Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The tone of responses to Kevin Rafferty’s December 24th op-ed article about the religious meaning of Christmas by the writers “Name Withheld” (“Spare the monotheistic arrogance”, January 6) and Usman Makhdoom (“Overbearing demand on Christmas” December 30) is hair raising, and I wonder how long the Japan Times will let the debate play out on this page. Of course, it is an interesting debate and not unworthy of copious and continuous publication, despite the fact that it is the same old crossfire we see more frequently these days - not just in the Christmas season - between advocates of orthodox Christian traditions on the one hand and non-Christian or secular detractors on the other. I suppose anti-Christian writers believe their intolerant and hyperbolic polemicism is a deserved and just reaction to the excesses of Christianity through its history. Yes, there is a lot to be said against the Church that is genuine, but Name Withheld and Usman Makhdoom aren’t saying it. Or, at least, they are not saying anything new, and what they do say in their letters does not amount to a disqualification of Christianity or any of its doctrines.
Usman Makhdoom walks straight into the error of associating nationality with religion. Name Withheld walks straight into the error of associating the pedigree of a doctrine or practice with the veracity of it. Usman Makhdoom’s position felt like it was emboldened by a diluting multi-cultural context, but its publication was predictable out of recognition of cultural diversity. Name Withheld’s letter sounded like it was written quickly in the heat of anti-Christian passion, insufficient in right reason, and its publication is surprising because it is gratuitously bile. Or vile.
In any event, there was nothing at all wrong with Kevin Rafferty’s December 24th Christmas article.
Published on Sunday, January 9, 2001 as “The heat of anti-Christian passion.”
This is my first letter of the New Year. I’m pretty happy with it despite a couple small editing flubs. The paper turned my sentence “I suppose anti-Christian writers believe their intolerant and hyperbolic polemicism is a deserved and just reaction to the excesses of Christianity through its history” to “I suppose anti-Christian writers believe that their intolerant and hyperbolic polemics is a just reaction to the excesses ...” Maybe my sentence was a bit dodgy with the word “polemicism,” which isn’t a proper word anyway. But the edited sentence with the words“polemics is” rather than “polemics are” sounds uncomfortable to me. It sounds wrong. It looks like the editor just used the Microsoft Spell Check on his computer without taking a closer look, and I guess it speaks to the fact that subject-verb agreement is probably the most common grammatical mistake in English. My query about how long the paper would allow the debate to play out in the Readers in Council page was deleted as superfluous, since the publication of my letter and one more on the topic - “Celebrating a respectful sentiment” by Kunio Miyamura of Tokyo - answered the question.
The letter writer responsible for all this, Usman Makhdoom, wrote from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Canada’s official muti-culturalism and terrible political correctness are the reason for my unexplained remark that his position sounds like it is “emboldened by a diluting multicultural context.” I should have said “multicultural environment” instead of “multicultural context” and what I meant is that Canada’s policy dissuades one from expressing strong public opinion from fear of offending anyone in society. Personally, I don’t think that I am overly bothered by fears of offending anyone.
Then months later, on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 I received this comment on my registeredalien blog:
Comment: I happened to stumble onto this article through Google.
I think it is somewhat disingenious to label Usmaan as "anti-Christian" or "hateful" to Christianity. I've met him during my sojurn in Japan and I can pretty much say he is no such thing. If his first letter created that impression, you owed it to yourself to at least read his follow-up letter which clarified things. For the sake of completeness, I am including the link here.
I do find it somewhat unfortunate that you chose not to print the somewhat mean-spirited letter by Kunio Miyamura; ignoring it created the implied view that there was some unbalanced attack on Christians and Christmas. Clearly, this was not the case.
I have no doubt that this was without malice on your part, please accept my humble desire to minimize the misunderstanding that I feel this entry does without the above information. Email: email@example.com
Wednesday, September 21, 2011.
Thanks for your note.
I have re-read Kevin Rafferty’s December 24th Christmas story, Usman Makhdoom’s December 30threply, Kunio Miyamura’s and my January 9th replies to him, as well as Makhdoom’s January 30th response to Miyamura’s. I also re-read the Jennifer Kim and Name Withheld January 6th letters also on the Rafferty story.
Upon re-reading all this, I still think Makhdoom’s December 30th letter was silly and mean and clearly out of line. It was too much compared to the Rafferty piece, which is what prompted me to write my January 9th letter. I still do not think Kunio Miyamura’s letter is mean spirited at all, and his is not an “attacking posture” as Makhdoom called it in his January 30thletter. In fact, I felt it was a nice balance to what I think is the confused wandering silliness of Makhdoom’s exposition of December 30th.
I still do not think that Rafferty’s December 24th article was“overbearing” in the least and Makhdoom’s claim that it is and that he “cannot fathom” why Rafferty wrote it or the paper printed it exposes a weakness on his part. I call it a deficient character for thinking wrongly on the matter in the first place, and for not recognizing or at least admitting an innate connection between the Christmas celebration - however it is observed - and Christian belief about Jesus of Nazareth in the second place. If Makhdoom’s position is that 1) in a secular world Christianity cannot claim ownership of its own festival, or that 2) any such claims of ownership are bankrupt and vacuous because the true origin of the December 24th holiday has more to do with paganism than with Christianity, or that 3) in both secular societies, like the modern West, and predominantly non-Christian societies, like Japan, a corresponding secularization of Christmas is not only appropriate but preferable, then I cannot agree.
Here is the Usman Makhdoom letter of January 30th.
Most progressive place on Earth
The attacking posture of Kunio Miyamura's Jan. 9 letter, "Celebrating a respectful sentiment " — in response to my Dec. 30 letter ("Overbearing demand on Christmas") — is far too common as it's the result of a perceived slight to Christianity.
May I remind Miyamura that, taken as a whole and not merely as a selection of churchgoers, the expat community in Japan does indeed have little to do with Christianity. Or must we have white skin to be counted in the odd idea of Christianity somehow having general relevance among expatriates here?
Miyamura's reference from out of nowhere to the sentiments of "jihadists" is suspicious. Miyamura seems to have taken the trouble to find out that my name is Arabic, but then perhaps equated Arab-ness with Muslim-ness and, thus, jihadist "evil."
It's attitudes like this that make me immensely grateful for a place like Japan, where the defunct, primitive legacy of Christian-Muslim rivalry is utterly alien. That's because Japan is a nation where such ancient religious rivalries have no meaning, and in that sense, Japan is the most progressive place on the planet.
And that's the reason why overbearing demands by articles like Kevin Rafferty's "Spare a thought for the holy day" (Dec. 24) are meaningless in a Japanese context — including Miyamura's demand that I learn some odd Christian song.
Japan is not Christian. It has no obligation to "spare a thought" for the Christian roots of Christmas — certainly less than Christians do for Christmas' original pagan roots.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
The Japan Times,
Sunday, January 30, 2011.