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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Peace on earth, goodwill toward men

In 2021, the traditional angelic greeting of “peace on earth and goodwill to men” is likely to lead to less peace and a lot of ill will. We have become a nation focused on amplifying diversity over building commonality. We have forgotten the necessity of a common language to a healthy culture.

“ ’Twas (almost) the night before Christmas” as this column is written, but the popular secular poem first published in 1823 is no longer a reliable touchstone. Our Christmas canon is as likely to include the Grinch with his heart two sizes too small or Bruce Willis defeating terrorists in “Die Hard” as a benevolent visit from Saint Nicholas. The poem by Clement C. Moore cemented the legend of Santa Claus into American culture. But like Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” faithful Christ followers and cultural Christians alike turn to the Bible and Luke Chapter 2 for the original story.

It can be discouraging when we don’t see the peace on earth proclaimed by angels in Luke 2:14, even within our families. Goodwill sounds like a place for thrift store shopping, instead of “a kind, helpful, or friendly feeling or attitude,” according to Merriam Webster. And wishing goodwill to men? Now we no longer agree on definitions of man and woman. One tribe leans on biology and physical reality, the other on cultural stereotypes and emotional perception. Old arguments by early feminists about the linguistic usage of men to mean all of mankind, both male and female, seem quaint by comparison.

We are losing a common language on which to build our country. Organizations have scrambled to adopt “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) statements, yet we have no universally accepted definitions for the words.

From the left, diversity reflexively means race-based differences, categories defined on shaky ground by 18th-century science and updated in the 20th century – albeit no less subjectively. Science updated the list in 1962, defining the four races as Caucasian, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. In the 21st century we officially use Black and white (with an intentionally lower-case “w” for de-emphasis), BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, vaguely exclusively inclusive), AAPI (Asian American & Pacific Islander, for those apparently not colorful enough to be BIPOC or pale enough to be white) and Hispanic (a language group potentially crossing all other categories).

Whatever. Science now confirms there is only one race, the human race. The National Human Genome Research Institute of the NIH agrees, saying “at the base-pair level your genome is 99.9% the same as all of the humans around you – but in that 0.1% difference are many of the things that make you unique.” The number of Americans choosing more than one category grew by 127% in the 2010 census as more Americans embrace the latest science.

Official diversity definitions in DEI statements focus on the old superficial “racial” differences. Family of origin, birth order, your sex and how you live it, adverse and positive childhood experiences, geography, education, travel, vocation, faith, language, culture, political philosophy and whether your personal genome gives you a tendency to optimism or pessimism all contribute far more to meaningful diversity than the old racial categories alone.

We even have trouble agreeing on metrics. Do we measure equity by equal opportunity, or expect equal outcomes? And inclusion too often means exclusion when multicultural becomes code for “anything but white,” as two immigrant students with pale skin found out when trying to use the EWU Multicultural Center.

It’s as if we’ve slipped back decades to the old Brown Paper Bag Test once used within the African American community to judge who was worthy of admittance to the upper echelons of Black society. Only now darker is better than lighter, and victimhood prized over perseverance and success.

It’s not the way to finding commonality.

The United States of America was founded as a culturally Christian nation with English as a common language, but has always included people of no faith and many faiths, speaking many languages. We are held together by our common heritage, the mistakes and the triumphs. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and that by men we mean all of humankind.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We wish for peace on earth, meaning more than just the absence of armed conflict but a peace that passes understanding. We wish this with a kind and friendly feeling and a benevolent attitude to all.

Or as Saint Nicholas says according to Moore as his sleigh flies out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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