Unspun Logo

Chrismahanukwanzakah & The Borg of Religions

Posted by Rick · December 10th, 2004 · 10 Comments

It would be pretty funny if Santa were Jewish, nu? I’m getting into the Christmas spirit, because I’m going to play “Santa” for my best friend’s family. (That’s actually me in the Santoclus get-up!) They have enough kids and grandkids to start their own city. So…


Click for Larger Image
Warning! May take awhile on slow connections!

This seems like as good a time as any to discuss what I mentioned the other day about Chrismahanukwanzakah.

Disclaimer: No Grinchoclus

First, a disclaimer, because I get so many complaints whenever I try to talk about Christians or Christianity.

This post will not bash Christians, Christianity, or Christmas.

One thing this post will do is note what it’s like to be a Jew in a Christian society, particularly during the Christmas season. Another thing I’ll do is discuss some aspects of Christianity which are responsible for “how it feels to be a Jew in a Christian society, particularly during the Christmas season.” In discussing those issues, though, there is no requirement that I badmouth Christians or Christianity, although the fundamentalist branch — like its cousins the Taliban and al Queda — undoubtedly deserves it.

I am firmly convinced that Christians do not understand what I’m about to explain. It’s sort of like when African-Americans, particularly (but not exclusively) from the inner city, try to explain what it’s like to live as African-Americans in a white-dominated world. And in the same way that some white folk just “don’t get it” — and none can fully appreciate it — and feel put-upon by African-Americans attempting either to explain, or, alternatively, to just live their lives, refusing to accept white dominance, so, too, I think that happens a lot when I talk about Christians or Christianity.

And just as it’s likely true that many white folk do not intentionally participate in the oppression of African-Americans and even attempt to the extent that they’re capable (which includes to the extent that they “get it,” which means, “in a limited way”) to ameliorate that oppression, so, too, I believe there are Christians who do not willingly/knowingly participate in the oppression of other religions and cultures.

There are, in other words, good Christians who are good people — menschen, even — just as there are Jews who are not.

The primary thrust of this post is just this:

There’s no Grinchoclus of Seven,
No Grinchoclus of Nine;
The only thing I’m saying,
Is that Hanukah is mine!

Yes. I just made that up. I’m sorry.

It Ain’t Just A Jewish Thang

This is one of the reasons why some of us worry so much about the separation of Church and State issue. It’s not that we hate G-d. Quite the contrary. It’s that we have our own way of understanding, appreciating and embracing G-d that differs from Christianity. And when the government gets too closely entwined with Christianity — particularly the American Taliban version known as fundamentalist Christianity — we become very concerned.

Other branches of Christianity are sometimes bothered by this, as well. They’re certainly not free from victimization. Take the situation I recently wrote about concerning the censorship of the United Church of Christ because their view differs from that of the Bush Administration and fundamentalist Christians such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

The fact of the matter is that — as the Founders of the United States of America well knew — when government and religion hold hands, it gives religion a bigger fist. And religious activities are not necessary to the functioning of the government. Just as it’s not necessary for grocery stores to be promoted by, or even acknowledged by, the government in order for SaveMart to exist and obtain customers, so, too, religions will not vaporize in the absence of governmental promotion or recognition. If the federal government did not legislate anything at all about food, you could bet your butt there would still be grocery stores and you could walk in and buy what you wanted or needed. I know this because there were groceries in America before there was a federal government in America.

And Christianity survived in nations that actually hunted down and skewered Christians. So it’s a fair bet that Christianity would survive even if the government never put a monument to the Ten Commandments into a single courthouse or posted a creche on a single piece of government property.

The dangers inherent when the government begins to encroach, however, on hallowed ground are the reasons our Founders were adamant in the language they used for the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… U.S. Const. Amend. I.

Fundamentalists would have you believe that because they cannot place their religious symbols in courthouses, the free exercise of their religion is being impeded. This makes as much sense as saying that because there are no copies of the Ten Commandments, nor Crucifixion scenes, at Edwards Theaters, Arby’s Restaurants, or McDonald’s, that Christians’ free exercise of their religion is impeded.

We recognize that McDonald’s is in the business of selling hamburgers, not Christianity. And, yet, no one complains that McDonald’s — by the mere act of selling hamburgers without images of Christ emblazoned onto every bun — is inhibiting the free exercise of religion. Why can’t we recognize that government isn’t in the business of selling religion? And why can’t we understand that the absence of Christian symbolism in our government buildings actually enhances the free exercise of religion, by the implied understanding that religious beliefs and practices are outside the scope of governance?

You Will Be Assimilated

At first glance, the Church-State issue seems unrelated to the Chrismahanukwanzakah issue.

In fact, I believe the two are linked. Christianity, unlike just about any other religion I know, has a tendency to be the Borg of Religions. And some Christians, apparently, cannot be Christians without trying to convert every other human to their brand of Christianity, by force or governmental coercion if necessary, or damning them to hell when conversion doesn’t happen.

Many people — including Christians — don’t recognize this, but it’s not a new development and it’s truth is pellucid to all who examine Church history. Although there is some dispute about the early origins of Easter, Halloween and Christmas, it seems clear that they either originated by the assimilation of pagan celebrations, or that at least parts of the modern-versions incorporate pagan symbolism and traditions. This is why, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christians do not celebrate some of them. (I know, some Christians don’t count JW’s as Christians. The question of whose G-d trumps all other versions and who gets to decide is a related question, but outside the scope of this blog article.)

Christianity — the consummate political movement in many respects — naturally assimilates other practices in order to sustain itself. At various times in history, it has done this by a combination of the stick and the carrot. The height of the Inquisition and the modern infiltration of the United States government by religious fundamentalists are examples of the stick, the ugliest versions of Christianity at work. Whichever version of the incorporation of Christmas into the Christian tradition you buy, the fact that Christian leaders more or less peacefully acquiesced (various theologians such as Tertullian and Augustine opposed it as a pagan festival) in allowing and modifying the meaning of the practices of pagan religions rather than simply killing off others may be viewed by some as the carrot.

Whether via the carrot or the stick, Christianity essentially annihilated these other religions.

But then, in a sense, they were simply returning the favor the Jews and the Romans had visited upon them. Before the Jews expelled Christians from the synagogues and inserted curses into the liturgy (so Christians wouldn’t say them and would thus expose themselves), Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism. It was treated by the Romans the same as other Jewish sects and exempted from military service, etc. After the expulsion, the Romans followed suit and no longer counted Christians as Jews. Christianity became illegal in the Roman Empire until the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E. (“C.E.” is the designation Jews and Muslims prefer to “A.D.” “A.D.” means “anno domini,” which translates “year of the Lord” and is a reference to Jesus; “C.E.” is the acronym for “Current Era.”)

The adaptability of Christianity in this sense is the stuff of legend. And there’s no reason to believe this will ever change. In fact, Robert Heinlein, in his book Stranger in a Strange Land shows just how adaptable Christianity could be in his not-fantastical version presented in a world posited in some non-descript post-World-War-III future that severely tested the underlying tenets of Christianity. The unprovability of Christianity (as with other religions) is its strength. When things don’t fit, Christianity makes them fit. When G-d doesn’t answer your prayers, that’s your answer. Your child survived cancer? Praise G-d! Your prayers were answered. Your child succumbed to cancer? We cannot understand the ways of G-d.

Chrismahanukwanzakah

I hear you. I hear you. Finally! For those who did not enjoy the history and foundational discussions above, I apologize.

So far as I can see, Chrismahanukwanzakah is a continuation of the Christian tradition of assimilation. And just as the assimilation of Easter, Halloween, Christmas and other “pagan” traditions were not always driven by evil motives, Chrismahanukwanzakah is not necessarily the result of evil Christians deliberately assimilating the religious celebrations of other cultures.

In fact, it’s not even solely Christians who are behind the promotion of this amalgamized term. Some “mixed religion” families and people who can only afford to buy one kind of holiday card like the idea, as well. I think, however, that Christians are more favorably disposed to Chrismahanukwanzakah than Jews or African-Americans might be. For although it may be intended as a recognition that other groups don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas, it’s not a validation. (And who got to pick “Chrismahanukwanzakah,” anyway? Why not “Hanukwanzamas” or “Kwanzukahmas”?) A validation would be recognizing that some of us have our own traditions . . . and leaving those traditions alone, unscathed, unassimilated — perhaps even wishing us a Happy Hanukah or Kwanzaa, as we wish you a Merry Christmas.

It’s bad enough that Hanukah — a minor Jewish holiday — has become blown out of proportion in the United States. Not only Christians, but Jews have come to think of Hanukah as “the Jewish Christmas.” This isn’t the place to explain the origin and meaning of Hanukah to you. (But it’s a little ironic that Hanukah was meant to commemorate the very opposite of cultural assimilation!)

Suffice it to say that American Jews have been pushed to inflate Hanukah so that our children don’t feel like they’re missing something by being Jews. When all the other kids are getting presents, when all the Christians are celebrating with carols and treats and presents and parties and federal holidays that validate their beliefs (talk about your separation of Church and State issues!), our kids are feeling very much the world’s unwanted stepchildren.

Now that fact is not the fault of Christians. It’s not. Let me say that again: It’s not Christians’ fault that Jewish kids feel some remorse and even (sometimes) inferiority or “outcastness” over not being able to participate in Christmas. Nor is it the fault of Christians that the American Jewish response has been to “christmatize” Hanukah.

It’s just one of the things that happens because American Jews are not as numerous as American Christians.

But if I could ask just one thing from Christians as their gift to me during the holiday season, it would be this: Please let me have my own traditions, just as I allow you yours. I won’t try to assimilate you or your holiday, if you won’t try to assimilate me or mine. Deal?

Oh, and seriously . . .


Click for Larger Image
Warning! May take awhile on slow connections!
Merry Christmas!

Categories: Personal Life

Tags:

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Thunderpaw // Dec 10, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Taking this the logical step further, how about recognizing those of us who are anti-religion altogether and keep Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/etc. restricted to the home and place of worship? Sadly, this will never happen as it’s “bad for the economy.” As long as there is money to be made from the commercialization of celebration, secular or non-secular, the bastardization of said observation will continue and amalgamations and assimilations will be impossible to avoid. As defeatist as it is, the Japanese term “shikataganai” is a perfect fit when dealing with the Borg nature of religion, particularly in the US.

  • 2 Rick Horowitz // Dec 10, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Taking this a logical step further, how about recognizing those of us who are anti-anti-religionists altogether and keep all activities restricted to the home?

    In case I’m being a bit too abstract for you to get my point: I think you slipped and fell, not so much on a slippery slope, but because you missed the ledge that differentiated your “logical step further” from a logical leap.

    I’m not sure exactly which part of my post you think is the starting point for your “logical step.” Is it my comments about keeping religion out of government? Because restricting the scope of religion seems to be loosely related to your comment. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too loose, if that’s the case. There’s a difference between suggesting that we keep religion out of government and suggesting that religious activities be kept entirely from public view. In the first place, in a multi-cultural country like the United States, there is no government function which requires infusion with a particular religion’s views. In the second, religions can — and have — flourished without governmental support. (And I noted this above by my comments in the paragraph about the lack of vaporization.) And so long as there is no entwinement of religion and governmental functions, the fact that religious people sometimes act religiously in places where you (poor soul) can see it is not violative of the freedom from governmental coercion that I would agree is due you.

    If you believe your comment is the next logical step from my statements against assimilation, you’re even farther off-kilter. I specifically stated that the point of not endorsing assimilation was out of respect for the continued freedom of individuals to make their own choices regarding their religious traditions. These choices — as I made clear by my comments about the lack of blame that could be rightfully placed at the feet of Christians for the “chrismatization” of Hanukah — are not free from other influences. I simply argued that a serious respect for the other cultures and religions would be to avoid deliberate interferences, such as by even good-intentioned actions that would ignore the differences instead of celebrating them and which might result in erasing those traditions.

    In that light, your move, as I noted in my opening statement of this comment, is closer to the idea that people should just stay home. Period. (And if you will do that, it will solve your problem even if no one else goes along with you.) Your point is different from those in my primary article in that I never advocated people hide their beliefs from one another. In fact, that’s not possible. The implication of your point of view is that your culture should be the only one allowed out in public.

    And the hypercynical “bad for the economy” comment is just hogwash. Certainly the commercialization of religious holidays increases the purchases made by consumers. And although it might be pretty great if we could stop that process, I doubt that the problems of a consumption-based society would go away if there were no such thing as religion. Do you only buy what you need for sustenance? Or might you have a radio, television, DVD player or, perhaps, a computer which is not absolutely essential to the survival of human beings? (I know of hundreds of people who live without them — and I’ve heard that there are likely tens of millions.)

    One wonders what it is about your way of life that is so superior that you should be the only one allowed out of the house, while the rest of the world should be required to exercise those parts of their way of life that you don’t happen to like behind closed doors.

  • 3 Malnurtured Snay // Dec 10, 2004 at 8:18 pm

    In a lighter note: ROFL at Borgified Rudolph 🙂

  • 4 Rick Horowitz // Dec 10, 2004 at 9:42 pm

    Glad you liked it! 🙂

    (I was wondering if anyone was going to comment on that!)

  • 5 abi // Dec 11, 2004 at 10:48 am

    Well, theologically, Christmas is not the most important holiday in the Christian calendar either (that’s Easter). The theory is that Christmas was moved from the spring (when shepherds would have been out with their lambs, etc) to the winter solstice to make it coincide with Saturnalia. All the Christian kiddies in Rome wanted presents when their pagan friends were getting them…

    So call it Saturchrismahanukwansakahnalia, or the Festival of Greed for short. Though, with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ll celebrate any festival of lights at this time, from Hanukah to Christmas to Diwali…

    But happy Hanukah, Rick, even if it’s not the most important date in your religious calendar.

  • 6 Rick Horowitz // Dec 11, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks, Abi!

    I enjoy the holiday even if it’s not the most significant. I was raised in the U.S., after all, so I’m used to the more “flamboyant” approach to it. And, frankly, I like what it stands for.

    Probably, though, my favorite holiday is Purim. (I like Yom Kippur for what it means, but it’s not really the kind of holiday I can think of as a candidate for “favoriteness.”)

    Happy Holidays to everyone!

  • 7 Mark // Dec 13, 2004 at 8:15 am

    Abi,

    I believe if you research the history of Christmas, you will find that December 25 was no mere accident. Paul, the Jew that many credit with “founding” Christianity as we know it, grew up in Tarsus, a town in which Mitrhaism was the predominant religion. Much of the mythology in Mitrhaism and Christianity are uncanningly alike, including wise men following a star to bring gifts to a divine infant, the wine and bread communion, and much more. Mithra’s birthday was, wonder of wonders, December 25. Of course, humans have lit fires and given gifts at the Winter Solstice since pre-history. So all if it tends to flow from something that went before.

  • 8 Mark // Dec 13, 2004 at 8:17 am

    Forgive my multiple misspellings of Mithraism above. I am not a good editor of my own work.

  • 9 Rick Horowitz // Dec 13, 2004 at 8:39 am

    My guess would be that Abi did research the history of Christmas.

    The “Saturnalia theory” is one of many that have been listed as potential candidates for origin of the specific traditions, such as the date, of Christmas.

    You can find out more about it at Wikipedia.

  • 10 Mark // Dec 13, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    Rick,

    The site to which you linked had absolutely no references (that I could see) to Mithraism. Considering the close similarities between the two religions, and the certainty that Paul would have been intimately familiar with Mithraism, I am guessing that the editors of that particular site left this information off intentionally. I have known many Christians who were pretty upset when they read about Mithraism. I don’t blame them.

Leave a Comment