The world is a sad place again this Christmas. Or at least there isn't much joy to go around. Children murdered in the US, civil war in Syria, protests in Egypt (again), Israel flexing its muscle... not to mention Mali, New Delhi, North Korea... Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men - men aren't very good at it.
And here in America, on the Internet, we debate. I am the worst offender. Everything sets me off. Gun control? I am so there with fists raised ready to throw virtual punches. War on Christmas? Heck yea, let's rumble! Fiscal cliff? Let me tell you how wrong you are about everything you know about that!
Why do I do this to myself? Is it because I feel kind of helpless most days, struggling with physical pain and crippling headaches I feel like I don't matter anymore? So I make myself matter by being loud and confrontational?
Or maybe I'm just an asshole.
And that's really the opposite of what I need to be. I call myself Christian because of what I believe. If I really believe it, then I need to be better. I need to be salt and light, not angry and bitter. I need to be love and light, not sarcastic and vile.
Which begs the question, do I really believe what I claim to believe?
My journey of faith is different than most others. While many become Christian through a spiritual transition, my faith is based on a study of history and archaeology and ancient writings. The things I believe about the Bible would be much in opposition to the beliefs of most other Christians. And while I certainly believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the accuracy of the gospels, I do not feel that a completely literal interpretation of every single word in the Bible is how we are supposed to read it. God gave us brains, he wants us to use them and not just point at something and say "Yep, that's God, everything else is wrong". The debates over evolution/creation, when life begins, all that stuff, I don't think that's how we're supposed to "use" the Biblical text. Is it true and accurate and the Word of God? Sure. But it's not all history. Are the poems of Robert Frost true and accurate and the word of Robert Frost? Sure, but it doesn't mean that every word in them actually happened.
But I digress. We can debate Biblical authenticity and hermeneutics another day. My point is, from some people's perspective, I'm not a very good Christian. And maybe my confrontational nature has done more disservice to my friends than good. And maybe I'm not being confrontational enough in some areas.
I believe in God, I believe in 'Heaven' and eternal life (though the nature of such and the exact nature of life after death, we can discuss at another time). I believe in a "hell" (though the nature of such and the question of 'eternal torment', we can discuss at another time). As such I do wish that all my friends believed as I do and would be with me in eternity.
But I also know that most of my friends have looked at the same historical and archaeological evidence as me but have come to a different conclusion. Others look at those who claim to follow God and have determined if THAT is who God is, they want no part in it. It makes me sad. But if I truly love and respect my friends, is it better or worse to engage in endless discussion that isn't going to lead either of us to change our minds or is it better to just love and respect them?
That brings me back to the debate question. This time of year, even though there are more important things in the world to discuss, the 'war on Christmas' always comes up. Was Jesus really born in a manger? Was she really a virgin? Was it December 25th? Shepherds? Angels? Wisemen? All that stuff? And is it really a 'war on Christmas' to argue against it?
A lot of arguments I've heard from atheists is that much of Jesus' story parallels that of other 'gods'. We'll save the discussion of Jesus death and resurrection as compared to other stories later and just talk about the birth story. First, the virgin question. Was Horus the Egyptian sun god born of a virgin? Well, first of all there's no evidence of that belief until well after the birth of Christ, but even if there were, so what? What about Buddha? Buddha's mother was married for 20 years before the Buddha came from her side (possibly a primitive c-section?) So doubtful. But even if he was, so what? Who copied who? Was Jesus the original "born from a virgin" or was that a tenant of other religions before? If the latter, so what?
What about December 25th? Jesus can't be real because so many other gods were born on December 25th and Christians just copied that. To that one I say "uh.. no". There is much more Biblical and historical evidence to suggest that Jesus was born in just about any other season except winter. The shepherds are the biggest give-away. Bethlehem is geographically situated about half a mile above sea level in what is basically a desert (even allowing for climate change over the last 2000 years, it was still very desert like). At that elevation at that time of year sheep would not be in the fields, day or night. There would be nothing for them to eat, they would have been penned up. The Biblical account says the shepherds were "tending their flocks by night". This points, most likely, to a summer time event. The days would have been very hot and too dangerous to be in the sun all day. Nights would have been cooler and safer to be out doors.
But why December 25th? To be honest, Christians stole it from 'pagan' celebrations of the Winter solstice. It was a marketing technique. "Hey, pagans, look over here! We're having a winter party too, only we have Jesus!" The celebration of Christmas, or to be precise, the "Christ Mass", didn't really exist until hundreds of years after the original writing of the gospels. Was that bad? Yea, kinda.
Born in a manger? What the freak is a manger? Most representations of a manger are a feeding trough. A box on legs full of hay. The gospel account says he was "laid in a manger". The Greek word translated as 'manger' is also used in Luke 13:15 and translated as "stall". Was it a feeding trough or just a stall lined with hay? My opinion? Meh. So what? Not sure we can know nor do I think it really matters. The gospel message of salvation is not changed if it was a trough or a stall.
Wisemen? Again, meh. It doesn't matter if they were there at the manger or later when Jesus was a toddler. What were their names? Where were they from? Meh. Does it matter? No not really.
War on Christmas? Hardly. It's more of a war to defend things that have no basis in history.
So then what does matter? What about Christmas is important? Should we not celebrate it at all because it's at best a fake Christian holiday and at worst a pagan celebration (full of pagan symbols like trees with lights)?
What's important is what is important to you. Don't believe in Jesus? That's OK. Don't think we should observe it at all because of it's pagan origins? That's OK too. What's important to you? Friends? Family? Food? Gifts? Fuzzy feel good feelings? It's all good. It's all great. If it's important to you, it's good.
Regardless of your beliefs, or non-beliefs, Christmas can be an amazing and awesome day. Don't let anyone convince you that you "have to" celebrate this way or that way. Even if you think the religious part of it is all wrong, so what? Enjoy the secular side. Enjoy the day off from work and the opportunity to party.
I'm off on tangents all over the place. But that's OK, it's my blog, I get to write what I want.
So, debate and confrontation. I love it. Should I? No, probably not. There's not enough love going around in the world. There needs to be more unity and harmony, or at the very least tolerance. (PS. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. I tolerate my hemorrhoids, that doesn't mean I accept their right to exist.) Peace on earth and goodwill toward men should begin with me. Do you see Christ in me when I talk to you?
Probably not because all I want to do is argue with you. And I'm sorry. To you, guy I offended when you brought up gun control, I'm sorry. I was not kind when I could have been. It was obviously a very hot issue for you and all I did was make you more mad.
The world is a sad, tragic place this season. There are hurting people everywhere. Instead of insisting on standing my ground, I instead need to reach out in love and help you out of your hurt.
Merry Christmas to you, dear reader. If I have been unkind to you, I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me and give me an opportunity to make amends. And if you don't believe in Christmas, I say Merry Christmas anyway because to me it's not about pushing my belief on you, it's about a day of peace and love and harmony and I hope you find that, regardless of how you spend your day.