When I got the assignment for this story, my first reaction was one of uneasiness. When the wintertime is referred to as Christmas, my politically conscious defenses go up. As a person who grew up with a Christian mother and a Jewish father (though I identify myself as an atheist), I understand the importance of religious diversity.
Over the past few years, there has been some controversy about how to greet people during the holiday season. “Happy holidays” has been suggested as a less offensive alternative to “Merry Christmas,” since not every person celebrates Christmas. With this call for political correctness, there has been a reactionary response by those who feel uncomfortable with religious tolerance. Saturday Night Live had a skit a few years ago with Christmas carols being edited so as to not offend anyone who was not Christian. While this sketch was humorous in mocking the policing of language, it was also indicative of a prevailing social attitude of Christianity as the norm. In a country whose constitution grants freedom of religion, it is surprising that there is even a normalized religion and that there are religions seen as peripheral.
This is exemplary of the contradictory nature of our culture in the United States. We claim to espouse religious freedom, yet put non-Christians in an “other” category. The Founding Fathers included separation of church and state in the Constitution, but so many of our values stem from Judeo-Christian beliefs, as seen with conservative Christian Republican politicians using their beliefs to define when life begins. There is a fear held by some Christians have that by allowing for religious tolerance, we will no longer be a “Christian nation.” A Google search of “school prayer” pulls up multiple cases where people defend their perceived right to a school conducted prayer. In 2012, I find it shocking that this is even an issue.
You might be thinking that I’m being overly politically correct or “too sensitive.” The truth of the matter is that placing Christianity as the de facto religion of the nation can result in some scary consequences and hate.
Historically speaking, people have used misinterpretations of the Bible to justify atrocities such as slavery, sexism, and colonialism. People of color were perceived as “savages” because they were not Christian. Women have had their subjugation and violence committed against them justified by biblical passages. The Bush administration called the Iraq War a “holy war," and anti-Muslim attitudes still persist in our post-9/11 country.
I am not implying that Christianity itself is an oppressive religion or that those who follow it are bigoted. Rather, I am critical of those who use Christianity as a roadblock to progress and as a tool of oppression. So this holiday season, please be respectful of those who practice religion differently from you.
Besides, is it really that hard to say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?