Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Shark on Dead Tree

I have a column in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I will be writing for the Crossroads section on a semi-regular basis.


Anonymous said...

I read your column today. Let me tell you a story. I took a job in a new town a couple of years ago. I run the cable access channel there. One of my first productions was coverage of the local Christmas Parade. Only I titled it the holiday parade, as that is what the flyer from the chamber of commerce called it. After a few plays I had one of the aldermen in my office standing over me while I retitled it "Christmas Parade", while he stood there yelling how he paid for this and muttering something about "enemies". (the chamber flyer was changed to "Christmas Parade" the next year). Taht to me pretty much defiens this whole "War on Christmas" business. It's not about you having your freedom of religion. It's about you standing over someone else to make sure theyn say "Merry Christmas".

Display Name said...

Someone known for teaching law decides to ignore his craft and argues for the government blessing of religious displays with a catch-phrase like "Get a grip." How does this rule tell me which religion should get top billing on City Hall's entrance ledge? Whoever is in power gets to decide? I'm reminded of H.L. Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." You want your City Council to vote on which display to erect? And then pay someone to do it?

And "Religion that is completely privatized is ultimately driven to the margins of life"? The margin of whose life? By not getting involved, the government has minimized and harmed your power of faith? This is the government's business? Is there a need for the government to get involved? Is there a shortage of churches willing to promote the holiday? A lack of private or commercial displays? A pressing need for all of us to join together to accomplish something that can't be done on our own? The most popular religion in the most powerful nation, needs its government to reinforce the connection between Christmas and the Creche? Many say government is inefficient, wasteful at what it does and prone to meaningless gestures, and that privatization is better, but you carve out this as an exception where government can do it best?

Anonymous said...

I see Nativity creches outside of various church properties, outside of various civilian homes, and displayed in the windows of various merchants -- they are everywhere! Now just what is your gripe?
As for this so-called "Christmas War," I refer you to the well-written editorial of Thomas Zachek in the same Journal edition.
And I wish to leave you with these lyrics from a Jackson Browne song:

All the streets are filled with laughter and light/ And the music of the season/ And the merchants' windows are all bright/ With the faces of the children/ And the families hurrying to their homes/ As the sky darkens and freezes/ They'll be gathering around the hearths with tales/ Giving thanks for all God's graces/ And the birth of the rebel Jesus.

Well they call him by the Prince of Peace/ And they call him by the Savior/ And they pray to him upon the seas/ And in every bold endeavor/ As they fill his churches with their pride and gold/ And their faith in him increases/ But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in/ From a temple to a robber's den/ In the words of the rebel Jesus.

We guard our world with locks and guns/ And we guard our fine possessions/ And once a year when Christmas comes/ We give to our relations/ And perhaps we give a little to the poor/ If the generosity should seize us/ But if any one of us should interfere/ In the business of why they are poor/ They get the same as the rebel Jesus.

But please forgive me if I seem/
To take the tone of judgement/ For I've no wish to come between/ This day and your enjoyment/
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil/ We have need for anything that frees us/ So I bid you pleasure/ And I bid you cheer/ From a heathen and a pagan/ On the side of the rebel Jesus.

C.J. said...

"But we also fight about what to call this 'season'"
-We call it winter.

"I could say that the idea that our Constitution requires an absolute and formalistic separation of anything associated with religion from the government is either historically inaccurate or based on an anachronistic use of history."
-Really? Could you say this? I'd love to see you try. Also, since when is our godless "Constitution" anachronistic?

Here's what James Madison had to say about the 1st Amendment:
"Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform (Annals of Congress, Sat Aug 15th, 1789 pages 730 - 731)."

Now, you might argue that a nativity scene doesn't compel anyone to conform. Maybe not, but it does allow one sect to obtain preeminence. Either you represent every religious holiday, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Sikh, etc, or none at all. I think it's much easier to choose the latter.

"Get a Grip"
-Stunning. Is this the type of argument you teach your law students? If I were them, I'd as for my money back.

"This may be uncomfortable ... but this is the price of living in a diverse nation."
-No. It's not. I'll let Dan Barker respond to that: "Specific individual freedoms are hard-wired into our guiding document that no local majority can take away."

I'm one of those not-so-hypothetical non-believers. I'm not offended by nativity scenes. I think they're pretty childish. If you think you're inherently a bad person and that you need to believe in an executed deity for salvation, fine. Just don't insult our founding fathers and put your (irrational) faith on the steps of our public institutions.

Anonymous said...

And is the following what you'd call an "interpretive choice" for non-Christians? No, I am not blaming the gov't for this. But I am blaming those Christians who feel the need to assert their supremacy. Like these Christian thugs in NY.

Or like the kids who told my son, when he was 7 years old, that Jesus was going to strike him dead at the lunch table because he doesn't believe in Jesus.

Or like the city council in Green Bay, which has NEVER had a nativity scene before (and none of the aldermen who voted for it have Xmas decorations or nativity scenes at their own homes) and put it up this year for the sole purpose of sticking a finger in the eye of those who object to mixing gov't and religion.
"The group of thugs - including the son of a city firefighter - accused of savagely attacking straphangers celebrating Chanukah appears to revel in recklessness. . .

Ten people - eight men and two women - were arrested after the melee and charged with a slew of misdemeanors, including assault, menacing and inciting a riot. All were released without bail.

Cops are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, though no bias charges have been filed.

The three friends who suffered multiple bruises and cuts allegedly at the hands of Jirovec and his group have no doubts the attack was religiously motivated.

"They said, 'You dirty Jews, you killed Jesus on Chanukah, you should all die,'" said Maria Parsheva, 23, a Baruch College student.

Parsheva said she and her boyfriend, Walter Adler, also 23, are half-Jewish and were celebrating Chanukah at a Manhattan bar with Angelica Krischanovich, 21, and Nick Rosenbaum.

They carried a menorah and dreidels as they boarded the Qtrain at Canal St. bound for Brooklyn, Parsheva said.

On the train, they said Jirovec, Babajko and their friends loudly yelled "Merry Christmas" - and became infuriated when Krischanovich responded, "Happy Chanukah."

"[One woman said,] 'You can't say that, we are Catholic,'" said Krischanovich, a Hunter College student who is not Jewish. "That's when two guys stood up and showed us their Jesus tattoos," she said. "They started yelling at us and telling us we have no savior." . . ."

Anonymous said...

JF, well said in both articles.

Corey, exactly what are you pointing out with the Madison quote? I would say a nativity scene does not conflict with any part of the quote you cited. I wouldn't argue that a nativity scene does not compel anyone to conform, are you? "Maybe not"? I would argue that a community paid for symbol of giving and love is not allowing preeminence, just as I would argue that if a predominantly Jewish neighborhood put up a 10' Menorah in the public square, I would not feel pressured to join Judaism. I would agree with an argument that it should not use public funds and that a permit should be paid for by the representing religion, but your whole comment sounds like an angry child who did not get what he wanted for Christmas.

I dare say you are the one who would be insulting the founding fathers who were overwhelmingly religious. If a giant christmas tree was a collection site to collect for the needy and were to be paid for by individuals, I would bet every founding father would have approved. If you honestly think a Christmas tree in the public square is a subtle coercion to join a Christian religion, I pity you.

Anon 9:25pm, were the Jesus tattoos Government subsidized? How does this relate to the topic? Do you think the majority of Christians act like this or approve actions like this? If you base your beliefs on anecdotes I can give you lots that will make you want to be an atheist, not to be an atheist, to be a Muslim or Jew, and not to be a Muslim or Jew, etc. I don't get it, unless you are arguing that public displays incite that behavior and that all the dispalys on church yards do which case I can only say, huh.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous, 10:56

You said:
"I would argue that a community paid for symbol of giving and love is not allowing preeminence, just as I would argue that if a predominantly Jewish neighborhood put up a 10' Menorah in the public square, I would not feel pressured to join Judaism."

-Irrelevant. My point is that religious symbols have no place whatsoever in the public sphere. I would object just as much to a 10' menorah on public land as much as I would to the presence of Christian symbols. The same goes for Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. Keep religious symbols out of public institutions. Why can’t you just be happy attending church and enjoying religious art and culture there? Why do you need to smuggle it onto government property?

“If a giant Christmas tree was a collection site to collect for the needy and were to be paid for by individuals, I would bet every founding father would have approved.”
-I agree, they would have approved. I approve as well. But I don’t approve of it on public property. I’m all for helping the needy and the poor; more so than many religious people. But why is it necessary to place the Christmas tree on public land? Why not put it out in front of a church? Or why not have a collection site to help the poor without any religious symbolism? Do you only help the poor because it gets you in the good graces of your God?

Let me put it this way: Would you object to a scene depicting devil worship on public ground? How about a re-enactment of animistic sacrifice on the steps of Congress? There are people in this country who believe in that sort of thing. Therefore, by your reasoning, they have every right to place their symbolism on public ground as Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

If you object to either devil worship or animism having a place on public ground, then you must also object to Christian symbolism in public.

I hope I didn’t sound too much like a little kid who didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas. At least I didn’t say, “Get a grip.”

Anonymous said...

Fair enough Corey, But my greater point was that many of the public displays began 50 or more years when I truly believe most non-christians didn't care one whit about the public display and certainly did not feel oppressed by it. I don't believe they were started by people trying to "smuggle" religion on to public property. They were put up as a sign of good cheer. Do I need a display on public property to give more? No... but I will admit that the more warm little feelings I get on a day around Christmas, the more I put in to little red pots. I do believe in God, but I do not believe in most Churches today. There have been times in my life where I went to a church every Sunday because I liked the messages. There have been times like now in my life where I do not go to church because I do not like the messages and I go here and there at times because one place or another has been recommended to me.

The bottom line is that I would not complain about a public display of love and hope whatever the religion, but I would object to a message of hate or blood sacrifice. So my point was that these symbols were started on public property for good and honest reasons, why is it so important to attack them, take them down, and denigrate the spirit in which they were put up in the first place. A giant Christmas tree of giving in the public square will gather a lot more for the needy than one at Tom's house, I am not sure of the address... who is Tom? You would still object to a public drive for the needy in a publicly owned place just because it has a Christmas or Chanukah theme? Even though it has been proven in the past to be much more effective? You sound like a much more reasonable person in your second comment and I thank you for not stamping on me verbally, but I think we will just have to disagree on this point:

I do believe that 99.9% of all Christmas displays on public property are put up by people trying to lighten the hearts of all others, not by subversives trying to influence or oppress you in to being Christians. Is that truly so offensive or Government threatening that it is worth fighting over? It seems to me that there are more important issues to spend our energies against.