Friday, December 03, 2010

Raising awareness

To the Dear Prudence commenters whose response to a non-Christian having the religious aspects of Christmas shoved in his face at the office is "If my Muslim friend wished me a happy Ramadan or whatever my repsonse would be 'you too' and I'll forget about it" or "I am not Jewish but if I worked in an office where there was copious amounts of reference to any Jewish holiday, I would not be bothered," consider this: views like yours are the reason for political correctness, for sensitivity training, for Multicultural Studies departments at universities. You know that tedious expression, "raising awareness"? It exists because some people are just that stunningly unaware of why these kinds of comparisons don't hold.

Prudie herself encouraged these responses, urging the office worker to "get in the mood of the season and be merry." Ugh. I mean, if you're a non-Christian, and the existence of Christmas is the most upsetting thing in your life, count yourself lucky, or perhaps seek professional attention for your rather warped thought processes. But does it really need to be spelled out that being a minority is not always delightful? If you've weighed the pros and cons, and decided it's better than up and moving to a place where you'd be in the majority (although in this weather, the Tayelet beckons...), you deal. But you don't have to like it.

Anyway. I'm not sure how bothered by Christmas 'non-Christians' are on the whole, and how much this is just an issue for Jews. For many of us, Judaism is defined by the non-celebration of Christmas. It's how many Jewish children learn that they're "different," and that difference doesn't end along with elementary school. For others (ahem, Prudie), showing how wonderful they think Christmas is, even if it's not their own holiday, is a way of putting themselves on the side of the 'good' Jews - a less controversial way of doing so than ostentatiously criticizing Israel whenever anyone learns you're Jewish (without doing anything constructive to fix the mess over there, one I'm sure as hell not getting into in this post. Sorry, kids!), but one that also gets the point across that one doesn't have dual loyalties. Are other subsets of non-Christians this involved with that most salient of Christian holidays? Neither-Christian-nor-Jewish readers, enlighten me.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Lifelong atheist, unapologetic Christmas fan. It has so long been possible in this country to swap out Jesus for Santa that I think, unless you seek out the religious stuff, the name is the only part of the holiday still tinged with Christianity. (And okay, lots of the great carols are about a chubby baby future martyr. This doesn't bother me any more here than in classical music, but one's mileage may vary.)
Christmas in my family means seeing loved ones, roaring fires, putting thought into choosing inexpensive but thoughtful gifts for everyone, ugly homemade ornaments, snowball fights, and baking cookies. Honestly, I'm so enamored of it that I'm almost insulted when it's called a Christian holiday by non-fans. (Irony noted.) I understand Christians' dismay that they've lost Christmas, and maybe a symbolic reluctance to adopt it by others, but I really think you're missing out.

julia f said...

i have a similar family tradition of having a completely secular and enjoyable christmas celebration, so other people saying 'merry christmas' to me i interpret as 'have fun eating and drinking a lot and maybe getting some nice prezzies too!' and it doesn't bug me - but i can see how if belonging to a different tradition with no christmas (secular or religious), the constant barrage of 'tis the season' would be rather alienating.

Britta said...

I am not a non-Christian, but when I lived in China, a form of Christmas was very enthusiastically celebrated by the Chinese. People put up Christmas decorations everywhere, many stores had loudspeakers that blasted Christmas music out into the street, and everyone ate sponge cake on the actual day. Pretty much no one knew what the Holiday actually meant, guesses ranged from "the Western New Year" to the day Santa Claus was born (I did not hear this, but I know someone who taught English in Japan, and one of her students thought Christmas was the day they nailed Santa to the cross). In fact, Christmas was so divorced from any meaning that most cheap restaurants hung Christmas decorations up all year just because they liked the way it looked, and it was a little odd to eat noodles in July under a wreath, or a glittery Santa.

The main holiday we celebrated in elementary school was Kwanzaa, but since I went to an afro-centric themed elementary school that is probably not very representative.

Amber said...

Put me down in the "hardcore atheist, celebrates Christmas" column as well. It's basically a more raucous and jovial version of Thanksgiving, but with presents and decorations. Many (if not most) of the common seasonal traditions and trappings have zero to do with Jesus, and I confess to a certain impatience with persons of non-Xian origin who get het up when someone gives them a candy cane. (There's a pretty funny line of Supreme Court cases dealing with Christmas displays on public land. The highest court in the land has, iirc, determined conclusively that putting up a Santa doesn't endorse Christianity.)

The specific examples from Prudie's column are more sectarian, and unless the workplace is willing to decorate for all religious holidays, should be minimized---but a couple of carols and cards are really not worth rocking the boat about in most workplaces.

Withywindle said...

The current generation of American Jews fusses more about Christmas, etc., than their parents and grandparents did. It isn't a timeless "being a religious minority" reaction; it's this time, this place. And, as I have mentioned before, certain of us are descended from German Jews who took a positive delight in Christmas trees, precepios, etc.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Hmm. I should clarify that what I'm curious about is whether non-Christians who aren't Jewish have the same misgivings about Christmas, because I suspected they would not. I'm not interested (this to Anonymous's point) in hearing, from the neither-nors, that Jews are so touchy about this, that Jews should get over it already and join the fun. I'm well aware that some Jews are touchy about Christmas, also that some (Prudence) go out of their way to approve of a holiday that has no special meaning for them personally, also (to Withywindle's point) that some full-on celebrate the holiday. All responses are understandable, including, I'm afraid, the touchiness/bitterness/annoyance-at-the-season one. I'm atheist as can be, but Christmas to an atheist of Christian cultural origin is not, all things equal, the same thing as it is to atheists of Jewish origin. To Amber's point - proportion matters, and I think if you have a hissy fit at the sight of a candy cane, that's what aliyah is for. But I don't think it's fair to attribute secular Jews' lack of enthusiasm for Christmas to some kind of aggrieved, whiny-minority-ness - this is getting to blame-the-victim territory. Again, unless Jews are threatening violence or suing their employers because someone said "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or whatever. Jews, even secular ones, shouldn't be judged for not feeling warm and fuzzy this time of year. It's an entirely reasonable response. For those who are able to separate out the religious from the secular, and to embrace only the latter, more power to them.

Sigivald said...

I'm a life-long atheist (and raised atheist, actively, so of dubious "cultural Christianity") and have no problems with Christmas.

Mostly because, in practice, I've found it to be not all that Christian of a holiday, all things considered.

Sure, there's the occasional Nativity.

But in general, it's a non-religious Winter Holiday that seems a lot closer to its Pagan "Look, seriously, the sun will be back!" roots than to a celebration of Jesus.

Then again, I'm a weird Atheist - I read Apologia for fun.

(Britta: Do you suppose that perhaps Santa was interpreted as some sort of pseudo- or crypto-Buddha?

I have no evidence at all for that, but the image of a Santa in a Chinese restaurant year round made me think of a Buddha statue. Probably because of the "fat dude" thing...)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"I'm a life-long atheist (and raised atheist, actively, so of dubious "cultural Christianity")

I'm not sure what the phrasing is here that would get at where I'm going with this. There are absolutely multigeneration atheists with little "Christian" influence in their lives. But there's a difference between the experiences of someone whose non-Christianity would only make itself known if religious beliefs are being discussed, and that of a David Rabinovitz who doesn't believe in a higher power.

Or think of it like this. Much is made of how Judaism isn't just a religion, but is also a culture. (Well, several cultures.) Christianity, too, has cultural components, location-specific, sect-specific, etc. Atheists who are descended from Christians, who claim that their observance of Christmas is "secular," aren't wrong, exactly, but it's a form of secular Christianity, just like if I eat a bagel while watching "Annie Hall" on Yom Kippur, I'm being culturally but not religiously Jewish. It's the privilege (much as I try not to use that word...) of the majority to think of Christmas without explicit reference to Jesus as neutral ground. That some Jews, even, agree to look at it this way (hi again, Withywindle) doesn't negate the way others look at it.

Any of this make sense?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I suggested that anyone's being too touchy (though, maybe now I am, just a touch). I just said that I understand not celebrating, because I assume it's symbolic. If I am wrong and there's something substantive about the Godless X-Mas we've been describing that is unappealing or distasteful to you, I'm curious to hear about it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I was responding, I think fairly, to "I really think you're missing out." If what I'm getting at isn't clear from this post and my comments, I've also linked to some of the earlier posts where I've explained Christmas-and-Jews.

jim said...

Atheist and find Christmas irritating. I don't want to buy people stuff they don't want, be bought stuff I don't want, send cards or decorate trees. Mostly I can ignore it, but the day itself is very hard to ignore. Movie and Chinese food, because what are you going to do?

It is true that other countries are worse. Easter, Pentecost, the Feast of the Assumption are all basically ignored here. Italy shuts down August 15th. But this is only slight consolation.

Alex said...

I'm a non-religious Jew whose family has always celebrated Christmas, but I don't think other religious minorities in America have the same love-hate, push-pull relationship with Christmas as Jewish-Americans do -- but largely because America is a Jewish country, not because it's a Christian country.

What I mean is that it's sort of drummed into our national psyche that America is built on "Judeo-Christian values", and this causes people who have no real experience with Jews to assume that they must be normal Americans, i.e. just like Christians. For many people who would never expect that a Muslim or a Buddhist would celebrate Christmas they simply assume that Christmas is "Judeo-Christian" and of course Jews are as enthusiastic about the holiday as are Christians. This in turn causes some Jews to be offended by the mere mention of the holiday, and others to be overly deferential to the dominant ethos. Other religions are seen as more alien, and are thus given a pass for not conforming to the American civic culture.

Alex said...

In countries like the UK or France where the "Judeo-" and the "Christian" haven't been conflated to at all the same extent as in America, I don't think it's nearly as controversial that Jews don't celebrate Christmas, either among Jews or among Christians.

Matt said...

Phoebe, there are some Jews (I think Jeff Goldberg falls into this category) who take a "why shouldn't Christians celebrate Christmas loudly" attitude because they want an America where public displays of religion, including their displays of their Jewish religion (and heritage) are permissible. I think that ignores the overwhelming overwhelmingness of Christmas in this country (even in 30% Jewish New York, though the rest of the country doesn't necessarily have trees for sale blocking public sidewalks) which could certainly be toned down without sacrificing anything meaningful, but it's a point. Not every Jew wants French-style exclusion of public displays because, well.. see the French ban on veils. As for Prudie, it's quite clear there were several people in the office who had a problem with the way Christmas was being celebrated and the boss's response and Prudence's response were both inadequate and offensive. I agree wholeheartedly that Jews shouldn't be seen as the problem when we don't enjoy Christmas, but sometimes the response of an entire office might be complicated.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I've heard, I think, of Jews wanting Christmas to be restored to its status as a Christian holiday. I might even count myself as one of them. The problem for Jews is that if Christmas is popularly understood as neutral ground, Jews look (to secular, non-Jewish Christmas enthusiasts) like neurotic weirdos for failing to join in the fun. But I think of this as more about Jews wishing to see Christmas be just a family-and-church holiday - nativity scenes outside churches would be OK, but the constant stream of Christmas music in the Gap or whatever, not. It's not that this set of Jews (if I'm understanding you correctly) want Christmas to have a greater place in the public sphere, but that, if we're open about the fact that it's a Christian holiday, it will no longer seem strange that (many) Jews don't celebrate it.

Matt said...

I'm reasonably confident I've seen Goldberg defend the explicitly Christian and public Christmas. The best example I can find at the moment is this. It may not be the best example, but he is defending Christmas against a reduced role in public, and I tend to doubt it's to appear as a "good Jew".

PG said...

I was raised religiously Hindu and still consider myself culturally Hindu (the occasional cheeseburger notwithstanding), and my family celebrates Christmas without much concerns for its being of purportedly Christian origin.

In contrast to Judaism, however, Hinduism is polytheistic. When my aunt was dying of cancer, my very devout Hindu grandmother was happy to have a nearby church include my aunt in their official "pray for the sick" list. We don't really stress the One True God thing.

But with regard to the difference between the majority and minority, it's worth noting that my family only started celebrating Christmas after my parents had children in the U.S. who learned about Christmas at nursery school and demanded to receive gifts at the same time their friends did. Prior to that, my parents ignored Christmas and gave us gifts on a Hindu holiday. I don't think this kind of peer-influenced adoption of a holiday happens for immigrants to the U.S. with Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc. As other commenters have noted, Christmas is sort of unavoidable in America.

With regard to the specific possible causation of Jews' greater annoyance with Christmas than that felt by other religious minorities, even if my dad had immigrated -- actually, "guest-workered" -- to the Middle East as many Indians do, he'd probably become a regularly-fasting meditating vegetarian before he'd celebrate any Islamic holiday. That might be more comparable to Jews' celebrating Christian holidays, since there's a lot more history of conflict between Hindus and Muslims than between Hindus and Christians. Celebrating even a secularized version of a Muslim holiday, for my dad, would be lowering his flag of not being a Muslim dammit even though he's not, so far as daily practice goes, a very good Hindu either.

I'm currently in Jakarta and they're Christmassing it up like crazy -- elf hats on the checkout clerks, "Silent Night" playing in the hotel lobby -- but Indonesia's Muslims don't have much historical beef with Christianity either. The Dutch colonizers were way more interested in coffee plantations than in missionizing. I've never traveled in the Middle East, so I'd be curious to see how countries that had more historical conflict with Christianity treat Christmas.

FYI, Amber remembers the Supreme Court cases correctly, though the really awesome thing is that you basically can take the Christ out of your taxpayer-funded Christmas display, even if there's a cross up, by sticking a Santa next to it. I always think of this as the tackiness rule: the more tasteless your Christmas display, the less likely it establishes religion.

Britta said...

As PG alluded to, I feel like disgust over public displays of Christmas (Xmas?) also divide on how much kitsch you can stomach. I know Christmas-celebrators who go crazy when they have to hear yet another rendition of Frosty the Snowman, or see tinsel and candy canes in October, and I know people of all religions who absolutely love every single "secular" Christmas custom. This distinction becomes even more true the further you get from Christmas and the more you get into Winter holiday stuff--is "Frosty the Snowman" or "Jingle Bells" as objectionable as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" From a purely religious point, no, but from an assault-on-the-senses point, (I would say) yes. I think the "20 top irritating Christmas songs of all time" CD that every single establishment seems to have purchased really is the unhappy medium that doesn't really satisfy anyone--religious Christians/people who celebrate Christmas wonder why they have to listen to "Little Drummer Boy" 40 times instead of actual beautiful Christmas music, and people who don't celebrate Christmas wonder why they have to listen to "Little Drummer Boy" 40 times instead of the normal muzak you can easily tune out.

Britta said...

Oh--some anecdotal evidence--I feel like people I know who like Hanukkah music (which, to be honest, is often on par with bad Christmas music) generally also like Christmas music. My Jewish friends who can't stand Hanukkah music also hate Christmas music.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I could be wrong, but I don't know of any Jews who take heart in the idea that America is "Judeo-Christian." Speaking only for myself, I see it as a PC way of calling America a Christian country.


I guess everyone's different? I think, from that post, that part of what Goldberg's driving at is that if you're a practicing Jew, you should support all religious practice, so Christians should be free to celebrate Christmas and not just "the holidays" - not so different from thinking (as I do) that Christmas should stay Christian so that atheist Jews shouldn't feel obligated to join in.

As for why he "loves" the day, despite it not being his... either he just does, aesthetically, the way I like Flemish Primitive portraits of Mary and Jesus. Or maybe it's a pick-your-battles version of the "good Jew" phenomenon - not that I think he's making up that he likes the day, but once you've made your name as a pro-Israel writer, to be acceptable at all to a mainstream audience, you'd be best served by also highlighting the "good" aspects of your stance wrt the majority culture.


I think you're right to point out the cultural specificity of historical tension between different groups. This isn't my area of Jewish-studies expertise, but I believe that pogroms often occurred on Christian holidays, which would explain why Ashkenazi Jews would not see these days as just the days when the majority culture stayed home from work. Even if I'm misremembering, there's also the fact that Jewish difference in America is defined entirely in religious terms, whereas for many Hindus and Muslims, there's also a question of visible-minority difference, which is in many cases more salient than religious difference, or the two are conflated. With Jews, it's not socially acceptable to suggest that white Jews look or even speak or otherwise act differently than their white equivalents wherever they live. Because we understand being Jewish as being connected to religion, even secular Jews end up feeling the need to assert Jewishness a little bit religiously, in particular by avoiding Christmas, whether or not Chanukah ever makes an appearance.


So much agreement here today! I also agree with you, re: kitsch. Maybe - and this may be a stretch - some of the negative Jewish reaction to Christmas comes from ambivalence about Real Uncynical America more generally - a need to be "NY" even if living elsewhere, to be cosmopolitan, to distance one's self from the tacky (and, and this is where this comment could get way too long to explain, the "Jappy"). It gets complicated - are anti-Christmas-kitsch Jews being snobby elitists, or is the guise of snobby elitism a natural response to knowing that Real America would never accept them/us/whatever?

Matt said...

Phoebe, "if you're a practicing Jew, you should support all religious practice, so Christians should be free to celebrate Christmas and not just "the holidays"." Yeah, that was my reading of Goldberg, that it's good to support all public religious practice, which I was trying to point out. It struck me as a bit different from your view in that Goldberg winds up siding with those complaining about the "War against Christmas." I think he's kinda wrong about that, but not with terrible reasoning. As far as "pick your battles," he also appreciated Orrin Hatch's Hannukah song, and I can see no aesthetic reason for that other than cozying up to the dominant culture, but it still strikes me as sincere and not "good Jew" stuff.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


You're right that my guess of what you were saying Goldberg was saying changed once I saw the post. I don't, however, now that I've seen his post, think there's anything fundamentally different about a Jewish atheist wanting Christmas to stay Christian so as not to have to celebrate it, and an observant Jew wanting Christmas to stay Christian so as to be able to construct an eruv or leave early on Fridays without hassle. These views are kind of unrelated to any "War on Christmas" - that "war" is typically about suppressing all references to Jesus and replacing them with a neutral "holiday season."

As for sincerity vs. good-Jew-ness, I don't think these are mutually exclusive. As I said in my last comment, it could be a matter of knowing what people would expect someone with his views on Israel (or, heck, his last name) would think about Christmas, and making a point of shattering those expectations.

Finally, why couldn't someone have an aesthetic affinity for something that comes from the dominant culture?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

But back to the "War on Christmas" - I guess Goldberg's view is unusual for a non-Christian, because that argument is usually both that Christmas needs to stay or return to being Christian, and that it needs to be visible in the public sphere. It's a self-contradictory argument - Christmas is a religious holiday and so should be left alone, yet Christmas is a national/universal holiday and so should be acknowledged even by non-Christians - unless the person making it thinks everyone should convert to Christianity, and that this helps the cause.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Comments still a mess. This is from Matt:

I think I should say that I think Goldberg's view is sincere (rather than a "good Jew" argument) because he sincerely believes that people should be able to express their religious beliefs, including references to the Baby Jesus, in the public square. What he gets out of it is the right to express his Jewishness in the public square without feeling odd. An alternative to, as my grandfather taught my mother, to be a mensch in the street and a Jew at home. For him, if I read him correctly, Christmas isn't a universal/national holiday, but simply a majoritarian one. And if he's to be able to express sincere religious sentiments in public, why shouldn't others be allowed to?

At this point, I'm not sure how exactly various arguments are different; vagaries in expression may overwhelm actual differences. But my limited knowledge (mostly from David Biale's "Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History") suggests that in the Orthodox/Reform split, while Reform Jews sought a more secular public square, Orthodox Jews felt that an explicitly Christian nation would better understand Jewish devotion. Perhaps Goldberg is more "Orthodox" than we are?

I think Goldberg's wrong because the right to express belief in the public square is not the same as having every damn song on the radio be some sort of Christmas song --I'm particularly irked by the commercial this year with Madness's "Our House" having "Jingle Bell" lyrics, because I have a special place in my heart for the original; and maybe that's a difference in tolerance for kitsch -- and he ignores the demands this inevitably creates. But I think his desire to express his own Jewishness in public is perfectly reasonable.

Although it might not be entirely relevant, I want to mention Jewish songwriters who include blatantly Christian references in lyrics, ie, "He wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown" -Paul Simon. I'm fascinated by that, which I view as symptomatic of a relevant, gross disparity.

/:- And as for Orrin Hatch's Hannukah song, while I can imagine plenty of people having purely aesthetic appreciations of plenty of objects from the majority culture, I can't retain any sanity while imagining anyone having an actually aesthetic appreciation of Hatch's song. I assume any appreciation must be purely ideological only because I can't bear to know that anyone (Jew or otherwise) might have such bad taste. That would truly shatter my faith in humanity :-/

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

My blog now eats my own comments! So to summarize: Agreed that there's a split among Jews wrt the public sphere. Agreed that Goldberg goes above and beyond by embracing not just nativity scenes but also Target commercials. Which gets us back to the good Jew vs. sincerity discussion. I agree with you that he's being sincere. I also think, if you're known as being pro-Israel, you stand to gain from pointing out the ways in which you stray from what one might imagine of a Jewy Jew, which is to say, if you happen to be pro-Christmas, why keep it to yourself?

Exl Blogger said...

A lot of people like to celebrate Christmas because it is a generous and generic holiday. The whole point of the holiday, as it is celebrated, is to spread good will and good feeling. It isn't about asking for revenge for the death of Ali or acknowledging a specific miracle that not everyone acknowledges, the nativity not withstanding.

Sure, it has been co-opted, but that was well underway when Charles Dickens wrote his Christmas Carol. The co-option is much older than that. God knows there have been winter solstice celebrations for millenia. It gets dark. It gets cold. It gets dreary. What better than a big blow out with lots of lights, presents, rich food and maybe even some greenery.

Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It isn't just generous, it is generic, so everyone can enjoy it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It isn't just generous, it is generic, so everyone can enjoy it."

It isn't generic if those of other religions, or just Jews, don't see it as generic.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

PG wrote:

Just found you a Jew who refers to "Judeo-Christian values" -- a Jewish Republican in Texas who's being campaigned against for a leadership position partly because he's not a Christian.


I respond: Good researching! It's telling, though, that it requires a situation - unusual in this day and age - when someone's being publicly targeted by American conservatives for being Jewish rather than Christian. (As opposed to by American conservatives for being godless New Yawkers, or by American leftists for being Zionist-until-proven-otherwise.) for this expression to get used by a Jew.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think this kind of peer-influenced adoption of a holiday happens for immigrants to the U.S. with Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc."

Ah, fasting. Not likely to catch on.


Alex said...

I'm not talking about Jews referring to Judeo-Christian values -- I'm talking about the fact that Americans as a whole learn that America is founded on Judeo-Christian values but learn nothing about Judaism, and thus assume that Jews are exactly like Christians.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I see. I guess I was always imagining more savviness or at least awareness on the part of non-Jewish politicians using the expression - that they use it to make their assertions about America-as-a-Christian-nation seem more inclusive. But you're probably right that this would confuse at least some of the audience, who might think of Jews as, like Mormons, yet another more distant branch of Christianity.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

PG wrote:

I think there's religion-of-a-people, though being in the Bali area has forced me to expand my notion of whose religion Hinduism is. And certain forms of Christianity can be that for various ethnic groups: Greek Orthodoxy, Irish and Italian Catholicism, WASP Episcopalianism.

I'm more doubtful of such connections with regard to denominations of recent vintage and non-ethnic groups. Does it really make sense to speak of "your people" in any useful anthropological sense as, say, the folks who moved to Katy, TX 1980-1990 but drive into Houston for the mega-services at Lakewood? I've attended services at multiple evangelical, non-denominational churches (albeit only in the South) and none of them gave me much sense of a coherent "people" attached to the church. This is perfectly logical, given that such churches are working very hard to appeal to people who may not have been raised as Christians, to be multi-ethnic, to retain a casual, "non-churchy" atmosphere. The more traditional ritual a church has, the more difficulty a newcomer will have in acclimating to it (though of course there's the peculiarity of intellectuals' conversion to Catholicism precisely because they become enamored of Latin and candles).

The hymns sung at the Episcopalian church I had to attend weekly while going to the attached private K-5th have been sung for over 100 years by stiff-necked white people with money. The pop music at many evangelical churches, "with 'Jesus' stuck in place of 'baby'" (as The Simpsons put it), is deliberately chosen for boomers and their children and grandchildren. If what's trendy in popular music changes, so will the music at those churches. I just don't see how that can be creating a religion-of-a-people. I don't know what of those services could be much of a touchstone for the kids who get taken to them now, and as adults don't attend.

Even with people who are a different ethnicity and practice Hinduism differently, there are smells of a Balinese festival that are strikingly reminiscent of my family's celebrations of Hindu festival... the mixed smell of colored powders, new clothes, jasmine, etc. There's food I think of as "temple food." Does that exist for the Wasilla Assembly of God?

I don't think the lack makes it any less of a church in a theological sense; indeed, the kids who grow up in that church probably understand much more of what's going on than I could ever get intellectually from a service conducted in Sanskrit. But it makes it much less of a specific, particular culture, and thus much more difficult to hypothesize someone who is "culturally evangelical."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I respond to PG,

There is absolutely variety in terms of how much any religion exists in a cultural form. The ones that have "as-a-people" variants differ from those with less ingrained cultures. The ones one can opt out of easily by conversion (from what I understand, switching from one form of Protestantism to another) are different from the ones - here I would think most of Irish or Italian Catholics or Ashkenazi Jews, but this is probably more a result of my own ignorance than anything else - that firmly place you in a culture, however "lapsed" you become and even however "lapsed" you were raised.

My reason for going down this road, which I'll try to tie this back to now, is that I think there are a few misconceptions when it comes to this topic. First misconception, that Judaism is a "religion" like Christianity and that there's no such thing as a cultural or secular Jew. Next misconception, that Christianity, unlike Judaism, is purely about belief, practice, "religion," and without cultural elements. To discuss how Jews feel about Christmas, without acknowledging that "Jew" doesn't necessarily, on an individual level, refer to anything religious, or that if "Christian" is a religion, there are subsets of Christianity with major cultural components that can get passed down to the next generation even if church-going does not, is not so productive.

Matt said...

"ou're probably right that this would confuse at least some of the audience, who might think of Jews as, like Mormons, yet another more distant branch of Christianity."

I can offer limited support for Alex here. It may not be limited to Jews. One: I once spent maybe 5 minutes explaining to someone that I was a secular Jew who practiced Buddhism. She responded, "but you still believe in Jesus, right?" I don't know that she understood Buddhists as non-Christians, but she certainly didn't understand Jews as such. Two: This video where a comedian notes that most audiences think Jesus was the first Jew. Three, probably the most important and significant, I have heard on WNYC (perhaps Fresh Air, Lopate, or Lehrer) that The Family view both Islam and Judaism as pieces of Christianity. I wish I could find the specific interview, because it's fascinating, but they've covered The Family too many times to simply google it.

Britta said...

Have you read this NY Times article?