Regular readers of this space may have inferred that I am not on Jesus’ Christmas card list. As such, the yearly coming around of the “holiday season” is always tinged with a vague mist of “okay, I’ll join in, but you know this is insane, don’t you?”
The sting of the vague mist is lessened considerably given the “peace, love, goodwill towards man” upside of the holidays. And the presents. And the delightful lights. And the sparkle of wonder in children’s eyes. Etc.
So, in other words, it’s usually just best to fall in line and get with the Christmas program rather than bringing up the whole “insane” thing.
But this year, being Oliver’s kindergarten year, brings new challenges with it, and at this time of year one of the challenges is the Annual Christmas Play.
To the kindergarten’s credit, they do ask parents for permission for their child to participate, and they do warn that the play is pretty well 100% “The Christmas Story,” with angels, sheep, unpregnant women, etc. So if our convictions were steelier, and we were willing to pay no heed to Oliver’s wishes, we’d have him sit out the play. It’s a good story and all, but it’s just not our story.
But our convictions are not steely, and Catherine and I have both been child outcasts enough to know that being branded as “the weird kid who doesn’t love Jesus like we do” at age five isn’t exactly the path to getting a good prom date.
And Oliver loves singing and acting. So he’s in. As a shepherd. Tending his flock by night. Getting the glad tidings of great joy. Etc.
And we’ll go to the play, and sit happily and enthusiastically in the audience. We’ll laugh in all the right places, and cry in all the right places, and we’ll probably even sing out loud and sing out strong when called upon.
So I’m not complaining.
But it does have me thinking about the best way to match up public education and religious traditions.
The 2001 Statistics Canada Population By Religion data indicates that Prince Edward Island has 93% of the population, or 123,795 people, self-identifying as some sort of Christian variant, 625 people identifying as another religion (Hindu, Jewish, “eastern religions,” Buddhist, or Muslim) and 8,950 people (or about 7% of the population) marking themselves as having “no religious affiliation.”
Looking specifically at the City of Charlottetown, the numbers are about the same: 90% Christian, 1% “other” and 8% “none.” (By comparison, there are some Island communities, like Tignish and Wellington, with 100% Christian sign-on).
So you’ll get no argument from me that we live in a “predominantly Christian” place. It’s not everybody, but it’s pretty close.
(Which makes you wonder when it’s the 90% of my neighbours who are insane or maybe just me).
That aside, I’m not one to suggest that we emasculate Christian holidays in the name of equality. I don’t see the point of “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas.” I don’t mind that there are Christmas songs blaring from speakers at City Hall throughout the season. Close down the city for a Saturday afternoon for a Christmas parade: I’m in. Think what you will about Christian birth festivals, they’re central to the Canadian winter, and to pretend otherwise — or worse to try and “universalize” them, does nobody any good.
At the same time, I’m mindful of that whole “freedom of conscience and religion” part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of course there’s also the oft-overlooked “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God” part of the Charter too. Which kind of sets up a “we all agree God is charge, but we also agree that we’re all free to disagree” system.
So, back to the shepherds tending their flocks: I’m wondering if teaching the stories of the predominant religion, even with an opt-out clause, is properly living up to the “freedom of conscience and religion” agreement.
I’m wondering if, given the predominance of Christian mythology for the month, it shouldn’t be at least part of the role of public education to support and encourage tolerance, to open childrens’ eyes to the notion that the entire world isn’t like them. That it’s okay to think differently. To believe something else. Or not believe at all. Surely equipping kids with dissonance management skills is not only good for breeding religious tolerance, but might also come in handy later in life.
Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea how to do this in a way that doesn’t offend Christian parents, doesn’t stigmatize non-Christian kids, and doesn’t suffer from the style of “multiculturalism” education that I received 30 years ago (wherein the net message was that “customs of other lands” are quaint and all, but that’s them, not us).
In many ways my personal task would be made much easier if I was either virulently anti-Christian, or at least strongly [insert name of deity here]. Or if I truly thought that Christian practice was insane. As it is, I’m generally content to be a non-affiliated free agent living in harmony with, but out of spiritual step with, 9 out of 10 of my neighbours.
Jesus, it seems, has won.