Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let's just get along -- my way

Katherine Kersten, one of the columnists most active in pushing the "War on Christmas" theme in recent years, is asking for a ceasefire. Sort of.

When an outspoken atheist such as Dawkins says "Merry Christmas," we may be reaching a consensus. American popular culture has appropriated Christmas, as it has Thanksgiving, and drained it of religious meaning.

Huh? It's a cease-fire as long as we all say "Merry Christmas"?

A ceasefire would be letting people say whatever the heck they want, and not getting bent out of shape about it. It would be nonbelievers saying they don't get offended by "Merry Christmas" and believers like Kersten saying there's nothing wrong with "Happy Holidays" -- essentially repudiating their words of the last couple of years.

From that unpromising starting point, Kersten goes on to lay out what believers and nonbelievers should appreciate about each other. While I believe she is sincere, her examples get a bit muddied.

For one thing, she seems to confuse "believers" with "Christian". For instance, she says nonbelievers should get credit for defining and expanding natural rights, and for coming up with political principles such as due process and separation of powers. That's generous, though it ignores the muddy birth of such principles, with many advocates being Deists and other nonChristian believers.

More broadly, though, she thinks believers (Christians) should get credit for ideas like liberty, equality and personal freedom -- and thus democracy.

That's simply incredible.

Christianity led to democracy? Tell that to the Greeks, who invented democracy 500 years before Jesus was born. Or the Romans, who governed themselves with a Republic from 509 B.C. until Julius Caesar seized power in 44 B.C.

Liberty? Equality? Personal Freedom? The ancient Greeks.

Believers have played a major role in the development and enactment of various social ideals. Believers, for instance, were at the heart of the abolitionist movement in the United States (and Prohibition. Hey, we all make mistakes....). But it's an open question whether various movements should be properly connected to belief/nonbelief, instead of to individuals who happen to believe or not. And crediting Christianity with the original concepts ignores Christianity's status as something of a Johnny-come-lately to the world of philosophy.

Cease-fire in the culture wars? I'm all for it. But I'm not sure Kersten is ready yet.

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