As I write these words we’re several weeks away from Thanksgiving, but the “Christmas Wars” have already begun. The first salvo was fired at Starbucks Coffee.
Joshua Feuerstein—a self-described “American evangelist, Internet, and social media personality”—rages in a widely-seen video against “the age of political correctness” and the new seasonal coffee cups at Starbucks. What’s the issue? The cups are all red (with the Starbucks logo in green)....no snowmen, no snowflakes, no manger scenes, no Christmas trees. This is, apparently. anathema to the likes of Joshua Feuerstein, who accuses Starbucks of engaging in the "war on Christmas".
In a salient essay in The Atlantic Monthly on this issue, Emma Green writes:
“There are many, many ways in which the erosion of an American Christian mono-culture has created fascinating, difficult challenges for Christians. [...] But coffee cups are not one of them. Rhetorical bluster about coffee cups distracts from the real, difficult questions of religious liberty and freedom of expression—including workplace hiring and discrimination, wedding-vendor services, or contraception insurance—and diminishes the seriousness of those questions by association. Feuerstein’s challenge to “all great Americans and Christians around this great nation” to “take your own coffee selfie” is a silly social-media campaign. This is a situation all but defined by choices and freedom: the choice to buy coffee from Starbucks, the choice to facetiously trick baristas into saying something that aligns with Christian cultural preferences, even the choice to speak out against the company on social media. Coffee-cup outrage is flimsy when paired with real conflicts of conscience that have led to years-long lawsuits and businesses shutting down and significant public protests—and it is shameful in light of the violent persecution of Christians around the world.”
As Jews around the world prepare to light the first Chanukah candle on Sunday evening, December 6th, we would do well to remember that at the very core of the Chanukah story lies a bloody and determined battle for the right to worship as we deem fit. Despite the sad history of the Hashmonean dynasty that descended from the Maccabees and which sought to suppress religious diversity, we do not embrace a religious vision that calls upon us to impose our beliefs--or our dreidel-laden coffee-cups-- on our neighbors....and it is not “politically correct” to expect of our neighbors an understanding that American culture is polyglot and religiously diverse.
So, as we drift deeper into the “holiday season”, I will lift my seasonal-red Starbucks cup in a toast to “political correctness’....as beautifully defined by the writer Neil Gaiman:
“I was reading a book [...] yesterday which included the phrase ‘In these days of political correctness…’ talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the color of their skin. And I thought, ‘That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.’
Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.
You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.
I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking ‘Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!’”