Friday, December 16, 2011 3:55 PM
What do you know about Santa Claus? He has a big, white beard; a jolly jelly-bowl of a belly; rosy cheeks; and a candy-apple red leisure suit. He keeps a stable of supernatural reindeer, probably somewhere in the vicinity of Norway. And, of course, he delivers Xboxes and ponies to well-behaved kids and coal and books to those that broke the rules too often in December. Most people have a fairly fond outlook toward ol’ St. Nicholas, but Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse of 3 Quarks Daily think he’s one of the most nefarious figures in America. Or, as they put it, Santa Claus is a “morally tone-deaf autocrat who delivers toys to the children of well-off parents rather than life-saving basic goods to the most needy.”
Let’s unpack Aikin and Talisse’s screed a little bit, and afterward you can decide for yourself whether you’re going to throw Mr. Kringle under the sleigh.
The two writers start from the premise that Santa is both morally and “somnically” omniscient—that, as the old ditty goes, he knows whether we’ve been bad or good and if we’re lying wide-awake in bed or if visions of sugarplums are dancing in our heads. Plus, he’ll break into our homes by any means possible (even if he must resort to the chimney). “In other words,” the scrooges at 3 Quarks Daily write, “Santa does not respect our privacy.”
You might say that Santa serves as a good metaphor for an ever-watching nanny-state. A scarlet-clad London bureaucrat, if you will. (Or, if you prefer, you can imagine Westerners as inmates of a Foucauldian Panoptican prison complex, with Santa Claus and his workshop hidden neatly in the observation tower.) By stacking the holiday gift-game with the moral incentive to be-good-or-forgo-presents, the goodness and the rightness of behaving well is cheapened. “Performing the action that morality requires is surely good,” they contend, “however, when the morally required act is performed for the wrong reasons, the morality of the act is diminished.” The promise of toys at the end of year spurs us to act out of self-interest rather than out of innate goodness. Aikin and Talisse go so far as to say that “the Santa myth undermines the idea that we should act on the basis of our moral reasons.” In other words, we’re greedy and we’ll do whatever it takes for free stuff—and then return to being despicable after the New Year.
Aikin and Talisse don’t pull any punches in their conclusion. “Santa,” they write, “is thus a moral torturer: He punishes those who are not good, and then imposes a system of incentives and encouragements that go a long way towards ensuring that everyone will fail at goodness.” And just in case they hadn’t upset everyone with their moral treatise, they remind the faithful that they’re failing their own religion by believing and accepting Santa Claus’ stranglehold on holiday tradition: “Christian parents that embrace the Santa myth make idolaters of their children.”
Like a child leaving milk and cookies out for Santa as a last-ditch attempt to prove their sterling character, Aikin and Talisse get in one final parting shot: “Not only does Santa Claus not exist, it’s a good thing, too.” Merry Christmas!
Source: 3 Quarks Daily
Image by DanCentury, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 3:57 PM
I like to visit the Christmas tree lot when it’s snowing. There will be free hot cider, a small bonfire in the center of the yard, and children running around between the blue spruces and Fraser firs. And happily, a real tree makes for a healthy holiday, according to Organic Gardening.
You might think one of those horrid artificial trees would be the more environmentally friendly route. After all, you reuse it every year instead of chopping down a living tree each December. But real pine can be mulched, composted, chipped, or fed to birds and animals. Growing up on the farm, we gave our leftover Christmas tree to the goats, who greedily stripped it of every last needle in no time. If you don’t happen to have a goat yard, it’s likely your city collects curbside trees for recycling after the holidays.
In contrast, an artificial tree is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can never be recycled, and eventually ends up in a landfill after you’ve gotten your years of service out of it. A fake tree is used an average of 6 to 10 years before being dumped for a newer model. Speaking of, the longer you have that artificial tree in your home, the more likely it is to be toxic to you and your children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.
And as Organic Gardening points out, Christmas tree farmers are leaders in conservation agriculture. Their product emits healthy oxygen during its 15 or so years of growing, requires little to no supplemental irrigation, and thrives in tough terrain that is otherwise unsuited for agricultural crops. The Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers holds high standards for its tree farmers. (Check out these tips from Utne Reader’s archive for choosing a locally grown, environmentally friendly Christmas tree.)
So if you, too, love listening to holiday tunes while scouring the tree yard for that Charlie Brown gem under lightly falling snowflakes, rest assured that it’s the healthiest yuletide option for your family and the Earth.
Source: Organic Gardening
Images by jumpyjodes, arvindgrover, and cogdogblog, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:33 PM
Every week we share links to stories, articles, and other interesting things we’ve come across online for you to enjoy over the weekend. It’s the utne.com crockpot; we add the ingredients for a great online meal. This time, it's a holiday meal! Enjoy!
We knew there was something trippy about the jolly old elf, but have you heard about the roots of the Santa Claus myth in Russian psychedelic shamanism? Christmas will never be the same.
Is that an intoxicated reindeer on your sweater? The Wall Street Journal gets festive with a trend-piece on ugly Christmas sweater parties.
It’s time for the yearly deluge of Top 10 lists. And, per usual, the hype around new artists, albums, and films (which are at best above average) is often as ludicrous as it is historically barren. A Blog Supreme’s list of 5 jazz reissues that put 2010 to shame helps keep things in proper perspective.
Get the whole family holding hands around the computer and sing "The 12 Days of WikiLeaks."
While you’re standing in line waiting to purchase that new iPad for Uncle Albert, consider this: Apple computer, citing its “developer guidelines,” has banned a WikiLeaks application from its online store. (Hat tip to Tech blogger Shelly Palmer.)
Speaking of WikiLeaks, the Center for Public Integrity once again ignores the media hype to actually do some reporting and concludes many of the memos expose the
“U.S. government’s penchant to make even trivial details classified secrets.”
“The most significant change to food safety regulation in 75 years” is how one expert describes the new U.S. food safety bill, whose landmark passage this week was downplayed amid flashier news and pre-holiday hubbub. President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon after the new year.
Pat Robertson is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. What’s next, treating gays like real people?
Senior editor Brad Zellar reads a twisted Christmas story. (Content may not be suitable for some viewers.)
Image by ~Merete, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 12:10 PM
In a beautiful remembrance of Barry Hannah, who died earlier this year, William Giraldi writing in AGNI tells of a fishing expedition the two shared as an escape to a writers’ conference they were attending. The piece begins with Hannah asking Giraldi if he’d been fishing lately. Giraldi replies,
“Like a Nazarene.” [Hannah] had recently become reinvigorated by Christianity—born again lower case—and gone sober after a lifetime of being a venal Baptist and then nearly dying in an Oxford, Mississippi, hospital from too many maladies: lymphoma, pneumonia, organs napalmed by decades of cigarettes and booze. As a twenty-something sycophant and Hannah fanatic myself, I referenced Christ when I could—my Jesus-happy boyhood on me like a party hat—and even recited for him the religious sonnets of Donne and Hopkins. “Those bards are bent believers,” he said. “Sing more.”
The rest of the essay follows that fishing day trip and the return to the conference the two were escaping for a short time, exploring themes, from love to violence, in Hannah’s work.
It was a footnote near the end, though, that sent me away from the essay searching for a referenced piece Hannah wrote for Paste magazine called “The Maddening Protagonist,” as it seemed like it might give some answers to why the elder writer might have “become reinvigorated by Christianity.”
In a time when the date celebrating Christ’s birthday has been co-opted by marketers and sales folk and used earlier and earlier each year to hock their wares—Christmas songs playing in Macy’s well before Thanksgiving…soon, no doubt, before Halloween and then onto Labor Day!—I figure it’s never too early to give a dose of what that birth and life actually means, or could mean, when not bastardized for bottom lines and by those so called Christians on the right. And that’s exactly what Hannah’s essay does, so I offer bits of it here as a salve against Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the other shopping-named days to come.
To begin, Hannah sets the table for what is about to be served:
Thousands of pastors have memorized the work and pontificated on it without an honest reading. You’d hear more honest confusion and less braying rhetoric from the pulpits if the Bible were actually confronted even by Christian-leaning ministers. You’d get fewer knee-jerk liars from the so-called-Christian Right if they could or would read their own New Testaments. The absence of many millions of sincere Christians and near-Christians from church is less a matter of apostasy than disgust.
Then, on Christ:
You’ll hear much cursing of God in this crawling tangle of hurt and elation we have in life. But I’ve never heard advice to curse Christ and die. Neither have I heard of a “Christ-fearing” town. Christ evokes a gentle and strong silence. For me. For billions.
Poor Mary, the very vessel that put [Jesus] forth, is always wondering and pondering in her heart….How can the Savior and lamb be so cruel as to expect her to understand when he must know she cannot? Mary is thus all of humanity.
And, finally, on the faith itself:
For simple truthful laymen, the Holy Bible is inconsistent to an almost sickening degree, and we mainly just let it pass….Through the ages there seems a redundancy of the outright mad clutching Bibles to their chests and spouting scripture incoherently as they proceed from one asylum to the next….
I ask now who, two millennia from these words and actions [of Christ], can be altogether comfortable and glib in their soul when they believe in the Savior as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man in fragile body, killed through the agency of his fellow man by his own omniscient Father, as a passway to paradise, his father’s kingdom where there are “many mansions”?
It takes one confused and near-absurd fellow mystic to believe, is what.
It would behoove you to combat what will be thrust aggressively upon you this holiday season with Hannah’s exploration of his faith in this essay.
Source: AGNI, Paste
Monday, December 15, 2008 4:06 PM
The holidays aren’t always a party for single people, especially when family members insist on using Christmas gatherings to pressure young people into getting married. “So,” someone always asks, “are you seeing anyone special?”
Deflecting these all-too-personal interrogations can takes dexterity and grace, but it can help to be prepared. Writing for the Christian site Busted Halo, Dr. Christine B. Whelan gives some advice and sample answers for single people on the holidays. For example, if someone asks, “You’re always at the office! Do you even have time for a relationship?” Whelan suggests cracking a joke by saying, “Oh, it’s OK. I keep him/her in a closet. He’s very patient.”
The jokes aren’t very funny, but they could work in deflecting some of the pressure. Whelan suggests keeping in mind that most people sincerely want single people to be happy, no matter what the actual outcome of their questions may be. Here are a few other stock answers I would suggest:
Question: Are you dating anyone?
Answer: No, I haven’t dated anyone. Not since… the accident. (Then trail off and walk away.)
Question: What happened to that nice girl/boy you were dating?
Answer: He/She was eaten by an angry hippopotamus a few months ago.
Question: You’re still single? What’s wrong with you?
Answer: Que? Discúlpame, pero no hablo ingles. Permiso, yo necesito un trago.
Image by Greg Palmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 12, 2008 11:36 AM
The Adbusters-promoted National Buy Nothing Day (a.k.a. Black Friday) has gained steam over the past few years, but what about an entire buy-nothing Christmas? The anti-consumerism magazine wants to help. In the latest issue, writer Gary Gach ruminates on "What Would the Buddha Buy?"—the first in a series of articles to help identify and avoid the “moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire—the want to want.”
Easier said than done, of course, which is why Gach also advocates mindful purchases and donations in place of buying for buying’s sake. Instead of obsessing over finding perfect gifts for your loved ones, make spending time with them a priority. Instead of purchasing a new gadget or sweater, donate what you already have but don’t use; the strategy has the double benefit of helping those in need and clearing up space. “It’s harder to be grasping greedily when your arms are extended in giving,” Gach writes.
Image by mermay19, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 3:01 PM
Apparently, Christmas traditions can be compatible with an eco-friendly mindset. A recent post on Sustainablog offers earth-conscious consumers some great information on choosing Christmas trees. If Christmas just isn’t Christmas without that fresh evergreen smell, take heart: While an artificial tree can be reused year after year, real ones may ultimately prove the more sustainable option. The post examines the environmental impacts of buying a real tree, from the farm to your house to the curb. It also includes links to help you locate local tree farms, as well as recycling services once the holiday’s over.
Image courtesy of Teresa Sheehan, licensing by Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!