12.20.2008

what would you do? (i hate christmas, part 3)

I was very interested in your comments to my post i hate christmas, part 2. Some of them surprised me, but it was interesting to see the range of reaction. Even more surprising, I had an unsatisfactory answer from human resources, which I posted in comments on that post.

Today I exchanged little holiday cards with a few co-workers. A woman I used to work with left a card for me. We were friendly when we worked together, then she had a schedule change, and we haven't seen each other in many months.

The pre-printed part of her card reads:
Celebrate the season...
Worship the Reason...
Experience the joy...

She wrote "Dear Laura" and "Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2009" in red - and underlined the words "Worship the Reason", also in red. The R in Reason is upper-case.

And the bottom of the card, in small type, is printed: "Rejoice in the Lord always." Philippians 4:4. She also underlined the quote in red.

She knows I'm Jewish. I don't think she would know I am atheist, I can't imagine we ever talked beliefs, but I'm sure she knows I'm Jewish.

This woman is generally a nice person, a good worker, and pleasant to be around. But I'm absolutely offended by this. Coming as I'm sitting in a cubicle decorated in creches, angels and baby Jesuses, it feels insulting.

I'm sure it wasn't her intention to insult me. But knowing I am Jewish, she is proselytizing. And that is an insult.

What would you do?

I'm not asking for advice. I've already done whatever I'm going to do or not do. But I'm interested to hear what you all would do, if anything, in this situation.

If you're Christian, you have to imagine this from the other perspective. You work in a place where you are the only person who doesn't celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days. At Rosh Hashanah, your Jewish co-workers distribute Shana Tovah cards. Someone, knowing you are Christian, gives you a card. She wishes you a Happy New Year and implies that you should See The Light.

What would you do?

59 comments:

Larry Gambone said...

I would be inclined to tell her - as nicely as possible - something along the line of "Thank you for your card and wishes, but there are religions/beliefs in this world other than Christianity."

Anonymous said...

I would laugh it off myself because I have never considered 'proselytizing' to be an insult. It's what people do due to their own belief and, for better or for worse, they truly believe that they are doing so for our own good.

In this particular case, I would thank the person for the 'kind thought' and let her know that (as you know .../you may not know but ...) I am an atheist, but thanks all the same, and I'll accept the card. I think that there is no need to make her feel bad about what she may rightly see as just kindness and some sort of inclusiveness into her world. I know that the latter part about 'inclusiveness' can be galling but I don't think we're at a point yet where we can see common human purpose in spite of differences of religion (or lack of thereof). Some day perhaps ...

impudent strumpet said...

Read it if she can see me, and throw it in the recycle bin. Not aggressively, but the same way you would with junk mail or those flyers people hand out on the street.

redsock said...

I never got the impression from reading this blog that you were anti-reason. ... I thought that was what separated us from the conservatives.

Adam said...

"This woman is generally a nice person, a good worker, and pleasant to be around."

I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. I went to temple more often than church before I went to University. If I received such a card from my Jewish neighbors who knew I was Christian, I would find it amusing but not insulting. Unless of course the person giving me such a card was nasty or insulting normally. You don't seem to think this is the case normally, so why pick a fight. I would let it slide. There is a message in what she wrote in the card. Doesn't mean she is trying to convert you...it's just the way she is conveying that message is wrong for you. Her heart is probably in the right place...just a bit clueless. If she is usually pleasant in the office accept her good will and that she thought of you.

David Heap said...

In situations like this, I generally wish the person a happy solstice and leave it at that -- either they can pick up on the relevant difference or they can't. Such proselytizing can certainly be offensive but if they can't see that I'm not going to change them.

cls said...

I wouldn't do anything. If I'm secure enough in my own convictions, why do I have to make a point of saying something that might be taken the wrong way? If the worst that happens to me is someone gives me a Christian Christmas card, then I have no problems.

MSEH said...

Wow. I guess, given that she knows you're Jewish (regardless of the atheism) I, too, would be really insulted. And I'm not usually annoyed by these things. But, it feels somewhat analogous to me getting a card suggesting I should give heterosexuality a(nother) try. LOL! I don't know that I'd have the nerve, but I would really *want* to say something.

BTW - and I mean this to underscore your general sentiment - I don't even think that the "reverse the story" examples works because of the dominance of Christianity in the culture. Same thing used to come up in class when we would talk about sexual harassment and some guy would say, "I *wish* some woman at work would hit on me that way." We'd end up having to discuss how it's not two sides of the same coin because of the power dynamic, place in the world, blah, blah...

Anyway, I would want to say something like, "I appreciate your thoughts, but you should know that as someone who doesn't practice Christianity I find it offensive to be told that I should rejoice in the Lord." But, I don't know that I could do it.

L-girl said...

In case I wasn't clear (although I'm pretty sure I was), I was not offended because I received a Christian Christmas card! I don't love that, but I would not be insulted by it.

I'm insulted by this person who knows I am Jewish telling me I should be worshipping her religion, when she knows I do not.

What on earth does "secure in your beliefs" have to do with it? Proselytizing - no quotes needed, it's a word,
it has a meaning
- is not offensive because we're insecure in our beliefs.

But I'm still collecting your thoughts. I'll wait to tell you what I did.

Redsock: lame joke!

L-girl said...

But, it feels somewhat analogous to me getting a card suggesting I should give heterosexuality a(nother) try. LOL! I don't know that I'd have the nerve, but I would really *want* to say something.

BTW - and I mean this to underscore your general sentiment - I don't even think that the "reverse the story" examples works because of the dominance of Christianity in the culture.


I totally agree on both counts!

L-girl said...

If the worst that happens to me is someone gives me a Christian Christmas card, then I have no problems.

I agree. If it were the worst thing that happened to me, my life would be damn near perfect. But did I say or imply this was the worst thing that happened to me?

Perhaps you are the one person on earth who is only bothered by the worst thing that happens. But I'm just a normal human being, sometimes bothered by things that are not life-changing tragedies.

Tom said...

Because she knows you mentioned being Jewish and because she specifically underlined parts of the card just for you, I see this woman's actions not as an act of good faith it is an agressive gesture towards your beliefs or lack thereof.

I would use humour to make the point, something like, "Don't you hate it when people push food on you that you really don't want to eat?"

Either that or directly ask her "I do not celebrate Christmas why did you underline those items for me?"

redsock said...

If the worst that happens to me is someone gives me a Christian Christmas card, then I have no problems.

You have no idea what a blog is, do you?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

What would I do? Stew about it. Post about it. Bitch to my friends about it.

And bide my time and then wish her a happy Rosh Hashanah, and then a peaceful Yom Kippur, and then...for the rest of time. *g*

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with your following assertion: "Proselytizing - no quotes needed, it's a word,
it has a meaning ..."

The word, while fairly straightforward in its definition, does hold different connotations as is often the case with value-laden concepts.

Perhaps then, you and I are talking about different things and it's something to consider in this discussion.

James said...

Didn't you know? Saying "your religion is a fantasy" is only insulting if said to Christians, not by Christians! Just ask Bill O'Reilly.

L-girl said...

I beg to differ with your following assertion: "Proselytizing - no quotes needed, it's a word,
it has a meaning ..."

The word, while fairly straightforward in its definition,


Yes, it is straightforward. I'm using the most commonly accepted definition of the word: "To induce someone to convert to one's own religious faith."

It doesn't need quotes, because it is a word with a straightforward definition, and I'm not using it in any alternative or ironic sense.

I understand you may not find proselytizing to be a negative act, as I do. However, the meaning is still clear, and nothing in your link says otherwise.

John A. Ardelli said...

Depends on who it was.

If it was someone I knew well, I'd probably go to them and ask them why they did it, then probably argue my beliefs with them for a while. :)

If it was someone I did not know well, I wouldn't do anything; I'd just file the incident away in my memory as an example of what to expect from this person in the future.

deang said...

I would want to find out if non-Jewish coworkers had the same parts underlined and emphasized. If only Jewish employees were being proselytized by the emphatic wording, I'd tell the coworker that her attempt at conversion would have no effect. And unlike some people, I don't care if she thinks her intentions were good. If she's hurting others and offending people, she needs to know. After speaking to her, though, I would worry all day that she was gonna take vengeance somehow for speaking up to her, but then I come from a violent and vindictive Christian family.

A memory that seems relevant here: In the days immediately following 91101 here in Austin, Texas, large groups of people gathered in classrooms and auditoriums on the university campus I worked at at the time. People would just stand up one after another and say whatever was on their minds, with lots of crying. Many people talked about being accosted and even assaulted by right-wingers for having dark skin "just like the terrorists." Others talked about fears that the US would be bombed. Some reported incidents of right-wingers shouting them down or threatening them when they'd talk about how US foreign policy contributed to the attacks.

One woman, though, told us that the attacks had caused her to be ostracized by her Christian coworkers. Through tears, she told us that she'd worked with these people for years, had gotten along well with them, considered them friends. They were all Christians and they knew she was agnostic bordering on atheist, but that had never been a problem. Then the 91101 attacks happened and the Christian coworkers started sending her emails and yelling at her that her lack of faith and the lack of belief of other Americans had caused the attacks. Didn't she want to convert now?! Wasn't she ashamed at causing the deaths of so many?! The woman knew that what they were saying to her was ridiculous, but it was said with such viciousness and she had been so fooled into thinking they were really her friends, that she was shaken to tears by it. You can't really be friends with such people, ever. They can't be trusted.

L-girl said...

The idea that proselytizing is meant for the recipient's own good is unbelievably arrogant and offensive.

There's no difference between that and Christian missionaries went around the world converting indigenous people. Most progressive people see that as offensive. Why is it any less offensive if the target is a North American?

If I start handing out information cards on socialism and atheism, telling people to get with the program, will people "laugh it off" because I believe it's for their own good?

L-girl said...

Dean, thanks for sharing that. It's horrible. So sad - and maddening.

redsock said...

I'm using the most commonly accepted definition of the word: "To induce someone to convert to one's own religious faith."

Speaking of which, here is the funniest cartoon in the history of The New Yorker: here.

...

(And I could get it on a t-shirt for $25!)

L-girl said...

Speaking of which, here is the funniest cartoon in the history of The New Yorker: here.

Clearly funnier to people who were once forced to distribute said "literature".

Quotes apply there!

L-girl said...

(Although it's highly tempting, let's not start posting our favourite New Yorker cartoons, please.)

redsock said...

Along the same theme: this one.

It's on topic!

L-girl said...

Along the same theme: this one.

It's on topic!


OMG ROFL

Canada Calling said...

It is hard to know what this woman meant to accomplish by this card. If she is otherwise "a generally a nice person, a good worker, and pleasant to be around", I would chalk it up to her being totally ignorant of other beliefs outside her own. She probably meant well.

I celebrate Hanukkah and have for years. It is a personal decision for me. We also do the Christmas tree. We are Unitarians, not Christians nor Jewish. What I find very amusing is each year at work when all the Christmas scenes are pulled up and displayed in everyone’s cubicles, I have always displayed the dreidel, menorah, chocolate gelt, etc. in my cubicle, just because I think a lot of well meaning Christians have no idea how offensive it may be to someone of another faith to have ‘O Holy Night’ playing on the office radio and Jesus and the nativity as the only option at this time of year. When I receive a Merry Christmas greeting, either email or card, I always respond with a joy of the holiday season variety response inclusive of various beliefs.. Still, it amuses me when people at work say that I'm the only Jewish person they know. I've corrected them many times saying I don’t identify myself as either Jewish or Christian. One co-worker asked, "But you celebrate Hanukkah, don't you? And I replied, “Yes”. She said, “Then that makes you my only Jewish friend”. I don't argue it anymore. If I am her only Jewish friend at least she is now aware that there are other people who celebrate the season and are not Christian. If it just means she asks me questions about what a Unitarian Jew believes and I can slip in Humanism, Paganism and Atheism, it expands the conversation beyond Christianity.

L-girl said...

Well, thanks for your answers, everyone. Here's what I did. Then a few replies to some other comments.

I was very pissed off. As MSEH, Tom, Dean, Larry and others have suggested, I think her cards were an aggressive, insulting act. Saying or doing nothing was never an option for me.

On the other hand, I have no opportunity to see her personally, and no way of knowing if she wrote the same cards to everyone, or if she singled out me, as the only Jewish person in the department, or perhaps me plus the Muslim employees. I don't know and have no way of finding out.

I also realized that it's possible she doesn't remember that I'm Jewish. And since that's a possibility, I must give her the benefit of the doubt.

I don't really want to do that! I want to just go off on her. But like MSEH says, can I do that? I don't think so. Given the proprieties of workplace communications, given that I want to act professionally, I can't simply express my true feelings without regard to consequences.

Plus, as I said, what if she honestly didn't remember I am Jewish? Benefit of the doubt.

So I was about to leave her a holiday card, but I hadn't signed it yet.

My card said Season's Greetings in several different languages. Under that, I wrote "As you know, I don't 'worship the reason', but I do enjoy the season! Best wishes for a happy holiday and a joyous 2009" and signed my name.

This felt like a compromise between stewing in silence and really telling her what I thought.

L-girl said...

There is a message in what she wrote in the card. Doesn't mean she is trying to convert you...it's just the way she is conveying that message is wrong for you.

I'm trying to re-frame it that way, but I just can't do it. It's not the way she's conveying the message that's wrong for me - it's her message. She's telling me to worship Jesus. How is that not trying to convert me?

Her heart is probably in the right place...just a bit clueless.

She's a very sharp person. Not clueless at all.

L-girl said...

Either that or directly ask her "I do not celebrate Christmas why did you underline those items for me?"

I would have liked to do this!

James said...

She's a very sharp person. Not clueless at all.

Anybody can have a blind spot where their normal acuity fails them completely. Religion is a favourite candidate for such.

I rather like PZ Myers's "credo", but I wouldn't go writing it on a greetings card I'm giving to a devout Christian:

Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.

(From the controversial Great Desecration)

James said...

In the spirit of the card: Santa Dreidel

L-girl said...

Canada Calling, thanks for sharing that, very interesting!

If I am her only Jewish friend at least she is now aware that there are other people who celebrate the season and are not Christian.

That is partly why I changed my response to "How was your Christmas?", "What are you doing for Christmas?" and similar questions. I used to say, "Oh fine, quiet..." or some similarly fake, non-committal answer.

Now I say, politely but clearly, "I don't celebrate Christmas." At least let the person think about her assumptions, and remember that the whole world is not like her, at least for one moment.

L-girl said...

Anybody can have a blind spot where their normal acuity fails them completely. Religion is a favourite candidate for such.

Very true. And she's not an especially political person, so she may not have had her awareness raised regarding privilege and assumptions.

But I didn't want folks here to think she's ditzy.

hhw said...

Putting the following on a response card would probably not be vindictive enough to assuage my irritation if this had happened to me, but I am fond of this phrase:

Axial tilt is the Reason for the season.

Joe Grav said...

http://www.fuckchristmas.org/

Kim_in_TO said...

Axial tilt is the Reason for the season.

I love it!

Laura - I think your solution was great.

L-girl said...

Thanks Kim. :)

James said...

Who came up with "refusal to follow my religions rules contitutes oppression on your part", anyway?

Nikolas said...

Being a Pagan, it is oh so lovely to walk around this time of year and see wreaths, holly, and trees festooned with decorations and hearing clueless Christians reminding me that Jesus is the "Reason for the Season"

It's at that point that I point out Jesus was most likely born in August, that the tree, wreath and holly they use to decorate their homes was stolen by Christianity from indigenous traditions of the time in order for them to convert the Pagans who thought their silly little religion with a single male god was quaint.

It's usually at that point they pick their jaws off the floor and walk away as I wish them a Joyous Yule and a Merry Christmas.

People need to remember the diversity this time of year and not use it as a moment to proselytize

Nigel Patel said...

The irony being the xian aversion to "Reason" as a concept.
In my twenties I was bordering on outright meanness to the christians. Which was kind of fun.
Now I don't know if I've actually knuckled under or if I just got too tired not to pipe down and go with the flow.

NWJR said...

I dunno...throw a hissy fit and put up a snarky blog post?

;-)

richard said...

I would thank my co worker for her kindness and I would not be offended. Seriously.

JakeNCC said...

"Saying or doing nothing was never an option for me."

And that's why we love you!

JakeNCC said...

BTW I had nothing I could add to the discussion. I'm a Catholic or ex-Catholic so imagine all the bullshit I carry around in my head.

Gunfighter said...

Without getting wound up about it, I would probably say, "Well I'm not of your persuasion, but thanks for the thought!"

Happy Hanukkah!

L-girl said...

Thanks, Jake :)

Richard, yes, I know you would. I wouldn't expect you to empathize with me in this situation.

redsock said...

"Saying or doing nothing was never an option for me."

And that's why we love you!


It would also make for a boring blog.

Sample: "Some stuff happened at work today. It's not really worth mentioning and I decided to ignore it anyway."

richard said...

It's not that I don't have empathy, Laura. I think I do. It saddens me that your colleague went over the top (what with the red underlining and stuff!)and made you feel upset. I don't understand why you would assume, from your limited knowledge of me, that I would be un-empathetic. But I am not offended :-)

I was responding to your question about how I as a Christian would respond to a pointed Hanukkah card. I would not waste a drop of emotional energy being offended, I would thank my friend for her kindness and I would display the card on my desk for the season. That is the answer to your question from my perspective. It's how I do respond to such things as a glad member of a pluralistic society. But I also understand that not everyone responds as I do.

L-girl said...

I don't understand why you would assume, from your limited knowledge of me, that I would be un-empathetic.

Because we've disagreed strongly in the past on things that touch on religious matters, mulitculturalism and such.

I would expect you to think her card was an act of kindness, and that I should have accepted it that way.

I didn't mean you were un-empathetic in general, just that you would not identify with this experience.

I was responding to your question about how I as a Christian would respond to a pointed Hanukkah card.

As my post says, it's not about merely receiving a card. (Hanukah is not an important Jewish holiday, but that's not the point here.) I am not offended at just receiving a Christmas card. I think that's pretty clear.

I would not waste a drop of emotional energy being offended

This is how I felt. It comes from my heart, from my identity, from my very self. I didn't want to be offended: I simply was.

My feelings of discomfort and alienation at having to sit in a cubicle decorated with religious symbols is the same thing. I'm not making a conscious decision - it's simply how I feel.

richard said...

? I don't think we ever disagreed on multiculturalism. I'm quite committed to the idea and practice of it

richard said...

Oh, and BTW, Happy Festivus to all - "for the rest of us".

It's today! http://www.festivusbook.com/node/468

L-girl said...

I don't think we ever disagreed on multiculturalism. I'm quite committed to the idea and practice of it

Sorry, I'm probably not explaining the topic correctly. But I'd rather not go into it further, as there's no point dredging up a past disagreement. Enjoy your holiday!

L-girl said...

It's usually at that point they pick their jaws off the floor and walk away as I wish them a Joyous Yule and a Merry Christmas.

:-)

impudent strumpet said...

It would also make for a boring blog.

Sample: "Some stuff happened at work today. It's not really worth mentioning and I decided to ignore it anyway."


It's been done.

L-girl said...

It's been done.

Holy shit. It sure has been! Has someone actually been writing that - for years?!

Carola said...

I love the way you handle it.

When I was a teen, a girl once said, very convinced, that I was going to hell because I was not an evangelical, I tried to understand her logic and she just kept repeating it, I was SO offended, I don't know what exactly was the reason for my emotions, but just that she could believe she had the power to know that -as a fact- was enough for me.

I now just take it as one more item in the equation of what I can expect from that person, and then talk about it with my friends. In my mind I think underlying those phrases is arrogant, and that would have made me angry, but because I would have taken the risk of acting exactly like her, by being arrogant in my way of showing her how wrong was her act, I would have hold myself from doing anything.

I'm lazy for Christmas, it just feels like so much extra work, so I do a minimum (i.e. zero decorations work, home, zero cards, etc), but in general I think the mood of people gets better, that part I like.
.

L-girl said...

Hey, I just went to the fuck christmas site that Joe Grav left, and I knew it sounded familiar... It's part of this rant site that Allan once sent me. Very cathartic.

James said...

This isn't quite the same as what you ran into, but it's related...