Assorted Nativity Controversy Reflections

I haven't posted in a while and have been quite busy. Expect some content to come soon. Without further ado, I'm handing this in as an essay for my "The English Language" class. Enjoy!

Around this time last year, the floodgates of controversy opened and NEPA displayed itself as a spectacle of unequivocal idiocy, a display of a county-wide temper tantrum, as author Kenny Luck would put it. I didn't really know what I was getting into, but a simple blog post on December 13 and a letter sent to the courthouse from the ACLU would kindle a fire, possess a great deal of my time during finals week, and place a huge red target on my head. Although there were no direct death threats, I did receive after-death threats and threats phrased by masters of the English language that sounded like this: “shut your punk ass mouth, you bitch ass trick! Come down to room 300 and I'll punch your fat face in for Jee-sus!”

What merited all of this craziness, might you ask? In an area in which people “cling to their guns and religion,” as Obama mentioned, simply pointing out that a holiday display at the courthouse was favoring religion over non-religion and highlighting a Christian display that was illuminated by a giant floodlight at night was enough to make me what KRZ radio called “the third most hated person in Luzerne County.”

When I made my initial complaint against the nativity scene, I expected some backlash, but I did not expect Facebook to light up like a Christmas tree with constant notifications and E-mail, my King's E-mail to be flooded with messages, and local news networks going insane. I accepted some interviews and a photo shoot with the Citizens Voice and was quickly catapulted to the spotlight under Greg Skrepenak under the fold in the local newspaper. I wasn't hiding by any means – I took a very public stand for what was right and put my neck on the line. The most hurtful remarks by people charged me with cowardice for what I did. I don't see how cowardice can be a fitting adjective for me when I went public, went on television, welcomed discussion, opened my Facebook profile for others to post, accepted interviews, and consented to place my picture in various newspapers.

When I think about the controversy today, I would have done everything over again in almost the same way, but would have been more prepared to answer media questions and would have went on WILK Newsradio often to defend myself and be interviewed. I only knew about WILK after most of the drama had built up in the center of the volcano and exploded.

What people need to know and understand is that separation of church and state is something that everyone should desire. Former president John F. Kennedy had said that he believed in an absolute separation of church and state. When the government stays out of religion, everyone wins because no one is unfairly excluded and everyone is playing on a level field. If the government favors one religion, those of no religion or other religions are treated unfairly. We also have the issue of which sect to follow, who interprets the rules, and why exactly some groups receive funding and are highlighted while others are excluded.

I don't hate Christmas. I'm not anti-holiday. I'm not out waging the imaginary “War on Christmas” that Bill O' Reilly and his cohorts on FOX News Network have invented. Christmas is a holiday that is largely secular and celebrated for secular reasons. If you took the secular reasons out – meeting family, giving gifts, eating food – you have but a holiday that is like Ash Wednesday if you focus on Jesus...and that's quite lame. The roots of Christmas are largely Pagan and the holiday we have today is the product of various odd traditions that people don't know about such as wassailing, an event in which the poor would demand entry into the homes of rich people, that were changed due to the backlash of the rich. A rich author wrote a poem in which a poor person, instead of demanding entry into a rich home, gave gifts in small stockings. People then encouraged gift giving to children and over time, as Christmas was more and more materialistic, the old tree that was on a table got bigger as the gifts grew bigger and the stockings too, of course, got bigger.

Just like people don't know the history of Christmas, they also don't know their American history and how our nation operates. Amongst the hateful letters sent to me, some in paper, people implored me to leave the country and implied that the people can vote on anything they want and ignore whatever a minority of people said. We call this the tyranny of the majority and this simply doesn't happen in the United States. We can't, for example, vote that criminals should not get a fair trial just like we can't vote that nativities can be displayed in a manner in which they aren't integrated into a larger display of thematic unity. People also told me to “not look if I don't like it,” which is a grave misunderstanding of my stance. Surely this argument wouldn't hold up for streakers on the public square. Would the police take “don't look at me if you don't like it” as a response and simply ignore the streakers? People also stated that this is a “Christian nation” founded by Christians, but they couldn't possibly be more incorrect. The people who wrote our constitution were largely deistic (they believed in a higher power who created the universe but is not active in human affairs) and intentionally left God out of the constitution and the government because they knew that government and religion was a deadly mix.

Some interviews I had were quite favorable and allowed me to get my point across while some reporters seemed to be out for my head and, for some reason, asking officials at King's for my financial aid information! Instead of reporting news, some decided to draw my personal life into the mix and desired to unveil private information even though it had nothing to do with the story. Many people found it appalling that an atheist would attend a Catholic college and make a public stand that I did because they are undoubtedly bound by chains and shackled with the idea that people shouldn't criticize religion (even though this was a legal issues) or stand up as an atheist at a Catholic school. So what if I'm an atheist at a Catholic school? There are many other atheists here, but you just don't hear about them. There are also Wiccans, Muslims, and Jews! King's doesn't require a student to “sit down and shut up” if he/she is not Catholic and does not discriminate on admitting non-Catholic students. I chose King's largely because it was local, generous in the department of financial aid, and because they didn't require SAT scores. After my second year at King's, I ceased to believe in any gods, but I remained because I enjoyed the classes and could not afford to switch schools. Even amongst religious people, people don't choose King's [just because] it is a Catholic College. Many people I ask attend King's because of financial aid and location, just like me.

I made an effort to respond to every piece of criticism or support, but people still didn't understand what the issues were and just wanted to believe that their religion was being attacked for some reason. Great, I'm happy to “attack” it with open criticism and blogging and frequently do, but the nativity issue was a legal one, not a religious one. I certainly can't take away someone's ability to believe in any gods, worship, or put up decorations in their yards and don't want to. Keep the religion out of the government! At the end of the day, people made themselves look really foolish, proved my point that religious belief can lead to disastrous consequences and befuddle people, and I gained support. I also had a very public platform to speak from and was able to make people think, inspire like-minded thinkers, and get people thinking about issues whether they agreed or disagreed. Last Christmas was a good one. I lost many friends over this debacle, but they're welcome to go. If someone is going to cease talking to me and lambast me because of a legal issue in which I was right, I don't want to be friends with them anyway. Good riddance.