Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What's Wrong With Happy Holidays?

Once again it's time for the Holidays and time for the battle between religion and commercialism. It seems the battle itself is as much a part of this winter tradition as are trees and lights. Christian Religious groups want to put the "Christ" back in Christmas. Secular groups are trying to blank everything out of the holidays or else "multi-culturalize" it. Some of us just want to celebrate in peace, listening to all the traditional songs, seeing the traditional displays, without being preached to everywhere or being afraid of offending everyone we meet.

Grinch. Scrooge. These were the labels affixed to school administrators in New Jersey this year when they decided to ban religious Christmas music in the holiday concert lineup - an effort to maintain steadfast separation of church and state.

Across the country, a battle for the soul of the public square is being waged this holiday season. The question: Has the quest for inclusiveness gone so far down the road of sensitivity that children might be forgiven for not knowing what holiday many Americans will celebrate on Dec. 25?

Well, aside from the obvious flaws of that paragraph: what Holiday are we celebrating Dec 25th?

Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth's return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century, the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians came to a decision: if you can't stop 'em, join 'em. They claimed (contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus' birthday, and usurped the solstice holiday for their Church.-from ARI

On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, note on Luke 2:8).

In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on
his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, "Natal Day").

to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness" (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).

When was Jesus born? Nothing is absolutely certain, because we are dealing with implications and assumptions, but a good guess from the Scriptures and history is September 29, 5 B.C.

Germanic tribes of Northern Europe also celebrated mid-winter with feasting, drinking, religious rituals and the lighting of the yule log. During the Middle Ages, Catholic priests sought connections between biblical teachings and pagan traditions - believing that a convergence of customs would lead more individuals to Christianity ... The Celts for example decorated trees with apples and nuts during the winter solstice (around December 21), encouraging the sun to return to bring spring. Other European people had tree decorating rituals ... St. Nicholas is illustrated in medieval and renaissance paintings as a tall, dignified and severe man. His feast day on December 6 was celebrated throughout Europe until about the 16th century ... The ancient inhabitants of northern Europe believed a powerful pagan god, cloaked in red fur, galloped across the winter sky. These myths combined with the legends of the real life figure of Bishop Nicholas.

The net result of all this confusion was that, for several hundred years, various churches celebrated the birthday of Jesus on different dates. The eastern Churches generally used January 6th, which they now call the Epiphany. Other churches chose April 24th or 25th; and some even placed it in

So, it seems the "real" reason we celebrate on Dec 25th, is because we want to actually enjoy ourselves. How gauche.

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness. America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness,
capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate--and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.-from ARI


Blogger Sarah Beth said...

Also from TIA daily:

Is America a Christian Culture?
by Robert Tracinski

Following their claimed election mandate, the religious right is using this Christmas season to claim the whole of American culture for Christianity. But what (and who) is the real foundation of that culture? ...

The basic technique is to claim that bans on religious music and the avoidance of the word "Christmas" constitute a campaign of government discrimination against religion, that Christianity is being singled out to be "banished from the public square." This conveniently ill-defined term, "the public square," is intended to conflate expressions of religion "in public"--that is, in a manner that is widely visible, which "the public" can see and hear--with endorsements of religion by "public institutions," i.e., by the government. By conflating these two meanings of the word "public," conservatives seek to blur the line between freedom of religious expression and the use of government institutions (such as schools and courthouses) to promote religious values. You can't build a wall of se! paration between church and state if you can't find the border between the two--that is, if muddy concepts like "the public square" prevent you from naming where private religion ends and government action begins. ...
The deeper theme of the complaints about the "de-Christianizing of Christmas" is an attempt to argue that America is a Christian culture--that Christianity is at the root of the values we cherish. Wilson, for example, urges us to embrace "a secular government operating in a religious culture." ...
This campaign has been particularly loud and strident this year, following on the heels of the election. As TIA Daily covered in detail last month, the religious right has made a concerted effort to steal the election--that is, to claim that religious values and support for their anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage agenda decided the election. This was a myth, based on a misleading presentation of data from the exit polls. But the religious right has been pushing hard to exploit their supposed mandate, and they have grabbed onto a few "politically correct" attacks on Christmas as their next opportunity.

The pattern for this campaign--and the larger trend behind it--is revealed by the furor over the banishing of religious-themed music from public-school holiday concerts. I agree that such bans are a travesty--not because they exclude religion, but because they exclude five centuries of great music inspired by or devoted to religious themes, from Handel's "Messiah" on down. ...

But this is all part of an attempt to put over a deadly equation of religion with morality as such. In this view, one can be in favor of the moral and spiritual realm--including the music of the great composers--but only by sharing and promoting religious values. Or one can be ruthlessly, consistently secular--but only at the expense of purging the Christmas holiday of any moral or spiritual meaning, making it blandly "materialist."

The left, as usual, is conspiring to promote this false alternative precisely by agitating for the Christmas bans and backing them up with the kind of lawsuits that have panicked school boards into purging all mentions of Christmas for fear of "offending" some unknown constituency.

I have referred to this before as the implementation of Immanuel Kant's slogan about "god, freedom, and immortality"--the idea that one can have a reverence for the human soul and for its need for freedom, but only if one accepts the tenets of religion: the existence of God and the immortality of the soul in a mystical afterlife. Call this latest campaign "God, freedom, and immortality" set to music.

As a matter of historical record, of course, the majority of Americans have always declared themselves to be Christians and have connected their values--and their holidays--to Christian religious themes. This (combined with various religious statements made by the Founding Fathers) is what the religionists rely on to bolster their claims that American is a "Christian culture."

But this is a philosophically superficial approach. One needs to ask: what ideas form the substance of American culture, and where did they actually come from?

Did the American belief is material prosperity, personal ambition, and "making something of yourself" come from Christ's sermon that "the meek shall inherit the earth"? Did the Founding Fathers' belief in the right to "the pursuit of happiness" come from the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice, as personified by a messiah whose greatest act was to allow himself to be tortured to death? Does American national pride and the motto "These Colors Don't Run"--emblazoned over the stars and stripes on countless bumper stickers in a popular expression of support for a vigorous national defense--come from the Christian injunction to "turn the other cheek"?

If not, where did these values come from?

One of the pseudo-secular, carefully ecumenical ways in which some radio and television shows have promoted Christianity is by describing Jesus Christ as the "single most influential man in human history." The idea, apparently, is to justify the devotion of cover stories to him on the grounds that he is "newsworthy." I have no quibble with the idea that Christ and his moral philosophy were very influential. My problem is with the fact that there is no recognition of another man who was born more than 2,000 years ago on the Mediterranean, who also developed a radical new philosophy--indeed, far more radical, in its fundamentals, than that of Jesus Christ--and who is actually the most influential single man in human history, and the man responsible for the real foundations of American civilization.

This audience can probably guess who I am talking about: the most influential man in history was not Christ but Aristotle. It was he who argued for the power of reason, establishing the real basis for a reverence for the human mind--the real meaning of the "soul." It was he who argued that man's central moral goal is to the pursuit of his own happiness in this world, the basis for the American ideal of "the pursuit of happiness." It was Aristotle--and the rediscovery of his ideas during the Renaissance--that provided both the intellectual and moral foundations for a prosperous scientific and technological culture, vanquishing the superstition and poverty-worship of Medieval Christianity.

And it is Aristotle who, through the influence of these Western ideals, has had the greatest impact on men's lives across the world. Christianity is widely accepted throughout sub-Saharan Africa--and it has done little or nothing to improve the lives of its adherents. But in large non-Christian areas of the world, in Japan, in India, along the Pacific Rim, millions of men have been exposed to Western science, technology, and the moral and political values of liberty and capitalism--and it has revolutionized their lives for the better.

For years, the perennial Christmastime complaint was that Christmas was "too commercial" (which came largely from the anti-capitalism of the left). Now it looks like the perennial Christmas battle will be over whether American culture is, or should be, based on the moral code espoused by Jesus Christ. It's too bad we don't have a holiday to remember the achievements of the man whose influence on American culture is far more important than that of Christ--and to celebrate the values that he was the first to name and defend.

12:16 PM  

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