South Brunswick, New Jersey schools have announced that they will henceforth close for two days every year in honor of…Diwali. Quick—what religion celebrates Diwali? The answer is the Hindu faith.
That does it, I think. The canary has officially croaked, and there is no way to sugar-coat it, not that anyone wants a sugar-coated dead canary anyway. State, local and national governments need to cut all ties with religious holidays now, before Americans who observe Gantan-sai, Dia de los Reyes, Maghi, Timkat, Imbolc, L. Ron Hubbard birthday, Ostara, Khordad Sal, Ramayana, Visakha Puja, Declaration of the Bab, Ascension of Baha’u’llah and somebody’s god somewhere knows what else start suing every city council in sight, Bill O’Reilly starts screaming about the war on Christianity, and Michele Bachmann gives speeches about how everyone knows America is a Christian nation, because the Founders, you know, like Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln and Jerry Falwell, wanted it that way.
We don’t need the added conflict, when we have so many other battled to fight together. We can’t afford it.And I think it’s unavoidable now.
“It says to all of the communities that we recognize you and we value you,” Gary McCartney, South Brunswick’s school superintendent said, explaining his city’s decision. Good job, Gary! You just announced that the city doesn’t value every citizen that worships someone or something else. That, as they say, is the ballgame. The fat lady has sung, not to mention the guy with the elephant head and all those arms. It’s over.
Not that this isn’t a loss, because it is. The celebration of agreed-upon holidays, particularly Christmas, was once an important part of the process whereby immigrants from other lands and cultures became Americans. Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America,” was a Jew, but he wrote “White Christmas” and Easter Parade” too. He didn’t feel like he was excluded from the United States, and he embraced its long-standing traditions. Nobody much thought about it until atheist Madeline Murray O’Hair challenged prayer in the schools, and won. She was right, but the lawsuit opened the floodgates. Gee…if making kids in school say the Lord’s Prayer violates the Establishment Clause, doesn’t that creche in front of City Hall? How about that representation of the Ten Commandments in front of the Court House? And how about…?
There were two problems. First, the complainers had a valid legal point, once we started looking at things like tree-lighting ceremonies as religious endorsement rather than cultural traditions. Second, there are a lot of people who enjoy exercising power for its own sake, and as soon as O’Hair showed how one American didn’t have to shrug off a tradition they didn’t observe and just accept or ignore it, because it made a lot of her neighbors happy, there were plenty of others like her—not a majority, but a critical mass—who wanted the rush of bending others to their will. In this crusade they were and are aided by another group, the reflexive politically correct, who believe that the essence of a virtuous society is one in which nobody is ever offended, even if their threshold of offense is absurdly low.
Thus a Somerville, Mass. elementary school principal recently told her faculty that Columbus Day was offensive and suggested them that they needed to “be careful” about how they handled Thanksgiving. Naturally, this came up as Halloween* was approaching, a cultural holiday also considered suspect in Somerville, that was once one of childhood’s special treats.Now it is withering away. Why? It “offended” Evangelicals, Wiccans, dentists, hysterical child advocates, zombies and political correctness addicts. Once too many citizens become unwilling to let a majority enjoy something—anything— that they don’t, and once the prevailing logic is that the few should dictate to the many, rather than be willing to make small concessions to tradition in the shared pursuit of a common culture, then community holidays are doomed.
Are these the symptoms of a cohesive culture coming apart at the seams? Sure it is. Rather than allow the loose threads to keep unraveling the fabric, it’s time to avoid the conflict, stop giving people who enjoy pulling threads encouragement, and accept the fact that the government’s acknowledgment of holy days, even ones that have evolved into secular holidays as well, is now too contentious, difficult and expensive to continue.
We will have to find other ways to build a cohesive and inclusive American culture, because this fight will tear the culture apart.
* For an informative, entertaining and often hilarious review of recent Halloween litigation, go here.