“Culture" can be defined as sets ideas or practices for which alternatives exist and which are
adopted by the individual not through reason but through the influence of others.  Culture dictates
many aspects of life, from daily habits of food and dress to esoteric religious beliefs, but it should
be distinguished from other aspects of living in that fulfills group-based expectations as opposed
to purely pragmatic concerns.   For example, if you buy a pair of blue jeans because they're cheap
and durable, that's not culture, but if you wear them because all the other kids are wearing them,
then that is an artifact of culture.  We can see here how a cultural artifact can start out as a
utilitarian innovation by a people whose place and time remain associated with it, eventually to re-
emerge as something with cultural value long after the need for its original use has receded.

Denim trousers were an obvious choice of garment for Western settlers, and quickly became an
emblem of the rural working class.  Later, middle class kids started wearing them as a rebellion
against strict dress codes and soon pricey designer jeans were being sported by people who don't
spend a lot of time digging in the mines.  Another basic example of basic culture is chopsticks--
available in oriental restaurants simply to enhance the exotic experience, they were for a long time
the primary eating utensils for East Asians.  Plenty still use them exclusively--even in the U.S.--
proving that in culture old habits die hard, while younger Asians (along with the occasional yuppie)
are becoming bi-utensil.
Culture can consist of a lot of things and they can be modern as well as traditional.  A somewhat
narrower subset of culture is ethnicity.  Ethnicity is defined by ancestry but it is not simply a
recounting of one’s national heritage but rather the extent to which it affects one’s various habits
and mannerisms.  There is ethnic food and ethnic dress, of course, but the best example of
ethnicity is accents.  People with identical racial or national backgrounds can have accents with
greatly varying “thickness”, and in an American context it’s typical to identify some folks as having
accents and others not.  This suggests that ethnicity stands in contrast to a “mainstream” set of
mannerisms and so while anyone can talk about what they are on their mother’s side and father’s
side, some people can be considered ethnic and others not.  It’s not about being white, since to
speak in a Southern accent (and to habitually eat grits), or a Boston accent or a New York accent
or a Minnesota accent (as in the movie Fargo) is to be ethnic to a specific degree without being
any kind of recent immigrant.  The counter-argument would be that an American non-accent is in
fact a Midwestern accent and that a different English-speaking society such as Britain would
identify such erstwhile “mainstream” American mannerisms as one of several distinct American
Race is sometimes considered a form of ethnicity.  I tend to dispute the notion that race is a form
of culture, since it is immutable rather than developing from the influence of others.  After all, an
adopted child of a different race will adopt the culture and ethnicity (or lack thereof) of his or her
parents.  Then again, such a child may still develop an affinity with peers of the same race—race
being such a visible marker—and such group-defining affinities are part of what ethnicity—and
culture in general—are about.  Perhaps ethnicity is not strictly a subset of culture but the two are
overlapping categories.  Ethnicity is the sharing of minority ancestral traits, some cultural, some
genetic, while culture is the sharing of traits, some ancestral, some modern, some minority, some
mainstream.  (In the U.S., being white is only a form of ethnicity among white supremacists.)    
Religion can certainly be considered a form of ethnicity where there’s emphasis on maintaining
ancestral traditions, and a form of culture at all times.  Many religious traditions have their origins
in utilitarian practices designed to face the need for control, control over both the environment and
the members of society.  People have long believed that rituals, incantations, and/or symbolic
displays can persuade God or the gods to intervene in their affairs, and that various types of
misbehavior can provoke supernatural punishment.  Some of this can be traced back to mystical
experiences had by the founders of the tradition

Whatever conditions surrounded this poorly understood phenomena at the time are deemed
facilitative and are preserved (a good example is baptism).  More down-to-earth concerns take on
a spiritual dimension when they become part of a religion’s laws for governing society, and
obedience to such is usually part of a religion’s recipe for obtaining rewards in the afterlife.  
Religions by and large offer the same things to their respective communities, but like so many
other aspects of traditional culture, they vary greatly among themselves, since they all developed
in geographic isolation.  But unlike most aspects of culture, religion is a particularly high-stakes
game, covers a particularly broad range of topics, and is particularly resistant to change.
The stage is set for a complex cultural clash.  There is tension between traditionalism and
modernism within mainstream culture, tension between mainstream culture and minority cultures,
and (to a lesser extent) tension between minority cultures.

Language is a major facet of culture.  Language is forever being shaped and enhanced through
its continuous use in the complex business of communication.  It does, however, also give people
an outlet for expressing their identity, such as subcultures developing their own slangy dialects.  
But since the people use language primarily to communicate with each other, your language
needs to be more like than unlike that of others, whenever possible.  Languages, like religions,
develop in isolation and exemplify cultures, but since people are mobile and encounter folks with
different roots, accommodations must be made by someone or they can't communicate.  
Immigrants learn a second language (though sometimes not), and their descendants may adopt
the host tongue as their first, though other aspects of the culture may remain intact.  Invasions
have occurred, superseding the native tongue and/or driving it into remote pockets.  People learn
second languages for travel or business, or due to proximity, as a school requirement, or just for
fun.  Immigrants bring new words to the mainstream, or natives can leave old ones behind.  New
words accompany inventions or are coined as the culture evolves or as subcultures arise and play
themselves out.  

Language can also infect foreign cultures while riding along with exported products or
entertainment as they are distributed throughout the world.  This has been criticized as "cultural
imperialism".  But it's one thing to force another people to abandon their ways--and impose your
own--in the course of subjugating them, but to simply offer them more choices in their lives is fair
play.  What's unfair is to use force to prevent members of your own culture from adopting foreign
styles if they find them more desirable.  A situation involving a cultural minority within a larger
culture is more difficult.  There is tension between the need for members of the minority to
assimilate and the desire—especially among the elders—to maintain the traditional ways.  This is
made more complicated by the fact that, in the U.S., the majority culture is torn by its own conflict
between traditional culture and modernism.  The English language is certainly not modern and
native to one small part of the World far from North America, but it is more basic to society than
say, dress or entertainment.  Despite being no “better” a language, English was established early
on as the de-facto official language of the U.S.  Efforts to establish English as the actual official
language have met with controversy.  There were fears that this would result in foreign languages
being banned from use in signage and elsewhere, but this is just paranoia of the kind that can
flourish in a minority situation.  There has certainly been a lot of cultural bias, but making English
America’s official language, while not entirely necessary, would have been a “soft” attempt to
emphasize the need for everyone to learn the language, not in any way a targeting of the use of
foreign tongues.  Native English-speaking Americans have often been criticized for generally not
learning foreign languages, but any given 2nd language is not as likely to be useful to an English
speaker as English would be as a 2nd language to a non-English speaker.  No one can learn them
all, and while Spanish may be the #1 #2 language, being fluent in it is obviously of no help in
communicating with all the others.  So while it’s always a plus for a person to learn a second
language, and while it’s important for cultures to preserve their native tongue, a universal
language is needed and by now it’ clear that history has elected English as that language.

This can cause some resentment.  If language is culture and culture defines groups, then how in a
multicultural society is it fair for one group’s culture to win out over the others? Charges of
“eurocentrism” have been leveled against many aspects of society, such as education.  For
example, the “canon” of prominent literature is held to be culturally biased in that it has consisted
largely of works by “Dead White European Males”.  This no doubt has been more or less the case
throughout much of history, but it would be a mistake to assume that a lack of bias in assembling
the literary canon—or any other situation where some human product achieves prominence—
would automatically result in perfectly diverse representation.

Members of specific cultural groups tend to advocate on behalf of placing more emphasis on their
own culture’s positions and points of view.  This is called “identity politics”.  It should be quite
obvious that public policy should be as neutral and fair as possible toward all racial and cultural
groups.  But activists representing these groups persistently push their own agenda despite the
obvious bias, and as always, their primary tactic is playing the victim.  These days, just about
everyone in the U.S. can find some way to claim victim status—just about—and thus claim the right
to get their way in any dispute.  If you can find a way to associate your political opponents with
bias against your group, then you can invalidate them and thus validate your own agenda.

Having a “different culture” allows you to dismiss the basis of any authority find inconvenient, and
yet cultural groups frequently assert their own authority by looking for ways to be offended.  A
cultural group may have gone through a period of oppression in its history, and such oppression
may have included mocking portrayals of them and their culture.  Their descendants may then
come to believe that any portrayal of—or even any reference to—any aspects of the traditional
culture put forward by the mainstream is a continuation of the same old mockery by the same old
group of bigots.  But what is really happening is that aspects of the culture in question have
become familiar to and thus part of the mainstream culture—and thus there are going to be
references to it along with everything else.  The backlash against this—as expressed by the
backlash against the backlash—is called “political correctness”.

A good example is the controversy over naming of sports teams after American Indians, that is,
Native Americans (and another good example is the controversy over what terminology should be
used to refer to certain minority groups).  Sports teams typically want to give themselves names
that invoke toughness.  Wild animals are a good source, but so are examples of fighting men from
various historical periods (Pirates, Vikings, etc.)  Calling a team “Braves” or “Chiefs” or “Warriors”
is meant but to emulate the qualities which were displayed by those character types in the past,
not to refer to—let alone mock—any and every Native American.  You’re not a brave.  However,
team names like “Redskins” or “Indians”, however well intentioned, do refer to a present-day
segment of society.  The former is a blatant racial slur and the latter is the name of a minority
group, so these teams really ought to change their names as inappropriate.  Teams named after
specific tribes should get permission, and such college athletic programs usually do maintain
cordial relations with their namesakes.  And while team mascots or logos that are blatantly
stereotypical depictions, like Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo, should be gotten rid of, mascots and
halftime ceremonies that are respectful should not be considered offensive, like the University of
Illinois’ Fighting Illini and “Chief Illiniwek”.  A college student dressed as an Indian chief and
performing some semblance of a native dance may be rendering this aspect of cultural heritage a
bit superficially, that ought to beat not rendering it at all.  The State of Illinois gets its name from
the illini people and their culture has become part of the heritage of the region as a whole.  At
some point regional heritage transcends racial boundries, and one would think that on a state
level, ceremonies at state university sporting events are a good way to keep that heritage before
the masses.
Sometimes these masses like to perform the “tomahawk chop”, and it’s a bit of a stretch to argue
that this too is done to honor regional Native American heritage.  What they’re doing is play-
threatening to bash your skull in with an imaginary hatchet-like club.  Native American groups have
complained on the grounds that the tomahawk is a sacred icon. Sacred.  What does that even
mean?  As best I can surmise, sanctity is the quality of an object or locale being infused with
special supernatural significance by whichever Higher Power is believed in.  I question whether a
deadly weapon should be considered sacred, but then again I question whether anything should
truly be considered sacred.  And yet sanctity is a concept that a traditional cultural group will often
invoke when they feel that some sensitive aspect of their culture is being encroached upon.  But to
claim something as sacred is to imply that it is infused with some sort of supernatural significance.  
How can you tell?  If a particular geographic locale, say, is to be declared off limits on the grounds
that it is sacred, then a stronger case needs to be made than that a particular culture has passed
on down that opinion.  What I would propose as a test to verify the sanctity of a given place or
thing is to bring in a group of mystic wise men from various other cultures not familiar with the item
in question to see if they can detect its sanctity in contrast to a number of similar, non-sacred
items.  Who knows?  The results may be surprising.                       

There’s this idea that a worldview as defined by a particular culture should be granted automatic
equivalence with any other worldview.  This is based on the observation that when some worldview
or aspect thereof is held up a superior, it is usually a manifestation of the prejudice of a minority
culture toward one or more minority cultures.

But while any set of ideas might be considered “a culture”, and while there may be a strong
association in may cases between cultures and group of a particular geographic origin or race,
such identity-based compartmentalization threatens to dismantle any attempt to establish a set of
objective standards.  Even though Europe served as incubator for science and modernism to a
large extent, the worldview they comprise should not be dismissed as “Eurocentric”—and thus no
better than cultures that arose in other parts of the World.  Tradition-based cultural elements like,
say, Christianity, or classical music, or the aforementioned canon of DWM literature, are
Eurocentric yet not possessed of any inherent superiority—and it would be chauvinistic to assert
that they were.  But any geographic focus underlying the principles modernism is due to that being
necessary to development in the first place.  In order to exist, a body of knowledge needs to be
assembled in one place, or places within regular communication with each other.  Civilization
developed independently in various parts of the World—the Far East, the Near East, and the
Americas as well as Europe.  But their inability to communicate with one another prevented any of
them from developing a complete body of scientific knowledge during those time periods when
they were developing their cultural identity.  As communication improved, knowledge could be
accumulated in centers of learning.  For much of ancient times, the Mediterranean was at the
center of a sphere of communication that allowed a diverse array of civilizations to interact and
contribute to a body of knowledge to a greater extent than elsewhere.  After the decline of Greece
and Rome, a lot of important learning was preserved—and improved upon—in the Arab world.  
Once the Dark Ages had passed, scientific and mathematical knowledge spread back to Europe
from the Middle East even as the latter experienced its own decline.  Knowledge from the Far East
did trickle in and make its contribution—although for some time a certain cultural insulation there
prevented knowledge from the West from reciprocating.  Eventually the entire Old World became a
sphere of communication, but the New World (okay, I guess these are Eurocentric terms would not
be able to join in until the time of Christopher Columbus.

When the topic is cultural diffusion (the process by which a culture evolves as influence from
another culture spreads), there is no greater example than all the fallout from Columbus’ discovery
of the Americas in 1492.  When the information that said explorer brought back to Europe was
added to the body of scientific knowledge, a massive exchange took place—of people, technology,
and ideas.  Actually, the exchange was largely one-way, with the people and technology primarily
crossing the Atlantic to the West, while to the East, apart from a lot of important agricultural
products, it was mainly the knowledge of the existence of the New World itself that took the Old by
storm.  Only then did mankind understand the at last understand the shape of the World in which
we live.  But back here in the U.S. Columbus has become a controversial figure.  After all, the
process of colonization instigated by Columbus’ discovery resulted in the massive genocide of the
Native peoples of this hemisphere.

But wait, the very idea that Columbus “discovered” America is itself controversial.  We’re all aware
of how the Norse people visited the coast of what is now North America about 1000 years ago and
even established colonies.  And of course even more fundamental is the fact that the ancestors of
the Native peoples crossed the Bearing land bridge some 30,000 years ago and thus were “here
first”.  So no, Columbus did discover America in the most absolute sense, but sometimes the most
absolute sense is not the most meaningful sense.  Prior to his most famous voyage, Christopher
Columbus had visited Iceland and had heard the sagas concerning the, well, the discovery of the
lands to the West some 500 years earlier under Leif Ericson.  But the knowledge was
subsequently reduced to a local legend and a hidden clue.  And while the Native Americans
discovered on their own behalf the lands of North and South America in successive waves over
many generations, they systematically un-discovered the lands they left behind.  They didn’t even
maintain any legends of the continent of Asia from whence they came.  Discovery in the most
significant sense of the word is when you make a permanent contribution to the body of human

It was the events of 1492 that enabled communication to span the globe, and also led to the
founding of the great nations of the Western Hemisphere, and so it has been seen fit to
commemorate them.  In the U.S., Columbus Day is federal holiday.  Native American groups have
been criticizing this, citing the connection between Columbus and the genocide of the indigenous
peoples.  There is a movement in the country to add a Native American Day to the calendar on a
different date and downgrade Columbus Day to a non-official holiday like St. Patrick’s Day.  I don’t
find this unreasonable, but the State of South Dakota has gone so far as to replace Columbus
Day with their Native American Day.  But this seems to suggest that we can exorcise the legacy of
genocide simply by withdrawing honor from the man who set the process in motion, even though
this process is deeply woven into the fabric of the Modern World in which we live.  I myself don’t
feel the need to participate in any public worshipping of Mr. Columbus, but after a certain amount
of time has passed, the time for moral judgment is ended and events both good and bad must be
placed in their proper historical perspective.

For example, we acknowledge that many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, but we don’t
cancel Independence Day in retaliation.  In fact, American Independence gave North American
Plains Indians more to complain about than did 16th century Spanish colonialism, since the latter
resulted in them possessing horses for about 200 years.  (In case it looks like I’m spending too
much time on Native American issues, here’s and aside:  A group representing Italian-Americans
filed suit against the producers of the crime drama series The Sopranos saying that the show
negatively stereotypes them as involved in organized crime.  I’ll tell you what:  You make a list of
fictional Italian-American mobsters from television and film, and I’ll make a list of real-life Italian-
American mobsters and we’ll see who has the longer list.)

Holidays are a major aspect of culture and they‘ve come to our calendar from a wide variety of
sources--like religious or national tradition, popular custom, or government decree.  Some
holidays are greeted with more enthusiasm than others.  For example, Presidents Day is official
US Government, but purely a “bank holiday”, Ash Wednesday, official Catholic Church and
observed with a church ritual by the faithful but not in the popular culture, and Valentines Day, not
official anything, but very popularly observed with the custom of sweets for the sweet.   That it was
inspired by an old Catholic Saint hardly matters. Ethnic subcultures observe their holidays within
their enclaves, but that of the Irish, ostensibly honoring another Saint--namely Patrick--became
fairly popular because again its customs are fairly fun.  So naturally, All Saints Day is going to
inspire a real blowout of transformed-out-of-all-recognition themes, meaning those of All Hallows
Eve, or Halloween.  It seems odd that perhaps the 2nd most popular holiday features imagery that
evokes evil and fright, but the change of seasons when everything is dying can inspire the
occasion to honor the dead (to the point of masquerading as them), along with the more obvious
occasion for a harvest festival when there are a lot of goodies to share.  Then the holiday began
to evolve and standardize, first with the medieval Church co-opting it and legitimizing it by having it
honor dead saints, then later as popular culture got a hold of it.  Now marking an annual occasion
for religious observance has its place, but the most enduring holiday traditions are the ones that
people most look forward to each year.

Of course, even as people are free to observe religious or other holidays within their ethnic
subculture, they are free to emphasize some aspects of a holiday over others, to make up their
own traditions, or ignore them altogether.  It’s an occasion to participate and share in a mass
activity and your participation can “mean” whatever you want it to mean, if anything.  So on March
17th, some people wear green and drink beer in saloons even though they aren’t Irish.  On
February 14th, some people exchange Valentines even though they’re grade school kids and
nobody’s sweetheart.  On October 31st, some people go in costume but don’t make contact with
any departed souls.  And in December, well, people get up to a lot of things.

The weeks surrounding the Winter Solstice are an obvious occasion for a wide-ranging folk
festival.  Not only is the low point in the Sun’s annual cycle a good time to mark the new year, the
longest nights of the year could really use some brightening up, so it’s natural that many cultures
have annual festivals, feast days, religious observances, and the like during that season.  
Chanukah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years, they all blend together to form the “Holiday
Season”, which can be regarded as a multi-faceted mega-holiday.  The older traditional solstice
celebrations of Roman Saturnalia and Norse Yule form the historical basis and are the source of
so many of the customs we still observe today: Gift giving, decorating with evergreens, the colors
red and green, parties and family feasts, serving the poor, and the Dec. 25th date itself.  These
things could be called “pagan”, but that’s such a loaded term, and any such religious significance
has long since faded away—better to regard them as secular and simply Western.  The Jewish
Chanukah (or Hanukah), while ostensibly about commemorating the Maccabean revolt in 166 BCE
and the miracle of the Temple lamp that burned for 8 days, the connection of the “Festival of
Lights” with the winter solstice is unmistakable.  Undoubtedly the date of the observance was
chosen to coincide with existing solstice festivities, although the Hebrew calendar has it moving
around the month of December.  (Likewise the Jewish Passover coincides with the spring equinox,
as meanwhile Christians are celebrating Easter with pagan springtime fertility symbols like eggs
and rabbits.)  In later years, Chanukah has been given increased emphasis—and nothing
emphasizes a holiday like getting presents, which Jewish kids do over the 8-day festival—in order
to provide an alternative to Christmas.  You can see how we’ve come full circle.

By now we should all know that the birth of Jesus was not on Dec. 25th, and that the early
Christian Church chose that date for its observance in order to coincide with the popular
Saturnalia festival. It was a pragmatic, can’t-lick-‘em-so-join-‘em move which, so to speak, saved
Christmas from Christianity.  All the boisterous revelry and pagan-derived customs were given
cover and allowed to continue at a time when other vestiges of paganism and various forms of fun
were being vigorously stamped out.  Various symbols were re-cast as relating to Christ’s birth, like
giving gifts to children being reminiscent of the Magi’s gifts to the infant Jesus, evergreens
symbolizing eternal life, helping the poor acknowledging Jesus’ own humble origins, etc.  Indeed,
the spirit of kindness and joy that Christianity represents can be said to have re-invigorated the
Holiday Season, while at the same time the involvement of religion had a calming influence,
enabling a more family-friendly version that broadened its appeal.  But still, some of the more
devoutly Christian sects, including a lot of the early Protestants including the Puritan settlers,
understood (well, thought they did) the pagan origins and on those grounds banned Christmas as
anti-Christian.  But the sheer popularity of Christmas won out and that distinction forgotten, so the
Holiday continued to thrive, blending into the mainstream of American society and evolving along
with it.

The Season had been known solely as “Christmas” for centuries, as the “Christ Mass” was
considered the main event, with all the other activities peripheral to the church service honoring
the Nativity.  The duality had always been there, but in the past century or so, the secular side of
Christmas reemerged in new ways.  Increased emphasis on gift-giving, especially to children,
fueled the oft-lamented but economically vital commercialization, which neatly dovetailed with new
alternate Christmas mythology centered around Santa Claus.  How often do you hear Santa talk
about Jesus?  Has Santa Claus ever so much as implied that Christmas is only for Christian kids
and that it’s too bad that Jewish kids and others can’t join in?  Santa represents a spirit of
kindness and generosity that is generic (read: secular) and all-inviting.

It’s been pointed out that Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, a Catholic Saint, therefore a Christian icon,
therefore not a secular Holiday symbol. But St. Nicholas, patron saint of children who left gifts
anonymously, is just one of the historical inspirations of the modern-day Santa Claus.  Others
include the Norse god Odin or Woden, with a long, white beard who visited once a year on a flying
horse or sled, sometimes bringing gifts, and the Dutch folklore character “Belsnickel” or
“Kristkinkel” who wears a brightly-colored coat and goes around at Yuletide promising treats for
good little boys and girls and punishment for bad little boys and girls.  Over the years these
traditions combined in the American melting pot, helped along by the mass media in the form of
Clement Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem, the cartoons of Thomas Nast, a series
of Coca-Cola ads, and countless movies and TV specials.  Santa seems pretty mainstream
Americana, and even as he presides over the annual buying spree, the jolly old elf is thankfully
not a copyrighted character.  Unaffiliated, that’s what he is.  Heck, he even lives at the North Pole.

All this is to suggest that Jews and other non-Christians need not shun Santa Claus and other
mainstream symbols of the Holiday season.  It’s sorta like rooting for your home team when they’re
in the Superbowl, even though you have roots in a different town with a different team.  It’s part of
the mainstream, secular culture of your community, so go ahead and join your neighbors in the
excitement, though nobody’s forcing you.  Indeed, some Jews put up a “Hanukah bush” which is no
less accurate than “Christmas tree” in referring to what is better called a Tannenbaum.  Bringing a
fir tree inside and decorating it is the oldest Solstice Season tradition of all and could be
considered its universal symbol.  The great thing about the Tannenbaum is that you can decorate
it any way you want, and in this way you’re both participating in a mainstream cultural celebration
and expressing your own unique cultural identity.  This neatly encapsulates how varying
background culture “plugs in” to singular mainstream culture.  Put a Star of Bethlehem or a Star of
David or an Islamic Crescent on top--or even a pentagram if you’re into that kind of thing.  
Kwanzaa enthusiasts can call it a “Kwanzaa Pine” and decorate it accordingly, while mixed families
can hang ornaments representing their varying backgrounds.  Or a simply toss on candy canes,
snowmen, reindeer, a string of lights, and a basic five-pointed yellow star on top and you’ve on the
generic version suitable for public places.

That’s not to say that religious Holiday symbols are never suitable for public places.  Individuals
can carry religious symbols in the public square, repeat religious slogans and sing religious songs,
and homes and churches can erect religious displays visible to passersby.  Stores and media
outlets may put out all the religious content they like, though many choose not to in order to
maintain an inclusive customer base or because they feel that their business is a secular
operation.  But what is definitely a secular operation is the government.  Government-run venues
like courthouses and public schools must stick with secular Holiday displays because putting up
religious displays such as Christian Nativity scene would amount to establishing religion.  But some
people feel that enforcing this principle amounts to a full-scale attack on Christmas.  They point to
a number of cases where political correctness has apparently compelled local officials somewhere
to unfairly ”ban” some Christian Holiday expression.  But so many of these cases turn out to be
false or totally distorted and those few examples of genuinely unreasonable P.C. restrictions are
isolated and hardly amount to a vast movement by “secularists” to destroy.  For example in 2004,
a church was not allowed to include a religious-themed float in an annual Holiday parade in
Denver.  But the “Parade of Lights” is a rather brief, limited one put on by a private organized
which has its own floats and which turns down many would-be participants. They said they didn’t
want to favor one religious group over all the others.  By contrast, Denver’s annual St. Patrick’s
Day parade is much longer and has room for participation by numerous religious groups and
nobody has a problem with that!

And yet a huge deal was made of this incident and a handful of similar ones:  A high school
principal cancels a performance of A Christmas Carol because it was improperly booked as an
afternoon show, not because of any religious content, but this too was seized upon by pundits as
an example of “Christmas under siege”.  There are lots of similar stories that similarly misrepresent
the facts, but there are a few cases of genuinely unreasonable political correctness, and along
with the removal of crËches from government property, and the broadening of the use of
“Holiday”, these are taken together as a specifically anti-Christian movement.  But of course there’
s no mention of the countless religious Holiday displays that no one is raising a finger against
because they’re on private property.  If you want to see a manger scene outdoors at Christmas,
there’s a church right down the block.

There have been complaints in a number of cases where a Nativity scene was kept out of a
display but a menorah—or even a Star of David—and an Islamic crescent were included.  They
usually don’t mention that a Christmas tree was included as well, but by now we’ve established that
the Tannenbaum is a secular symbols and does not represent Christianity the way the Jewish star
or Islamic crescent represents those faiths.  So yes, a case like this would be unfair to Christians.  
But if we’re going for inclusivity by displaying the emblems of the major religions side-by-side, it
really should be the Christian cross.  You actually don’t see a lot of Crucifixes in even the more
explicitly Christian Holiday displays, but in the end it doesn’t really work to try to field an array of all
the emblems of the various religious groups.  Then again, a Menorah might be considered more
like a Tannenbaum in that it’s a Festival of Lights i.e. Winter Solstice symbol that happen to be of
Middle Eastern rather than Northern European in origin.  Even though the Jewish Menorah
commemorates the miracle of the lamp that burned for eight days, it doesn’t really convey a
sectarian message (Kwanzaa should come up with a display thingy that lights up to add to the
mix).  But a Christian Nativity scene conveys a very specific sectarian message, namely that the
birth if Jesus was a miraculous event and he is therefore the Lord.  All government entities should
remain neutral on the question of this perennially divisive belief; after all, governments cannot
have faith, only individuals can.

Of course, it’s not just during the Holidays that there is controversy over religious symbols and
slogans in government; it’s year ‘round. A red-hot issue these days is the posting of the Biblical
Ten Commandments on public buildings such as schools and courthouses. In some cases
plaintiffs have sought removal of plaques that have been in place for many years, and in others,
efforts to install new Ten Commandments displays have been reversed by the courts.  What is
telling is that while many of those who support the displays do so on religious grounds, saying that
to keep the Commandments out is to keep God out, the lawyers actually arguing the cases try to
find secular grounds for keeping them in public buildings.  They say the Ten Commandments
represent or symbolize our heritage.  This is a problem at first because a tablet with the Ten
Commandments written on it is not just an emblem of some kind but specific instructions aimed
directly at the reader.  So when you walk into the courthouse the first thing you see is a list of
rules, several of which would be blatantly unconstitutional if the court were actually to enforce
them.  They like to emphasize the unassailable ones like ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘thou shalt not
steal’ but these are no-brainers that are part of any society’s strictures rather than being solely
dependant on the Judeo-Christian tradition.  But taken as a whole the 10C are religious, and they’
re being established.

“Heritage” is a rather broad concept and should not be used as a Trojan horse to sneak religion in
past the Constitution.  Americans have a complex heritage since most of us have ancestry from
differing parts of the World and still preserve some of the cultural traditions—even while we so
thoroughly embrace modernity, yet we also all hearken to a heritage defined by the founding of
this country in the American Revolution. But whatever a source of pride and admiration are the
ideas and deeds of the Founding Fathers, their most important legacy is our system of laws, so we
would do well not to mythologize them.  Many Americans say they believe that the US was founded
as a Christian nation, but this may be a nation of mostly Christians, that’s not what the principles
this country was founded on are about.  Democracy, after all, was not invented by Jesus, but by
the Greeks. After that the Romans left a considerable legacy to Western law, including developing
the concept of citizenship.  More directly, US law is inherited English Common Law; here’s a brief
history lesson:
"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on
their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that
time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law. . . This
settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till
the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place
about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years,
during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.”
That was written by none other than Thomas Jefferson, some 38 years after he penned the
Declaration of Independence.  That seminal document contains the famous passage stating that,
“…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
Earlier it refers to,
“…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's    
God entitle [the people].”
Many people cite those passages as proof that the US was founded upon Christian principles, but
that’s really grasping at straws.  They say that the DoI is the “defining” document of our nation, but
it was really just political rhetoric justifying separating from England and aimed at the British
Crown.  Some of the basic principles that we did base our nation on are referred to, but the
“Creator” and “Nature’s God” are mentioned in passing to add rhetorical weight to the point being
made.  The original draft contained the “sacred and undeniable”, and it’s telling that Jefferson
changed that to “self-evident” after reviewing it with his colleagues.  Notice how it’s “the Creator”
and “Nature (capitalized) and Nature’s God”; it’s not just “God” or “the Lord”.  The terms do not
refer to the God of the Bible, not to Yahweh.  The God of the Bible is the God cited in justifying the
divine right of kings, whereby the monarchies of Europe had been Christian nations for about
1500 years.  It was this position that Jefferson was railing against by asserting a more modern
understanding of God, a God that could be understood through observing nature and applying

This view of God, called Deism, is a product of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, whose
leaders rejected much of the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview and from which the Founding
Fathers derived many of their ideas.  Most of the key FFs were deists, including Benjamin
Franklin, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Jefferson of course, and by most accounts, George
Washington. John Adams was a Unitarian, and he wrote:
"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which
the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief
has produced!"
“[The USA was] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of
miracle or mystery…”,
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” wrote:
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What
have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and
servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
“[R]eligion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."
Among the dissenters was Patrick Henry, but his desire for a more overtly Christian nation was
overruled during the Constitutional Congress.  
The US Constitution, of course, contains no references to God whatsoever; it a blueprint for a
purely secular system of government.  It states that there shall be no religious test in qualifying for
public office.  As for the 1st Amendment, we’ll let Thomas Jefferson interpret it:
“[T]he whole American people…declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation
between Church and State.”
That’s pretty straightforward and unambiguous.  Likewise is this passage in the Treaty of Tripoli,
ratified unanimously by the Senate in 1797 and signed into law by President Adams:
"As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian

But in spite of all this historical underpinning, the real reason we have Separation of Church and
State in the US is that it’s a perfectly logical arrangement.  Citizenship and the Law are uniform
sets of principles—they mean the same thing to everyone.  Religion is a diverse set of principles—
individuals, families and ethnic groups all have their own separate beliefs, often sharply at odds
with one another.  Secular government secures space for each of us to color in according to our
own chosen faith—or leave blank.  The government cannot—or rather should not—color it in for
us.  What can a government know about God, anyway?  How can a government have faith?
There is, however, a principle called “ceremonial deism” which holds that passing references to
God in official invocations, including the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto “In God We
Trust”, are not overtly sectarian and therefore not in violation of the Establishment Clause of the
1st Amendment.  This is a fairly pragmatic arrangement, one that has more or less prevailed and
will most likely continue to prevail.  There are still problems, however, since some Americans’
religious beliefs do not recognize the singular God, and some monotheists’ beliefs forbid them
from taking oaths that mix God with national government quite apart from any top-down imposition
of this principle.  And of course, many Americans are atheists and as such have their own religious
beliefs that are officially repudiated whenever the name of God is officially invoked.  Some argue
that those who are offended by having to say “under God” in the Pledge should just not say that
part or not say the Pledge altogether.  But then we’d have to remove the word “indivisible”.
At any rate, religion in government is not being promoted as merely maintaining ceremonial
deism.  The claim is that the Christian God is an active force in American history, that our
freedoms are a miracle from God, and that the US government should be run according to Biblical
principles.  But if it was God who delivered European-Americans from being subjects of the British
Crown, why did He see fit to keep African-Americans in bondage for another 90 years and deny
them full freedom for another 100?  That slavery was integral to the founding of the nation (and
justified by invoking Biblical principles) makes it a good idea to not over-mythologize that historical
process.  Besides, these events are very well-documented and nobody mentions anything magical
taking place at that time or any other.
And what role did God play in conquering the frontier?  Did God take this land from the Native
Americans to give it to us?  Were we on a holy mission to save the heathens or was it genocide?  
North American Indians often treated early English settlers with generosity, providing them with
food and teaching them various survival skills.  But despite this, the Christian colonists were often
very abusive to the natives, and from early on where making treaties they had every intention of
breaking before driving them off their land.  Meanwhile, a surprising number of settlers ran off to
live with the Indians and reported that there was much freedom, equality, and egalitarianism in
tribal culture.  Even those who had been kidnapped by the natives and lived with them for a
number of years would, upon their return, often become disgusted with the greed and injustice of
Christian colonial society and in some cases went back to live with the Indians.
But while Native Americans displayed societal values that were in some cases more Christian than
the Christians, they also actually did contribute to the founding of the nation itself.  The Iroquois
Confederation was an alliance of five (later six) Indian nations formed in the American Northeast in
the early 1600’s.  It was based on a constitution, which thoroughly outlined the methods for
choosing leaders and conducting business.  Decision-making involved Representatives of two of
the tribes agreeing on something, then bring the results to a second pair who would agree or
disagree.  Once all four had agreed on a decision, the fifth would either agree or veto it and send
it back to the two pairs to start over.  It is said that the bicameral structure of the U.S. Congress—
with its House and Senate—along with the role of the President with his veto, are derived from the
structure of the Iroquois Confederation.  Indeed a representative of the League named
Canasatego, speaking in Pennsylvania in 1744 at the Treaty of Lancaster negotiations, urged the
13 colonies to form a similar union, while in the audience a young Ben Franklin took notes.
So American society is on the one hand an amalgamation of a number of traditional influences,
and on the other hand a modern invention that is continuously reinventing itself.  We are a
multicultural society, but even as we welcome all cultural influences and tolerate all traditional
communities, there is always a societal mainstream. However it’s understood, the mainstream
should not be taken over by majoritarian forces, nor should it be shunned by those who embrace
a minority identity.