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What have we in common? - R.H. Joseph

Because Thanksgiving is upon us I'm following Thumper's mom's dictum: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

(Don't think I've gone all mushy on you; I'm just pausing to reload.)

Despite what you may think, I love the Christmas season. Not the one that already started so retailers could sell you stuff by weakening your resistance with evocations of the heart-felt "good tidings for all." I'm talking about the one that starts after Thanksgiving.

For example, I find irresistible the pageantry and incarnate glory of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that is broadcast from Westminster Cathedral.

It may surprise you to know that aside from "The Little Drummer Boy" I love virtually all the music of Christmas, having been raised during the period when we sung it in school. (Don't tell anyone but even this curmudgeon has warm and fuzzy moments.)

I don't have a problem with singing Christmas songs in school because to appreciate the religious experience as an integral facet of human existence is to enjoy its veritably infinite cultural manifestations. Every culture celebrates Mystery, each in its own way.

Though I have been referred to as a "secular humanist" I consider myself first and foremost informed by spirituality. (I'm not sure what a secular humanist is but considering who it is that hates them it must be a good thing.) It is the wonder of the universal experience of the ineffable, the holy, that is acknowledged throughout time and across the globe.

A manifestation of this, the lovely songs celebrating Christian mythology, should be welcomed in our schools when presented in a contextual fashion. It is important for our children to appreciate how all cultures acknowledge and celebrate human spirituality.

When it comes to music of the season, as an aficionado of the refined I am particularly drawn to the glorious liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church, though my appreciation of this institution's musical tradition is not limited to works particularly related to Christmas.

As the Church called upon the greatest painters and sculptors of each generation to contribute to its visual evocations of Christian mythology, so did it command the great composers to further inspire its flock through an immersion in majestic invocations to the divine.

For those such as I, freed from the constraints of religious fidelity, life is all the more joyous for incorporating humanity's manifold and ever-glorious celebrations of this universal human acknowledgement of the transcendent.

As the divine is not burdened by religious allegiance (despite what you may have heard), so may you be. You need not be a Roman Catholic to appreciate and be transported by the paintings and sculpture of Donatello or the music of Monteverdi.

Therefore I would be thankful if our schools taught the manifold creation myths of the world's other cultures and the words to these various culture's songs sung in acknowledgement of the mystery and miracle of life. Our children should be informed of the diversity of religious expression rather than limited by the narrowest of cultural visions.

Is such a desire reflective of a wish to educate or to inculcate? It is fascinating to observe how those entering university flock to comparative religion courses and philosophy of religion courses, so hungry are they for a first look at the spiritual world they had been hitherto denied.

Is the human relationship to the divine one of words or is the knowledge primordial, preceding and transcending articulation?

If, as I maintain, truth is universal, the essence of human experience, then why do we deny our children access to the breadth of human religious expression in their schools?

I do not have a problem with singing Christmas carols in school when such songs are understood to be one particular group's paean to the universality of truth.

As a fervent adherent of Thumper's mom's advice (I'll get over this soon) I will only say you can guess the circumstances that could so easily shatter this acknowledgement of the commonality of humanity, the universality of human spirituality.

When we celebrate the secular holiday currently upon us let us ask whether we are thankful for the food some of us have or for something far more grand.

I suggest the joy at the core of humanity springs from the intimate awareness of precisely that which too many seek to deny.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.