Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Praying in Public

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

There’s a new religious war being waged upstate. This one concerns prayer at town board meetings.

I used to think that the people who brought the inevitable court actions to outlaw public prayer or ban the display of Christmas trees on public property had too much time on their hands.

What was the big deal? I thought. Christmas is a happy holiday that’s close to the hearts of the majority of Americans. And if we want to get technical, we should remember that aside from its religious importance, Christmas also happens to be a national holiday. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. Anyway, trees are one thing, but I admit I had second thoughts about the appearance of crèches on public lawns, but managed to get over them.

It made no sense to me that the argument was about a Scotch pine trimmed with colored balls and an angel. Would placing this tree on public property bring down the republic? Not when you remember that witnesses in court use a bible to swear they will be truthful, that the House and Senate open their sessions with prayers, that it’s a Bible our presidents touch as they’re sworn into office.

I’ve been at the receiving end of unrequested religion. In my grade school, we were forced to listen to Christmas carols. I survived. But somewhere in the last several decades I changed my mind and believe absolutely that religion belongs in houses of worship and in the human heart, not in places owned by the public and certainly not in schools filled with young minds but possessing no power to object.

In the Fifties, I attended P. S. 33 in Bellerose, a heavily Christian neighborhood in Eastern Queens. Every year during the 10 days leading up to Christmas, the glee club would parade slowly through the corridors singing carols, ranging from the innocuous, such as “Jingle Bells” to the significant, such as “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

As the singers came, we were herded into the halls to listen. We were allowed to sing along, which I did. I liked the music although I was confused about this business about “born is the king of Israel.”

No one at P.S. 33 ever tried to convert me, no one ever questioned my religion, and no one ever suggested I be barred from the class Christmas party. Similarly, of course, no teacher ever wished me a happy Hanukkah, and if any of the mothers of the Jewish kids ever offered to make potato pancakes and tell the story of Hanukkah, I didn’t know about it.

I still like Christmas carols and the old spirit of the holiday, but there’s no question that years ago in Bellerose, I attended a school that put the First Amendment on its ear by officially establishing a religion. It was a terrible thing to do to a class of kids, but I didn’t get it then.

In the newest case, the governing board of the Town of Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, started in 1999 to open its meetings with a prayer. The town has answered critics with the argument that you don’t have to be a Christian to lead the prayer. In fact, The Times reported, anyone, even an atheist, could say the opening prayer. Where you’re going to find an atheist to lead a prayer is beyond me.

But I think the very use of official time, to accommodate a prayer is, in fact, what the founders had in mind when they cautioned: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

I think the prayer and its defense are not quite as benign as the Town of Greece would have us believe. “Establishment” of an official religion doesn’t have to be done with a gun to your head. It can be an arm of local government informing you that what’s needed for the Town Board to do its business is a word or two from God. And it can be an invitation to wait outside in the lobby if you’re offended by an officially sanctioned prayer service.

No question that what they did in Greece was to establish and exclude in one fell swoop. Two townswomen challenged the Town Board prayers, and were upheld by a federal appellate court, which found that few prayers in Greece were led by anyone but Christians, and that, as reported by The Times, “roughly two-thirds contained references to ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Jesus,’ ‘your son,’ or ‘the holy spirit.’”

The case is now headed to the Supreme Court where, on the day of the arguments, the court’s marshal will intone: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

The Modern Greek Tragedy: Chilling

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Greece's deus ex machina has been turned off.

By Bob Gaydos

It has been quite a while since what happens in Greece has mattered in a grand-scheme-of-things sort of way. Heck, it’s been a couple of millennia, give or take a few hundred years here and there, since the birthplace of democracy has had superpower status. For a very long time, Greece has muddled through, more or less contentedly, on grapes and wine and nostalgia for its days of glory.

But apparently even classical ruins and beautiful Mediterranean scenery aren’t sufficient to keep tourists and history buffs visiting Greece often enough to offset the reality that when hardly anybody pays taxes, the stage is set for more ruins — and these won’t be anywhere near as architecturally meaningful as the ones the world has come to know and love.

Greece today is a mess. A train wreck. It is a country on the verge of a financial meltdown and almost nobody — even other European countries who are its partners in the Eurozone — is saying it’s too big too fail. The deus ex machina that has come to its rescue before is on the verge of being turned off. Olympus is on hiatus.

“And so what?” we say in our typical American way. “I can still get baklava.”

Perhaps, but what if the baklava factory (just go with the metaphor) goes belly up? And what’s a Greek salad without feta cheese? And, for the sake of serious argument, what about the Greeks themselves, especially the ones most vulnerable to a total economic collapse? That would be older Greeks, who face sizable cuts in their pensions and a serious lack of health care resources and the youngest, the ones who see no future in their country because the grownups have made a mess of it.

If you see some parallels with the situation in the United States today, you see where I’m going. But the threat goes beyond older folks having to tighten their belts and younger folks having to face an uncertain future. The threat — and the lesson for Americans — lies in what many members of those disaffected groups did recently when Greeks elected a new government.

They went nuts.

Sunday, Greek voters rejected what for them are centrist parties — those whose leaders had agreed to a rigid fiscal bailout plan with Greece’s creditors — in favor of, well, no party. Worse, in the parliamentary system with representatives of many political parties running, Greeks gave 15 percent of the seats in the Hellenic Parliament to communists and neo-Nazis, split pretty much evenly. Somehow, the two rejected political philosophies that clashed in Word War II are now expected to work together and with others to save Greece. Herodotus must be rolling in his grave.

The neo-Nazis, known as the Golden Dawn Party, are by far the scarier proposition because they believe what they believe fanatically. They do not believe the Holocaust happened. They do advocate placing land mines at Greece’s border to keep out immigrants. They have threatened reporters who wrote honestly about their meetings, their Nazi salutes, their swastika-like flag, their selling of Mein Kampf, their suspected links with the Greek secret service and police and the fact that they demanded reporters in the room stand up when their party leader entered.

Yes, we have communists and neo-Nazis in America, but these days, even with our fractured political system, they almost never get elected to public office. On Sunday, many Greeks didn’t seem to care who was elected. Many of them are still upset about waiting until 65 to retire and paying taxes. No party came close to a majority, leaving the government in chaos as different groups try to form coalitions.

Significantly, the votes for communists and neo-Nazis came heavily from the old and the young. The fearful and the fed up. The young, especially, having little sense of what Nazis, neo or otherwise, really stand for, seem to have decided that since the adults messed it up, it doesn’t matter who is in charge.

But it does. In every country.

On a less-frightening scale for now, one of America’s two major parties is finding out what happens when mainstream citizens, middle-of-the-road Americans, the people who pay their taxes and form a community, stop paying attention to who runs for office and don’t bother to vote. The angry and fearful go from being loud nuisances to taking over. They dominate the political debate. They run for office. They reject any thought of working with members of other parties and they threaten those in their party who don’t always agree with them with retribution — well-financed campaigns to drive them out of office.

They also occasionally make outrageous claims that go unchallenged — for example, that some 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives are actually members of the Communist Party.

Some might say this is a bridge too far, that what happened in Greece could never happen in the United States. I truly hope that is the case. But it has also been said by wiser men and women than I that the only thing necessary for the voices of fear and intolerance to succeed is for the voices of hope and reason to remain mute. I would add, and to discard their vote.