Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some Good Christmas Tolerance

It is Christmas again. To those of you who are unfamiliar with the holiday, Christmas is when Americans, across the political spectrum, get together to celebrate the cultural war and fight about the meaning of Church and State and tolerance. For me, the yearly attempt by the ACLU to ban crèches from state property and public schools and to replace Christmas trees with holiday trees is a perfect example of how modern liberals do not understand the concept of tolerance. Of course liberals will tell you that they are the tolerant ones and that their campaign is being waged in the name of tolerance. Our majority Christian culture needs to take into account the fact that not everyone in this country is a Christian; there are Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, not to mention deists, agnostics and atheists here in this country and they are good and loyal citizens. Therefore Christians have to be sensitive to the feelings of other groups and not do anything that might make them feel left out.

When it comes down to it, the liberal notion of tolerance is that the dominant culture/the culture that lacks favored minority status in the eyes of liberals must accommodate itself to “minority” cultures/cultures that possess favored minority status in the eyes of liberals. Read the material on tolerance put out by liberal groups such as the ACLU, NOW, the NAACP or People for the American Way, their narrative of tolerance is one in which the dominant culture makes accommodations to minority cultures, it is never the other way around. When do you ever hear it discussed as to what blacks owe white culture, what women owe men, or what homosexuals owe heterosexual society?

For me tolerance is about the dominant culture making allowances for minorities, but it is also about the debt owed by minorities to that dominant culture. I am a Jew who lives in the Christian country of the United States of America. Christians have no reason to tolerate me and every reason to resent me. American Christians do not owe Jews anything nor do we Jews have anything that they need. This is not the Middle-Ages; we are not needed as money lenders, tradesmen or doctors. I have no reason to doubt that, if the United States expelled its Jews, the country could continue to function without a hitch. In fact Christians pay a price for tolerating us. By tolerating us, Christians give up on having a Christian society. Now liberals would argue that society does benefit from tolerating minorities in that it allows for an open exchange of ideas. The problem with this is that you can get an open exchange of ideas simply through books, without the aid of people at all. If the United States were to expel its Jewish population, Americans would still have access to Jewish ideas. An American Christian could sit down and study the Talmud, Maimonides or Sigmund Freud without ever meeting an actual Jew. If he really felt the need to meet Jews first hand then he could always travel to a foreign country, such as Canada or Israel, to see them. He does not need to tolerate their presence in his own country.

American Christians have no reason to tolerate the presence of Jews yet they do it anyway and for that we Jews should be incredibly grateful. We owe American Christians a debt we could never repay. All we can do is to say thank you for the gift and try not to abuse it. For a Jew to raise his voice and complain about the public celebration of Christmas is to be ungrateful. Any Jew that tries, in any way, to stop or alter the celebration of the holiday needs to be smacked. The same thing applies to all minority groups living here. Tolerance is not a right that one can demand; it is a gift that a dominant culture gives.

I use Christmas as a time to reflect on how much I owe American Christians. As an expression of my appreciation, I make it a point to wish people a Merry Christmas. Here is my modest proposal. Instead of using Christmas season as the High Holidays of our cultural wars, let Christmas be a time that Jews and all other minority groups learn a lesson in tolerance and give our dominant Christian culture an earnest thank you.

Merry Christmas.


Tobie said...

While I think that the war on Christmas is stupid and small-spirited, I'm not sure that humble gratitude is necessarily the duty of the minority. From the point when the Declaration of Independence stated that all men are inherently endowed with rights, respecting the rights of minorities is no longer a gift of the majority, but their duty. Of course, we can be grateful that they chose to be liberal and/or follow the laws and the Constitution, but the principles of liberalism hold that it would be immoral to do otherwise, so it's much the same as being grateful that those with power choose not to overthrow democracy and start killing people. I mean, yes, great, yay for them, but incredible gratitude?

Izgad said...

First off I should point that we require both legal and social protection. We can have all the laws in the world but if the society around us does not accept us we will not be able to function.
Funny you should mention the declaration. It did a wonderful job protecting blacks.
Ultimately laws are created by societies and no law can stand up to a population or to political leaders who want to change it. The Jews in Germany thought that the fact that they had equal rights under German law would protect them. The Nazis got around that pretty easily.
It would be very easy to figure out ways to say that Jews are outside of the first amendment. One can say that they are a political entity and therefore not eligible for citizenship. One could decide that freedom of religion only applies to Christian religious. i.e that the state should not come down between Catholics and Protestants. This is actually a very plausible reading of the constitution considering that much of the literature on freedom of religion in the 17th and 18th centuries was framed in these terms.
Of course the moment you believe in a living constitution then you can do whatever you want. We could say that "now" we know that Jews are not really human and therefore outside of the protection to life, liberty and property.

Tobie said...

My point is that most people consider us the tolerance now extended us, not an act of extraordinary kindness, but the basic minimum required by morality. I don't go around thanking people for not stabbing me, even if I were certain that they had a knife and could easily do so if they chose.

Izgad said...

The fact is that if you look at history or even around the world today such tolerance is not the norm. Whether this is the basic minimum required by morality is beside the point.
Imagine if a mob hit man was sent to kill you but had a change of heart and let you live. We might agree that him sparing your life was the bare minimum required by morality. That being said you would still owe him your life. At the very least you would owe him a debt of thanks.

Tobie said...

I'm not sure that I think your metaphor is accurate. Nobody has asked these Christians to be intolerant; they personally agree with us that it is wrong to do so; they hold the opinion that such tolerance is the basic moral requirement; they personally have no track record of being less so.

Let's see if I can try a different metaphor. In most times and even in many places in the world today, a woman walking alone at night ran a fairly high chance of being raped. Nonetheless, if I am walking along at night and somebody refrains from raping me, I don't think that incurs a debt of endless gratitude. Some thanks, perhaps, and general approval, but not undying gratitude.

Izgad said...

What counts as asking someone to be intolerant?
Most Christians in America believe in tolerating Jews. That still does not change the fact that they have gone beyond any previous society in tolerating Jews.

Tobie said...

Do you think that blacks owe a debt of gratitude to whites for not being enslaved? Women to men for having suffrage and a whole bunch of other rights? The poor to the rich for being permitted... well, suffrage and rights? Everyone to the military for not taking all the power in a military coup?

I still just don't think that people are owed huge debts of gratitude for following what we and they consider to be basic decency, in absence of any pressing reason why they should be otherwise.

Izgad said...

My main point, beyond the issue of Jews, was that yes blacks do owe a debt to modern white culture and women to men etc.
If it came down to every group in this country acting in their own selfish best interest Jews, blacks and women would lose.
Last I checked the military was dominated by white male Christians.
Grabbing power usually is a strong motive. So I do not take it as a given that people are going to do the decent thing and not seize power.

Miss S. said...

Gratitude is in order; but not in the sense that you are half-apologetic about the difficulties you face as a minority. I think a more appropiate term would be respect. Gratitude imparts a sense of ignoring all wrongs (past, present and future) that continue to be committed.

In that same strain, I get very exasperated with the majority culture and its continued silence regarding those few bad apples that spoil the whole bunch (generally speaking). But that's a different topic entirely...

Izgad said...

As you can see from my previous comments, I live in a very Hobbesian universe. I expect life to be nasty, brutish and short. So when I am not brutally murdered in my bed I think things are going pretty well. If someone was about to blow your brains out and at the last minute decided to have mercy on you would you not feel grateful to that person?