So you say you’ll vote third party or sit out the election because Clinton makes you angry. You’re not worried about Trump because he’ll lose anyway, and besides, if Clinton loses, it will be because she failed to bring the left wing together.
You keep saying that a Trump win would be “on Clinton.” The contention, as near as I can tell, is that if Trump wins, it will be Clinton’s fault. I guess this helps you soothe your conscience as a voter.
So let’s be honest about what we’re talking about here. One of the candidates is a transparent fascist, a man who has publicly announced his intent to use nuclear weapons and drag the entire globe into war, a man who constantly denigrates women and makes lewd comments about his own daughter on national television, and who has repeatedly threatened to make life hell for everyone who is not a cisgendered white male. The other is a progressive with an excellent resume whose politics you don’t agree with 100%.
Because you are “angry,” because you are “disillusioned,” you’ve decided to withhold your vote from this race. You have the power to influence the result, or at least the strength of the result, in what is without a doubt the most important presidential election in our lifetimes, but rather than use that power you will abdicate it. This is okay in your mind because if Clinton loses it will be her own fault for not being exactly the person you think she should be.
Is that it? Am I understanding the argument?
Because my understanding is that YOU are the voter. YOU will be making a choice, either to have a voice in this election or to stay silent. If YOU make the decision to cut off YOUR OWN voice, that is not on Clinton. That is on YOU.
Tell yourself whatever lies you need to so that you can find a way to “stand on principle” and grant this horrific egomaniac, this wannabe dictator, a chance for power on a global stage. Tell yourself they’re the same. Tell yourself that Clinton would be just as bad – that she would also use national catastrophes to talk about how right she is, that she would also turn families against each other and advocate violence as a solution to political disagreement, that she would actively seek to dismantle our free press, share military secrets with Russia, and “joke” about how great fascism is.
But you cannot change the fact that responsibility for your vote is YOURS. It is not Clinton’s. It is not Trump’s (at least, not yet). It’s not mine, no matter how much your decision may appall me. It is YOURS. Pretending otherwise is cowardly and intellectually dishonest.
You’re better than that . . . aren’t you?
I’ve never met you, and for that reason I hesitated to write this. But it occurred to me that the people who think they have some business criticizing you have also never met you, and something inside me hates the idea that they would claim the right to speak while I remain silent.
I just read this Guardian article, and it left me appalled and sad. I’m sure other people have told you this, but I need to say it too:
You did not deserve this treatment.
You did nothing wrong.
If you’ll forgive me for being so forward, your hair is beautiful and you should wear it however you’d like.
The people who attacked you are small, pathetic creatures who try to tear down and destroy anything they personally cannot achieve. They may have targeted specific aspects of your behavior, but if they hadn’t found that, they would have found something else. The best of them are just tabloid-level hacks trying to leech an instant of your global relevance for themselves.
But the worst of them are the sick, hatred-filled trolls whose only source of joy is wounding others. These miserable excuses for human beings do not understand what makes America great. They do not understand that our strength is in our diversity and our freedom of expression. They know two things—hate and fear—and they lash out with them like savages cowering behind rocks. To be frank, you’re in rather esteemed company by becoming their target. You may not remember, but when you were 11, a presidential candidate by the name of Barack Obama came under similar fire.
If these people hate you, it means you are doing something right.
I have spent the last week feeling a deep sense of pride in America’s Women’s Olympics team—your team. My wife and I have called the kids in from other rooms to watch you and your teammates perform. Your team’s story is an amazing one. It inspires not only admiration for hard work and perseverance, but pride in what America is: the best of the best, regardless of skin color or belief or hair style. All are welcome, as long as they bring it. (And wow, did you bring it.)
The haters reject this idea of America, and by being there and being so powerful and graceful and beautiful, you spit in their eye.
It kills me that they got under your skin on Sunday, and I’m truly sorry that happened. As haters of everything America stands for, I’m sure they counted it as a victory. They are happy when America fails. They are overjoyed when they can ruin something good.
But the inspiration you’ve brought to millions of people—not only American but around the world—isn’t undone so easily. You’re a hero to countless children of all skin colors, and just by getting there you have done far more damage to the haters’ agenda than their words can ever do to you.
The good news is that these troglodytes are losing. They’ve crawled out from under their rocks lately, egged on by an exaggerated sense of their own numbers due to the internet and certain exceptionally loud voices, but they are NOT the majority. Every time we speak, we force them back. Every time we show them what the true America can do, we force them back. Their constant and increasing attacks are not a sign of strength—they are a sign of desperation.
Thank you for winning a crucial victory in a battle you never signed up for.
Thank you for representing your country so well.
I’m proud of you.
So you may have heard about these emails that Russian hackers got ahold of and released to Wikileaks. I see some Sanders supporters claiming they’re proof of a “rigged election” and some Clinton supporters claiming they really don’t matter, but this post isn’t about my opinion in that regard. This post is about one particular line of attack laid out in the emails—namely, a proposal to attack Bernie Sanders for his suspected atheism—and why I am so happy to see it.
Here’s the quote (from ABC News link above):
“It may make no difference but for KY and WA can we get someone to ask his belief,” Brad Marshall, CFO of the DNC, wrote in an email on May 5, 2016. “He had skated on having a Jewish heritage. I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
So. The DNC considered trying to label Sanders an atheist, on the assumption that such a label would really hurt him in Kentucky and Washington. As an atheist, shouldn’t I be outraged? Shouldn’t I be marching and chanting and trying to shut down the National Convention?
Absolutely not. I’m happy. Thrilled, in fact. Why? Because they discussed this tactic, and didn’t do it. Someone at the DNC said no.
This Brad Marshall is the CFO there. That’s no small position. I assume he commands some respect and bends plenty of ears. But either someone higher up shut the idea down, or someone with a cooler head persuaded him out of the idea. Either way, the strategy died in his Out Box.
This is an absolute, abject win for atheists and a resounding affirmation of my plan to vote blue in November. Marshall is probably right: labeling a candidate as an atheist probably would bring down his support, particularly in the South. Atheists are the country’s punching bag: it’s a free hit, everyone can take a turn! From that standpoint, it was a sound, if ruthless, political strategy. The Republicans wouldn’t have hesitated to employ it against Sanders or any other candidate. To them, atheist is a dirty word, dirtier than gay, black, or even (gasp!) Muslim—at least in politics. Ten years ago, the same would’ve been true of the Democrats. I can’t remember a time in the past when they’ve hesitated to slam someone for their secularism.
But they did this time.
Why? Is it because they’ve had a change of heart? They’ve taken on a greater interest in the secular cause? Is it maybe because they realized nearly 23% of Americans now have no religious affiliation, and a lot of ’em are probably progressives?
I don’t know the reason and likely never will, but the optimist in me can’t help taking a great deal of heart from their decision. Secretly I hope it was because some number of the high-ranking muckety-mucks in the DNC are atheists themselves.
Whatever the reason, they refrained—and for all the 23% of Americans who may have been slighted by such an attack, regardless of political stripe or social status, that can only be good news.
Dandelions are our constant enemy in the back yard, you know, a nice suburban lawn is not supposed to have a bunch of weeds all over it. Last weekend my wife and I mowed and put down a layer of weed’n’feed in the hopes of never seeing one at our new place.
Yesterday my little girl told me it was a wonderful day. When I asked her why, she said, “Because we have our first dandelion at our new house!” Looking outside I saw that we did, indeed, and my daughter was thrilled to see it.
It triggers a bunch of questions, of course, like who determines beauty, what do people have against yellow, what makes one plant a “flower” and another a “weed” – but the biggest one for me is:
What would we do without children constantly renewing the world? How grey would everything be without their brand-new takes on things? With time everything becomes dismal and faded; there is always a negative to find.
We need youth; we need their perspective. It’s not just a reminder that beauty is relative – it’s a reminder that AGE is relative. “Everything old is new again.” The world still IS wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring, it’s just that sometimes, we need to share a fresh view in order to see it.
A full-throated defense of instilling drive in our children.
There’s a growing trend in parenting, and it really bugs me. That trend is “Don’t tell your kids they can be anything.” For a little example, take a look at this opinion piece in The Washington Post by clinical psychologist, parent educator, and mother of two, Erica Reischer.
The argument goes that no given kid can be anything they want, so we should stop telling them they can. Ms. Reischer’s piece claims that children who strive toward a dream get hurt in the long run (though none of the so-called “evidence” for this claim is actually relevant), and that chance plays a much larger factor in most success stories than skill or hard work.
Strangely, Ms. Reischer seems to stop short of explaining to us what we should be telling our kids. “Don’t work hard, it’s all up to chance?” Or perhaps, “Don’t aim high, it will be damaging to your psyche?”
Of course no child can be everything. Of course most children won’t grow up to be astronauts or Supreme Court justices. But since when did unvarnished truth become the best way to raise children?
This trend infuriates me, because it always comes from a bunch of adults who think they have to “adult-splain” the world to kids. The world is different for kids. They don’t understand how it works. They are just learning. My six-year-old wanted to be an astronaut. She also wants to be a ninja, a teacher, and a McDonald’s employee. Apparently I am supposed to tell her, “There are no ninjas anymore, you’ll never be an astronaut because most people aren’t, and teachers and McDonald’s employees are underpaid.”
Here are my main issues with this point of view:
1) Where do you draw the line?
News flash: astronauts exist. So do presidents, ambassadors, best-selling authors, world-famous pop stars, and Really Good Sportsers.
Actually, so do senators, and state representatives, and college coaches and not-bestselling-but-still-quite-fulfilled-thank-you-very-much authors, musicians, and game designers.
As do city council members, community organizers, local high school debate coaches, and cover bands.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Why only cut off the top tier? As long as we’re telling our children precisely what they can’t be, why not try to nail it down a little further?
“Timmy, you can’t be a Supreme Court justice. That’s just not in the cards for most people. Even an appointee to a federal bench is honestly a long shot. State court? Maaaaybe, but probably not. Most people don’t do that either. Instead of hearing cases, you could present them. They always need public defenders, but the budget really isn’t there for them and I hear the job sucks, and obviously being a high-powered corporate attorney is out the window because most people don’t do that either. You know what, maybe you should just forget the entire legal system. It’s just not for you. Now go brush your teeth and get ready for bed.”
Furthermore, what seems unachievable in one home will seem like the only possibility in another. Eliminating the idea that kids can be anything they want to be means incrementally normalizing the idea that kids should be what their parents want them to be. Most parents already put enough pressure on their kids in this direction, but the idea that kids should have no limits on their aspirations currently serves to combat it. Once we as a society decide kids shouldn’t be “lied to” any more about their odds, why not take that conversation to the next step?
“You know, Timmy, Daddy’s always been a project manager. That’s a nice, reasonable job to aim for with a decent salary. Obviously it’s something you can achieve, because it’s something I achieved, and I’m incapable of looking beyond my own personal experience when deciding what you should do when you grow up.”
2) Who the hell are we?
How do we know what our kids are going to be when they grow up, and who gave us the right to tell them what they can and can’t do? We don’t know the future. We only know the odds.
I can tell my daughter, “There are no ninjas,” but do I really know that? The kid has a serious knack for hiding and sneaking into rooms undetected. There are professions where that kind of skill can be handy. (Unless being spec ops is aiming too high. Maybe a cop? Can she be a cop? Maybe that’s aiming too high, too. Is PI okay?)
Did Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s parents believe she would be a Supreme Court justice (and a damned good one, at that)? Doubtful. If she’d mentioned it as a young child (which she probably didn’t) and they’d told her to aim lower, wouldn’t they have looked like small-minded idiots?
3) Kids don’t differentiate
Like I said, my daughter considered McDonald’s worker, astronaut, and ninja all to be completely interchangeable and perfectly valid life goals. If I tell her she won’t be an astronaut and to start aiming lower, she has no context for that. She doesn’t understand what “aiming lower” means. She doesn’t consider McDonald’s employee to be “lower.” She understands it’s different, but not that it pays less or requires less skill and is therefore more achievable, nor should she.
So her takeaway message is simple: “I can’t.”
Daddy said I can’t do the thing I wanted to do. He had reasons, but I’m six, and my main takeaway is that I can’t do what I want to do.
This is a kick in the teeth to the development process. The message is: Stop aspiring. Stop planning. Stop acting like such a child.
4) You must aim high
This is an obvious one, so obvious that it floors me that people don’t think of it and automatically short-circuit this asinine argument on their own. Yes, it’s true: you will rarely hit your goal.
BUT THE HIGHER YOU AIM, THE HIGHER YOU HIT.
This is a simple lesson that a six-year-old can understand. If you aim for the stars, you might hit the stars. But if you don’t, you may hit the moon, or at least the top of the next tree over. Both are better than landing in the dirt, which is what will happen if you start by aiming for the top of the tree. And if you start by aiming at the dirt, or not aiming at all, you’ll most likely fall flat on your face.
My children don’t need to know that I’m trying to set them up to fly as far as they can by letting them aim as high as they want. If they miss their mark (as most people do), at least they’ll have taken the shot, and despite Ms. Reischer’s insistence that goals are bad for us, they will be better human beings for having made the attempt.
If my daughter doesn’t get to be the President of These United States, I bet you her interest therein will result in an adult that’s well-rounded, informed about politics, and an excellent civil citizen. That’s a pretty nice bar to clear, and if she ends up in law or a political career of any kind because of her interest in the path toward the presidency, I’d say she did pretty well for herself.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I wanted to make movies, then I wanted to make video games. I wrote out lots of video games in notebooks. My interest in this passion drove me to learn computer programming, a skill which I used to great effect during my time in corporate America and in my independent pursuits. It also drove me to write pen-and-paper game systems, lots of them, many of which I have played with my friends. It has become a lifelong hobby that has brought me thousands of hours of excitement and enjoyment. I have never sold one of these games, nor even tried. No, I never became a video game designer, but to this day I feel pretty confident that I could’ve (and probably still could, if I wanted to).
If my mother had told me, “You’re aiming too high. Most people don’t get to become video game designers, Adam. Aim lower,” it might have stripped me of one of the most precious hobbies I have.
5) Exploration is part of development
It is normal for kids to lurch around from interest to interest, trying them all, and to fantasize about what they could achieve within the realm of each. It is healthy. It is necessary. There is no need for a parent to gum up the works by inserting their perspective into the process. We keep that crap to ourselves because our kids need to explore—not get shut down.
6) Kids will enter the School of Hard Knocks soon enough
And the horrible, sad truth is, they are so easy to shut down. The world is going to chew them up and spit them out. It is not going to encourage them. It is not going to tell them they can do it. That voice needs to come from within them, or it won’t come at all.
But guess what? That internal voice isn’t theirs. As parents, we are our kids’ internal voices. Ours are the words of support or despair that they hear in their hearts when the world gets rough.
We have those first few, precious years to get them ready for a life of beatings. The message doesn’t need to be deeply nuanced. It’s actually pretty simple: “Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will take a lot of work. But you can do it. I believe in you.”
Those early years with my mom, she was constantly propping me up, constantly telling me I could do anything. It gave me enough self-esteem to weather a lot of crap. She is still a wellspring of that support today. When she tells me she believes in me, it is like gassing up at the station before diving back in to the endless, brutal road trip of the universe.
Of course our kids need to know that hard work matters. Of course they need to know that we’ll be proud of them and love them whether they hit those stars or just skim the treetops. And of course, if they don’t eventually realize it on their own, we can help them understand that chance also plays a role.
But without that core of confidence, they will have no strength to make it through the first round of pummelings that the world sends their way. Infuse them with strength. Start them off powerful, so after the world has worn them down, there is still something there.
Tell them they can be anything. Let them try everything.
They will find something wonderful.
There is a new movie coming out this year called Woodlawn. Here’s the preview I saw for it this morning (it’s only two minutes long). In the middle it briefly claims to be a true story, but I missed that on first viewing, so I didn’t immediately realize there was a real-life backstory to this. Without that, my initial reaction was disgust and scorn.
Here we have the old trope, I thought, constantly trotted out, that Jesus Loves Football. Jesus really, really cares about who wins The Football Game. The preview is a nonstop barrage of insults to anyone who dares believe anything differently than the film’s creators, even going so far as to have a woman (of course it’s a woman; how could she know what she really wanted?) say, “I was an atheist last week.” Clearly, the power of God In Football is so momentous that no stupid atheist can possibly withstand it, especially not a girl one.
It was obviously not a movie for me. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive of a movie that could be less for me. I was burning to give the trailer the Saving Christmas treatment, after which I figured I’d forget about it and retire to my Atheist Den to dine on the corpses of the unborn.
But dismissing this movie as God’s Not Dead with football would be a serious mistake. There is a lot more going on here, and it warrants a much closer look.
Woodlawn is indeed based on a true story, about an interracial high school football team in Alabama circa 1973. Tony Nathan, who went on to be a great running back for the Miami Dolphins, is the black player at the center of the story. The state championship that year is practically legendary in Alabama, producing an audience of record size. Cool, I thought. I don’t watch football and I don’t care about sports, but I love games, and I get a kick out of stories like this even when they involve games I don’t play.
MiamiDolphins.com has an article up discussing the film with Nathan, which is definitely worth a look. But interestingly, there’s no mention of Jesus or the Gospel in that Miami Dolphins article. “It was during a time when people weren’t getting along very well,” Nathan says, “but as a football team we came together.”
Well, my heart softened. This didn’t sound like a bible-banging, shove-religion-down-your-throat kind of story. Hell, it was on the cusp of being a story I’d want to hear. I did a little more searching and found the first official trailer for the movie (again, only two minutes, and the contrast with the other one is striking).
That’s when I realized precisely how deep this rabbit hole goes.
This first official trailer makes the religion in the film look more like window dressing. The story is about an integrated football team overcoming racism. “If you only love those who love you back, what kind of love is that?” the reverend at the start of the preview asks, and its a great question, a challenge to a deeper love that all of us could stand to hear. How could you be opposed to that? Of course, they meet the challenge through the power of the Gospel—but the preview practically dares you to take issue with that, tying the Christian Gospel so closely to the message of love that you can’t possibly accept one without the other.
Yes, there are Christians (I used to be one of them) who would say the Gospel is about love. Of course the two messages are inseparable, they’d say; that’s the whole idea. There is nothing sinister here, no reason for an atheist like me to get up in arms. The story is about overcoming racial hatred in the deep south in 1973. Surely that’s a common cause?
And it is, or it should be. But modern Christianity is rarely willing to share. All good things come from its god, and its presentation here drives that point home with a hammer.
“Make a decision to change, to forgive, to be forgiven,” Sean Astin pleads in a stirring sermon that anyone who’s escaped Christian Fundamentalism is painfully familiar with. Great message. I agree with it completely. But in the second preview, the full quote is revealed: not just “to choose” but “to choose Jesus.” The implication? You can’t truly forgive or love your teammates without choosing Jesus.
In fact, it’s not actually about the forgiveness or the love at all. This point is made over and over again by both previews. “This is about the gospel,” one of the trailers states flatly. “We’re not gathered here united tonight because of the names of our teams or of our schools, but because of the name above all names: Jesus,” Sean says at the start of the first trailer. “The Jesus Revolution has a symbol,” he says at 1:46 in the second trailer, holding up a single finger, “because there is one way.” The players later burst through a sign that pounds the point home still further: “One hope, one truth, one way.” Without that one way, of course, you’re not really loving or forgiving.
The trailers do a fantastic job of claiming that Woodlawn is a feel-good story about overcoming hate, and maybe the true story that underlies it actually is. But make no mistake: this movie is first and foremost a propaganda film for Christianity. Non-christians who believe in the power of love are not welcome.
The clues are there, as they always are. The premise is that the whole team comes to Jesus after Sean Astin comes to the school to preach at them, and as a result, they become much more loving and much better at football. But in one of the previews posted on the movie’s website, the coach character lets the truth slip when talking about how his team came to Jesus. “Almost my entire team gave themselves to love,” he says.
One or two kids, then, must not have agreed to join Jesus when Sean came to their public high school to preach. Is that because they were atheists? Maybe their families were secular? In the universe of the film, it’s far more likely that they were cold-blooded racists. Then again, the film is unlikely to draw a distinction between the two. “Atheist” is code for every terrible thing a human being can be, a boogeyman unmatched by any other evil label, so why split hairs?
In any case, anyone who didn’t accept Jesus that day didn’t “give themselves to love.” Love and Jesus are synonymous; rejecting one means rejecting the other. To put it another way: Accept Jesus, or be known as a racist.
Can you imagine this story if the Nathan character was an atheist? God’s Not Dead and its ilk have made it clear what kind of treatment atheists can expect from Christian filmmakers: the entire film would have pilloried him. Far from being a story about love and acceptance, it would have been full of Christian hate at its finest. Because, of course, that “love” and “acceptance” is conditional, no matter how many times they claim it’s not. You don’t get it unless you say the magic prayer. You don’t get to experience the “real love” unless you take a dunk in the pool.
The atheist hate ramps up in the second trailer, when the boogeyman of Big Government comes to try and crush the team’s religious freedom (freedom which, of course, only extends to Sean Astin’s right to come and proselytize at them on public school grounds, and not an inch beyond). An investigator asks a teacher if she’s “leading this.” She responds, “I was an atheist last week. [The kids] are leading me.”
It is difficult to express how insulting that statement is, but I’m going to try.
It is the same old thing Christianity always throws out: a constant deluge of invalidation of all other worldviews except its own. Not just that the other worldviews are wrong, mind you, but that the holders of those views don’t actually hold them at all. That if Sean Astin would just come to their school and force a reckoning, the wool would be pulled from their eyes. No one’s an atheist because they’ve looked rationally at all the options and come to a measured conclusion. Atheism is just a placeholder; it will burn away the second Sean opens his mouth.
Your beliefs, your sexual orientation, your happiness, even your love of your children—none of it is authentic unless it matches identically to what they believe. You might think you love your kids, but if you aren’t a Christian, you don’t know what love is. Remember, there is only one way. The YouTube comments section, in a rare display of utility, cemented this point for me when one commenter said, “Only god’s love in our heart can make us love others.” Take a second to internalize that. The ugly, pernicious underlying message is that non-Christians can’t love. They cannot think, they cannot have their own opinions, and they can know nothing but hate.
This is not a film about coming together despite our differences. Quite the opposite. It is exclusion masquerading as inclusion.
Woodlawn powerfully exemplifies both the good and the bad of Christianity: its power to bring people together with a message of unity, and its power to ostracize those who may seek love in another way. I understand that Birmingham was a religious town in 1973. I understand that this is based on a true story, and that you can’t change the facts. I even understand that the Gospel can be a powerful force for love in the world and will gladly acknowledge that it may have played a pivotal role in the real-life events the movie depicts.
But why all the atheist hate? Why the absolute insistence that no one can experience love without subscribing to this one religion? Why the exaggeration and glorification of private religion in a public school?
Something good happened at Woodlawn high school in 1973, something that transcended racial prejudice. There is a powerful story here, one that America needs to hear, being poisoned and twisted for the ends of a Christian propaganda machine.
“This is what happens when God shows up,” Astin opines at the end of the first trailer.
Yeah. I’ve noticed.
Yesterday my first novel, Alex, hit an incredible milestone: 1,000 reader reviews on Amazon.com.
When I published the book three years ago as an independent author, I never would have guessed that I could hit this level. There are authors out there selling significantly more books than I am, that have a bigger backlist and more readers than I do, that don’t get half this number of reviews on their best-selling novels. I certainly never expected to get the kind of review volumes normally reserved for Stephen King books.
If there’s one thing that writing has taught me, it’s that the definition of “success” is fluid. To one person it might mean sales, to another it might mean connecting with people on an emotional level. To another the definition might morph, constantly taking on whatever shape is necessary in order to disqualify that person’s achievements to date. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with that last one in the past.
But man… it’s hard to argue with that number. I’m still astounded by the idea that 1,000 people have even read a book of mine, let alone that that many were affected enough by what they read (one way or another) to leave a review. Yesterday my son saw Alex’s product page and asked what the review number meant. After I told him, he said, “What?? A thousand people?? I never knew my dad was famous!” In that instant I realized what my personal definition of success was. I also realized that I’d hit it.
I want to write a lot of novels. My plans have been disrupted over and over again since the moment when I had planned to focus on writing more heavily, which is a constant source of trepidation for me and a fact that I am always beating myself up with. But today, I’m cutting myself a little slack.
One thousand? Wow.
I just watched the preview for your new movie Saving Christmas, coming this weekend to select theaters nationwide. I’m not sure why I did that. Normally I try to avoid stuff like God’s Not Dead, and Noah, and Son of God. I am clearly not these movies’ target audience, yet I always want to see them because of the vague feeling I get that I’m being talked about behind my back. What can I say, this time I failed my Will save. I saw that Saving Christmas was listed in this coming weekend’s showtimes, and my morbid curiosity overwhelmed my common sense. I wanted to let you know that I came away from the experience… troubled.
First, fair disclosure on my personal outlook on this. I’m an atheist, so I obviously don’t believe that Jesus was the son of god. I don’t mind that you do, but I, personally, don’t. I’m also a liberal, so I’m okay with people practicing whatever religious holidays they’d like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or require me to participate (and yes, that includes Christianity). If you’re still willing to listen to me after those admissions, I’d love to mention a few things.
I know Christians have a real history of persecution, and that the idea for the “War on Christmas” probably grew out of this history. But like many of the most recent claims of Christian persecution, to an outsider, it feels like the War on Christmas has less to do with any Christians that are actually being persecuted and more to do with the religious right’s insistence that no one who disagrees with them should be allowed to have any fun.
Let me use your own words, from the first half of your preview, to show you what I mean. In a tone that I think is meant to be whimsical and mildly befuddled, you narrate, “Do you ever feel like Christmas has been hijacked?”
Let’s take a closer look at that sentence. Specifically, the word “hijacked.”
For something to be hijacked, it does of course have to belong to someone first. The clear implication here is that Christmas belongs to Christians. Therefore, if a non-Christian has any involvement in it, they’re “hijacking” it. In other words, from the first sentence of the preview, it’s clear that what’s important about Christmas is who it excludes. Non-Christians, please shut up and sit down. Christmas is only for Christians.
You then go on to explain who exactly is hijacking Christmas: “All the commercialism.” I could actually get behind this idea; there is a ton of commercialism associated with Christmas, and I do feel like it takes away from the more important message the season can offer. But given that you never mention this again, I’m left with the impression that this is a straw man. Thankfully, you quickly move on to the real threat: “Those who want to replace ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’… whatever that means.”
Ah. Well, Kirk, as one of those people who’s fine with both phrases, give me a chance to explain what that means to me. It’s actually not that complicated, and maybe if you listen to it with an open mind, you’ll even see where I’m coming from.
See, around December of each year, there are a lot of religions and belief systems that celebrate some sort of holiday. Christmas is one of them. Christians (as you probably know) celebrate this holiday to proclaim their joy over the birth of their God’s son, Jesus Christ, whom they believe was sent to earth to die for them and cleanse them of their sins. Another one is Yule, a pagan holiday that recognizes the winter solstice. Yule is a celebration of the fact that the shortest days of winter are gone, and from this point onward, the days only get longer until spring comes (personally, I can dig this; those short winter days are depressing). Hanukkah is another one you may have heard of. This is a Jewish holiday that celebrates and commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There’s also Kwanzaa. I know, I know, you probably don’t think Kwanzaa counts because it was only started in the ’60s and it was made specifically for black people, but did you know that actually a lot of holidays were modeled after other holidays, but re-made in such a way that they’d be more inclusive or relevant to a particular group? Even your Christmas originally was! And as a guy who feels a little homeless at the holiday season, since “Christmas” doesn’t really want me anymore, I can understand where they’re coming from on this. Yes, it’s a real holiday, and yes, real people—people my kids go to school with, people I work with—celebrate it. Bear with me. And I know you’re probably getting a little overwhelmed, but in fairness to myself, there’s also HumanLight, which is supposed to be a Humanist celebration, all about how incredible the human species is and how we should look out for each other and generally try to be good people. I’m a quasi-Humanist myself, but I grew up celebrating Christmas and so did my wife, plus “HumanLight” is kind of a dorky name for a holiday, so we generally celebrate on December 24th and 25th instead, like we’re used to.
But did you notice something cool about those different holidays? Every single one is about celebration. All these different holidays, from all these different walks of life, from all these different kinds of people—they’re all about celebration, and loving one’s family, and recognizing the things that make life good. That’s not a bad thing, man! That’s an awesome thing. It’s something we, as a species, can be proud of. And it’s something I personally would like as many people as possible to be a part of.
See, you probably think “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are just generic terms, created for the sole purpose of excluding Christmas from ever being mentioned, but that’s not the intent at all. A lot of people would say maybe they are generic, but they’re intended to be inclusive—as in, if I don’t know for sure what holiday you celebrate, I’ll just say “Happy Holidays” to be on the safe side. And that might be true, too, but it’s not what the words mean to me. To me they mean a lot more.
To me they recognize this incredible history that we, as a human species, have. They recognize that for some weird, wonderful reason, a lot of human beings have something to celebrate in December. They recognize that for most people, something wonderful is happening around this time. People are thinking of their families. They’re giving gifts. They’re getting together and seeing each other. They’re listening to music. Like you said in your own preview, they’re dancing and celebrating and feasting. And even though they may all have their own unique reasons for doing so, isn’t it incredible that so many people from so many different traditions celebrate around this same time? Isn’t it humbling, and worth recognizing? These are happy holidays, and we, as a human race, can all recognize that. The phrase is about bringing us together and celebrating the most awesome things that all of us have in common: family, love, and of course, good food.
In my house, Christmas is a celebration of family and the time that we have on this earth together. I hug my wife and kids a little tighter, I get to see my mom and her partner and my in-laws and my grandfather, and we all give presents and eat lasagna. The kids love it, and so do I. I can maybe understand why it would miff you a little that we call it “Christmas” despite not actually believing in Christ, but really, we were raised with the holiday and this whole Humanism thing is fairly new, so I’d hope you can cut us a little slack while we try to figure out something else to call it. And like it or not, that whole Santa Claus thing is a part of Christmas too, and I do feel like our kids have a right to that. Really, since you have your own Christmas celebration to go to, is it that big a deal what we do in our own home?
I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can celebrate Christmas and still recognize how cool the Happy Holidays are as a united force. You can put up nativity scenes and celebrate however you’d like on your own property, where it doesn’t make my kids feel bad for being from an atheist house, and we’ll even still talk about it respectfully if we happen to drive by. You can hear someone say “Season’s Greetings” and recognize that they mean it respectfully and joyfully, and you can even wish people “Merry Christmas” without feeling like you’re on the front lines of the War on Christmas.
Because the worst part about this whole War on Christmas idea is that it loses sight of the things that you love about this time of year. Come on, man. We both know what this time of year is about, and it’s not war.
It’s peace on earth.