About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bush not religious enough, fundies say

In yet another bizarre twist of the culture wars, several news outlets reported yesterday that some fundamentalist Christians are upset at George W. because of the way he phrased his holiday cards. Indeed, the point was precisely that the cards say "happy holiday," and not "merry christmas."

Never mind that this is a President who, at this year's tree-lighting ceremony, said "For over two millennia, Christmas has carried the message that God is with us," or that several years ago (during a campaign debate) he answered a question saying that his favorite philosopher was "Christ — because he changed my heart" (forget the apparently negligible detail that Jesus -- if he existed -- wasn't a philosopher). Or for that matter, consider that the word "holiday" itself has a clear religious meaning (we secularists don't recognize anything as "holy").

All of this wasn't enough for William Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (what a peculiar name for that sort of organization!), who complained that "At a time when a lot of Christians today are very upset about the way our society is dumbing down Christmas, they certainly don't want to see the president of the United States chiming in. We know he is a man of courage, so why is he giving in to the forces of political correctness?" These people just don't know the meaning of the word moderation (and “dumbing down”? I never thought of christmas as a particularly intellectual event).

On the other hand, nobody seems to be asking the other obvious question: who is paying for the 1.5 million postcards the White House is sending? And, even more important, is George signing each one of them? That would certainly be a better way to spend his time than what he has been up to lately.


  1. Nothing will be enough until every single 'heart and mind' have been changed to agree with them.

  2. The RNC pays for the postcards, Massimo. At least, that's what I read in one of the articles that covered this "Bush-as-Xtian-traitor" story.

  3. This all has to do with the supposed "War on Christmas" the Right keeps whinning about.

    Personally, I find it funny that they complain that our culture isn't commercializing Christmas enough.


  4. I just read your Blogs for the first time today. Great job!

    Please review the Earth Manifesto, and let me know if there is a way we can work together to advance progressive ideas in the world today. THANKS!

    Tiffany Twain

  5. I have a thought: someone should come up with a print ad or commercial that uses a smiling Jesus to promote some commercial product.

    How about Jesus drinking a coke with the polar bears? Jesus shaving off his beard with his new fancy razor? ("You know, secretly I always hated this thing! I'm finally glad to be getting rid of it.") Or Jesus chatting with an apostle via his new cell phone?

    Jesus in a clothing ad, holding up the new khakis from Mary that he just unwrapped under the tree. The caption: "What would Jesus wear? These!"

    Then watch the religious righties start fuming about using their god-man to sell stuff. But hey, it promotes *Christmas*!

  6. Thanks for the laugh, Adrienne. The images you made me think off were really a blast. :-)

    Interesting that Bush thinks Christmas has been celebrated for over 2 millennia...

    On to the Merry Whatever. Last weekend, driving around town here, I saw some church (I don't exactly recall the brand, but it ended with Assembly of God) with a sign which said: "Merry Christmas, NO happy holidays".

    Actually, I do happen to agree with them, as weird as it may sound to people who know me. Probably my reasons are a bit different though. But I do think the whole "happy holidays" thing to be a bit silly, and over the top PC. I mean, this is Christmas, like it or not (let's ignore it is another instance of state mixed with religion, since gov'ment should ignore Xmas). What other holiday is going on at the time? Winter solstice, Hanukkah, Saturnalia? Come on, let's be reasonable... who cares about anything but the man in red, the food and the gifts? Well, there's Krampus too, if you're more of a SM inclination. :-)

    Of course that also means that if you're not a club member, you shouldn't use the pool. Reminds me of a letter NYU's president sends at this time of the year (or so the legend goes). It says something like: if you're a Christian, you can have half day off on the 24. Otherwise, the university will be open for business as usual. But that's not just NY, but NYU...


  7. What other holiday is going on at the time?

    Umm, how about New Year's? Which is only one week after Christmas. And which people (Christians and not) tend to celebrate with a certain amount of revelry.

    Seriously, when I was growing up in the less PC days of yore, I always thought "Happy Holidays" referred to the Xmas-New Year's combination.

  8. I think I heard something yesterday about a conservative Christian organization (forgot the name as they all begin to sound alike) that is organizing boycotts against commercial businesses that have swithced their promotions from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" (Target may have been one). Don't these organizations have anything better to focus on than a little moderation for those of us who do not share their views? Or have all the important human problems that Christmas is supposed to bring into focus for them been solved?

  9. I think it's worth adding that pretty much every culture in history has had seasonal holidays. In fact, the lion's share of the traditions we practice around this time of year; trees, presents, bearded men flying in sleighs, even the date have their roots in pagan holidays. Christians just co-opted them as a conversion method. (It's alot easier to get someone to change their belifes that to get them to drop their traditions.)

    I see no problem co-opting these same traditions and redefining them. Traditions are good when they are practiced in the context of family togetherness, I don't have to buy the myth to enjoy them.

    Then again, maybe I'm just overly impressed by flashing colored lights.


  10. My family on my mother's side were about as fundie as you can get(Seventh Day Adventist)and on my father's side were Roman Catholic (do you wonder why I became a non-believer?). I remember that "Happy Holidays" was a common salutation (circa 1940s and 1950s) amongst my diverse family groups.

    People in these divisive times will throw a snit about anything.

  11. "Alright guys, lets get organized. There are a lot of problems in the world. If we get organized we can fight for what is right."
    "So what's our goal boss? World peace? Poverty reduction? Ending the human trade? Protecting the environment?"
    "Protecting CHRISTMAS. If everyone believed in Christ our world would be better, and everything else would fall into place. Therefore, we need to make sure our message gets our there!"

  12. Adrienne,

    thanks for clarifying who pays for the cards. Still, couldn't the NRC spend its money in a more "compassionate conservative" way? :) Though, to be fair, I'm sure the DNC did the same when Clinton was in office.

  13. I'm with J. Though I'm a confirmed agnostic/atheist, there is no getting around that this is primarily the Christmas holiday season. So what's the big deal in saying Merry Christmas -- I take no offense.

    Conversely, I can't fathom why any level headed person would find anything wrong with saying Happy Holidays. As Dennis points out, it was perfectly acceptable decades ago and as Adrienne points out refers collectively to Christmas, New Years and Hanukah. (I wish the whole controversy would just go away)

    I have a further admission: I enjoy the Christmas season, the idea of Peace on Earth, Giving and Family (even if we collectively can't seem to live up to those ideals).

    I put up a Christmas tree for the kids and decorate the house with lights. Some might say that is hypocritical given my non-beliefs, but a) what do Christmas trees and lights really have to do with the religious aspects of the holiday and b) there is that whole tradition thing than can transcend the original religious idea (of course, if you want to get technical, early Christians co-opted pagan Winter Solstice celebrations in the first place).

    Finally, last year my son's private preschool held a Christmas performance singing the traditional secular Christmas tunes, i.e. Rudolf, Santa Claus, etc.

    At the end, the owner of the preschool led all of the parents in a nice rendition of Silent Night. It was touching -- sure I don't believe in the divinity of Christ, but it was touching nonetheless from the standpoint of a community gathering to celebrate our children and the ideas of Peace on Earth, etc.

    Maybe I'm just a softy.

  14. I am not interested in a war on Christmas and there is much about the season and the traditions surrounding it that I treasure. I do object to Christians claiming the higher moral ground and urging me to remember what the "true" message of Christmas is and to coerce me into not using a greeting such as Happy Holidays. As an adult I stopped thinking as a child and have co-opted the traditions to represent a time of family celebration and winter hope. In my home we do not celebrate the birth of Christ, but rather reflect on what we have and what we can give to others. But, we haven't given up all of our magical thinking (Santa). :)


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