In my personal culture, Christmas begins on Dec. 6,
the feast of St. Nicholas.
That's when I turn on the window candles and Christmas music. It's an
ongoing tradition in my family; many of my German-American grandmother's
great-grandchildren heard a knock on the door Wednesday night and found
the first gifts of the season on their doorstep.
Christmas is a cultural event for people of many lands, and is
celebrated by people who enjoy the tradition even if they aren't
practicing Christians themselves. Some variation of the winter solstice
fires is found in many ancient, traditional and New Age groups.
Culture is what adds richness to our lives, variety to our melting-pot
nation, and color to the tapestry of the world. But it can also add
ugliness and ignorance. It is our job as human beings to honor the
richness, enjoy the color, tolerate the variety - and deplore cultural
wickedness, even if it is part of a particular group's religious
Yes, we understand you want to toss a virgin down a well; but no, you
can't, even if she says she's honored to be chosen.
Let us celebrate intolerance of the bad things that various societies
have tried to pass off as legitimate cultural practice. Most human
beings have rejected human sacrifice, slavery, child abuse; next, let's
work on the fundamentalist Islamic treatment of women and homosexuals.
We are properly horrified when some Sudanese fundamentalists want to
lash a British teacher who allowed her little Muslim students to name a
teddy bear "Mohammed". Fortunately, the British government objected and
the Sudanese president pardoned her - because I for one would have
supported a joint British-American invasion of that sorry country. And
while we were there, we might have done something about Darfur. Genocide
has also been justified in the recent past as a method of cleansing a
Todd Feinberg, the intellectually solid WRKO talk-show host, got a good
discussion going on radical Islam last week by arguing that it's hard to
remove oneself from one's own cultural bias when judging others.
Unthinking religious belief (while hardly foreign to our own culture),
is hard, he says, for the average American to get his head around when
it causes behavior that is strange to us.
Feinberg used the teddy-bear incident to try to shift people's
perspective so they could look at our country as if they were a person
sitting outside our culture, considering the possibility that we might
appear radically wrong to that person. He cited the case of the man
serving 16 years in prison for killing his mother, then being set free
to murder again. In countries that cut off the hands of thieves, our
unwillingness to protect our citizens from criminals appears strange.
In Saudi Arabia, a young woman was sentenced to be lashed for being
alone with a man unrelated to her, just before both of them were
abducted and gang-raped. While expressing horror at the entire
situation, we Americans need to cultivate a little dismay at little
girls paraded in clothes once worn only by prostitutes, now also popular
with teen-age girls. Unwed mothers, whom our culture celebrates when
they are celebrities, have had a seriously bad effect on our society.
Is there some middle ground between the Muslim and the current American
culture, relative to women? Sure, that would be American culture of just
a few decades ago. And could we also be lots more tolerant of gays than
Islamic cultures, but also understanding of the resistance of some
religions to their legal marriage? General tolerance on both sides of
the American culture debate would be nice. We could practice during this
If that works out, we could carry it forward into the election year.
The American political culture was firmly set on separation of church
and state right from its beginning. So how did we get from there to a
discussion of which candidates believe every word of the Bible?
On one side, some religious Republican primary voters are demanding an
actively Christian president. On the other, some Democrat activists are
bringing up religion at every opportunity, trying to ridicule or
demonize candidates who are practicing Christians.
In the middle of this, candidate Mitt Romney has to prove to some that
his Mormon religion is truly Christian, while proving to others that it
isn't the scary fundamentalist version. Good grief. Do he and his family
really strike anyone as radical lunatics?
I had a Mormon friend in college. Rollie didn't drink alcohol or
caffeinated drinks, smoke or use illegal drugs. She said her religion
required her to take care of the body God had given her. She said her
family was expected to keep six months of supplies on hand in case of an
emergency so it would not be a burden on the community. Her culture
seemed to be big on personal responsibility. Ours could use some of that
Americans should continue to enjoy the good things about many cultures.
But we must also insist on the condemnation, no matter how politically
incorrect, of the bad things about some cultures, including our own.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.