Thursday, December 23, 2004

Religious Freedom and Happy Holidays

I am really annoyed with our Country’s state of decline. I wonder if the Roman Empire experienced times like these right before it collapsed?

When I went to high school, I had friends who were from different religious backgrounds. I had Mormon friends – they were incredibly nice people. We played basketball at their church on some nights. They had a haunted Halloween house in their gymnasium one Halloween as a fundraiser. They just seemed generally kind in nature. They always had a lot of kids in their families. And I learned some aspects about their religion from them. We participated in activities together. I was on the volleyball and soccer team that some of them were on.

I had Presbyterian friends and their church always held ski trips each winter. I went on these trips with them. Some of them were on the basketball team with me. I asked them questions about their religion and found out some aspects of it. I had never heard of a Presbyterian before I met them. But that never prevented us from participating in sports and activities together.

My parents were Catholic and I had friends who were. I participated in some Catholic masses. I sometimes prayed with them and I often played with them. Again, we were involved in some of the same sports and joined in some of the same festivities.

I had one very dear friend who was Jehovah Witness. I talked to her about her religion and even attended one Bible Study with her. I noticed during high school events, when we placed our hand on our heart and recited the pledge, she would not do either of those things. When I asked her about it, she explained what she was taught in her beliefs. I, of course, had never been exposed to that explanation before and since I had been taught all my life that everyone did this, I raised more questions and basically argued with her. But she didn’t argue back. And I respected that she was different. Then there were more differences: she never attended any high school dances or celebrated holidays. She didn’t read horoscopes or try to guess people’s signs based on their behaviors. The more I learned from her about all these things and the teachings of her religion, the more I respected that she was different. I stopped goading her to come to dances or events. I just knew who she was and I even supported her when others questioned her beliefs. You could say I defended her right to be different and practice her beliefs. She was a very polite, courteous, happy young woman with very different ideas on the things I took to be normal everyday life.

I had friends who were Gothic and dressed in all black. I wasn’t really good friends with them (until after they became Christian!) because they kept to themselves like recluses. Once in awhile they will chat with me and I ask about why they dress in black and paint their face white and wear oils (one of which I adopted myself – for the scent of it). They practiced Wiccan arts and were into herbal remedies and potions. And honestly, I wasn’t interested in becoming a part of their beliefs, but I liked them as people so I talked to them and hung out with them when I could.

And this is my point:
Everyone is different. And we can accept all those differences. Or we can be prejudiced and judgmental and impose our own beliefs on others. We can choose to participate in their events or we can choose to sit out. We can choose to attend their festivals, charities, events, dinners, Bible Studies, masses, games, car washes, fund raisers… or we can choose to sit out. It doesn’t matter whether it is religion or nationality. We have different backgrounds. And as long as these people were not sacrificing goats or dogs or cats… or human beings; as long as they weren’t tricking me into joining their Church; as long as I had a choice in all things that I did when I was with them and those choices were not stripped from me; as long as I was able to clearly understand my environment, the words that were spoken, the things that were done, and was in a right frame of mind to make sound decisions… then there was absolutely no harm involved in my hanging out with them and doing things with them.

My God – and I say “my” because he’s mine just as much as He could be yours if you so choose to be His…just as much as my mom is mine and my dad is mine and could be yours through adoption – My God is the God I’ve read about in the Bible. When I read the King James version, that is Him. When I read the Amplified version, that is Him. When I read the New American Standard version, that is Him. When I read the Catholic Bible, that is Him.

And here is a dilemma I faced when I was in high school: Who am I?

Don’t we all go through that? Don’t we all wonder, “Is there a God?” And then we have a million questions to ask?

Here was the question I asked about all these Religions: “Why are there so many religions? If you are God and we all believe in you, then why do we all have to go to different churches and have different religions? Why can’t we all just love and worship you the same?”

I was serious about my question. I was crying because I was so upset about it. I was upset because my Jehovah Witness friend couldn’t do the things the rest of us did and I wondered why. But you know – back then I didn’t realize that it wasn’t that she couldn’t do the things the rest of us did. It was that she chose not to do the things the rest of us did. Because of her respect and love for God. The way she was taught and the way she knew. And as I grow older, I find that a lot of her beliefs are not off base. They are very Biblical. But I won’t be a Jehovah Witness. Because like her, I have my own belief: I’m a Christian. I have no denomination. (James 1:27 - Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.) I don’t believe in denominations. I have never read about them in the Bible. The only denominations I believe in are the green bills I use to purchase goods with. *grin* I believe in Church and the importance of attending one. (Colossians 1:18 - And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.) God established the Church through Jesus Christ. So I will attend Church wherever the Holy Spirit leads me. When I pray to God to give me pure, deep waters to drink from, I trust He will lead me to those wellsprings. He has before, that is how I know. I am a disciple of Christ. Does that mean I should refer to myself as “Disciple of Christ” and start a religion on that name? Start a group of people called “DOC”? (Doc. Hmmm. How fitting.) No. But it’s a nice ring for a Church name. And if the Lord should choose that to happen to me – to build a church and name it Disciples of Christ, which I’m quite sure someone has done that already – then we’ll simply be Christians. We will have established relationships with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s take nationality and look at the comparison here.

I am not German. But I do enjoy Oktoberfest. I like to eat bratwurst and sauerkraut and drink a tasty lager. (I don’t drink to get drunk.) I choose to participate when I can. Does this mean I’m suddenly nationalized as a German? Not even close. I am an American mutt. I know that I have the blood of French, Cherokee, Spanish, & Filipino descendants. I participate in many Filipino events. So – just because I choose to participate in a German event, does that make my Filipino status diminish? No. I also do not think Filipinos are better than Germans and vice versa. There are differences in the nationalities: foods, festivities, clothes, language, and appearances. If I am not sure of Germans or their celebrations, then I can simply choose to stay away... not participate. Eh? I can ask questions if I want to understand them. I can pick up books and read about them. Or I can meet a German and talk to him or her. Find out from the source.

Same with Religion. Just because I choose to go to a Catholic Mass does not make me anymore Catholic or any less Christian. Or because I play basketball with Mormons at a Mormon Church – I am no more Mormon or less Christian as a result.

In each of the instances above with my friends, never did any of them impose their beliefs on me. And I never imposed my Christian beliefs on them. We shared our beliefs. Our conversations usually went something like this,
“What do you believe?”



“Because of this. What do you believe?”



“Because of this.”

“Well that’s kind of like this.”

“Yeah, except for this.”

“Yeah. What did you bring for lunch?”

“I’m gonna buy something today. How about you?”

“I brought a sandwich and some carrot sticks.”

“Okay. Want to share your sandwich and then I’ll buy cheese fries and we can split it?”

Or more detailed version:
“I have another Mormon friend and they have lots of kids in their family too. Is there a reason why you guys have so many kids?”

“Yes, because God said to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. So we believe it is important to have as many children as possible.”

“Why don’t you ever recite the pledge?”

“Because God has called us to pledge ourselves to Him, not to a symbol.”

“But that symbol represents our Country and we’re all Americans.”

“In this world, people choose to identify themselves by a nation or a flag. But God calls us to be His chosen. We are God’s people. I pledge my heart to Him.”

“What’s a Presbyterian?”

“It’s just another denomination of Christians.”

“Oh. What do you believe in?”

“We believe the same as you.”

“How come I can’t take Communion?”

“Because you have to take Catechism.”

“What is Catechism?”

“It’s a class and they teach you about the Communion and go through the Bible with you.”

“What if I already know about Communion? I take it when I go to other Churches.”

“I don’t think they will let you here.”

“How will they know?”

“Well you can do what you want, but I’m suggesting to you this.”
In each instance, I learned something I had not known about before. And instead of looking down on them, I respected that they had their way of living and believing. I wasn’t taught to be this way – I just chose to be this way. People around me in my life were judgmental and talked bad about others. I started off that way when I was much younger because I was no wiser. But as soon as someone I cared about pointed out to me that I was being prejudiced, I took a hard look at “why” I was prejudiced. It was not because I hated other people, it was because it was what I learned to do. I learned to call certain names to groups of people and label them, even if I liked them. It was pointed out to me, I figured out why I was like that, and I changed the way I talked about others. It was a process.

We don’t realize the power we have in words. We can hurt someone’s feelings and not even realize it because we are so obtuse to how we carry ourselves sometimes.

Don’t censor our holiday festivities.
Rather than banning holiday festivities from schools – why not just continue them as usual and allow people to make a choice whether or not they wish to participate?

It blew me away when I read that King County banned Halloween from the schools because the witches (Wiccans) were offended. For one, this is a Pagan holiday to begin with and it originally was celebrated by Wiccans as a sabbat (“religious holiday”) called Samhain (October 31), the Witches’ New Year. Granted the witches were all offended because of how the form of the witch was being portrayed in some instances: as green ugly hags with long noses and facial warts.

Personally, I thought, “YAY, SCORE ONE FOR GOD!” And to think it was the witches themselves who got this festivity banned from schools. Right on. What an oxymoron if I ever saw one, but I like it.

But one thing Christians everywhere need to know is that the Roman Catholic Church made it a practice to take Pagan holidays and ordain Christian holidays in their stead so that Christians could celebrate on these same days.

Shorter version: The Roman Catholic Church “converted” Pagan holidays to Christian holidays.

I think I read in a Catholic Bible – and I’m going to paraphrase – that the original intention of this conversion practice was to give Christians a Holy reason to celebrate on those same days. I read in another place that Christians used to practice the Pagan rituals before they became Christian…so the Roman Catholic Church decided to establish All Saints’ Day (Allhallowmas) on November 1st. The day before (October 31st) was then referred to as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Hallow e’en. Then the Roman Catholic Church established November 2nd as All Souls’ Day to honor the dead. This is also a Pagan origin because the Druids taught that Samhain allowed the dead to return to their homes…and Wiccans believe that the dead journey from this world to the next.

But aside from that story, not only is Halloween being banned but so is Christmas and God knows what else.

Personally, knowing the history of each of these festivities, I probably could do without them. As it is, I don’t prefer the retail hell that bombards the masses beginning November 26 at 1:00am and ends December 24 at 11:00pm. “Buy this! Buy that! Buy, Buy, Buy!” Sounds like the moneychangers and vendors in the Temple during Passover. Christmas has evolved for me, as I’ve grown closer to God. It’s not about buying the best gifts and as many as possible – or getting them for that matter. It is a celebration of the birth of my Savior. The gift of Love that was given in only a way that God can reveal Himself: a miracle birth. He who walked where Angels trod and who had seen the face of God was now about to face a short-lived earthly life in His flesh form to perform one task of Love to tear away the Veil that prevented man from entering into God’s Holy place. No longer would people have to rely on a high priest of this world who was made of corruptible flesh, but rather they have a High Priest of incorruptible nature who sits at the right hand of God.

Sure, I speak words like many of the Christians that the non-Christians like to hate. I happen to know what I’m speaking about. And whether I talk like above or I break it down into simple non-Bible-reading user-friendly words, my point is still the same: God made it easy for us to build a relationship with Him through His son, who is known as Jesus Christ.

So where am I going with all this? Good question.

Let me recant: Don’t censor our holiday festivities.
Rather than banning holiday festivities from schools – why not just continue them as usual and allow people to make a choice whether or not they wish to participate?

I read an article about some of the things that are happening in schools because of Christmas and its various religious references. Upon reading it, my mind replayed the South Park episode where the kids were having a play at school for Christmas. The play was going to show Mary & Joseph with the baby Jesus. Then Kyle-the-Jew’s mom got involved and said they were offended because of the Nativity scene (which totally did not make sense). Then she added that they don’t celebrate Christmas at their home. To which Mr. Garrison (who was directing the play) made a comment about “that Hannukah crap” and she got offended even more. So then the Mayor of South Park has to deal with the townspeople getting all offended by the Nativity scene in front of the capitol. They make an argument about the separation of church and state. (Which I’ll discuss in a moment.) Then some priest offered that if Christ is removed, then the Mayor better remove Frosty and Santa too. Then treehuggers suggested a ban on cutting down Christmas trees. Then Jimbo adds a funny line: “And I'm sick and tired of those little flaps on coffee lids, if you don't want to spill your coffee then you shouldn't be driving with it.” So the Mayor decides the town needs a new icon for Christmas. And then adds, “Anyway, I'll put together a crack team of my best workers to make sure this will be the most non-offensive ever, to any religious or minority group of any kind. Are there any other suggestions?” So the Christmas tree is taken away from the stage, they can’t sing songs about Jesus or Santa, and Christmas lights offend people with epilepsy so they were removed.
So the big day arrived, “And now, South Park Elementary presents The Happy Non-Offensive, Non-Denominational Christmas Play, with music and lyrics by New York minimalist composer Philip Glass.” All the parents took their seats, the lights went off, and the kids were all dressed in green leotards and dancing all strange like. Philip Glass was singing some weird stuff about the sun looking like a turtle. There was crappy electronic keyboard music playing in this haunting sound. It was supposed to be some kind of new age get up I think. It was awful and had nothing about Christmas in it. And that is exactly what all the parents in the audience began complaining about afterward. “What the hell is this?!” exclaims the Jewish mom. So the school administrator (Mr. Garrison) explains to the audience/parents that it was their complaining that made the play that way. Then the priest says, “This is the most godawful piece of crap I’ve ever seen.” Then everyone starts blaming each other for their complaints, “Yeah, it’s because the Jew said it couldn’t be Christian.” The Jewish husband pipes up for his wife, “It wasn’t our idea to take out Santa Claus.” The tree hugger yells, “All you bastards ruined Christmas!” In the end, Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo says these wise words:
“Come on gang, don't fight. You people focus so hard on the things wrong with Christmas that you've forgotten what's so right about it. Don't you see, this is the one time of year we're supposed to forget all the bad stuff. Stop worryin' and being sad the state of the world, and for just one day say "ahh, the heck with it, let's sing and dance, and bake cookies.”
Crazy. And that episode was aired December 17, 1997. I had no idea it would prove true seven years later!

At any rate, this whole Separation of Church and State deal has nothing to do with keeping the Ten Commandments out of Courtrooms or the Nativity Scene off Capitol steps. Crimeny. It has to do with the State forcing everyone to practice the same religion. The State will not interfere with the creation of religions or the practices thereof. That’s basically all that entails to. And Churches are non-profit organizations. They rely upon the offerings of their parishioners to keep certain programs going and to pay the bills. Offerings are given based upon the parishioners’ generosity most of the time. But the Bible does teach about Tithing and it’s a powerful teaching when it is put into practice.

If we did not have the separation of Church and State, then it might be that our Country could impose one religion upon everyone – as the Middle East does. Some Middle Eastern countries’ constitutions state within it that Islam is the National Religion.

So anyway, AMERICA WAKE UP! Stop being so stupid. And lawsuit happy. This is beginning to be incredibly... je ne sais quois. Stupid. The pursuit of happiness is becoming a prison. And we are creating that prison. Get over your differences. You're allowed to have opinions, that’s the freedom of speech for ya. But let your opinions be just that when it comes to these differences in religions and nationalities. Opinions are free. Lawsuits aren't. And happiness shouldn't be charged on a credit card or a court document.

And I'll end it with:
Don’t censor our holiday festivities.
Rather than banning holiday festivities from schools – why not just continue them as usual and allow people to make a choice whether or not they wish to participate?

Pagan Holidays
Annie’s Halloween History Page
Pagan/Wiccan Religion
Truth About Halloween
Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo
Episode 110, South Park
A Merry Faith-Based Christmas to All

My teacher told me that if he wrote something three times on the chalkboard, then it was something I needed to remember because it would be on the test.

I'll quiz you all soon. *grin* (Not!)

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