There are now TWO religionist replies to the letter below, which require rebuttal. I’m again asking for activist atheists and humanists to make either a quick note or a detailed critique to a letter to the editor of my local paper. Both the humanist starting point and both (off-topic) theist replies are included. I invite others to post similar letters so that others can help out. Even a short note is valuable if the editor receives several of them. Please post your letters here when you have done so. Thanks to BB for such a great letter last time. The few replies I've got have been great, but I have been unimpressed with how few people here are responding. What's the point of an atheist community if it just talks to itself?

HERE IS THE ORIGINAL LETTER to the editor that was posted in my local paper. It is a response to the generic emails we all get at Christmas from acquaintences, telling us to "keep Christ in Christmas", because some threatening, anonymous "they" are conspiring to remove him/it. It is more specifically a response to an opinion piece by Walker Morrow titled "Keep Christ in Christmas", in which Morrow "can’t abide" people who say "Happy Holidays", when he says they should say "Merry Christmas". Such Christians do not use MC as a greeting, but rather as a test of religiosity, and that is the point of the letter.

Cowichan Valley Citizen
7th January, 2009.

The "Christ in Christmas" columns and e-mails have made the rounds. If you didn’t get yours, I’ll paraphrase for you: the phrase "Merry Christmas" is not a salutation, but a means test of tribal purity. If you use it, you’re in the tribe; if you say "Season’s Greetings" you are depriving the tribe, by not pandering to them and telling them how special they are.

Put Christ in Christmas? Who's forcing anyone not to? Nobody. The only group trying to tell others what to think, what to do, and how to do it are those demanding that everyone "Put Christ in Christmas". Atheist author George Orwell coined the phrase "double-speak" to describe such blatant deception.

The real issue here is that state and business endorsement for one viewpoint to the exclusion of all others is waning, and the previously priveleged can’t accept being treated the same as everyone else. If that sounds familiar, it is - priveleged groups reacted the same way to equality for women, non-whites, and homosexuals. Identical arguments have been used against all these movements. Religious prejudice exists year round and is only voiced at Christmas as an appeal to tradition. This issue is important because it is part of a much wider societal struggle.

Secular society permits people to do what they want on their own property, on their own time. However, our state (including schools) and businesses cater to everyone, not just the 55% of British Columbians who self-identified as Christian in the 2001 Census. It’s discriminatory for government to privilege any one religion, or religion generally. It’s bad for businesses to do so, so they don’t. State and business therefore wish everyone happy holidays, not just one group.

Those who "can’t abide hearing Happy Holidays" are intolerant of all non-Christian religions, and all who practice no religion. That’s 45% of British Columbians, and growing. Why is this bigotry still so mainstream? Why do we have to read, every December, columns and e-mails from the same theocratic bigots, advocating the imposition of their views upon everyone else?

Sheena Shaw,
Duncan.

Here is the first response. Please note that the respondent has not responded to the issues raised in the first letter; namely the fact that at Christmas time it is Christians, like Walker Morrow who "can’t abide people saying Happy Holidays"; and who are trying to tell others what they must think to the point of telling them what phrases they must use (ie "Merry Christmas"). Note also that Brianne has not addressed any of the points raised by Sheena regarding what this issue is really about. It’s not MC that is being frowned upon, it’s HH, so Brianne should not get away with trying to switch the topic around 180 degrees. "Politically correct" is used as a way to dismiss any opinion Brianne disagrees with.

MERRY CHRISTMAS NOT OFFENSIVE
The Cowichan Valley Citizen
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Dear Editor:
When I read the letter "Christmas forcing religion" (Jan. 9), I was saddened to find that the author of the letter seemed to imply that saying "Merry Christmas" was forcing religion upon others.
Let me get something straight -- people have been celebrating one of the most well-known events in history for over 2,000 years, and now simply greeting someone with a "Merry Christmas" is frowned upon?
We all have fond memories of Christmas -- a gathering of friends and family, filled with love and the Christmas spirit. To Christians, it is an important holiday filled with love and celebrating the birth of Christ. Even to those who are not Christians, Christmas is a time emphasizing peace and good will.
Large corporations and the politically correct would feel that "Happy Holidays" is a better greeting during the month of December. What sort of feeling does the phrase "Happy Holidays" conjure? A time when stores are advertising sales, the nightmares of busy parking lots, and malls overflowing with people trying to get all their Christmas shopping done? Where is the "Christmas spirit" of love, and the feeling that giving is better than receiving?
Those who wish to be politically correct would feel that "Happy Holidays" is less offensive. But less offensive to whom? Most people don't have a problem with others celebrating their own religious holiday. I certainly don't have a problem if someone of a different religion were to wish me a religious greeting. How can "Merry Christmas" be offensive to those celebrating the holiday (which the vast majority of Canadians do)?
If we were to continue with all this political correctness to "not offend anyone," where will Christmas be in 25 or 50 years? What will it mean to your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? Will they have the same feeling of love, peace, and good will that we have embedded in our memories? Or will they simply say, "Happy Holidays" without feeling, and forget the meaning of Christmas entirely? For the sake of those to come, I certainly hope not.
Brianne Hamilton,
Cowichan Bay.

Please send your responses to the above letter to Cowichan Vallley Citizen editor Andrea Rondeau at: (news@cowichanvalleycitizen.com)

Here’s the second Christian response. Note that Chris Carss ignores or misrepresents what Sheena Shaw said; agrees with her that people should be able to choose yet pretends that this was not the entire point of Shaw’s piece; and as is usual with those defending Christian privelege attacks those wanting freedom rather than attempting to defend their own privelege, because such privelege is unjustifiable; acting as if criticism and a different viewpoint is intolerant, and using "scare quotes" to ridicule, rather than address legitimately raised points; and lastly ignores Shaw’s defining of public space as government institutions like schools. Indeed, Carss either agrees with Shaw'’ points, or ignores them - by does not refute successfully a single point she raised - and basically confirms all the criticisms that Shaw has made. Carss also criticises Shaw, but did not criticise Walker Morrow for insisting that all people "keep Christ in Christmas", is this because Carss does not criticise people who want to silence those she disagrees with?

"CHRISTMAS’ GREETING FREE SPEECH
The Cowichan Valley Citizen
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009
Dear Editor:
If Sheena Shaw was trying to come across as a "tolerant" person in her Jan. 9 editorial letter, the tone and content of her message were way too hostile and confrontational. She indulged in a little "double-speak" of her own when she declared that "secular society permits people to do what they want" (i.e. practise their spiritual and religious beliefs) "on their own property and in their own time" (translation: not openly nor in public). In fact, Canada permits individuals and groups to be openly religious in public, a freedom that's protected under the Charter of Rights along with the freedoms and rights of others to be homosexual, feminist, athiestic, agnostic, secular humanist, Darwinist, pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-abortion. There are no legal restrictions on the freedoms of Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other religious groups to disseminate their beliefs any more than there are restrictions against secular people to do the same.
There's a small problem with the notion that governments and businesses use the term "Happy Holidays" to avoid offending non-Christan religions and all who practice no religion. "Holiday" is simply a contraction of "Holy Day." Theoretically, this term should offend all non-religious groups. However, I've so far encountered no offence by non-believers due to the fact "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" have both become figures of speech to the secular community that reflect nothing more than our cultural heritage.
As for those of us who are Christians, we will openly continue to put the "Christ" in Christmas as a public expression of our faith. This is our legal right and our spiritual obligation. I'm sure other religious groups will openly use their customary spiritual greetings at appropriate times of the year. Non-believers will continue to use seasonal greetings that suit them, including Happy Easter, Merry Chrismas, Happy Holidays, and Seasons Greetings. The last of those should suit the most strict secular purist!
Chris Carss, Chemainus

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Replies to This Discussion

I think there are dozens of different ways to be activist. Some people are better at some and some people are better at others. Also, some activities may seem ineffective, but they can be good proving grounds if you're trying to work on your arguments. For example, I no longer debate average theists (like on theist forums) because it's so tedious, like trying to clean your driveway in a blizzard. Even if you have a kick-ass snow-blower, it's still pointless. However, for someone trying to work out their own positions and find effective arguments, it can be a useful exercise, and the experience can then be applied later to bigger and better activism.

I would prefer to encourage activism at all levels. Wherever a person desires to fight, let's provide what help or encouragement we can. I don't see much point in saying, "Yer doin' it wrong!" Maybe instead, "Way to go! After you're done there can ya help me out on this bigger issue?"

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