Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas and Remember to Forget Jesus

This is another Christmas post from last year. Unfortunately, the war against enjoying Christmas continues.

The "War on Christmas" has turned out to be a great fundraiser for right-wing Christian organizations. According to the LA Times, The American Family Assn., the Liberty Counsel and other conservative groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of "Merry Christmas" items.

But what about Jesus?

Of course, a big part of Christmas is the nativity scenes of shepherds, wise men, and parents standing aside the cradle in the manger. After all, the Christian gloss on the old Roman Saturnalia is that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.But what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Jesus?

The baby Jesus wasn't saying anything yet. It wasn't the baby Jesus who was supposed to have rejected temptation in the desert, spoken the Sermon on the Mount, attracted followers, formulated a "new law" for the Hebrew people, come into conflict with the Temple authorities, or been resurrected after a cruel execution. In celebrating Christmas, Christians seem to be celebrating the least "Christian" part of Jesus, the time when Jesus was least connected to the work and doctrine of his adulthood.

In fact, Christmas seems to be more about creating a personal mythology around Jesus than anything that Jesus would ever say or do. Given the resemblance to the story of Moses in Herod's killing of the young children in Bethlehem, the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 2 is one of the most mythological parts of the gospel. That's a big reason why it was easy for popular writers to use Christmas as a hook for stories about failing bankers and jolly old elves flying in the night or songs about the wonders of snow. Christmas has always been about creating and embellishing a "heart-warming story" first.

But why would Christians want the biggest holiday of the year to celebrate something as far away from the core of their religion as the birth of a Jesus? In Christian doctrine, Jesus is the "Word [of God] made flesh." To the contrary, what Christians are celebrating at Christmas is a wordless Jesus. Perhaps that is what Christians in fact mean to celebrate--the silent Jesus, the Jesus whose words no longer have authority in their lives, the Jesus who does not condemn wealth, possessions, authority, social respectability, family ties and other things that most people value in life.

Christianity is a very demanding religion. Even the most simple formulations to "love god with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself" involve breathtaking claims on human affection that religions like that of the ancient Greeks never dreamed of. By celebrating the infant, silent Jesus instead of the Jesus who speaks this particularly harsh doctrine, Christmas gives Christians an opportunity to take an extended break from the adult Jesus and his doctrine just as it gives them a holiday from their jobs, schools, businesses, and other avocations.

No doubt, the Christmas "vacation from Jesus" was one of the reasons why our Puritan forebears sought to ban Christmas celebrations. Celebrating Christmas is a way for Christians to be "Christians" and revel in Christian mythology without dealing without everything that's discomfiting about the adult "Jesus." For Christians, Christmas isn't so much about the birth of Jesus as it is about the sense of comfort and release in having Christianity without having to deal with the person of Jesus at all. Christmas is about forgetting Jesus. This puts an ironic twist on the whole "Merry Christmas" business. If Christmas is about forgetting Jesus, then the secularization of Christmas means that Christians won't be able to forget Jesus during the "holiday season." Instead of celebrating Baby Jesus between Thanksgiving and New Years, they'll be stuck with the Jesus of "woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25) all year long. That's a sure-fire prescription for guilt, failure, inadequacy, and self-doubt and a number of other burdensome feelings.

So Everybody! Give your Christian brothers a break. Say "Merry Christmas" and remember that you're helping them forget Jesus.


Alex said...

The real Jesus was forgotten long ago. By the time the Roman church was selling indulgences Jesus had been changed into a mythical figure. He certainly wasn't born at the time of the winter solstice and he wasn't crucified the exact day we celebrate Easter. Christmas trees and Easter are as pagan as worshipping the devil himself.

Jeremiah 10: 2-4…Learn not the way of the heathen…For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest …with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (King James Version)

If Jesus ran the moneychangers out of the temple it isn't too likely that he'd approve of what so called Christians do at Christmas time in his name.

Yah, Merry Christmas to you all.

Ric Caric said...

I think it's fair to say that Jesus wouldn't think any more of the U. S. today than he thought of Judea during his own time--probably less.

Tim said...

To steal from Dostoevsky, though, they'd kill him all over again if he came back spouting those ideas.