Boteach on Xmas
by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2004-12-22
The Christmas holiday period is nearly over, and not a moment too soon. Its a pretty sad situation when you cant wait for the holiday season to end, but this year in America it was depressing and grotesque.
Wasnt the holiday season always about people coming together? Families having Christmas dinner, ordinary citizens joining together for worthy causes? Indeed, because I spent 11 years living far away in Europe, I have come to so cherish American unity. I see this country as my extended family.
But in my 38 years, I cannot recall a single example of where December turned into a civil war in which religious and secular Americans assailed each other so mercilessly and showed each other such contempt. And in the end, was it all worth it? For a couple of Merry Christmas signs in department stores and the singing of Jingle bells in High Schools? Are the secularists happy that they made such a big deal of purging the Christian religious dimension of the holidays so thoroughly, as if a nativity scene in front of a City Hall was going to kill them? And are the religious now content that they succeeded in getting Hallmark to print a few more cards that read Merry Christmas rather Happy Holidays, at the expense of national unity that this country so badly needs and which decent people everywhere so strongly desire? In the end, both groups failed. This years December was neither a Happy Holiday not a Merry Christmas. Cards reading Drop Dead and being given out from one side to the other might have been more appropriate.
During the presidential election, it was OK for America to be divided. The strong issues that the election brought up tore the country in half and, to be honest, there was no way to avoid it. I confess my part in the division. On my radio show and in numerous articles I went after John Kerry and what I perceived to be his weak vision of America with gusto. Sure, I realized that I was contributing to the disunity of America, but the stakes were just too high not to speak out and make a ruckus. Unity is super-important, but there are things that are even more important, like the ultimate victory of good over evil, and the preservation of human life. I believed that John Kerry would not fight tyrants like Saddam Hussein the way that President Bush has, and that many innocent people would be brutalized by their governments as a result. I also believed that Kerry would not see our commitment in Iraq through to its conclusion, and that as a result the terrorists would be emboldened and America would be less secure.
But once the election was over, it was essential to mend the torn fabric of America. Presidential elections are necessarily caustic and discordant. Its about two sides and two visions competing for the same prize. And while necessary, there is good reason that we hold these mega-elections once every four years. For the rest of the time, amidst our differences, were meant to more or less get along. We are after all one nation,, not only under G-d, but indivisible. This is especially true for a country that has so many external enemies and that is currently fighting wars on several fronts. National unity, though a moral imperative in its own right, is also essential for national security.
And here is the tragedy of this absolutely abominable December that has so sapped out the soul of America. Of the many unifying themes in a nations life patriotism, history, culture religion, with its message of the brotherhood of humankind and our single source in the one G-d, ought to be the most unifying theme of all. Yes, I know that not everybody is religious, and that a great many Americans are even hostile to religion. But even so, the 90% of Americans who tell pollsters they believe in G-d ought to understand that the only real way to prove that G-d exists is through the brotherhood of mankind. If we treat other people like they our brothers and sisters than our actions constitute robust proof that we all derive from a common origin.
To be sure, there are times when religion has to fight for whats right even if it means alienating the less religious. These times would include earth-shattering issues like the preservation of human life, which many define as a ban on abortion, and the preservation of the nuclear family, which many define as a ban on gay marriage. But for Merry Christmas posters in Macys? For a Christmas float in a Denver parade? Im not saying that these issues are not important. I would like to see more overt religious symbols throughout America. But was there no way to go about achieving these ends than to create yet another cultural war in America, and calling the secularists Christian-haters and G-d-haters, thereby making them into sworn enemies?
Whatever happened to Christians trying to influence non-Christians with a positive message? Isnt Christianity primarily about proselytizing and spreading the gospel? Isnt about disseminating the good news of Christ? Is the only way to achieve that these days not through rational argument and positive persuasion, but by labeling all who may mistakenly believe that religion has no place in public life in America as Christian-haters?
In yet another television debate that I had with Bill Donohue of the Catholic League on MSNBCs Scarborough Country last Monday, he claimed that 16 Nativity scenes had been defamed across the United States. When I questioned his characterization of these events as hate crimes against Christianity, he got angry at me and compared it to swastikas being spray-painted on Synagogues. Now, if Christians want to feel persecuted in America, if they want to convince themselves that secularists want to burn down their Churches, they have that right. But what purpose does it serve? Most evangelical Christians are politically-conservative, and they reject the victimization mentality that has become so prevalent among many Americans, particularly minorities. So are we now going to argue that Christians are a persecuted majority? Is it healthy for Christian children to grow up believing that they are hated, in the same way that so many Jewish and black kids grew up? And can you really compare attacks on nativity scenes to swastikas on Synagogues, which evoke a holocaust of six million Jews who were turned into piles of ashes?
I am not seeking to minimize attacks on Christian symbols. They are hideous and ought to be condemned. But I do not believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States, just as I do not believe that Jews and black people are today being persecuted in this great country, and I am truly puzzled as to why so many Christian leaders want to teach their flocks to feel like disempowered victims.
I want America to be a more religious nation. I would love to see religious symbols and displays dotting the entire American landscape. I long to see more American children going to Church and praying, more American men and women studying the Bible, and more American citizens supporting religious causes both in money and personal commitment. But I would also love to see a more united country that feels itself both religious and secular to be one indivisible family. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Abraham Lincoln died for his vision of a united country that was not divided into North and South. Brave men and women in uniform today around the world put their lives on the line for the United States of America. Their sacrifice should inspire us to reach out to each other and create a more perfect union.