Monday :: Dec 20, 2004

$elling Je$u$ Chri$t

by pessimist

Among the many other current social conflicts militant Christian religionists have fomented is the debate over the commercialization of Christmas, as represented by these two comments:

[1]Some will say ( that X is the Greek letter “Chi”, which is the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ". [Next] But in pablo's world, we dislike the over-religiousness of the season, and like to think that X marks the spot for all the glorious electronics gifts! So, a very Merry X-MAS!!

[2]Now, before any Christmas chauvinists jump all over me, let me tell you that X is the Greek letter “Chi”, which is the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ,” and at one time, combined with the Greek letter P, or “Rho”, was a code for the word “Christ”. —Caro

Here's the supporting evidence of the latter contention:

The Name of CHRIST

"The monogram of the name of Christ, formed of the two first letters of that name in Greek, X and P is the celebrated sign which appeared in the sky at noon-day to the Emperor Constantine and his troops, and was afterwards adopted by him on his standard; the monogram is hence sometimes called the Labarum, as well as the Cross of Constantine. If there had been any doubt as to the signification of the [symbol] an instance occurs on one of the bas-reliefs in the Catacombs, of a rude representation of a lamb whose head is surmounted by the Labarum. [The probable] date of this [symbol] is the latter part of the fourth century.

In Plate xxxviii are several examples, showing much ingenuity displayed in combining the letters.

"The more usual monogram of our Saviour in later times is the IHS. (which are the first three letters of the Greek [word for] JESus). This is constantly found throughout the Middle Ages, whether carved in stone or painted on glass. It is singular that the form should have been lost sight of, while the IHS became so frequently used, for they both represent the same great Name; the one is as expressive as the other..."
- The Calendar of the Prayer-Book, Illustrated, With an Appendix of the Chief Christian Emblems, published at Oxford, 1909.

Having laid out these opposing views, I declare that this issue is one which I agree with the Christian contention that Christmas is a religious holiday and should be observed as such. But even support of religious observance of holidays has its limits.

This Season, Greetings Are at Issue

Conservative Christians nationwide have converged around the topic of Christmas, complaining that secularists and nonbelievers have tried to obliterate the holiday's religious meaning. This year, as Christmas season swung into gear, Pastor Patrick Wooden's followers fanned out to shopping malls across Raleigh to deliver a muscular message of holiday cheer: As Christian shoppers, they would like to be greeted with the phrase "Merry Christmas" — not a bland "Happy Holidays" — and stores that failed to do so would risk losing their business.

A major shift took place in the 1990s, when corporations became sensitive to complaints of customers on both ends of the political spectrum, said Russell Sway, international president of the Institute of Store Planners, an Atlanta-based association of design and merchandising specialists. "On the one hand, you have a board of directors who's yelling at you for doing anything that offends anyone. On the other hand, you have this group that's yelling at you for commercializing a religious holiday," Sway said. Still, the last 20 years have seen a corporate trend toward generic holiday celebrations — brought about not through the law, since private businesses are free to decorate as they like, but by a desire not to offend, a retail expert said.

Wooden and his congregation — whose church building has a cherry-red "Merry Christmas" banner hanging across its front like a political slogan — aim to push back against that spirit of caution. On the day after Thanksgiving, the church ran a full-page advertisement in the Raleigh News and Observer, urging Christians to "spend their hard-earned dollars with merchants who include the greeting Merry Christmas."

Some citizens in Raleigh are seething over what they see as an attempt to force religion into the public square. Over the next week, the paper ran a series of passionate letters, many critical of the advertisement:

"What happened to the land that my parents, Eastern European immigrants, adopted as their beloved country — a country of fairness and tolerance?" wrote Harriet Lasher.

An Episcopal priest wrote to compare the campaign to the Nazi policy requiring Jews to identify themselves with yellow stars.

Judah Segal, executive director of the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Federation, said he was not disturbed by the advertisement, and hoped it was intended to "remind Christians that there is an essence to the holiday," not to shut out others. "We really respect and admire people who want to have religious content in their own holiday," he said.

I personally agree with this sentiment as far as recognizing that Christmas is a religious holiday, and I find that the incredible amount of commercialization cheapens this observance. After all, what's so special about one of the major Christian celebrations - very central to its core belifs - if commercial advertising 'observing' it has begun way back on July 5 just as the other major holiday of observance for secular Americans has just ended?

It becomes special only to the businesses whose Christmas ads commence to bombard us like the shells bursting above Fort McHenry in 1814 as commemorated in our national anthem. As many businesses collect the majority of their annual profits during this religious holiday period, I doubt that the secularization that these Christians oppose will end any time soon. But I do find it a tad hypocritical that these Christians are determined to force the use of a Christian holiday greeting to supplant a more generic one (which also incorporates recognizing the Jewish Channukah, among others when the calendar aligns) through the use of economic boycotting.

Here in Raleigh, the grass-roots campaigning has focused on retailers. And it's been so invigorating that the church is making plans for next year, said Wooden, a barrel-chested former football player who leads a conservative black congregation of about 3,000. "Our position is: If they want the gold, frankincense and myrrh, they should acknowledge the birth of the child," said Wooden, pastor of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ.

Conservative Americans feel ready to push back against "the secularists or the humanists or the elitists" who dominate popular culture, said the Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, which is based in Raleigh. "It's a cultural war. We are in the thick of it," Creech said. "It's not so much an attack on us. It's an attack on Christ."

Steaming Male Bovine Excrement! It appears to me that by participating in holiday shopping at all, these Christians are still supporting the commercialization of the religious observance they claim so vehemently to oppose.

There is some historical evidence to support my claim:

Karal Ann Marling, author of Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday, called complaints about secularization 'complete and utter bunk'. "If you think Christmas meant the baby Jesus in the past, it didn't," said Marling, a professor of art history at the University of Minnesota.

Throughout history, religious people have fretted over the holiday's secular aspects. In pre-Colonial days, English authorities looked on the holiday as a riot of drunkenness and hooliganism. American Puritans rejected it completely, preferring to get up and go to work.

Created by the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century, the celebration of the nativity coincided with pre-Christian feasts, allowing observant Christians to "then go out the door and participate in Saturnalia," said Penne Restad, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Christmas in America: A History. Not until the 1820s and '30s, with the holiday "getting rowdier and rowdier and more destructive," did Americans redefine it as a safe and private family time, Restad said — the 'old-fashioned Christmas' celebrated in carols and Currier & Ives prints.

The aspect of the religious observance that justifies gift giving is the visit from the Magi, whose gifts of dubious usage to impoverished peasants are intended to portray that some recognized the importance of the event under commemoration. Such gifts could certainly have been used to ease their immediate economic hardship - another aspect of the religious observance. The gold gift had immediate value, but the remainder would still be of limited value if there was no one to purchase the frankincense and myrrh. Wouldn't the food and shelter that could be bought through the sale of such 'room fresheners' be more important than merely masking the stench of the stable?

Granted, it's a judgement call - as is this story:

I'm Dreaming Of A Green Chri$tma$

Good economic times roll - for high rollers, that is

To quote artist, Billie Holiday: "Them that's got shall get. Them that's not shall lose." Great song. But not very good economic policy. President Bush and Congress, authors of an absurdly large federal deficit, would do well to rebalance the tax cuts of 2001 and 2002 that primarily benefited the wealthy.

Some of those tax-cut recipients seem intent on displaying their riches as conspicuously as possible. In such places as East Hampton, N.Y., and Seal Harbor, Maine, the $10 million weekend place is commonplace. Yacht sizes have swelled, and superluxury cars are selling like, well, Volkswagens. Volkswagen, for its part, is about to introduce a 1,000-horsepower Bugatti that does 250 mph. The price tag: at least $1 million.

The recovery is showing up in stock values, corporate profits and other measures at the upper end of the economic spectrum. Call it the New, New Economy, or irrational exuberance redux. Hot stocks are hot again. IPOs are on a tear. Even big mergers are back: Sprint-Nextel and Johnson & Johnson-Guidant this week alone.

But in data more meaningful to most Americans, things don't look so rosy. Employment has trickled up during the past year, but still stands at 400,000 fewer jobs than in 2001. Productivity gains and outsourcing mean some U.S. jobs are gone for good. Wages have risen, but only modestly. The ranks of those without health insurance grew by 1.4 million to 45 million in 2003.

Free trade, moderate regulation and low taxation may make sense for many reasons. But if the benefits are concentrated among a relative few, these policies will be hard to maintain over time. Left unchecked, this type of disparity builds resentment. Companies that want to preserve this benign regulatory environment, and maintain employees' goodwill, would do well to reconsider the balance between workers' pay and top executives' compensation. Until the captains of industry find ways to share more of the wealth with those in the trenches, they risk a political backlash against the policies that have made them wealthy.

Let's look at health insurance coverage reductions promulgated by these self-same self-interested captains of industry:

Study: Companies Cutting Health Benefits

Many companies are dropping their promise of health benefits for future retirees, who now might have to stay on the job longer and rely on government health care in their old age. The number of companies that offer health coverage to retirees has been on the decline for 15 years.

Eight percent of employers with at least 1,000 workers said they had eliminated subsidized retiree health benefits for some workers this year, and 11 percent more said they probably would do so next year, according to a study released Tuesday by the benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates and the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Since 2000, more than 100 large employers have chosen this path. Some have cut out subsidies but have told employees they can continue coverage under company health plans after they retire, a much cheaper option than seeking health insurance elsewhere. "Retiree health care coverage is kind of a slowly vanishing species," Kaiser president Drew Altman said. In 1991, 80 percent of firms employing 1,000 or more workers offered health coverage to retirees. By 2003, the number had fallen to 57 percent, Hewitt said. When looking at companies with at least 200 employees, the number is 38 percent, Kaiser said.

Roughly 15 million retirees receive health care coverage from former employers. About 3 million are 55 to 64. The prospect of losing health coverage in retirement is troubling particularly to people who are considering changing jobs or who want to retire between the ages of 55 and 64. Younger retirees can find it difficult to afford health insurance when they can't get it from their employers. The rest are eligible for Medicare, Altman said.

Medicare, the government health program for older and disabled Americans, kicks in at age 65. Its benefits typically have been less generous than those offered by employers, mainly because the workplace plans cover prescription drugs. Medicare's drug insurance program begins in 2006.

The employer plans, however, are asking retirees to pay more of their health costs through higher insurance premiums and larger co-pays for doctor visits and prescription medicines. People who retire in 2004 face premiums about 25 percent higher than those who retired last year, according to the survey of 333 companies, which was conducted between May and September.

This does assume that you still have a job to retire from - something many Reservists and National Guards(wo)men are discovering no longer includes them [from SEE THE FOREST]:

Supporting Troops by Helping Companies that Fire Them?

'Tort Reform' will handcuff lawyers fighting for National Guard Families
"CBS News (video) [alternate] reported this week that thousands of National Guard troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to find that they have been fired in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The CBS report went on to say that increasing numbers of National Guard and Reserve troops who have returned from war are encountering new battles with their civilian employers at home.

...Tragically, the companies abusing our troops may get away with it because there are not enough lawyers to force them to obey the law. [. . .]

Unfortunately, the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), set up within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to provide returning Guards and Reservists with free legal help through the states, has not been adequately funded and must rely on volunteers.

[. . .] the skills Denson and his counterparts in the other states need are those of trial lawyers – the very skills the Administration seeks to handcuff with its push for so-called 'tort reform'. Trial lawyers protect American families from irresponsible corporations. The settlements trial lawyers earn for helping citizens abused by corporations make it possible for them to volunteer their time and their resources to fight for the families of our troops. The lawsuits they file - misnamed 'frivolous' by the Right Wing noise machine - are the powerful levers citizens use to force corporations to obey the law and behave responsibly. And now these same powerful levers are needed by the families of National Guard and Reservists to force many of those same companies to treat our returning troops as the law – and patriotic decency – demands.

[. . .] Trial lawyers will help protect families of America’s fighting men and women. The Administration’s so-called 'tort reform' aims to protect the companies abusing our troops. If 'tort reform' passes, no family will be safe, at home or at war."

Let's look at a family who isn't safe at home in a war:

Christmas Wishlist...

I have to make this fast. No electricity for three days in a row (well, unless you count that glorious hour we got 3 days ago...). Generators on gasoline are hardly working at all. Generators on diesel fuel aren't faring much better - most will only work for 3 or 4 straight hours, then they have to be turned off to rest.

Ok - what is the typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist (I won't list 'peace', 'security' and 'freedom' - Christmas miracles are exclusive to Charles Dickens), let's see:

1. 20 liters of gasoline
2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
3. Kerosene for the heaters
4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
5. Landmine detectors
6. Running water
7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late)
8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!)
9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight)
10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you're also practical)

When Santa delivers please make sure he is wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He should also politely ring the doorbell or knock, as a more subtle entry might bring him face to face with an AK-47. With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical - but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare (we're all a little jumpy lately).

That's Christmas in Iraq. But for the Toppers - for whom the law is merely an occasional nuisance which requires the distribution of baksheesh to avoid the application thereof - things couldn't be better:

Tale Of Two Christmases

It's a Charles Dickens Christmas -- a Tale of Two Economies. High-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany are thriving, while discount chains such as Wal-Mart are suffering, reports CBS News Correspondent Trish Regan. "You have wealthy consumers spending in unprecedented proportions and the cash and credit starved consumers are suffering," says retail analyst Burt Fleckinger of the Strategic Resource Group.

Why are lower income consumers suffering? Gas prices and home heating costs are up 30 percent from last year, Regan points out, taking $1 billion from Americans' pocketbooks every week. And with interest rates at their highest level in three years, consumers are feeling the pinch. One K-Mart customer told Regan, "Things are tighter this year." Another said, "I'm watching what I spend."

"Consumers are tapped out," Fleckinger says. "They're spending about 20 percent more to cover their credit interest rates. They've spent the money on home refinancing and they are not getting several hundreds dollars back from the government this year."

With those extra cash infusions such as tax rebates gone now, it's only the wealthy who have real spending power, Regan observes.

One Shopper at Tiffany summed it up simply to Regan: "I've spent a lot of money this year." Thanks to high-end shoppers, overall retail sales are expected to increase 4.5 percent this year, to $220 billion — good news for luxury stores, but this year, just coal in the discounters' stockings.

Recent sales figures from the nation's largest retailers underscore the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Wal-Mart missed its November sales numbers, posting a meager seven-tenths-of-a-percent gain over November, 2003. The company had expected 3 to 4 percent sales growth. City saw a 3 percent decline in sales last month, and K-Mart's sales are likely to drop 10 percent.

Such business activity usually inspires the shameless self-indulgent captains of industry to cut back on business expenses - something their Preppy pResident seems to recognize:

Bush scales down US jobs growth outlook

The administration of President George W. Bush, after being ridiculed by Democrats for an overly optimistic jobs forecast this year, significantly reduced its forecast for new jobs that will be created in 2005. Democrats called the forecast for 2004 overly optimistic, an assertion that proved to be accurate. Through November, just 1.3m jobs were created, half of the administration's forecast. The economy has struggled to create new jobs during the recovery from the 2001 recession. Businesses have been successful in boosting production with fewer workers.

In its new economic outlook, the administration predicted the economy will grow by 3.5 per cent next year and will create an additional 2.1 million jobs.

A year ago, the administration was forecasting 3.6m jobs would be created in 2005 after 2.6m this year.

So this consumer holiday season, remember all of the poor Christians who are - in the words of the North Carolina Reverend pushing for 'Merry Christmas' instead of 'Happy Holidays' - 'one group of people who get bullied all the time' by 'apartheid in reverse — the majority being bullied by the minority'. Remember also all those Toppers who are making merry while the Ninety-niners are making do, losing insurance coverage and jobs so that the poor Toppers don't have to go without their million-dollar Bugattis, capable of 250 miles per hour, fueled by petroleum products taken at gunpoint by Ninety-niners sent to do the Bu$hCo dirty work that mostly only benefits the Toppers.

And remember that Jesus - not Je$u$ - is the real Reason For The Season. Then act accordingly as He would.

Joyeux Noel y'all! [That's French for 'Merry Christmas' - Live with it!]

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pessimist :: 1:09 PM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!