It’s always a little disappointing when a Facebook friend you like puts up a post that expresses views you really don’t like. This time it was a chain letter that apparently originated with “holiday confessions” by CBS presenter Ben Stein, but has since been embellished. I’m pretty sure that only the first couple paragraphs are Stein’s original comments. This is the version my Facebook friend posted, which she praised for its message of “tolerance”:
Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as “Holiday Trees” for the first time this year which prompted CBS presenter, Ben Stein, to present this piece which I would like to share with you. I think it applies just as much to many countries as it does to America . . .
The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crib, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
I like (tastefully decorated) Christmas trees too! They’re pretty. They’re also thoroughly pagan in origin, and have very little to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. I enjoy them as seasonal decorations, and I don’t really consider them religious. Lots of people celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, because they like Christmas trees and holiday food and that’s when they get time off, and I think that’s totally fine. Conservative Christians don’t, though. And really conservative Christians don’t even celebrate Christmas, because it’s all about decadent consumerism and it’s totally pagan and Jesus wasn’t even born in December.
But here’s the problem with this: Stein sets himself up as a spokesperson for Jewish or non-Christian people, which he manifestly is not. It’s a variant of “I’m black and I don’t think this is racist!”, or “I’m a woman and I don’t think this is sexist!” When people say stuff like this, it’s basically saying, “Well I don’t have a problem, why do you?” And that’s not fair or tolerant.
And the problem isn’t the existence of religious displays (like nativity scenes, not trees with lights on them) on private property, it’s religious displays on public property, because the government is not supposed to privilege one religion over another. That creates a climate of exclusion, and it’s not fair or tolerant.
I’m pretty sure this is where Stein’s original comments end and the embellishments begin:
I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.
Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.
Here’s a big one: the conflation of atheism with secularism. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, gods, or the supernatural. Secularism is the principle that states should not privilege one religion or sect over another, and that the institutions of government and the institutions of religion should not be one and the same. This principle does exist in the Constitution, right there in the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Emphasis mine. We aren’t an atheist country, but we are a secular one. Secularism is the reason everyone in the United States can worship or not worship as they see fit. If we had a state religion, with no tradition of secularism to support freedom of conscience, people would be persecuted for practicing different beliefs.
Christians in the United States are not persecuted. As a group, their beliefs are enormously privileged. Our very currency says “In God We Trust”, and trust me, it’s the Christian God. But the freedom to practice religion as you see fit does not allow you to impose your beliefs on others. That is not an abridgment of your religious freedom, it is a protection of mine. That’s the bargain we make in a pluralistic society. That’s tolerance.
Christians opposed to secularism should ponder this: What happens if and when your religion is no longer in the majority? What happens when you’ve lost that privilege? I’ll tell you what: secularism will prevent the government from persecuting you for your religious beliefs. Because that’s the purpose of secularism.
Need more convincing? Study early modern European history (for example). Study religious oppression and war. The framers of the Constitution were acutely aware of the perils of privileging one religion at the expense of others. That’s why they wrote the First Amendment.
In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.
Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her: “How could God let something like this happen?” (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said: “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”
In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbour as yourself. And we said OK.
Atheists cause natural disasters just by existing! Our omnipotent, benevolent God has withdrawn his hand of protection from his favorite country and let thousands of people die because we didn’t worship him enough!
It’s pretty hard to combat this level of magical thinking, so I’ll just mention that natural disasters, terrorist attacks, school shootings, war, rape, and numerous other forms of destruction and violence occurred before mandatory prayer was removed from schools. In fact, you can find lots of great examples of destruction and violence in the Bible!
Gotta love the dig at Madeleine Murray O’Hair, who presumably was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, along with her son and granddaughter, because God wanted to punish her. Love thy neighbor as thyself, people!
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.
Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.
Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’
I’m so glad someone worked in the pro-spanking message. And also the dig at Dr. Spock and his son! Our omnipotent, benevolent God must have caused him to commit suicide to make the point that parents should spank their children. Because no one ever murdered anyone back when God and a good spanking were the order of the day!
Seriously though, I think spanking is a good example of the limits of tolerating other’s beliefs, as it demonstrates that tolerance of those beliefs can lead to tangible harm. I cannot tolerate spanking as a valid method of parenting, because I think it is profoundly unethical, and all evidence suggests that corporal punishment has serious long-term effects. Spanked children might “turn out well” as adults, but if they do, it’s in spite of being spanked, not because of it. We shouldn’t be tolerant of hitting children.
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.
Are you laughing yet?
Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.
Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.
Pass it on if you think it has merit.
If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.
My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,
And the funny thing about critical thinking is, you can apply it to EVERYTHING you read! Even chain letters.
This is the sort of thing that people pass around in an echo chamber so they can experience validation of their own beliefs. Because otherwise, someone like me might criticize it. Frankly, I’m kind of hoping that my Facebook friend’s account was hacked, because it seems out of character for her.
I’ve studied enough history to know that every generation thought the world was going to hell. I can reassure you that it’s not going to hell more or less than any other time in history, we’re just facing unique challenges, like climate change, which the authors of the chain letter would probably deny.
Public expression of God is suppressed? Oh, how sad for you, that not everyone likes it when you constantly proselytize. Those rules are to protect people from a hostile, exclusionary climate. How would you feel, as a Christian, if you studied or worked in a place where people berated you for not being Muslim? Eh? Secularism to the rescue!
I also enjoy the implicit message that God will judge you if you don’t pass on a chain letter. Well, I guess I did my part!