Friday, December 02, 2005

"The War on Christmas": Fundamentalist Christianity vs. Postmodern Relativism

Faux News host John Gibson has been ceaselessly promoting his moronic book, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005), anyplace that will let him talk about it. Media Matters for America has a snippet of his appearance on Janet Parshall's nationally syndicated radio program.

From the November 17 edition of Salem Radio Network's Janet Parshall's America:

GIBSON: The whole point of this is that the tradition, the religious tradition of this country is tolerance, and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way too. Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion -- Christianity -- that they've been granted about their religions over the years.

PARSHALL: Exactly. John, I have to tell you, let me linger for a minute on that word "tolerance." Because first of all, the people who like to promulgate that concept are the worst violators. They cannot tolerate Christianity, as an example.

GIBSON: Absolutely. I know -- I know that.

PARSHALL: And number two, I have to tell you, I don't know when they held this election and decided that tolerance was a transcendent value. I serve a god who, with a finger of fire, wrote, he will have no other gods before him. And he doesn't tolerate sin, which is why he sent his son to the cross, but all of a sudden now, we jump up and down and celebrate the idea of tolerance. I think tolerance means accommodation, but it doesn't necessarily mean acquiescence or wholehearted acceptance.

GIBSON: No, no, no. If you figure that -- listen, we get a little theological here, and it's probably a bit over my head, but I would think if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.


GIBSON: And that's fine. Let 'em. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.

That is about as clear a red-Blue statement of its position as you're likely to hear. Tolerance, which is one of the most crucial aspects of the Green Meme's worldview (multiculturalism, pluralism, relativism, egalitarianism), is something to be put up with, but not embraced as a "transcendent value."

The view of God depicted here is of one who is judgmental, jealous, and angry--a very Old Testament view, certainly not a Christ-based view. Christ taught love and tolerance of all people, no matter their race, gender, religion, or place in life. These are not the views expressed by these fundamentalists.

Gibson's book and his appearances on various Faux News shows is just another part of the "culture war" that is raging in this country. Faux News and its talking heads are actually creating the war as much as reporting it, which seems a rather new function for news reporters. Anyway, the fundamentalist red-Blue Christian Meme is convinced that it has the one true god and the one true religion, and that relativists and secularists are out to destroy them and their worldview.

To be fair, they are partly correct, which makes their most extreme claims (such as the supposed war on Christmas) that much more difficult to refute. The orange-Green Meme (progressives in Westernized countries) really has no tolerance for organized religion, seeing in it the oppression of women, minorities, and anyone who is not a believer. With that view, this more "tolerant" Meme sets out to dismantle Blue structures, such as organized religion, authoritarian political systems, and oppressive social values, for example, apartheid and segregation.

The Green Meme loves to hold up all religions as equally relevant--everything from Wicca and paganism to Buddhism and Islam. This infuriates the fundamentalist Christians as well as the Islamic fundamentalists. ALL fundamentalist variations of the world's major religions (you can add communism to this list as well) believe they hold the one true religion and that all others are the enemy.

Here is the irony: the Green Meme (what Wilber calls the Mean Green Meme--repressive collectivism) can also act from a fundamentalist stance when it works to dismantle systems that is doesn't like.

Each worldview in the first tier of the Spiral Dynamics model believes it has the only "true" version of reality. However, this does not make them fundamentalist in that most people expressing these worldviews do not feel a need to destroy those who hold opposing worldviews. Those who do feel the need to destroy opposing worldviews are the fundamentalists, no matter which worldview they are expressing.

In the case of the supposed war on Christmas, pluralist Green wants to make the winter holiday season all inclusive, and to that end it wants people to say happy holidays rather than Merry Christmas. It wants a holiday tree rather than a Christmas tree. In 2005, Christmas falls on December 25, as usual, but Hanukkah begins, along with Kwanzaa, on December 26. There is no reason why the winter holiday season can't be inclusive of other traditions. We are a pluralist society, not a Christian society.


Anonymous said...

Hey Will -- It's Tim from the SDi training in Boulder. Hope all is going well in sunny AZ. It's wet and cold, as usual, here in OR. I have been making efforts to keep up on your postings and have enjoyed what I've read so far. Unfortunately, lack of time has provided me with little opportunity to post any comments, but felt it necessary on this one as it hits close to home for me. I have been working on a term paper for a cultural diversity class in my masters program and chose the topic of religious tolerance for my exploration so I have lots of thoughts running around in my head at the moment. Forgive me if this presents itself as somewhat jumbled and long-winded as I am sort of just throwing my response together. I'll do my best to make a coherent argument representative of my opinions.

First off, I have to say that I agree with you on most aspects of your post but have a hard time with some of the other points. In my view, this whole debate over deciding the most PC term for the big, green, needle-leafed tree upon which multi-millions of people hang decorations on during the holiday festivities has become an utter media-driven fiasco representing the depravity unto which are country has fallen. The difficulty I have with the controversy is that I can see both sides of the argument.

I can see how some individuals would be offended by the use of the word Christmas to describe a tree symbolic of the religious holiday which the majority of the US celebrates. On the other hand, I can see how many are outraged in feeling as though they are being forced to strip away the established symbolism from the second most important holiday (Easter being the first) in their view. Despite these facts, I think that this entire argument is built upon shaky grounds with a multitude of scattered egg shells and land-mines.

What is truly at the heart of this debate is not the dialogue about what the damn tree should be called, but rather it is about the core values and beliefs which define those individuals who are having the debate in the first place.

"Values, in the general sense of what is important to people and what standards guide their behavior," according to Matthew Oordt (From: Value Change, Authority, and Religious Tolerance) "are extremely essential components to understanding the functioning of individuals and society. The more we are able to understand what values are, how they develop, what influences value change, and how values affect attitudes and behaviors, the better equipped we will be as a society to maintain strong values and use them consciously and beneficially in negotiating old and new challenges."

Values are not a bad thing. They are the beliefs which define our behavior and the foundation upon which we build our worldview. A world of individuals sans values would be absolute chaos. The problem we face as individuals and as a collective occurs when tolerance for an individual's or culture's values dissipates.

Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti, in their recently published book, The Truth About Tolerance, state:

"Tolerance, rightly understood, is a patience toward a practice or opinion one disapproves of. This understanding may come as a surprise to many people today who imagine that tolerance is simply a synonym for the words acceptance or agreement. Why include the harsh word disaprove in the definition of tolerance, some may wonder?

"The classical idea of tolerance has been marked by a clear understanding that toleration entails disagreement yet respect, that is, a difference of opinion accompanied by a firm moral commitment to the decent treatment of the person with whom one disagrees. The famous formulation of tolerance is attributed to the eighteenth-century philosopher Voltaire, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death of your right to say it.' So by technical definition, tolerance is 'A policy of patient forbearance in the presence of something which is disliked or disapproved of.' The English word tolerance is derived from the Latin tolerare, meaning 'to bear,' so the concept of forbearance or putting up with something not agreeable is inherent in the concept of tolerance. Thus logically built in to the very idea of tolerance is the presence of disagreement. It would make no sense to be tolerant of a public policy or practice we agree with. The concept of tolerance is not relevant when there is no dispute or discontent about the way things should go or the way they should be done. Toleration need only be brought to bear when there is tension, when there is a disagreement about what is fitting and proper, whether the context be public or private."

With that being said, I agree with you that, "There is no reason why the winter holiday season can't be inclusive of other traditions." However, must that inclusiveness come with the intolerance of those individuals in allowing a "Christmas Tree" remain being called as such? It is embedded within the Christmas holiday that the tree representative of it be known as a "Christmas Tree" and not a "Holiday Tree". I don't hear anyone asking Jews and those others who may celebrate Hanukkah to call a "Menorah" a "Candle Holder" or anyone asking those individuals who celebrate Kwanzaa to call a "Mkeka" a "Straw mat upon which gifts and symbolic items are placed". Hell, if we are to truly be tolerant of all individuals, then we need to find a new word for holiday as it is derived from the words "Holy Day" or better yet not even publicly display symbols of the celebrations as this may be offensive to those individuals who are Jehovah's Witnesses and do not celebrate any occasions. Are you starting to see my frustration with this topic? It could continue on ad nauseam.

I am going to wrap up my discussion of this topic with a few final comments. I believe that we have become a nation of victims with individuals trying to find anything and everything to complain about. Truly, we have more pressing issues than what we should call a Christmas tree. I feel saddened for those who take personal offense to the use of the term. I know we are a nation of a majority white, Judaeo-Christian population which for centuries has placed unfathomable prejudices and oppressions on individuals of minority classes. Yet, we can not undo the past. What we can do is make ammends for those travesties and attempt to establish a society in which we are tolerant of all peoples and the symbolism they choose to exhibit in celebration of their holidays, including those in the majority (millions upon millions of whom are not even Christians) who chose to celebrate Christmas with loved ones around the "Christmas Tree." That is what would constitute a pluralist society.

I know this is an unimaginably extensive comment, but I would like to address one further topic (which will be much briefer) which caught my attention. I think you need to be cautious in your labeling of all Christians as that of the red-Blue meme. I happen to know many individuals who would consider themselves to be quite the opposite. It is true that most Christians believe that they worship the one true god and are the one true religion. But for the most part, isn't that what defines religion? A claim to absolute truth is inherent in most major religions, and a belief that opposing absolutes can be correct and true is certainly incongruent. I'm certain that even if you were to ask Senator John Kerry (in seclusion with assurances of complete confidentiality, of course, for he wouldn't want to be condemned of 'flip-flopping') if he believes, based upon his publicly stated faith of Christianity, that his god is the one true God, he would say so. If he were to say otherwise, he would be going against the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. Yet, on the surface, he is very much orange-Green.

Does this make him a bad person or suggest that he doesn't hold Christian values? Absolutely not. It is just part of his value system and serves as an example that not all Christians have a center-of-gravity at the blue meme. Yet at the core of their faith are strong undertones of blue. This would be the same whether we are talking about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, or any other of the major religions. With that being said, it would follow that most of the world's citizens have a major portion of their meme stack in a blue orientation. But even so, we must be careful to remember that religion is only a manifestation of the blue meme. The blue meme is more accurately defined by its focus on absolutism, authority, sacrifice, order, ideology, and obedience to rules, just to name a few. These characteristic values can be seen in individuals with a COG of blue yet who are far from being religious.

For me, the irony of the green meme lies in that there is such a strong push against the ideals of the blue meme, yet many of these "green" individuals continue to uphold such beliefs that a life of egalitarianism, pluralism, and relativism is the one and only "true" way. In doing so, they are acting more "blue" in their thinking than they could ever imagine or would ever admit. Furthermore, as you stated, they are expressing intolerance of those individuals whose worldviews are different than their own and are only propagating the decay of the very tolerance they fight for. Many of these individuals are the ones who, as stated above, are fighting against the very notion of calling a tree a "Christmas Tree" because the terminology is so embedded in a religious social system which they perceive to be erroneous, obsolete, and persecutory. If only they could see the idiocy in their plight perhaps we would be a nation of greater tolerance.

Well, I know I have said enough, and please know that if done so, I certainly did not intend to offend you in any way. You must remember that these words are merely a representation of my worldview and my memetic code. The one thing that I ask, during this holiday season, is that you would be tolerant of my opinions as I am, and always will be, of yours. I look forward to continuing to read your posts and the values expressed within. You certainly always get my mind churning and have been an inspiration to many of the discussions I have held with fellow SWIT's. Take care and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

Kevin Beck said...

Good description of things from a SD perspective. It should not be surprising that religious folks who have not yet transcended and included the blue meme are afraid and offended by others who do not opt for Christmas. It should also not be surprising that blue/orange/mean-green secularists are insensitive to blue religious types.

Fear of others and insecurity in one's own beliefs/point-of-view only raise destructive tensions. They do not and cannot find creative ways of integrating and living with constructive tension.

I celebrate Christmas. What difference does it mean to me if the local retailer does not put up a sign that says, "Merry Christmas"?

It just seems like a senseless debate when our world is filled with war and violence. Especially when the most prominent war is waged by people who say they believe in the "Prince of Peace."


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