with religion or that snow has something to do with religion or that trimmings have something to do with religion is folly.

    Hell, I can make an argument that a canned ham is anti-religious. A lot of Muslims and Jews really feel deep down that Pigs are anathema to spiritual thought! hahahaha

    I don't even care if the ten commandments are presented on public property. Name me a religion that does not contain all the silly tenets of Charlton Heston's epic?

    Now when we get to the issues concerning Fred Flintstone Museums and silly science texts written by morons....

    Now there is a subject that can get my blood boiling!

    I don't think most of the Christmas fuss is mainly about doctrine.  It's about who owns America.  Christians think they own it, and that everybody is is just patiently permitted by the Christian majority to live here.  Devotional practices are partly an index of group identity, and challenges to the hegemony of those practices are regarded as a challenge to the ownership privileges of the dominant group.

    It's all the same fight: the descendants of white European Christian settlers, whether they are strongly devoted to the ancestral faith or not, are trying to reassert their tribal and cultural dominance in the face of encroachments from other groups.

    A lot of this also bubbles up from the South.  They've been trying to fight off the heathen Yankees since antebellum days.

    Interestingly enough, the Puritans really hated Christmas and New England had it outlawed for quite some time.

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