Sunday, August 25, 2013

neutrality or denial?

Here's an article I read this morning from Deutsche Welle (the article's in English): http://dw.de/p/19V26

In case you can't or don't want to read it, the gist is that in Berlin they are thinking about changing the name of the traditional Christmas market (Weihnachtsm√§rkte) to Winter festival (Winterfest). The reason is that they want to be more neutral and leave religion out of it so that the many people of different faiths (and no faith) can feel more welcome, or, as the article says, "providing an even playing field and promoting equality for those of every religion, as well as for non-believers."

It cites this kind of thing already being done in the U.S. (how we've "tried to achieve inclusion by promoting secularism"), and the author does not think it relates to an anti religious sentiment. However, I am not sure this is the case (in the U.S. or Europe). The author talks about walking down the streets of Berlin and seeing mosques, churches, temples, and other religious buildings all near one another. But those are all distinctly religious. Should they all become uniform buildings with no indication of the religious type they relate to so that everyone feels included (or not excluded)? Do non religious people feel left out because of all the religious buildings they see?


Secularization is an anti religious sentiment. That's what the word means, that's the point of secularization. This is not a post about whether secularization is good or bad, but let's be realistic about what we're doing with it. Changing the name of the Christmas market to Winter festival will not in itself make it not a Christmas market. It is this paragraph from the article I have particular problems with: 

"In the way Americans say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas,' Kreuzberg is saying Winterfest to mean Christmas market. In countries as deeply Christian as both the US and Germany, the name of the holiday itself will continue to refer to the celebration of Jesus' birth, but the change of related terminology at least makes the festivities more inclusive."

Maybe the Christmas market has already taken a secular flair and the name change reflects that. But if it is still a Christmas market, still related to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, why can't it just be the Christmas market? I doubt they ask for your Christian identification before you can browse the market or enjoy the festivities (and they certainly shouldn't!). Inclusivity is allowing all the religions to have their own public celebrations, not taking them all away. Neutrality would be the same. Arguably, disallowing any religious sentiment favors the non-religious and is therefore no longer neutral. Neutrality would be allowing the gamut and favoring neither religion nor non-religion.

This is certainly a very complicated topic, and obviously agreement is hard to come by. The question of changing the Christmas market name is a case in point, not the point itself. Nobody is going to be included in everything (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, etc etc etc). We are all too different to have everything fit our needs or desires, but that is how we can learn from one another. If we embraced these differences rather than denying them, we might actually feel more included overall, because we could be invited to ask questions and explore rather than being sent away empty handed. And sometimes it's okay to take your toys and go home when you want to, but that's different from letting no one play just because you are feeling untoward.

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