Christmas Carols are Better

Bear in mind that holiday traditions, and even religious songs are often borrowed from older/other religions. Before someone reading this takes offense, bear in mind that many aspects of Christmas festivity where first borrowed from the pagans.

I can’t see any good reason for someone to take offense at “paganizing” Christmas carols. Of course, after I think about it for a bit, I can’t see the point in doing it at all . . .

Yes, a lot of Christmas, and Christian, practices come from Pagan and other traditions. Even a lot of the songs that are sung for Christmas are loosely adapted or unadapted Pagan songs. However, not only is borrowing okay, sometimes the borrower does it better.

I’m not ashamed to enjoy singing Christmas carols. Even the ones that are really Christian don’t offend me (although most of the ones that are just plain bad I avoid regardless of content, like “Jingle Bell Rock”). The majesty of the powerful chords, the magic of the swelling harmonies, I think it’s one of the best-honored forms of vocal music left in our society. There is not only not a need to “paganize” these songs, it’s a good idea not to do it, since changing the words often changes the quality of the entire piece.

In addition to monkeying with success, I don’t understand why any religion would want to have something like Christmas. Despite the fact that it has importance (although only importance) in the Christian faith, it is completely embattled by secular forces that seek to make it into a day that is marketed by way of various live-action and animated specials that preach the importance of giving while pushing the importance of getting. “Keep Christ in Christmas” is not a fight I think would be easy to wage over Yule or Hanukkah; for one thing, I don’t know what catchphrase we could use for either of those faiths in order to defend the sanctity of our holy days in the darkness. Christianity has a pretty good marketing department, so let them take one for the team.

We Pagans know where Christmas trees came from (yes, for some reason we like to lay claim to the tradition of killing trees solely to watch them wither in our homes), and like to point out that most, if not all, Christian holy days were deliberately overlaid on various ancient festivals. That’s fine. But let Christmas carols stay Christmas carols. They sound really good, have a great message, and are better than they would be if we tried to “reclaim” them.

Short Term Solutions to a Long Term Problem

The wife exclaims: “Don’t you think that whether or not we are 100% sure that your urine has affected my side of the bed that it would behoove you to cease despoiling our honeymoon bed?”

Quoth the husband: “Well it would be extradorinarily inconvenient for me to leave this comfortable and warm (increasingly warm) bed to use the toilet. And we still don’t know for sure that my urine is causing you a problem. I can certainly imagine how filling the bed with biological fluids could cause problems but I can also imagine scenarios where the very absorbant bed materials could just soak up the offending pollutant and store it. If that were the case then we could leave the problem for the next guests to deal with.”

This was excerpted from a brilliant comment on the linked blog entry from Paul Kedrosky. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to environmental considerations it is generally a bad idea to trust businessmen to make good decisions. In fact, I will go one step further and say that it’s blatantly unfair to ask that of them. If you’re in business you are, first and foremost, responsible to your stakeholders, be they your family, your Board of Directors, or the shareholders of your publicly-traded company. Those stakeholders, like most human beings, desire results that they can see, which means results that happen significantly faster than a human lifetime.

Environmental considerations, especially those related to global warming, are never going to have that kind of turnaround time. If a socially-responsible businessman (or politician, which for this discussion is pretty much the same thing) puts systems into place to curb carbon emissions, there may very well be incredible profits that result from his efforts . . . in sixty to one hundred years. Not the kind of timeframe that will keep his job.

The better way to address issues of global warming is to take the responsibility for it away from those that are accountable to stakeholders, and their short-term needs. Do we know, for a fact, that we are having a negative effect upon the Earth’s climate? No, but neither can the husband in the above example know for certain that his bedwetting is making his wife warm and wet. No one has given me any evidence that it would be bad for the environment if we take efforts to curb our emissions. If the responsibility for implementing long-term policies is given to a body that is appointed, perhaps for long terms like the Federal Reserve, then those of us who must meet short-term needs in order to survive can merrily curse up a blue streak about those SOBs and then just go about our business, doing the right thing whether we want to or not.

America’s Only Book

America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.

Eric Prager and Sean Hannity are mixing up two very distinct and equally important issues when they discuss their concerns about Representative Keith Ellison’s decision to take his swearing-in photos with a copy of the Quran, rather than the Bible.

Those issues are the role that religion plays in American life today, and the relationship we in this country should have with Islamist terrorists.

In this country, there are certain groups that tend to commit terrorist acts. Two that come to mind are anti-abortion activists and followers of radical Islam. It is right and good to find ways to identify terrorists before they strike. I do not know what the profile for anti-abortion activists might be (perhaps white, middle-aged men and women with blue eyes?), but I can say that Islamist radicals are all followers of Islam, and mostly have the physical characteristics that brings to mind the word Arab. The vast majority of the followers of Islam do not commit acts of terrorism, but a large chunk of the people that commit terrorism are of that faith. It is inconvenient but appropriate to take extra care to ensure that terrorists do not hide behind the more honest members of their faith and racial characteristics.

Both Hannity and Prager support this concept, and it is a good idea. The moderate leaders of Islam in this country haven’t bolstered confidence through any public denouncement of terrorists acts by their brethren, and in the minds of the fearful and uneducated “one Arab (or even Sikh, sadly enough) looks like another.” I’m not advocating interment camps here, but I don’t think that recognizing statistical reality is a bad thing. (I also think it’s appropriate, although likely more difficult, when it comes to anti-abortion activists and other terrorists.) However, I also think it’s obvious that Hannity, in particular, is letting his anxiety over our resistance to profiling cloud his judgment on this issue.

Hannity quotes Prager as saying that this decision “will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, and they’ll see it as the first sign and realization of a greatest goal, which is the, you know, making Islam the religion of America.” They are, of course, quite mistaken if they think that this country is so weak that it will tremble by allowing the concept of “freedom of religion” to be completely experienced. It’s an understandable viewpoint; the United States was founded by Christians escaping persecution by other Christians, so it’s generally understood that the crafters of the Constitution did not anticipate religions that didn’t maintain Jesus as Messiah ever entering the picture. They view this as change, and not a terribly healthy one at that. They are fearful of radical Islam, which concerns me as well, but they allow this fear to cast doubt on this great country in their eyes.

Like it or not, the Constitution is a living document. This doesn’t mean that you can rewrite it, like the Supreme Court tried to do with eminent domain last year. It does mean, however, that it was designed to adapt to the wider circumstances that a flourishing future exposes it to. In a time when all religion in this country was Christian (since the locals had been shot or killed by smallpox), separation of church and state, as well as freedom of religion, were more focused: the government could not declare a state religion and could not ban a religion from practicing. Now that we have many faiths in this great land, some conservative Christians feel that these very freedoms threaten this country. Curious. I have more faith in our Constitution than they do, apparently.

Prager’s core premise is that, “This book is the book from which America gets its values in the final analysis.” No, Mr. Prager, this is not the case; our values are based upon human values, which just happened to be most prominently represented by the Bible at the time of this great nation’s founding. Are you suggesting that the followers of Islam practice cannibalism, or that Hindus believe in incest? Do you think there is a culture out there that encourages murder? And for that matter, where in the Bible can you find the fundamental freedoms of our Bill of Rights so clearly spelled out? I doubt the Church would have encouraged freedom of assembly, and we can ask Copernicus what they thought of freedom of speech!

Hannity, Prager, and those in their camp need to accept, finally, that there are people out there who do not believe as they do but happen to be good people nonetheless. I know it’s tough if you’re brought up in an Abrahamic faith to think of a nonbeliever anything beyond ignorant, at best, but here in the United States of America our founding fathers saw fit to give us a document that was stronger than your simple, fearful views.

Paperless Society

CBS Radio’s syndicated computer columnist Dave Ross captured the essence of distributed printing this way: The best thing about the Internet is that there’s no paper. The worst thing about the Internet is that there’s no paper.

Remember the promise of the paperless society? How computers would revolutionize the world and make all that wasted paper obsolete? Hasn’t exactly worked out that way, has it?

Truth is, looking at stuff on paper, rather than a screen, is preferred, which is why distributed printing has developed. Xerox is right in trying to develop reusable paper, because we’re not going to stop using paper for the written word. It’s not what we’re used to, and it’s not even Pagan.

Yes, lots of Pagans like the idea of saving trees – I’m certainly a big forest slut myself. But there’s a reason that Paganism is Earth-based spirituality: it’s a religion that’s based on the physical world, more than any other. Pagans focus more on the current life than on what happens after death, often expecting reward and punishment to catch up with us before we move on out of this shell. We value sexuality in all its positive forms, and consider sex itself to be holy. We’re very physical, tactile, and earth-based.

As much as I want to never sacrifice another tree to my needs, I know I will never read a novel as a pdf. Even those clever little electronic books haven’t taken off, and I’m not going to buy one. I want to feel it in my hands, smell the pages, hear the rustle as I turn them. It’s the same with other bits of paper. Are physical files really any more real than electronic ones? I can destroy paper as well as I can a document on my computer, and probably there are more electronic copies, so I’m less likely to destroy the only copy. But legal documents, medical records, financial statements and the like still gather in file boxes, in basements and storage facilities. We trust in them, because they’re real.

I have some emails from my late father. I also have a letter he wrote to me once. The letter has much more emotion in it than those emails. A physical object can key into memories like those pixels cannot. I can see his handwriting, tell how he felt as he crafted each word. No one will ever save a folder of love letters on their hard drive and then read them, one by one, curled up with their laptop on a rainy day as they fondly recall that torrid romance. Computers are wonderful machines that lack that quality of tangibility that we humans crave.

Now this doesn’t mean we can’t reduce our harvesting of trees. We can create paper out of a more renewable plant like hemp or by focusing on improving the recycling process. The price and quality of these products will drop as demand increases, and intelligent people are needed to step up to the plate and choose to pay more for the long-term gain. The linked reference to reusable paper is intriguing, and holds promise, though it sounds like it is not quite there yet. Gift wrapping should be done more with gift boxes or bags; this is also a great way to try out the hemp products, since people are willing to spend a little more money at this time of year.

Paper has been around for thousands of years and will not be going away anytime soon. It’s okay to love it as long as you know the price you’re paying.

Why Environmentalism is a Sin

I’m big on the environment. I like trees. I like spending time among groups of trees over groups of people, although individual people I have known often prove themselves to be more engaging. I try to be cognizant of how my life impacts the rest of the planet. I recycle. I drive a hybrid car. I compost. I don’t have children.

I don’t usually talk to people about my attempts to reduce my negative effects upon the world. This is because I really only get two responses to my efforts, and both of them are pretty irritating.

If I’m talking to a self-described environmentalist, they will one-up me at every turn. If I recycle car batteries, they only use solar ones. If I replace all my bulbs with compact fluorescents, they put in skylights in every room and don’t use electricity. Life might be a game, but it’s not one where we need to keep score. Go away.

The more annoying ones, though, are the ones that feel I am doing more for the Earth than they are. Since they recognize that caring about the planet has value, but don’t act because it’s not convenient to do so, and they believe that I’m keeping score, they try to undermine my efforts. If I recycle newspaper, they ask me why I don’t recycle magazines. If I tell them I prefer using my own bags for groceries, they point out how much plastic packaging I bring home in those bags that I just throw away. When I mention that I’m not fond of the idea of Christmas tree farms, I get a litany of ways that I contribute to deforestation. Yes, I know I’m not perfect, and I know that I can’t be. Is it so horrible that I try to improve myself in this way? Are you so incredibly fragile that you can’t bear to think of me pursuing a goal, perhaps even succeeding at it? Yes, I now understand, yes. You cannot bear the idea of anyone succeeding, even in an area in which you have no interest in succeeding, if it means that you aren’t winning. What you think you’re winning by comparing yourself to other people and bringing them to your level at any opportunity, I cannot say. But clearly it makes you feel good about yourself.

I can’t say I wonder why intelligent people are unwilling to make the effort to care about the Earth. The more you do, the worse a job you end up doing.