Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas, Hannukah, and Football

ABC News reported that Rick Warren’s church was short on funds. Sadly, someone came to his rescue, and his little church has more money to bash gays and spread hatred with. James Dobson’s Locusts on the Family is spending millions on anti-abortion ads for the Superbowl. If their enterprises had folded during these times of economic stress, maybe some good might have come from the hard times. Warren and Dobson are turds in the punchbowl of American religion.

We made it through the holiday season. It’s a time of year when religion is in the forefront, from O’Reilly’s war on Christmas to the right wing chant of keeping Christ in Christmas. For those of us from mixed religious backgrounds, it can be difficult. For some Jewish friends, it’s a time of alienation. Although half of my background is Jewish, we never did much for Hannukah, and my Jewish relatives celebrated Christmas with gusto. Sure, we had ladkes, but we didn’t light candles. My relatives were from a different era of American Judaism, and sought to blend in with their Christian neighbors. Intermarriage is the ultimate step in religious syncretism.

It’s tempting for me to fall back into a “Cher” half-breed perspective. Sometimes it feels like “both sides are against me since the day I was born.” I’m neither fish nor fowl, and never at home with fanatics of either faith. Cher analogies are melodramatic, though: I prefer football metaphors.

During football season, my family is split between Cowboy supporters and Greenbay fans. Cowboys vs. Packers. Football rivalry can be both playful and vicious. In my own life, I’ve gone back and forth between rooting for both teams. They’re great teams. I don’t want to choose. When they play each other, it’s confusing. I have a cousin in pro football. (If you know what I look like it sounds funny, I’m a shrimp.) C.J. is a cousin by marriage, who started his career with the Cowboys, and now is with the Packers. I wonder who he’s really for, deep down inside. Does it matter to him? Does he have divided loyalties? C.J. is Swedish, and looks like a stereotypical Viking. He’s blond and huge. My great-great grandmother was born and raised in Sweden, and left in 1880. Some of her relatives stayed behind. She was an illegal immigrant, and never learned to speak English. She planned on returning to Sweden in her old age, but by 1930, Hitler’s regime was on the rise, and her relatives warned her to stay in America.

The Packers and the Cowboys both have good players. The two teams are a lot alike. So are Christianity and Judaism, and I wonder why people don’t see how similar they are. Jesus was a Jew. His teachings were in the Pharisaic, rabbinic tradition, like those of Hillel or John the Baptizer. Jesus wasn’t as urbane as Philo of Alexandria, and his teachings seem rural, homely. If not for the fall of Jerusalem, Christianity might have continued as a sect of Judaism. Sadly, Judaism and Christianity had a nasty divorce in the 2nd century, and have nurtured hard feelings ever since.

I’m not trying to trivialize either faith. I’m not trying to trivialize football. Maybe some people are genetically hard-wired to root for one team more than another. Maybe it’s part of our tribal heritage to think one group, our team, is better than another. I have mixed loyalties, and I refuse to take sides. The Cowboys and the Packers are both great. Judaism and Christianity are both good traditions--- so are Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

Football fans might notice an inherent violence in the game: religious observers could draw the same conclusions about religion. I’ve written before about the inherent violence of the Abrahamic religions, which might be due to the legacy of human sacrifice in the Near East. Religion is good, but it has a dark side. Maybe being an outsider, I can critique both religions. Neither completely Jewish or wholly Christian, I’m a foreigner to both. That’s not a bad thing. It can be a gift. As Edward Said wrote, it’s important to “investigate in spite of barriers, and always move away from the centralizing authorities towards the margins, where you see things that are usually lost on minds that have never travelled beyond the conventional and comfortable.” Sexual minorities, the disabled, expatriates, all of us have an opportunity to move away from the “centralizing authorities,” and see new things. So, go ahead, root for the Christians or the Jews, the Cowboys or the Packers. But take a moment to see both “teams” from an outsider’s perspective.

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