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PC: Polite Conversation

Posted by Rick · December 20th, 2004 · 6 Comments

I regularly enjoy reading several blogs. And while those I list in my “Most Regular Reading” section (left-hand column of the main page, for those who might be interested) are usually kindred spirits, I’m not always in agreement with everything they say.

A post I read today on one of my favorite blogs — and it’s not just the beautiful designs and pictures that show up there that make it my favorite — reminded me of a conversation I had last night with my best friend. I wanted to blog about that, but, first…

Although I like Gweny’s blog, I guess neither of us should expect that I’d always agree with her. And in “What if I just said “Fuck You” instead of “Happy Holidays,” I find something with which to agree and something with which to disagree. (Woo-hoo! I get my money’s worth, nu?) With the sentiment of her post, I agree. It’s with the invocation of “PC” or “political correctness” that I disagree. She talked about people “trying to be PC.” I know Gweny didn’t mean this, but she gave me an impression that “PC” was what one does to try to keep other people from whining.

Seriously, take this as a “whine” if you want, but I’m concerned about labeling the desire to be less exclusive and more inclusive as “PC.” Gweny didn’t mean it this way, but many people these days intend “PC” as a pejorative. Most people I know usually only use the phrase “PC” when they’re trying to talk about how horrible it is that we “have to” be “so” concerned — e.g., enough not to be insulting — about other people’s unknown religious, cultural, or ethnic ties. As Merriam-Webster puts it, the definition of “political correctness” is,

Conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated. — “politically correct.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (20 Dec. 2004)

But what’s wrong with recognizing that not all of America is constituted by WASPs, stingerless or otherwise? Is it harmful (or painful) to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? Is there something wrong with one’s words taking into account that people whose religious or cultural preferences may be unknown should not be addressed with a blessing from one particular religion or culture? After all, we already realize that it’s appropriate to alter our speech according to context. Most people don’t respond to a request from the CEO of their company with “No problem, dude!” Few of us would greet our priest, minister, or rabbi with “Hey, man. How’s it hangin’?” So where’s the harm in recognizing that in a multicultural society, when we want to offer someone whose religious or cultural preferences are unknown to us best wishes during the winter solstice, we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?

From where I sit, most people — and, again, Gweny didn’t mean it this way — complain about “being PC” because, in reality, they just don’t get it. As my friend Snay intimates, complaining about “being PC” — which should just be considered “being polite” or engaging in “Polite Conversation” — is another way of endorsing the idea that other’s views aren’t part of the landscape.

My best friend and I — much to the chagrin of our wives, who fear one day we’re going to kill one another — got into a “political” discussion last night. (Yes, it’s true. My best friend in the entire world is a Republican. And not just any Republican. He’s hardcore. He’s politically active enough to have had more than one conversation with the Governator and to have been honored at the instigation of Republicans in the California State Assembly. The doormat to his home is a Bill O’Reilly product. He virtually never reads Unspun™. When I mention the web address, he responds by spitting out his name, rank and serial number.)

Detailing our entire conversation would make this post even longer than my norm — which is too long already. So perforce, I hit only the high points.

At any rate, Dale was wondering why “all of a sudden,” things like “under G-d” in the Pledge of Allegiance “have become such a big deal.” And why do all those friggin’ Liberals want to do away with Christmas? “You can’t even get a ‘Merry Christmas’ from Macy’s anymore.”


I tried to point out that this isn’t “all of a sudden” because Liberals have gone bonkers. It’s because “all of a sudden” — particularly since the 2004 “Election” — those people claiming a “mandate” have gotten more vocal and adamant about forcing “Merry Christmas” and other accoutrements of Christianity back into the limelight. This, I noted, has made it appear that those resisting such moves are “all of a sudden” more vocal and adamant. It’s another instance of the Right doing something Wrong and then blaming the Left for the ensuing hubbub.

Somewhere along the way to trying to make my point, I asked, “Suppose you went into a store this Christmas and the clerk greeted you by saying ‘Satan be with you’?”

I seriously didn’t know what his answer would be. Sometimes, he surprises me by being consistent. (No need to command it, I already “smile when I say that.”) But he didn’t surprise me: “I’d probably never go in that store again.”


And why? Because it’s a slap in the face to those who — for religious or cultural reasons — don’t subscribe to the idea that a Satanic blessing is “someone…trying to send me good wishes, even though I don’t really celebrate anything.”

None of this matters, though. Because we’re not really talking about “someone else’s beliefs.” It’s not a matter of Satanism, or its bastard relation, Judaism. We’re talking about Christianity. As the article linked into Gweny’s posts tells us, that’s what is really meant when people complain about “religion” being kept out of the schools, courthouses and the public sphere.

I’m offended, for example, by school Christmas concerts that feature songs about penguins, snowflakes and Frosty the Snowman but not a single word about the Christ Child. By “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” By Target giving the boot to Salvation Army bell ringers. By downtown merchants in Denver refusing to allow Christ-centered themes and songs in their annual Christmas parade. — Dan Oliveria, “We Red Staters can get offended, too” (December 12, 2004) The Spokesman-Review.

Dan is bothered by “the relentless attack…on…Christmas displays and all that’s godly in the public square.” But I don’t think he’s pissed at all about the absence of a menorah, or a halel.

It may surprise Dan to know that penguins, snowflakes and snowmen are not part of the celebration of Hanukah. They aren’t incorporated into Kwanzaa. I don’t believe they’re any part of Ramadan or ‘Eid-ul-Fitr, the Islamic Festival of Fast-Breaking. And while we Jews wish one another “Happy Hanukah” and Muslims say “Kullu am wa antum bi-khair” (“May you be well throughout the year”), “Happy Holidays” is really, just a polite way of saying “Merry Christmas”; a recognition that not everyone in the multicultural United States of America is Christian, it provides a safe way to avoid not offering yuletide greetings at all. What happy holidays are Buddhists celebrating?

But, as Dan Oliveria notes, sixty-two percent of Americans believe Christianity should be taught in the schools. Schools, as we know, are in the business of teaching the tenets of America’s primary religion. Not science. Not math. Not biology. Christian theology, dressed up as “intelligent design.” Stripped of the name of their G-d not in the name of PC, or even because it might be someone else’s G-d they’re talking about, but to ensure technical compliance with the Constitution even while the Spirit of that Constitution is trampled underfoot.

But what about ghosts? There’s surely a mandate to teach about ghosts. Fifty-one percent of Americans believe in them! (By the way, want to hear something scarier than a ghost story? Forty-three percent of Americans think creationism should be taught in schools instead of evolution. Not “alongside of”; instead of. Boo!)

What’s needed here is a recognition that,

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (New International Version).

We don’t call the company CEO “dude.” We don’t ask religious leaders how it’s hanging. We can learn not to be offended just because people don’t address strangers with Christmas greetings for having the gall to shop in December.

I bet we could even survive without government support for the Christian religion.

Because, as I reminded Dale when he complained about the city not being able to sponsor a creche, no one ever complains about the missing menorah — nor do they lament the absent halel, or the Governator’s failure to mention Rohatsu.

And none of these religions or cultures is blinking out of existence.

Categories: Social Issues


6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 LQ // Dec 20, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    For me it’s always been about respect for other people’s beliefs NOT being PC. Sheesh, this is just getting ridiculous. President Bush said “Happy Holidays” in his press conference today, does he hate Christmas now too?! Heh 😉

  • 2 The Blue Bus is calling us... // Dec 20, 2004 at 1:59 pm

    Why does President Bush hate Christmas?!?!

    Today during his press conference, President Bush said: Good morning and happy holidays to you all. (Via Atrios) Heh 🙂 I jest of course, but all of the recent outrage from the right-wing over putting “Christ” back into Christmas (versus…

  • 3 Bob // Dec 20, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    First, I’m sorry about your friend’s mental condition. My sympathies are with you :)~

    It may surprise Dan to know that penguins, snowflakes and snowmen are not part of the celebration of Hanukah…

    Just for the record, Mary and Joseph did not exchange snow shovels as gifts either. There was little mention of snow in any description of the Messiah’s birth.

    Let’s get real here, there is obviously something going on in western culture during the last month of the calendar year. There are various faiths proclaiming holidays and and various ones that are not.

    Happy Holidays is simply a way of saying “I don’t recognize your particular preference in all this frivolity so have a great whatever day it is you have”. It’s self protection from being seen as a racist, xenophobic, religious, athiest, apethetic zeolot.

    Happy Holidays is defensive because the world seems to have lost its tolerance for differences that used to make this place more interesting to live in.

  • 4 Gweny // Dec 20, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    First of all, I never claimed to actually know what the heck I’m talking about 😉 Please don’t listen to me. I’m a crazy person. They let just anyone have a blog these days, ya know!

    Second, glad I “helped” you with some blog material.

    Third, I’m assuming that you do celebrate Hanukkah so I’d like to wish you a very “Happy Hanukkah.”

    So glad you “got your money’s worth.” Whee!

  • 5 Rick Horowitz // Dec 20, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    Bob, are you saying that it’s not possible, then, for people to say “Happy Holidays” out of respect? It’s only self-protection?

    Personally, I think it would be easier to make a case for the idea that “Happy Holidays” is indicative of people who have not lost tolerance for the differences you mention. “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays” automagically fails, in and of itself, to recognize the existence of other cultural celebrations being carried out more or less contemporaneously with those of the Christian holiday season. Implicit in the act of saying this to someone is that “Christmas” is something which they would hope would be “Merry” — or, at least, that they would be pleased to have you wish them a good Christmas.

    Saying “Happy Holidays” can certainly be a denial, I suppose, of the idea that only Christmas is worth mentioning, or, perhaps that Christmas isn’t worth mentioning.

    But it sure doesn’t have to mean that! I think, as I said in the main article, that “Happy Holidays” is an entirely appropriate “blessing” or “greeting” or “wish” or whatever you’d like to call it, when one is unaware of whether or not the person to whom you intend to say it celebrates a particular holiday.

    You know me personally. And you know that I have no problem wishing the right people a Merry Christmas.

    My own refusal to say “Merry Christmas” to people whose religious and/or cultural preferences or practices are unknown to me has nothing to do with either defensiveness, “self-protection,” or a lack of tolerance.

    And, btw, Bob (and Carole!), “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

    (But I’ll thank you not to wish me the same.)

  • 6 Rick Horowitz // Dec 20, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for the “Happy Hanukah,” Gweny.

    By the way, from what I hear, you’re a non-boring crazy person and you’re not bad-looking. Sometimes that makes all the difference in the world. (Particularly at 2 a.m. on Friday.)

    Seriously, though, “Happy Hate-the-Holiday Season” to you! (And Happy Holidays to Marco!)

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