Tuesday

A 'non-religious' Christmas

On a recent Christmas shopping trip, an interesting thing happened. I was making my purchase and before leaving I said “Have a Merry Christmas” to the friendly clerk.

“Thank you!” she said enthusiastically. This happened more than once that day. In almost every store in which we shopped, the clerks did not wish us a Merry Christmas, but joyfully received our good tidings.

For years, the common greeting “Merry Christmas” has been scorned for its religious overtones and this year the adjective “non-religious” seems to have been attached to the Christmas season.

For example, in the New York Times there is an article describing how the White House’s current social director told former social directors that the Obamas would not be using the traditional creche in the East Room. The reason? The Obamas wanted to celebrate a non-religious holiday this year. The article said that there was an audible gasp from the audience. To keep a long story short, the creche is in its traditional location once again.

In the Los Angeles Times there was an article about humanists groups launching a $40,000 ad campaign that says “No God? No Problem.” Smiling people — some wearing Santa hats — adorned the brightly colored ad. There is even a Web site so that other humanists will know that they’re not alone.

Christmas without God. This is an unattractive yet interesting concept to someone who has spent most of her life in church. How can you have a “non-religious” holiday that is based on one of the most significant religious events in human history? I don’t, however, feel threatened by the concept. After all, we live in a pluralistic society in which everyone is supposed to respect each other.

The problem is we don’t.

How many times have we heard about Christian groups who are “outraged” over, say, an ad, a movie or a book? There is name calling, vandalism and rage all in the name of Christ. Christian groups even attack stores that don’t say “Merry Christmas.”

On the other side of the coin, some groups want to erase Christianity from our culture. The Obamas didn’t want to celebrate a “religious” holiday because they wanted to be “inclusive.” How does that fit? We exclude one group — a group that has great significance to our history — while including all the others? That doesn’t make sense.

According to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, approximately 78 percent of the population considers themselves “Christian.” Only 4.7 percent categorize themselves under “other religions” and 16.1 percent consider themselves “unaffiliated.” If such a large percentage of the population aligns themselves with a certain way of thinking and living, why are their fellow Americans attempting to shove them aside? That is definitely not what the founding fathers had in mind constitutionally speaking, and everyone – Christians, non-Christians, atheists, and even Presidents – really must keep that in mind.

So this Christmas season, I still intend to bid others a “Merry Christmas.” If someone chooses not to wish me the same, I’ll respect that, but I hope that they respect me as well. If someone chooses to celebrate the season without God, that’s their prerogative. However, I agree with what Rabbi Elliot Dorff told the Los Angeles Times: “They are depriving themselves of some really rich resources for moral insight.” Merry Christmas, everyone!