Category Archives: Religions of Antiquity

Take Christ Out of Christmas

There is an old Gene Autry version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” with a lyric that says, “And let’s give thanks to the Lord above because Santa Claus comes tonight.”  This is a blend of the secular and religious that belongs on Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList.”  Another disappointing example of blending religious themes with non-religion was posted on CNN’s “Belief Blog,” written by Tangela Ekhoff, “My Take: Being poor on Christmas.”  She said, “As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the ‘new’ economic reality: poverty.  My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially.”  (The full column can be read at the following link.)

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/17/my-take-being-poor-on-christmas/?iref=allsearch

The lead paragraph of Ekhoff’s column talks about the purchasing of “the Showstopper” gift for her children as the highlight of Christmas.  The inability to purchase a “Showstopper” gift is not poverty.  Not being able to buy groceries is poverty, and that’s for the working poor.  How about not having drinking water readily available?  There are millions of children around the world who do not long for a “Showstopper” Christmas gift, but a meal and a drink of water.

All those Christian fanatics complaining about putting Christ in Christmas need both a history lesson and to take a look at their own congregations.  The Christmas season has become a shopping holiday.  Secular capitalism owns the season from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to after-Christmas sales extending to Martin Luther King Day in January.  Even King is losing his day to shopping, as dead presidents do in February.  Occasionally there is some Secular Humanism mixed in the holiday season and some attention is paid to charitable gifts and actions.  However, Christianity does not have exclusive ownership of those activities either.

My friend Kathleen (I’ve mentioned her before-she’s the smart science teacher) reminded me that Jesus’ birth was not observed by the early church until hundreds of years after he died (Rome c.336, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions).  For those of you interested in the life of Jesus, he spent his time with the poor and disenfranchised.  When the Christian Bible talks about gifts, it is usually referring to the gifts that enable Christians to serve the needs of humanity.  By the way, I also don’t think Jesus expects Christian households to have a birthday cake and sing him Happy Birthday.  (Yes, I do know people that do this.)

Before any of you get all uppity about having Christmas swiped by consumers and non-believers, bear in mind the Christians stole this holiday from the pagans.  There is no record of Jesus actual birth day and the December observance coincided with winter solstice parties – which were not to be missed.  In other words, the early Christian church was having trouble hanging on to members so they adopted Saturanlia and transformed it to fit their own mythology.  So it should not be shocking to anyone that the run-away capitalism of this country would do the same thing in this century.

Santa Claus and Christmas gifts are no more Christian than July Fourth or Thanksgiving.  Both of those are secular holidays with non-religious traditions.  You can still go to church on these holidays and your religion can adopt its own interpretation of the holidays in keeping with its ideology, but in a pluralistic society, it would be ridiculous to impose those interpretations on everyone else.  In fact, trying to impose your personal beliefs on others is inherently un-Christian.

None of this means that Christians can’t enjoy a Christmas tree or gift exchanges – though I’d skip the birthday cake because that is over-the-top trite.  The point is that those activities, while pleasant, are essentially not related to Christianity.  So what?  There’s nothing wrong with secular rituals.  These help us connect with other people, which is what Jesus did all the time.

Consider Habitat for Humanity.  This is an openly Christian organization.  They offer houses to qualifying families, regardless of religion, and accept donations from religious and non-religious organizations and individuals.  They may have some religious expression, but conversion is not required to receive a home or to help build one.  One volunteer said, “Hey atheists don’t pool together and help build houses for poor people – we’ve got to go somewhere,” (p.211 Habitat for Humanity, Jerome P. Baggett).

Putting a nativity scene on your front yard does not keep Christ in Christmas and the compassion of Christianity is not a seasonal activity.  Enjoy the gifts, the food, the parties, and even the family – if that’s possible.  But consider my thoughts on how little of this season is related to the life work of Jesus.  Christmas is not an opportunity to bully people into the same interpretation that you have.  It could be the opportunity to share traditions in a pluralistic society in a way that we can learn from each other, rather than force a false theology.

What would Tiny Tim say?  “God bless us, everyone.”  Yes, everyone.  Even the pagans.

Happy Holidays Everyone! -J.B.

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Have a Yourself a Very Druid Christmas

The holiday season always brings with it the whining of Christian traditionalists to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ and wanting to take all of us back to that ‘old time religion.’  I suppose most of these folks are not reading this blog, but if you get a chance, please remind them that the Christians stole December 25th from the pagans and no one really knows when Jesus was born.

The Winter Solstice was a popular December festival celebrating the coming light of spring as the days started to get longer, not shorter, following the first day of winter.  It was such a darn good celebration that Christian converts didn’t want to give it up.  Who can blame them?  They even took the now popular Christmas tree and transitioned that ancient fertility symbol into something for their own religion.  So if we reflect on Christmas and the Old Time Religion, we may need to study the Druids, who I’m told, really knew how to party.

When it comes to clashing traditions and complementary myths, there is no one better to turn to than gifted storyteller and mythology expert, the late Joseph Campbell.  He and Bill Moyers (journalist and Christian theologian) produced that series for public television in the 1980s.  In Program Two, “The Message of The Myth,” he said, “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.”  Campbell showed us that today’s common perception of the word myth as an untrue story, like an urban legend, is a mistaken understanding.  As Karen Armstrong also said, “In popular parlance, a ‘myth’ is something that is not true.  But in the past, myth was not self-indulgent fantasy; rather…it helped people to live effectively in our confusing world…” (The Case for God, p.xi).

The following excerpt is one way Campbell and Moyers said it, again from Program Two (which I transcribed, so the sentence structure is mine).

MOYERS:  Far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has liberated it from the cultural prisons to which it had been sentenced.

CAMPBELL:  Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense, it is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions said, “But while myths may be both intended and understood as factual, it is clear that more often they are stories which point to truths of a kind that cannot be told in other ways, and which are not disturbed if the apparent ‘facts’ of the supposed case are shown to be otherwise…” (p.672).  So just in case any fundamentalists are reading this blog, myths are your friends, just as they are mine.  You may choose a literal interpretation of your myths, but by preserving the underlying metaphor, you are assuring the longevity of those stories.  It’s as simple as the story of the boy who cried wolf.  Does it matter if some kid really did this?  Of course not.  However, the underlying wisdom of that story can be applied to a medieval village or an Internet web site.  When fundamental religions cling to the details of the myth, they limit the possibilities offered by the lessons of the metaphor.

Whether we are talking about Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham, or the Buddha, all traditions offer us myths to live by.  Describing these stories as myths does not demote them to the realm of fiction but strengthens their identity as timeless metaphors.  “Star Wars” is an example of contemporary fiction with common human metaphors that express timeless values.  Watch any of the movies again and identify themes like heroism, justice and oppression, good and evil, the vision quest, and love, just to name a few.

Joseph Campbell said: “It’s ridiculous to go back to the old time religion.  A friend of mine composed a song based on ‘The Old Time Religion.’

‘Give me the Old Time Religion

Let us worship Zarathustra

Just the way we usta’

Zara-thustra-busta

He’s good enough for me.

All religions are true for their time if you can find what the truth is and separate it from the temporal inflection.  Just bring your same old religion into a new set of metaphors and you’ve got it.”  (In case your ancient religious history is rusty, Zarathustra was an Iranian prophet from c.6,000 BCE.)

No matter what holiday you celebrate, even if it’s just a day off work because of someone else’s religion, I hope your holidays are pleasant.  I plan on spending a perfectly Druid Holiday in the best city in the world: The Big Easy, New Orleans, NOLA.  I hope to make the Druids proud – and I’m ready, though I’m not entirely sure NOLA is ready for me.