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Happy December 26th ! I hope you had a lovely Christmas or at least a happy gastronomic experience !!   A few weeks ago, while cleaning out old files, I came across a copy of the Post Dispatch editorial from 12/25/04.  I knew right away why I must have kept it.  It’s a great summary of how Christmas traditions have changed over the centuries.  I emailed the editor of the paper and asked him to re-run it this year.  Which he did, on 12/24.

I think it’s even more relevant now than it was five yrs ago because the “believers” are getting ever more intimidating and demanding.  When I see signs here and there saying “Jesus is the reason for the season,” etc., I want to find the person who wrote that and invite him/her for a cup of coffee and a chat.  No, actually, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season, at least not until very recently (to historians, “very recently” means within the last 100 yrs or so.)   I celebrate the solstice and return of the light just as my German and English ancestors did centuries ago. I also enjoy giving gifts to families who aren’t as lucky as I am materially.  To me, Christmas is a secular holiday celebrating the passage of time, an opportunity to recall happy days of childhood and a time to pretend that most people really do want a world full of peace and love.  

Although I haven’t been to one in many years,  madrigal dinners are still a popular entertainment in many parts of the world with lots of music, feasting, wassailing.  And for millions of people around the globe, 12/25 is just another day of the week.  I read an article recently about Jews and Muslims in Detroit who combine efforts to do community service projects on 12/25 in an attempt to get to know each other better and as a way of honoring their Christian friends. Wow, I’m impressed, especially since members of the three  Abrahamic religions  have been killing each other for a millenium and a half.

At a children’s church service I attended two nights ago, a couple with a baby played the part of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  The baby was an adorable chubby fair-skinned boy.  After the service, in the refreshment area, a woman said to the father, “That’s exactly how Jesus must have looked.”  Say what?  What are the chances that a Jewish couple from  what we now call “the Middle East” would have a chubby, blonde baby?

 I know this sounds picky, but my point is that our culture is becoming more and more subservient to “beliefs” and less grounded in science, historical fact and rational discussion.  It may not matter when it comes to how we celebrate or don’t celebrate 12/25, but it does matter when it comes to issues of importance like climate change, evolutionary biology, civil rights and medical research.

While other countries are spending their economic and human capital on preparing for the consequences of global warming and researching new technologies, we are arguing about whether store clerks can say “Happy Holidays” without offending someone who insists we join them in their fantasy world.  We’ve been so harassed and intimidated by “believers” that we’re afraid to say “Enough already.”  

The last straw for me was reading about how the CEO of Build-A-Bear, Maxine Clark, had to apologize for a totally appropriate and inspired children’s video about protecting the North Pole from global warming.  She wanted to “inspire children” and encourage them to “make a difference in their own individual way.”   Horrors !! Educating children about how the melting ice is affecting polar bears is now “fear-mongering.”  Clark’s critics said she was “politicizing” the issue of climate change.  No, it’s not a “political issue,”  it’s a life-threatening issue.  The climate change deniers may not base what they believe on religious dogma, but they are just as  irrational and dangerous as the “end times” cult.  They can deny all they want, but the science is irrefutable.  Millions of human beings are already being displaced as ocean levels rise. The Pentagon has  focused for over a decade on climate change and environmental problems as a real national security issue.  This is REAL, folks, and we’d better start responding vigorously in defense of science and scientists.  Corporate power + misinformed masses = a tragic chapter in world history.

I suggest choosing an issue and getting behind the leaders in that field.  Missourians for Life Saving Cures is a good place to start because there are already several attempts to overturn the decision by Missourians who voted in support of stem cell research.   Or rally to the defense of scientists such as Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden who have been publicly attacked for teaching others about the consequences of of climate change. There are dozens of ways we can organize a push back effort.  Speak up.  Don’t wait for someone else to write that letter to the editor or attend that rally.  Like it or not, the name of the game is showing up and being counted.  It’s called democracy, and ours is being diminished daily by people who would drag us back into the Dark Ages.

I will respect someone’s “beliefs” as long as they respect my right to access  solid scientific information and the freedom of decision makers to form policy  based on facts and informed opinions.  This shouldn’t even have to be an issue, but it is.  How we deal with it is literally a matter of life and death.