As fate would have it, the very first holiday card to show up in my mailbox was from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of which I am a devoted member and fan. It carried the witty and timely message, "Reason's Greetings." Now more than ever! Just think of the damage religious mania (combined, as it tends to be, with nationalism and patriarchy) has wrought around the globe this year, the first of the new millennium–the World Trade Center attack, the Taliban, suicide bombers in Israel versus yet more settlements on the West Bank. And that's not even mentioning our own home-grown fanatics, like the recently apprehended fugitive Clayton Lee Waagner, who threatened to murder forty-two abortion clinic workers and who is the main suspect in some 550 anthrax-hoax letters to clinics, or the mainstreaming of conservative religious views, as in the explosion of abstinence-only sex education and theologically motivated restrictions on stem-cell research.
I've never been one for the hundred-dollar Christmas promoted by Bill McKibben–gee, thanks for the socks! and is that genuine New York City tap water in that cleverly decorated old Thunderbird bottle? Too depressing. Norah Vincent, the right-wing columnist, took McKibben to task in Salon a few years ago for advocating holiday frugality: Why, the whole economy would collapse, she argued, if Americans didn't get out there and buy buy buy. This year everyone from George W. Bush on down is urging us to shop till we drop, or the terrorists will have won. But you can please both Bill and Norah, enjoy the contrasting pleasures of spending and self-denial, do good and still get that holiday buzz from standing in long lines in a too-hot coat while carrying too many things: Simply buy stuff for needy organizations that help people instead of for your overindulged relatives, friends and yourself. For example, visit your local independent bookstore while it still exists and pick up a few paperbacks for Books Through Bars (see www.booksthroughbars.org for a drop-off location near you; or send donations to Books Through Bars NYC, c/o Bluestockings Books, 172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002). No travel guides or romances please, and no hardcovers–choose dictionaries, fiction by people of color, science, non-US history. Or help battered New York City, where the mayor proposes deep budget cuts for schools and libraries, by giving new children's books to public schools through PENCIL (c/o Ben Iglesias, New York City Board of Education, 44-36 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101).
Shopping aside, this is the year to use your holiday donations to take a stand for secularism and against all churches (and synagogues and mosques) militant. If you don't already belong to the the aforementioned Freedom From Religion Foundation (PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701; www.ffrf.org), now's the moment to sign up: The foundation is fearless, tireless and clever in supporting separation of church and state and opposing the increasingly bold power moves of the godly. If it sticks in your craw that evangelical seminarians are teaching the Bible as "truth" in Tennessee public schools, support the group that's trying to stop them.
With Christian fundamentalist churches on a jihad against reproductive freedom for women, don't forget The National Network of Abortion Funds (c/o CLPP, Hampshire College, Amherst MA 01002; www.nnaf.org), an umbrella organization of state and local funds that finance abortions for poor women. Help from the NNAF can mean the difference between sickness and health, unemployment and college, staying in an abusive relationship or starting a new life–or even life and death.