Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Joe's Response to Some Good Christmas Tolerance IV

I agree with that assessment. I would agree that calling a government sponsored Christmas tree persecution is going rather far, into the absurd range. But while I would not say it is persecution, I would call it unfair.

As you say, the difference between us is more about where to draw the line and how prevalent religious intolerance is than on any fundamental difference of opinion I think. That may be due to differences between the areas we grew up. I spent much of my life in areas that many people spoke of tolerance but acted on intolerance. There are too many places in the south that are very friendly only so long as you agree with them (not having spent much time outside of the south I can't say how widespread it is elsewhere). Ironically,
I have seen an interesting dichotomy (broadly generalizing here) along southern blacks and whites (discounting some of the vociferous and attention-getting blacks) wherein the poor blacks as a whole tend to be more charitable and tolerant than the whites as a whole (I say as a whole because this distinction does not hold for many people on both sides). This could be due to the fact that blacks often had to be tolerant to get by whereas the whites did not.

Certainly your point about the historical instances of religious persecution being far more blatant and severe than the current situation in the US is completely valid. The issue as I see it is that there are those, particularly in the south, that would like to see the situation get much more intolerant than it is now, such that illegal but in areas accepted acts of hatred become legal and I think we must guard against that. So I would accept that my position may be on the "liberal" side as a defense against the extreme "conservative" side. Although I really hate those terms because liberal and conservative are very poor descriptors and lump complex intertwined issues together, but that is another tirade against the imprecision of current labels. Most people really don't like to think about issues in more than a superficial way, sadly enough.

My response: I have never lived in the South so I cannot comment about southern tolerance. Maryland technically speaking is below the Mason-Dixon Line, but last I checked it still does not really count.

While we both want to draw the line between church and state in different places, there is an important difference between us. The founding fathers would have been far more likely to agree with my line, that the government cannot directly coerce people into following a given belief or give any special status to a given belief, than with your line, that the government cannot do anything that might make members of minority religions feel marginalized. (This is leaving out the fact that the first amendment does not apply to states in the first place; remember the Constitution says "Congress shall make no law ...". The idea that the first amendment applies to states was an invention of the Supreme Court.) So I have the Constitutional high ground. You can make all the moral pleas so want but you cannot say that the Constitution supports you. That being said, you do seem to have the Supreme Court on your side.

To get back to an earlier issue, why do you assume that whenever anyone tries to go after a group, which holds unpopular beliefs, that religion is to blame? You do not need religion to persecute people. Furthermore, what connection is there between the government putting up a Christmas tree and someone throwing a brick through my storefront window? As I see it people who want to engage in violence are going to find an excuse to justify it. Religion is a good excuse. If you do not have that than there is always race. If you are really desperate you can always start a fight over rival sports teams. (Here at Ohio State we have a history of sporting events turning violent, particularly if it involves Michigan.)

Why would the government putting up a Christmas tree on state property be unfair to me? There is nothing unfair with putting something up to a democratic vote. In Columbus OH the government can put up a Christmas tree, in Brooklyn NY the government put up a menorah and in suburban Detroit MI the government can put up a Crescent. Look, if I really felt a need to have a government that played to my religious sensibilities, I could always run off to Israel. I am a part of the liberal tradition. I value living with people who do not share my values. The government is therefore doing me a favor by putting up a Christmas tree; they are forcing me to be more open minded. I think my life is richer because I learned to sing Christmas carols from listening to the radio. I would not have had that opportunity if I did not live in a Christian society that was open with its Christianity.

No comments: