Wednesday, April 16, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Jesus may be the your reason for the season, but he’s not mine

DebraDeAngeloW

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From page A10 | December 22, 2013 | 6 Comments

“Jesus is the reason for the season.” I flinch every time I hear this meme — mainly because I know it’s not true.

History is so inconvenient.

Start delving into factual, non-religious history, and you’ll discover that Jesus probably was not born in December at all. The timing of the concurrent Roman Census (doesn’t happen in December), as well as the “shepherds tending their flocks by night” indicate that it wasn’t the deep, dark depths of winter when the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the night sky.

Regardless of human error and manipulation in pinning down Jesus’ birthdate, clearly Jesus was born and was inarguably amongst the most dynamic, articulate speakers of all time. Worthy of celebration? Oh, heck yeah. You can’t blame Jesus for the grotesque way his teachings have been distorted. As the song says, “Jesus is just all right with me.” Some of his “followers”? Not so much.

Fact: Jesus never directed anyone to celebrate his birthday (refer to the “Do this in remembrance of me” sections in the Bible), let alone do so with inflatable snowmen, grotesque consumerism and jolly fat men sliding down chimneys to bring toys to affluent children and ignore the rest. On the other hand, he didn’t direct us to do lots of things and that doesn’t cause us any angst. He didn’t tell us to get toasters, yet we use them freely without fear of damnation.

So, drag a tree into your house, throw cheap plastic baubles all over it and sing “Away in a Manger” to honor Jesus’ birth? Well, OK. If it feels right and pure in your own heart, and you aren’t hurting anyone else, go for it. But simply be aware that your Christmas tree is not a Christian symbol. It’s pagan.

The Christmas tree is pine — the sacred tree of yule, or the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year. It’s the day our ancient ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the sun. I rather like the synchronicity of the symbolism. The “birth of the sun” and “birth of the son.” They could complement each other nicely, if people would stop battling for ownership of the holiday, and realize that someone believing something different than ourselves isn’t a threat.

Things have changed, people! It doesn’t have to be either/or anymore! You can be open to different beliefs these days without Inquisitors pounding on your door and dragging you away to the rack.

Really!

So, come out of the hedgerows, or welcome inside them, whichever the case may be. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that we must fear, despise and squelch all beliefs different than our own, and I’d like to bust that myth once and for all: We just don’t have to. We can choose not to play the game.

So, let’s explore.

First off, “pagan” does not mean devil-worshipping, baby-eating monster. It simply means non-Christian. Pre-Christian, to be more precise. You don’t need to fear this word, or those who claim it.

The fact is — all of our ancient ancestors (yes, yours too) were pagan. It is indisputable. There were people on the earth long before Christ’s birth. However, once the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as a bludgeon in the fourth century, pagan holidays were considered a threat, and the Roman Church set out to obliterate them by overlaying them with Christian interpretations of those holidays.

That didn’t work, really, so in later centuries, they just started killing people.

Before the days of Christianity Or Die, all our ancestors acknowledged the winter solstice in some form. It wasn’t an excuse to party — it was a matter of survival. Our ancestors monitored the position of the sun, moon and stars so they’d know when to move to warmer territory or plant seeds. The threat of freezing or starving to death in the winter was very real 5,000 years ago. Knowing when to slaughter an animal for food was crucial for surviving until spring.

I caught a National Geographic episode on Stonehenge recently, which explored the various theories about why this astonishing structure was built, and amongst them was the worship of the “rebirth of the sun.” At a precise moment on the winter solstice, the sun shines through onto a certain spot at Stonehenge, heralding the news that the sun would return. And then, they partied. Because nothing makes people more giddy than discovering they’re not going to die after all.

What really struck me was the estimation that these Stonehenge gatherings occurred 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. Four thousand years. Just as it is a fact that Christ was born, it is a fact that these people existed too, long before written language, in a world of oral history and tales passed down from generation to generation, along with fears and beliefs too — like, maybe the sun won’t return unless we gather at the Great Stone Circle and chant and sacrifice a rabbit.

Hey — in their minds, it made perfect sense. After all — it worked every year, right?

So, while some take this time of year to ponder the miracle of Christ’s birth, I choose to ponder the miracle of the turning of the seasonal wheel, the intrinsic connection to nature, the wonder of the never-ending balance of light and dark … the simple joy of still being alive. In a word: Gratitude. I’m still here. I’m still alive. Wow. Let’s party!

Does that mean I don’t celebrate Christmas, too? Oh heck no. I love Christmas. Do I celebrate Jesus’ birth at this time of year? No. But you can. Knock yourself out. We can celebrate peacefully and joyfully, side by side, if we can agree on one point: Jesus is not the reason for the season. He may be your reason for the season. But not the reason. And not mine. And — it’s still all good.

So, let’s have ourselves a merry little Christmas — whatever our reasons for the season.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

Debra DeAngelo

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Discussion | 6 comments

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  • Donna TurcotDecember 22, 2013 - 8:18 am

    Great piece, thanks. However, one additional note should have been made. The Christian use of this originally pagan holiday (Solstice) was to blend in and provide cover for the then new Christian celebration of the birth of Christ, a celebration Christians would otherwise have been persecuted for. Thus, it did become the Christian 'reason for the season', so Merry Solstice and Merry Christmas. :-)

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  • December 22, 2013 - 9:01 am

    Great article, enjoyed it! I agree.

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  • Marjorie BeachDecember 22, 2013 - 9:03 am

    Really good article, hope a lot of folks get to read it!

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 22, 2013 - 12:38 pm

    "Just as it is a fact that Christ was born." ……… For something to be accepted as a 'fact,' and not simply a matter of faith, you need some evidence. I am not sure there is any actual evidence that Christ was born. There are, to my knowledge, no mentions of him written during his short life by any of his contemporaries or by any historians of that epoch. That does not disprove His existence. It leaves the matter of fact an open question. Also, the accounts of the Christian Bible which tell the story of Christ were published later--the last Gospel, John, was published long after His death. Those accounts, however, were not written as history. They were, to quote Michael White (a highly respected Biblical scholar at the University of Texas) "told in such a way as to evoke a certain image of Jesus for a particular audience." As to the birth of Christ, I would agree that there certainly is a lot of faith among Christians that He was born. I don't think the actual day on the calendar (12-25 or some other) matters to believers.

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  • Heather VermazenDecember 22, 2013 - 4:03 pm

    This is in response to Mr. Rifkin's comments about the historic proof of the birth, life and death of Christ. It would be hard to underestimate the significance of Jesus. No other person has had a greater historical impact. Even those who aren’t Christians acknowledge this: Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet. Hindus consider him a holy teacher. Even many atheists are very willing to say they admire Jesus; for example, Christopher Hitchens once said he respects “the virtue of his teachings.” Yet a common skeptical remark you hear is that we can’t really know anything about who Jesus actually was. He was probably a great guy, but the early Christians invented so many stories about him that we have no way of separating what’s true in the Bible from what’s false. Most skeptics don’t realize, however, that academic historians take Jesus very seriously. We’re talking historians, not theologians; not least, because we have so many historical sources for Jesus. Many people don’t realize the New Testament is a collection of books, for example, and represents multiple sources about Jesus. Many are very early—for example, Paul’s letters date to the 40s and 50s AD and some of the material he quotes is dated even earlier, to within months of Jesus’s death. Literary studies of the gospels have also shown that their authors were intentionally setting out to write biography—not fiction or hagiography. Where we can test them against archaeology or other historians of the period, they’re shown to be reliable. Thus, historians take Jesus seriously. No credentialed academic historian in a university ancient history department would suggest that Jesus never existed, for instance. Throw out Jesus and you would have to throw out a wealth of other historical figures for whom less evidence exists, such as Julius Caesar. In recent decades, there has been a renewed interest in the study of the “historical Jesus,” by which we mean what we can say about Jesus using the methods and tools of the historian. There are a wide number of facts upon which historians agree. To list just a few, it is generally agreed that Jesus was raised in Nazareth. That he was baptized by John. That he had twelve disciples. That he had a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. That he taught in parables and stories. That he clashed with the religious authorities of his day. That he spent time with social outcasts. That he had an extremely high view of his own identity and his relationship to God. That at the end of his ministry he rode into Jerusalem, was hailed by many as the Messiah, performed some kind of prophetic action in the Temple for which he was arrested, tried, and executed. It’s simply not the case, in other words, that Jesus’s life was invented decades after his death by well meaning Christians. And that means we are forced to take the life of Jesus very seriously—at the very least, we need to read the gospels as we would other ancient literature and weigh them accordingly. And that brings us face to face with Jesus himself: a Jesus who made astonishing claims about himself. C S Lewis once famously said that Jesus left us only three options. Either he was mad—utterly insane. Or he was bad—a cynical liar. Or else Jesus was who he claimed to be. Whilst this threefold choice may slightly over simplify things, the broad thrust is right. Jesus forces all of us to answer the same question he asked Peter in the Gospels: “Who do you say I am?” One thing is certain: Jesus has left a powerful footprint on history, too great to ignore. “Who do you say that I am?” The answer each of us gives to that question matters profoundly.

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  • TorgnyDecember 24, 2013 - 10:23 am

    Start delving into factual, non-religious history, as Ms. DeAngelo writes, and you won't just discover that Jesus was probably not born in December but you'll discover that there isn't the slightest bit of evidence to support that he existed at all. No one has discovered any evidence of Jesus' existence: no artifacts; no contemporaneous writings by, or referring to, Jesus; no public or private records mentioning Jesus, etc. Everything we think we know about Jesus comes from the writings of people who weren't even alive at the same time Jesus supposedly was and who never claim to even have met him. While the complete lack of evidence doesn't rule out the chance that Jesus nevertheless existed, that's a far cry from asserting as a fact that he existed, was one of "the most dynamic, articulate speakers of all time", or is worthy of any celebration for anything he did or said. To assert those things as fact is nothing but wishful thinking or catering to the easily offended who can't tolerate their beliefs being questioned or tested. And to assert, as some of the comments do, that we have more evidence for his existence than we do for that of Caesar shows either a startling lack of education or extreme delusion. There's a reason our legal system, and respectable scholars and biographers, don't credit hearsay. The only industry that not only relies on hearsay, but gives it more weight than it gives to facts, is religion. That seems to me to be evidence of something else entirely, and not something good.

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