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
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.
This is not a flippant thing that I am about to do. I think a lot of people who care about me are really confused about what I believe, so I am going to give you all a view into a letter to God that I am sincerely writing as well as posting. If you, the blog readers, think you have an answer that can backed up, please feel free to answer any of the questions below in a comment.
I don’t get you. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten you. I know people say this is because you can’t be gotten, but I don’t buy that. Even if I never understood you, thats what friends do, they try to understand where each other are coming from. People tell me that you want to be my friend, and I guess I want to be yours. I say “I guess” because I am not really sure. I hear that you offer a love like no other, but you seem to charge a price like no other as well. The US Military (my employer) says I must offer my life for them. This I must do only once, and often as not, should the opportunity arise it will be to save my comrades. You demand not a single, ill-though, impassioned second to save those I love, but every second, of every moment, of everyday, for the rest of my life. My job demands my life but once. You demand it forever, in this existence and the next.
All that I know about you is contained in my heart, the words of those around me, the world around me, and the Bible. Though emotions give life color and verity, they make a poor compass. I will not trust my heart to know you, not if I believe what you say in the Bible. You say the heart is “deceitfully wicked”. I can’t trust what is deceitfully wicked to guide me. And the heart is capricious, loving someone one moment and hating them the next. Thats why a good man speaks from his mind not his heart, which you also say: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”
The words of those around me are sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly, but regardless of specific instance, generally useless when its about the spirit. Truth is not true because of consensus, it either conforms to reality or it doesn’t. Besides if my heart is wicked why are other peoples’ hearts different? I cannot be alone in my sin: “For all have sinned…” When it comes to you, everyone has an agenda and I can’t trust anybody who claims your name to say to me only what benefits you and not what benefits the speaker.
The world around me is beautiful. I love the trees and ocean. I like to ride my bike in the roasting sun and have the wind blow the sand stinging against my legs. I see around me beauty and order. Because the world you have made is full of order I see man’s greatest dream over my head everyday. We always wanted to fly. With the physics you made as part of the universe you created and the minds you gave us we figured out how to make great tubes of aluminum fly through the air not as stupid bullets, but guided in flight by our hands, obeying our constant whim. Science, the systematic study of a rational universe, is the greatest tool we have ever found. Because with science, we can make an airplane fly, and our ancestors could not. Yet… you and science that describes your creation are not in agreement. You claim to have made the earth in 7 days, and the genealogies you provide in Scripture tell us that the earth is about 7000 years old. The science that gives us such a window into the depth and power of the Mind that designed all says that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.
I trust the descriptions of this rational universe we live in to be true everyday. Every day I use my front door because I trust that I still can’t walk through my wall. Every week I put gas in my car and expect to get around 30 mpg. This is because I trust that the description of the combustion of hydrocarbons with oxygen producing CO, CO2, water vapor, and l trace amounts of various things will function the way they always have since the 1600’s when we began to study such things. But the science that flawlessly describes the 60 cycle alternating current which is invisibly turning my monitor off and on with clock-like precision mysteriously fails totally to date the earth I live on.
Contained in my blood is DNA, which I have always believed that you were the author of. The ability to even visualize this DNA did not exist until 50 years ago, and I’ve thought us blessed that we could have this lens into how “fearfully and wonderfully made” that we are. My father, dying of a virus, may yet be saved by the executed knowledge of DNA to create a cure. The tens of of thousands of people cured by the recombinant DNA created were saved by man doing his best to manipulate the physics you created. Yet this knowledge points to evolution. The more we know about DNA the more man appears to be related to African Apes. False conclusions show themselves in false results, but recombinant DNA heals. How can it be so repeatably, veritably right in all regards but this one?
Finally, the Bible, my source of meaning and context since childhood. The Bible I have is a Protestant Bible. It does not contain the Apocrypha, because that is not part of the Protestant tradition. The Catholic Bible does contain it, because of the Council of Trent in the 1500’s, over a millennium after it was written, decided it too was canon. But it wasn’t written when it happened. Your word was written 50 to 100 years after the events it describes happens often by people who weren’t there. Why? Why would wait a century to write your inspired word? If the writers were writing your words, why was the canonicity of many unestablished till the 400’s? Then, a more then a millennium later at Trent, the Catholic Church had to take a stand. Luther’s sola scriptura meant for the first time the Catholics had decide what was scripture (since prior to this tradition and papal bulls were equal in authority to scripture).
God, this looks horribly like humans, not like you. Your omnipotence seems sorely lacking in all these proceedings, as clearly as it is lacking in the actions of those who claim to act in your name. Please answer these questions, they confuse me very much
The lost sheep