Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saint Monica would be weeping all over again. And I wouldn't blame her.

Let’s start today’s incrankulous thoughts with some context, shall we?

From Santa
1769: Father Juan Crespi -- a Franciscan in Gaspar de Portola’s expedition party -- inspired by a free-flowing natural spring names the area after Saint Monica, who wept for her wayward son.
“The city of Santa Monica's story began when a Franciscan monk, inspired by the region's natural springs, named the area after Saint Monica. The rest, as they say, is history, and a rich history at that.” Ho Nguyen - Santa Monica Historical Society

From The Catholic Encyclopedia and, and I’m absolutely paraphrasing here; the prose the sites offer is much more complete and sober. But this is a blog, after all:

Turns out, St. Monica (b. 333) was a never-say-die kind of woman. The kind who refused to give up, no matter the circumstances. She and her husband, Patricius, had two sons, Navigius and Augustine, and a daughter, Perpetua. Old Pat, he was a pagan, an explosive man who wasn’t a complete joy let’s just say. Oh, he also despised Christians. As a bonus for Monica, her mother-in-law was not unlike her son in temperament. For thirty years, (that’s three zero) Monica lived with this tyrant/husband, always praying for his conversion.

Her example and piety finally prevailed. Patricius eventually converted to the faith, then up and died a year later.

Monica, not unlike other widows, said, “Never again” regarding marriage and moved in with her son Augustine in Italy. Now Augustine, being extremely bright and a young man of a certain age, had abandoned the faith of his youth and “subscribed to Manichaeism.” (Nope, of course I didn't know what that was either. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Manichaeism is a religion founded by the Persian Mani in the latter half of the third century. It purported to be the true synthesis of all the religious systems then known, and actually consisted of Zoroastrian Dualism, Babylonian folklore, Buddhist ethics, and some small and superficial additions of Christian elements. The theory of two eternal principles, good and evil is predominant and gives color to the whole. Manichæism is classified as a form of religious Dualism.)

So there was Monica. Devout, but sadly tormented. First by a husband who treated her like crap for thirty years before he turned over a new leaf, largely as a result of her never losing faith in him and the man he could become. Then by a son who turned to the new age religion of the day while away at school, and eventually moved in with his mistress, disappointing her in a different way.

Like any mother would, she tried to find help for him. When the Bishop himself intervened but struck out, he basically told Monica, “Sorry, he’s pretty stubborn. You better just keep praying.” More on the record, he encouraged her by saying something like, “It is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.” Much more poetic, right?

So she did. She prayed and never gave up, and just seventeen short years later, it paid off. Augustine was baptized at the age of 28, and went on to become a priest.
When Monica died at the age of 56, Augustine had returned to the faith and her daughter had become a nun. (No word on Navigius. He may have been the boring but faithful son who never got headlines.)

Why this walk down St. Monica lane today? Because of the story in the news about the atheist group in Santa Monica that has prevailed this year and gained exposure for their philosophy this Winter Solstice Season in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park. Through a city lottery, they earned 18 of the 21 plots available to city groups for seasonal displays. The remaining three spots contain one Jewish display and two Christian ones.

Truthfully, none of this makes sense to me because it would appear that for at least 45 weeks a year, the Jewish and Christian groups in and around Santa Monica don’t angle for space to display scenes or symbols of their beliefs. The idea of offering space to them at this time of year makes sense to me but I’m not an atheist. In fact, I’m even going to allow that if I were, it might bug me to see enormous displays of something I believed to be fantasy on public display.

But here’s the part of the story that made me insane. According to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, “[Christmas displays are] littering – literally littering – these spaces…[and are a] territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season. That creates an atmosphere of intimidation. Christians are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider.”

Well…yeah. If you’re not a Christian, Christmas decorations and celebrations are irrelevant, and yes, possibly offensive, to you as an observer, although ‘imposing beliefs’ sounds a bit much to me.

In fact, it’s possible the displays feel not unlike the billboard from that feature images of Poseidon, Jesus, and Santa Claus and labels them all as mythical figures. Wouldn't the same standards apply here? One could say “it is a territorial attempt by atheists to impose their beliefs in this season. That creates an atmosphere of intimidation. Atheists are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider.” The billboard might very well offend Christians, or followers of ancient Greek religion for that matter.

We could go back and forth all day here so I'll move onto this: The other insane moment in the article I read was courtesy of Santa Monica atheist, Damon Vix. He remarked that the display “defines Santa Monica as a Christian city, and I feel excluded by that.” That’s unfortunate but at least his feelings are confined to the Christmas season.

Or are they? If he wants to feel excluded 52-weeks a year, I would respectfully direct Mr. Vix to, where he can stop on the history page. The city itself welcomes visitors to the site with references to a Franciscan monk and a Christian saint. Maybe the local atheists should leave the Hanukkah display and Christmas tableau alone and contact the city webmaster if they have a problem with the town, its tolerance of religion and its presence in their lives. I think their concerns go back almost 250 years.

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