Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not Only Religious People Are Fundamentalists

God save us from fundamentalists! All of them, of every ilk. There is a story this week on Yahoo, that seems to present the perfect storm of narrow thinking. It seems there is a controversy about the City of Chicago’s “Christkindlmarket” celebration.

We encounter no less than three types of fundamentalists in this story, each more self involved than the one before. In the forefront we have the forgotten fundamentalists, the one nobody talks about for fear of being labeled one of the other kind; the fundamentalist atheist. This group apparently lies awake at night worrying that someplace somebody is enjoying their faith and would like to celebrate it publicly. They protest nativity scenes in the public square that have been there for decades, have become a tradition, and were probably erected, at least in part, by citizens who do not subscribe to their strictly religious meaning. It is just all that “good will” stuff, and maybe (just maybe) a crèche in the public square will inspire the “Christian” population to spread some good cheer, at least for a little while. The mayor’s office has decided to turn down sponsorship from New Line Cinema, which would include playing a loop from their upcoming movie “The Nativity Story”. They felt that playing the loop would be insensitive to members of other faiths. Has nobody made any movies about other faiths that, as a good will gesture, we could highlight along with “The Nativity Story”? Diversity doesn’t mean painting everything grey; it means exploring our differences and celebrating what makes us human. If we get together and truly share our traditions we will see how alike we are and where the commonalities lie, along with our distinctions and why they are both important and beautiful.

The problem, of course, is that everybody wants the whole enchilada; they want to win, vanquishing the other, without compromise. This leads to our second fundamentalist, a more recognizable chap, and someone who it is always OK to ridicule; as doing so will somehow reveal you as free thinking and enlightened. We are speaking about, of course, the fundamentalist Christian, that enchanting specimen that can insist on a literal reading of the Bible, but somehow miss over two thousand passages that relate to God’s preferential option for the poor and oppressed.
"’The last time I checked, the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ,’ said Paul Braoudakis, spokesman for the Barrington, Ill.-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations.” By that reasoning, a careful examination of the first four letters of “shitake mushroom” would remove those little suckers from my list of approved foods. This controversy does not seem to be about how “Christmas” is spelled in English. Jesus (whose last name was not Christ, by the way), was probably not born anywhere near December, so the whole Christmas thing is just syncretism anyway. Fundamentalist seem to object to syncretism except when it serves their purposes. In any case, the first six letters of “Christian” are also Christ, and I don’t see much evidence of that in day to day life either.

The final type of fundamentalist in this tale of woe is the free market fundamentalist. Those crafty little suckers who have no real ethics of their own, but adopt the ethics of the group they are presently trying to prey upon (kind of like tofu). “An executive vice president with New Line Cinema, Christina Kounelias, said the studio's plan to spend $12,000 in Chicago was part of an advertising campaign around the country. Kounelias said that as far as she knew, the Chicago festival was the only instance where the studio was turned down. Kounelias said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.’ One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas,’ she said.” This is partly the same kind of reasoning that leads to “no smoking” sections just situated anywhere in restaurants. It doesn’t matter if the non-smoker has to traipse right through the smoking section, or that the smoke wafts throughout the restaurant. These kind of gala affairs don’t just confine themselves to the area where the festival is being held. They effect traffic and in order to be heard, any audio would have to be played loudly enough to “share” with residents that have no interest in the event (I lived RIGHT above the Italian fest in Hartford Connecticut, forget about sleeping for three days). And again, the proper thing to do would be for New Line to offer to include scenes from other traditions in their loop.

The “funny” thing about this is how it has juggled normal alliances. In any other case, the studio would be defend themselves from the “Christians” with this very same argument; “if people go to a movie called ‘Rape, Murder and Dismember’ you would think they would know it is about unacceptable behavior.” And the atheists would be joining in to condemn the “fundies” for being narrow-minded and ignorant. In a sort of twisted way, Christmas does its magic once again, causing dissimilar people to see the other fellow’s side of the issue. Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men, indeed!


Paul Braoudakis said...


Interesting observations on this post. I'm Paul Braoudakis, the guy who was quoted in this story. I do consider myslef on the more fundamental side of Christianity (though I wouldn't consider myself a "Christian Fundamentalist" as our culture has defined it -- if that makes any sense!) Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I pretty much agree with a lot of what you had to say. Very insightful.

The one caveat, if I might add, is your comment about my quote. You're correct in saying that "Christ" in Christmas is an English interpretation of the world -- but it makes it no less valid, because the New Testament was written in Greek and -- guess what? -- the first six letters of "Christmas" in Greek, still spell out Christ! Yes, Christ was not Jesus' last name. "Christ" means, "the chosen one." It's more of a title than it is a name. The shitake mushroom example was certainly funny, but it it's not the same because the Japanese word shitake does not translate over to English as perfectly as the Greek word for "Christmas" does.

ANYWAY ... just wanted to clear that up. Thanks for pointing out a lot of other hard truths that we should all be look at. I appreciate the constructive dialog.

mike grello said...

I want to thank Paul for his interest and the civil nature of his response. If we could all employ this level of civility in our dealings with others the world would be a better place.
Paul, come back any time to keep us honest. Our goal is to call atruce in the culture war, and we can use all the help we can get.