Comment Of The Day #2 On “Comment Of The Day: ‘High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2019: Laser Eyes And Science Trees’”

The Wisconsin Governor’s endorsement of holiday trees with science ornaments continues to pay dividends here at Ethics Alarms. Here is Ethics Alarms veteran commenter luckyesteeyoreman‘s Comment of the Day on Michael West’s concise COTD, “Comment Of The Day: “High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2019: Laser Eyes And Science Trees.”

Lucky begins with a quote from my intro, but here is Michael’s full post:

What part of Christmas do they hate? The individual and spontaneous demonstrations of generosity, spawned entirely from personal choice free from central coordination and bestowed as private individuals see fit free from oversight? Or Christ?

Now heeeeere’s Lucky!

But really, why would anyone in their right mind object to Christmas…?

Because many are in their right mind who object. Most of us here at EA might not understand such people – even more likely do not even think like such people – but, that isn’t because the objectors aren’t in their right mind.

I assert the foregoing, coming from a history as a sibling who was the youngest of the brood. Much younger than all of my siblings. As a result, I had “multiple parents.” Also, as a consequence of that “virtual only child” status, I quickly deluded myself into thinking I was the center of the universe, the sole reason why any and all of the others existed. Any circumstance or appearance of a reality that in my perception was in conflict with that delusion, became a “trigger” for me to remind everyone, by any means necessary, that, “HEY!: THIS IS ALL ABOUT ME, here.”

Despite how my comments here might suggest otherwise, I really did out-grow that delusion. I thank the humbling influence of baseball for that, at least in part. In my case, learning about the example of Christ helped greatly, too.

My point is that there are many people who resent being reminded of a person or thing, or idea, that they do not think deserves so much attention, respect, etc. The really die-hard cases resent anyone or anything that, be it real or a mass fantasy, is “bigger than they are.” The “resenters” might be narcissists. They might be, or consider themselves, members of what they consider the Hive of Correctness. Or, they might be just thoughtful individuals, with no particular axe to grind but who have an abiding objection to something in their society that has mass appeal.

For example: am I in my right mind to object to “vaping?” Well, I think so…

Yesterday, I reminded myself, over and over, of my point above while I perused comments on…I think it was a site called Quora (or something), which popped up after I Googled, “Why does the left hate Christmas?” The website at least did not seem like a leftist echo chamber. The responses – although many if not almost all had carefully worded disclaimers (what Jack might call denials and even sly gaslighting) – seemed thoughtful, individualistic, and not like the “talking points” or “faith reflections” of some particular hive mind.

I don’t disagree with Jack on what he says about progressives and “natural” leftist antipathy to the American celebration of Christmas. I completely agree with the idea that “community RE-organizing,” in a revolutionary (and ethics-absent) way, is a motive of many who are hostile to the mass observation of the Christmas season. I feel encouraged – “emboldened,” even – by what really does look like (to me) a counter-countercultural movement that favors celebrating Christmas.

But, I also feel ethically obligated to give the benefit of doubt first, to people who seem clearly to be communicating simply that Christmas “just isn’t their thing.” And then, next, to be kind in a Golden Rule way, regardless of their views on Christmas and their reasons for those views.

22 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day #2 On “Comment Of The Day: ‘High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2019: Laser Eyes And Science Trees’”

  1. Sheesh; between the Baraboo Hitler Youth, a school board that criminalizes speech for employees that they allow students to spew with impunity, and F*****G science ornaments, you might wonder why I continue to call the America’s Dairyland home.

    Worse yet, perhaps you don’t wonder.

    I relate to lucky (great, insightful comment!) on an existential level as a kind of kindred spirit/fellow traveler who’s never taken himself too seriously.

    Anywho, there was an LTE in the local print daily today, Tree In Rotunda Violates Constitution, to which I responded:

    Friday’s State Journal letter (Tree In Rotunda Violates Constitution) breathlessly intoned that a Christmas Tree in the State Capitol violated “the Constitution’s demand that we keep church and state separate” and that allowing it “betrays the Constitution.”​

    ​Those strongly worded observations are, not to put too fine a point to it, categorically wrong. It’s a common mistake the ill-informed have been making for a long time. This is due, perhaps in part, to public education’s notable disregard of elementary civics.

    What you WILL find in the Constitution, in the 1st Amendment specifically, is the “Establishment Clause” and the ”Free Exercise Clause,” but the Founding Document never once mentions the “separation of church and state.” It’s an after-market add-on traced to a 01/01/1802 Thomas Jefferson letter. Claiming it ”demands” adherence to something that, if not fulfilled, ”betrays,” is really nothing more than an invalid analysis.

    The tree? As a devout agnostic and secular Madisonian, I say exercise your 1st Amendment “Freedom of Expression,” which protects your choice to call it whatever you want, or even call it nothing at all. Happy Holidays!

    Paul W. Schlecht/Madison, WI

  2. I have no problem with allowing people to call it whatever they want.

    I would however wonder what migt be said if a secular holiday, say the trappings of a Veterans Day or MLK birthday were altered to claim the former to be called the ” Horrors of War remembrance day” or the later simply called “Civil Rights day”? By eliminating the human element from a holiday we could wind up celebrating platitudes.

  3. Christmas IS just a celebration of platitudes in a post-Christian era. The generations that gave us the Christmas traditions we enjoy did so because they believed. Our generation doesn’t believe, but all of those traditions are still around, and we haven’t got anything much to replace them with. It’s awkward. That’s not a commentary or anything, and I’m certainly not grumpy about it. It’s just what it is.

    The Thanksgiving situation is even worse. It was originated by Congress and George Washington as a day for everyone to drop everything and pray, thanking God for the miracle of the successful and relatively safe birth of a new nation, and when Lincoln set a fixed date for it, it was also a day to ask for mercy for our national sins, and healing from the Civil War. Now it’s entirely boiled down to food and shopping. That’s the complete opposite of the point of having a holiday in the first place.

    If Christmas is deemed out of bounds in public spaces, then the right thing to do is to completely remove all of it. Christmas trees originated in Germany; probably in orphanages. If the word “Christmas” is not kosher, then ditch the tree. To do otherwise kinda seems like, I dunno, “cultural appropriation.”

    • Christmas IS just a celebration of platitudes in a post-Christian era. The generations that gave us the Christmas traditions we enjoy did so because they believed. Our generation doesn’t believe, but all of those traditions are still around, and we haven’t got anything much to replace them with. It’s awkward. That’s not a commentary or anything, and I’m certainly not grumpy about it. It’s just what it is.

      Nicely put I thought.

      I recognize this is not a Blog dedicated to Christian philosophy, and also that conversations on issues of faith are difficult in any context, but it does seem to me that a large part of getting clear about the nature of the present times revolves around the *meaning* of a time in which people, internally, sever their relationship with the metaphysical entity (a reality, not a story about a supposed reality) that had been foundational to the creation of — literally — our civilization.

      Some quotes from a newsletter I subscribe to called The Catholic Thing:

      As Pope Benedict XVI points out in Spe Salvi, a society that rejects Christ does not simply move on. Rather, this kind of society, echoing Kant, must be in opposition to Christ. So instead of post-Christian, a society that has rejected Christianity, must necessarily become anti-Christian: “There is no doubt, therefore, that a ‘Kingdom of God’ accomplished without God – a kingdom therefore of man alone – inevitably ends up as the ‘perverse end’ of all things as described by Kant [reign of the Anti-Christ]: we have seen it, and we see it over and over again.”

      Where strange symbols and new ideologies replace the Cross, those who live by the Cross cannot be tolerated. From the French Revolution to Russia’s October Revolution, this drama has played out again and again. That our drift in this direction might be partly concealed under traditional Anglo-American politeness and process, does not change the underlying end sought.

      Therefore, in my own opinion, in the project of understanding the corruptions of the present, such matters as the one described here cannot be excluded.

    • I would suggest that to the devout Christmas is not just a bunch of platitudes. No doubt the holiday was appropriated by marketers but that does not mean the celebration must be surrendered to those wishing to exploit it.

      The reason for the celebration is to celebrate the person . Take the person and related event out of Ramadan and you are left with nothing. The same exists for Christmas.

      • I agree 100%. I and my wife and kid are going to have a very meaningful Christmas. But Christmas is going to look very different for us than it is for the culture around us. We’re celebrating Christ’s birth, with traditions intended to accompany the celebration of Christ’s birth, while they’re enjoying Vague Winter Holiday Thing, a season of drunken parties, running up credit cards, and general pointless indulgence, all enjoyed with a dose of cynicism, because it’s only cool to enjoy traditions ironically.

  4. ‘But, I also feel ethically obligated to give the benefit of doubt first, to people who seem clearly to be communicating simply that Christmas “just isn’t their thing.” And then, next, to be kind in a Golden Rule way, regardless of their views on Christmas and their reasons for those views.’

    Thank you, Lucky. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Not my holiday. Do I enjoy the beautiful lights that decorate my downtown? Sure! Makes me smile every time I drive though. Do I say “thank you, same to you!” every time somebody wishes me a Merry Christmas? Of course! And I taught my Jewish children to do the same. I don’t care what people celebrate. I don’t care how industry takes advantage of Christmas. Starbucks can put whatever it wants on their damn cups. I honestly don’t care how y’all celebrate Christmas. Knock yourselves out!

    Here’s my question: Is Christmas a cultural holiday or a religious one? Is it both? Should it be both? If it’s both is it reasonable to expect that those of a different religion or no religion at all support and celebrate a holiday that is not their’s? Should tax dollars put Christmas trees in state buildings? Should all school children be assigned Christmas arts and crafts projects, sing Christmas carols in music class, and perform in the 2nd grade Christmas play?

    I’m not being antagonistic, truly. I’m asking. Is Christmas a celebration of the birth of Christ, or as Isaac suggested, is it now a holiday that has been culturally appropriated and no longer carries any religious significance?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!

    Alicia

    • ”Should all school children be assigned Christmas arts and crafts projects, sing Christmas carols in music class, and perform in the 2nd grade Christmas play?”

      Oy gevalt; no! It can have far reaching ramifications; and while it took over 50 years to come to light, it’s something with which I’ve had personal, if tangential, experience.

      I have a Jewish pal that I’ve known for over a half a century who’s so far left he makes me look like a New Dealer, and there’s (IMO) an interesting story as to how he got that way.

      He claims, which I have no reason to doubt, that Van Hise Elementary School (part of the school district I reference above and which Jack mentions elsewhere) made him dress up (early/mid 60’s) as Santa Claus for a play.

      He puts it a skosh more forcefully: “They made me dress up as Santa Claus; I was radicalized at Van Hise.

      Flip-side? As I have no reason to believe he’s unhappy with the way he…um…evolved, two burning questions remain:

      *Did Van Hise actually do him a favor by setting him, if inadvertently, down that path, and
      *If they did, would it be considered a Christmas Miracle…?

      • After leaving South Florida (highest Jewish population second only to NY) and moving to Chippewa Falls, WI (it’s a long story) my children came home with backpacks stuffed full of Christmas projects. Instead of ranting and railing, I emailed the teacher and told her that our family celebrated Chanukah and that we would like to share our holiday with the class. Would she mind if I sent in goody bags with dreidels, gelt, and a little note about what Chanukah meant to us? She was thrilled! Imagine my surprise when a few days later, I received hand written thank you notes from parents who were delighted that we shared a holiday that their children might never have otherwise learned about.

        If only everything could be that way.

        • ”If only everything could be that way.”

          Kudos! And your odds of a positive outcome were exponentially enhanced with “Instead of ranting and railing…”

          You’re over along the river now, aren’t you? I think I posted a year or two back about how beautifully serene all those…um…Holiday Lights appear at night along the MN bluffs.

          Especially from Prescott to Trempealeau and when viewed from the proper side…

          • Ha! Yes. I’m in Hudson. As a Boston native, with an 18 year stint in South Florida, I can honestly say I think Wisconsin is the country’s best kept secret. Ssssshhhhh…..

    • I don’t claim to have a definitive answer, but I do have a counter-question, which I also don’t know the answer to.

      Are Jewish holidays important in Israel? Does the Israeli government have an obligation to water down Yom Kippur into a nonreligious cultural holiday, so that the many non-Jews living there can enjoy it? If not, should it and other festivals be completely scrubbed from public and civic displays? I would assume not, and were I ever to visit Israel I would be sad to see such a thing.

      I live part of most years in India, where I am not a Hindu. Should public Diwali celebrations be limited to just vagaries about lights and fireworks, being careful not to mention any of the Hindu deities being celebrated? India has substantial Muslim and Christian minorities who don’t worship Lakshmi. Do those minorities have the right to muffle any expression of India’s cultural heritage that is overtly religious?

      Should public prayer rooms be removed from government-supported spaces in places like Malaysia? Muslims kinda need them because they’re supposed to keep pretty regular prayer times, which is hard to do when, say, stuck at an airport or waiting in line at the DMV. Non-muslims are not required to use them, but should we demand that they be removed because looking at them makes us feel othered?

      My personal bent (it should be obvious) is that public displays or expressions of religion are only a problem if others are forced to participate in some active way. Having to look at things you don’t agree with is not really an injustice.

      • Excellent questions, Isaac. I don’t know the answers either. I would say that with Israel, we are talking about a country the size of New Jersey, with a much smaller population, and a country which doesn’t have a state sponsored religion but is primarily a country of Jews. This is further compounded by the fact that Jews are a people; their religious and cultural heritage inextricably intertwined and born out of survival. I don’t know that the country shutting down on Yom Kippur is because of government mandate more than it is that no one would show up. They’re all in synagogue.

        This: (sorry, I don’t know how to code for WordPress)
        “Non-muslims are not required to use them, but should we demand that they be removed because looking at them makes us feel othered?

        My personal bent (it should be obvious) is that public displays or expressions of religion are only a problem if others are forced to participate in some active way. Having to look at things you don’t agree with is not really an injustice.”

        Can’t speak for Malaysia but as I stated in my original post: I take pleasure looking at the Christmas decorations in my downtown (most of which are paid for my local business), I wish others a “Merry Christmas” in return because I believe in returning kindness with kindness. It doesn’t bother me at all “having to look at things” that I may not personally celebrate. You’re right, it’s not an injustice. I would argue that when I pay property taxes and my kids come home with backpacks stuffed full of Christmas projects and only Christmas projects, or that my tax dollars paid for a Christmas tree in the rotunda of my state capital building, I am being forced to participate.

        If Christmas is now a watered down, cultural holiday and we as a country are going to celebrate it, I’ll roll my eyes, say “whatever.” and hand over my tax dollars. Fine. But if Christians are going to insist that it is a religious holiday, and insist that their tree belongs in the state capital building, they need to get their hands out of my wallet.

        • And churches can start paying taxes. I mean they can at least help pay for their own damn tree.

          See, now I’m getting worked up. I better go back to vacuuming.

          • There are already tons of direct religious references on state buildings. Including the very earliest ones.

            There are also Christian and Biblical references on monuments, historic government documents, and, of course, cemeteries. All maintained by your tax dollars. You’d have to do a lot of history-airbrushing to remove the Christian influence from all things American. You’d have a hard time explaining how slavery ended without being able to talk about Harriet Beecher-Stowe and her dad.

            You are articulating the same kind of frustrations that many conservative Christians feel when schools occasionally foist pagan, new age, or other offensive materials on their kids (which is, frankly, worse, because we all know that most kids love Santa. There’s no movement of 11-year olds wanting to learn to contact their Inner Guide; only an overzealous crystal-loving teacher.) I think most people have found that just stating what you will and will not participate in works fine. I personally told my Stanislavskian college theater instructor that I refused to lay in the floor like a moron and let my “character” take over my body by becoming one with the ground and emptying my mind. He was totally fine with it and I passed the class. Do I agree with my tax dollars paying for everyone ELSE to astral-project on their backs like morons? Not really, but I can’t imagine being mad about it. Sometimes other people like things I don’t.

            • By the way I believe churches (and other nonprofits) are tax-exempt BECAUSE of the necessary protection of freedom of religion (all religion, synagogues too) from the State. Once you can tax religions (which are funded by the incomes of donors whose money has already been taxed anyway) you can control, manipulate, and influence them in decidedly un-American fashion. The “establishment clause” of the First Amendment is there to prevent another Church of England situation, where “acceptable” religious organizations are favored and others targeted.

                • I.R.S Agent: “Are you Pastor Kleve of the Midvale Lutheran Church??”

                  Pastor Kleve: “I am.”

                  I.R.S. Agent: “Is Paul W. Schlecht a member of your Congregation?”

                  Pastor Kleve: “He is.”

                  I.R.S. Agent: “Did Mr. Schlecht make a $20,000 tax deductible donation to your church in 2018?”

                  Pastor Kleve: “He will.”

  5. Alicia writes:

    Thank you, Lucky. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Not my holiday. Do I enjoy the beautiful lights that decorate my downtown? Sure! Makes me smile every time I drive though. Do I say “thank you, same to you!” every time somebody wishes me a Merry Christmas? Of course! And I taught my Jewish children to do the same. I don’t care what people celebrate. I don’t care how industry takes advantage of Christmas. Starbucks can put whatever it wants on their damn cups. I honestly don’t care how y’all celebrate Christmas. Knock yourselves out!

    Here’s my question: Is Christmas a cultural holiday or a religious one? Is it both? Should it be both? If it’s both is it reasonable to expect that those of a different religion or no religion at all support and celebrate a holiday that is not their’s? Should tax dollars put Christmas trees in state buildings? Should all school children be assigned Christmas arts and crafts projects, sing Christmas carols in music class, and perform in the 2nd grade Christmas play?

    When one converts to Judaism, the recognized form of conversion is Orthodox conversion. One can convert through Conservative and Reform conversions but they are seen as partial or incomplete. And to make the (Orthodox) conversion one must — a conscious and deliberate choice with a stated announcement — ‘renounce Jesus Christ and the profession of a Christian faith’. Otherwise — that is if one still held to ‘belief in Jesus’ and the notion of Christian salvation — one would have been dishonest. For after all there is no sensible reason for a (believing) Christian to convert to Judaism since it is, seen in this way, a step backward. Maybe one would have done it to satisfy one’s partner of their family I guess (it happens). But if it is a sincere conversion one must really believe that one is making a conscious choice to ally oneself with the Jewish mission, history, trajectory and process.

    Orthodox Judaism, generally speaking (I suppose there are exceptions) demands a stated renunciation of Christian belief. Again, this only makes perfect sense because it would not make sense to *allow in* believing Christians as they would, logically, turn Judaism into something it is not. For this reason, the Orthodox are always on the look-out for converts who hold to Christian belief and would rather not convert them.

    One of the issues with so-called Multi-Cultural societies, or one of the problems that arise, has to do with the conflict of belief. In this sense it is really inevitable that Christmas as an American national holiday be denatured: made into something other than what it is or perhaps was.

    In European history, which is largely the history of Catholic Christianity in Europe, the entire cycle of time from Advent through Pentecost commemorates, celebrates and sacralizes the mission of Christ. There is no one event within that cycle of time that is separate: it is all part of a whole.

    If Christmas has little or no meaning now, it is because what it represents is not understood or appreciated: it has become hollow.

    Certainly those who are not Christian — in a multi-culturally oriented society, even if it was ‘originally Christian’ — cannot be expected to believe in the fundamentals of Christianity, for otherwise they would be Christians! And how could they be asked to have it taught to their children in a public school setting? In that setting, perhaps, all religions would be presented in a superficial sense but the purpose would be just that: to render it superficial, to subtract *real meaning* (in the sense of belief) from the symbols presented. Be they cross, dreidel or prayer mat.

    That is what must occur on the general cultural plane: the evacuation of *real meaning* and the reduction to a sort of Walmart-style celebration. What remains is sort of a ‘simulacrum’.

  6. Jack: Thanks again; like other commenters with COTDs, I feel honored.

    I appreciate all the comments in this thread, too. Paul, keep up the great LTEs!

    Alicia (La Sylphide) (I love the name, Alicia!), I’ll have to get back to you with thoughts…hoping to be back to following EA sometime before Christmas…

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