Monday, December 18, 2006

How Dare You Object to My Dominion Over You?

I'll admit it. I've been obsessing about religion in the public square ever since finishing Dawkins' "God Delusion" book last week. I can't help it. I'm not exactly won over to Dawkins' more extreme perspective, becoming more adamant about total and complete secularism. I strive to be as easy-going and permissive as possible, and I like cookies, which Christian celebrations seem to involve frequently.

But it's hard to read that book at this time of year in America and not take a step back for a moment to consider the madness swirling all around you.

As someone who really doesn't celebrate Christmas in any significant way, I can tell you that you all get very strange and intense by mid-December. Today at the DVD store, the vibe wasn't so much what I would deem "merry." More like "frantic."

"I need eight copies of the Judy Garland box set. What do you mean you only have four! Well, how soon can you get them? Can't you do it any faster? What if I throw in my blonde but learning-disabled middle daughter to sweeten the pot, that do anything for you? No questions asked..."

And everyone has lists. Long hand-written lists, scrawled hastily on legal pads, the backs of business cards, sometimes even the customer's hands. One lady came in the other day with a list that was at least 6 typed pages, all put together. This is your Christmas list? You really owe all of these people a personally selected, hand-wrapped gift at the ass end of every year, just for being themselves?

Then I thought, what if you had the entire population of a mid-sized European nation as your Secret Santa? It would be expensive, sure, but imagine the windfall coming your way every December 25th! If only tasteful collections of foil-encased See's Candies were accepted as a substitute for U.S. Currency, you'd be all set for the next year!

So, I don't mean to harp on the whole Christmas thing, but this Mark Steyn column just demands commentary. I didn't want to do it, you see. Steyn's fervent and outspoken cockknockery went and demanded it.

I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They've got a "holiday" display in the terminal, but guess what? It says "Merry Christmas." The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don't seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season.

"The bejasus?" Is he purposefully spelling that wrong so as not to offend Jesus by taking his name in vain? (Is adding a "be-" to the front of a name taking that name in vain? That's one of those borderline blasphemies.)

This is the first paragraph of Steyn's column. He doesn't make a point in it, nor does he in any of the paragraphs that follow. He goes on to cite a few cases where random people have objected to overtly religious celebrations of Christmas in public, but never really gets around to connecting these incidents into anything I would call "an argument." He just gets upset whenever others fail to give his holy beliefs their proper deference, and thought he'd write a column about why Christians and their made-up bullshit are far far more important than all the mud peoples and their made-up bullshit.

By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:

"A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended . . . "

Steyn blathers on for a while about this news story, an isolated incident (based around a misunderstanding) that doesn't really warrant national attention nor provide insight into a larger problem. Sasha Cohen is a figure skater who is Jewish. She is touring the country, skating for crowds during Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. At this one stop in Riverside, members of the "city staff" (presumably employees from the mayor's office or city hall?) felt that the Jewish Ms. Cohen may be offended if the local high school choir sang explicitly Christian Christmas songs. So they asked the choir not to sing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Of course, it turns out Ms. Cohen, like most reasonable people, doesn't care and wasn't offended. In fact, it turns out that she's doing this whole Christmas tree tour thing, so she probably likes Christmas, or at least thinks it's tolerable. So, like I said, the story is just a big misunderstanding. Of course, Steyn goes on and on about it. I guess it briefly gives him a chance to feel good about himself, because he's part of an American Christian majority.

First, he has an extended, painful bit of theoretically "comic" business in which he conflates the figure-skating Sasha Cohen with the Borat-inhabing Sascha Baron Cohen. Teh Hilarious ensues...NOT!

I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie ''Borat.'' The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in ''Borat,'' at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of "tolerance."

This paragraph is great, in part because it alerts us that Steyn isn't remotely funny. ("His singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs"?) It's also great because he claims that a choir being asked not to sing Christmas Carols to a Jew is as inappropriate as the right-wing intolerance on display in Borat. Which even a mendacious windbag like Steyn must realize is a total lie. (Perhaps he's counting on his target demographic having skipped the Borat movie?)

Borat reveals the underlying feelings of superiority, self-satisfaction and intolerance that dwell deep within Steyn and his fellow warmongering right-wing fucktards. This AP story from Riverside is about a zealous city employee who went overboard in an attempt to care for a visiting celebrity. Not equivalent in any way to a gentleman suggesting we execute gays. Sorry, Mark.

Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco.

Hilarious! Who writes his material? I mean, comparing liberals to Communists, referring to excitable types as "loco." It's so fresh. Gonna play real well in Cheboygan. I hear Marky's got a dynamite 10 minutes on feminazis, too.

Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson "War On Christmas" shtick, but I think they're missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" would strike most of the planet as insane.

Except for, you know, that sizable portion of the planet where no one has heard of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." But those people are mostly brown, so fuck 'em.

The Rubidoux High School Madrigals should have riposted by serenading the officer with the beloved Neal Sedaka classic, "Oh, Fool, I Am But A Carol" (I quote from memory).

Another zinger! This guy is good!

Yes, I think we can all agree that it's unnecessary to have a high school choir stop singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" because there's a Jewess in the building. In fact, I've always kind of liked that song, at least more than most Christmas carols. It's very British and old-fashioned and for some reason, I've always found the vocals a little creepy. Like, the words are really upbeat and happy, but the singers sound kind of wary of the whole thing. Maybe these aren't necessarily good tidings of comfort and joy... fucking what? You got a point for me in here anywhere, Marky Mark?

Now it's true there are Jews who don't dig Christmas.

What? It has nothing to do with digging Christmas. Observant Jews don't celebrate Christmas. It has nothing to do with them, and sometimes some of them get perturbed if you act like it does, just as Mark might get perturbed if, everywhere he went for a month, strangers tried to get him fired up in anticipation of the big Puerto Rican Day Parade.

But to say that Jews don't dig Christmas is to be deliberately obtuse. That would be like saying that Steyn doesn't dig the Eight Pillars of Islam. His opinion about their value is insignificant because it's not his fucking religion.

There was some story out of Seattle the other day about a rabbi who objected to the "holiday trees" at the airport and threatened a lawsuit unless they also put up an eight-foot menorah. So the airport goes, "Oh, dear, you're threatening a lawsuit? OK, we'll take down the trees." And in an instant the trees were history. Not "history" in the sense of a time-honored tradition legitimized by its very antiquity. But "history" in the sense of the contemporary American formulation of something you toss in the landfill in the interests of "diversity."

Notice how we've just dashed on to the next random anecdote, without Steyn ever providing any sort of real conclusion to the previous anecdote? Kinda weird, right? (Also, how does he know what all these individuals at the Seattle airport said the other day? Was he there? Did he interview them all asking for verbatim quotes? It feels like this whole story is just kind of made up.)

Oh, also, check out that bolded sentence. Do any of us really believe that a tradition can be legitimized by its very antiquity? Isn't that actually a ludicrous assertion if you break it down? I mean, the traditions that have been going on the longest aren't necessarily the ones that we keep doing. (Like, say, slavery.) If something is a tradition that is being upheld, it must be because it has some other legitimacy besides antiquity. Who keeps doing things just because they've always been done? Am I wrong about this?

Think about the Constitution. All Americans, with the exception of George W. Bush and Richard Milhous Cheney, see the value in upholding the legal tradition set forth in that document. But not because it is old and yellowed. I mean, obviously there is some kind of meaning in the fact that these laws and principles have stayed with us for so long. But we continue to use it as a guide for our society because it makes sense to us, because it's consistant with the way we live our lives today. I mean, duh. If Steyn, a professional columnist, can't do better in arguing for public displays of Christianity than "well, it has always been that way," he's proper fucked.

This isn't about religion.

Um, yeah, Mark, it is. What's it about, then, if not religion? Horticulture?

Jesus is doing just fine in the United States.

Wait, you forgot to tell us what this is about. It's religion, isn't it?

(I don't want to get too philosophical here, but wouldn't Jesus always be doing about the same, in the United States and everywhere else? If you're a Christian, do you believe there are really periods in history where Jesus is "doing just fine" and other times when he's in trouble? I mean, he's already died and come back to life. What more can happen to him?)

Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized American Christianity unique in the Western world.

I'll say. Our homegrown fundie whackjobs are certainly unique, I'll give them that.

What the rabbi in Seattle and the cops in Riverside are doing is colluding in an assault on something more basic: They're denying the possibility of any common culture.

Common culture...What a fucking joke. Mark wants us all to share in a common culture, provided it's modeled entirely on his own favored personal culture. Why can't everybody agree to get along and see things from another perspective, by uniting to embrace my view of the world to the exclusion of all others?

America is not a stamp collection with one of each. It's an overwhelmingly Christian country with freedom of religion for those who aren't. But it's quite an expansion of "freedom of religion" to argue that "those who aren't" are entitled to forbid any public expression of America's Christian inheritance except as part of an all-U-can-eat interfaith salad bar. In their initial reaction, Seattle Airport got it right: To be forced to have one of everything is, ultimately, the same as having nothing. So you might as well cut to the chase.

Mark's a big fan of the tyranny of the majority. Apparently, freedom of religion means he won't, personally, come to your house and break your menorah into 100 little waxy pieces, but that's about it. Again, whenever people go on and on about American's Christian heritage, I wince, secure in the knowledge that the writer is either ignorant of American history or deliberately misleading his or her audience.

Again, check out that amazing bolded sentence. "To be forced to have everything is, ultimately, the same as having nothing." Consider that for a second...

Mark thinks that a holiday you can't lord over non-celebrants is a holiday not worth having. Christmas has no meaning for him if it isn't flaunted. Hasn't he seen "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"? When the Grinch steals all the trees and toys and decorations from Whoville, what is the Whos' response? Do they say, "Oh, without the ability to broadcast our faith to everyone who doesn't give a rat's ass, we might as well just return to our everyday, drab routines and forget this whole Christmas thing."

Of course not. They go right on celebrating like always, because one or two Grinches can't possibly destroy the holiday spirit flowing within them. Mark Steyn, on the other hand, would plot to attack the Grinch using biological weaponry, hoping that the monster's weak heart, estimated to be three sizes too small, might give out completely after a fatal dose of antrhax.

What, after all, is the rabbi objecting to? There were no bauble-dripping conifers in the stable in Bethlehem. They didn't sing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," either. That's, in effect, an ancient pop song that alludes to the birth of the Savior as a call to communal merry-making: No wonder it falls afoul of an overpoliced overlitigated "diversity" regime. Speaking of communal songs, they didn't sing "White Christmas" round the manger. A Jew wrote that. It's part of the vast Jewish contribution to America's common culture.

First off, why wouldn't they sing a song written by a Jew in the manger? They were all Jews, jackass! If they sang any songs at all, it would be ones written by Jews. They didn't sing "White Christmas" in the manger because it would be historically anachronistic. How could Bing remember the white Christmases he used to know at the First Christmas?

I actaully agree with what Steyn's saying in this paragraph, but he's being disingenuous all the same. He doesn't really like Christmas because it's a shared, common, American holiday. He likes it because it's Christian and he's Christian, and he wants to reinforce the dominance over this nation of individuals who think like him. That's what this is about. Letting the lesser mortals (non-white non-Christians) know their place, repeatedly and often. If he wanted to forge a common culture, he wouldn't employ divisive rhetoric about Christianity being the "majority religion," with others bedgrudingly permitted to differ.

(If it's such a fucking common culture Steyn appreciates, where is the influence of the millions of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, non-believers and Wiccans living in America? Are we going to give their holidays some airtime as well, or does "common culture" mean solely that those belonging to non-Christian faiths are encouraged to contribute their own original Christmas songs?)

Seattle Airport could certainly put up a menorah.

It could be a fire hazard, actually, so that's not necessary. But I'm sure they appreciate your permission, Mark.

And maybe a commemoration of Eid, and Kwanzaa, and something for solstice worshippers, and perhaps something for litigious atheists.

Hey, why not, man? Didn't you just say you wanted us to share a common culture? Or did you mean "culture where we all share Jesus in common"? How does he not notice that he contradicts himself like that? Your bullshit appreciation for other cultures is undermined when you immediately turn around and make a joke out of their beliefs.

But to do that is to turn society into a kind of greater airport departure lounge -- to say it's no more than an assemblage of whoever happens to be in it at any particular time.

Right...Because that's not what a society is...I got ya...

Successful societies (unlike plastic trees) have deep roots: Nobody should be obliged to believe Jesus is the son of God, but likewise nobody should take such umbrage at trees and tinsel and instrumental versions of "Silent Night" that he would deny the reality of the land he lives in to the vast majority of his fellow citizens.

Bear in mind, none of Mark's examples actually found individuals objecting to trees, tinsel or instrumental versions of "Silent Night" (the protest of which has become a fictionalized right-wing meme.) Based on a possibly-Christian city employee telling a high school choir to stop singing and a rabbi trying to get a menorah set up in an airport, Mark has extrapolated this massive anti-Christmas insurgency full of Scrogges rendered physically ill by the very notion of Noel.

Because the logic of that leads not to a diverse secular society but to an atomized ersatz non-society. And, as those other touchy types the Islamists well understand, once you put reality up for grabs, all kinds of pathologies suddenly become viable.

Oh, Christ...Just...Just...Oh, Christ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the religious right's persecution complex is what causes a lot of the problems like the ones mentioned in this article. People hear them getting unhinged over every single perceived slight to their faith and start feeling like they need to be extra sensitive when presenting anything with any sort of religious message.