Saturday, September 2, 2017

Culturally Christian

Jim and Tammy Faye and non-smiling third creature
The new Jim Bakker show, selling slop buckets
in preparation for the Apocalypse
I have a cousin who posts things on her Face Book page that, if I didn’t know better, I would believe were designed to give me a coronary. That cannot be the reason, since I’ve known her since I was seven years old and my fondness for her has only increased in the past seventy years since then. She passes on things from right-wingers who are into presenting themselves as victims these days. Things straight from the intellectual tire-fire of the likes of Jim Bakker. Remember Jim and Tammy Faye? Jim, the five-watt light bulb, Bakker is still burning bright, believe it or not, preparing slop buckets for the Rapture time and lecturing us on how Trump’s election proves God’s existence. He joins in with the folk who have made it their cause to believe that Christians are being victimized by the heathens these days, proof of which is in the ridiculous claim that we are forbidden to wish each other a Merry Christmas.

When my cousin posted that slop on her Face Book page I had to respond to her.  Here’s her original unedited reposting of the right-wing party line and my response.

What a crock!!!!…..we can’t say Merry Christmas now we have to say Happy Holidays. we can’t call it a Christmas tree, it’s now a holiday tree because it might offend someone? If you don’t like our “customs” and it offends you so much then LEAVE….I will help you pack. They are called customs and we have our traditions. If you agree with this post as your status!! IT’S MY FREEDOM TO SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Do you have what it takes to repost this? I did and I will continue to say “Merry Christmas”.
My response:

You've been taken in by a Trump supporting right-wing argument, that Christians are being targeted by bad guys. They are not. You are completely free to wish anyone you like a Merry Christmas, and they you. It's just that in public places that belong to everybody and not just the Christians among us, the effort is on inclusivity. You can say Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, or you can say Happy Holidays. Many people find it better to emphasize what unites us, and not what divides us. You are not excluded by "Happy Holidays."

You should recognize that people are saying, "If this is a holiday time for you, I hope it's happy." Imagine somebody saying to you, "Happy Diwali." You'd wonder why, probably, unless you know him/her as a Hindu friend, and can wish them back a happy festival of lights. Just because you don't doesn't mean you're anti-Hindu. We once lived in a more provincial world where just about everybody around us was Christian, and nobody thought twice about "Merry Christmas."

We now have a more diverse world. I celebrate that. I find it culturally enriching. Nobody is being excluded, least of all Christians. I'm not a religious Christian, but you can wish me a Merry Christmas anytime because I'm a cultural Christian and I will wish you a Merry Christmas back. There is nothing to get upset about here. There is room for all of us.

To this response, one of my cousin’s other responders questioned my use of “culturally Christian.” I can’t reproduce her response verbatim, since it was taken down before I thought to copy it, but it suggested there was no such thing as a “cultural Christian” - you were either “Christian” or you were not.

 I responded:
The people of Europe once had no choice about religion. The pope once ruled supreme and there was only one religion – Roman Catholicism. Then along came Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars started. Check out “religious wars” and “French wars of religion” and you’ll see Christians bashing each other’s brains out as if there was no tomorrow. All this was finally settled by the Treaty of Westphalia where both sides agreed to the policy of cuius regio, eius religio – whatever religion a given prince adhered to, Catholic, Calvinist or Lutheran, the people of his realm would be forced to take as their own. The reason Europeans became Christians is that they had no choice. (That’s a simplified summary, obviously, but I believe it is essentially correct.)
Nowadays, most European countries have left religion behind. Only about 5% of Swedes go to church. It’s more in other countries, but under 50% almost everywhere. These people, when asked, have to admit they are not Christians. Yet all of Europe makes a big deal of Christmas – there are Christmas markets, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and Bach choirs are everywhere, and the secular traditions – Christmas trees, for example – help keep the religious tradition going.
80% of Jews living in Israel are non-believers, yet Israel calls itself a Jewish state. People support synagogues, they give the religious folk the right to control marriage, keep kosher and limit public transportation on the sabbath – all as a concession to their religious brethern, sacrificing their freedom not to be religious for the sake of unity. Most Israelis (like most Jews throughout the world) will identify either as a “religious Jew” or a “secular Jew.” They remain Jews, even if they give up the Jewish religion, in other words. 
That’s a convenient way to identify the distinction between the cultural tradition and the religion, and the Muslims of Europe are beginning to make the same distinction. Hamed Abdel-Samad, to illustrate what I mean, is an outspoken atheist who is recognized as an authority on the life and culture of the Muslims of Germany. As an atheist, he is under fire from religious Muslims who threaten his life because he speaks out against their religion. In any case, you certainly cannot call him a “religious Muslim.” But at the same time, although he has become a German, he still honors his father, who is an imam in Cairo, and his Egyptian roots. That includes his religious mother and other members of his family. He doesn't want to turn his back on them. He still honors the cultural space in which they live. He calls himself a “cultural Muslim.”
If the Jews can do it, and the Muslims can do it, I as an agnostic who grew up in a very Christian environment which still says much about who I am, can also do it. I don’t think we need to throw out the culture in which the religion once thrived. We embrace it, and make it our own. I still say Merry Christmas, put up a Christmas tree, exchange presents with friends and family. I still think Chartres Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. I still think Mozart’s Requiem Mass is one of the most beautiful pieces of music.
an expression of the values of the secular culture 
I hope that makes sense. One can be culturally Christian without being religiously Christian. I know there are some people who call this a “hollowing out” of religion, taking all the meaning out of religion. But that’s only because they insist on using “Christian” as an adjective that can only modify the word religion. After two thousand years of European life (which extends to the national cultures still dominant in America, Australia and other former European colonies) the adjective has expanded in meaning beyond religion, to include such things as Rudolph’s red nose, the ghost of Christmas past, the Easter Bunny and dreaming of a white Christmas. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why religious Muslims and Jews feel an ache in their stomach when their children want to know why they can’t put up a Christmas tree.
Some people have tried using other words – I remember hearing somebody describe Europe and America as “not Christian, exactly, but ‘christianesque.’”If you like that better, feel free to call me “not Christian, but Christianesque.”

I know next to nothing about Zoroaster, but how else can you explain my ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s Creed, and recall the days when I attended mass with my catholic friends before school during lent and learned that it began with the words “Introibo ad altare Dei” and ended with prayers for the conversion of the Jews?

That comment has since been taken down.

Betty implies she took it down to keep peace within the family.

Peace is a good thing.

So is the exchange of ideas. So is learning.

But you can't win them all.

Perhaps another day.

Photo credits:

Jim and Tammy Faye: 
Rudolph's nose:
White Christmas: 
walk into a bar:


No comments: