The war on (the war on) Christmas

It’s that time of year again, when Christmas cheer clashes mightily and noisily with the debate over the “war against Christmas.”  I am, and this probably won’t come as any surprise, a skeptic.

Not about the value and beauty of this holiday season, with all its many secular and sacred traditions, but about the political hub-bub that has come to festoon these weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

I generally share Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee’s sentiment about Fox News’ annual festival of hand-wringing and chest-thumping. “Your show, Fox News, you’re too angry,” he told a shouting, red-faced Bill O’Reilly.

Dan Alexander, publisher of Denton Publications in Elizabethtown, is far more reasoned, thoughtful and temperate in his latest essay on the whole matter.

But he clearly endorses the idea that faith is “under so much fire today. But it’s clear the non-believers and atheists have chosen to draw a line in the sand.”

Yes and no.  From the story Alexander tells in his column — which I urge you to read here — and from the narratives that inevitably accompany these debates, the issue isn’t really Christmas.

The issue is Christmas in government settings.  Public schools, courtrooms, city parks.  These are the places where non-Christians, atheists and civil liberties groups are, in fact, trying to draw lines in the sand.

More about that in a moment, but first some context.

Bill O’Reilly and Dan Alexander are — in their very different tones — absolutely right about one thing.  America is changing.  Dramatically.  The age when we were all various stripes and brands of Christian is over.

These days, we are a truly motley bunch, espousing a thousand different faiths and non-faiths.   People describing themselves as “non-religous” make up the fastest growing “faith” category in America.

Which means that new questions will inevitably be raised when, say, a public school in Arkansas organizes a class trip to a nearby church to see a play about Christmas — which is, after all, a holiday that celebrates the sacred birth of a deity.

Now it’s important to note that there have been times and places in the world where Christmas has actually been banned.  Churches have been forcibly closed, bombed, or burned.  There are countries right now where Christians face real persecution.

I have never met an American who would stand for that kind of behavior in this country.  The idea of an actual war on free individuals practicing their faith on their own property and their own places of worship is unacceptable.

We have nothing like that now, that I’m aware of. Which leaves us with a pretty narrow, but still complex, important and hopefully civil debate.

Should the beautiful, wonderful trappings of this sacred holiday be presented on government property?  How should school kids experience the Christmas season in classrooms and assemblies?

What part of the holiday is a valued American cultural tradition, and when might the activities of government employees be construed as the kind of proselytizing or evangelizing that might make non-Christians uncomfortable?

As a final aside, it’s worth pointing out that thorny questions of this type aren’t entirely novel to our evolving society.

In the 1840s, New York state was rocked by protests and debates between Christians over what type of Bible should be read in classrooms — with Protestants and Roman Catholics pitted against one-another.

In those days, it was Bishop John Hughes who wanted to keep public schools from using the Protestant King James Bible when teaching religion to Irish Catholic immigrants.

Archbishop John Hughes (Source: Wikipedia)

“If the public schools could have been constituted on a principle which would have secured a perfect neutrality of influence on the subject of religion, then we should have no reason to complain,” Bishop Hughes argued.

“But this has not been done, and we respectfully submit that it is impossible.”

Bishop Hughes wasn’t “waging war on the Bible,” as many Protestants claimed.  He just didn’t want taxpayer-funded public schools teaching a brand of faith to kids from his church that he was uncomfortable with.

This is the narrow, but still important conversation that continues today — and will likely continue as long as we are a free and evolving people.

Not a war over Christmas, but legitimate questions over how and when the trappings, symbols and messages of one particular faith should be taken up by government entities.

 

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119 Responses to “The war on (the war on) Christmas”

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  1. mervel says:

    Lets face it, total secularism is very boring and usually aesthetically ugly.

    I am not a Muslim but I think mosques are often beautiful. The same goes for our Cathedrals and Churches they add to the community just from being there. But you could make a case that Church bells on a Sunday morning are illegal in that they invade our public spaces with their noise or you could say that the call to prayer from a Mosque does the same.

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  2. Ken Hall says:

    Wow! Is it not interesting what the “Christmas Season” illuminates?

    As a long time out of the closet atheist (50+ years) I am amazed and heartened by the comments to this blog. Of the 15, or so, folks commenting it appears that six (6) of us affirm we are atheists, another four (4) appear to be fence sitting leaving only five (5) alluding to belief in an invisible deity hiding above the clouds. This is astounding when one considers that the latest national polling results found 80-85% of Americans continue to profess a belief in some deity or another.

    Thinks ye tis something in the water? Perhaps it is only a reflection of the composition of “flock” drawn to NCPR.

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  3. Walker says:

    “Lets face it, total secularism is very boring and usually aesthetically ugly.”

    There are plenty of exceptions to that rule. But more important, I would think as a Conservative kind of guy, you’d want those beautiful religious buildings to be erected on church land, never on government land, right?

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  4. scratchy says:

    Who cares what Bill O’Reilly thinks? He’s just a big blowhard who likes to hear himself talk.

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  5. Mervel says:

    That is correct Walker I certainly would not want those buildings on government property.

    Ken why are your heartened one way or the other by a lack of faith in God?

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  6. Two Cents says:

    I always thought that a greeting of “Happy Holidays” around this time of year was intended not to offend a stranger who may not celebrate Christmas, but may perhaps be non-christian.
    (en)lighten up people.

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  7. Walker says:

    Mervel, I don’t want to answer for Ken, but even you as a religious person must recognize that the number of people throughout history who have died because of religion is staggering. Granted, some good things are done in the name of religion. But I would hazard a guess that on the whole, far more harm that good has come from the religions of the world.

    I guess, as a true believer, your mileage may vary. But then, think about it: Christianity is shared by only a third of the earth’s people, and Christianity is divided into how many different sects, many of which have fought bloody wars amongst themselves? God knows that the adherents of Islam have shed a lot of blood. Hindus too. Maybe Buddhists are off the hook?

    Point being, even if there is a God, an awful lot of blood has been shed by people who think they have it right. But they can’t all be right.

    Now, OK, atheists have killed their share, too. But they didn’t do it in the name of atheism.

    From my point of view, the world becomes a safer place for all as the number of people who believe god is telling them to kill other people diminishes.

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  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Happy Holidays” kills several holidays with one stone. Efficiency people! Without efficiency we have a loss in productivity, and we need to increase productivity.

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  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And killing things with stones celebrates religious feeling in a way few other activities can except for ritual blindings, amputations, and crucifixion. Good times!

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  10. This whole thing is so idiotic.

    I’m an atheist, but if someone wishes me Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah or even Happy Kwanzaa, I am grateful even though I may not celebrate those holidays. Why? Because what it means is that they are wishing me well. It’d be churlish of me to object to someone wishing me well.

    Similarly, if you are religious and someone wishes you Happy Holidays, be grateful that they think enough of you to wish you well. To take it is an insult is small-minded and childish.

    It’s hard to believe that there are people who get so angry at the the exact phrasing of someone wishing them well. But that’s the state of “humanity” today I suppose.

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  11. Two Cents says:

    something from the kinks :)

    http://youtu.be/l-oVPVsCqs4

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  12. Ken Hall says:

    Mervel, I am heartened by a greater than the national average percentage of atheists in our area as a indicator of greater than average application of logical thinking here in the North Country.

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  13. mervel says:

    Ken, OK, but I am not sure your sample on this little board is representative though? Maybe. Logical thinking certainly has value; but I don’t see logical thinking as being a total indicator of societal well being. It certainly does not make for a more just or moral or kind society. Love is not totally logical, beauty is not logical, most great fiction, art or poetry is hard to put into a logical box. Logical thinking certainly has value like any other tool, but it is a pretty narrow view of what is really needed for a society in my opinion. Besides I reject the idea that a belief in God is fully illogical, but anyway different debate.

    Walker,

    Sure the world would be better if people didn’t kill each other in the name of God or a King or a Revolution or some social scheme.

    The greatest modern deaths of course have happened in the name of totalitarian societies implementing communist or socialist plans; often indeed very overtly atheist; be it Pol Pot or Mao or Stalin or the various dictators who persecuted in the name of the State. Christians in the US have had a very positive influence on a variety of fronts from Charity to the poor to health care etc. but anyway I do thank God that I live in a country that we are free to practice charity and our faith and I don’t want to live in a theocracy, very few Christians do. I mean the Bishop above’s point is still very valid. But the US would be a much much worse place without faith in God.

    This is Christmas, its certainly OK not to celebrate it, but it makes no sense to change it because the word Christmas is offensive, which I don’t get either? But as Brian points out why get offended by any of these greetings? I don’t have time to get offended over such small things, I mean I say Merry Christmas and if someone says to me happy holidays, great.

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  14. mervel says:

    Do people really see this acrimony though in day to day life on the ground here? Not on T.V or fox or msnbc or the internet, but in actual life? I don’t see it, I have atheist friends and friends of several other major faith traditions, I say Merry Christmas to them (I think? I mean who tracks this stuff or worries about it?) but it simply is not that big of a deal. The shopping madness bothers me more than not having a nativity scene in a public space or some badly picked school songs my kids sing. I think these guys like to keep us riled up because it is good for their business not ours.

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  15. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    It was religious people that worked to outlaw slavery in this nation, among other things. It was that darned religious Salvation Army that was doing some real work after our recent disasters. Those would just be 2 examples of those hate filled religious types not being so hate filled.

    I find the whole tone taken by atheists, or people espousing the same idea, to be highly insulting. “You believe in something I don’t, therefore you’re stupid.” Real open minded. I’m a religious liberal, I don’t care if you believe or not, I do, so leave me the heck alone!

    On another post, I don’t see a big difference between the town footing the bill for 2 light bulbs illuminating a Nativity scene or Menorah or any other religious presentation, maybe a Moslem scene during Ramadan or something, and them lighting all those snowflakes and Santas and reindeer along the street to encourage shoppers to spend, spend, spend! Pretty much all our traditional holidays relate back to a religious event in one way or another. Christmas is the Christian version of the pagans (my ancestors in Scotland) celebrating the Winter Solstice. Easter is timed to cover the spring equinox, May Day is pure-dee pagan. Ground Hog day goes back to some pagan holiday in Britain that was grabbed by the Church. In the end, so what? Why do the perpetually indignant have to crate an controversy over things like this? It’s kinda dumb IMO.

    Now, I do have a problem when religion haters go on and on about the deaths hundreds of years back that have little to do with the modern churches when we abort so very many babies today. Or for that matter when the NHS in the UK is starving and dehydrating people and babies that they deem unworthy of saving. That is a problem far greater than a Nativity scene on town property or a Christmas song in school.

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  16. Walker says:

    “‘You believe in something I don’t, therefore you’re stupid.’ Real open minded.”

    Not so different from those who say “I’m in direct contact with the almighty, and you’re lost.”

    “…haters go on and on about the deaths hundreds of years back that have little to do with the modern churches.”

    First, Arlo, you’re overlooking the fact that I started with “Granted, some good things are done in the name of religion.”

    Second, I don’t hate believers. Period. And there’s plenty of evidence that many believers hate atheists.

    Third, there are plenty of folks in the world today killing each other over religious differences. And there are people right here in this country who want to “kill fags” and would gladly see a woman die to protect an unborn fetus.

    So I’m not trying to convince any believers that it’s a good thing that religion is in decline in the U.S. I’m just explaining why it doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to agree.

    And there is that little matter that, since what believers believe is all over the map, it is a certainty that the vast majority of their beliefs are wrong. They might all be wrong. But if any one sect is right, then all the others must be wrong.

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  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, there was never a War on Christmas until the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world decided it would be good for their pockets to start one. It reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut story (can’t remember the title) where some people learned how to leave their body and exist as pure intellect or spirit. They kept exceptional bodies in storage units so they could put them on and have a parade once a year. But the people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave their bodies decided to start a war against the people who did.

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  18. mervel says:

    Hi Walker,

    I honestly don’t see any evidence that removing religions creates more peace among people, also Christians are actually quite united. Out of two billion Christians one billion all belong to one church, the other billion are divided into three or four major groups who agree on 90% of the essentials of the faith.

    But I certainly realize the craziness and problems.

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  19. Ken Hall says:

    Arlo, Per your comment fragment: “It was religious people that worked to outlaw slavery in this nation, among other things”.

    Agreed.

    Is there any likelihood that those who introduced and benefited from slavery “in this country” were perhaps also religious?

    Is there any likelihood that some “few” of those who worked to “outlaw slavery” in this country were perhaps non-religious even atheists?

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  20. Walker says:

    “Out of two billion Christians one billion all belong to one church, the other billion are divided into three or four major groups who agree on 90% of the essentials of the faith.”

    Fine, Mervel, but even if you think all two billion of them are in touch with the same deity, that leave four billion of their fellow creatures in the wrong.

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  21. Ken Hall says:

    Mervel, Per your comment fragment: “Ken, OK, but I am not sure your sample on this little board is representative though? Maybe. Logical thinking certainly has value; but I don’t see logical thinking as being a total indicator of societal well being. It certainly does not make for a more just or moral or kind society.”

    Agreed the sample size on this blog is statistically too small; however, is it not amazing that so many openly atheist and/or non-religious folks from the North Country show up here on this public radio station blog?

    When I was stationed at McClellan AFB, CA one of my good friends and fellow co-worker was a devout Mormon and he and I would discuss religion often as he perpetually attempted to enlighten me as to the error of my convictions. One day he said something to me that has made my day many many times upon subsequent recall; he said: “you cannot be an atheist because you are Too Moral”. Still brings a smile to my face.

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  22. mervel says:

    Ken,

    Yeah I have to agree with you about the blog here, there are mainly those who do not identify with any faith or are atheist such as yourself posting, I do find that interesting. I wonder if that is true on the internet in general? I kind of find it so, if you read different forums with the exception of overtly Christian sites, most of the posters/bloggers are pretty non-religious or anti-Christian. So you may be on to something at least when it comes to public radio sites?

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  23. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Walker, I wasn’t referring to your posts in particular, rather the tone of what I hear from atheists in general. It’s always essentially the same line, “You think some bearded guy sitting in a throne in the clouds runs your life! That’s stupid.” Change the words however you want, but that’s the idea. Trying to explain that, no, I don’t think that at all is wasted effort. Trying to explain that I think there is a bond that ties all humanity together, that I believe or at least hope there is some sort of afterlife for the human consciousness, that I believe that your choices in life influence your character/personality/soul and that it sometimes seems to bring good or bad to you is also wasted effort. I’ve hardly ever met an atheist that had any respect for a believers opinion, but I have met a couple that have respect for the believers right to an opinion, if you follow the difference. I’ve talked with quite a few and in every case I’m talked down to if I declare I have a faith in a higher power. They are hostile in every case I’ve seen. I’ve always felt this was because most faiths involve the concept of judgement. People rarely like being judged and held to a standard that might show them in a poor light. So they get defensive. That’s not aimed at you in particular, just the anti-belivers in general.

    I don’t believe I have a direct line with God or anyone else. I don’t believe anyone else is necessarily wrong and I’m right in this area. I do think that there is no downside to having faith and no downside in trying to live what I interpret as a more or less Christian life. I fail miserably at it, but I try. Same for anyone else trying to live a life or faith as long as they aren’t hurting someone else. Some of the finest people I know are Mormons and Jehovahs Witness, yet I disagree with some of their beliefs. One of my best friends in the service was as Jewish as you can get and I’ve had many Catholic friends I respect greatly even though I disagree with a great deal of Catholic doctrine and practices. I would nevr try to force them to change their ways and they’ve never tried to force me to do the same. Now, I’ve met the in your face type that pushes his belief at you and I get just as offended as anyone else. They get me just as PO’d as the atheist that calls me a simple minded idiot. So I can understand that. People of all types tend to go overboard in one way or another, that’s life. I used to work with a guy that I’m pretty sure could start a religious war all by himself and the fact he was entirely alone would never dawn on him. I’ve worked with atheists that would do the same thing and be just as alone. Taking the line that only your religious views are right is just as silly as taking the line that any religious view is wrong IMO.

    Ken, yes, surely there were non-believers and atheists that both owned slaves and fought slavery. It’s been like that for all time, even today slavery is still a part of some religions. But on these pages here and in the main stream media we tend to hear a lot more about the bad than the good regarding religion in general. But if you look at the history of the American slavery issue leading up to the Civil War you’ll find it was very common to find religious leaders and churches fighting against the institution of slavery. I just thought that was pertinent considering some of the recent posts and threads here.

    As far as the leanings of people on different sites, I find this site to be about the same as most of the sites I visit that are more or less urban in nature. OTOH, almost all the homesteading, cooking, agricultural, hunting, trapping, livestock and logging sites I go to have a strong undercurrent of faith based thought if not outright prayer postings. The news sites I visit other than NCPR tend to be middle of the road or slightly to the right and don’t display any anti-faith sentiment that I’ve noticed, but they aren’t MSNBC, The Daily Koz type sites. I think certain sites tend to draw a certain type of person. doubt many other posters here visit many agricultural sties or logging sites and not many people that hang there visit democrat underground, mediamatters, moveon.org or gay sites. I would bet a much higher percentage of NCPR/NPR readers visit those sites than haytalk.com. Just kinda goes with the country.

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  24. Walker says:

    Arlo, I’ve always said that my atheism is faith-based: I can come up with all sorts of reasons why I think there is no supreme being and that when we die, that’s it, but I don’t think my belief is any more provable than anyone else’s. I also think that the best parts of all religions can be derived from the good ole golden rule by anyone with an ounce of feeling for one’s fellow creatures. And I definitely believe that “there is a bond that ties all humanity together” and you could expand that to “all sentient beings.” So I think that we could probably discuss religion at some length without ticking each other off too badly.

    Here’s a question for you– if we ever connect with a civilization from somewhere else in the universe, do you suppose they’ll believe in the same god that we see in our bible? Would we share a common afterlife with them? [I don't mean this as a trick question, and I know there's no answer. But I think it would be an interesting thought experiment for a believer.]

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  25. Walker says:

    “I honestly don’t see any evidence that removing religions creates more peace among people…”

    Well, I can think of plenty of instances where removing (or at least heavily modifying) religion would create more peace among people: purveyors of “holy war” and suicide bombing, all those faiths that believe in stoning people to death for moral offenses, and it would be interesting to know how many of the “owners” of the 12 million to 27 million slaves in the world today believe that they are justified by their religious belief– it wasn’t just southern American slave owners who believed that god was in favor of their slave holding. In South America, it was the church itself that enslaved the native population.

    In short, I think you have to overlook an awful lot to justify the idea that religion is generally a force for good in the world. I’m not saying it isn’t frequently a force for good, it is. But on balance, I’m not at all sure whether it has caused more harm, or more good. I suspect it’s done more harm, and by no small margin.

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  26. Ken Hall says:

    Arlo, Per your comment fragment: “Ken, yes, surely there were non-believers and atheists that both owned slaves and fought slavery.”

    Interesting that you add atheists to the list of slave owners; but, leave off mention of religious slave owners and beneficiaries of. I think if you look at the history of American slavery you will find that many if not most of the slave owners were religious and looked at slavery as something approved of by god in the the old and the new testaments: Leviticus 25:44-45, Leviticus 25:44-46, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:18, 1 Kings 9:20-21, Luke 12:47-48 NLT are but a smattering of the passages in the bible that speak approvingly of slavery. To my mind the view of slavery in this countries past was analogous to the current view espoused by many of the wealthy; that their pious approach to life is the reason god had/has gifted them with such abundance.

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  27. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    No offense intended Ken, I was not intending to relieve slave owning Christians/Jews/whatever of their responsibility. I’m well aware of the seemingly favorable treatment of slavery in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. I’ve always put that down to the thinking of the day being translated into the text. I don’t see that as a defense or approval of slavery that applies today and I’m not aware of anyone preaching that idea.

    You know, I was thinking about this while I was forking cow poop this afternoon. We got rid of slavery in the US but the tradition of indentured servitude continued on. Britain brags it outlawed slavery 30 years before the US in 1833, but they had laws allowing another form of slavery- impressment of sailors- until 1900. Just a couple days ago there was a news piece about women being held as slaves in Egypt IIRC. Kinda makes you wonder how much of our understanding is based on a kind of twisted presentation.

    To hate someone or even dislike them just because they’ve done well is pretty much the same as Muslims hating Jews. You hate the rich guy because he has something you don’t, he thinks differently, he IS different than you are. And at that, you make the leap that they think they were gifted their success or were owed it? Based on what? A lot of those people worked their tales off for what they have, they got it because they were smart and worked hard. I don’t much care for Donald Trump or George Soros or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but I don’t want to punish them for being rich by taxing them. That just rolls downhill to you and me someday because the gov’t will never, ever have enough money.

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  28. Ken Hall says:

    “Kinda makes you wonder how much of our understanding is based on a kind of twisted presentation.” -Arlo T. L.-

    Truer words have likely never been set to print.

    Slavery today is gussied up in a new moniker “human trafficking”, an example of your true words, and is low balled by the National Human Rights Center in Berkeley, Ca at about 10,000 in the USA but 30+ million worldwide. My guess is there are millions of women in the USA trapped as sex slaves in the prostitution trades, with many if not most, effectively slaves to their pimps.

    Arlo if you think that not taxing the rich increases the likelihood that Reagan’s fabled trickle down effect is going to splatter all over we of the 99% class I must ask what did you observe in 2007/8 WTSHTF? Did you observe bankers being bailed out to the tune of $Trillions and regular folks loosing everything they had? If not, where were you located so as to not notice. The splatter was all upward from the lowly 99%ers to the bank vaults of the 1%ers. Talk about a twisted presentation by the uber rich, convincing the losers that they were the ones at fault.

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  29. Walker says:

    I, for one, hate no one simply for being rich. I do, though, think ill of the rich person who imagines that all people who are poor deserve their poverty because they too would be rich if only they’d worked harder. It takes more than hard work to get from poverty to riches in one lifetime.

    And I especially think ill of those who were born well-off who denigrate the poor. I have heard interviews with Wall St. traders who clearly believe that they fully deserved their out-sized gains, even after their excesses trashed the economy, and after they were bailed out by all the “little people.” And I have trouble understanding the inability of some such people to see that because of their good fortune, it is reasonable to expect them to pay more toward the common good, especially if they profess themselves Christian: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48)

    We were just in agreement that “there is a bond that ties all humanity together.” Well that bond makes the rich man responsible, in part, for the sufferings of his fellow man. To sit back and say “this is all mine, I earned every penny and I’m keeping it all for myself,” when some are homeless and hungry– there’s something lacking.

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  30. Walker says:

    “You hate the rich guy because he has something you don’t…”

    See, that right there is a very twisted assumption.

    I absolutely do not want seven mansions, and I consequently don’t envy anyone who does own them. I don’t need to spend lavishly on myself to feel that I am worth something. I don’t hate Mitt Romney, but I think his values suck. And I don’t want to punish the rich, but I do want the CEO to pay a higher percentage than his secretary. Call it socialism if you like– doesn’t bother me in the least. Tell you what– let’s call it “Christian” instead.

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  31. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Hey look, here’s an early Christmas present, Chris Gibson flip-flops on the Norquist pledge.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/30/chris-gibson-grover-norquist-pledge_n_2220871.html?utm_hp_ref=new-york&ir=New%20York

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  32. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oh, and look at this where are all the Takers? Looks like they are in Texas where they use government money as a stimulus to make their economy look good.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/01/us/government-incentives.html#NY

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  33. mervel says:

    Walker,

    Indeed those types of social issues are hard to sort out. Given that there has never really been an overtly atheist nation or society until the Soviet Union and the PRC, how do you disengage religious faith from any human activity? It is like saying well since all of these human beings had hair and they were not loving and peaceful, hair must be the problem. I mean our earliest studies of human civilizations show some sort of belief in a God or God’s or creator. So how do you say well religion is the issue when religion seems to be a basic human need and expression of humanity itself for most of human history?

    I will say this as a Christian, the times when Christianity has been at it’s best have been when we are fully following Christ by rejecting the World; meaning power, politics, materialism, pride and human ideas about success. We have been at our worst when we have bought into all of those things, seeking out the very things we are called to reject. The common denominator in most religious violence has been the power of the State. The local monastery has no power over anyone accept those who voluntarily follow the Rule, Amish can’t tell you what to do or kill you and so forth. I think when we really follow Christ to who we have been called we are indeed a positive influence, salt to the world. But I fully admit that this has not always been the case.

    Atheists who have really thought about their atheism; I have more hope for than those who simply lumber through life not caring enough to think about faith; at least an atheist has really thought about faith and about God, and I honestly believe that God understands that and is with them. Knock and the door will be opened. His promises are true and real so I think that many who are total atheists in the end will have faith and be with Jesus and many who are outwardly religious will be very very unpleasantly surprised.

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  34. Walker says:

    “It is like saying well since all of these human beings had hair and they were not loving and peaceful, hair must be the problem.”

    But Mervel, it’s not just that wars have been fought and thousands killed by people who happened to be believers; they fought and killed in the name of their faith. It’s going on today in the mid east, and it’s going on at a lesser rate in this country when people of faith kill homosexuals and abortion providers in the name of their faith, or advocate such killings.

    I will grant you that it isn’t really the faith itself that is the problem– faith is being twisted by leaders who are using it to gain power over their followers. But it feeds on itself: the distortions introduced into the faith by one generation are passed on to the next, and over time, the faith becomes unrecognizable. You can’t tell me that you think Jesus of Nazareth would recognize the Catholic church of today, or be comfortable with much of its works.

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  35. mervel says:

    Well Walker I don’t blame socialists for the Gulag or communists for the Moa’s cultural revolution, even though much of what was done was done overtly in the name of atheism. Even today Chinese Christians are persecuted and must secretly meet unless they belong to the State sponsored Church, indeed there is State persecution of many religions going on across the globe today.

    So I think this whole thing cuts both ways and what we are really talking about is human behavior, regardless of the names we use to justify our sin (or bad actions).

    As far as Jesus recognizing the Catholic Church or other Christian Churches, I would say yes He certainly does recognize these Churches; and often weeps over some their actions and certainly is part of many other, He is continually guiding and calling the Church; as He said the Gates of hell would not prevail against it, and going on 1900 years I trust His promise to that effect, without the Church showing me the Gospel and bringing me to faith in Her Sacraments; I would certainly be lost today.

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  36. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Ken, it’s sort of like this- the rich, the top 10%, pay 70% of the income tax revenue already, the top 25% pay almost 90%. If we change that to the top 25% paying 98% will that fix our spending issues? Will it fix our $16 trill debt? Nope. My problem is not with taxing “the rich” per se, but with taxing the rich as a form of punishment simply because they are rich. That’s class warfare, no more, no less. I have no real issue with upping the top 10% wage earners taxes by 10% or whatever it is they want. The problem is that won’t be enough to pay for everything. So then the taxes will go up on the top 25% and then top 35% and then top 45%. By then it’s down to you and me and Mervel and Brain Mann. No, I don’t like the Wall St types and bankers and sports stars and Hollyweird crowd that makes the big bucks. Mostly I hold them in contempt not because they are rich but because they are arrogant, just like you. I don’t hate Oprahs success, I dislike her hypocrisy. I don’t hate Warren Buffets success, I dislike his arrogance. And speaking of Warren Buffet, well Walker was anyway, he pays a lower rate on his income than his secretary because he doesn’t have a “job” in the same sense she does. She pays income tax, he’s pays capital gains on the interest off his investments. At that, his secretary makes a bundle, she’s in the top 10% and owns two huge homes. A twisted presentation of fact gives you twisted results.

    As far as Reagans trickle down, it splattered all over a lot of people back during the 90s and the tech boom. And let not forget many of the people losing their homes were trying to buy homes that they never should have even considered. Do you blame the banks for giving them loans as directed by the gov’t, or do you blame the fools making $65K a year trying to buy a $450K home? Or do you just blame Bush or Reagan?

    For the record, I was against all the bailouts and stimulus packages and TARP, etc. Nothing is too big to fail. An orderly reorganization is the proper way to handle those things, or just fold. Instead, well, you saw what we got. Who do you blame for all the GM stock holders that were left with nothing when the gov’t stepped in and took over? And now GM is headed for bankruptcy-again. It’s not as simple as blame Bush.

    I believe we would have more charitable giving is people had more money left in their pockets, rich and poor alike. That gets us back to Christmas. MY little church out here in the sticks is doing their part to help people year round and especially those with kids at Christmas. Other churches and groups in the area are doing that too. I urge everyone to follow the spirit of the season and do what you can to contribute to your community. And don’t forget the Salvation Army. I know first hand those people put the vast majority of funding into helping people, something that sadly cannot be said for some other well known groups.

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  37. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Walker, I was just this morning told by a BTO (big time operator) that I was stupid trash for not using the same type of $60K fencing rig he uses, that I was obviously a poor manager of money if I couldn’t swing one like he had. A couple weeks back I was told by a local politician that a 20% increase in property taxes was perfectly understandable considering the amount of services I get and that I should consider it a bargain. So, it seems that it’s not just Wall St types that have “the attitude”.

    I suppose what bothers me is part of what you wrote, ” We were just in agreement that “there is a bond that ties all humanity together.” Well that bond makes the rich man responsible, in part, for the sufferings of his fellow man. To sit back and say “this is all mine, I earned every penny and I’m keeping it all for myself,” when some are homeless and hungry– there’s something lacking.” I agree in part, but I disagree with the idea that gov’t is the proper mechanism to use to do something for “the homeless and hungry”. In my mind it’s just as wrong to use taxation and law to punish the rich for their success as it is to provide support to the welfare class while asking nothing in return. Look at t5he rich who do give tens of millions away each each year- will they be rewarded for that if the tax rates are raised? No. Will we ever ask that those on public assistance give back in some form? No. Do we have a real plan for taking “the homeless and hungry” and putting them to work? No, but we do have a plan to grow their ranks.

    It’s a big mess brudda. Taxation isn’t going to fix it, gov’t borrowing and spending isn’t going to fix it. It’s going to take personal sacrifice from rich and poor alike to fix it and mostly it’s going to take some major change and sacrifice in gov’t to fix it.

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  38. Walker says:

    “…the top 10%, pay 70% of the income tax revenue already, the top 25% pay almost 90%.”

    First, that 90% is only looking at Federal Income Tax; if you look at all taxes, the wealthy pay a considerably smaller portion. But more important, the top 10% control 70% of the nation’s wealth– it only makes sense that they’d provide 70% of tax revenue.

    “…it’s just as wrong to use taxation and law to punish the rich for their success…”

    OK, one more time, it’s not about “punishing the rich.” It’s a matter of fairness. We currently have six marginal tax rates running from 10% for people who make less than $8,700 to 35% on income over $388,350. Why does it make sense to stop there? Why does it make sense to say that someone who makes $40 million a year should have the same marginal rate as someone who makes a hundred times more per year?

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  39. Walker says:

    Err, that last line should end “…someone who makes a hundred times less per year?

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  40. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Fair would be a flat tax with no loop holes or deductions allowed except maybe for primary home mortgage and kids. That would be fair. And if you look at all taxes you find the rich pay a lot more on their multiple homes cars expensive clothing food etc. The rich pay more already and you want more. So when will it be enough? 50% of their income or 75% or 90%? Why not tax their worth rather than income since so many are like Buffet and don’t pay income tax but rather tax on the interest of their investments or trusts? Put that idea out to Harrry Reed or Boxer or Feinstien and see if they are in favor of paying on their actual worth.

    How would you suggest we manage to pry the control of that 70% of the nations wealth you quote from those people legally? And what do you propose doing with it? I’m asking quite seriously so please let me in on the how and who you think will actually put the wealth in the hands of the poor and needy and not in the hands of the politicians and big left wing corps or right wing corps when an R gets in the WH?.

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  41. Walker says:

    Rancid, let me start at the end: I don’t want to “pry the control of that 70% of the nations wealth” from their greedy little fingers. I would be satisfied if we reversed the thirty year long trend of more and more of the national wealth ending up in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Do you honestly think that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a wild-eyed socialist?

    So, when will it be enough? Well the 1993 Clinton tax increase raised the top two income tax rates to 36% and 39.6%, with the top rate hitting joint returns with incomes above $250,000 ($400,000 in 2012 dollars), and we had a booming economy and a budget surplus. We also weren’t fighting two unneeded wars on credit. If it were up to me, I’d return to the Clinton tax rates, and impose a small transaction tax on stock trades like we did from 1914 to 1966 (it was 0.2% from 1914 to 1932, and 0.4% from ’32 to ’66). I would end the favored tax treatment of capital gains. I would end unneeded corporate subsidies, and take a long hard look at the military budget.

    What would I do with it? Repair highways, bridges and tunnels, for starters. Re-invest in education: when I went to college, an in-state student could attend Penn State University for $300 a year, and California state schools were free. Fund jobs programs. Sure, there will be some waste, fraud and abuse– there always is in everything we do. Tell you what– let’s spend some money on enforcement, including the IRS and government watchdog agencies, which Republicans have been trying to starve into submission for decades now.

    I think a flat tax is an absurd idea in a nation with the vast income inequality that we have. Our richest citizens can afford to give something back. Larry says that we’ll have more charitable giving is people had more money left in their pockets; that’s great, except a lot of that gets directed to art museums, ballet companies and la-ti-da buildings in private colleges and hospitals. Not to mention those slick “charitable remainder trusts” where you get to live off of the returns on your investments tax free, and only when you die does your designated charity get what’s left; a good accountant can make sure there will be damned little left.

    So I have little doubt but that you think these ideas are dreadful. You asked.

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  42. The Original Larry says:

    “Larry says that we’ll have more charitable giving is people had more money left in their pockets; that’s great, except a lot of that gets directed to art museums, ballet companies and la-ti-da buildings in private colleges and hospitals.”

    I did? I haven’t commented in three days, but as long as I am being quoted I guess I will now. In the first place, while some people have fond memories of the Clinton years, it was during that time that many of our current troubles took root, including the seeds of the financial crisis that many believe was precipitated by Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and his passage of the the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (legalized derivatives). He also expanded the ever-popular war on drugs and nearly doubled our prison population.. Foreign policy was an abject failure that included several missed opportunities to neutralize OBL. Scandals too numerous to mention and an overall sleazy atmosphere added nothing but shame and embarrassment to an already lackluster performance. No nostalgia here for those days.

    Enough for now.

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  43. Rancid Crabtree says:

    And would you also return to Clinton era spending Walker? I doubt that.

    How do you propose to reverse the trend you speak of? How do you do that? So far the only method I’ve seen suggested is confiscatory tax rates and redistribution via our completely trustworthy Federal gov’t. What’s your plan? And by ending the favored treatment of capital gains do you mean to raise the tax rates even higher? We already have some of the highest capital gains tax rates in the western world. How much more would you take? Capital gains spurs investment, that’s pretty well accepted. So what effect would your higher taxes have on those stock trades you want to tax more?

    Re-investing in infra-structure is a great idea. But shouldn’t we do something about that $16 trillion dollar note we owe? Thats going to take a lot of money and time. When you say reinvest in education I assume you mean throw money at it. Somehow I don’t think you’d possibly have enough to bring costs back to $300.00 a semester, much less a year. I don’t think you realize the amounts of money involved.

    You need to flesh this out some more. And don’t worry about more IRS agents and enforcement. They’re hiring and they just released a new 3.8% tax rule to allegedly fund part of Obamacare. I’m sure the IRS will go after any tax cheats with zeal.

    Why is a flat tax absurd? If I make $40k a year and have to pay say 10% and some banker making 100 million has to pay 10% isn’t that fair? I pay $4k, he pays 10 million. We each wind up with 90% in our pocket. Put a low income threshold on it if you want, fine. 10% with no loop holes will still get you all you need if you spend responsibly. That of course is the problem. My version of responsible spending probably doesn’t cover the stuff you’d want. If I could keep 90% of what I made I’d be a lot better off and could donate to my local la-ti-da art of ballet museum at out local private college or more likely spend it on my grandkids and fix our car. The banker adds another wing onto his mansion and commissions a new sailboat. I’m sure the carpenters and boat builders could use the work. But maybe gov’t wouldn’t get every single penny they need to fund every program they want. Too bad kids. Maybe it’s tie gov’t lived within it’s means like we have to.

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  44. Walker says:

    Oops, sorry Larry, that was Arlo. Anyway, I didn’t say we should bring back all of Clinton’s ideas, just his tax rates.

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  45. Walker says:

    “We already have some of the highest capital gains tax rates in the western world.”

    Hmmm… France: a flat 34.5%, German capital gains tax is 25% plus, Italy: 20% for individuals, 27.5% for corporations, Norway is 28%, U.K.: 18% to 28% capital gains tax

    And our over-all individual income tax rates are on the low side: Wikipedia: List of countries by tax rates.

    I’ll try to come back to this, but I’m done for the day.

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  46. scratchy says:

    Walker,

    Some people may think your ideas are “dreadful,” but I think that they are wonderful. And you’re well informed, too, definitely not the typical internet blowhard who relies on vague rhetoric and emotion.

    Rancid Crabtree,
    “We already have some of the highest capital gains tax rates in the western world.”

    Most long-term capital gains is taxed at a top rate of 15% and, in the case of capital gain derived from the sale of qualified small business stock, is only taxed at a top rate of only 14%. Also, please provide some evidence of the US having some of the “highest capital gains rates.” That most certainly is not true and the UK Conservative government, for instance, recently raised their top rate to 28%.

    “Capital gains spurs investment, that’s pretty well accepted.”

    Actually, the Congressional Budget Office has stated that extending tax cuts for the wealthy (and the overwhelming majority of capital gains go to the wealthy) is an ineffective means of spurring growth and job creation.

    “They’re hiring and they just released a new 3.8% tax rule to allegedly fund part of Obamacare. I’m sure the IRS will go after any tax cheats with zeal.”

    Perhaps not.
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/MONEY/usaedition/2012-04-17-Tax-Day-cover-IRS-resources_CV_U.htm

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  47. Rancid Crabtree says:

    The short term CG rate is 10-28%, on Collectable Assets 25%, also 25% on recaptured depreciation of real prop. The top federal income tax rate on dividends will increase from its current level of 15 percent to 39.6 percent in 2013. The top federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains will rise from its current level of 15 percent to 20 percent in 2013 and from zero percent to 10 percent for lower income taxpayers.
    For many taxpayers, both dividends and capital gains will also become subject to the additional 3.8 percent Medicare tax in 2013 due to changes brought on by Obamacare.

    I’ll just cut and paste to save my fingers here- Taking into account both the corporate and investor level taxes on corporate profits and state level taxes, the United States has among the highest integrated tax rates among developed countries and these integrated tax rates will rise sharply in 2013:
     The current top US integrated dividend tax rate of 50.8 percent will rise to 68.6 percent in 2013, significantly higher than in all other OECD and BRIC countries.
     The current top US integrated capital gains tax rate of 50.8 percent will rise to 56.7 percent in 2013, the second highest among OECD and BRIC countries.

    We already have some of the highest tax rates on CGs and other revenue in the western world people. Read the last line above- 2nd highest in the world in one area of CG taxation.

    You need to get some newer news Scratchy- http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/03/us-usa-tax-irs-idUSBRE8B21HA20121203 That’s 159 new pages of rules to collect 3.8% more from successful people and the tax experts say it isn’t even clear on how they are to comply. Why is a flat tax unfair again?

    Would you care to try and quantify how taking more money form the investment class will spur investment? It makes no sense that leaving the investor class with more money will result in less investments. I found the CBO paper that you refer to and while they have doubts about a lower CG rate making a big difference in revenue to the gov’t (Reaganomics) they also note this-

    “The previous section concludes that the effect of lower capital gains taxes on
    the level of investment may be quite small. However, a capital gains tax cut
    could have other effects: it could enhance productivity and foster growth
    through its effect on the kinds of investments that are made, even if the
    overall level of savings did not change. A capital gains tax cut might reduce
    the distortions created by the double taxation of corporate income. A capital
    gains tax cut would also encourage investment in new small companies that
    might grow faster than old established businesses. More generally, lower
    capital gains taxes encourage risk-taking to the extent risky investments pay
    off in the form of capital gains.”

    The entire paper is written with almost constant use of “may”, “might”, “could”, “possible”, “likely”, etc. IOW they aren’t locking themselves into anything. I don’t find this to be entirely convincing. However since you seem to place a lot of faith in CBO I’ll give you this link where they say Obamacare will cost far more than projected and have an even more negative impact on the deficit. http://www.forbes.com/sites/aroy/2012/07/27/cbo-obamacare-will-spend-more-tax-more-and-reduce-the-deficit-less-than-we-previously-thought/

    Well, my turn with the lap top is done kiddies. See you next week maybe.

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  48. Walker says:

    Scratchy, thanks for the kind words!

    Rancid, I apologize for saying the flat tax is absurd. We should have a rule against applying pejorative labels to each other’s ideas, just as we try to avoid ad hominem attacks.

    So no, it is not absurd. I just think that a progressive tax structure makes sense. And it has history on its side: progressive taxes go back to 1862 in the U.S. And if we adopted a flat tax, that would put us in company with Albania, Belize, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Grenada, Latvia, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Tuvalu.

    It is certainly a complex topic! Wikipedia has a list of fifteen pros and cons for progressive taxes starting here. The one I find most persuasive is this:

    In a market economy, the larger an investment is, the higher its rate of return. This is due to both economies of scale and the increased range of investment opportunities. In addition to these economic forces, those who control greater amounts of capital within a society are able to participate more directly in shaping government policy, often in ways that further maximize their wealth. Thus, due to both economic and political realities within a market economy, it is a natural process for the wealthiest individuals and firms in a society to become disproportionately wealthier over time. In order to prevent the political instability resulting from the natural stratification of the populace into an ever smaller and wealthier aristocracy or moneyed class, and an ever larger working class, free market democracies should support progressive taxation and programs to enhance economic opportunity for the lower and middle classes.

    That last seems like an accurate description of where we are today, a circumstance of which a number of our founding fathers would not have approved.

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  49. Walker says:

    “Would you care to try and quantify how taking more money form the investment class will spur investment?”

    If one thing is clear from the last twelve years, it is that giving more money to the “investment class” will not spur investment. They already have plenty of money, but it’s not spurring growth. Companies have been sitting on vast hoards of cash, because consumers aren’t buying. Supply side doesn’t work: we need to find a way to get more money into the hands of the spending classes before businesses will start hiring. The best way to do that is with government spending on infrastructure.

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  50. Mervel says:

    It is a conundrum that challenges long held beliefs within conservative economic academic circles. It used to be people would say well we know that lower taxes spur economic growth, but by how much and is it worth it to give up the tax revenue and of course the issue of fairness? But now the question is totally restructured, as you point out it looks by the data that at least in the past 10-15 years lower taxes on investment (capital gains) and income, have not spurred economic growth, they have done effectively nothing. So then the question becomes why keep these rates low?

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