Relax, Damnit

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
So I was speaking to my boss the other day, finishing up my annual performance review (apparently I "exceeded expectations" for fiscal year 2011. Go, me.). Now, my boss is a pretty devout Christian. He doesn't make a huge issue of it, doesn't discuss it publicly, but I've know him for seven years. I know who he is, and his religious belief doesn't matter to me. I judge him by the same yardstick that I use to judge everyone in my life - whether or not he's a decent human being (he is). He knows that I'm completely irreligious, and that doesn't matter to him, either. He judges me on whether or not I'm a good engineer, a good employee, a decent human being. We understand each other on this score, and it's all good.

So I was a bit surprised at the end of the call when my boss said, "I hope this doesn't offend you, but I wanted to wish you Merry Christmas."

I wasn't surprised that he would wish me a Merry Christmas - he's a Christian. I know he's a Christian. He knows I know he's a Christian. I would expect him to celebrate the season as a religious holiday, and enjoy it as such. Why would he apologize for being who he is?

Which brings me to the so-called "War on Christmas."

Is there anything stupider than getting offended when someone greets you with good intent within the context of their culture? I'm an Atheist. If a Christian wishes me "Merry Christmas," or a Jew wishes me "Happy Chanukah," or a pagan wishes me a "Joyous Solstice," I'm going to take those greetings in the spirit they were intended, and wish them a joyous season in return. I'm not going to embark on some screed surrounding how Jesus was actually born in the summer, and the early Christians "stole" the winter celebrations from the pagans, blah, blah, blah. Because while it's true, it's also totally irrelevant to the sentiment they're trying to impart, and doing so also makes me an ass. 

Don't get me wrong - I think it's reasonable to react negatively if government funds are used for religious displays or if there are discriminatory practices surrounding access to public spaces on the basis of religious belief. That whole pesky "First Amendment," you know. But there's something wrong when people of good intent are afraid to greet others for fear of "offending" them. I think we all just need to relax, damnit.

10 comments:

Jeri said...

Damnit, I think you're right! I can't even imagine getting bent out of shape over someone wishing me a Merry Christmas. Hell, I'm an atheist and I say Merry Christmas to most people at this time of year.

You know, I wonder how much of this is media driven. Remember back - well, crap, no you're not old enough - but back when feminism was really hitting its stride in the '60s & '70s and women were being hired in previously male-dominated jobs and burning their bras and being all uppity and lippy, there was the paranoia among men about holding doors open for women or offering them a seat on a crowded bus or just generally being polite in any capacity. Now, the story was that these poor guys were running into harpies who would stand and give them a harrange about not being helpless, and did they really think they were too weak to hold their own door and did they look like they were too feeble to stand on the bus?!? Snarl, snort, slobber. Truth be told, I've never in my life run into a man who had that happen to them. And, as much of a ball-breaking feminist as I can be, I smile and say thank you for anyone polite enough to hold a door for me, and so does every woman I know.

Just because atheists are becoming vocal about government not favoring one religion over any other, or over non-religion, Christians seem to be getting their collective panties in a wad and interpreting that to mean that individuals need to also act completely secular. Sigh.

Dana Teel said...

I agree completely and I've been trying to make that exact same point to folks. The other day a relative of mine posted a link to a picture of a bill board with the text, “I miss hearing you say Merry Christmas, Jesus”. I responded with, “Really I don't know what they are talking about. I hear it all day long from friends, family and co-workers. I haven't seen a decrease in the number of times I'm wished Merry Christmas, it's just that I'm also wished Happy Holidays at times too. It doesn't hurt me one iota.” I guess I could have made some of your better points too, but when it comes to FB, people click “like” and “share” so often and without any real thought that I figured that I might be acting unfair in return.

Dana Teel said...

Oh, almost forgot, Merry Christmas!

Steve Buchheit said...

Also chiming in. I have never been offended, and I've never seen anyone offended. I have seen people offended that someone said, "Happy Holidays", but that was because it wasn't "Merry Christmas." I think the worst thing I've ever seen in the wild is someone completely ignoring another person who offered a "Merry Christmas", but then, I don't thinks the intended recipient actually heard the proffered sentiment (or that it was intended for them).

And I've often held the door open, or vacated a seat for a woman (or people older than me). At worst I was just simply ignored and treated as if I *should* hold the door for them.

However, I have heard people lament having Christmas decorations being put out in August, tired of the constant droning of the sentiment every direction they turn, or just wanting the season to be over with. But that was just griping in general, not to anyone specific.

Me? I complain about the constant reiteration of Christmas songs that are ground through the latest hot thing, leaving us with 10 renditions of "I'll be home for Xmas" or "Bells will be ringing." Can't we write new ones?

Eric said...

Wait, being an atheist means I'm not supposed to say, "Merry Christmas" to people? When did that happen?

Janiece said...

Eric, I have frickin' idea. JUST RELAX, DAMNIT.

nzforme said...

I think you're right, Janiece, but at the same time, I'm more impressed when it works the other way around. Which is to say, you know he's a Christian and he knows you're an atheist. So the really NICE thing here would be for YOU to wish HIM a "Merry Christmas" and for HIM to wish YOU the (non-sectarian) warmth of the season. I'm Jewish, and I would never dream of wishing a non-Jew a "Happy Hannukkah." It's not your damn holiday; why would you have a happy one? By the same token, while I'm pleased to accept a "Merry Christmas," I'm even MORE pleased when people take note of the fact that I'm Jewish, and go the extra mile to wish me a "Happy Hannukkah." Mutual respect for everyone's beliefs -- that's the goal, isn't it?

I admit that when I was growing up, I WAS offended by people who would wish me a "Merry Christmas." When you're trying to get a hold on your Jewish identity, you don't need the world wishing you a "Merry Christmas," and it ticked me off that people would assume Christmas was my holiday too, or that I'd give a hoot about celebrating the birth of Jesus. It struck me as similar to, but slightly less offensive than, someone handing me a religious tract in the supermarket parking lot. It's your faith; I'm glad you're enjoying the celebration of your holiday; I'll even wish you a merry one; but if you'd have the courtesy of not assuming I'm with you on it, I'd really appreciate it.

As I've grown older, I've gotten over that, and generally interpret any "Merry Christmas" wishes in the vague, general, good-wishes-in-your-direction manner in which they were intended.

Honestly, though, that's starting to change a little bit. Now that all these folks are out there complaining about the "War on Christmas," when any of THEM wish me a "Merry Christmas," it seems like they're doing so as a political/religious statement, and not as a general statement of holiday cheer, and that kind of irks.

(I also think the "War on Christmas" folks are actually working against themselves on this. I mean, if they want to put the "Christ" back in "Christmas," the very FIRST thing they should do is OBJECT when "Merry Christmas" is used as a generic holiday greeting -- they should WANT it to be reserved as a shared wish among the faithful alone. Wishing me a "Merry Christmas" DIMINISHES the religious significance of the phrase -- the people who want to keep it religious should know that.)

Janiece said...

nzforme, that's a very interesting point. I did, in fact wish him a "Merry Christmas," just as I do for the other Christians in my life.

And while I'm sure there's some asshats out there who say "Merry Christmas" as a political statement, for the sake of my blood pressure I'm going to assume everyone means it as the vague, general, good-wishes-in-your-direction manner you refer to. Mostly because I just don't care enough to be offended. Birth of your savior, I'm going to burn, blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

Carol Elaine said...

I admit I get a bit offended when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas. It feels like they automatically assume that I'm Christian and I hate assumptions like that. But I don't lose my mind when they do so. I just smile and wish them Happy Holidays.

The funny thing about my reaction is that I'm not an atheist. I'm not even really an agnostic. I just haven't self-identified as Christian in twenty years and I don't subscribe to any organized religion. But I know that a lot of my offense has to do with my kneejerk reaction to fundamental asshats and that I need to learn to chill the hell out. Who knows, someday I may succeed at that.

neurondoc said...

(Late to the party here)

I am not offended when people who I don't know wish me a Merry Christmas. I just transform it in my mind to Happy Chanukah, and we're all happy. People who know me well should probably wish me a Happy Chanukah, but I don't get bent out of shape about the whole thing. I must say that I miss Christmas cookies.