The North Korean government recently warned South Korea not to put Christmas lights within sight of the border, because this would be “psychological warfare.” There are two ways to look at this odd situation: (1) What kind of government is so unpopular that it feels threatened by pretty lights? (2) What kind of lights are so powerful that they threaten tyrannical governments?
I have always loved Christmas lights. The days grow short at this time of year, especially in the North, and colored lights in windows and on trees and porches help to relieve the gloom.
But the lights do more than that. Because they are Christmas lights, not merely “holiday” lights, they hold a deeper significance. This is obviously true for Christians, for whom this season marks the birth of Jesus − whom they believe to be the Light of the World.
Still, the significance is there for non-Christians, too. For Jews like me, the Christmas season often coincides with Hanukkah, which is often called the Festival of Lights. But the word means “dedication.” It commemorates the Jewish revolt against the Greco-Syrians, who had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem with pagan statues and tried to eradicate belief in the One God.
The Temple was rededicated and the eternal light rekindled. The usual account is that there was only enough oil for a day, but it burned for eight days until more oil could be obtained. Yet there never was a shortage of olive oil in Israel − there was a shortage of sanctified oil suitable for use in the Temple. The lights mark the distinction between the sacred and the profane, a distinction we have almost lost today.
I spent my early years in a small North Dakota town, where my family and I were the only Jews. The Christmas lights and caroling at school did not bother me in the least. On the contrary, I enjoyed these expressions of the season.
Later we moved to San Francisco, where my public high school had an annual Christmas program. Because it was organized by a Catholic priest, I came to love the Latin words to “Adeste Fideles.” Although there were other non-Christian students like me, nobody complained. Those who did not wish to attend could go to the library, so there was no compulsion − only enjoyment of the beautiful program.
My parents explained that this was not our holiday, but it was the holiday of most Americans, so I learned to honor it without observing it. My parents grounded me in my religion, so they had no fear that seeing a holly wreath or hearing “Silent Night” could shake my faith or cause me distress. They would have found that idea laughable.
I learned that there is nothing wrong with being different − that going along with the group is not always required. I learned that my worth derived from what I did as an individual, and not from mere membership in a group. No matter how worthy the group might be, my behavior was what counted.
And I learned that being different didn’t mean I was better or worse than anyone else − just different. This lesson helped me avoid the pitfalls of the teen years. Perhaps it made me a bit of a loner, too, but at least I didn’t believe that belonging to some clique or “in” group would mean anything in the long run.
Most of all, I learned not to be easily offended. When someone wished me “Merry Christmas,” I replied with the same words. It wasn’t my holiday − so what? A colleague wished that my day would be merry. How could that offend me? Why should people take offense at greetings or decorations for a holiday they don’t celebrate? What is offensive about pretty decorations and good wishes?
No, what is really offensive is objecting to these beautiful things. If I were in France, I would expect most people to celebrate Bastille Day. And if France were attacked, I would expect people to display the French flag and voice patriotic feelings. I would be a fool to expect otherwise, and an ingrate to take offense.
So why is it that some Americans take offense when Christmas lights are hung, or when people displayed flags after 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history? What offends people often reveals more about them than about the event that offends them.
The ease with which people take offense today is a manifestation of childish narcissism and intolerance: Why should I have to adapt to the people around me? No, I insist that they adapt to me.
When infants are hungry, they want to eat now. As children grow older, they learn to wait until the food is ready. They realize, reluctantly, that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They begin to accept that other people have needs and wants as strong and legitimate as their own.
But narcissists remain in an infantile stage emotionally. They expect 312 million Americans to adapt to them. They don’t like colored lights? Go to court and have them extinguished. They don’t like Santa Claus? Kick him out.
They don’t like the word “Christmas” because it denotes the birth of Christ? Insist that “holiday” be substituted. What holiday? Groundhog Day? Guy Fawkes Day? Whom are we trying to fool? Ourselves, apparently.
For “Christmas vacation” substitute “winter break.” Instead of the birth of Jesus, celebrate the winter solstice. Of course, the position of the sun imposes no moral obligations on us − which may be the real reason for the change.
Did they feel uncomfortable when flags appeared everywhere and signs proclaimed “God bless America” after 9/11? Fob off their own feelings onto foreign visitors, who probably couldn’t care less, and demand greater “sensitivity” and “tolerance.”
What about sensitivity and tolerance for the deepest beliefs and feelings of the majority? What about appreciation for the charitable work done at this season, and for the Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells and collecting donations for the needy?
And what about gratitude? Our country, whose freedom and abundance we enjoy, was founded by Christians who used the Bible as one of their principal guides. Wisely, they provided that no one sect would be allowed to predominate. They founded a secular government for a religious people.
But now, many would deform freedom of religion into freedom from religion. They take offense at anything that does not accord with their own beliefs − or lack of belief. They insist that the nation revolve around them.
They believe that moral principles can be handed down from one generation to another without any Source for these principles. This belief requires a leap of faith just as much as does a religious belief.
There is no historical basis for the assumption that a purely secular society can preserve its moral principles − or even preserve itself − over the generations. Yet we are betting everything we have that the assumption is correct. Is this a wise bet?
In fact, Western Europe is proving precisely the opposite. Europe is not only failing to reproduce itself; it is also bending over backward to be “fair” to those who aim to destroy it. Three years ago, the BBC, Britain’s state-run broadcasting system, followed Queen Elizabeth’s annual Christmas message with a rant by Iranian dictator Ahmadinejad. This man oppresses women, gays, and ethnic and religious minorities; calls for the destruction of Israel; and seeks to demolish Western civilization. By what perverted logic was he asked to give a Christmas address? How about Jeffrey Dahmer speaking on a healthful diet, or Major Hasan lecturing on loyalty?
Why should we emulate Europeans, who are committing demographic and cultural suicide before our eyes? Those who show “tolerance” for the intolerant will themselves become intolerable − and eventually extinct.
● Is there too much happiness in the world? Is there a shortage of sadness and grief? Does hearing “Joy to the World” really cause a problem?
● Is there too much brotherhood in the world? Is there a deficiency of hatred and strife? Does mingling with a happy crowd really feel oppressive?
● Is there too much tolerance in the world? Is there a lack of egocentric intolerance masquerading as “tolerance”? Is there a lack of narcissistic insensitivity disguised as “sensitivity”?
● Is there too much courage in the world? Is there a need for cowardice in the face of a noisy minority of ingrates?
● Is there too much friendliness in the world? Is there a dearth of hostility and ill will? Does a hearty “Merry Christmas” really give offense?
● Is there too much light in the world? Is there a scarcity of darkness and gloom? Do pretty lights really cause distress?
A long time ago, Confucius taught us that it is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. But what would he have thought about the narcissistic ingrates who curse the candle?
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.