Wednesday, December 08, 2004

...Cultural Relativism

Coming from a “minority” religion, I’ve always tried my best, albeit often unsuccessfully, to be open-minded about religious traditions different from my own. I’ve long been of the belief that most religious practices probably seem rather cult-like to those who don’t follow them.

I am completely comfortable in a synagogue service, but I would imagine the whole experience would seem not unlike joining the Moonies to the uninitiated, as they saw a temple full of people chanting in a strange foreign tongue, alternatively standing up and sitting down like robots at the beck and call of the rabbi.

Earlier this year, my wife and I determined that it would be a good idea to expose the children to religion as a means of helping to reinforce the moral and ethical values we try to teach in our home. Being in a mixed marriage and seeing as there were 3 of them and only 1 of me, that pretty much meant we were going to church.

We chose to attend an outdoor Easter service held at a park not far from our house. I tried my best not to be judgmental, but it was challenging. Being used to my own non-proselytizing religion, it was hard not to feel like I had mistakenly walked into an Amway convention the way I was constantly instructed by the minister to spread the gospel to my unsuspecting friends and family. When we were asked to turn around to find a neighbor we didn’t know and introduce ourselves, I had just about reached my corniness boiling point. The situation wasn’t made better by the fact we were in plain sight of some very appealing playground equipment that my stepkids kept asking permission to play on. When my younger stepson, then 8, upset at our denying his request, rolled his eyes, folded his arms and exclaimed, “I FREAKIN’ HATE CHURCH”, I knew ours was an experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong.

I left the service that day feeling rather superior, until I reminded myself that at that very moment the majority of my family was living on a strict matzo diet because of something that may or may not have happened thousands of years ago. I guess no religion has a monopoly on silly customs.

Except there is one area where I’m pretty convinced us Jews got it right. As a kid, all 8 present-receiving nights of Hanukkah, I knew exactly where my bread was buttered.

As a newbie to the Christmas tradition, I, for the life of me, will never understand the logic behind the concept where you, as a parent, drive yourself to the brink of absolute destitution buying gifts for your children and then, BY DESIGN, receive absolutely zero credit for your generosity and instead intentionally convince your kids that the presents under the tree were brought by a mythical fat old man in a red suit who had them manufactured in the North Pole. No offense, but that’s just stupid.
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