Monday, December 9, 2013

The War on Christmas II: The Baby Jesus Commute

Also known as "13 Reasons Why The Courthouse/Town Hall Doesn't Need Another %@#$ing Nativity."

One of my relatives listens to conservative talk radio a lot and seems to enjoy baiting me into conversations I don't want to have based on whatever he hears on it.  Usually I say right away that I don't want to talk to him about politics, to which he responds that he "just wants to hear my opinion" before dragging me into the never-ending abyss of bullshittery he hears.

One of his favorite things to bring up is how we shouldn't be taking down Nativity scenes from government buildings "just because some atheist doesn't like it."  He usually says this as if there's no chance I'm going to disagree with such brilliance, despite the fact I have expressed my opinion on this subject on many occasions, usually ending with him angrily saying "We should agree to disagree although I think you're dead wrong" ("Dead Wrong," I've learned, is this man's code for "This is something you have lived experience in that I don't but I'm going to fight you every inch of the way anyway because talk radio").

There's a perception among Christians that the reason these monuments are "worth preserving" is because they're traditional.  The reality is that many (although certainly not all) of these monuments are being placed on government property by reactionary Christians who are frantically worried about their dwindling privilege.  They deal with this by introducing new Christian-themed monuments where they didn't always exist and then pretending they've always been there so they can moan about non-Christians destroying American traditions.

As a Pagan this issue touches me deeply because there have been cases where in the interests of fairness legislators have decided to just allow everyone to put their own holiday monuments up just to avoid having to take down the Nativity scene.  In Green Bay a Pagan display was erected that was promptly vandalized, prompting them to bar the Pagan display while ludicrously continuing to allow the Nativity.

This is the thing liberal Christians who support these monuments don't understand:  There's no way to actually make them fair to all faiths.  Minority faiths have their monuments defaced and removed.  We wind up having to use government buildings with the symbols of an oppressive majority faith plastered on them, telling us pretty clearly that our rights are not going to be viewed as quite as important as those of others.

"Well, it's just a decoration."  No, it's not just a decoration.  It's a statement, and it's a statement against minority faiths and nonbelievers.  There's no excuse for it.

The most interesting thing for me, though, is how many people are clinging to this nostalgia as if removing Nativity scenes from government buildings is going to dramatically change the landscape or take something away from the community.  The reason this is so interesting is that practically no reasonable person is lobbying to remove peoples' right to erect Nativity scenes or any other holiday decorations for that matter.  Since Christianity in this country is a majority faith it means there are ample opportunities for people to see Nativity scenes absolutely everywhere.  I photographed thirteen of them--and there were plenty more--on my half hour commute to work last year.  That means I saw a Nativity scene on average every two and a half minutes, most of them tastefully decorating private residences with a fair amount adorning churches.  There are also at least eight of them where I currently work, which is a Catholic institution.  Nativity scenes can be found in abundance in areas where it's totally appropriate to see them... so why do we need them on public property?

Again, the answer is that this is more a statement than a tradition.

But let's pretend it really is a tradition.  Say these are decorations that have been going out every Christmas for fifty, sixty years.  What then?

The answer is this:  Sometimes traditions aren't worth keeping.

This could be an uncomfortable statement for a Christian to read, because people don't like hearing their faith traditions referred to as "not worth keeping."  Part of this is due to the common belief among United Statesian Christians that Christian beliefs and traditions have a universality about them that can be related to even among the most hardcore atheist.  As I've already written about before, this isn't the case.  Hell, a lot of Biblical values aren't even relatable for your average Christian let alone the rest of us.

Unless you're a hardcore Christian reconstructionist who wants to turn the United States into some theocratic shithole (in which case I don't know why you're even here), there's no reason to support Nativity scenes on courthouses, public school grounds, city halls, or anything else of the like.  Put it on your own property.  We'll all see it there anyway.

For your amusement (and inspiration if you're into that), here are 13 of my Nativity photos with varying image quality:

Unfortunate camera phone picture, right next to a
"Keep Christ in Christmas" sign.

This one's kind of shadowbox-ish.

Most Nativity scenes around here are some sort of internally lit plastic.

Is there anything more American than a scene depicting a Middle Eastern deity?

I'm not even sure this is on private property but we'll pretend.

Speaking of which, in addition to greeting cards (pictured), y'all have stamps.

More internally lit plastic.

Internally lit plastic.

This is a popular model, too. It creates a shadow on a building.

This Mary and Joseph don't even really care about Jesus it seems.

This is probably also plastic, but it's a particularly pretty model.
At this angle it looks like Mary and Joseph happened upon
a freezing, snow-covered Christ and panicked.

Same model as above, but without the lighting and with festive decorations.

This internally-lit plastic scene guards an empty flowerbed.