I grew up with a Jewish father who loudly condemned religion and a Catholic mother who in her quiet way, having suffered through a French Catholic boarding school run by nuns, disliked it even more. We celebrated Christmas with great enthusiasm every year, cutting down our own tree (in Vermont), dragging it home, decorating it with home made decorations, and generally having a wonderful time. What we were celebrating wasn’t especially commercial. We were celebrating family, friendship, peace, and in general man’s ability to find joy and harmony in a difficult world. We viewed the holiday as inclusive, friendly, and festive. We visited all our neighbors on Christmas day (this was a small road in the hills of Vermont called Wheelerville road) and generally had a wonderful time and the memories have reverberated down through the years. My children, born of a marriage between an agnostic dad and a skeptical Jewish mother, have shared the same tradition. I have no doubt that theirs will too. I believe that it is this spirit that made this country a great one, a spirit of hope, of inclusiveness, of the importance of neighbors, friends, family, and fun regardless of beliefs, ethnicity, or anything else.
I bring this up because these have been hard times for these beliefs. We are faced on the one hand with people who in the name of conservatism try their very best to equate morality with religion, equate religion with the right to kill, and then act on these beliefs to detroy people’s lives, their freedom to choose, and their trust in each other. I do not speak only of John Ashcroft and the Christian Right. I speak equally of the Islamic fanatics who seem to stand against everything I believe in and hold dear, namely the triumph of rationalism and humanism. Both sides seem to me to be sides of the same coin, quick to kill, quick to detest and fear and dislike those who would think for themselves and hate those who make their own moral choices and in a hard fought way find their own paths to a moral high ground. Both sides contend that one cannot be moral if one is not religious and both sides claim to be inspired by faith (which is of course unarguable). This is an abdication of man’s personal responsibility to figure out what it right and wrong, to behave with integrity and honor and kindness and justness in equal measure. It is the very antithesis of both humanism and rationalism.
For years I have been a conversative because I have believed that the only role of Government should be to protect the rights of people, not control their outcomes, leaving to ability and chance the right of people to grow and succeed or fail, and the left in the US seemed to have forgotten that. But this year, I had to switch. It was simply too appalling to stand with those who would detroy people’s freedom and detroy people’s lives in the name of their “faith”.
So let me suggest that Christmas be rededicated to a belief and faith in the human spirit, to a belief and a faith in the ability of humans of all beliefs and types to treat each other with dignity and respect and in the need to counter the inherent evil of treating people poorly simply because they do not share your irrational beliefs.