The multicultural departure lounge
Five Years Ago
As I always say, culture trumps economics. That's why these "war on Christmas" stories aren't small things. When you decide you need to give equal space to a cruicified skeleton Santa (as in last year's Christmas column) or you're calling the cops to bust up a performance of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (as in my 2006 column below), you're on a slippery slope from societal decadence to dementia:
I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They've got a "holiday" display in the terminal, but guess what? It says "Merry Christmas." The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don't seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season. By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:
I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie Borat. The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in Borat, at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of "tolerance":
The cop and the staffer - "special-events employee Michelle Baldwin" - were not acting on a complaint from the celebrity skater. They were just taking offense on her behalf, no doubt deriving a kinky vicarious thrill at preventing a hypothetical "hate crime." The young miss is Jewish, and so they assumed that the strains of "Merry Gentlemen" wafting across the air must be an abomination to her. In fact, if you go to sashacohen.com, you'll see the headline: "Join Sasha On Her Christmas Tree Lighting Tour." That's right, she's going round the country skating at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas tree lighting ceremonies accompanied by singers singing Christmas music that uses the C word itself - just like Sasha does on her Web site.
Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco. Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson "War On Christmas" shtick, but I think they're missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" would strike most of the planet as insane. The Rubidoux High School Madrigals should have riposted by serenading the officer with the beloved Neal Sedaka classic, "Oh, Fool, I Am But A Carol" (I quote from memory).
Now it's true there are Jews who don't dig Christmas. There was some story out of Seattle the other day about a rabbi who objected to the "holiday trees" at the airport and threatened a lawsuit unless they also put up an eight-foot menorah. So the airport goes, "Oh, dear, you're threatening a lawsuit? OK, we'll take down the trees." And in an instant the trees were history. Not "history" in the sense of a time-honored tradition legitimized by its very antiquity. But "history" in the sense of the contemporary American formulation of something you toss in the landfill in the interests of "diversity."
So then the rabbi and his lawyer are reeling under a barrage of negative publicity and suddenly it's their chestnuts being roasted on the open fire. "Whoa," they say. "Why are we the bad guys? We love Christmas trees. What made you think we had anything against Christmas trees? Just cuz we threatened to launch a gazillion-dollar lawsuit? What could be more American than that?"
In Newsweek, Rabbi Marc Gellman managed to miss the point and deplored the "cowardly response" of the airport. But what "cowardly response"? Instead of going to court and almost certainly losing, they raised the stakes, put the plaintiffs on the defensive and forced them to call off the dogs. The "holiday trees" are now back.
Everyone who knows Rabbi Bogomilsky says he's an affable fellow, he doesn't want to Scrooge up anybody's Christmas, he's an all-around swell guy. No doubt. But in the week when the president of Iran hosts an international (and well-attended) Holocaust Denial Convention (which simultaneously denies the last Holocaust while gleefully anticipating the next one), this rabbi thinks it's in the interests of the Jewish people to take legal action against "holiday" decorations at Seattle Airport? Sorry, it's not the airport but the plaintiff who's out of his tree. An ability to prioritize is an indispensable quality of adulthood, and a sense of proportion is a crucial ingredient of a mature society.
This isn't about religion. Jesus is doing just fine in the United States. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized American Christianity unique in the Western world. What the rabbi in Seattle and the cops in Riverside are doing is colluding in an assault on something more basic: They're denying the possibility of any common culture. America is not a stamp collection with one of each. It's an overwhelmingly Christian country with freedom of religion for those who aren't. But it's quite an expansion of "freedom of religion" to argue that "those who aren't" are entitled to forbid any public expression of America's Christian inheritance except as part of an all-U-can-eat interfaith salad bar. In their initial reaction, Seattle Airport got it right: To be forced to have one of everything is, ultimately, the same as having nothing. So you might as well cut to the chase.
What, after all, is the rabbi objecting to? There were no bauble-dripping conifers in the stable in Bethlehem. They didn't sing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," either. That's, in effect, an ancient pop song that alludes to the birth of the Savior as a call to communal merry-making: No wonder it falls afoul of an overpoliced overlitigated "diversity" regime. Speaking of communal songs, they didn't sing "White Christmas" round the manger. A Jew wrote that. It's part of the vast Jewish contribution to America's common culture.
Seattle Airport could certainly put up a menorah. And maybe a commemoration of Eid, and Kwanzaa, and something for solstice worshippers, and perhaps something for litigious atheists. But to do that is to turn society into a kind of greater airport departure lounge - to say it's no more than an assemblage of whoever happens to be in it at any particular time. Successful societies (unlike plastic trees) have deep roots: Nobody should be obliged to believe Jesus is the son of God, but likewise nobody should take such umbrage at trees and tinsel and instrumental versions of "Silent Night" that he would deny the reality of the land he lives in to the vast majority of his fellow citizens. Because the logic of that leads not to a diverse secular society but to an atomized ersatz non-society. And, as those other touchy types the Islamists well understand, once you put reality up for grabs, all kinds of pathologies suddenly become viable.
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