Hogan's Alley

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Happy Holidays! The Christmas Controversy

The religious right is in high dugeon over the alleged de-Christianization of the Christmas holiday. The leading complainant is Bill O'Reilly, whose metier is to rile up the population with selected outrages. See for example his re-write of Clement Moore's "T'was The Night Before Christmas".

Today in Memorandum there is a link to a particularly stupid piece of tripe by one Burt Prelutsky at a site called Townhall.com. Prelutsky, who says he is Jewish, is offended by what he perceives as an anti-Christian movement that is replacing anti-Semitism. His main assertion is that America is a "Christian nation" in that:

How is it, one well might ask, that in a Christian nation this is happening? And in case you find that designation objectionable, would you deny that India is a Hindu country, that Pakistan is Muslim, that Poland is Catholic? That doesn’t mean those nations are theocracies. But when the overwhelming majority of a country’s population is of one religion, and roughly 90% of Americans happen to be one sort of Christian or another, only a damn fool would deny the obvious.
I hate to bring facts into a juicy emotional discussion, but it has been a long time since the United States was a place in which 90% of the population described themselves as Christian. See for example this national survey by the City University of New York called the American Religious Identification Study which was done in 1990 and again in 2001. Their data shows that:

As is readily apparent from the first Exhibit below, the major changes between the results of the 1990 survey and the current survey are:

a. the proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from eighty-six in 1990 to seventy-seven percent in 2001;
b. although the number of adults who classify themselves in non-Christian religious groups has increased from about 5.8 million to about 7.7 million, the proportion of non-Christians has increased only by a very small amount - from 3.3 % to about 3.7 %;
c. the greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just eight percent of the total in 1990 to over fourteen percent in 2001;
d. there has also been a substantial increase in the number of adults who refused to reply to the question about their religious preference, from about four million or two percent in 1990 to more than eleven million or over five percent in 2001.
Emphasis added by me. The key data and the entire study is available here.

So we are a 77% Christian nation. Still a healthy majority you might say. True, but in a democratic society doesn't respect for significant minorities still play a part in our civic life?

Further, the national numbers are an average. I have no doubt that in, say, South Carolina the percentage of Christians rises to very near 100. I also know, as a lifelong resident of the metro New York area, that the percentage of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Confucians, Buddists, Sikhs, celebrants of Kwaanza and areligious people encountered every day is close to, if not above 50%.

In such a diverse region simple politeness and common decency require the generalized greeting of, "Happy Holidays." For businesses, public agencies and politicians in such areas it would be foolish to alienate large segments of the population by focusing only on Christmas.

Get over it Christmas Kvetches. Have a Happy Holiday season!