Is Judaism Compatible with American Civil Religion? The Problem of Christmas and the 'National Faith'

By Jonathan D. Sarna

University of Illinois Press, 1990

This paper examines the "Christmas problem" through the eyes of the nation's largest non-Christian religious body, the Jews. It first sets out the problem, and argues, based on evidence from the American celebration of Christmas, that American civil religion, at least on this one day of the year, is far more unabashedly Christian than generally conceded. It then moves on to trace the various ways that Jews as a minority religious group have responded to the position they find themselves in on Christmas, and explains why none of these responses have succeeded. Finally, it turns to recent legal dashes over public expressions of Christmas-expressions which some view as manifestations of American civil religion but which Jews see as overt Christianity-paying particular attention to the recent Supreme Court decision in Lynch v. Donnelly, where the Justices attempted to resolve some of the unique dilemmas that Christmas poses. Seen from the perspective to be established here, the Christmas problem" of American Jews casts into bold relief concerns central to any proper understanding of American religion, First, it, recovers for renewed consideration some of the dilemmas faced by minority faiths in a majority Christian culture. Second, it demands substantial rethinking of what of what civil religion means and how inclusive it is of non-Christians. Finally, it raises in yet another setting three related, ongoing, and irresolvable tensions woven into the fabric of American life: church versus state, national unity versus religious diversity and minority rule versus minority rights.

Topic: Jewish-Christian Relations, Religion and State, Christianity, Tolerance, Law, Holidays, Religion, Diversity

Name of Publication: Religion and the Life of the Nation

Editor: Sherrill, Rowland A.

Page Number(s): 154-173

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Genre: Book Chapter

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Sarna, Jonathan D. Is Judaism Compatible with American Civil Religion? The Problem of Christmas and the 'National Faith'. Religion and the Life of the Nation. University of Illinois Press. 1990: 154-173.


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