Ethics Quote Of The Day (Christmas Confusion File): Jonathan Turley

“Best wishes to everyone celebrating Christmas.”

—- Law Professor and blogger Jonathan Turley, wishing at least some of his readers a merry Christmas.

Get ready to duck, Fred!

Get ready to duck, Fred!

Prof. Turley is a lawyer, of course, and trained to express himself with precision. Thus I have to ask: what the heck is he trying to say here?

Is he wishing good tidings only those who, like his family, are celebrating Christmas, and rotten times to the rest? Is he editing the humanist message of Christmas to “Peace on Earth, and good will to those who are putting up Christmas trees and giving gifts, other wise you’re on your own”?

Or, as I fear greatly, given the fact that he is part of the U.S. education establishment and thus prone to have a spine of cream cheese, just observing the trendy political correctness that infects our times, and bowing to those who contrive to take offense when anyone smiles at them and offers a greeting that only says, at minimum, “We’re all in this together, so let’s try to be as good to each other as we can, OK?”

I suppose Professor Turley believes deference is due to current day Scrooges like a Christmas Eve passenger on American Airlines Flight 1140 to Dallas from New York’s La Guardia Airport.  A member of the crew dared to wish passengers a Merry Christmas, it being Christmas Eve and most of the fliers probably on their way to celebrate with loved ones, and one of them objected, saying,  “You shouldn’t say that because not everyone celebrates Christmas!”

Well, you aren’t supposed to argue with customers, but the old fart was dead wrong. One individual doesn’t have the right or authority to stop other people from being nice to each other, or nice to him. There is nothing aggressive, nasty, or harmful in someone saying “Merry Christmas,” which is not proselytizing or forced religious observance, and anyone who takes such a cheerful expression from a stranger as an assault needs to seek psychiatric care. We shouldn’t cater to power-plays from such social bullies.The inevitable result of caving to people like this will to eliminate the social balm of Christmas completely, as the same sorts f people who will argue that campus sexual encounters must be accompanied by tangible and legally valid proof of mutual consent, or one is risking a rape accusation in “Rolling Stone.” Reflect on the Miracle of the Christmas Gas Can, related here. My rescuers were strangers, and acting in the spirit of the season. Should they have first received confirmation from me that I wouldn’t be offended at playing a part in the Christmas observance? If that becomes the new rule, I think they might have decided to avoid a lecture and drive on.

Back to the drama on Flight 1140: sure enough, another flight attendant, perhaps hearing the crank unload on a colleague, also wished the traveler “Merry Christmas!”  Now, if calculated, this probably violated the Second Niggardly Principle, as stupid as the man’s first reaction was. If it was innocent of intent to provoke, however, the sole miscreant here remains the passenger, who went completely bananas and commenced an anti-Christmas rant that was so excessive that he was kicked off the flight—to applause, reputedly.

Does Turley really feel that the right thing is to engage in muffled holiday cheer and self-censored love for mankind to satisfy people like this?

Such people are the modern day embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge. They have a right to be miserable, to stand apart for the culture, to be cynical about the species and perpetually angry at kind and  generous sentiments that they can’t muster, but if a seasonal ritual prompts people to treat friends, family, associates, casual acquaintances and strangers like they should treat them all year round, there is nothing ethical about endorsing or ratifying their petulant view, even as it applies to themselves. The maxim is “Love your neighbor,” not “Love those neighbors who are comfortable being loved and not worried that some obligation is attached.”

Charles Dickens had this issue well in hand, and I assumed it was settled in “A Christmas Carol.” When Scrooge’s Christmas-loving nephew visits to extend his best wishes of the season, Scrooge objects. Fred will hear none of it:

“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!…I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”

Then Scrooge goes nuts and they kick him off the airplane.

Fred was right.

Prof. Turley is being a weenie. We should have the courage to stand up for a cultural tradition of good will, kindness and generosity at Christmas that extends to everyone, whether they like it or not. Once the Christmas spirit needs a consent form, the best part of Christmas is doomed.


Graphic: dmichaelmay



9 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Day (Christmas Confusion File): Jonathan Turley

  1. What a very quiet and ignorant world it will become if any opinion or sentiment must never be uttered should it might be deemed offensive.

  2. There is the “race card” and there is also the “I’m offended” card. Turley is one of those modern day liberals who is probably horrified that he might offend somebody. I don’t think there was a big problem back in the 50s when Jewish people were wished a “Merry Christmas”. They probably took it in stride that in American at that time they were a minority and not everybody was going to wish them a “Happy Hanukkah”. “Happy Holidays” has always came off as wimpy and meaningless to me.

  3. I beg to differ. Yes, it is utterly unreasonable to get offended if someone wishes you “Merry Christmas,” even if you’re Jewish or Wiccan or Muslim or whatever. But it is equally unreasonable to insist on a particular greeting… surely this would be the first cousin to your “second niggardly principle.”

    If I’m certain the person I’m addressing is Christian–either because I know him/her well, because s/he is very public about his/her faith, or because s/he just wished me a Merry Christmas–I say “Merry Christmas.” Otherwise, I opt for “Have a good holiday” or, to students and colleagues about to start vacation, “a good break,” or something similar. Is this being a “weenie”?

    I don’t think so. An acknowledgement that not everyone celebrates Christmas strikes me as simply respectful. And limiting one’s greetings to just the celebrants strikes me as analogous to wishing “Happy Birthday” to my friends Michael and Marjorie, who have birthdays today, not because I wish any ill to those whose birthdays are in August, but because birthday greetings today are irrelevant to those folks.

    Would it change anything if Professor Turley was not himself a Christian? (I have no idea whether he is or isn’t.) If, say, the wish were for a “Happy Kwanzaa for those celebrating,” when we can be reasonably certain he does not celebrate that holiday himself, would the same remark demonstrate inclusion–an acknowledgment that other people do celebrate it–or exclusion because he didn’t send that wish to everyone, including those who may not even know that Kwanzaa exists, much less what it signifies? I’d say the former.

    When I was a little kid fifty-something years ago, I watched my parents sending out Christmas cards (I use the term generically). Most of them said “Merry Christmas,” but a few said “Season’s Greetings.” I asked why. “Because not all out friends are Christians, but we want them to know we’re thinking of them, too,” replied my Mom. “Oh,” I said, satisfied with the response. I’m still satisfied with it.

    • 1. You know you don’t have to beg to differ.
      2. If this post smoked out Curmie, it’s worth it.
      3. The crux of my point, and I don’t think you missed it, is that “merry Christmas” isn’t a religious greeting or one that has any rational elements of faith at all. If we can’t shout the greeting to strangers—and all it is is a friendly wish for good times, love and charity—then we can barely use it all all. Which I suppose is the point of the most vociferous anti-Christmas crowd.

      Can we say innocently say Happy New Year to a stranger who might be a misanthropic depressive?
      Can we say innocently say Happy Valentine’s Day to a stranger who might be a jaded and jilted lover?
      Can we say innocently say Happy St. Patrick’s Day to a stranger who might have a relative killed by the IRA?
      Can we say innocently say Happy Fourth of July to a stranger who might be Noam Chomsky?

      An obviously well-intentioned greeting that can mean nothing but good will shouldn’t be offensive to anyone, and none of us have obligations to the rare unrevealed crank for whom it is.

      • Precisely. “An obviously well-intentioned greeting that can mean nothing but good will shouldn’t be offensive to anyone.” Wishing “Merry Christmas” to a stranger qualifies. So does Professor Turley’s message.

        • Sure it does. So does, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, and if it’s offensive to you, I deeply, deeply apologize, but Merry Christmas, OK?” But it’s a pusillanimous greeting that confers power to censor over those who shouldn’t have it.

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