Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tis the Season . . .

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It's Christmastime and you know what that means: celebrating the birth of Jesus, greedy children and crowded malls. Oh, and the newly traditional "War on Christmas" battles. I think I will sit out the fight this year. I am still disgusted by Orwellian Newspeak terms such as "holiday tree" used by corporate and government bureaucrats horrified at the possibility of giving offense to anyone outside of the majority culture.
However, I grow weary of using war metaphors when the country is still fighting a real war. And when Christmas becomes just another front in the Culture Wars, I want nothing to do with it.
The best response to people such as Ruth Marcus, who wrote in the Washington Post that "this is the time of year, though, when those of us who aren't Christian, or who don't celebrate Christmas, most feel our minority status" (other than to point out that no law constrains her from putting up a tree, wrapping some presents and watching A Christmas Story); came from Michael Kinsley, commenting on the ACLU's anti-creche fundamentalism in the eighties:
"On a practical level," the ACLU writes, "a child whose family does not believe in the Divinity of Christ must view the public creche as a symbolic representation of his or her status as an outsider. The child will question . . . his identification with the American culture."

I think that's right. But I also think this child had better learn early on to question his identification with the American culture, because it's a tough question that will follow him all his life no matter how successful the ACLU is in banning nativity scenes. There is a majority culture in this country. It is Christian, white, middle-class. Jews and nonbelievers (I am both) are outsiders to some extent in that culture. So are blacks, homosexuals, Orientials, and so on. This is so even though we are a society that is constantly remaking itself, and a society committed to protecting civil rights and economic opportunities for minorities. The battle for minority rights goes on, of course, but does final victory require the eradication of the majority culture? And is every manifestation of that culture an insult to those who aren't fully a part of it?

People who want to go through life with nothing to remind them of their minority status ask too much. They will not get it, and full civil equality does not require it. Furthermore, in the name of ethnic or religious or racial or sexual awareness, they would impose a vast unawareness of national life in which, for official purposes, most Americans are of no particular race or religion(or equally divided among all) . . .

Far from being a handicap, a sense of "outsideness" can be a great asset in a society that does, in the end, try to protect the rights of cultural outsiders. It energizes, promotes skepticism, gives perspective. . . I am happy to be a bit of an outsider in my own country. I am no less American for it, and may even hope to be a better one as a result.

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