Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sing Silent Night at School: Over My DEAD Body

What are the Limits of Tradition based on Faith in a Pluralistic Society?  That's the question we seem to want to ask ourselves as a society and culture, yet we don't seem to know how to go about it in a pluralistic way?  San Leandro Schools have been in the news this week because of a debate, legal case and desire (by at least one person) to force the schools to remove religious songs from school performances, specifically at Christmas.  [Parents to get preview list of holiday songs]  

Obviously I'm biased as a follower of Jesus and member of the religious left, yet it seems to me that it's going a bit too far.  We tend, in our country, to target Christianity as the smother-of-all-freedoms because of its influence in our national historical and cultural emergence, and more specifically because of the recent get-in-to-bed-with-each-other-incest of the Republican Party and Religious Right.  Yet is that a reason to rid our schools of part, in fact a significant cultural factor, of our national identity and history?  Christmas is in fact a Christian Holiday, granted it's a pagan one from the Romans subverted and crossed-dressed by the early Christian Church in the Roman Empire of the 1st centuries of our era.  And it is primarily and foundationally not about a fat man that comes down our chimney, nor a capitalistic way to subvert our financial values by helping companies move from the red to the black in their account books before the end of the year through our splurging and credit card fed over-indulgences.  It is in fact a holiday whose ontological roots are articulated in the lyrics of Silent Night.  How is that not an important part of the entire package, depth and width of our cultural identity, specifically in a pluralistic society?  We, as a culture, in particular in progressive circles, mistake pluralistic with the idea of let's pick and choose what we want to belong to us and define us.   Yet we can't remake society and culture in our own image, or preferred picture.  [Of course some are trying to do such such as the "Catholic college town" created in Immokalee, Florida].


dbanoff said...

I beg to differ with you on this one, Monte. You say celebrating Christmas is a "significant cultural factor, of our national identity and history." On the contrary, Silent Night has very specif, religious lyrics which are, at best meaningless for a non-Christian, and, at worst, offensive. Our country was founded with a core value that the majority does not impose its religion on the minority. A public school program celebrating the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Saviour, is very much espousing a particular religious view which would leave out Jews, Muslims, and many other religions found today in our diverse public schools. The time has long past when we could blithely assume that all members of our society were Protestant Christians, and could discriminate with impunity against those few who were not.

Monte said...

Thanks David for your perspective. I do, despite my efforts of objectivity, come to the discussion table with my worldview and baggage. I struggle with how "Silent Night" in itself is offensive....maybe it's more the context and past experiences of folks.

My challenge in the whole question is where do we draw the line? How do we set parameters for embracing and ensuring religious pluralism, freedom of thought and mutual respect in our secular multi-cultural context and in particular in learning environments, that should be in part addressing and lifting up the whole wealth of such a societal culture. I know I'm a bleeding-heart optimist. I wish we didn't have to try to create, discern and implement these parameters through litigation (I suspect it only breeds more fear, mistrust and anger).