Happy Tossed-Salad Days
December 21, 2002
by Peter J. Pitts
Is it appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” to your Jewish colleagues? If you’re Jewish, should you return the salutation with a joyous “Happy Hanukkah?”
The answers to these annual seasonal conundrums are actually quite simple. (The answer to the first question is “yes,” and to the second it’s “yes” as well—but not on Day Nine or thereafter.) However, the questions themselves speak to a larger cultural condition in modern America.
Until the advent of cultural political-correctness, grade-school students were taught that America was a wonderful “melting pot.” And that image was regularly reinforced by our coinage’s statement of E Pluribus Unum: from many, one. But as “cultural diversity” (previously referred to more negatively as “hyphenated Americanism”) gained momentum, the melting pot became a symbol of aggressive White Anglo-Saxon supremacy. So it was goodbye to the pot and hello to the “salad bowl,” or “tossed salad” theory of American culture.
Rather than defining our national culture as a savory blend, the American tossed-salad idea celebrates equally our many discrete ethnic and religious traditions—including some that aren’t even real and others that aren’t particularly relevant. But there can be many things in a salad, of course, some that add to the taste and others that merely add luster to the presentation.
So while “Happy Hanukkah” versus “Merry Christmas” is an important distinction, it’s crucial that we not miss the bigger question of the importance of religion in America. If it is important to celebrate our many ethnic traditions, as the tossed-salad advocates claim, then it stands to reason that we should similarly solemnize our multiple religious traditions.
However, the same folks who worship at the altar of cultural diversity are the people who loudly decry what they see as a “slippery slope” towards the erosion of the different functions of church and state. For this group, federally funded academic programs that promote “multiculturalism” are good—but allowing faith-based organizations to receive tax dollars to provide social services is bad.
The dogma of tossed-saladism preaches that it’s appropriate (indeed mandatory!) for public funds to be spent on multicultural education in public schools and “diversity training” programs for public sector employees. But heaven forbid (or perhaps it would be more acceptable to say “after-life” forbid) that not-for-profit organizations that feature the Cross, Crescent, or Star of David receive government monies to help feed the poor, minister to the sick, or provide social services of any kind to those in need. That’s grounds for excommunication and the cancellation of your subscription to The Nation. The multiculturalists apparently believe that while it’s important to learn about and respect the ingredients of the salad, one is guaranteed to get indigestion (and perhaps food poisoning) should the state cede any of its authority to a non-agnostic sous-chef.
So God bless the president’s courage, in the face of this opposition, in issuing an executive order empowering his faith-based initiative—because when your child is hungry, it matters not who’s serving the hot meal.
That is the real spirit of the holidays, and of America.
Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Hudson Institute.
Peter J. Pitts is a senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Communications and an adjunct professor at the School for Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
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