December 20, 2004

And God Rolled His Eyes

I have little time for writing tonight, so let me just hand it over (so to speak) to Jeff Jarvis for the moment. He wrote an essay on his blog about God, Christmas, and their discontents called And God Rolled His Eyes. He finds the right balance, I think, between the two often ridiculous sides in our annual holiday culture war.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 20, 2004 06:08 PM

Yeah, I like this Jarvis fella.

To add my two cents...I've always seen this split as a difference in opinion as to the proper relationship between church and state. Both liberals AND conservatives would agree that the First Amendment is a good one, that the State ought not establish a religion. Fringe elements on the Illiberal-Right want to declare a "Christian Nation" and fringe elements on the Illiberal-Left would love just as much to write Nietzsche's "God is Dead" into the Constitution, but the vast majority of us are on the same page.

Beyond that, liberals, citing the words of Thomas Jefferson, interpret the proper relationship between the societal institutions as a "separation". I think conservatives tend to look at it, though, and say, "well, so long as you don't have the State picking one brand of faith over the other, seeing as how faith plays such a big role in people's lives, the institutions of church and state ought to cooperate as much as possible." And that's what it comes down to in the end: Separation versus Cooperation. It's the notion of a staunchly secular society versus the faith-based initiative and Bush's "armies of compassion". Jarvis pretty much hits on this without ever coming right out and saying it, so kudos to him.

The only other thing I'd mention is that...when he says one side thinks that religion is under attack in America and the other thinks America is under attack (domestically) from religion...both sides are right. The liberals started the fight, though. I live in the midwest and can tell you that many and most people around here are sick and tired of having "Will and Grace" coastal-culture shoved down their throats on a daily basis. Culturally liberal elites have been pushing the envelope on that one for decades, and now they're under a backlash of attack as well. People of faith in this country, blue-collar-folk in flyover Ohio and all my family members that loved John Kerry's positions but hated John Kerry, for instance, just voted to give the most outwardly religious and viscerally anti-coastal President in history a second term. I think that pretty much sums it up. The media overhypes this, but they miss the point every time.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 20, 2004 07:12 PM

Okay, and one more thing...

All his talk of how we bicker in America over the stupid small stuff when people in Iran and Saudi Arabia would love to just kickstart a national conversation on the fundamentals makes me think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the concept, but it pretty much goes like this:

First and foremost, you have Physiological Needs. Water. Food. Oxygen. People living in North Korea don't probably much get pass these, but once you do, a new set of needs develop...Safety Needs. Security, stability, protection, freedom from fear, etc etc. If you have these, then...Love Needs (friendship, companionship, etc) then...Esteem Needs (self-respect, independence, dignity) then...finally, Self-Actualization.

That having been said, as this relates to our bickering over the small and petty concerns of the everyday religious, it just goes to show you what a ridiculously self-actualized nation of individuals we've become. It's good that we bitch so often, even if it's dumb and stupid. It means we're lucky enough to be able to worry about that sort of thing, in America. It's like how everyone complains when only half the registered voters even bother to show up on election day. Maybe that's dumb and stupid of us, but, fundamentally, it means we have that much faith in the system that we're not worried about it collapsing every 4 years.

We should be thankful to have the opportunity to be as lazy and dumb and petty as we are.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 20, 2004 07:30 PM

We should be thankful to have the opportunity to be as lazy and dumb and petty as we are--GM

And profoundly regretful that so many of us indulge that opportunity to its fullest.

Posted by: dougf at December 20, 2004 07:45 PM

I heard a very intelligent Amish man get interviewed today. Here in Ohio, Amish are about to get a free pass on Jury Duty. When asked why the Amish don't sit jury duty, the fellow said: "The bible states: 'Judge not lest ye be judged'. So we as Christians don't get involved in judging others." The interviewer then asked why other Christians would serve Jury duty. The Amish gentleman shot back: "I don't know, we don't judge them either."

In conclusion, to cap off this joyous holiday inclusion, I would like to sing a bit of an old Dunwitch carol that I picked up a number of years ago somehwere in the Eldrich bowels of the Internet.

Oh Yog Sothoth, Oh Yog Sothoth
We worship you, Oh Yog Sothoth
Who's Santa Claus? Who's Jesus Christ?
We worship Yog cause he's not nice.

We'll catch ourselves a mangy dog,
We'll chop him up, serve him to Yog!
Oh Yog Sothoth, Oh Yog Sothoth!
We worship you, Oh Yog Sothoth!

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 20, 2004 07:52 PM

The current discussion tends to focus on Christmas and its manifestations in the public square.
That isn't all of it, not by a good bit.
The attacks on voluntary, individual, non-proselytizing free expression of religion in public schools has been under attack so frequently and egregiously that the Dept of Ed provided guidelines a dozen years ago, which are frequently busted flat by school administrations, who almost always lose in court.
Now, when a certain category of positions generally lose, one ought to examine how much of the public money and time one ought to choose to expend pursuing the next guaranteed loser. It appears that a good many adminstrations can't think of anything they'd rather spend money on.
A couple of years ago, here in Michigan, one school board lost so big that the judge ordered them to pay the kid's legal bills and two of the board members were to go to the kid's home and personally apologize.
You can't do that sort of thing by accident.

Posted by: Richard Aubreyr at December 20, 2004 08:15 PM

I'm an atheist myself, but I do feel that religion is under attack. My position has always been that the government serves the people who pay the taxes. If it starts to get in the way of popular culture, it will lose legitimacy. So, my position has been that nativity scenes in public spaces is a no brainer, as long as all religions are accommodated and pay for their own decorations.

This gets tricky is when public monies are involved. For instance, when cities put up Christmas lights along the streets. I doubt that similar amounts would be spent for a religion whose membership was somewhere in the neighborhood of ten. That sort of situation is a bit of a tradeoff and it's not clear to me that public moneys should be spent.

I think the establishment clause serves to keep the peace and avoid wars of religion. Yet, we are now having a (minor) war of religion. I too feel that this particular war was started by the liberals, who apparently felt that religion was superstitious nonsense that should be kept out of the public eye and replaced by their own brand of superstitious nonsense promulgated and enforced by government. If government confined itself to simple public issues like collecting trash and putting up water fountains, leaving religion and social intervention to private associations, I suspect there would be fewer problems.

So, it is a religious war just like all the others, made so by the government getting too involved in social issues. That is where the establishment clause has been violated.

Posted by: chuck at December 20, 2004 09:21 PM

Dept of Ed provided guidelines a dozen years ago

Yeah, under that notorious religion-hater Clinton. Remember back in the good old days, when our leaders sought to find ways to defuse conflicts, rather than light fires under them for political points?

And why does George W. Bush hate Christians?

Good morning and happy holidays to you all.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 20, 2004 11:16 PM

voluntary, individual, non-proselytizing free expression of religion in public schools has been under attack so frequently and egregiously...

The Secular Left is attacking current Christian traditions. "America" is the "nation" of an idea, unlike other nations which are essentially tribes or super-tribes. That US idea: We are endowed, by our Creator, with certain unalienable rights...

The essence of human rights in America, the Liberty and Freedom that we celebrate, are gifts from God. Except that Secular Fundamentalists don't believe in God -- and don't want any tax money spent on Christian celebrations.

The Founding Fathers, respectful and supportive of Christianity, "started it" by integrating Christian belief into the founding documents. There's a story of a Christian 5th grade teacher who's principal refuses to allow him to distribute the Dec'l of Independence to his class, because of the "our Creator" reference.

Jeff Jarvis doesn't want to be responsible for attacking Christianity, but is more comfy with anti-Religious Right steps than with anti-Secular Left steps.

There are issues where we can not have a single "neutral" position . Either it IS birth of Christ Christmas, or it's a non-Christian holiday (Xmas?); there is no neutral middle holiday. Either a fetus has a soul or it doesn't. Either humans evolved from inanimate matter, or were created by some Intelligent Design. Either there is a purpose, and meaning, to human life, or there is none (so why does truth matter?).

Human rights have two possible sources: God, or gov't. If rights come from gov't, from bureaucrats, it will be no surprise for them to take rights away.

Even if one believes in no God, one should be afraid of domination by the Secular Left. The emptiness in Europe should make Americans ... thank God it's not as bad in the USA. (Though, obviously, I in Slovakia don't think it's so bad in Europe, yet, either -- family is still the most important environmental variable.)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at December 21, 2004 12:56 AM

"So, my position has been that nativity scenes in public spaces is a no brainer, as long as all religions are accommodated and pay for their own decorations."

My simplistic take on this is that Christmas celebrates the birth of someone named Jesus, who happened to have a pretty big impact on our culture. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to have a nativity scene in a public square at Christmas, while it would be inappropriate, or merely irrelevant, to display images of the Hindu God Shiva. Unless one wants to make a good case for putting up pictures of say, Yasser Arafat, on Martin Luther King Day.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 02:35 AM

Cause - you know - Arafat had a dream too. :)

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 02:45 AM

Tom Grey,

Will you ever get tired of repeating that tired old canard, that if rights are granted by the government, then the government can still take them away?

Haven't you noticed that, regardless of whether they come from God or Government, those rights can still be infringed? That God, in general, doesn't seem to be too interested in defending the rights of billions of people around the world upon whose rights are infringed by governments every day?

Posted by: Anon at December 21, 2004 05:29 AM

"Though, obviously, I in Slovakia"

Dobry den, co delate (robite?) v Slovensku? Ja zijem v Polsku.

Anyway, living in Poland, where Christmas is very definitely an explicitly Christian holiday, I disagree that Christmas in a US setting has to be Christian. US Christmas is simultaneously a religious and a secular holiday and I really don't see what the problem is with that. And though I'm not a Christian, I routinely wish people Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays (the latter meant to include the New Year).

Posted by: Michael Farris at December 21, 2004 06:47 AM

"US Christmas is simultaneously a religious and a secular holiday"

It still seems to me that Christmas marks the birth of the man named Jesus. Isn't that why we give presents? Cause its a birthday? (I could be wrong about the origins of the gift-giving, having never personally undertaken an historical study of the matter.)

However, it strikes me that whether one thinks of Christmas as a "religious" or a "secular" holiday rather depends on one's own personal interpretation of who precisely Jesus was. But then I am sure there are some blacks who elevate Martin Luther King to near God-like status. Frankly though that's none of my business. But on MLK day I would not be inclined to legislate regarding whether or not images of MLK should or should not be permitted to be displayed in public spaces or to argue that we should all have the right to post pictures in public spaces of people who inspired us personally. Its MLK day OK? Thats the person we're honoring. On Christmas Day we are honoring Jesus. Its his birthday (sort of - if anyone knows of a more precise date to choose I'm sure we could all agree to switch the date or something). What this all boils down to, however, is that it should be OK to have mangers in the public square on Christmas, even icons of the man himself if people so choose. It should be OK to say Merry Christmas (Happy Birthday Jesus or whatever) just as it should be OK to say Happy MLK day on the day set aside to honor MLK. But it would be flat out ridiculous to argue that everyone should have an equal right on Christmas to celebrate something other than the birth of Jesus in the public square. That just doesn't make sense. But then of course common sense appears to be sadly lacking these days.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 07:35 AM

Tom Grey,

"Either it IS birth of Christ Christmas, or it's a non-Christian holiday"

Well, actually, it ISN'T the birth of Christ and it IS a non-christian holiday. If Jesus existed, evidence points to October, not December as the month of birth. December, was the time of Saturnalia, Yule and other Pagan festivals to the Sun. Christmas Trees, chirstmas lights, presents, Santa, Reindeer, etc etc etc are steeped in Pagan origin.

Sorry for the nit.


Now, I'm no Christian, but I fully support Christmas parties at schools, work and wherever. If 99% of the people in a small town are Christian and they want to celebrate the holiday as a town... Good for them! I think that they should. I fully support prayer in school, as long as it isn't conducted in a formal manner. Informally, people should be free to do what they want, this is America!

But, I have to remember the wise advice that Matthew attributes to Jesus at Matt 6:5-8:
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

On the other side of the coin, I have seen another 'religious war' bubbling. The religious war between some christians and some pagans (Wicca, Thelema, Asatru, etc). In a number of recent cases, children who wore pentagrams to school were suspended. Yet, the pentagram is no different than the cross and in fact, both the pentagon and the cross far predate either religion that uses these symbols today.

Religious persecution is alive and well, not just against the Christians (usually fostered by anti-religon people), but also against the Pagans (usually fostered by Christian people).

These appear to be examples of bias and prejudice by the citizens. Usually, it is not the Federal or State guidelines that cause these problems, it's school boards, principals and parents.

This is America, the last, best hope for true freedom of religion. To support that idea, SCOTUS just handed down a decision permitting Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal to drink a hallucinogenic tea which is paret of their worship, even though DMT (the active ingredient) is listed as a Schedule 1 drug.

Christians are the majority in this country today. They are the majority by quite a percentage. Many non-christians aren't anti-christian (I'm anti-dogma, not anti-christian). The majority of Americans are more than happy to let Christians be Christians. They may face a bit of a pushback here and there, but I think that they are not truly being peresecuted today.

The non-traditional religions, though are the ones that run the risk of truly being peresecuted. Pagans, non-traditional Christians, etc.

The next time you think that your child was peresecuted for their religion at school, keep this story in mind.

I knew an old Jehovah's Wittness named Gladys. She was in 4th grade during WWII. Jehovah's Wittnesses believe that they are NO PART of the political system (they are only citiznes of God's Kingdom), as such they don't vote, don't fight and don't salute the flag. Gladys, in fourth grade, was beaten, thrown across desks and kicked by the teacher, for not saluting the flag. A number of students went through the same sort of peresecution, until SCOTUS ruled that Freedom of Religion included the freedom to be nutral.

Consider too, the example of "Chow" Statler, a JW Elder in the small town of Roseville Ohio. During WWII, due to his nutrality, the 45 year old Statler was tarred, feathered, tossed from a railroad tressel and left for dead.

That, my friends, is peresecution. Being told that you can't hang your stocking on the end of your desk is not.


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 07:36 AM


You bring up some interesting thoughts. First off, most evidence (and biblical scholars) tend to think that Jesus was likely born during the first week of October. There are a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence that support this idea (If you're interested, email me).

The reason that Christmas is celebrated in December today, is because most pagan religions held major rituals/celebrations at the end of Decmeber. Most 'Christmas' icons are from pagan origins. Constantine, in his political wisdom, melded the celebrations with Christmas, in order to gain control over the diverse population thast the Holy Roman Empire oversaw.

Hanukkah, on the other hand, has always been celebrated at this time of year. It's a memorial of a specific event that did happen in December.

Yule has been celebrated in December for at least 2500 years, possibly longer. Saturnallia was celebrated in December since the middle of the Greek Empire (though it didn't get called Saturnallia until the Romans took it).

You said:

"But it would be flat out ridiculous to argue that everyone should have an equal right on Christmas to celebrate something other than the birth of Jesus in the public square. That just doesn't make sense. But then of course common sense appears to be sadly lacking these days."

I would say that any holiday that legitimatly has a history in this month is as valid as Christmas. Of course, if your town doesn't have any Jews or Pagans, then there's no reason to put up non-christian decorations in the town square. If there are Pagans and Jews, why not include them? They have as much right to this time of year as Christians, don't they?

Wouldn't it be better to live in a city/town where you let your neighbor celebrate alongside you, than to try to limit their venue for celebration?

I have always found this type of discussion to be terribly interesting, I'm not meaning to sound abrassive or rude, please don't take it that way. I would, very much, like to continue this discussion with you :)


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 07:51 AM

What this all boils down to, however, is that it should be OK to have mangers in the public square on Christmas, even icons of the man himself if people so choose. It should be OK to say Merry Christmas (Happy Birthday Jesus or whatever) just as it should be OK to say Happy MLK day on the day set aside to honor MLK. But it would be flat out ridiculous to argue that everyone should have an equal right on Christmas to celebrate something other than the birth of Jesus in the public square. That just doesn't make sense. But then of course common sense appears to be sadly lacking these days.

I think that argument is based on a misconception - unless you are seriously arguing that "MLK-ism" is a religion, just like Christianity. The First Amendment doesn't say that Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of the honoring of a famous civil right leader.....

I agree that everybody should have the right to say Merry CHristmas to whoever they want - that's a matter of personal expression - but I don't see how that translates into the public square issue, or Christmas in the classrooms. I'm not a "Secular Humanist" or whatever the straw man of the week is - I'm a religious Jew who grew up in Michigan and didn't particularly enjoy feeling excluded from "official" stuff.

From my perspective, when somebody says Christmas isn't Christian - well, that's easy to say when you're Christian. To me, it's a religious holiday. And not mine. And the option of sitting in the corner vs. participating in somebody else's religious holiday isn't a particularly good choice, and it';s exactly what the First Amendment establishment clause was supposed to avoid. As for the public square - well, if everyone has equal support and equal access, then the govt. isn't favoring anyone over anyone else. But that's easier said than done, given that people will start arguing over whether representation/support should be exactly equal, or proportionate based on representation in the country, or in the county, or in that particular institution - bleah. And I sure do look forward to school celebrations of L. Ron Hubbard, now that Scientology is officially a religion.

Frankly, I get tired of the neverending battles as well, but I can never see why people have such troublke spending their own money, on their own time, in their own places, on religion. Why is pputting up a nativity scene (or a menorah, for that matter) somehow seen as a government function?

Posted by: jeremy in NYC at December 21, 2004 07:58 AM

Ratatosk - of course I would have no disagreement with the notion that a community ought to ideally (and really in the true "Christian" spirit) accomodate the diverse ritualistic expressions of its members as they come together in celebration - provided it is all done with good cheer and good will and so on. But where this becomes impossible, where it degenerates into ill will for whatever reason - (as in the circumstance of secularists trying to banish mangers from the public square or others claiming an equal right to display their (non-Christian)religious icons in the public square on Christmas) - I have to side with the Christians (perhaps they are Christians in name only - I don't want to pass judgements here) - who can rightfully claim that this is a day for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Certainly their right to put nativity scenes, mangers, Jesus icons and so forth in the public square, cannot be questioned can it?

Of course some people could try to legally overturn the whole federal holiday. To abolish it altogether. I'm sure then they would have a fight on their hands from people who would try to overturn MLK Day or Veterans Day or whatever in revenge. Its a democracy after all. And this is still a majority Christian culture.

I'm a very slow poster today and could well be redundant at this point..

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 08:22 AM

Jeremy - I guess I sort of addressed your points in that as well. (Primarily about the democracy issue).

But that leaves hanging your point that MLK-ism isn't a religion while Christianity is. But would you deny that Jesus - the historical person - had a major historical impact on this country? Can I say that it should be permissable to have a holiday celebrating this individual, regardless of where i stand on the significance of who he was? I mean, we could presumably debate the issue of how significant a person MLK was in our history and whether I should be denied access to a bank or mail delivery just because some people seem to think he was important historically. And how precisely do you define religion anyway? What if I think MLK was a prophet but you don't? Personally I don't think Muhammed was a real prophet. I think he was precisely the false prophet that Jesus warned about. But hey - that's someone else's religion and if we get a Muslim majority I imagine we'll be celebrating him someday. I will be abstaining.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 08:33 AM

By the way - Easter is actually the true religious holiday for Christians. On that day Christians do not celebrate the birth of the historical person Jesus. They celebrate his ressurection - a much more explicitly religious concept. And Easter isn't a federal holiday. Maybe that's why they conveniently stuck it on a Sunday - so it wouldn't cause a problem. So I suppose it would in fact be quite legitimate for secularists to ban Easter stuff from the public square. They don't really put it there anyway do they?

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 08:44 AM

Caroline - on the democracy issue, I must say that is where I disagree with you thoroughly. We are not a pure democracy, and we were not intended to be one. The entire point of our checks and balances is that there are restraints on majority rule; otherwise, the Bill of Rights is meaningless - it was specifically designed to check majority rule in certain instances. Or are you arguing that if a majority of Christians wanted to do something else that violates the First Amendment (such as, say, ban Islam, or ban books critical of the Pope) that would be OK, because it's a democracy?

As for the MLK point - I have no problem discussing MLK, or Jesus, or anyone else in a non-favoring fashion. The government doesn't have to pretend Christianity doesn't exist - it just can't practice it (at the same time, it can't stop private individuals from practicing it). That said, I think for many people we're having more of a debate about what consitutes the government practiciing Chrisitanity (manger scenes - yes? no? School Christmas carols?) then the underlying point.

Posted by: jeremy in NYC at December 21, 2004 08:48 AM


I too wish that more Christians were Christian in action as well as name. Alas, they're only human and most humans are most concerned with themselves first. I also concur with your point that secularists trying to ban any sort of public display are far out of line.

However, you also said:

"But where this becomes impossible, where it degenerates into ill will- (... others claiming an equal right to display their (non-Christian)religious icons in the public square on Christmas) - I have to side with the Christians ... who can rightfully claim that this is a day for celebrating the birth of Jesus."

Non-Christian holidays during December, for the most part include Hanukkah (during the first week of December) and the celebration of the Winter Solstice, through Yule, Koljada and Saturnalia (covering the 17th through the 24th). These observences have been in place for centuries, why do you think that they cannot 'rightfully claim' this time as well?

Jesus' birth, available evidence indicates, was in October. There is no evidence that 1st Century Christians ever celebrated Jesus' Birthday (in fact, birthdays were Pagan, jews did not celebrate annual birthdays in the 1st century). In fact, you'll find yourself well into the 3rd century before Christmas starts showing up. Even then, its not your Grandma's Christmas. Most pagan festivals from this time of year, involved orgies, drunken parties and all sorts of wild behavior. These attitudes and behaviors were mimiced by early Christians. In fact, in the mid-1600's Christmas was outlawed in the American Colonies because it was considered a corrupt practice. It didn't come back until after the Revolution. Even then it involved, mostly, people Wassailing (going from house to house eating and drinking with neighbors), it wasn't even a holiday from work, let alone the huge Christian observence that it is today.

On the other hand, Pagans from Celitc, Norse, Germanic, Roman, Babylonain, Perisan and European societies have celebrated the winter solstice. For millinia, they have celebrated much in the way that many pagans do today. Jews have celebrated Hanukkah since 165 BC (meaning that if Jesus existed, he too celebrated Hanukkah).

How are these much older traditions any less valid for public display than the newer Christian ones?

Remember, freedom of Religion should mean freedom for all religions to be treated equally, defended equally and supported equally. Otherwise, its just religious persecution against the minority.

If you feel that it is the right of Christians to have a manger in the town square, is it not equally the right of Pagans to have a Yule Tree? Or Jews to have a menorah? Wouldn't denying them, be treating them, just as the secularists are treating you?

A wise man once said:

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." - Matt 7:12


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 09:02 AM

Jeremy - how did we get MLK day? Certainly not because we have a black majority in the US. I assume our elected congressmen voted on it? (Hey - I admit to being no expert on the issue of how we get our federal holidays and frankly wasn't paying much attention to the debate that preceded making MLK a holiday). As I noted above - Christmas celebrates the birth of the historical person Jesus - not his ressurection. It is the latter which is an explicitly religious concept.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 09:03 AM


Just one additional point. - "Easter is actually the true religious holiday for Christians."

You might want to research that, in connection with the Chaldean goddess Astarte (Ishtar also Beltis or Bel (Baal)).

Hot Cross Buns were of Babylonain origin, colored eggs and bunnies were part of the fertility rites of Astarte (come on, bunnies... eggs... what does that have to do with Jesus ressurection?), even the ideal of Lent (40 days etc) was taken from the Roman celebrations.

Also, as with Christmas, Easter wasn't celebrated in the first or second century. In fact, the only observence held by First century christians was the observence of Christs death, celebrated during passover by taking communion. That's it. They didn't celebrate the birth or ressurection of Jesus.

It's very interesting to study world theology. You find that all religions build on top of the religions that came before. Babylonian deities and Egyptian deities share many striking similarities, those similarities are found in later Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Christian belief systems. For example, the Tau (which was the representation of the deity Tiamat) is a cross, venerated in Babylon 3000 years before Christ. The Egyptians worshipped Isis as the Mother of God. They worshipped Osirius as the God risin (for they believed that he was killed by the evil Set and then brought back to life). Even Church spires and the traditional windows in churches hail back to the phallic traditions of earlier religions.

The beleif in Hell, an everlasting soul, the trinity, Mary worship, etc etc etc all have origins elsewhere (in fact, none of these things were held as truth by 1st century christians). In fact, many times, you find the religion that the Christians got the idea from, had plagerized it form an even earlier religion.

No one has a monopoly on the truth. None of us can be sure that our religion is the right religion. Most of us don't even realize where our religions came from, how they developed or how reliable their teachings are.

To think that one religion somehow has more legitimacy to a particular holiday is, I'm afraid, a bit nearsighted.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 09:22 AM

Tosk - I vote to move Christmas - the day reserved to celebrate the birth of the historical person Jesus - to October. And I vote to have an all out free for all - think Mardi Gras on acid - on a to-yet-to-be-decided day in December, to accomodate all pagans. Frankly - I could always use an extra day off. (But I'm going to have to make a list of other inspiring citizens besides MLK who were born in January so that I can apply the same rules to MLK day and we can have a free-for-all in January as well. Inspiring black leaders born in January or whatever).

On a more serious note, through the same democratic process that brought us MLK Day, I would be more than happy to have an explicit holiday celebrating Judaism, which given its historical influence on our culture - should perhaps rightfully claim a bona fide federal holiday. Not being a Judaism expert, however, what day would we pick (Jeremy please weigh in here). And can a case be made that such a day would not be explicitly religious - like Easter in Christianity - which as I pointed out - is not a federal holiday.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 09:23 AM

"Mardi Gras on acid"

My opinion of you Caroline, just shot up the scale! ;-) ROFL

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 09:25 AM

Tosk - I see you've read "The Golden Bough". I admit I was raised a Catholic and got an excellent undergraduate education at Georgetown (a Jesuit school) and yet it took me some effort to recall that 1) wait - Christmas is the birthday of Jesus and 2) oh wait - Easter is the real religious holiday - so hopefully that gives you an idea of just how "nearsighted" I am about Christianity. To tell the truth my own views are much closer to what is known as the "Perennial Philosophy" (expressed in Gnosticism, Zen Buddhism, Esoteric Christianity and so forth). Have you read Eckart Tolle's The Power of Now? Or any of Jiddu Krishnamurti's writings? That pretty much sums up what I take to be true about matters spiritual. However I do agree that prohibition of anything makes one want it all the more - the secularists would do well to heed that basic human fact. And the truth is that most people are merely human and probably not too well educated. So I weigh in on these issues primarily because frankly I just enjoy arguing for the fun of it! Truthfully - if the government wants to grant me another holiday I am happy to accept. Just don't tell me I cannot criticize another religion (or their supposed prophet) and don't try to forcefully convert me or I will have one hell of a major problem! Otherwise my philosophy is live and let live...

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 09:46 AM

I, for one, am tired of my holiday season being messed up by those claiming that it represents some religious issue or another. It doesn't, unless we're now worshipping Santa, and those Christmas lights are some sort of display of piety.

By the way, today is the winter solstice. Aren't we all supposed to be capering naked and jumping over bonfires in order to call back the sungod, blessed be her name?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 21, 2004 09:56 AM


Our views are not too terribly distant then :)

It wasn't the Golden Bough, but my life in a very fundamentalist church that exposed me to many of the 'old pagan' ideas in the Christian belief system. Jehovah's Wittnesses did a great job of clearing out many traditional Christian beliefs that had no basis in the Bible or First Century Christian beliefs. Sadly, they're just nearsighted enough to miss the ironic fact that the bits they kept are just pagan ideas that were adopted by early christians.

I fully support your choice to be critical of Islam. Just like I support people's right to be cirtical of Christianity, Pagan beliefs and gasp even Discordianism. We all have the RIGHT to say what we think and we all have the right to think what we want. However, at the end of the day, the Golden Rule holds true, Buddah, Jesus and other great men stressed it as a key idea for all human society... treat others like you want to be treated. If Christians discriminate against Jews or Pagans, then they will likely be discriminated against themselves. If they are inclusive and accepting of their neighbor's spirituality, then their neighbor is much more likely to be accepting of theirs.

I have a group of core friends (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 people).We have a number of practicing pagans, athiests, agnostics and discordians. We also have two christians. One leads youth groups, the other is a member of Promise Keepers. However, we all get along just fine, because we don't care what spirituality the other person follows, we care about the other person.

The ideal works well in small groups, sadly, as you point out, in large groups, humans are sadly... human.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 10:03 AM


If you want to... here in Ohio it's cold and there is supposed to be a winter storm tonight. I'm not doing anything naked out there. ;-)

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 10:12 AM

If you want to... here in Ohio it's cold and there is supposed to be a winter storm tonight. I'm not doing anything naked out there. ;-)

You want the sun to come back? Peel off, get out there, and get those knees up.

This is probably a bad time to mention that my kids and I were hiking here (BC, Canada) in t-shirts on the weekend.

Re: the Golden Rule. I believe the Cult of Cthulhu says that their golden rule is that the faithful get eaten first. A very sensible creed, IMO.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 21, 2004 10:17 AM

IA IA SHURB-Niggurath, The Black Goat with a Thousand Young! IA Cthulhu!


I think it is very sensible for the faithfulo to get eaten first. When Cthulhu comes back there will be two groups. Those who get eaten, and those who are first driven crazy, before they get eaten.

I'm all for the former group.

PS - You bastard! Not only do you get to live in BC, but you get to live in BC in nice weather!!!

Damn Canadians.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 10:21 AM
...Those who get eaten, and those who are first driven crazy, before they get eaten.

I'm all for the former group.

These days, I'm wondering if we're all in the latter group, and we just haven't noticed all the missing Cthulhuists.

PS - You bastard! Not only do you get to live in BC, but you get to live in BC in nice weather!!!

Yeah, but I paid my dues by living in the Yukon and working in the NWT for several years. Think it's cold where you are? Try Inuvik or Tuktoyuktuk this time of year. Ever had a tire freeze to the ground and peel off when you drive away?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 21, 2004 10:26 AM

So would you say that it was so cold it was a place where even tires 'fear to tred'?


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 10:30 AM

"However, at the end of the day, the Golden Rule holds true, Buddah, Jesus and other great men stressed it as a key idea for all human society.."

or as Krishnamurti would say - where there is love, right action will follow. I leave you to read Krishnamurti to figure out what "love" is. Hint: love lies where EGO is not (which pretty much eliminates much of human consciousness as it actually operates). Frankly, I think Jesus was saying the same thing, although it would take a veritable dissertation to prove it. IMHO the ressurection is really a metaphor for death of the EGO and transcendence into a higher form of consiousness.

I hope nevertheless that it is OK for me to point out that Jesus and Buddha were on a separate order altogether from Muhammed? Because frankly - if we're going to worry about the influence of religion and political correctness, this is clearly where we ought to be framing the battle and fighting the good fight. And I don't say that as a secularist or a Christian. I say it as a human being well versed in the Golden Rule.

In the meantime - DPU - thank you for pointing out that this is indeed the winter solstice. Its true significance no doubt lies buried deep within my unconscious. Alas it is not snowing here but perhaps I shall light a yuletide log to celebrate anyway.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 10:42 AM


I too see the death/rebirth as a metaphor on a number of levels, the obvious one of the rebirth of the annual cycles of the seasons as well as the death of Ego, birth of Higher Consciousness. I am interested to read some more of Krishnamurti. In just a quick search I found a number of references that were very interesting.

"Jesus and Buddha were on a separate order altogether from Muhammed"

This I agree with completely. Jesus and Buddah were pacifist, Muhammed was not. Now, if we could only get the Christians to follow their founder as well as the Arabs do, or the Arabs to follow their leader as poorly as the Christians do and we'd be all right.


Fantastic Conversation!


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 10:56 AM

"This I agree with completely. Jesus and Buddah were pacifist, Muhammed was not. Now, if we could only get the Christians to follow their founder as well as the Arabs do, or the Arabs to follow their leader as poorly as the Christians do and we'd be all right."

How very very true. That sums up our current human predicament as well as its ultimate solution quite precisely.

Enjoy the solstice Tosk. Try not to burn your naked buns as you frolic over the fire......

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 11:13 AM


As a Discordian, I usually just roast naked Hot Dogs over the Beltane fire. But I will watch those buns ;-).

Happy Holidays Caroline!

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 11:18 AM

"Kids, let me tell you about another so-called wicked guy. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He didn't always do what other people thought was right. And that man's name was... I forget. But the point is... I forget that, too. Marge, you know what I'm talking about. He used to drive that blue car?"

Posted by: jeremy in NYC at December 21, 2004 11:36 AM

I'm not Jewish, but when my Jewish friends invited me for Passover Seder, I was very happy to join them. To the best of my ability I participated and enjoyed the event. It is a wonderful memory for me. It's hard to think of it as wrong.

If I were a stickler about the separating aspects of such things, I would be the poorer for it. I would rather promote our shared joy and celebrate our differences than bemoan the eternal Incorrectness of Others.

I love to see all the Christmastime celebration and decorations. Whether people are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan or Saturnalia, I really don't care. Let them express themselves as long as they make room for others and don't force their politics or dogmas or unwanted attentions on anyone else.

Posted by: jj at December 21, 2004 11:49 AM

Ratatosk: "The beleif in Hell, an everlasting soul, the trinity, Mary worship, etc etc etc all have origins elsewhere (in fact, none of these things were held as truth by 1st century christians)."

Mary worship?! Excuse me, but what the HECK is that? I don't know of ANY Christian who worships Mary. And I say that as a Catholic, who are frequently accused of that. The fact is, Mary is venerated and is prayed to like all saints were prayed to at the time. But she is NOT worshiped, not now or not then.

And as for "then," the Christians of the 1st century did in fact believe in the trinity and Hell, and the everlasting soul. They believed it particularly because the Gospels speach of each and also because the Apostles' writings speak of each. Each mentions Hell or the everlasting fire. Each mentions the ressurection and eternal life with God, and each mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (although, the description calling this the "Trinity" did not exist at the time). If you'd read the Bible, it's all in there. NONE of it came from other sources, despite perhaps your desire to see it that way.

Many Bible scholars date the certain of Paul's letters as early as 42 AD, and most were written around 48-63 AD, in which many of these concepts were discussed. For pagan influence to infect Christianty to such a degree so quickly is quite a feat. Especially when at that point in time many of the Apostles were still living and could counteract against such an influence.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at December 21, 2004 02:05 PM

Oh dear Sydney,

I will not get into a religious debate on this blog, but I'd be glad to do so via email. I do apologize for using the incorrect slang of 'Mary worship' when I should have called it Veneration of the Madonna.

I think, if you're truly interested, that you may find some disturbing things out about the changes in the Christian belief system over the past 2000 years.

I recommend reading 'The Diegesis' by Rev. Robert Taylor. Taylor was a pastor in England in the 1800's and spent 5 years in prison for writing this history of Christianity and Paganism. There are many other sources I personally have used, but his is extremely comprehensive.

You can find it on Amazon:

Be warned though, it pulls no punches and an honest reading/research/verification may well shake your beliefs to their core. I spent five years researching just his reference material.

If you would like to have this conversation feel free to contact me at the email link below. If not, no worries and we'll just agree that we're basing our statements on different reality tunnels that have been exposed to different pieces of evidence.


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 02:30 PM


Read "Teachings of the Church Fathers." There really hasn't been any change in beliefs over 2000 years at all. The early church was and is and remains the Catholic Church.

I was not aware of Robert Taylor or Diegesis, but googling found the book online at

[Link won't pass through spam filter. Darn!]

No offense, Ratatosk, but you're fairly intelligent. The book is amateurish. No, let me rephrase it. It is IDIOTIC. 2 minutes of reading excerpts of chapters makes that PAINFULLY obvious. Take a look at Chapter 2 on his discussion of the Apostles Creed:

"As then, the so called Apostle's Creed is admitted to have been written by no such persons as the Apostles, and with respect to the high authority which has for so many ages been claimed for it, is a convicted imposture and forgery; the equity of rational evidence will allow weight enough, even to a probable conjecture, to overthrow all that remains of its pretensions. The probability is, that it is really a Pagan document, and of Pagan origination..."

He is apparrently unaware of the early Church councils of 325 A.D., at Nicene (from which the creed was later named, although shorter versions are called the "Apostles Creed") and later in 381 AD whereupon the "Apostles Creed" was firmly set forth as a statemet of orthodox Christian belief. The Catholic Encyclopedia does a good job of explaining the origins of the Creed here:

I note, however, that the Catholic Encyclopedia doesn't even begin to delve into the reasons why the Creed was promulgated, which were to quelch certain heresies (like whether Jesus was merely a man, or half god and half man, etc). Mr. Taylor seems to base his entire theorizing on assumption and a categorical lack of basic early Church knowledge. I suppose this was the case beause he was writing in the 1800s, and did not have access to the Vatican archives which make these origins obvious.

In any event, all I mean to say is, Ratatosk, you're smarter than to rely on that moron. Read Teachings of the Church Fathers, and also "One, Holy, and Apostolic Church - The Early Church was the Catholic Church" for more info.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at December 21, 2004 04:42 PM


As I stated before, he was one source of information and his book (the entirity) has quite a few very interesting things to say. I have used many sources besides his... his is simply the most well laid out overview of many different problems with what the Church teaches today, as compared to what it originally believed (and even where those beliefs came from).

Try reading it before critiquing it.

I have read the Teachings of The Church Fathers, by the way.

Through several years of research, I tend to think as I posted to Caroline above. I do not, in any way think that I have some monopoly on truth, nor do I think that Rev Taylor or any other writer has a monopoly on said truth. In fact, I do not Know if I'm right, I do not Know if I am wrong... hopefully, I do not Know anything. I have some ideas, based on lots and lots of research. But all of this is really ancillary to the main discussion on the board. I don't care if you have a 3000 year old tradition, a 2000 year old tradition or a tradition from more recent times, this is America, we don't have to like the other religion thats on display beisde the manger, but one would hope that we show tolerance toward it. Hopefully even a little inclusion, but thats a strech for most humans.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 21, 2004 05:34 PM

Sydney - with all due respect that pretty much sums up why I no longer consider myself a Catholic. I am in agreement with Krishnamurti when he asks why we should really care so much who exactly Jesus was. Spiritual truth has to be discovered for oneself - in direct intuition. I think that is partly the essence of what I believe is called the "Perennial Philosophy" - which as I understand it represents the core truth at the base of every major religion, before that truth got covered up with all the mumbo jumbo. By the way, I happened to stroll over to to check out Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. There were more than 470 reviews (I wonder if thats alot for a book at Amazon?). There were some detractors ("this is new age mumbo jumbo" type stuff) but I was amazed at the number of 5-star, "this book changed my life" sentiments. For good or bad the book appears to be having some impact (and for that reason alone you might want to at least know about it). For the record I simply consider Tolle to express very clearly some of the basic insights of the Perennial Philosophy - PP 101 as it were. Krishnamurti did the same thing but on a far more profound level, spanning dozens of books, but evidently Tolle makes the basic ideas much more accessible to people previously unfamiliar with them at all (Krishnamurti lite). So if anyone is looking for a last minute Christmas gift, there's one idea. :)

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 06:06 PM


Well, I as I said the guy seems to be making up fantasy theories that the Church was grounded in paganism, when reading contemporary accounts of what actually happened in things like forming the Apostles' Creed show how wrong he is. Essentially, his conjecture simply doesn't stand up to history. If this is the man you first introduce to people to show how the Church is supposedly different, then you're not doing yourself any favors.

In any event, I'm curious what all this "research" was for. Years of it. Unless for a degree or a failed seminary study, or unless you're really on a quest to reinvent the wheel, why go through so much trouble? I've only picked up my knowledge not through any focused RESEARCH, but by reading the literature on the subject over the years. Oh, and I'm sorry for repeating "Teachings of the Church Fathers" twice. I meant that "One, Holy and Apostolic" was what you might peruse. It's better.

Caroline - I'm not sure why you left the Catholic Church (it wasn't clear from your post), but it seems you're on a quest for spiritualism. I think that "spiritualism," absent direction, is like being in a boat with no map. Theology is the science of religion, aka: it is a studied process. Think Aquinas or Augustine. "Direct intuition" in religion, without guidance, seems like a mouse pondering the wonders of a refrigerator. But that's just my opinion.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at December 21, 2004 07:07 PM

I'm sorry Sydney - its just that I see words like "Apostle's creed", or "transubstatiation" or "Holy Trinity" and my eyes just glaze over.

"but it seems you're on a quest for spiritualism."

I think we all are, whether we are aware of it or not.

"Theology is the science of religion, aka: it is a studied process. Think Aquinas or Augustine. "Direct intuition" in religion, without guidance, seems like a mouse pondering the wonders of a refrigerator."

As my own personal view is that thought itself is the very antithesis of the spiritual, I would have to respectfully disagree. Unless you believe that the material process of thought survives the death of the physical body, which I do not. You can claim that this knowledge points you towards the truth but in the end there is no escaping the necessity to directly experience the truth itself. In any case, there's also a long tradition of mysticism in Christianity which means a whole lot of mice...

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 07:26 PM

Sydney - I would add - I do believe that there is one truth, although there are certainly a variety of pointers to that truth. The problem arises when people appear to confuse the pointers for the truth itself. I guess the Catholic tradition I was raised in was just not a very useful pointer for me. If it works for you I think thats terrific.

Posted by: Caroline at December 21, 2004 07:35 PM


If you surmise, from a brief poke at the book that the writers works are invalid, then there's not much I can do for you. If you read the book and, more importantly the reference material he gives, I would consider a discussion with you to be most fruitful.

As for why I;ve done so much research...

1. As one of Jehovah's Wittnesses, I did many years of research. I held a position for some time of a 'bethelite' which basically means I got a stipend and room and board and worked full time for their organization. Their HQ has an extremely comprehensive library on theology. I spent nearly every night there for quite some time. I also went through a number of their special training branches (very much like seminary). From the information I found there, I continued my research in the NYC Public libraries and I've attended several classes as a number of religious institutrions.

The research, took me first from their view of faith, then from Christianity all together. I have not yet stopped in my study of world theology, and hopefully I never will.

You choose for yourself what you want... if you are satisfied with your beliefs, thats great. Personally, I have been exposed to enough evidence from modern and historical sources to feel otherwise.

As for theology being the 'science' of religion, I'm afraid you labor under a misnomer. There is no science, only ideas, interpertations, creeds and dogma. Science deals with facts, theology does not.

"The only thing I believe is that the Universe is more complex than I will ever understand."


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 22, 2004 08:17 AM
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