Keep Christ in Christmas, And Respect Others’ Voices During the Holidays

This time of year brings traditions and festivities for many people, including (but not limited to) Diwali, Thanksgiving, Human Light, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and even Festivus.

In the United States where the majority of the population adheres to variations of Christianity, Christmas has become the dominate celebration. It has engulfed every aspect of society: school holiday celebrations and performances, decorations on public and private buildings, music played on radio stations and in stores, the commercials on television, and the economy’s reliance on the tradition of gift buying.

None of this is bad or wrong. What is problematic is the resistance those in the majority express to sharing the holiday with those who have a completely different view of the season. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists may enjoy many of the cultural traditions that Christmas entails: decorations, the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, secular holiday music, parties, and visiting family and friends. However, many nontheists also wish to convey their ideals of this time of year which include being good without religion.

Their insistence in recent years has come in many forms: billboards, freethought holiday trees, freethought displays to go alongside Christmas displays on public property, nonreligious messages on signs, and parade floats and bands with nontheistic members. Unfortunately, most of these nonreligious expressions have not been welcomed.

What is ironic and unfortunate about the lack of acceptance—or even tolerance—for more than one view of the holiday season is that Congress has spent time and effort to convince other countries that they really ought to be more considerate and respectful of the religious minorities in their countries.

For example, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed by a voice vote on December 13 to House Resolution 306, which in part includes “urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage” and “end all forms of religious discrimination.”

The House also seeks to establish a special envoy to promote religious freedom of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia in H.R. 440. The envoy would be responsible for among other things promoting the rights of religious freedom of religious minorities in the countries of the Near East and South Central Asia, monitoring and combating acts of religious intolerance and incitement targeted against religious monitories, and working to ensure that the unique needs of religious minority communities in such countries are addressed, including the economic and security needs. These religious minority communities include Coptic Christians in Egypt; Baha’i in Iran; the Ahmaddiya Muslim sect in Pakistan; and Christians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Yet during this same session of Congress, the House also passed a resolution (H. Con. Res. 13) reaffirming the national motto as “In God We Trust,” disenfranchising millions of American citizens who do not trust in the Christian god—or any deity at all.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Christianity is being pushed out of the public square. That simply isn’t true. What is true is that for decades—maybe even a couple of hundred years—in this country, Christianity has had a monopoly on the holiday traditions and expressions. But today, there are people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions that help weave the fabric of our society.

Instead of seeing that as a threat to Christianity—which it is not—it should be the privilege and responsibility of the majority to ensure that those voices are heard.

The public square—in its many forms—belongs to all Americans. We must all learn to share it—or we end up fighting over it, which benefits no one and instead divides communities and hardens hearts and opinions.

This holiday season in the United States, millions of Christians are celebrating one of their most holy days and celebrations. There is no way to miss it—or avoid it. Is it too much to ask that the Christians respect and remember that they are not the only ones with beliefs and traditions during this time of the year? It does not take away from anyone’s beliefs, traditions, or religion to accept that we live in a diverse and wonderfully complicated society.

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