Re: Religious symbols and policies
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2013 14:58:11 -0700 (PDT)
Our mosaic commons policy about decorations for religious holiday decorations 
is here:

This topic, in my mind, is one of the examples of where some of us imagined 
co-housing to be much more radical than it really is. For example some imagine 
there wouldn't be any non-environmentally protective behaviors, but it turns 
out we are pretty ordinary in our environmentalism. Some imagine we'd be pretty 
diverse in our communities, but it turns out we are pretty ordinary in our 
diversity approaches. Some imagine that we'd be pretty inclusive of different 
classes, but it turns out we are pretty ordinary in our middle class focused 
That is, we want all of these things, and we really work on them, but we aren't 
really going out very far from the middle-of-folk-who-support such things. 

I wanted very much to be a community that would stand up against the presumed 
Christianity (in culture at least, but really I think even in the outlines of 
belief) of our US social environment. With that in mind, I helped craft a 
policy that says we will not privilege Christian holidays with decorations in 
the common spaces.

The reality, however, is that we do privilege the Christian holidays in that 
they are the only religious holidays that we decorate for. The fact is that no 
one who celebrates other holidays in our community decorates the common spaces 
for those holidays. (For my own responsibility here, I'm not much of a 
decorator at home OR in the common spaces. So I don't make what I want to 
happen, happen, either.)

In general I find that discussing an issue, rather than necessarily making a 
policy, will open people to the views of others and to some sympathy for others.

But my experience in our community is that the two* of us who are opposed to 
having common spaces with public displays of Christian holidays--and no other 
decorations for any other religious holidays--are simply ridiculed for our 
opinions about the role of oppression in this context. (In kind and loving ways 
of course).

(*if others agree they haven't spoken up. Not that I blame them! I wonder why I 
do when I do, and why I don't when I don't.)

The worst for me is that many privately share with me how awful that Christmas 
isn't decorated more fully and that we have a policy limiting that 
celebration....and they blame that on the other person with that view. They 
presume that as a Christian I would be in favor of more Christian decorations...

And even after I tell an individual that I am opposed to even the decorations 
we have (because we don't decorate for any other religious holidays) they 
still, later, again presume that I am being hurt by the restrictions on my 
holiday. It is hard for people to hear that restrictions on Christian symbolism 
might be a good thing.
Obviously, I don't do a good job of communicating the way buying into Christian 
privilege isn't, in my view, good for our community, good for the world, and 
even isn't good for Christians.

As a practical matter, for the folk who who say "Christmas trees are pagan 
symbols" I'd suggest that they be put up from Dec 20 to 22, around the pagan 
holiday at that time. And be decorated for that tradition.

The issue is complicated by Christmas being a US holiday. Which of course I 
take issue with as well!!

When I joined cohousing I imagined that we'd be anti-oppression in a radical 
way. In my experience that is simply not true.

I love living in cohousing. I won't move. I mostly don't whine!

And I've faced the reality that I need other groups to be world changing forces 
that I long for. I imagine many of us have done that around whichever issue 
we've found co-housing to be remarkably, middle-left-lane of the road.

(The Rev.) Elizabeth M. Magill in Berlin, MA

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