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Dale McGowan on the Santa Claus issue

Dale McGowan (Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers) posts on The Meming of Life blog about Santa Claus being the “ultimate dry run” for questions about God’s existence.

In part…

By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside. A very casual line of post-Santa questioning can lead kids to recognize how completely we all can snow ourselves if the enticements are attractive enough. Such a lesson, viewed from the top of the hill after exiting a belief system under their own power, can gird kids against the best efforts of the evangelists – and far better than secondhand knowledge could ever hope to do.

My daughter is eight years old and has plied me with numerous questions about Santa, which I’ve handled much as Dale has handled his children’s questions. She hasn’t brought it up in a couple months (oddly enough), but I’m pretty sure she’s very close to the point where she’s going to determine that Santa is fictional. I’m also pretty sure that she’ll handle it just the way Dale’s son handled it.

We’ve had discussions about God, religion, and what other people believe. She knows I’m an atheist, but also knows that many people believe many different things and that she’s allowed to make up her own mind. She’s been to a Christian pre-school and has been to a church “music camp” for the past two years in the summer, so she’s been exposed to religion and Jesus and God. When my wife asked her if she believed in God, her response was that she was too young to know one way or the other. I thought that was an exceptionally reasonable answer for an 8-year-old.

Now we’ll see how the Santa thing plays out.

Santa is like Jesus

More War on Christmas

Interestingly, many Christians don’t know or understand the pagan roots of many of their Christmas traditions.

More War on Christmas


Redding woman doesn’t know about church

A Redding, California woman has decided to make it her mission to require schools to “provide children the opportunity to listen to or perform Christmas carols” or face litigation. According to redding.com, Merry Hyatt is collecting signatures (she needs 433, 971 by March 29th) in order to get her initiative put on the ballot next year.

According to the article…

Schools currently are allowed to offer Christmas music as long as it is used for academic purposes rather than devotional purposes and isn’t used to promote a particular religious belief, according to an analysis by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

That sounds reasonable. Given that this country is comprised of people of many different ethnicities, cultures, and religions, it makes sense to avoid singling out one particular religion for favoritism. It’s also constitutional, which is no small thing.

However, it seems it’s not enough for Erin Ryan, president of the Redding Tea Party Patriots, who seems to lack quite a bit of understanding about this country, our constitution, and the existence of other holidays.

“Bottom line is Christmas is about Christmas,” said Erin Ryan, president of the Redding Tea Party Patriots. “That’s why we have it. It’s not about winter solstice or Kwanzaa. It’s like, ‘wow you guys, it’s called Christmas for a reason.’ “

I can’t argue that Christmas is about Christmas. That’s like saying that blue is blue. Her second sentence, however, is a bit puzzling.

I’m not positive, but I think she’s implying that December is the “Christmas” season… to the exclusion of all other December religious holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Ashura, Litha, Hijra, and Zarathosht Diso. She must feel that she, as a Christian, has an entitlement that gives her special privileges, allowing her to place her religion on a high pedestal above anyone else’s religion. Either that or she just is so blindly ignorant of the existence of other religions that she can’t quite grasp the idea that someone else might not share her beliefs… though I doubt that’s the case.

Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says that Hyatt’s initiative is “blatantly unconstitutional” and has little hope of passage. Even if the absurd happened and Hyatt got enough signatures, got it on the ballot, and it got enough votes, the courts would strike it down.

Boston says…

Boston said he thinks Hyatt’s initiative represents a larger issue of religious conservatives being unhappy with the changes resulting from American society becoming more diverse.

“The frustration some religious conservatives have is they want a mythological religious America that probably never existed,” he said.

I think that’s a huge, huge part of the problem. The more diverse this country becomes, the more diverse the religious beliefs become and that frustrates religious conservatives who feel their religion should have favored status in our culture (it already does) and our legal system (it does, but it shouldn’t). Whenever anyone makes a move to treat people of differing beliefs with equal respect, they cry foul.

Hyatt, a substitute teacher who moved to Redding from Riverside, said her motivation for the initiative was to help restore children’s moral compasses by inviting Jesus to school Christmas parties.

“He’s the prince of peace; he’s the only one who can get these kids to stop being so violent,” she said in November.

That, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest problems in this country today. Whether it’s Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Jews or any other religion, when one group starts trying to force its beliefs onto the rest of society, our freedom is diminished. Discussing beliefs, arguing beliefs, criticizing beliefs, even proselytizing… that’s all fine, but when the attempt is made to base legislation or public policy on religious beliefs or to favor a particular religion, it not only becomes unconstitutional, but it becomes morally and ethically irresponsible. Policy should be based on rational thinking that creates conditions of equal treatment, not the morally questionable “teachings” of ancient religious texts.

Hyatt says…

Hyatt said she believes it is Americans’ First Amendment right to worship.

“It’s our right to have freedom to worship,” she said. “That’s why we came to this country. They came to be Christians and they’re trying to take that away. They’re out of line; we’re not.”

Yes. It is a First Amendment right that we have a freedom to worship (or not) as we please. What Hyatt doesn’t seem to understand is that nobody is trying to take that away. This country is inundated with churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious buildings and establishments, all of which enjoy a special tax-exempt status and a freedom of operation. Anyone in this country has free and open access to worship as they please, anytime they please, without government intrusion or interference… in church or out. The religious right will cry from the rooftops that they’re being oppressed and that their right to worship is being stripped away by an increasingly secular society, but it’s nonsense. Religion, Christianity in particular in this country, gets an absurdly high level of preferential treatment from our government and from the population in general.

Boston says…

“They’re looking to the public schools system or the government to provide them a religious experience at Christmas,” he said. “If you want a full-throttle religious Christmas experience, it’s at church … there’s no shortage of those.”

The religious right seem to forget that they have churches… on practically every street corner… in which they can have their religious experiences, teach their religion to others, worship to their hearts’ content, and put up displays of their faithfulness. I can count at least twelve churches on my thirty-minute drive to work and there are three churches within a quarter mile of where I live.

We don’t need to turn our schools into churches, too.

Bill O’Reilly revs up his war engine

Bill O’Reilly is playing his "War on Christmas" game again. It seems the Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky decided that the seasonal tree this year would be called a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree" (he’s since revoked that decision and it’s back to being a "Christmas tree"). This, of course, drew outrage from offended Christians and the ever so fair-and-balanced Bill O’Reilly.

Here’s the video. My take on it follows.

I’ll start off with my opinion that calling the tree a "holiday tree" is stupid. It is a Christmas tree. Let’s just call it that. However, saying "happy holidays" is not stupid. It’s inclusive. Not only is it inclusive of other religious beliefs (Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Al Hijra, etc), but it’s also inclusive of other secular holidays (Thanksgiving and New Years Day, for instance).

Christmas has been secularized to the point where there are very few people who get offended over a Christmas tree, Christmas lights, snowmen, candles, elves, Santa, and the myriad of other secular Christmas displays. Similarly, I don’t know anyone who gets offended over religious displays when they are displayed in an appropriate place… like a church or on private property. The problem comes when the religious aspects of Christmas are displayed, promoted, paid for, or endorsed by any government (or taxpayer supported) organization.

That said… on to O’Reilly’s buffoonery.

He starts off announcing the story, and then says "Kentucky is a traditional place, as you know." By "traditional," what he means is "right-wing religious," but he uses the term "traditional" to make it sound warm and inviting… all apple pie and warm cookies. He also says "that kind of nonsense usually doesn’t play down there," planting his cleated feet firmly in the camp of religious intolerance (as if he needed to plant them deeper than they already are).

Gretchen Carlson states that she thinks that Beshear’s change of heart is "emblematic of what was goin’ on this summer at the tea parties. I think that now Americans have the "fight within them and they’re gonna stand up and they’re gonna be heard." O’Reilly thinks she may be right, of course… but I take offense at being lumped in with her version of what "Americans" are. I sincerely doubt that the tea parties had any real effect on rational, thinking Americans. The right-wing Fox News minions? Yes, perhaps.

O’Reilly turns his attention to Margaret Hoover and says that "we" (his show? Fox News?) had to hammer Washington state last Christmas because the governor there put up an atheist sign (OMG HORROR!) next to the Christmas tree and nativity scene. He charges right past the whole "nativity scene" bit. Perhaps he didn’t want to draw attention to the overt religious displays in government buildings. I don’t know.

Hoover says that we’re a multi-ethnic country (true) and that "atheists can’t impose their atheism on the rest of us… and vice versa" (also true).

O’Reilly, however, comes back with "But that’s not really true" and Carlson, in a flash of brilliance (not), says, "We call it Christmas because Christmas falls on December 25th. It’s Christmas!" Ummm… somebody needs to go back to remedial Sunday school, it seems.

O’Reilly’s argument is that "polls say" that 70% of Americans are "fed up with this nonsense" and want "Christmas to be Christmas." He doesn’t mention which polls or what "this nonsense" is specifically. He just gives a vague, unsupported statement as his means of "destroying" Hoover. He also says that the Christmas tree came from Germany and it’s a "tradition that America has embraced." He changes his tune slightly and says that (emphasis mine) "70% of Americans want traditional Christmas to be kept that way." Again, vague. I’m an atheist and, other than a Christmas Eve church service, my family’s Christmas is as "traditional" as it was growing up. O’Reilly’s statements are vague to the point of being… pointless.

But here’s where he really gets going. He says, "Don’t tell me about pluralistic nonsense. This is the tyranny of the minority." O’Reilly is a master of absurdism. Tyranny? Seriously? Calling a Christmas tree a "holiday" tree is tyranny?

Hoover says it’s up to the states to decide how to handle the issue and they have to answer to their citizenry. O’Reilly’s counter? "That dopey governor out there… and she is a giant pinhead… imposed her ridiculous view of life on Washingtonians." Wow. Because she allowed equal access for various religious displays (since the Constitution requires neutrality), she’s a dopey, giant pinhead? That’s classic O’Reilly, right there.

Carlson is no better and interjects that "they put up a Festivus pole" when, in actuality, they did not. They requested one, but the whole situation got shut down before getting too out of hand. Carlson goes on to make some remark implying that the American people would like to see their tax dollars being spent to stop all religious displays that are non-Christian.

O’Reilly finishes up by stating that the "Supreme Court has already ruled that you can have these displays. You don’t have to make these insane changes." What constitutes "these displays?" Christmas trees? Okay. Manger scenes? No. The Supreme Court has ruled no such thing.

O’Reilly is a master of delivering blustering, absolutist rhetoric while remaining pointless and vague. He spouts off with intolerant, bigoted tirades on a regular basis… but has a devout following of like-minded acolytes that hang on his every word, nodding their heads with a hypnotically zealous agreement. There was very little mention of Christianity in this video, but the undertone was there. From "traditional" Christmas to the tea partiers (who were, on the whole, overtly and fundamentally religious), the implication is that O’Reilly’s version of Christmas is the only acceptable way for Americans to spend the holiday season and, indeed, it’s the only acceptable holiday.

And remember, we call it Christmas because Christmas falls on December 25th.

What War on Christmas?

I found an editorial on iReport.com and thought it was a well-written statement about the alleged “War on Christmas” that is much touted by Fox News and many of the religious right.

The writer, Indy609, makes a clear distinction between the “separation of church and state” and a “war on Christmas,” something which seems to confuse a lot of people at Fox News. After giving examples of lawsuits and/or efforts to maintain the First Ammendment Separation, he notes…

None of these is the same as removing all religion from public life, not by the longest stretch of logical maneuvering.

Where are the lawsuits seeking to end Christian broadcasting? Where are the protests seeking to remove Christian-themed holiday music from the mall? Where are the referendums seeking to cover up the road signs in every town showing you the way to the nearest church? Who has sought to stifle candidates expressing their religious preference? When has anyone has advocated shutting down Christian bookstores? Where are the attempts to block the entryways to churches? Where are the ravenous letters opposing faith-based network programming such as “Touched By an Angel” or “Joan of Arcadia”? When one goes walking on any Main Street, America, this month, is Christmas not apparent in every direction?

Wanting to have a nativity display removed from a government building is not a “War on Christmas.” It’s an attempt to maintain freedom of religion. Put the display in any one of the beautiful churches in towns and cities across the entire country… where it belongs.

What’s the point of putting a nativity display (or other religious displays) in a government building when there are obviously more appropriate places for it? The answer? There isn’t a valid point.

Here’s a link to the editorial. http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-164454

The Santa Dilemma

I just ran across this entry in the Atheist Nexus blog and thought I’d pass it along. Many atheist parents struggle with the whether or not to promote the idea of Santa Claus to their children because of the obvious parallel to the idea of a god. Dale McGowan wrote this entry about Santa Claus being the “Ultimate Dry Run” for developing an inquisitive and skeptical mind in a child.

Santa Claus – The Ultimate Dry Run

I think this is a wonderful story about drawing out the inate rationality and inquisitiveness of a child without preaching to him or making declarative statements.