Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dr. Arik Greenberg Answers A Question Asked Through Matt Present Of The Chicago Sun-Times

Dr. Greenberg was recently quoted by Chicago Sun-Times journalist Amos Ornstein in his regular column.  Dr. Greenberg weighed in on the issue of overt displays of religiosity in the workplace and in public, when it is okay and when it is too much.  Enjoy the article here:  
Since the author only quoted a short excerpt from Dr. Greenberg's full answer, we've decided to post Dr. Greenberg's full and unedited response to the original question right here on our blog. Enjoy!
Original Question from Chicago Sun-Times reader:

In my office, we have a Christmas tree where we put gifts for underprivileged kids. Then there's a Menorah and one of the Kwanzaa candelabras. This all seems to be in the generalized holiday spirit, and I'm okay with it. But then there's a nativity scene in the lobby, complete with baby Jesus and all of the farm animals and the three wise men and a big old cross (which seems, from my limited understanding of the bible, to be a little anachronistic). That seems way over the line. I'm lapsed Catholic and it offends my sensibilities. I can only imagine how my Jewish and Muslim coworkers feel. Am I being a Grinch if I bring this up to HR? 

December 5, 2013

Dr. Greenberg's response via Matt Present, editor of the Chicago Grid, the business section of the Sun-Times:  
This is an excellent and ever pertinent question.  Tolerance and acceptance of other people’s beliefs is a wonderful thing; in fact I believe it is the key to our survival as a human race.  But people often forget that tolerance goes both ways.  In some circles, the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of tolerance toward the minority opinion, that often the mainstream folks feel abused or marginalized themselves—and they have begun to register their complaints vociferously, such as in answer to the perceived “war on Xmas”.  While it is important to make everyone feel welcome, we need to be aware that some folks are going to feel a bit left out no matter what, simply on account of their small numbers.  If we try to speak for them, we may do them a disservice.  And we tend to see the majority of complaints coming from folks that are part of the mainstream, but are fearful of accusations that they are being intolerant. 


Rather than causing someone to take down an elaborate and treasured holiday display, especially one that may have been in use or part of the office landscape for years, I would suggest continuing the sentiment that is at play within your office, to include as many other points of view as possible without artificially limiting one religion’s opportunity to express their mirth and merriment.  And maybe even go the extra mile to ask Jews, Muslims, and others how they feel about the lobby nativity scene.  Many of them will look upon these as generalized symbols of American religious experience, recognizing that most of our country’s founders were of some sort of Christian persuasion, and they may not take issue with them as if it were eclipsing their own religious freedoms.  In fact, it has even become a point of humor among many American Jews, that it is acceptable to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas; the more presents, the better!  But most of all, your office mates will likely feel happy that you have consulted them and asked for their input.  And if someone does have a problem with it, then let them be the ones who place a complaint with HR, letting their voices be heard, rather than presume to know what they feel.  If that happens, the situation can be addressed with sensitivity to all concerned. 


After all, tolerance is about showing people respect and giving them a voice and allowing them to express their religious beliefs in their own way.  So I highly encourage you to speak to HR—not to ask that the display be taken down, but to let HR know that you are open to displays from other religions, and that you would also be open to hearing the opinions of non-Christian occupants of the building.  Maybe one option would be to encourage office mates of non-Christian faiths to share their religious displays throughout the year, especially at times when no Christian holidays would overshadow theirs.  This way, their office mates will get a little bit of education about other religions and no one will feel eclipsed.  I applaud your desire to think critically and to show sensitivity. Just make sure it goes in all directions. 


N.B. And yes, the actual crucifix—as a visual symbol of Christianity— is a very late addition to the symbolism of Christianity, perhaps as late as the sixth century AD.  Partly because it was still in use as a form of capital punishment!  Early Christians employed other symbols, such as the still ubiquitous fish, as well as the anchor. 

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