Rival Greek monks went at it hammer, crowbars and fire extinguishers yesterday, putting seven of them in hospital. Three of the more aggressive religious have now been banned from the 1,000 year old Mount Athos monastery. As a non-believer, I'm trying not to enjoy this story. If these robed rumblers really love their enemies, as their Master commands, they have an odd way of showing it.
Meanwhile, Christmas trees are in the news again, or at least one tree, which has been wandering about in a Toronto courthouse. A judge, whose name indicates that she is not Christian herself, ordered it removed for fear non-Christians might be offended. Offended. I've been blinking over that one for a few days now.
Let's untangle this one, first of all, by going to the source (the Bible). What are we told about Christmas trees there? Here you go, courtesy of Jeremiah, chapter 10:
1Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
(Don't buy into the nonsense that the reference here is to idols. If Christians can take the words of the Bible literally, so can I.)
Christians, in fact, are no more consistent about Christmas trees, or even Christmas itself, than they are about loving their enemies. Early Christians were opposed to the pagan practice of decorating their homes with evergreen boughs to celebrate the winter solstice. Later on, the Puritans squeezed every ounce of joy from the holiday: in fact they outlawed it. Today, there are various Christian denominations that don't celebrate Christmas at all (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses), and there are Christian grinches aplenty who have more than enough to say about this event.
Well, bah, humbug, say I. I love Christmas. I like everything about it. Sixty years on this planet and the magic still hasn't worn off. Stockings, tree, gifts, carols, Dickens, A Child's Christmas in Wales, lights, dinner, the whole nine yards. It's part, dare I say it, of my cultural identity (a concept I shall not attempt to unpack here).
In other words, Christmas trees aren't even Christian in any fundamental sense. I love 'em. Many Christians don't.
So when I heard about the judge's decision in Toronto, I took the time to be offended myself. This, frankly, is Going Too Far. Not that I have a problem with a good deal of what gets too easily dismissed as "political correctness": language is important, and so are images and symbols, and one should never assume that any of them are part of a natural order of things. We use the word "person" unselfconsciously these days, and we try not to be gratuitously offensive in our terminology and our representations, excluding or erasing those not like ourselves. And, it is true, sometimes things must be pointed out to us by those on the receiving end.
But, Judge Marion, get a grip. The mere display of material culture shouldn't "offend" anyone. If it does, then such people are the authors of their own offence--as the Chinese proverb has it, "You're only offended if you want to be." If Jews want to put a menorah in a courthouse, good on them. And those who celebrate Diwali, Eid ul-Adha or Kwanzaa have their own set of practices and symbols. If any group wants to display its culture in the lobby of a courthouse, why not? It's a public space. What on earth is the problem?
Unfortunately, it's bubble-headed decisions like this one that will inevitably be used to cast aspersions on the entire project of inclusiveness and diversity. I recognize that I am, at least in some respects, part of the majority culture in Canada, but "majority" doesn't have to--and shouldn't--mean "dominant." Surely a Christmas tree by itself oppresses and excludes no one. Put the darn thing back, and let's be inclusive again.
But there's more, it seems. I hope that Attorney General Michael Bryant had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek when he announced that a "Christmas tree placement policy" is in the offing. On the other hand, speaking of culture--how quintessentially Canadian. Makes me feel right at home.
UPDATE: (December 21) Dalton McGuinty squelches the "placement policy" foolishness.