Ken Gallinger writes in the ethics column of The Star newspaper:
"Two weeks ago, I advised a cashier to honour her employer's wishes and greet her customers with the inclusive phrase "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." That column generated a surprisingly strong, polarized response. Here are two of my favourites:
"Wishing someone `Merry Christmas' is not `inflicting your celebration' on everyone. It is an acknowledgment that the very reason we are enjoying a holiday is because of our rich Christian heritage ... Also, you have subscribed to the presumptuous habit of lecturing Christians, so annoyingly prevalent in left-of-centre thought these days. We both know that there are many fundamentalist Muslims in this world who have difficulty with others not of their creed, doctrines or calendar. But would you have substituted `Muslims' for `Christians' in your sentence? I think not. Quite simply, you haven't got the guts, and neither does the Star's editorial board."
"Just got around to reading your Saturday column and ... I think I'm in love. Never before have I read a more insightful, amusing, clear and accurate depiction of those insensitive folk who naively believe that everybody is a clone of themselves, as they mindlessly reel off their Xmas-time chant. (Don't bother running away; I'm 75 and can't move too fast!)"
There were lots more in both camps – although the fighters outnumber the lovers. As usual.
Clearly, we are living in "in-between" times. Many of us who grew up in Canada remember when this was a "Christian" country, in practice if not in law. And some still yearn for that time. But those days are gone; we are one of the world's greatest multi-faith societies. Arguing about the truth, advantages or disadvantages of that reality is pointless. And wistfulness is wasted.
The old faith-specific ethical standards of our younger days, rooted as they were in specific cultures, times and traditions, are suddenly much less clear or compelling than they once seemed. In a society like ours, it is not enough to define good and bad in terms of the Ten Commandments or even the teachings of Jesus, as fine as those teachings may be. Instead, we are, collectively, searching for more inclusive and widely owned ethical principles. Respect for human dignity, the true equality of the genders, races and orientations, rejection of violence as a way of exercising power, the sacredness of the earth and its inhabitants – these are some, but not all, of these more universal principles. When they clash with narrowly defined faith-based practices, they must prevail.
It is Christmas time. Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem, grew to be the man who, in an intensely jingoistic culture, regularly made foreigners and outcasts the heroes of his stories. He challenged the closed minds of legalistic and cultic religious leaders. He was respectful of women and children in a time when such respect was largely unknown. He dined with harlots, set criminals free and made friends with (gasp) civil servants. It's a good guy whose birthday we celebrate! So to my Christian friends and readers, I say Merry Christmas. And to everyone else, this: may you find in your faith, your friends and your families all the joy that Christians find in the celebration of this season. Happy Holidays."
Send your questions directly to Ken Gallinger at email@example.com.
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And one comment today:
No such thing as Christian country
What makes Canada a "Christian" country? What makes ANY country "Christian"? Christianity has no penal code, no economic principles, no rules and regulations on governance of a state, NOTHING. Secondly, JESUS did not celebrate Christmas nor was he anything close to Christian - HE WAS A JEW.
Submitted by Mubin Shaikh at 6:41 PM Saturday, December 20 2008