The tree and the candle - or nothing at all?
It appears that I spoke too hastily regarding the plight of Europe as she seeks to preserve her Christian cultural icons. I heralded the relative calm over here in North America, as it seemed we'd made more of truce with pluralism by building a wall of separation between church and state. But the recent matter of Christmas trees at our local airport, having become worldwide news, has me needing to step back.
The good rabbi is distraught now that the trees have been removed, because his intention was not to strip the symbols of Christmas, but expand the display to include Judaism. This comes back to the fundamental question of how to deal with pluralism. Having added the symbols of Judaism, what will become of the sentiments of Buddhists and Hindus? Why shouldn't they appeal for equal access to public displays? And what's the best way for people who aren't represented to deal with this? Is the threat of a lawsuit how God wants His chosen people to fight this?
In the light of such feuds, it's easy to see why the cynicism of postmodernity is finding fertil soil these days. These struggles aren't about truth - they're about power, about vying for space at the cultural tables of the world. When one files a lawsuit so that his worldview can gain a place at the table, and the other side responds with an outpouring of indignation and hatred, the outsiders suspicions are confirmed: God is nowhere to be found in the midst of these cultural wars. Thus, the very notion of truth becomes suspect, and the agnostic, or seeker, or nihilist, or skeptic, is given yet more fuel for his/her fire, confirming the suspicions that 'truth' is nothing more than a social construct, and that people are killing each other over humanly fabricated 'religions' and 'ideologies'. In such a setting, the world John Lennon imagines is rather appealing, though a little bit of thought shows his view to also be unsatisfying.
Rather than despair, however, the Christian needs to recall that the way Jesus truth claims were confirmed had nothing to do with culture wars, violence, revenge, or political power. His way of ascent was downward, through non-violent resistance of power, which took him all the way to the cross. Gandhi behaved similarly. So do Martin Luther King. So have others. But how many are willing to pay such a price? We're called, not to passive withdrawal, nor violent engagement - but rather to the way of the cross. Let's dialogue about what this means in terms of our reaction to the loss of trees - or the addition of menorahs, and what it means for the larger issues of pluralism. I welcome your comments.