We seem to be at a peculiar spiritual crossroads in this country as we on the east coast survey the wreckage of so many lives, mull over the impact of the last election, and head into the maelstrom of yet another holiday season that increasingly demonstrates everything that is wrong with our country -- the selfishness, the greed, the utter contempt for the other human beings that populate our communities, never mind our nation or the world at large.
If you do a search on "Christmas" in this blog, you'll see that I always tend to get thoughtful around this time of year, as I deal with the problems of just getting around when you live near Paramus, New Jersey, widely known as the Mall Capital of the World. More so even than Easter, which really SHOULD be the holiday that makes those of us who were born into the tradition of the Old Testament feel like outsiders, Christmas is really the biggest Us vs. Them holiday of the year. Every year it's the same old tired battles over what religious symbols should be on municipal property, the same old tired nonsensical rhetoric from the right about how secular liberal Jewish Communist Homosexual Pornographers are waging a war on Christmas, which As We All Know Is The Official Holiday Of Virtuous Christians Like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, and Bill O'Reilly.
Every year we have people injured or shot at or killed by fellow human beings while working or shopping on the unfortunately but perhaps aptly named Black Friday. Every year the 24 x 7 news-o-tainment cycle is filled with footage of stampeding shoppers looking for the best deal on the latest XBox or flat-screen TV, which always makes me wonder where in the Jesus story I can find the passage about the Three Wise Men camping out at Wal-Mart for two days to be first in line for the Doorbuster Special on frankincense and myrrh.
Every year I bring up this Christmas post I did on Christmas Eve 2007. I bring it up because of the over 10,000 posts that have appeared on this blog since July 31, 2004, it may be my favorite thing I've ever written. I also bring it up because as the years go by, and as Christmas as it's celebrated in the U.S., with its emphasis on economic activity and crass materialism, looks ever more sour in the face of a declining middle class, I find myself thinking of the Nativity and thinking, "How did it come to this?"
The Jewish comedian Marc Maron, who has been written about so many times on this blog that he has his own tag, had an unforgettable bit on Conan O'Brien's show a few years ago, in which he mused about going to the mall dressed as Jesus during Christmas and walking around shaking his head and saying "No....NO! This is NOT how it's supposed to be, people!" Of course then, being Maron, he talks about going up to the mall Santa Claus and saying "Hey, fat man, you're just the clown at my birthday party." But in this day and age, when Jesus has been appropriated by the venal, the craven, and the greedy; when ever more of this nation's treasure is shoveled into the pockets of those for whom no amount of money is enough; to bankers and CEOs and billionaire inheritors of their fathers' wealth, I find myself wanting to admonish people to keep Christ in Christmas. Let it be about mystery and wonder and hope and joy -- the joy that comes when something truly marvelous happens -- the miner who crawls out alive from the collapsed mine; the hopelessly ill person who manages to beat the disease; the woman told for many years that she will never be able to have children who confounds all the doctors by conceiving.
It isn't that I "find God" at Christmas. On the contrary; what I find as I get older is that I'm pretty much done at "Well, there's a man who lives in the sky...." And recently I had my sister in stitches while I recounted what a completely fucked-up Jewish parent the Old Testament's YHWH is. I mean, what kind of sicko do you have to be to tell someone to demonstrate his love and devotion to you by taking his beloved son up to a mountaintop and sacrificing him in your name, then at the last minute saying, "Hah! KIDDING! Just wanted to see if you'd do it!" No wonder we Jews are fucked up; look at what goes on in our so-called Holy Book? Look at what kind of Ultimate Parent we have! Supposedly the New Testament gets somewhat better, once this Jewish carpenter with the charisma of Bill Clinton starts growing his hair long, wearing sandals, and telling people they should be nice to each other and help the poor, but the people who have appropriated him would just as soon spit on the poor and kill everyone in their path who doesn't agree with them.
The right-wing religious kooks get crazier and crazier the more they start to realize that the world they have built is crumbling, to be replaced by one populated with multiracial secular people whom I hope do a better job of stewarding this planet than those who cling to life at the same time as they regard themselves as having two tickets to paradise have. And yet, at the same time, there seems to be a current fascination with people who have long eschewed the life of gadgets and materialism for a more simple life.
You were wondering when I'd get to the Amish, weren't you.
When the movie Witness came out, I didn't know anyone who after watching this scene:
...wasn't ready to pack their bags and go.
Intellectually we always knew about the backbreaking work and the oppressive religiosity and some of us even were dimly aware of the reality that 20% of the country's puppy mills are nestled in the bucolic Amish communities of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri. But the fascination with the Amish lingers, while similarly insular communities such as the Lubavitcher Hasidim of Crown Heights, Brooklyn and the Satmar Hasidim of Kiryas Joel do not draw such fascination.
It used to be just a question of curiosity about the plain clothing and bonnets of the women purveying pickles and shoo-fly pie at farmers markets, but with the respectable NatGeo running the thoughtful reality-based ex-Amish Mose Gingerich's efforts to help other renegades in Amish Out of Order on one end of the spectrum, and the tawdry TLC's phony hit Breaking Amish that The Channel Which Brought You Honey Boo-Boo is now going to follow up with the even MORE phony Amish Mafia on the other, it's clear that Amish is the new Black.
And so it was while going through my annual existential Christmas season pondering that I stumbled upon XAmishAtheist, and I became so engrossed that I didn't even look up for a full hour. Any blog this interesting should be on our blogroll. So whether you're interested in the Amish, in the journey from Christianity to atheism, or you just want in-depth coverage of the dirt behind the appalling Breaking Amish, it's all here.
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