A bit of history about about the birth of Jesus. He was born, not in zero A.D. as you might think, (there is no zero A.D., the calender goes right from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.) but sometime between 4 and 7 A.D. The bible was not over concerned with the date of his birth, as none is given in the New Testament. Nor was the Church apparently, because surviving documents show no mention of the celebrating the birth of Jesus until after 200 A.D. In fact, it was even seen to some contemporaries to be sort of sacrilege to celebrate the birth of a God.
During the period of 200 to the mid 300’s, the date of Jesus birth was celebrated by different people at different times, though always in the spring. Josephus places the birth of Jesus as spring time, which makes good sense. Sheppards did not stay out in the fields in the cold months, nor would a census be ordered when roads were impassible, as they would be in December.
A feast occurs on December 25th, and sporadically gets popular and dies out between 350 and 400 AD. Now, during the range of 250 to 350, a Roman emperor decided the reason the economy was failing and wars were being lost in far off lands was because they were a one nation under God (believing Mithras was the proper understanding of Zeus), and had turned their backs on him. (Sound familiar?) Aurelian tried to enforce a sort of modern concept of piety on Paganism, to fight radical, extremist version of an established desert faith (early Christianity was a Jewish development, growing to envelope more and more non-Jews after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem around 80 A.D) Most of his politico-religious plans fell through, but everyone liked his December 25th celebration of the Sun being born triumphant to take his rightful place as the ruler of all the earth.
The week prior to the Sun’s Triumphant birth, was a celebration of Saturn, in which people gave each other small gifts, and had little fairs. Over time, the the Saturnia celebration, the birth of the triumphant ruler, and the birth of Christ began rolled into one single celebration, but the Church was never particularly excited about it, as revelry and dancing were common carry overs from the days of old. We get Christmas markets, gift giving, caroling, evergreens, Yule logs, Christmas trees, etc, not from the Catholic Church, but Pagan traditions.
The pagan traditions were so strong, that when the Protestants evolved into the Puritans, they really hated Christmas, resulting in Christmas ban in the 1600’s (pro-Christmas rioters seized the city house by house, tacking holly to the door posts.) The modern American traditions of a tree in the house and Santa Clause is a Victorian invention, no older than the 19th century. Advent calenders are newish, as advent itself is newish, a high middle ages attempt by the Catholic Church to stamp out the last of those dastardly pagan rituals of enjoying time with ones family, drinking with friends, feasting, and singing with strangers.
Tradition, it turns out is a very relative term. Do you want to celebrate the pre-Victorian tradition? The Puritan tradition? The protestant tradition? The late middle ages tradition? The early middle ages tradition? The late imperial tradition? And do you want to celebrate the pagan traditions that the Christian traditions are in response to, or the Christian traditions?
Or you could be like Becky and me, and just make it up as you go. We had sun cake on December 21st (December 25th by the Roman calender) to celebrate the fact that we will be seeing more of the sun soon, something that becomes very important when you live this close to the Arctic circle. It was a big yellow lemon cake with frosting sun glasses on.
On Christmas Eve we ate stuffed mushrooms, little smokies in barbecue sauce, and lime jello with maraschino cherries in it. Christmas morning we opened the stockings, opened the presents, and relaxed. We made phone calls, and had Cornish game hens, stuffing, and yams for supper. After sundown (around 4:30, I think) we played video games while the kid played with her toys.
Never once did I think “Oh sure, I’m having fun, but am I pleasing the Lord?” I never asked myself if I was doing Christmas right this year. I never thought, “Am I making sure that I keeping Christ the center of my Christmas?” I never thought that I should be spending this money to advance the kingdom of the Lord instead of on the people I love. I had a wonderful Christmas with my family, and no Christian guilt.
Ubiquitous anti-religious Christmas Post
On this day, the anniversary of the founding of our nation, I want to talk abit about magical thinking and how it applies to law. I’m sure that all my readers have read me quote Wikipedia’s definition of magical thinking sufficiently at this point. So, I will just use my own understanding to break it down this time, and skip the quote.
Magical thinking consists of several different basic issues: Correlation equaling causation, contagion, synchronicity, and symbol power. All of them profoundly rooted in the laws of our land.
Correlation as causation is the idea that related events must cause each other. People who own homes generally don’t get caught breaking into cars. Thus, a multi-billion dollar tax write-off (mortgage payments being tax deductable) is foisted upon an unthinking public. (Obviously, owning a home does not cause good behavior, it is merely associated with it.)
Contagion is the idea that things placed near each other share some transfer of identity or quality. From this concept, the voodooist makes a doll of the persons’ clothes or hair, the clairvoyant needs something that belonged to the deceased, and the Catholic church claims healings resultant from holy relics.
Synchronicity seeks to relate a number of random events with unifying cause. For instance, the charge that California suffers many earthquakes because it is the center of the United States pornography industry rather than because of the San Andres fault.
The power of symbols, is what I wish to talk about today. Dwight Conquergood said this of symbol power “Symbols instill beliefs and shape attitudes that underpin social structures. The binding force of culture, by and large, is a web of symbols that enables people to control and make sense out of experience in patterned ways.” Tarot for Dummies has this to say “You may not even realize it, but your life is shaped by symbols that are passed to you or inherited from your culture, your race, your peer and social groups, and your family” and further “The picture symbol of an evergreen tree decorated with lights and other ornaments is an archetype for Christmas. Without consciously thinking about it, you are prompted to think of snow and Christmas presents when you see a picture like this. (And depending on your past experiences, you may feel anything from excitement and hope to depression and anxiety.)”
Symbols have no more power than we give them, but often, as a society, we grant enormous power to certain symbols. Imagine you are lost and need to ask for directions. Think of a small plain building with a flagpole in front. On the flagpole flies Nestle Company flag. Would you be comfortable stopping there? Most likely. Now, imagine the same scene, only the building flying a Nazi flag. Would you stop for directions? If not (and most people do say “no”) why not? From a logical stand point, why not stop? In a democratic society there will obviously be people you disagree with. Is a historical revisionist, white supremest somehow more evil corporate lawyer? (Turn your attention again to Nestle, it has purposefully marketed infant formula to developing nations’ mothers by having actresses dress has nurses and give away free samples until the mothers milk dries up, then begin charging for it. They also use child slaves in the processing of their chocolate.)
Despite the fact that both represent oppressive regimes, you would most likely stop for Nestle, but not for Nazi. The greatest absurdity, of course, is that a person’s adherence to bankrupt moral code has little to do with their capacity to get you from 10th Street to Mulligan Avenue.
That is the power of a symbol. One associates so much with the mere symbol that the instant response is revulsion and fear. That a symbol of 60 year old failed government induces more concern than the corporate herald of multi-billion dollar corporation that employs child slaves in the third world to make candies for child consumers in the first also shows how the power of symbols can have nothing to do with what is truly being represented, and everything to do with what people feel is represented. Finally, it shows how a group may maintain a symbol and operate under the social protection that the perception of that symbol provides.
How does this relate back to this Independence Day? The constitution of our country is not the law of our land. That which is fair and just is rarely simple. The constitution is not the law, but the heart of the law, the principals from which the laws are derived. The real “law of the land” is the United States Legal Code available here. In a democracy, the law will never be simple. Different groups and people will require compromise and specification. Which means volumes, rather than pages of law.
You will hear in these United States constant statements such as “The Constitution guarantees certain rights”. And that, dear readers, is bullshit. The constitution is lovely piece of old paper. Next time your rights are being violated, call out to the constitution. See if it sprouts little parchment legs and comes running to your defense, a musty musket clutched to its flat, printed breast. The constitution is a symbol. It is not the symbol of justice which makes justice,but just men and women. Rosa Parks was granted her rights not by the Constitution in a little glass box but by the work of her hands and the bravery in her heart.
The Constitution is the symbol of everything that is right in the country. I mean it no disrespect. But let us remember, today of all days, that it is not the symbol of freedom that guarantees our freedom. It is free men and women, fighting to stay so. Do not put your trust in the symbol of power, but its source: your own heart.
So, I finished reading The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez. This is the early Church History text book of the Bible college several of my friends went to, Forerunner School of Ministry. It was good. It just very honestly went through the issues and the happenings in plain language. When there was controversy, Mr. Gonzalez excelled at telling the two sides and explaining why one side believed one thing and why another side believed another.
Church History is probably not something you learned in Sunday school as a kid. I’ve met few people who really know about it, perhaps the Protestant schism from the Catholics has something to do with this. Protestants can sometimes struggle to trace their past back to through the Catholics, particularly if they are raised as a rightist Protestants who believe the office of the Pope will the tool the Antichrist will use to imitate Christ, which I was.
So, reading Justo Gonzalez was good for me, tying together a lot of bits and pieces that had floated through my somewhat wikified mind, as well as expanding on the very sketchy foundations I learned in Christian high school, but saying it was “good for me” doesn’t mean it was fun for me. My dad used to enjoy eating those canned Vienna sausages until he worked in a packing plant. Seeing the actions that made the responses that made the traditions explained what the Protestants were protesting against, and in turn created the Protestant traditions, makes Christianity look pretty, well, ugly.
For my concerned readers I must place my usual disclaimer here: I’m not saying that the teachings of Christ are ugly. I’m saying that studying church history has given me a new understanding of the modern traditions, ideals, teachings, and ways of the Church have absolutely nothing to do with the teachings of Christ. They a have a lot to do, however, with pyramid schemes, organized crime practices, and confidence tricks.
There is a hierarchy of truth in the introduction to narratives. Its starts with research papers and biographies, then based-on-the-events, then inspired-by-the-events, then finally, grabbed-from-the-headlines. “Grabbed from the headlines” basically means “the following is in some shallow way related to a selected parts of third hand information about something the story teller cannot be bothered to research or present deeply.” It is that level of truth following, or perhaps below, which is reserved for the church.
Einstein believed that there was one single guiding principal that allows all of the fundamental forces between elementary particles to be written in terms of a single field. He called the rationalization of this belief Unified Field Theory. Its not much of step to link the theory to the idea that there is single theory which could explain how all of physics functions, from the tiniest sub-particle to mass of whole galaxy, from gravity and magnetism, to quantum glue and particle spin. In effect it would explain all matter and energy. The first mention of this theory was by a Polish science fiction writer who called it “Ogólna Teoria Wszystkiego” or the Theory of Everything (ToE).
Everything that exists in this universe has name, its called reality. Philosophers have been searching for one single guiding principal of reality as long as there have been philosophers. The search for the Theory of everything is the search for Truth. Truth with a capital t (capital t truth or CTT). Plain old run of the mill truth is defined as that which conforms to reality, but reality is specific to the context of the reality which is being examined. That which is true about pie is not necessarily true about pi which explains why there is some truth in relativism, but ultimately relativism isn’t true.
What the philosophers and quantum physicists seem to be searching for is some truth which transcends context, some truth that just keeps enlarging to encircle everything that exists. Ultimately, everyone who wants Truth is looking for that One Thing. The thing whose sum is greater than its parts. All of our highest ideals represent that which is greater than the sum of its parts. Is not a great man made of the same amino acids as a merely adequate man? Thousands of men have played billions of notes over the centuries, yet there is only one Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
Some philosophers believed that Art would die when cameras and mass production made realism cheap and reproducible, yet Art remained as any deep thinking artist could have said would happen. Why? Because greatness in an artist has little to do with reality. Photo-realism is a mere technical skill; the mark of great master is knowing how to make people feel what he intends, which involves weaving reality and un-reality together. Though man cannot agree on what parts of reality are great, we all seem to intuitively agree on what the idea of greatness is.
Greatness is the quality of being more than the sum of constituent parts. When we search for Truth, we are seeking greatness. The Unified Theory of Everything is the search for something so great, that it doesn’t change with shifting face of the reality it describes. That is Truth.
I believe in Truth. I know thats not fashionable anymore. Thankfully, Truth does not change with fashion or whim. It is not because we wish it so or not so. Truth is. By definition Truth is much bigger than I am. I want to hug Truth in one day, I want to wrap my arms around it right now, but I can’t because anything that I can wrap my arms around in a single moment is most likely not even close enough to be Truth. So I seek Truth the only way I can.
I think Truth is not a destination, but journey. I think it is a cobblestone road and I think that every cobble is little contextual truth. The truth that light is light and dark is not is not less or more true than the truth of God’s existence, nor more or less important. I think that real satisfaction with life comes from Truth. The closer one places his life inline with Truth the happier and simpler his life becomes, and one aligns with Truth by accepting truth.
I love truths. I’ve sought them my whole life. I want to live true to Truth. This has always made me different than most people I meet, but because I never accepted it at my very core it never had the chance to change me as fully as it might. I loved truth outside of my religion and politics, but within religion and politics, I had to accept various hypocrisies. Hypocrisy is the act of condemning another person for an act of which the critic is guilty. Hypocrisy is flagrant departure from truth.
Since, truth is that which conforms to reality and there is only one reality, holding people to one standard of how to act on reality while holding yourself to another is based on a lie. Namely, that you are special. The fact which conforms to reality is that you are not special. The universe will not give you different rules that it gives everyone. You will obey the laws of physics whether you are aware of them or not. You are not special.
But I had to believe that I was so special that I was infallible. To honestly assess the systems of faith I held would result in clearly seeing the failures inherent to those systems, so I had to carefully not asses them. Similtaneously, I believed that unexamined life was valueless. Resulting in the further lie of not only being infallible, but having special insight into truth and knowing without examination with truths were worthy of examination. Honestly, I think most hypocrisy is an attempt to “legislate” away another hypocrisy.
Eventually this can only lead you to believe in magic. The special exemptions pile on top of one another creating an identity founded on the idea that you are totally exempt even from anything that you haven’t personally defined. Logically, the only direction this can go is that your thoughts make reality, you can make what is real inside without physical work, merely by the power of belief.
But of course, I couldn’t really change reality by wanting too. Eventually, truth lead me to truth. I sat down with the systems of faith I had, and analyzed them. Of course, they fell apart. Gradually, I met God in all this, and I began to see scripture. It was funny. So much of what had seemed so contradictory in the way of God was not His hypocrisy, but mine. God was consistent within His own definition of Himself, he simply disagreed with the way I preferred to define Him.
Its been a great blessing addressing those last to prime holdouts of lies in my life: my faith in God (religion) and my faith in man (politics). When I let go of what I wanted to be true and accepted what is true, the great storm of my life quited. Like a graphic Renaissance fresco, hidden by blue-nosed Victorian under plaster, as the chunks of hypocrisy and self made lies fell of, my world view becomes more beautiful. The deeper I lived in truth, the less odious God became to me. I’ve even begun to want to love God, this Master Craftsmen who built the reality that dwell in, which is exciting.
The unexpected side effect of all this is growing sense of alienation from those around me. When the pursuit of life’s truths, even the simple ones, is more important to you than which group you belong to, no group fits anymore. There is no handle to grab a hold of my identity with anymore.
I’m started to want to know Christ, but I am not a Christian. I love the stars and the moon and the trees, I believe they are important and spiritual, but I am not a Pagan, or even a hippie. I’ve read the Koran, but I am not Muslim. The truths in the religions I study are far more important to me than the opinions their adherents. So I don’t fit in anywhere anymore.
That’s OK with me, its just a weird feeling. Tonight we celebrated New Year’s Eve with a lovely Catholic couple we know. I looked at the crucifixes on their throats, on their walls, and on their refrigerator door and I wished I could have one simple thing that could tell the world who I am, and attract people who share my path to me, a simple symbol that represented a whole code, a people, a way of life, and a single purpose. Sometimes I when I look at a menorah, or a crucifix, and even, once in a great while, an ichthus (the “Jesus Fish”) I feel this deep, aching longing to be part of.
But, I sigh, I will not belong to them for all the wishing, because wishing does not make reality, even when I wish it does. Truth remains, and hopefully always will remain, more important to me than belonging to a group who claims to have it.