One of the finest examples of grudging respect, emphasis on the grudging, in a long time came last week in a video of holiday greetings from Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative leader, Brian Pallister:
I wanted to wish everyone a really, really Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah … all you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also. I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season. I myself, celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you want to celebrate nothing, and just get together with friends, that’s good, too. All the best.
All the best, indeed. It rather makes you wonder if somebody triple-dog dared Mr. Pallister, and if his comments are the adult version of the classic flagpole licking.
At the risk of being redundant, I should mention, for any non-Canadians reading, 1. Progressive Conservative doesn’t actually mean that a conservative is progressive, and 2. PC is the abbreviation for Progressive Conservative and not politically correct.
So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Pallister was surprised to learn that a number of people were dismayed with his choice of words. He says he understood “infidel” to mean someone without religion; however, it tends to be more commonly defined, by the Oxford English Dictionary and others, as “a person who does not believe in a religion that someone regards as the true religion”. A critical distinction.
In light of the general dismay, Mr. Pallister said he didn’t mean to offend anyone, but didn’t actually apologize for giving offense:
I just ask that people in Manitoba … forgive me at this time of year if they think that I have stepped on their toes, but I sincerely just meant to include everyone in my best wishes. That’s all.
He also said he believes his comment was “torqued” by political opponents. The good news, however, evident to anyone who watches the video, is that the only torquing was done by Mr. Pallister himself. The PC leader also said he doesn’t regret using the term “infidel atheists”, but rather “regret(s) any time there is a reaction like this.” It goes without saying that the way to avoid such regret, and reactions, in the future is to keep one’s mouth closed whenever one’s wayward foot starts to wander.
Speaking of Christmas movies, one of my favorites is “The Bishop’s Wife”, with David Niven as the bishop, Loretta Young as the wife, Cary Grant as the suave and swoony angel, and some top-notch writing. That’s because the original book was written by author and poet Robert Nathan, a Sephardic Jew as it happens, and screenwriters Leonardo Bercovici and Robert Sherwood (a speechwriter for FDR and Pulitzer Prize winner). One of their gems is the Bishop’s sermon at the movie’s conclusion,
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled… all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most… and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
Which is so beautifully and elegantly conveyed that it can move even some infidel atheists. Because what most of us are celebrating at this time of year, no matter what we believe, is loving kindness, warm hands, tolerance, and peace on earth.
It’s all enough to make one hope that Mr. Pallister finds a good speechwriter, rather than a lump of coal, in his stocking on Christmas morning.