There is a British woman, a school teacher, who just stood trial in the Sudan after being charged with “insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs”. Her crime was that of permitting her students to give the classroom mascot, a Teddy Bear, the name of Mohammad. Mohammad is very common in the Sudan, with numerous boys in the class sharing this name.
But apparently it is offensive to Muslims to name animals, even those that are stuffed with fluff, after the Great Prophet. It is considered sacrilegious and a violation of divine law and nothing demeaning should be associated with the name of the one that means so much to the Islamic people. This school teacher stood to receive 40 lashes and 12 months if convicted. She was found guilty and sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation.
In the West we are aghast at the idea that religious zealotry could exact such brutal punishment for an infraction of such triviality. But is our astonishment really generated by the zealotry or is it more likely due to the extreme punishment?
Every year there is a holy war waged by certain elements of the Religious Right to get Christ back into Christmas. Or so they say. Today a long list was read over the radio by James Dobson naming all the retail stores that refer to the Holidays instead of the Christmas Season, suggesting a mass boycott. Almost daily, the American Family Association sends out blast e-mails identifying another merchant that has chosen to ignore the Christian roots of this holiday. We are exhorted to write the CEO’s of these corporations, threatening to withdraw our patronage if they don’t tow the line.
But it is a free country, even for businesses. By what evangelical imperative do we go about demanding merchants use the Greek version of Jesus’ title of Savior in their marketing schemes? Does Christmas, as this country has come to celebrate it, have anything at all to do with the Gospel? Spend spend spend -sell sell sell – buy buy buy – more, bigger and better. What does any of this have to do with Jesus? It’s these same stores that commercialized the Christmas holiday in the first place. Why are we now expecting to see Jesus’ retail stamp of approval on them?
The holiday traditions can be great fun – Bing Crosby and “White Christmas”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story” with Darrin McGavin, eggnog, pine trees, candles, friends and family – these are all things to enjoy. But they have little to do specifically with Jesus, any more so than any good thing at any time of year does. Let’s be realistic – this has become a secular holiday for most of the country. Time to pick some better battles.
How does it look to non-Christians when they see us trying to bully people into respecting our traditions, especially when everyone knows that those traditions were purloined from the pagans? Of course there is no law that citizens must conform to specific Christmas traditions. But there have been (and still are) certain ‘blue laws’ on the books that have nothing other than Christian sensitivity as their goal. Whether Target, K-Mart, PetsMart, Lowes or the Gap label their most profitable season after Jesus seems sadly trivial when compared to the greater challenges now facing the nation and the church.
Kind of like making a federal case out of a Teddy Bear’s name.