Let’s Give “Christmas” Back To Its Original Owners

It has  started already, the complaints that stores are advertising “holiday sales” instead of “Christmas sales”.  Or, people saying “Happy Holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

These complaints ignore a few basic facts.  First, there is no reliable information the Jesus of the Bible was born on December 25.  So, if someone does not wish to recognize that date as the birth date, it seems OK.

Second, Christians stole this date, or time of the year, from previous peoples.  The time of the winter solstice was celebrated long before the Christian era. So, the correct greeting would be, “Merry Pagan Solstice”.

But, that wouldn’t be entirely honest either.  The Pagan’s stole the solstice from earlier groups.

In graduate school, I wrote a few papers on the Incas of South America.  Groups in the region, including the Mayans, had societies so organized they could afford to have full time theologians.

These were priests who studied the stars and location of the sun, thinking it reflected some deity.  They are another thread of civilizations who had mastered the solstice, or Christmas date.

I am willing to forgive Christians for pretending the Jesus birth occurred very near the solstice date.  It was good management to use a celebration already in place rather than adding yet another day off from work.

I do think, however, they go a little overboard in their complaints about greetings used during the solstice season.

A Different Bible for Every Believer

We talked yesterday about how the god each person carries in his/her mind is unique, conforming to the kind of god that person needs.  A kindly god or a punitive one, whatever helps.

Something similar is happening in Bibles.  Bible publishers are cranking out new and different versions for different demographics.  There are pink Bibles with appropriate editing for “Girls With Attitude”.  I understand there are Bibles for sports buffs and for mothers with small children.

When one considers we have a hundred TV channels, it only makes sense publishers would see potential in an endless variety of Bibles.

The Bible itself invites such variety.  It’s many stories and passages both endorse and condemn all manner of thinking and behavior.

Lots of opportunities for new understanding of the Bible opened up when some scholars began treating its narrative as literature, rather than history and specific dogma.  Overarching messages are searched for instead of specific passages.

An interesting group working on translations from original languages and providing new insight into the Biblical message is a group Jewish scholars, active in their faith, who specialize in the New Testiment.  Needless to say, their take on the Jesus character is different than that of most Christian scholars.

With a variety of Bibles being published and an army of scholars looking at the many ways of approaching the Bible, the future will be entertaining for fans of discourse in religion.  We’ll be talking about it here, I’m sure.

 

Why the God Figure Must Remain Invisible.

The blog about Reagan’s “Trust but Verify” brought an interesting discussion. I appreciate everyone who participated.  The lack of verification is essential to a successful religion.

Occasionally, someone thinks a successful god can be a real person.  Rev. Sun Yun Moon is such a god.  He is the Messiah prophasized in the Bible.  Another person made this claim  2000 years ago.

While quite successful for a couple of decades, Moon was convicted of a tax vilolation and has lost some of his appeal.  Most everyone who claims godly status runs into something eventually that puts the hairs out of place.

Followers require an invisable god because each person’s god must fit that person’s needs.  Some need a god that disciplines.  Another needs a god that encourages.  Every follower needs a god that knows him or her personally.  No actual human figure could delivery the individual attention required of a god.

One of the most successful recent “gods” has been the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  This  parody god was introduced when a group insisted that Intelligent Design be taught in Kansas schools along with evolution.  The parody author said he looked forward to the day when three scientific origins of the universe were taught all children, evolution, Intelligent Design and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The FSM decided early on to be an invisible god.  This was because people are more likely to believe a god is real if they cannot see it.

 

 

What Horse Does the Message Ride?

The history of the religious versus nonreligious message is a long one, and certainly it’s not over.  But, its twists and turns are facinating, indeed.

Few would know this today, but in the 1920’s and earlier in the U. S., atheism and agnosticism were popular and seemingly on the rise. How could this have been and what happened?  Is was the medium.

Before radio, one of the popular forms of entertainment was public debate.  Think of the 60 or so years before the 1920’s and the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The first decades of the 1900’s with new levels of literacy, science and prosperity gave rise to a new intellectual curiosity.  The debate format, with its in-depth discussion, was the perfect vehicle for casting doubt on mythology and the supernatural.

The radio, with its revenue from advertising, changed  all that.  The faster moving radio format did not accomodate debates about atheism and Christianity.  The depression of the 1930’s followed by the Second World War and its marriage of faith and patriotism also helped to put atheism in a big public relations hole.

We all know television moves even faster than radio.  We have seen evangelists with money, like Pat Robertson, start universities which train Christian TV journalists.

The irony is, a clone of the debate format, with its depth of inquiry, has returned.  It’s called the internet.  The internet favors the challenge to conventional wisdom by making information easy to reach.

If the survey data is reliable, atheism is doing better these days.

 

 

Trust But Verify; The Three Big Questions

“Trust But Verify” was a phrase made famous by President Ronald Reagan.  It gave him  the politcal breathing space he needed to make arms deals with the Soviet Union while retaining his hawkish political persona.

There are three big questions skeptics ask of Christians.  They have to do with the  Christian narrative used to “prove” the existence of a god.  The narrative is that prophesies in the Old Testiment were fulfilled in the New.

The first question is, who wrote these prophesies?  The ancient writings were found to have passed through many generations of peoples, each of whom edited the previous one.  (There were also tens of thousands of years human experience before the written word.  Were there no prophets in all those generations?)

The second is, were the prophesies chosen after the prophesied event had already occurred?  It is not difficult to conclude this could have happened.

The third question is, can we be certain the Biblical character, Jesus, was the person prophets were referring to?  We know the Jewish faith still awaits the real deal.

This is where the “trust but verify” applies.  It seems only reasonable spokespersons for the faith verify all three questions have powerful anwers.

Founders of the faith must have known they were on thin ice when they preached and wrote their material.  They specifically ruled out Reagan’s, “trust but verify.”

“Have faith” was not acceptable to Reagan. It’s not to skeptics either.

 

The Crystal Cathedral has Christianity’s Terminal Disease.

The famous Crystal Cathedral, a giant glass walled archetechual wonder, went backrupt and was sold. It came down because competing sets the ultimate Christian “truth”.

There were two factions within the family of the founder, Robert Schuler.  We learn this from one of the family members who wrote about it recently.

In one camp were the budget hawks who wanted the church’s salaries reduced, including those of the family members, to make the finances work.  The other camp wanted to keep their high salaries and believed the budget would be balanced through prayer.

The “prayer” faction believed it was more “annointed by God” than was the fiscal hawk faction.  Having a superior understanding of God’s intentions guided them to remove the fiscal hawks from the Board of Directors.  It then failed.

Dozens of Christian churches close their doors every month in the U. S.  New ones open up.  What determines the survivors is their ability to pay their bills, not their skills or intellect in interpreting the Bible.

The faith’s ability to survive over these past 1,000 plus years is a tribute to the fluidity of its tenets.  It has changed to accomodate cultural changes.

Its future depends on the ability to change as fast as the culture around it changes.  Apparently, in Europe it has lost ground.

The Crystal Cathedral story illustrates that theological certainty and ridgid beliefs can be a fatal flaw.   Starting new churches with new denominations more in turn to social change seems to work better than trying to change to old ones.

A Perfect Secular Thanksgiving

Family rituals are nice.

Secular families, like religious ones, need rituals in their lives to bond and grow in their understanding of their world.  I’ll tell you about a wonderful Thanksgiving Day ritual for secular families.

It starts with the family sitting in a circle.  Everyone is silent.  At the right moment, someone pushes “play”.  Everyone listens in solemn reverence to Arlo Guthrie’s recording, “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre”.  It lasts 19 1/2 minutes.  (We know this because of science.  Scientists have found the blank portion of the Nixon White House tapes is exactly the same length as the “Massacre” song.  Thus, it is obvious Nixon had “Massacre” on the his secret tape but erased it because he did not want anyone to know he listened to hippy music. ).

Following the Massacre song, all family members hold hands in the circle.  They express thanks for mysterious and wonderful things that are beyond understanding.  Because the source of some things is unknown, secularists turn to a famous television star for an inspirational expression of thanksgiving.

Together, they recite Homer Simpson’s famous prayer entitled, “Thank you, God, for Nuclear Power.”

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.  :)

Sinners, Don’t Get Optimistic On Us.

This is a paraphrase of a sentence discussing the late Cardinal Avery Dulles who, “warned that a ‘thoughtless optimism’ about salvation had become a serious problem.”  I found it in a wonderful article by J. Peter Nixon at USCatholic.org.

In the article, Nixon traces the Catholic push and pull over hell.  At various times, hell was  the ultimate hammer over the heads of the Catholic flock.

Then, there were periods when it was noted the Bible never really identifies anyone who is in hell.  In these periods the faithful were encouraged to look not at the God figure so much as the Jesus one.  And, with Jesus, not the cranky saber rattling one and but the forgiving version.

And so it goes in the Protestant branch of the faith as well.  There are factions who want sin followed by hell to be the main message and others who choose a hell-lite version.

So which phase are we in, the hot hell or hell-lite version?  It seems like the hell-lite version is gaining just now.  Even though the current Pope and the largest denomination of Protestants, the Southern Baptist Convention, are on the sin-hell team, growth seems on the other side.

If secular people, who do not think there is either a hell or a heaven, were in the bleachers watching this game, who should they cheer for?  I’d say the burning-in-hell team.

It turns off young people.

 

Sinful Music In Church Will Send You to Hell

I’ve mentioned here that what is considered to be “sin” changes in the Christian church.  There is no universal standard, it’s just what fits the culture and conventional wisdom of the time.

The same thing  applies to “church music”.  What is considered to be blasphemous to one generation, or one branch of Christianity, is the holy music somewhere else.

I had an uncle who was a missionary.  When he returned to our small town church, where he grew up, I remember him remarking at the Sunday service, “It’s so great to be back where real Christian music is sang, without the syncopation.”

I was watching Pat Robertson answer “viewer mail” several years ago when someone asked him if Christian rock music was Christian.  “If it doesn’t have a strong bass beat,” was his answer.

It worked both ways.  Church music performed in black churches in the South was taken, with little change I’ve heard, into the bars to become the blues.  There was much criticism by the gospel community of this church music gone drinkin’.

All this was brought to mind by an article this morning on a Christian web site where a Christian rock artist spoke of the barriers to performing his music in churches. It must be as true today as it has always been that some music is what God wants in His church, and the rest is music of the Devil.

It’s just that God tells different people, and different generations, different things about church music.

Hitler Was a Christian.

It’s discouraging to read from time to time the comment, “Hitler was an atheist.”  The implication is that an atheist would organize the mass murder of Jews, but a Christian would not.

Hilter never said he was an atheist.  He said and wrote, “I am a Christian.”  The Catholic Church of that time never said Hilter was an atheist.  It said, “Hitler is one of ours.”

This peculiar practice of some people in the faith to reject factual information is a worry.  The denial of Hilter’s religious inclinations is but a sympton of denial of many other facts that are inconvenient truths.  This includes evolution.

While, of course, there are large segments of the Christian faith that do not reject these truths, it is the other parts of the faith that are a concern for the future of our, or any, country.  We can see, every day, the hazards resulting from societies where blind religious faith dominates.

Currently, some middle east countries want “democracy”, but also put into constitutions the requirement that religious rules trump civil rules. That is, mythological beliefs will trump rules established by man, even the majority of voters.  Religious leaders, speaking for god, will always have more power than elected officials.

This is where myth takes societies.  The healthiest thing a country can do is reject conclusions based on mythological gods and false interpretations of history.

People of faith could start by accepting the fact Hilter was a Christian.