Raised in the Catholic Church and a one-time professed “born again” Christian, I have since discovered through careful historical readings that the fundamentalist views of some Christians today do not always reflect the reality of this system of faith.
I hate to come across as a humbug this time of year so if you are in the “Christmas Spirit” and don’t want to be brought down from it, you might want to skip this post until another time. The subject matter isn’t necessarily related to this “jolly” season but it was a recent letter to the editor in my local newspaper that activated my response here.
Affirming his belief that we should keep the Christ in Christmas, the writer of that letter seems to ignore the fact as many do that though the season is all about the birth of the baby Jesus as described in the new testament, it is in fact NOT the actual birthday of the Nazarene. Nobody really knows when that is but historical records indicate that some believed it to be the first week in January.
Bruce David Forbes, author of “Christmas: A Candid History,” says those who delay Christmas festivities can take some comfort in the fact that Dec. 25 isn’t the date of the birth of Christ.
When Christians started celebrating his birth in the 300s after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to that religion, they didn’t know the birthdate, so it appears that they picked a day to coincide with Romans’ midwinter celebrations of their own gods. Meanwhile, Christians in more eastern countries, like Turkey and Greece, were already celebrating on Jan. 6. SOURCE
It seems we have the pagans to thank for this holiest of Christian holidays.
Also, in a news story back in 2008, astronomers speculated that, based on their calculations of when the “star of David” appeared over Bethlehem a couple of thousand years ago, that the birth of Jesus was sometimes in June. If that notion had been picked up by the Roman Catholic church initially, all of the “White Christmas” references would never have materialized and Santa’s red suit would now be a tropical shirt and shorts attire.
But this isn’t the part of the writer’s letter that rubs me the wrong way. It is the notion that we are primarily a nation “founded on Judeo-Christian values”. There is no argument from me that much of what our laws are based on come from the Mosaic laws and are inherently fitted to some core christian values. But it is distortion of the worst kind, in my opinion, to presume that everyone who came to this country did so to establish Judeo-christian values.
Sure the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were escaping religious persecution in England but let’s remember that that rigid group of people had a set of values in many ways that resembled more how the Romans treated early Christians than they did the teachings of Jesus. The most well-known display of such un-Christian behavior was the innocent killing of people that were hysterically deigned as “witches”. Fear, not compassion, compelled the actions by which people burned some of their own for alleged heretical beliefs.
The social structure back in the early colonial days was strictly paternalistic and the legal codes “especially in the Puritan north – served as enforcement arms of religious orthodoxy.” Women and non-whites were viewed as lesser human beings.
Community leaders acted as stern fathers to the children God had entrusted to their care. Members of the community were supposed to be taught God’s paths for their lives and brought back into the fold when they strayed – but the rod was not spared.
Laws against Quakers were … worse than those against Anabaptists – they could be executed if they dared to return after having been banished. Quakers appear to have been especially feared as threatening to “undermine & ruine” the properly instituted authorities of the colony. Two Quakers were made examples of and hanged in 1659, but they weren’t the only ones.
Blasphemy was another crime which merited swift and harsh punishment – as with the previous examples, any act which might undermine unquestioning faith as promoted by the local religious leaders was regarded as threatening to undermine general social stability. Blasphemers could, at court discretion, be put in the pillory, whipped, have his tongue bored out with a hot iron, or be forced to stand in the gallows with a rope around his neck. SOURCE
People like this letter writer cherry pick those parts of our socio-religious culture to create an illusion that is a far cry from what life was really like back when. If they were really so adamant that our nation should reflect the Judeo-christian tradition then they should be putting to death their disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18) and punishing bankers that have profited greatly from loans to people of low income. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20, Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37)
A closer reading of the founding fathers who put our constitution together will show that many of these men were not great men of faith and many, like Ben Franklin, were Deists, not Christians. Their primary concerns as they spelled out the laws of this land were based more on property rights than on concepts found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount since they were pretty much all land-owning aristocrats and not humble men who “fear the Lord”.
Enjoy your religious holidays and prescribe to those tenants in your faith that reflect compassion and tolerance but don’t presume to be a victim in a society where most people claim to be Christians while giving more support to Wall Street bankers than Occupy protesters and attack all Muslims because of the radical views of a minority. I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that that is not what the baby Jesus would want.