Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right

I really, really, really wish I could've coined that phrase. I further wish that I were writing this as a review of the book You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. Alas, I'm just writing it because I heard the author on NPR and now I have an opinion. But I've added the book to my "list". (What? Don't you have a list of all the books you want to read but will forget about if you don't jot them down somewhere?) This whole post was prompted by a misdirected e-mail. I have a pretty common name. It's not as common as, say Sue Smith, but it's one of those names that gets over 2,000,000 hits on Google if you search it. So, periodically, I get e-mail intended for one of the other women out there who has my name.

Today, the one I got was a snarky conservative appeal to Christians to militantly take back the Christmas holiday that is being twisted by retailers and "the PC Police" and muddied with Ramadan and Kwanzaa. I noticed the anonymous author went out of the way not to mention or denigrate Hanukkah but had no trouble mocking Kwanzaa and Ramadan. So even though political correctness is decried as part of the problem, the piece was PC enough not be overtly anti-Semitic, but not PC enough to avoid being racist. The whole thing was a parody of "The Night Before Christmas," although I daresay the author of this piece would've called it a tribute. I'm not reprinting it because I don't want to give it the airtime.

I was all set to come in here and wail away about how wrong that call for militant retrieval of the holiday is, and how I don't have to be wrong for them to be right and I don't appreciate the implication that I am, when it hit me that militancy on both sides is the problem. Ranting would not contribute at all to the sort of world I want to live in.

I'm too moved by this to sit silent, however, so in light of the topic (take a second to go back and read it again) here is what I have to say. I know some Christians feel like they are persecuted, and feel like the proper response to all the latte-sipping liberals who insist on "Happy Holidays" is to make their "Merry Christmas" louder and harder to ignore. I also understand that they feel frustrated when public figures or large companies choose a generic holiday greeting in lieu of "Merry Christmas." Mostly, I hear this deplored for the reason that we're "so afraid of offending someone" that we censor ourselves and hide our faith.

Now, as for the commercial bit of the e-mail, it seemed the author couldn't decide whether to be offended that Lowe's doesn't celebrate Christmas on their website or that Wal-Mart had such enticing Christmas offerings that shoppers there trampled an employee to death on Black Friday to get to them. Ultimately, does it matter whether public figures and retailers shout Christmas from their virtual storefronts and actual rooftops? Either way, you're going to continue observing your religion and your holiday. You know why you're giving to charity or buying gifts for kids and loved ones this time of year. You talk about it with your friends and family and at church and bear witness by making that a part of your daily life. Why do you need mass marketers to reinforce that?

Can't you be pleased that you live in a country progressive enough to allow freedom of religion? I know that what the Founding Fathers probably meant when they wrote "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is that nobody could be run off for failing to join the Church of England. The price for living in a place where the President can't tell you what flavor of Protestant to be is that your neighbors don't even have to be Christian. As a result, their employers, rightfully wishing to preserve good relationships with their employees (i.e.: by not hurting their feelings) might opt for a simple "Happy Holidays" statement. It's an uncomplicated acknowledgment of a festive time of year which is deeply religious for some people and simply fun for others.

And on the personal greeting front: what's so great about offending people? If the point is to evangelize the world, and you're supposed to be a living example of Christ-likeness to everyone you meet, then a little humility and politeness would go a long way toward the goal. Even if the people you meet have brown skin and "funny" names.

So, how about this: rather than shouting "MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT!" at every man, woman and child you see, say a warm and sincere "Merry Christmas" to everyone you know who is Christian. And if you know someone is observing the holidays of their religion, offer an appropriate greeting for that, like "Happy Hanukkah" or "Joyous Eid" or "Blessed Festivus" or "Happy Kwanzaa". And if you don't know the person well enough to know their faith (or absence thereof) but you absolutely have to offer some greeting other than "Hi" then what's wrong with "Happy Holidays"? It's not because you don't love Christ or because you don't have pride in your faith or because you're being "politically correct". It's because you're being POLITE. It's another way of showing the people around you that you, y'know, love your neighbor.


rhkr said...

The one thing about this: I've become so much more aware of how people greet me, now. So, I noted all those students who handed me their exams today and said, "Happy Holidays" or "Have a good break" instead of "Merry Christmas." Weird, huh?

Thalassa said...

Maybe a little. It's more the intent behind the words than the words that matter, I think.

rhkr said...

Okay, I wasn't clear in my comment. I received all three types of "greetings" (is it still a greeting when it's said as they leave?) and I, personally, have no preference or distaste for any of them. I was just aware that there were different phrases for different students, which I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise. That's what I was trying to say...that I really hadn't noticed that some people used the different greetings--in my brain, they were all interpreted as "have a nice day"-- until the "Merry Christmas" police drew attention to the matter.

Gramelda said...

I like this. I love your methodical and thoughtful way of putting things. One of my favorite things about you is your ability to have a thoughtful and educated opinion on something without the judging others that think differently. It's an admirable quality.

Thalassa said...

rhkr: I think I got that out of your comment. My response was something I thought up after writing this and wanted to jot down somewhere. I think the intent matters more than the words, so a polite "Merry Christmas" inadvertently offered to your Jewish professor is probably not offensive, where a bitter "Merry Christmas, Dammit!" to your Catholic friend would be. Does that make sense?

Gramelda: Thanks. I spent 3 days combing through this post to make sure I said it right. :) It makes the compliment mean that much more when I've worked so hard for exactly that quality!