What is the worst crime?

Depends on what you mean by worst.

If it means what most of it think it means—individual agony and suffering—then the culprits for worst are obvious: murder, torture and other bodily degradations. We needn’t go over the list because it’s too depressing.

But if we mean by worst “that which a multitude of people in their daily lives see as pervasive behavior in others”; that is, the crime that is committed most often, then our list whittles down to just one thing: offending.

Yes, offending, but not physically harming, some person or group of persons is the worst crime a person can commit in the sense that more people will condemn this crime than will condemn the more traditionally-defined worst crimes. Just ask those in line to see the movie Che if this isn’t so (“But Che only murdered people because he had solid leftist credentials!”)

Those who commit “offending” are more likely to feel the publics’ and press’ outrage and vilification. “Offenders” are more likely to be shunned. Too, people see evidence of offending everywhere.

For just one of very many examples—I’m sure we’ll revisit this topic often (remind me of “micro-racism” if I forget)—we have this story from Mother England.

“Salvation Army collectors have been told not to rattle their tins as it could be construed as religious harassment.” One volunteer “said she had been told it might also offend other religions.” The horror!

Why are they rattling their tins in the first place? To gather money for a good cause, of course, tapping into people’s enhanced sense of generosity during the “holiday” season.

What is the “holiday” that might cause the dreaded offense? It’s mentioned everywhere. Stores bedecked with colorful lights and ornaments make a point of telling their customers “Happy Holiday.” Yesterday, I received a card in the mail from a friend with a fir tree on its cover (not, as Ray points out, a “fur” tree). It also had the words “Happy Holiday.” In New York City, where I live, in Rockefeller Center stands an enormous “holiday” tree for all to see.

There are some clues to this mystery. However, I’ll spare you full details, and tell you that I figured it out by going to Pandora.com, which has a music channel called “Jazz Holiday.” On it, they play nothing but…Christmas music!

I should have guessed, of course. As we all know, use of this new “C” word is likely to bring condemnation and worried and disapproving looks from those within earshot of its utterer, in the same way that use of the other “c” word would now not.

Beyond the standard, probably correct, theories of cultural suicide that we hear about, I have nothing to offer on why the “C” word is now thought to be offensive. Thinking about it is as depressing as thinking of worst crimes.

But Merry Christmas to all; especially if it offends you, Merry Christmas.


  1. Ray

    “Yesterday, I received a card in the mail from a friend with a fur tree on its cover.”

    Where do you get one of those fur trees? Do they shed all over the house like a dog?

  2. Briggs


    They’re wild and have to be hunted down, shot, and gutted before they can be mounted.

  3. Rich

    As a commenter on the original story said, charity collectors have been told for years not rattle tins or do anything else “aggressive”. It’s never been anything to do with religion and I would suspect that the religious aspect was introduced when some wag said, “I suppose it offends other religions”.

    I have some sympathy with the guidelines. I was walking through london once when a young woman collecting for the NSPCC thrust herself in front of me (no, really) and said, “Excuse me sir, do you want to stop child abuse?” I just gave her the hard stare I learned from Paddington Bear.


  4. Ari

    I suppose I’ll offer my perspective as a non-Christian living in a Christmas celebrating country.

    I don’t, on the whole, really care that much about this whole “War on Christmas”. On the one hand, I think Christmas is a very nice holiday, and I am a bit taken in by the whole “Christmas experience” (can’t think of a better way to put it.) I’m also not offended by people telling me to “have a merry Christmas.” I don’t go out of my way to take part in the whole thing– after all, I’ve got 8 GLOBAL WARMING CAUSING CANDLES to light– but it’s still a nice season.

    And I love the food.

    On the other hand, however, I will admit that I personally prefer the phrase “Happy Holidays.” This is just personal preference, and I am by no means going to impose this upon anyone. Want to wish me a merry Christmas? Sure thing! I will graciously accept this gesture. Want to wish me a happy holiday season (or some variation thereof), great! Same thing. I don’t wear a yarmulke or any overt display of my Jewishness, so I certainly can’t hold it against someone for not realizing that I’m part of the Menorah Caucus.

    As always, I think the key is moderation– oh how Ben Franklin would stress this, I think. Is it good business for Sak’s to say Happy Holidays? You bet. For better or for worse, us Jewish shoppers are good for business, and we’re best kept happy. Or something like that. Then again, a “holiday tree” just reeks of stupid political correctness. I’m not stupid enough– nor sensitive enough– to believe that a name change all of a sudden makes it into something else.

    If it looks like a Christmas tree, and lights up like a Christmas tree…

  5. JA

    But what about micro-racism?

  6. JA

    I only ask because I might be either a perpetrator or a victim. Should I feel remorseful or outraged? What a dilemma!

  7. Ari


    Is micro-racism bigotry aimed at midgets?

  8. Joy

    I think Sir needs some mistletoe! He’s a little Grumpy. X

    Hope you bought big matches too. That’s a lovely attitude. I grew up in Newbury Park, a mile from Gants Hill in Essex. They used to say that this was the largest Jewish community after New York. None of my friends’ parents were ever offended by all the Christmas gubbins. Gants Hill is not the same now though- different people.

    The warmest welcome I had on arriving at Paddington station was the sound of the Salvation Army playing Carols. This sort of thing will never stop because they are the Salvation Army. That’s what they’re about. Try and keep them down and they’ll play louder.

    Red Ken, who has gladly been sent back under his stone, tried to stop the black cabbies from flying the George Cross during one of the world sporting events. I think all this did was to raise awareness in England especially, that our very own flag is now considered offensive to some strangers.
    When I lived in London, I therefore flew a six-foot flag from the bedroom window in protest, along with many others in the surrounding streets.
    Things have changed for the better now and, I hope, will continue to improve.

  9. Ari


    If movies have taught me anything, it’s that your flag is one of the following:

    1. Accompanied by smarmy and self-loving Redcoats, and always defeated in the end by plucky Yanks
    2. Accompanied by smarmy and self-loving soldiers fighting Nazis, and always saved in the end by plucky Yanks
    3. Accompanied by Austin Powers.

    I’m so glad I have movies to open my eyes to the possibilities of what your flag represents to me.

  10. Joy

    Are you joking Ari?

  11. JH

    Click here for crime prevention tips for the holidays. A must-see for men.

  12. Ari


    Yes, except for the fact that Hollywood is probably not the place to get a truly representative idea of Britain and its flag. 🙂

  13. john

    I think Advent Christmas defenders are the only section of people who get offended. Christmas isn’t offensive, but it’s not inclusive either. The only people I see these days raising a stink are people who get upset about the term “happy holidays” which is simply meant to wish every culture and religion a universal tiding of joy.

    Maybe it comes from people who only live/work/play with traditional American Christians who are oblivious to other cultures. Let me reverse the situation. Why are you so offended by “Happy Holidays”? Is your belief system so fragile that acknowledging other people can tear it down? There are multiple holidays celebrated at this time of year, so get over it.

    I work in a research hospital where less than 50% of the research staff are American, and less than 50% are Christian. What do I see? I see Christian Americans and Europeons wishing people Merry Christmas and no one gets offended. I also see Chinese Buddhists, Egyptian/Pakistani/Indonesian Muslims wish people happy times with their families during the holidays and the short sighted Americans mumbling “why can’t you just say merry Christmas like everyone else. You are in America bub”.

    I don’t get offended by Merry Chirstmas. It is very commonplace and (usually) no harm is intended when people say it. But as a non-christian, when I wish people happy holidays or some such, I get a pleasant response from everyone – except Christians with a chip on their shoulder.

  14. Briggs


    As a matter of fact (and I have mentioned before), I am of no religion, and have no chip, and my “belief system” (whatever that might mean) is fairly stable.

    My objection is not with those who choose to use whatever phraseology they want. It’s with those who would limit mine in the fear that I might offend, say, you.

    If anybody says “Happy holidays” to me, I return a “Merry Christmas.” What I would like is to keep on doing that without being told that I cannot. I would like those, like the Salvation Army (whose bells are annoying at times) to be able to conduct their business in the way they chose, even by referring to their religion is they deem it necessary.

    Also, it’s stupid to, by policy, avoid saying “Merry Christmas” when that is the “holiday” to which you refer, which it clearly is in stores everywhere this time of year in the U.S.A.

    Incidentally, I’m at a similar hospital (research and normal care) with a Christian name (Methodist), and even they are skittish over the word. Strange.

    Merry Christmas, John.

  15. Thomas Means

    I think some people are offended by “Happy Holidays” merely because it’s representative of what they perceive as the assault on Christmas, not because they’re insensitive to other cultures as such. They feel very proprietary about the holiday, as it’s part of what’s been the dominant culture. It’s hard to watch your dominance slip away.

  16. Thomas Means

    Oh, and being a meta-subversive myself (I particularly like to subvert the subverters) I like to use whichever terminology is MOST offensive in context.

  17. Joy

    Sorry I took offence.
    What is an “advent Christmas defender”? are they like the SAS but with santa hats?
    And John, no one’s telling the Muslims that Ramadam must be called something else!
    Imagine if the Brits or Americans living in Saudi tried to tell the Saudis that they must not mention their holy days for fear of offending the Christians! This attitude will not do, and it will NOT prevail in England. I can’t speak for the USA but I’m sure they’ll take the same approach in the end.
    And, if you said “happy holiday” to me, I’d cringe inside but you’d never know. You’d get a “pleasant response” I just think “happy holiday” is syrupy. In fact, I’d think you were being funny.
    I know a couple who, one is muslim and the other, Hindu. They both had no issue with “Christmas”
    Azim wouldn’t have dreamt of saying “Happy holiday” it’s like something from a “movie”.

  18. Alan D. McIntire

    In reply to Joy, the movie you’re referring to is “Holiday Inn”, starring Bing Crosby & Fred Astaire.

    I’m waiting for all those opposed to “Merry Christmas” for its religious connotations to advocate eliminating it as a federal, state, and city holiday

  19. JH

    My dear Briggs,

    All holiday well wishes are to be taken as acts of kindness. So, don’t you think that a thoughtful response is the right thing to do?

  20. Many decades ago, when I was a lad, a priest gave a sermon at our Catholic summer camp. The synopsis: he said the worst sin was to lie. To lie was even worse than murder, not to mention adultery (which was not on my radar screen at the time).

    I never forgot that lesson, because it confounded me. I was not in agreement. Although just a sproutling, I could easily think of far worse offenses than telling a few fibs.

    Now, after decades of deep thought and philosophical growth (and/or shrinkage), I have moved into agreement with Father Iforgothisname. The worst crime is still a mystery to me, but deviation from Truth is the worst sin, of that I have no doubt.

  21. harold

    Here in Holland we celebrate Sinterklaas where Saint Nicholas, aided by his Zwarte Pieten, gives presents to children who have behaved well (the naughty ones are put in a sack and sent of to Spain). Every year or so there are protests, not for the harsh treatment of children who misbehave, but because the helpers are black.
    The “Merry Christmas” protesters are just as childish as their Sinterklaas counterpart,
    and what does Santa, mistletoe and a decorated tree have to do with Christianty?
    Anyway, I think it’s always fun to tease believers (from a Christmas special edition of QI):

  22. Ari


    No worries. I was just poking fun at Hollywood and its caricatures.


    I was just talking to a VERY liberal (non-Christian) friend of mine about this topic, and asked him what he thought about the “Happy Holidays” thing. His response?

    I find “happy holidays” insulting

    Por que?

    It means the ****** hasn’t bothered to learn anything about me
    And is just slinging some insincere greeting at me


    They don’t know which holiday I find interesting
    (I don’t have one in this season)
    But yea. Basically they’re saying I don’t get to participate in Christmas
    Even though it’s just as much an American cultural thing as it is a Christian thing
    Plus it strikes me as weak and insincere
    Nobody is kidding anybody about what “holiday” we’re referring to
    Why beat around the bush?


    I just thought that was interesting.

  23. Briggs


    Sure, but what if my thoughtful response were to be banned because it might cause offense? That is the sole point I am making. When I was a graduate student at Cornell, one year, they banned or actively discouraged Christmas decorations because—ta da!—they might cause offense. Maybe so, but nobody ever tried to justify why causing offense was a bad thing.


    Thanks for the clip! I hadn’t realized Stephen Fry had got so fat (I was watching an old episode of Jeeves & Wooster the other day). Nor had I heard of this show, which looks interesting.


    I think I would get along with your friend.

  24. JH

    I understand the objection here. I personally like “Happy Holi-Days.” Oh, no, it might just be banned soon!

    The squeaky wheel gets the oil. My assumption is that people around us are probably not the ones who caused such a distressful (to some of you) ban. Christmas is to be celebrated with family, and a happy times it shall be.

    For some reason, Mike D’s comments remind me of the following. For several years, I expected my children to ask me when I would become one of the Catechumens during the Easter Vigil service. Well, when they stopped asking, I was surprised. They told me they found out in their religion class that I would go to Heaven just because I am married to a Catholic. And my spouse has never asked (and probably never will) me to convert during the past 20-some years. Maybe I will change my mind when I get older as my brain shrinks. I have seen a few dying people with such change of heart.

  25. Ari


    I would think Cornell would encourage any behavior that would introduce cheer into the place during December. If I were chancellor of that place, I’d REQUIRE Christmas and Chanukkah decorations for sanity’s sake. For those of you who don’t know what Ithaca is like… it’s cold.

    BUT IT SURE IS GORGES. (only some will get this stupid joke.)

    As for you and my friend, you two would certainly make for interesting conversation.

  26. Joy

    Mike D:
    You truly are a wise man. (you’re not from the East are you?)

    Your friend and you make a good point.

    Alan D:
    I love that movie.

  27. Two comments.

    The root for “holiday” comes from “holy day”, so so much for skirting the obvious.

    We received a nice Christmas card from National Jewish Medical Center and staff. Which we appreciated. Hmmmmmm.

    Is it possible too many officious bureaucrats and politicians are picking too many nits in a mis-placed attempt to be all things to all peoples? I guess we know the answer.

  28. JH

    49erDweet, Though I am not sure if you comments are aimed at me, let me reply anyway. Yes, it’s very obvious, isn’t it? My glass is always half full. Happy Holiday is not a bad substitute! I don’t know the answer to your last question. As I get older, I am less sure about everything.

  29. John

    The gesture, which ever one you use, holds merit based on your intent. In an informal greeting “merry christmas” to another random individual, no one takes offense anymore than they would take offense to “good day to you sir” because the intent is obvious you are just trying to be polite and are in good spirits in part because of the season. If you, on the other hand, offer your greeting “especially if it offends you, Merry Christmas” then your intent is to piss that person off, and can only be taken as rude. When the VPs at Schneider, Muhammad and Smith Law Firm send out their blanket holiday “gee thanks for working here this year” card to the employees, intent is to cover all its bases with one generic letter and to let the employee extrapolate whatever greeting they prefer. If you have a friend you know celebrates Chanukah, your knee-jerk “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” (as Ari’s friend addresses) isn’t offensive but it simply means you don’t give a crap about your friend’s practices. In this case your intent is indifference. You get a pass in this case, but the recipient has cause to feel your greeting was insincere or at best not thought out. When Macy’s advertises season’s greetings and holiday cheer, they simply want to hit the most people possible and don’t want to alienate millions of dollars in sales.

    Briggs- “at Cornell, one year, they banned or actively discouraged Christmas decorations because—ta da!—they might cause offense”. – THEY who authored this situation were not the people who would (not) have been offended. There was not some minority religion conspiracy which mandated no Christmas decorations. 10 80 year old white Christian males decided this was better then to risk getting sued. Sued by who? No one knows, but they are out there just waiting to do it.

    Joy- “Imagine if the Brits or Americans living in Saudi tried to tell the Saudis that they must not mention their holy days for fear of offending the Christians” – This argument doesn’t hold, because it isn’t minority view mandating all the “no Christmas” BS that we have in the USA. It is, in fact, being pushed by people in the majority. The American Jews and Muslims are not protesting Christmas celebration. There are 3 main groups trying to limit Christmas exposure.
    1- some Christians who are trying too hard to be non-offensive
    2- some non-Christians who like to attack Christianity as part of “the establishment”.
    3- corporate administrators paranoid of what might happen
    Group 1 is the majority, group 2 isn’t even offended, they just want to cause trouble, group 3 is covering themselves just in case.

    Interestingly, group 4, the only people who should matter in this case, the people who are offended by Christmas, don’t exist.

    Joy-“…a couple who, one is Muslim and the other, Hindu. They both had no issue with ‘Christmas’ “. – That was my point from the beginning. Of course they have no issue with Christmas. My guess is they don’t tell each other Merry Christmas but even if they do, again my point was that people of other religions are not the people who have this issue.

    The whole “politically correct” thing we have is a product of the majority being squishy, not of the minority being offended. Corporate compliance/human resources are departments who out of necessity to cover an institution’s ass have artificially created a canyon out of what is really a sidewalk crack in many cases.

  30. JA

    Mr. Briggs,
    in polite society we call it field dressed.

  31. Joy–
    Add a fourth group to your list.

    I know some christians in some non-Roman Catholic group who dislike stores saying Merry Christmas. It offends them that commercial enterprises are using Christmas for commercial purposes. (I don’t know the name of their denomination. Several of them sat at a table with me at a work-party function. One was vocal and started the conversations. Some participated. Another was a bit more reserved and suggested the commercialization of Christmas didn’t need to be discussed at lunch.)

    No. I am not making this up.

  32. Joy

    OK so group 1,2,3! How do you know which of your groups is the largest? How do you know which group is the most powerful?
    The fact is that many people take advantage of others, as they always will when it comes to a challenge on politeness and good humour.
    There’s nothing wrong with my argument. The point is, as you very well know, there is no tolerance of Christianity in Saudi, full stop. They are rightly free to conduct their policy on this as they will. In England, anyway, the Muslims ARE in a minority.
    England IS a Christian country. The national religion is “Church of England”. It is a perfect comparison.
    So,you say that there’s no such thing as a group of people that take offence.
    So why is it therefore offensive for anyone to say “Merry Christmas” in reply to “Happy holiday”?
    Are you saying that there’s one rule for the recipient and one for the criminal salute’r’ that dares reply “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holiday”?
    That the CORRECT reply to “Happy Holiday” is “Happy Holiday”? The correct reply to “Merry Christmas must be “Merry Christmas”
    Goodness gracious me! It’s a wonder that anyone’s talking to anyone in a place where so many rules apply.
    (I must remember, if I speak first, “Merry Christmas” is ok,
    If they speak first, I must under no circumstances say “Merry Christmas” as I might offend.
    …but! Not real offence, for the person will not take offence, but I will be considered cruel and heartless for being so inconsiderate as to not consider that they might.)

    Did I get that right?

    It’s possible to think of a fifth or sixth group too, but it wasn’t my list.
    5. Saying “Merry Christmas” to someone who has just lost a pound and found a penny.
    6. Saying “Merry Christmas” to a priest that has just been ex communicated.
    Christians should just get used to the idea that their place IS in the wrong. If they only would do this then everyone else could tell them how right they are, the others!

  33. john

    Joy. No, i don’t think you understand me at all. You seem to be twisting everything I am saying, as if you think i am anti Christmas.

    I thought i quite clearly stated that there is nothing offensive about Christmas, but that it might be shortsighted to say it to people who you know to be non Christians who have a clearly defined alternative.

    You ask “So why is it therefore offensive for anyone to say “Merry Christmas” in reply to “Happy holiday”?” the answer is, it isn’t offensive unless you intend it to be. Not once did I hint that it was offensive to respond merry christmas to someone saying happy holiday.

    Your whole ‘speak first and reply options’ theme was on the verge of ridiculous. Nowhere did I ever make any of those rules. If someone tells you Happy Holidays you can respond any way you want, but it might be inappropriate to say Merry Christmas if you know without a doubt they are Jewish. It wouldn’t’ be offensive, just strange.

    Also, I know England is a Christian country, but that doesn’t make your comparison valid. You mention Christians in Saudi Arabia forbidding the Saudis from mentioning their holy day. That’s not what is going on in the USA or in England. In these christian countries, Christians are suppressing Christmas because they don’t want to offend other people. That is not remotely the same thing.

    Your groups 5 and 6 don’t make sense seeing as the groups I listed were people who want to limit public exposure of Christmas. But to address those 2 situations anyway, Saying “Merry Christmas” to someone who has just lost a pound and found a penny is absurd because one has nothing to do with the other. Saying “Merry Christmas” to a priest that has just been ex communicated, if it is near December 25th would probably be a very appropriate response if you are Christian and felt like offering a gesture to him that even though he was excommunicated, you still wish him the best and that you still love your neighbor. It would be in very poor taste if you say it with the intent to hurt him or throw his excommunication back in his face.

    As for which of my 3 defined groups is largest I must admit I didn’t hold a census. Am I to assume you disagree? Everyday I see people on pins and needles worried about offending different cultures and religions with Christmas, yet all the different cultures and religions represented around me don’t give it a second thought.

  34. b_C

    In the recent words of Mark Steyn, “Hopey Changemas!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *