Thursday, December 9, 2004

MH - No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Hang on, here comes another rant against Corporate America!

This time it’s the corporate “Holiday Luncheon.” Of course, we ought to be used to that kind of terminology by now, but here’s what makes this one interesting, and perhaps even more irritating – the subtitle, “A Celebration of Diversity.” The events being commemorated are Ramadan (Islam), Diwali (Hinduism), Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), and Kwanzaa (African American). A short description of each is included in the flyer handed out to employees announcing the luncheon. Not surprisingly, the description of Christmas is accorded less space than any of the others.

What are we to make of this? Let’s start with Hanukkah. For many years, it has been celebrated alongside Christmas as if it were the Jewish equivalent, despite the fact that it is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Last year, John Derbyshire at National Review Online shared these insightful comments (page down to December 22) from a correspondent: “[O]ne of the main reasons Christmas has been marginalized and even the word 'Christmas' is disappearing from public discourse is because Hanukkah has been elevated to a position out of all proportion to its traditionally minor significance. And the success Hanukkah has enjoyed in gaining public recognition has inspired the more recent success of Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and other winter festivals in gaining prominence in America, all at the expense of Christmas.”

While it’s customary to include Hanukkah in “Happy Holidays,” what about Ramadan? That was October 15, which seems to be really stretching it to include it in a December celebration. Diwali commemorates the “triumph of righteousness, knowledge and enlightenment over ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” One can’t help but think that for Hindus, belief in any of the other faiths included in the celebration is a sure sign of “ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” Then, of course, there’s a prime competitor to Christmas - Kwanzaa, an event celebrating not diversity but divisiveness, which as Derbyshire describes, "was invented out of whole cloth by a violent 1960s criminal-radical thug, employs a language spoken by the ancestors of practically no black Americans at all (and a language which owed its own prominence to its use as a lingua france for Arab slave traders), celebrates the fruits of harvest at a time of year when nobody in the world is harvesting anything, [and] promotes communistic values." Read this devistating review by Richard Rosendall for more details.

Well, it certainly is a diverse group, but it’s hard to see how honoring these five dates amounts to a celebration of diversity. In fact, most of these events commemorate a lack of diversity – Kwanzaa is an exclusionary event, limited to African Americans, and Diwali and Ramadan celebrate revelations that would seem to put believers at spiritual odds with non-believers. What we have here is a mini-United Nations of faith celebrations. It’s also like the UN in that it attempts to force these five into some kind of common ground. It’s like trying to mix oil and water.

There is one exception, of course. One event that is diverse, inclusive, meant for everyone, both inside and outside its given group.

The event, of course, is Christmas.

In the words of the “Holiday Luncheon,” Christmas “[c]elebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Savior was born for all, not just for a select group. While Christians understand that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential for salvation, we don’t believe this message is only for Christians. It’s for the whole world, for anyone who wants to hear and believe. While the Jews were originally to be the initial beneficiaries, the ultimate plan was to extent the benefits to all, regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin, and it becomes the duty of every Christian to spread the word, to make sure as many people as possible can hear it. The sacrifice to which this birth inevitably led was all-encompassing, the Blood “shed for you and for all (pro multis, for the multitudes) for the forgiveness of sins.”

A truly diverse group, in other words, and if this event alone doesn’t qualify as “A Celebration of Diversity,” I’m not sure what does.

And yet, the sole rationale for a “holiday” event, the only reason for its existence, is to deny the very mention of the word Christmas and to minimize, if not completely eliminate, its meaning.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Some will point out that Muslims, for example, also believe in one God. But they see that God as Allah – Master. Jesus referred to God as Abba – Father. And there’s a fundamental difference right there, between compelling belief and inviting it. Ah, but we could spend days discussing the implications of this. I’ll try to stick to the point.

I guess what really gets me is this continuing attempt to lump these events together and give them some kind of moral equivalence. They take such obvious pains to minimize Christmas to the point where it’s only considered an equal with the others (if that), as if they have the same meaning and significance, not only within each individual group but for all groups.

If individuals belonging to other groups or faiths want to celebrate particular events, well and good. There should be no attempt to prevent them – this country does believe in religious freedom (at least for non-Christians). But can we really, in good conscience, look at the numbers of adherents and their contributions to American culture and say that these days deserve equal billing with Christmas? As Derbyshire’s correspondent put it, “Neither Hanukkah nor the other winter festivals have anything to match even this very tiny portion of all the great art inspired by or associated with Christmas. However, once we admit that Hanukkah should be treated as the equal of Christmas, despite the fact that its significance in Western culture is close to zero and its significance in traditional Judaism is minor, we really cannot complain about Kwanzaa or Ramadan.”

I know what you're thinking. “It's only religious tolerance,” some will respond. No it isn’t. Tolerance doesn’t mean the same thing as equality. This is political correctness.

Compare this to a political convention, where the party has to make sure every faction has their say at the podium. The party may say they’re all “important.” But there’s no misunderstanding the pecking order – smaller, less significant groups get stuck on C-SPAN and go up against Regis Philbin, while the big names – Clinton, Ahnold, Kerry and Bush – they get the prime-time network coverage.

But imagine the Republicans had Bush speak at 3 a.m., while giving the prime-time network coverage to some obscure county commissioner running for re-election. See what I mean? When push comes to shove, political parties don’t try to pretend all groups have the same importance, carry the same weight and significance. And neither should we.

I know these rants of mine against Corporate America might strike some as odd, coming as they do from a conservative. Believe me, I’ve never forgotten that, as a friend of mine put it, “corporate America does produce jobs, after all.” And I still prefer capitalism to the other kinds of –isms out there.

But you notice that I always capitalize the word Corporate. I’m talking about an ideology unto itself, a way of group thought and group speak that I believe is extremely damaging to this country. It’s companies that don’t care about using pornography to advertise their products as along as people buy them, and television networks that don’t care what they show as long as people watch. It’s calling deviant behavior normal in order to court favor from special interest groups and make a buck off them, using corporate funds to support the abortion industry, and providing benefits to “domestic partners.” It’s all this and a hundred things more that call to mind the words from the Book of Wisdom, “But he considered our existence an idle game, and life a festival held for profit, for he says one must get money however one can, even by base means. For this man, more than all others, knows that he sins when he makes from earthy matter fragile vessels and graven images.” (Wisdom 15:12-13) And recall also the words of our Lord Himself, Who said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7)

There are a lot of them out there, and they are the worst enemies that capitalism has, because they turn people against them, and the people start to wonder if there’s a better way. They force governments to regulate them because they can’t or won’t regulate themselves. And for all of us who do believe in a Christian form of capitalism, who think it’s better than the alternative, it’s up to us to do something. That’s why we speak up, we boycott, we call attention to the fact that something is not right. We run the risk of being mocked – called old-fashioned, fundamentalist, intolerant, mean-spirited. We may not be able to do much, but we do what we can – do it with love and charity in our hearts and words – and leave the rest in God’s hands.

It’s also why sometimes we don’t go to “free” lunches. We know the price of a free lunch can be too high a price to pay.

1 comment:

  1. Your wrote that "Kwanzaa is an exclusionary event, limited to African Americans." Not true. People who are not African-American can and do celebrate Kwanzaa. My wife, son and I go to a friend's Kwanzaa celebration -- and thoroughly enjoy it -- almost every year.

    I suppose you mean that Kwanzaa the holiday (a series of holidays, really) is intended primarily for African-Americans. Well, sure -- sort of like Christmas is intended mostly for those (or was ORIGINALLY tied to those) who accept that Christ is the Savior, the Promised One, the Prince of Peace. Christmas is in a very sense "exclusionary," though one can always opt into the group. The same is true for Kwanzaa. One can opt in, not by becoming African-American (obviously), but by appreciating the cause for celebration. One doesn't have to be African-American to celebrate the principles and joys of Kwanzaa. (Christmas obviously is celebrated -- though differently -- by those for whom it is simply a secular, present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-baking event. But that's not the Christmas you had in mind, nor the Christmas that I really want to celebrate, either.)

    It's a diverse, wonderful world out there. Please don't be afraid of it or feel threatened when others celebrate peace, unity, hope through various holidays.

    Steve (Catholic-Christian and glad I was born into a world that USUALLY respects diversity)


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