Fragile Religious Identities and Christmas
Charles Krauthammer makes a good point
From Goodbye Christmas? by Charles Krauthammer:
Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel ``different'' and ``uncomfortable'' should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?
I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.
It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.
To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel "comfortable" not only understandably enrages the majority, but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.
The second is the sin of incomprehension -- a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, America does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.
I think there is a great deal of truth in this. I know that I never worry about my children being exposed to songs from alternative holiday celebrations because they have been taught (and are continuing to be taught) the basis for their faith in a reasonable fashion. I am not "forcing" my views on them, but explaining the whys and hows of Christianity whenever the opportunity arises. I have little doubt that my children (while they may choose ultimately to go another way) will have the ammunition to withstand exposure to other beliefs. I am not even concerned about the appearance in the public square that the majority of Americans don't believe in God at all (a view that is promoted by some, but verifiably false). After all, atheism is a view that my children have learned does not stand up to careful scrutiny (I know atheists disagree with that, but I contend that it is true).
So, why is it that anti-Christmas crowd is so afraid of a few Christmas carols being performed at public events and creches being set up in public places? Is it because they are concerned that their children will see it and become pressured to become Christians? If that is the concern, than Charles Krauthammer is right. Rather than act like some dictatorial third world Muslim country that attempts to squelch all religious expression that isn't Muslim, perhaps these people should concentrate on explaining to their children why their beliefs are true and ought to be observed. As Charles Krauthammer points out, Orthodox Jews do this, and they are not afraid to expose their children to the fact that there are other beliefs. The fact that they are a minority is not only discussed, it is celebrated (they are, according to Jewish teaching, God's chosen people). Christians likewise teach that they are chosen, but in a broader sense. But I think that the Orthodox Jews show that being exposed to the fact that they are a minority is not something that is to be hidden, but should be worn as a badge of honor.
I think those people who are fighting so hard to prevent Christmas from being celebrated are not really concerned with children being sucked in by the majority Christian crowd through the singing of a carol or the display of a creche. They are seeking to hide the creche and stop the caroling because they don't like what they stand for, i.e., God exists, he is real, and he makes demands on your life. It is any public acknowledgement of these facts and the celebration of these facts by the majority of the public that the anti-Christmas grinches seek to squelch.
If they are right and God doesn't exist, He isn't real, and He can consequently make no demands on our life, then they should not try to squelch the expression by the majority that supports the contrary views, but rather they should try to promote their views as the correct ones. Of course, they have been trying to do that more aggressively for the past 50 years, but they have not been all that successful. Perhaps that's why we are really in these battles about Christmas carols.