Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bet People Will Be as Stupid in the New Year!

This little gem appeared yesterday in the letters section of the local rag:

    S.D. is a Christian state
    Carole V. Ryden • Sioux Falls • December 30, 2008
    I read that Gov. Mike Rounds lighted Menorah candles on the Capitol step during Hanukkah. The Menorah has been the symbol of the Jewish religion for 3,000 years. South Dakota is a Christian state - not a Jewish state. It is inappropriate for government officials to do this lighting ritual. To what purpose is Judaism being singled out? I suspect this ritual is designed to show that South Dakotans stand in support of the Jewish religion. Why? Don't South Dakotans stand for all those who choose to worship God in their own way? I do. However, I object to Gov. Rounds going along with a minority group which seeks to Judaize the rest of us, such as insisting that we now say "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas. This is especially repugnant to me in light of the fact that Jews reject the divinity of Christ. I don't. You won't find any symbols or rituals of Christianity on Jewish turf. Gov. Rounds has violated the separation of church and state and turned his back on the Christian traditions of South Dakota.

Ah, and here we go again...the majority of people who live in X are Christians, or profess to be (not, experience teaches, quite the same thing), therefore X is a "Christian" country/ state/county/neighborhood/fill in your favorite pointless geographic boundary.

Ms. Ryden is of course half-right: South Dakota is not a "Jewish state." I have the feeling that I could have every Jew in the state over for lunch and we would fit comfortably in my backyard. (Not at the moment, when the backyard is snow-covered and the temperature is a brisk 7 degrees, but you get my point.) But she is also half-wrong, for neither is South Dakota a "Christian state." It's a "state," that's all, and under the Constitution of the United States (remember that old thing? We haven't seen much of it these past eight years) that makes it a secular entity.

Side Point One: Don't tell me you've read the Constitution and don't find "separation of church and state" in there anywhere. The phrase is not there, but the concept is. Don't be disingenuous.

Side Point Two: Observe how Ms. Ryden on the one hand insists that South Dakota is a "Christian" state but then subsequently complains that the governor "has violated the separation of church and state" by his lighting of a menorah. Well, which is is? If this is a "Christian" state--and by extensions I suppose she must mean that every state that has a majority of self-proclaiming Christians as residents must perforce also be "Christian" states--then "separation of church and state" has no meaning, and it thus would be impossible for the governor, or anyone else, to violate it.

Although I am unsurprised that such bigoted ignorance exists (I live in South Dakota, mind, and encounter such staggering stupidity and shallowness nearly every day of the week) I am a little surprised that someone would be so colossally ignorant as to put such an opinion to paper. And then mail it, or e-mail it, to the local rag. But I suppose the Cloak of Righteousness means you can say any stupid, shallow, prejudiced thing you like and be confident that (A) Jesus agrees with you and (B) anyone who disagrees with you must by definition not be a "real Christian" since, after all (C), Jesus agrees with you.

Although it is folly to try to make sense out of such ignorant ranting, one can't help but wonder how the governor's lighting a menorah signifies an attempt to "Judaize the rest of us." Is it that my laying eyes on a menorah would somehow compel me to convert to Judaism? If so, our churches should fair be bursting at the seams, since you can't turn around without seeing a cross hanging from someone's neck, or an ichthys on the back end of a car. Why, if symbols are all it takes to "-ize" people, there should be no non-Christians anywhere, so ubiquitous is Christian, or "Christian," symbolism!

I especially love the second-to-last line (by which point I imagine Ms. Ryden figuratively foaming at the corners of her mouth, as her tirade makes less and less sense and sounds more and more strident): "You won't find any symbols or rituals of Christianity on Jewish turf." So, so true. Nor will you find much in the way of Jewish symbols or rituals on "Christian turf" (one does occasionally encounter a Star of David in the Christian context). But again, she seems to be confusing the steps of the South Dakota capitol building with "Christian turf," when it isn't. It is, by law, custom, and common sense, "secular turf." Indeed, one could--and some probably will--argue that, because it's secular, there should be no religious symbolism at all there, but I consider such arguments to be silly. Put up a Christmas tree in the rotunda, light a menorah on the steps, who cares?

Well, lots of people, obviously. Which causes me to wonder why?

I mean, is the faith of Ms. Ryden and her ilk (that whole "war on Christmas" bunch that O'Reilly keeps bleating about) really so fragile, so shallow, so meaningless that the idea of the existence of a different faith is threatening? Are their beliefs so shaky that hearing "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" undermines their Christmas convictions? Is their brand of "religion" really so second-rate that they can advance it only by burying someone else's? Are they and their God really that small?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine Jesus getting too worked up over the lighting of a menorah, on the steps of the South Dakota capitol or anywhere else. It seems pretty likely to me that he himself may have lighted one or two, back in the day. Likewise, I doubt that he thinks that someone slapping a fish symbol on the back of his or her car makes him or her a Christian.

I'm almost certain there's more to it than that.

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