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church and state

Since this story about a Chabad Rabbi who threatened to sue the Seattle-Tacoma airport unless they took down their Christmas trees has been getting so much media attention, I figure I’d better weigh in with my two cents.

My opinion? Quite simply, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky is a first-degree horse’s ass. Why?

  • Displaying a Christmas tree is harmless. It’s not forcing anyone’s faith on anyone else. It’s merely displaying it. It’s no more a threat to me as a Jew than a display of a menorah would be to a Christian. And if Rabbi Bogomilsky is so threatened by a friggin’ tree, then perhaps he ought to re-examine his personal faith rather than rallying against the world.
  • I’ve always been uncomfortable with Chabad’s campaign to display menorahs everywhere at Chanukah. To me, it’s propagating the myth that Chanukah and Christmas are somehow related, or in competition, or have something to do with one another. Chanukah, as Rabbi Bogomilsky ought to know full well, is not a major religious holiday, and the fact that we’ve allowed it to become part of the generic “holiday season” and a symbol of gift-giving, commercialism and one-half of the semi-merged “Christmakah” is bad enough. This is worse.
  • It’s not a competition. It shouldn’t be a competition. This isn’t about “my symbol is bigger than your symbol”. If people are proud of something, they should be allowed to express that pride without some other group feeling the need for one-upmanship. Judaism shouldn’t be about one-upmanship at all.
  • Rabbi Bogomilsky is claiming to speak for all Jews with this stunt, which I personally resent an awful lot. Who voted him spokesperson of North American Jewry, anyway?
  • I like Christmas trees, okay? I think they’re pretty. I think the lights and decorations are pretty. I enjoy looking at them. I know it’s not my holiday, and I’m not going to run out and get a tree for my living room or anything… but why shouldn’t I be allowed to get enjoyment out of someone else’s holiday?

Bottom line? I’m glad the trees are back, and I hope everyone learns to chill out and enjoy whatever holiday or holidays they choose to celebrate.

For more on the subject, see last year’s rant about the whole “Happy Holidays” / “Merry Christmas” debate.

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Something Damian Penny wrote the other day came back to me just now: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Damian was, of course, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. However, I think the quote is a good one, and it popped into my head when I read about today’s ruling against teaching creationism in schools:

A federal judge on Tuesday banned the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution by Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District, saying the practice violated the constitutional ban on teaching religion in public schools.

[ . . . ]

The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and unscientific and had no place in high school biology classrooms.

Before you jump down my throat, I’m in no way implying that Holocaust denial is comparable to creationism. What I am saying, however, is that there’s a clear difference between fact and invention – as in the case of Holocaust denial – which I think we all recognize fairly easily. What many people fail to recognize, however, is that we must also make a clear distinction between fact and belief.

Evolution is a scientific fact. Creationism (repackaged as “intelligent design” or whatever you rename it) is a belief. It is based on faith, not evidence, and cannot be proven for the simple reason that it cannot be disproven.

Today’s ruling banned the teaching of creationism because it violates the separation of church and state. I think the real reason it ought to be banned from science curricula is because it isn’t science. After all, there is no constitutional ban on teaching Holocaust denial in history class, and yet I’m sure we would all call for the dismissal of any teacher who tried, simply on the grounds that it’s wrong.

I have no objection to the teaching of creationist theory in a course about religion, humanities, or cultural studies. But high school biology teachers who teach creationism as scientific fact are muddling fact and belief. People are entitled to hold a belief, but when teaching science, they need to stick to facts.

And so, to restate Damian’s point, everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, but not his own facts.

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Ten Commandments

06.27.2005

I was watching an old repeat of the West Wing the other day, from back when the show was good. And I couldn’t help but think of it when I saw this news item: A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that putting framed copies of the Ten Commandments in county courthouses violated church-state […]

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Ten Commandments monument dispute

08.27.2003

No disrespect intended here, but isn’t idol worship prohibited by Christianity? A Ten Commandments monument at the center of a bitter dispute over the constitutional separation of church and state was removed from public view on Wednesday in Alabama’s state judicial building. [ . . . ] Some protesters were distraught over the removal of […]

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Ebert on school prayer

03.05.2003

Josh pointed me towards this great article by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times on the issue of school prayer in the U.S. In it, Ebert argues that while he has no problem with personal prayer, the problem comes with public prayer aimed at either recruiting others or else making them feel excluded. He defines […]

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