‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?

Christmas Day has passed, but we aren’t even half way through the 12 Days of Christmas.

So I don’t feel that I am too far behind the curve in getting to an interesting study on how Americans celebrate Christmas.

A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas (89% celebrate only Christmas).

83% of Americans say they usually watch a Christmas movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

66% say they usually attend a church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

According to a release: “Roughly equal numbers say they read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (43%), the famous Santa Clause poem, as read the biblical story about the birth of Jesus (40%) as part of their traditional Christmas celebrations.”

On the contentious question of whether people should be wished Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, respondents were nearly divided.

49% prefer Merry Christmas. 44% like Happy Holidays.

The Institute breaks down the “greeting” findings further:

A majority of white evangelical Protestants (69%) and white mainline Protestants (57%) support stores using “merry Christmas.” A majority of Catholics (55%), however, support stores using more generic greetings like “happy holidays.”

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans also support saying “merry Christmas” as opposed to more generic greetings. In contrast, nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Democrats say stores and businesses should be using “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” out of respect for people of different faiths.

A majority of Americans living in the Midwest (56%) and the South (54%), and a plurality (49%) of those living in the West say stores and businesses should greet customers with “Merry Christmas,” while nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans living in the Northeast say businesses should use more generic greetings.

Dolan’s blog a forum on Bill Donohue and the Catholic League

Last week, Archbishop Dolan used his blog to offer a defense of the often-controversial Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

He was defending Donohue’s criticisms of an art exhibit in Washington.

Dolan wrote, in part: “Bill Donohue hardly needs me to defend him.  He’s well-able to do it himself, and has a lot of experience doing so.  But, he’s stood up for a lot of us before, and I am glad to express my encouragement for the work he does.  Some may take occasional issue with his style.  Fair enough, and he’s open to such criticism. Some might even discuss whether the image is offensive.  However, no one should doubt the high value and necessity of his efforts, or dismiss him in crude terms.  Even the recent high-volume critiques of his stand on this controversy exhibit nasty anti-catholic canards.  Keep at it, Bill!  We need you!”

In the past, when I’ve quoted Donohue or someone else with the CL, I’ve heard it from Donohue’s critics — including more than few priests — who don’t like his tactics. I remember one priest writing me a letter saying that I quoted Donohue in order to make Catholics look stupid!

So when I checked Dolan’s blog this morning, I enjoyed reading the many spirited comments, from people who agree with Dolan and those who don’t.

There are “way to go Tim” comments like:

“As a long time member of The Catholic League I consider this article as one of your finest moments so far Your Excellency. These so called “artists,” or most media outlets would not dare do this to Muhammad, Martin Luther King, or joke about the Holocaust.”


“Kudos to Dr. Donohue! But his work is greatly leveraged when strong bishops support it. Double kudos to Your Excellency!”


“We need the Catholic League now more than ever and boy do we ever need leaders like Archbishop Dolan and Dr. Donahue…..The Holy Bible teaches us that the Gospel does not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of boldness and there are times when it is simply inappropriate to “turn the other cheek”….Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple for a very good reason, which could well be likened to the disrespect shown His Temple in the present age…..”

But on the other side, we have:

“Under Mr. Donohue’s leadership, the Catholic League has become one of the most divisive organizations in the United States in general and the Catholic Church in the United States in particular. Mr. Donohue’s combative tone is not representative of Christ’s teachings and not a good example of Catholic values, and his affiliation with polarizing personalities like Glenn Beck is damaging to our church’s public image.”


“This is wrong, wrong. I understand that we live in an overly secular culture which disrespects faith and especially Catholicism. But Donohue is a terrible voice for the Church.”


“Like many other Catholics, I am very upset by your recent apologia (in your blog) for the Catholic League, and Mr. Donohue, who is behind it. I know that there are many who are trying to make a good thing for themselves out of the unfortunate polarization that disfigures our Church (to say nothing of the secular analog that disfigures our nation).”

You know who must be loving this?

Bill Donohue.

A flash mob for Christmas

I only recently heard of the “flash mob” phenomenon (on the show “Modern Family”).

Here is a very compelling video of a flash mob performing “Hallelujah” at, of all places, a shopping mall.

Thanks to Father Thomas Berg for pointing it out.

And now, a Christmas-time flash mob:

<object style=”height: 390px; width: 400px”><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/SXh7JR9oKVE?version=3″><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/SXh7JR9oKVE?version=3″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” allowScriptAccess=”always” width=”400″ height=”390″></object>

Monsignor Charles Kavanagh defrocked

The long, long case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, the once powerful head of fundraising for the Archdiocese of NY, is finally over.

According to a statement just released by the archdiocese, Kavanagh was found guilty of sex abuse by a church court and has been dismissed from the priesthood.

I’m on deadline with a completely unrelated story. So here is the release in full:



A church court empowered by the Vatican has found Charles M. Kavanagh, ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1967, guilty of acts of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970’s, and dismissed him from the priesthood.

A canonical trial requested by Kavanagh and approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was conducted in 2004.  That trial, which took place outside the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New York, found Kavanagh guilty and imposed the most severe penalty possible, dismissal from the clerical state.  Again at Kavanagh’s request, the decision was then reviewed by a church appellate court, also outside the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese.  This appellate court announced this week that it had upheld the lower court’s decision.

This decision of the appellate court cannot be appealed, and concludes a process that began over eight years ago.

Edward Cardinal Egan, then the Archbishop of New York, first learned of the allegation in mid-May 2002 by way of a letter from the accuser, who had already submitted his accusation to the Manhattan District Attorney.  Promptly after learning of the allegation, and after a preliminary investigation was conducted according to the policies of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of New York, Kavanagh’s priestly faculties were removed pending a resolution of the matter.  He was directed not to engage in active ministry or in any way to present himself as a priest.

Between July 2002 and July 2003, the District Attorney’s office, which had been working closely with the Archdiocese on this matter, investigated the allegation and informed Cardinal Egan that in their opinion  the allegation was credible.  At the same time, the independent Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board conducted its own investigation and also concluded that the allegation was credible and recommended to the Cardinal that Kavanagh not be returned to ministry.

As mandated by church law, the case was then referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ordered the aforementioned trial, as requested by Kavanagh.

On December 15, the appellate court communicated its decision to Kavanagh and to the Archbishop of New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  The Archbishop said that, “Although all of this took place before my arrival as Archbishop, I am well aware of the seriousness of the charges involved in this case, and I am grateful for the careful way that it has been handled by my predecessor, Cardinal Egan, and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.   I would like to take this occasion to renew our apologies to all those who have been harmed by the sin and crime of sexual abuse, and in particular to apologize to the gentleman who was the victim in this case.  It is my prayer that the resolution of this case will bring a sense of peace and consolation to all who have been affected by this tragic situation.”

Mosque controversy the religion story of 2010

The national association of religion journalists, a group I belonged to for many years, has just named the top 10 religion stories of the year.

Can you guess what was number one?

The members of the Religion Newswriters Association chose the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy. I think it’s a reasonable choice. The debate over the proposed Islamic center raised all sorts of questions about Islam’s place in the U.S., almost a decade after 9/11. Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done.

But I don’t get Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious figure behind the Islamic center, being voted religion newsmaker of the year. He hardly said a word until the controversy was white hot. He has done a few TV interviews since, but has still stayed largely out of the limelight.

If you’re talking about newsmakers — people who make the news — I would have chosen the vocal opponents of the Islamic center before the reserved imam.

The other top stories?

Number two was faith-based relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti.

Number three was the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse problems exploding in Ireland and Germany and the pope’s possible role in past decisions made and not made.

Four? Religious voices in the Tea Party movement.

Five: The religious divide over health care reform.

The rest of the top 10: Mainline Protestants continuing to duke it out over sexuality; the recession’s effects on religious life; bullying; Americans’ poor performance on a survey of religious knowledge; and the newly Protestant-free U.S. Supreme Court.

Southern Poverty Law Center calls conservative Christian groups ‘hate groups’

Everybody knows the Southern Poverty Law Center as a venerable promoter and defender of civil rights, taking on the bad guys like white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

But the SPLC has expanded its definition of hate groups to include mainstream Christian groups that the center has deemed “anti-gay.”

In a press release, the center explains: “Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

Groups deemed “hate groups” include the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, conservative evangelical groups that take an aggressive stance against not only calls for gay marriage but the increasingly mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians.

I found out about the SPLC’s stance when I got a press release from Coral Ridge Ministries, another evangelical group that didn’t make the hate list but has been labeled anti-gay by the center. Coral Ridge says, in part: “The SPLC released a report  that misrepresents Christian groups’ positions, ignores inconvenient science and repeats claims based on junk science and adopted by professional guilds that long ago, bullied by homosexual activists, abandoned any pretense of objectivity.”

The Family Research Council responded with this: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is a massively funded liberal organization that operates under a veneer of public justice when, in fact, they seem more interested in fundraising ploys than fighting wrongdoing.”

The Council also published ads in two Washington newspapers attacking the SPLC and the ad was signed by about two dozen members of Congress.

Now the SPLC is on the defensive. It came out with an even stronger statement against the Christian groups and the newspapers ads, which ended with this: “At the end of the day, it’s hard to know if the politicians and other leaders who signed today’s anti-SPLC statement really know some of things the groups they are throwing in with support. What’s a fact is that, despite their claims, the groups have so far, without exception, failed to confront the facts of SPLC’s report.”

And the Culture Wars grow…

Raising difficult questions about Jewish slumlords

Back in the spring, the Village Voice published a series on the worst landlords in New York City.

It’s a topic the Voice has visited many times over the years.

This year, a Conservative rabbi named Jill Jacobs wrote a column for the Forward about an extremely sensitive issue that arose when she read about the worst landlords in the Voice. Why, she wanted to know, were about half the landlords on the list Jewish — and significant figures in ultra-Orthodox communities?

She asked: “Will Jewish organizations continue to accept donations from landlords whose wealth comes at the expense of guaranteeing safe living conditions for their tenants? Will these landlords continue to be accorded positions of honor in their Jewish communities? Or are we finally ready for teshuvah?”

Now the Voice has followed up on this very delicate question by asking a number of Jewish leaders to address the question. The headline is “How Can a Religious Person Justify Being a Slumlord?” The responses make for fascinating reading.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and president of an Orthodox social-justice group, says (in part): “It is a concern for me. There’s injustice coming from every community, but when one publicly portrays their piety, the community naturally holds them to a higher standard. It’s always a concern of mine that ultra-Orthodox Jews are going to get scapegoated. So I think it’s up to us to clean it up, and not for outsiders to point fingers at Jews.”

Isaac Abraham, described as an “unofficial spokesman of Williamsburg’s Satmar Jews to the outside world,” says: “The landlord has to be responsible to provide services. But it gets to a point where a landlord is chasing his own tail. I didn’t create the phrase “Graffiti creates graffiti, vandalism creates vandalism.” Any landlord who doesn’t provide services, he should be hit by the book.”

Shmarya Rosenberg, a former member of Chabad Lubavitch who writes a controversial blog about the Orthodox world called FailedMessiah.com, says: “Once you’re inside the group, there are few crimes you can commit. There are few crimes that anyone can put against you. If the slumlord was doing it to hipsters or Puerto Ricans or blacks, it would be fine. They aren’t going to condemn that person or say he shouldn’t have an aliyah in synagogue or say he shouldn’t be rewarded.”

Joe Levin, an Hasidic Jew and private investigator, says: “I watch the news, and I see these things about these Orthodox guys. This is the nature of some people, screwing around for a little money and embarrassing the whole community. I say to myself, “If you have to do these things, why call yourself a rabbi? Why put this title on yourself? Why do it?” ”

Unfortunately, the public raising of these issues will bring the crazies out of the woodwork, especially on the Web (where so many crazies feel free to be themselves).

I was reading something on Yahoo News the other day about Bernie Madoff’s son committing suicide and half the comments were anti-Semitic rants.

But that is the world in which we live.

Meet a Scientologist

The Church of Scientology seems to have a new PR strategy.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails asking readers to “meet a Scientologist.” Then I can read a brief introduction to an individual and what brought him or her to Scientology.

It turns out that the church has 200 or so profiles on its website, complete with videos.

It’s often been said if a new or little-understood group of people want to be “accepted” by the mainstream, the key is for  people to get to know individuals. I guess the Church of Scientology is taking this tack.

One profile is of 28-year-old Ryan Rieben, a Michigan firefighter, who says he looked into Scientology because all Scientologists he knows are doing well. He says: “I bought a Dianetics book. It made sense. I went to the Church to check it out and I have been involved ever since. I found out that what I suspected was true—Scientology does help you accomplish your goals.”

At the heart of Scientology, founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (that’s him), is “dianetics,” a system of teaching and actions that is supposed to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind.

I also got a release addressing the question of how Scientologists celebrate the holiday season.

It says, in part:


Because the Scientology religion is practiced in 165 countries and territories, Scientologists come from a wide variety of faiths and cultural traditions, so observances of the holidays are as diverse as Scientologists are.

But no matter their religious or cultural tradition, Scientologists observe the holidays in a manner similar to the members of all other religions: they gather with their loved ones, whether they observe Christmas, Chanukah, Yule or Kwanzaa, enjoying the warmth of friends and family and celebrating the joy and love of the season.

No matter their religious or cultural tradition, Scientologists embody the spirit of the season as expressed in the universal message, “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

Scientologists live by a code which includes: “To use the best I know of Scientology to the best of my ability to help my family, friends, groups and the world.” During the holiday season, Scientologists are especially active in this respect, volunteering in a wide range of endeavors to improve the lives of individuals and the community and bring joy to those who may need assistance.

How often do you really attend church?

I haven’t blogged in a few days as, well, I’ve been busy with other things.

I’ve been playing some quick catch-up with things religious and enjoyed a post by my friend Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA TODAY.

She writes about a new study from a U of Michigan researcher about church attendance.

I always wonder about church (and other house of worship) attendance figures. They often seem awfully high, don’t they? (Although my perceptions could be skewed by living in an area where a lot of people don’t attend a house of worship…)

According to Cathy’s blog, Philip Brenner, a University of Michigan research fellow with the Institute for Social Research, has found that “Americans exaggerate their church attendance more than anyone else.”


She then writes: “About 23% of Americans actually do attend church “regularly” (two or three times a month or more) according to time diaries (in which people account for 24 hours of recent activity). But 35% to 45% say they attend regularly when asked on surveys.”

Brenner doesn’t really think that people are lying about how often they go.

He tells Cathy: “When you ask people if they attended church, they hear that question pragmatically. They reflect on their identity as a religious person and they want to honestly report their identity as a religious person.

“So I think they are being honest with how they understand the question: ‘Are you the sort of person who attends religious services?’ is what they think they hear and they say yes.”

If you want to know more — I do — Brenner’s research will be published in Public Opinion Quarterly.