Wednesday, December 28, 2005

*War on Christmas? Redux*

Interesting article in Today (281205) under the headline of "Let Christmas be - Neutralising the Christian aspect of the holiday is counterproductive", which left me more confused than anything else, given that I'm not sure the issue that the author mentions is the one corresponding in reality and more disturbingly, an internally logically inconsistent piece.

But what was most disturbing was the attached photo of "Pastors speaking in a yard being the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. They are against the growing hostility towards religious expression, especially during the Christmas season". This is a misleading tag because it treats/insinuates as fact a purported actual hostility when it is mroe in the minds of the fundies.

Anyway, it's always nice to be able to recycle a post at this time of the night rather than have to think up a new piece so, as usual, comments will be prefixed with a >

Let Christmas be
Neutralising the Christian aspect of the holiday is counter-productive

by Liang Dingzi

DID you have a good Christmas, oops, I mean, holiday?

The Americans, who have influenced the world in their preference for words such as "chairperson" and "disadvantaged" (as opposed to "handicapped") for political correctness, have a propensity to neutralise any diversity that may suggest a bias or contempt for any one social group.
> Is it me or does anyone else think it rather incongruous to put the words diversity and bias/contempt in the same line? The notion of diversity is a recognition of differences NOT a deliberate discrimination of whatever form whether positive or negative. Maybe we'll just put this down to sloppy writing.

There are pluses, in the name of non-discrimination. It's amazing how the unwieldy "Ms" as the equivalent of "Mr" has satisfied feminist groups fighting for equal rights of the sexes.
> Ooohhh, snarky but rather meaningless in the context of this article. I have to say I find the term Ms as 'cumbersome' as the term Mr because I think it does help to be able to identify if the person is married. But because of this 'limitation' it makes life so much easier when needing to address a female.

The Americans are at it again. In the run-up to the Christmas just past, politicians and TV presenters right down to the common folk chose to change the traditional greeting of "merry Christmas" to "happy holidays".
> This comment may be jumping the gun a little but given that they are 'choosing' to change the greetings, does that not make it at odds with the assertion that there's some form of enforcement going on?

That seems appropriate. America being a country largely of immigrants, there are people who may not celebrate the festivity as Christians ? just like the Cambodians, who re-introduced the universal day-off with merry-making this year, after years of snubbing religious fervour, never mind the origin of the festival.
Living and working in Singapore, which is similarly multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious, I have adopted this neutral form of greeting for many years. But I use it with discretion.
To my Christian friends, it is "merry Christmas", and to my other friends, it is "happy holiday".
> And this to me seems entirely and perfectly logical and reasonable. It marks sensitivity and the knowledge that people DON'T always celebrate Christmas or celebrate it in a Christian fashion. But then it gets entirely confusing.

This time, however, the Americans have stretched the neutralisation a little too far, when everything Christmas becomes "holiday" for everybody, Christian and non-Christian alike. It becomes absurd when Christmas trees are re-labelled "holiday trees".
> I think the author has seemingly ignored the private-public, friend-stranger divide here. It is one thing to greet people whose religiousity and background you know with a Merry Christmas. BUT it is quite another when you are greeting a stranger with that, willy nilly. But on a separate point, um, there are no 'Christmas' trees in the religious sense and like candy canes, it is simply one of the trappings of the holiday we recognise as Christmas, so I'm not certain what the hoo-ha is over this 'relabelling' of trees. (Apparently, a tree was put up by a local council or higher, which could raise the issue of the Establishment Clause but that simply strengthens the argument that there should have relabelled the tree)

Enforced, as opposed to natural, neutralisation is apt to breed dissent and suspicion among the different social groups. It does not promote cohesion as it heightens differences. While it expresses a political agenda for commonality, it ignores the cultural and religious sensitivities of being different.
> This is one of the paragraphs that disturb me because I'm not entirely sure if the author of this piece is simply naive, been shoddy with his research or more worryingly, being disingenuous with his writings. There is no ENFORCED neutralisation as far as I am aware or at least not on an enforced scale i.e. federal mandate. As such, the entire line of argument falls in this particular context (as opposed to being an argument against being too PC).

That is why even the Jewish community in America feels insulted by the neutralisation of a religious festival that it does not celebrate. It deems such a move demeaning and does not respect people's discernment of a celebration that is not Jewish.
> He who asserts must substantiate. I'm very highly skeptical of the veracity of this assertion though I stand ready to be corrected.

Traditional Christian groups, on the other hand, feel a different kind of discrimination, one marked by disrespect for their beliefs.
> Substitute traditional with Fundamentalist and it would be much more accurate. But then, it's always persecution with them.

The world has long left behind the dark ages of ruling by enforced, often brutal, assimilation through suppression. Peaceful co-existence lies in recognising and respecting differences.
> Well, other than the fact that it has not been established by the writer that there's suddenly some enforcement whereby we cannot greet people with Merry Christmas or are trying to strip Christmas of its Christian associations (the pagan origins are pretty much forgotten), it simply doesn't make sense because it is a non sequitor. But furthermore remember this paragraph because the logic of peaceful co-existance lying in the recognition and repsect for differences, will come to haunt a related line of argument further down. But briefly put, when amongst strangers, the more appropriate response would be with a greeting that is inclusive and not exclusive if we seek peaceful coexistance (or better still, why not celebrate ALL the official religions in Singapore with their respective holidays? Why put Christmas over Hanukka?).

Ignoring these differences and, worse, pretending that they do not exist and seeking to neutralise them, only serves to polarise the community.
> Non sequitor here because it could very well serve to create a homogenous and stable society or conversely, not doing so simply creates and execerbates the tensions prevelant in the European countries (French v Dutch). But on a related note, are differences being ignored? No. Are we pretending that they do not exist? Laughably not, Christmas is ingrained in society to an extent not visible in ANY other religious holiday. Are we seeking to neutralise them? Impossibly so. So how does this necessarily polarise the community?

Christmas, more than any other festival, has become a celebration of sorts all over the world. Without any political intervention, it has become increasingly neutral resembling any event that provides a reason for feasting and merry-making.
Blame it on commercialisation retailers are the most happy during these times of celebration.
> Why does EVERYONE blame it on commercialisation? Actually the whole genteel gift giving thing started in the mid 1800s but took about half a century to become entrenched in society. It wasn't a time of commercialisation then.
> But also precisely! Christmas is not just about the supposed birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary at this time of the year anymore. In a sense it's about peace, goodwill, friendship and giving. Frankly, I personally think it's much nicer than the notion that only through the 'sacrifice' of the Messiah will 'Original sin' be 'washed away'.

In Singapore, different social groups have their cultural and religious festivals. I hope we do not take the route of the Americans. The politics of inclusion ? to make Christmas a neutral holiday for everyone for example ? ironically works to exclude concerned groups from the citizenry.
> Another non-sequitor. But more importantly, where is this plot to enforce a non-mention of Christmas coming from anyway? But additionally, there are other festivals being celebrated in this season so I could well argue more convincingly that the flagent use of Merry Christmas instead of the more inclusive Happy Holidays "works to exclude" MORE "concerned groups from the citizenry". There's the Pagan festival of the Winter Soltice, the Jewish festival of Hanukka (or Chanukka), the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa and of course, the New Year.
> The bald and untrue assertion put forth by the writer that, "different social groups have their cultural and religious festivals" simply raises the question I posed earlier, why Christmas and not Hanukka? Where is the holiday for the Zorastrians or the Sihks? Or any of the multitude of global trotters we have residing here? *Looks askew at the piece*

Next year, I want to continue wishing my Christian friends "merry Christmas" and my other friends, a happy holiday. And there's no reason why non-Christians cannot wish their Christian friends a meaningful "merry Christmas" instead of the neutral "happy holiday".
> Nothing is stopping you. I am rather disturbed now.



At 2:01 PM, Blogger gambitch said...

I wish all my friends "Merry Christmas", regardless of their religious alignment. And I'm agnostic.

They know, however, that I can't be bothered to differentiate. Too tiresome. I wish people a Happy Labour Day when it is Labour Day, so it's just a matter of slapping the holiday name's label on. Why make things so tiresome?

But that point aside, this is the same newspaper that has a column reserved for one James Dobson, the same conservative American ranked on a similar scale as Pat Robertson and other religious fundies, no?

At 12:47 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Well, I'm thinking of adopting the practice of wishing people Happy Hanukka as a social experiment. =)

I think the difference lies in that Labour day doesn't have religious connoctation.

But besides that, yes, Dr James Dobson of Focus on the Family is possibly more powerful politically than Pat now.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger gambitch said...

A few years ago, I was at this fast food restaurant doing what any customer would do at a fast food restaurant. As it was the day after Christmas, just before I left the counter, I wished the waitress "Happy Boxing Day". She was completely befuddled, giving me a look that said "What's Boxing Day?".

I think that should give you an idea about the results of your potential social experiment. :P

I'm surprised, though, that no one stood up to bash Dobbo and request his column be removed. (Come to think of it, I'm surprised I didn't start such a petition either.) Or maybe the local branch does a very good job of filtering the stuff and avoiding the politicization thing that their American counterparts did.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Heh. I'm not entirely surprised by the fact that the majority of Singaporeans do not know what Boxing Day or Hanukka is.

The one thing that makes me slightly uneasy about race relations in Singapore is how it is that certain religions get affiliated or associated with certain racial groups. I am not entirely certain it is a healthy attitude to take.

Who is Dobbo anyway?

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Oh....James Dobson. Well, I've tried that before, the whole letter writing thing to a lack of observable effect.

But there's nothing objectionable about his columns per se. Maybe they are just careful in publishing the 'safe' stuff.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger gambitch said...

Word to most of what you've said.

Will expand a little regarding race/religion. It is, after all, the kind of shorthand that increases efficiency, even though the shorthand is incredibly incorrect. At the very least, the atheists/agnostics like me keep getting forgotten somewhere down the line.

There are essentially two trip-up points: Malay/Islam and the Chinese-ed/English-ed divide within the Chinese community (which is fast transforming into a poor-guy/rich-guy class divide). The latter came into play somewhat in 1997 with the Cheng San saga. The former... well.

I am not yet uneasy about the situation. Perhaps it just reflects my cultural ambidexterity. *shrug*


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