Judge John Hodgman Episode 89: Away With the Manger


Marisa brings this week's case against her husband Jay. Marisa and Jay have a young daughter, and they've blended their differing religious beliefs and upbringings (Marisa is a "spiritual" person who was raised Catholic, and Jay is an atheist who is culturally Jewish) into a new tradition that they are both happy to share with her. The two disagree about one thing, however: whether or not to display a manger in their home around Christmas time. Marisa is in favor of the display -- she claims that because they celebrate Christmas, it is important for them to display a representation of the holiday's religious roots. Jay, on the other hand, objects to the display for religious and aesthetic reasons. Who is right? Judge John Hodgman decides.



Evidence from Jay
Exhibit A:

A few of the manger statuettes.

Exhibit B:

The baby Jesus figure.

Exhibit C:

The menorah Jay's mother had delivered to Jay and Marisa's house.

Exhibit D:
Text from Jay's mother regarding the menorah: "... do you like it or is it an imposition? I thought it was unusual and not too religious and pretty, but I didn't see it in person."


It's obvious we all listen to this show.

We are all so delightfully nit-picky.

Fair Ruling with one stipulation

So this is an old episode by now, but I am a new listener to the podcast and so just got around to hearing it. By the way, I really love the show. I think that the ruling in favor of more information was correct, but needs a further stipulation. Namely, that the husband not be compelled to treat the crèche with anything approaching reverence. It is plastic, they are, as his honor stated, action figures, and there are prohibitions to investing physical things with divinity even in the idolatry-besotted Roman Catholic Church. That Jay has come to the correct conclusion that there are almost certainly no gods means that he should be free to provide voice-over to all sorts of irreverent situations using the figurines. But he shouldn't be the atheist equivalent of a Roundhead and smash them up.


Dear Someone,

I also think this is a great show, and I, too, love it. :-) And this comment is also being posted much later than the episode had originally aired. We have many things in common except that I am not a new listener and I disagree with you that the Catholic Church is "idolatry-besotted."

Unless one has read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover or studied the Catholic Church from a Catholic's point-of-view, I don't think it is fair to assume that it is "idolatry-besotted," unless your goal is to set up a straw-man argument.

Someone else

"White Christmas" correction

Dear Judge John Hodgman:

I can rarely identify the piece of pop culture that is featured at the start of your podcast. After enjoying your newest episode, however, I humbly wanted to submit a correction. While featured in the motion picture of the same name from1954, the song "White Christmas" originally premiered 12 years earlier in the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film, Holiday Inn (1942).

Thanks, Your Honor!

Toby Anderson

"White Christmas"

... was written for "Holiday Inn" (1942) and became so popular that the 1954 quasi-remake "A White Christmas" (not just "White Christmas") was written around it.