VOLOKH at LAW.UCLA.EDU
Tue Jun 24 12:09:52 PDT 1997
I appreciate Prof. Feldman's response to Prof. Hankins' review.
One of the great advantages of the Net is that one can easily get
prompt rebuttals of this sort, and easily send them out to more or
less the same audience that got the original criticism.
Nonetheless, and realizing that I am handicapped by not having
read Prof. Feldman's book, I confess that I (for whatever it's worth,
a secular Jew) am somewhat troubled by the ultimate prescription:
> "I ask for one small political act. I request each reader to
> consider making a simple and direct statement questioning
> Christian imperialism. My idea: Next year, when someone wishes
> you a 'Merry Christmas,' just say, 'Please don't! Don't wish me a
> Merry Christmas'" (at 286).
When people wish me a Merry Christmas, they generally don't, in
my experience, mean "May you enjoy a religious celebration of Christ's
birthday," much less "May you see the light and accept Jesus Christ
as your Lord and Savior." Actually, if that's what they meant, I
wouldn't mind, but it seems to me that they don't in fact mean this.
They could mean anything from "Have a good holiday" to "My religion
tells me to give best wishes to everyone, Christian or not, on this
day, so this is my expression of goodwill to you."
Reacting to this mild act of politeness, perhaps even attempted
kindness, with a "political act," strikes me as both a bit rude and
by no means productive of any greater religious harmony. Imagine
that the original speaker, as a "political act . . . questioning
[secular] imperialism" (and whether or not you think there's secular
imperialism out there, lots of people do; and as to at least some
social subgroups, I think they're right), would respond "Please
don't! Don't tell me not to wish you a Merry Christmas!"
Imagine that Jehovah's Witnesses -- and here perhaps I'm mistaken
in their views, but I understand some of them do oppose the
celebration of holidays such as birthdays -- responded to "Happy
Birthday" with "Please don't! Don't wish me a Happy Birthday!"
Imagine that when someone sneezed and you said "God Bless You!" they
responded with "Please don't! Don't use God's name in vain in
response to my sneezes!" (or even just "Please don't! Don't say God
Bless You!). Imagine that Muslims (who I believe do not have a
winter holiday) responded to the neutered "Happy Holidays" cards
with "Please don't! Don't wish me happiness on one of your
Would this really be productive of a happier society? Regardless
of the theoretical merits, if any, of fighting Christian imperialism,
it seems to us we have to be attentive to the collateral damage that
this fight can cause to goodwill and civility among religious groups
and among individual people.
Please forgive me if I'm taking the quote out of context, but
given its prominence in the book's title and in his response to the
review, it seems to me that I am not.
"So many birdsongs. Eugene Volokh
In this conference, each sings UCLA Law School
its own agenda." 405 Hilgard, LA, CA 90095
W. Warriner, 101 Corporate Haiku no. 41 (310) 206-3926
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