December is not the easiest month, as I'm sure many feel. This last one I spent a lot of time being irritated and I know a large part of that is because the waiting on Canada is getting to me and because of my current irregular work/income situation. But also, I'm sick of the stupid "culture wars" that surround the holidays in December. The nattering that pretends to be a debate is never very honest, never very good-willed.
I am, by birth and upbringing, bi-cultural. Society is not good at dealing with those that do not neatly fit into categories. People want to classify other people and I find that often it is not in the hopes of understanding that person better, but in order to be able to project their pre-conceived notions of what certain labels mean or should mean -- whether for the ultimate purposes of bigotry or chauvinism (the flip side of bigotry, not as ugly), but still not constructive.
Having said the above, I make the following observations/opinions:
A Christmas tree is not the same as a crucifix. It's a green thing with lights and shiny things that is brought indoors in a time of darkness and dormancy. It has become a cultural symbol. Yes, it has roots in religion (but more pagan than Christian) -- but what doesn't? Shall we ban all the names of months and days of the week because they're named after gods? On the radio, I heard a leader of another religion talking about how Christian a Christmas tree is with the sap being the blood of Jesus Christ. I have NEVER heard of such a thing, although I'm sure you'll find some believers out there. But that's not the common understanding -- and he knows that.
Hanukkah (or however you'd like to spell it in English) is not the "Jewish Christmas." First, Christmas is not the central Christian holiday; Easter is. Christmas was created by popular demand for a birth holiday and to compete with previous (pagan) winter celebrations. Hanukkah is a minor post-biblical holiday. The primary Jewish holiday is the Sabbath (which, yes, occurs weekly), followed by the High Holy Days. Shoving a Hanukkah menorah next to a Christmas tree does nothing to promote understanding or to educate folks about the religious/cultural traditions of others.
Suggestion: In a public place, such as an airport, couldn't we have rotating displays -- throughout the year -- of different cultures and traditions?
Instead of promoting false equivalences, how about showcasing the uniqueness of each community and promoting better understanding? (And, yes, guidelines should be hammered out.)
It is not a crime to be a minority. Nor is it an offense to be in the majority. People in the majority should be respectful of those who are not. And those in the minority cannot expect those in the majority to wash themselves of all identity so as not to "offend." Let's just give an easy example: I don't expect male/female couples to hide their affection; it would be nice if I felt as comfortable holding my husband's hand in public without fear.
Well, now that I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound and I'll just continue to venture into shark-infested waters. I've had this idea for a post for the past month or so that I would call, "I'm not an atheist, but I play one in public."
I have always been attracted to, for lack of a better word, the spiritual. I believe that there are big questions and issues that are unknowable, that humans have often untapped capacity for good, that the whole can be more than just the sum of its parts. I don't think that any one culture or tradition has a monopoly on truth. That being said, there have been great people who have showed us glimpses of the best of humanity that do come from particular traditions and to separate them from their traditions is to not respect or understand them.
I think we need to judge people by their actions, how they treat other people, and not by their labels. (Don't get me wrong, organizations are very much on the hook for the ideas they promote and/or the lies they spread. And political parties are, by definition, about policy so backing one or another is about how people are treated.)
The scientific method is the best way we've come up with yet for exploring our natural world. Through science, we have greatly improved our lives. It doesn't answer questions of right and wrong; science is descriptive. What we do with the information is up to us.
When it comes to public policy in a pluralistic society/world, we have to stick with the tangible. There's no other way to get along. We need to look at how things affect people and the harm or help a policy will have on people. We'll never agree about the nature of things that we can't see and there's no point arguing; it only gets ugly and separates us further. I believe in the process of the scientific method. When it comes to public policy, I am an atheist.
But I don't like to apply that label to myself because it is not how I feel inside, it is not how I approach the world or the Big Questions. I'd really just like to be free to not know and to seek.
Those who claim to Know the Truth (such as by talking to God) scare me. Because, by definition, they can't be wrong in a debate. A scientific statement (one that is within the scope of the scientific method) is not one that can be proven true -- but one that can be proven false. That is, there is a way one could devise to show that this statement is incorrect if that's the case.
I've known a lot of people that have various approaches when it comes to religion or spirituality. Sometimes, they take on the labels of a particular tradition or practice. Sometimes, they lean one way or another, but shy from identification. Atheists. Agnostics. The people I respect have respect for others, care about others, do not demean others.
I'm uncomfortable giving religions a "free pass." One can't justify any behavior and say "that's my religion." One can't enslave others into compliance. I believe in a pluralistic society and we have to find a way to get along. Bringing religion into public policy debate is not helpful; it only serves to divide. Those kind of politics are about power, not the betterment of the community. And doing better and being better should be what it's all about, in my opinion. When it comes to public policy, we need to stick with the tangible. When it comes to someone's internal life, we shouldn't let that come between us; it's personal.
I don't know if this post is well-structured or coherent. But it feels good to get it out because I've been sitting on it for weeks now. To anyone who's made it through these ramblings ... well, I hope it hasn't been too arduous.