Christmas 2014: Where Did Tolerance Go?—J. Conrad Guest

Maybe it’s just my age, looking through rose colored glasses into a past that seems much friendlier today than it perhaps really was fifty years ago.

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

The 1960s: turbulent. Two Kennedys assassinated, Martin Luther King gunned down, the war in Vietnam raged. But we also had The Beatles, Woodstock, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Laugh-In. And people seemed much more tolerant. Sometime during the last fifty years individual rights took center stage, pushing tolerance into the wings, where it remains mute, perhaps suffering stage fright.

No tolerance today, not for pro choice or pro life, not for gay rights, not for religious beliefs. A young boy is told he cannot read the bible in school—not on his free time between classes or during lunch. A young girl cannot say a quick prayer of thanks at the school cafeteria before lunch. A nativity scene at Christmas is offensive. Some want “In God We Trust” removed from our currency. Maybe we should, since it appears that many believe in money as their savior.

Tolerance. Merriam-Webster defines it as a willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own.

Today, tolerance means I must accept your feelings, habits and beliefs, but you are free to disregard my feelings, disparage me for my beliefs, and I must accept that under the guise of “human rights”. We’re so caught up in personal rights that we’ve forgotten that our rights end when they infringe on the rights of another.

I’ve long remained publically mute on the subject of Christmas, but this year I voice my opinion. You’re offended that I celebrate Christmas as the birth of a Messiah. You tell me he is but a myth. I have news for you. Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t make toys at his home at the North Pole, nor does he circle the globe on Christmas Eve to deliver toys down the chimney’s of billions of people—many who don’t have chimneys. I don’t push on you my belief in God, even though, in my mind, there is a greater chance that He exists than does Santa. But go ahead, put up on your front lawn your inflatable Santa, and the sleigh and reindeer on your roof. I can tolerate that, even if you can’t tolerate the nativity scene on my lawn, and petition City Hall to make me take it down.

Christmas has become, in my opinion, the measuring stick for how well the economy is doing. Black Friday: how does this year’s spending measure up against last year? Put up the tree, decorate it, and buy gifts, and for what? To help the nation’s economic recovery? To make up for the truly shitty way you treated your family the rest of the year? To buy the affection of your spouse and children because you haven’t earned it by spending quality time with them all year long?

My wish this Christmas season is that you find under your tree a large box of tolerance. Furthermore, that you learn to accept other thinking as simply that: thinking that differs from your own and doesn’t threaten you, your family, or your beliefs. Accept me for my feelings, habits and beliefs, as I accept yours. Life is short, shorter still when you consider the life of the planet and the universe. Only when we come to accept diversity will we become the Human Race, and not white, black, yellow, man and woman.

Why can’t we all just get along?

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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9 responses to “Christmas 2014: Where Did Tolerance Go?—J. Conrad Guest

  1. Maybe the past was intolerant and knew it, while the present practices intolerance in the name of its opposite. I’ll happily wish my neighbor “Happy Holidays,” but I’m keeping a Nativity scene in my window where all can see it. And I love your essay here.

  2. Clearly you’ve experienced some disrespect for your beliefs, which is a shame. As a non-Christian I absolutely am not offended that you celebrate Christmas as the birth of a Messiah. I only start to squirm when you automatically assume I do, too. The only nativity scenes I’d ever object to are those at public institutions that are supposed to represent me as well as you. So, while I can’t find a box of tolerance under my tree because I don’t have a Christmas tree, there are many other ways for me to experience compassion and tolerance for all. And, by the way, I couldn’t agree more about the warped commercialism of Christmas. It is, after all, about the birth of Jesus, not WalMart. I also agree that “Only when we come to accept diversity will we become the Human Race, and not white, black, yellow, man and woman, “ I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with love and good feelings. And tolerance.

  3. Thanks, Sheila and Carole, for your comments. My best to you both for the holiday season.

    Carole: I’m not sure why you’d feel that a public institution that displays a nativity scene would leave you feeling that they don’t represent you.

  4. I really get annoyed with having to pander to the intolerant. It’s CHRISTmas, for cripes sake. That’s the whole point of the day. No matter what non-Christians are trying to make us all believe, the day is not Santamas. I am sick of the constant message that we must believe in Santa Claus, sick of having that stupid myth foisted on me, sick of the eternal seesawing there is/there isn’t a Santa Claus. If people are so willing to accept Santa as an icon of the season (who so obviously isn’t real) then what difference does it make to them if some people use crèches or some other image to personify the day? Crèches are the spirit of the day and more fitting than santas and elves and those stupid flying reindeer. Santa is a late addition to the festivities. Taking that red-suited image to the height of absurdity, a neighbor has a nativity scene with a Santa praying over the baby. Huh?

    I simply don’t get it. Since the non-Christian world adapted a Christian holy day for their own, then they cannot complain about the religiosity. (Supposedly the Christians co-opted a Roman holiday, so it’s ironic that the same thing is happening again.) Sometimes when I see one message too many about how we can no longer say, “Merry Christmas” because it offends people, I just want to scream, “Get over it, folks, It’s CHRISTmas. If you don’t like it, start your own damn holiday.”

    The Santa myth is particularly odious since he obviously favors the rich. It makes poorer kids feel bad that they weren’t good enough to get the rich-kid stuff they wanted. And why engender such a ridiculous myth in the first place? I knew a guy who fought in Vietnam. There they were at Christmas, hunkered down on some God-forsaken hill that they had just taken for the second or third time. They got to talking about the most disillusioning moment in their lives, and almost all of them said it was when they found out there was no Santa Claus. Why are people still perpetuating such a lie and for no particular reason?

    Oops. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get on my soapbox, but you really hit a chord.

  5. Pingback: It’s Christmas, Not Santamas | Bertram's Blog

  6. E M hector

    Thank you for a well worded essay. Some do not understand that with “personal rights” there are also personal responsibilities.Respect for our differences has always been a big part of my life. May your box under the tree overflow with tolerance!

  7. Conrad, you’ve never experienced what non Christians experience in this country. As a child I was spit on, beaten up and shunned. I was so clueless I went around asking my first grade classmates questions about stuff I had no knowledge of. In school, the entire time of my experience I was an outsider and worse. In college, a professor had us read a Kafka story and we were supposed to analyze it. I turned in what I thought was fine and he asked to see me in his office. He’d flunked me on it. I had never gotten such a low grade in an English course before. Turned out, the story followed something from the New Testament. The professor couldn’t understand why I didn’t see that right away. After some discussion he gave me a C. Nowadays, things have gotten better, but many non Christians still feel uncomfortable in some venues. Surely, you can understand that, or at least try to.

  8. Of course I can understand it, Mickey, which is the premise of my blog.

    The Crusades in the Middle Ages were wrong, just as the Islamic jihad against Christianity today is wrong. I have nothing against other cultures or other beliefs. What you experienced in your youth was wrong. But telling me that I’m not free to celebrate Christmas as the birth of savior is no more right. As a Christian, I’m being made to feel uncomfortable, and that’s not right either. Two wrongs never make a right.

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