Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide'”

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Nesting Comments of the Day again, as Belle’s reflections on how the cultural celebrations of Christmas made her feel “othered” as a child was met with many excellent responses and a lively thread. Pennagain’s (that is to say, the Commenter Previously Known As Penn) comment, however, surpassed tough competition, and thus we have the Comment of the Day on the post, Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”:

First impressions aren’t that easy to shrug off. Belle’s comment that she “was always sure that Ebenezer Scrooge was a commentary on the Jews” reawakened a long dormant spectre of mine. So, Google to the rescue, I went searching for the 65-year-old source and damned if I didn’t find it: My oldest Scrooge image is not from Dickens; it’s from the Rackham illustration of Shylock from Charles and Mary Lamb’s incomparable childrens’ (anyone’s!) introduction to Tales from Shakespeare:

ShylockFiction abounds with misers, a sub-category of villains (often semi-comical: to jeer at), a stock character from Medieval times, especially in children’s stories, who are often more memorable — and way more fun to act out — than are heroes. Miserly villains tend to have the same features and characteristics: mean, suspicious, hoarding good will as well as gold, stooped, narrow-shouldered, and “clay-faced” life-denying penny-pinchers … as is another “Ebenezer” in Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” whose miserliness is ethically and morally beyond villainhood (he changes sides in the middle of a battle), or a father-and-son pair of Chuzzlewits in another Dicken’s classic, or Shylock himself — who has by the end of Scene 1, before he lends the money and (jokingly) adds the “interest” that is the basis of the tragedy, chosen love of money over love of his daughter.

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Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”

 

Belle is a Jewish reader of the recent Ethics Alarms Christmas post who sent  her comment to me off-site, then agreed to have it posted as the Comment of the Day after I requested permission.

She describes a real dilemma that I am very aware of, and thus am grateful for her raising it clearly and directly. I’ll be back with a bit more at the end, but here is Belle’s Comment of the Day on the post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

I would like to try to make you understand at least a little why I am SO heartened that my children are growing up with “Happy Holidays” and Chanukah menorahs along with Christmas trees in public places, and how difficult it was for those of us non-Christians who didn’t. I sense that you were so antagonized by your colleague’s aggressiveness and different world view that you couldn’t hear what might have been behind the aggressiveness. You write that “Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?” Continue reading

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

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I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

The Starbucks Stupid Red Cups Uproar Is Trivial, But The Growing Cultural Insanity That Caused It Is Not

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On one level, the angry protests by some evangelicals and others regarding Starbucks’ eschewing the placement of snowmen, Christmas tree ornaments, reindeer and whatever other holiday kitsch they have festooned their coffee cups with in past years is too stupid to waste time discussing. Here, read all about it if you have a strong stomach. It appears to be yet another of those issues that deserves the George S. Kaufman rebuke. [ “Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope. The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.”]

Yet the fact that not just a few recently escaped inmates of a mental institution would make an issue of the design of Starbucks coffee cups, but lots of people, is significant. Continue reading

Christmas: the Ethical Holiday

Benjamin Franklin recognized the importance of regularly focusing one’s attention on ethical conduct rather than the usual non-ethical goals, needs, desires and impulses that occupy the thoughts of even the most virtuous among us. He suggested that every morning an individual should challenge himself to do good during the day. In the 21st century psychologists call this “priming,” a form of beneficial self-brain-washing that plants the seeds of future choices.

The Christmas season operates as an effective form of mass population priming, using tradition, lore, music, poetry, ritual, literature, art and entertainment to celebrate basic ethical virtues and exemplary conduct toward other human beings. Continue reading