Friday, 23 December 2011

The 'New War on Christmas'?

So . . . there is a war on Christmas.  Or so we are told by so-called Christians who seem to think that their 'ancient traditions' are being eroded away by honest questioning in the free-thinking blogosphere.  It seems that demands from secular organisations for fairness to people of all-faiths-and-none are being twisted into an attack on Christmas.

This claim of the 'new war' does make me ask some other questions though.  Who is really leading the war against Christmas and who is fighting for Christmas.  I think I would claim that in some ways it is the same people who are fighting on BOTH sides.

I don't think that the Christian communities can with any degree of honesty claim that the modern Christmas has much to do with their faith for most people.  It would be highly disingenuous to try that argument.

Let's face it, the commercialisation of Christmas was completed many decades ago.  To paraphrase Tim Minchin's great song "White Wine in the Sun", a dead [and mythical] Palestinian has found himself press-ganged into selling Play Stations and beer.  It is obvious that the main thrust of the Christmas message these days revolves around commercialisation.  Businesses rely on the excessive Christmas spending for their very survival.

The tradition of the tree is ancient and pagan, and Santa doesn't even have a place in the polytheistic pantheon of Christian 'deities' alongside God, Jesus, something godly and intangible called the Holy Spirit, and Mary.  Whichever of the particular sects of Christianity you choose to prefer, none of them include the character of Santa.   Perhaps this is because of the simple fact that there is too much evidence for the existence of Santa and that he therefore cannot be considered to be sufficiently god-like.

Even the really ancient parts of the Christmas tradition - such as the choice of the date of Christ's birthday - were stolen from previous traditions.  The time of the solstice had ancient significance, but 25th December was stolen directly from Mithraism in the Roman world when Constantine chose to change religion - for whatever political reason seemed expedient at the time.

All in all, I think it is much too late to cry that there is a war on the Christian version of Christmas now.  I accept that rational voices have the power to communicate with each other world-wide for the first time in history and the confidence of the Free Thinking movement is growing, but for most people, the spiritual version of this holiday has gone, long ago.  Whilst it is sometimes dressed up as a nice story for the children, it is important that those children don't find out too early about the disgusting 'scape goat' philosophy of Christianity.

We wouldn't want to spoil their Christmas, would we?


Hilary said...

Haha yes I'm sure that Christmas has gone through many forms, and personally I hate all the commercialism of it, and the hype. Easter is never as commercial though it too is becoming so more and more...the point is though, that in recent years, a growing number of workplaces have become excessively petty over Christmas and have indeed tried to ban even cards with nativity scenes on and even the greeting Happy Christmas, replacing it with seasonal greetings or other expression often used by Christian and non Christian alike... it seems to have been the secular society of folk who have done so, speaking often on behalf of 'other religions' and then of course these 'other religions' have replied that actually they are very happy for Christmas to be celebrated.

Fact is, we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year. It's as good as any other time of year. The Queen has two birthdays, one celebrating her actual birthdate and the other her official birthday celebrations. So, just look at Christmas as Jesus' official birthday since everyone can agree on that! His actual one I believe was likely between 2 and 3 BC but then that depends on whether there was a year zero or not doesn't it and a variety of other factors.

I don't know about a war on Christmas, but certainly we could do without all the silliness of those who want to quibble about ridiculous things. If you don't wish to celebrate it, then it's quite simple, don't!

Maybe all you atheists should go and live in France where you won't be so provoked haha.

As for your comments about children. Well it's the way you choose see , but actually God is a loving merciful God and Jesus went to the Cross of His own free will and He did so for you and for every single person who has ever lived and will ever live on this planet. Jesus said, "do not prevent children from coming to Me"!

Hilary said...

It is genarally agreed I think that Jesus was likely to have been born nearer the Spring, so maybe we should have two celebations... :)

John Robson said...

"God is a loving merciful God and Jesus went to the Cross of His own free will and He did so for you and for every single person who has ever lived and will ever live on this planet"

... Evidence? Proof? Thought not.

Hilary said...

Hi John, evidence of history, documents, etc as is usual for events of the past. Proof comes in many forms, as just stated, also in the influence seen throughout the ages of Jesus Christ, for example the abolishment of slavery, the birth and roots of state education, also individual accounts of lives being turned around from self destructive pathways to having purpose and hope, etc etc however, aside from all this the question I would like to ask, is, of what form would you want this proof to be? What would actually convince you? As you have answered your own question before waiting for a response I wonder whether perhaps you have already made your mind up.

Sometimes I wonder whether the proof many good folks want these days is a sort of 'God on demand' a snap of the fingers and God comes Lois Lane and Superman hahaha

Plasma Engineer said...

Slavery? State education?


Didn't Jesus actually advocate slavery rather clearly? I don't think there is any way that you can take the credit away from William Wilberforce (even if he did happen to be Christian, and went to my school).

Where in the bible does Jesus set up a school, or even suggest that it would be a good idea? I think he was (if he existed) one of those 'take no thought for the morrow' kind of guys, so what use would a school be? You wouldn't get much homework handed in.

I don't think we want just the proof that you describe. I think most of us would start to be interested if there was any proof at all.

Hilary said...

Wilberforce was a Christian, and the basis for all that he did was because he was a Christian and a follower of Christ...I can't believe I'm having to explain for education, surely you know about the ragged own grandfather went to one...

Plasma Engineer said...

So Wilberforce freed the slaves in the name of a god who specifically did not ever suggest that slavery was wrong. That's good. Maybe it was because he was a good man who happened to be christian.

And the ragged schools might equally have been set up by christians, but then again, who would have dared to admit not being a christian in those days.

I've noticed that good people are not formally prohibited from being christians.

Being christian is neither necessary nor sufficient for these good works.

Plasma Engineer said...

1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."

There you are. Set the slaves free. The bible says . . .

Oh that's odd. It doesn't.

Hilary said...'re making me laugh now :D

Derby Sceptic said...

Hilary: Was it not Christians who burned and drowned those believed (often for little or no reason) to be witches?

Hilary said...

Oh good grief yes that's right, we burn witches, buy and sell slaves, kill everyone who doesn't agree with us, now come on, if you can't at least discuss in a mature way then really I think it's time to stop any discussion here. I think I'll take a break now from all of your infantile argumants and bid you all a happy however-you-spend-your-next few days. If your arguments remain on this kind of level though I think I will probably not return.

John Robson said...

Hilary, you seem to start from the view-point that your God exists and it is up to anyone who says otherwise to justify their position.

That is not how logical discourse works - you are the person claiming the existence of an entity, and it is therefore up to you do demonstrate beyond doubt the existence of said entity. The burden of proof is on the person claiming the existence of something, not the person who questions it's existence.

As for what I would accept as evidence or proof... anything at all which can be a) independently verified, is supported by corroborative data, and c) allows no other explanation of a phenomenon than that of a supernatural entity being the cause. As soon as we can explain any event or phenomena without invoking the supernatural, then we can no longer use it as evidence of the supernatural.

What I won't accept as evidence includes the following:

Anecdotes about why you believe what you believe (not independently verifiable & no corroborating mutually supportive data)

Bible verses (quoting the Bible does not demonstrate it's truth any more than quoting Ian Fleming proves that James Bond was a real person).

Pointing to gaps in the current scientific understanding of the universe and saying "Look, we don't know what causes this... therefore God must exist". (Known as the "God of the Gaps" argument).

You simply cannot use Bronze age myths about a magic sky-wizard to plug any holes in the current scientific understanding of the cosmos. To do so discourages curiosity & the spirit of scientific enquiry - which I suppose is why the church has such a proven track record of this kind of attitude, from blocking stem cell research in the 21st Century, to imprisoning Galileo for his heretical assertion that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.

Hilary said...

John your views are of the materialistic philosophy which does not allow for any supernatural intervention. As I am sure you are well aware the kind of 'proof' that you are demanding is of the type that science cannot give to the demands that you are asking for.

Any scientific evidence usually over time gives way to new scientific evidence. Absolutes in scienctific discovery have not happened since the beginning of science. Faith, however, whilst having historical roots is, as it says, Faith. This of course is what atheists do not accept, but this I think is where the discussions comes to nothing as obviously if what a person demands to be convinced by Faith is contrary to the basis of Faith.

However, it is true that there was at least one disciple who doubted and I am sure the account of how Jesus appeared to Thomas, is there for us all. However (again) Thomas was not coming from the pharisaic perspective of attempting to catch Jesus out, he was Jesus' friend, willing to die with him if necessary. So when Jesus appeared to him, he was glad and didn't trawl in his mind through a host of other possible causes for this appearance!

Howevever, were the risen Jesus to appear to you, as He did to Thomas, would you believe, or simply turn away and assume you were hallucinating? For those who do not want to believe, who have already set their minds not even to consider it a possibility that God is real, Jesus is risen and that He is actually wanting to be in your life, interested in every detail of your life, wanting the best for you, then if you refuse to accept that as even remotely possible then no amount of anyone's words will change your mindset.

Derby Sceptic said...

Hilary: My reference to witches was not intended as a cheap remark, merely an example that the moral code you refer to is not consistent amongst Christians any more than it is amongst those of other faiths or no faith at all.

John Robson said...

"Howevever, were the risen Jesus to appear to you, as He did to Thomas, would you believe, or simply turn away and assume you were hallucinating?"

Were that to happen, I hope I would consider it in these terms: Which scenario is supported by the evidence?

a) A supernatural being came to Earth as his own son, who he allowed to be murdered, as a way of somehow atoning for all past & future misdemeanours of the people he allowed to murder him/his son. He then resurrected himself and subsequently showed himself to me... or

b) I had been hallucinating.

There is a wealth of evidence to support the hypothesis that the human brain can create hallucinations of a vivid & realistic nature... and none at all to support the hypothesis you propose. Which is why you, and the majority of theists like you, refuse to join in any debate where evidence and proof are the yardstick by which truth is measured.

You seem to want to join in the debate on some level, though (why post comments on a predominantly atheist blog if you didn't want to debate?). However as soon as you are asked for some logical justification of why you believe what you do, you play the old "well, evidence isn't everything" card. So to summarise your position, what you say about God & Jesus (and for all I know, the Tooth Fairy & Santa Claus too) is true... but not only do you have no evidence, you regard evidence as irrelevant on these matters. Excuse me if I fail to take you seriously.

All the advancements throughout human history have occurred by taking an evidence based view of the world around us. By using reason & logic we have figured out how to be more moral creatures than we ever did as a result of adhering to a book of bronze age fairy tales (read Sam Harris's excellent "The End of Faith" if you're looking for a justification of this assertion - go on, seriously have a read; I've read that book you claim gives you a sense of morality, after all).

I'll sum it up with a quote from Victor Stenger: "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

'Nuff said. I'm off for a beer now :0)

Plasma Engineer said...

I'll have a beer too please. . .

Meanwhile on the topic of evidence:

Scientific evidence tends to converge on the absolute truth, whereas religions tend to diverge from an ancient and absolute assertion.

Hilary said...

You comments show more the point that I made that you would not trust what you were seeing to be real.

Actually all the advancements of human history have not occured by taking an evidence based view. Advancements of human history have been made by the likes of Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Bishop Desmond Tutu who for example says of himself "I am a prisoner of hope" what a wonderful way to describe oneself.

Justice has never been acomplished by technology. Bombs, firearms, tanks, seem to be the main supposed advancements of technology. Shame most money money goes on war instead of peace, and filling people's stomachs instead of filling them with bullets. War is the result of greed, and power. This is because the nature of every human being is inherently sinful and selfish. Which is why Jesus came, to challenge selfishness and sin, to bring justice to the oppressed, to bring good news to the poor, to set people free from oppression.

As I have said many many times on this blog, not everyone who professes or declares themselves Christian is a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, walking with him daily, being in constant communication with Him. Knowing Jesus Christ is living in real freedom and peace.

I've been both sides of this, I've lived the atheist life and argued with the same old arguments that are used.

At the end of the day, no you're right I don't have to comment on this blog at all. If you'd rather I didn't, then I won't. If you want this blog to be solely for atheists to comment on, that's not a problem.

I am not out to prove my faith, neither do I feel any compulsion to do so. Proof is an interesting concept in itself. There are many levels of it, and ultimate proof is never ultimate from a mathematical or scientific perspective. As a mathematician and having taught maths for many years, many mathematical 'proofs' are not proofs at all, they are actually based on a number of assumptions, built into the proofs.

As I said, the evidence is there for you, but since you like quotations here is rather a nice one.

"Cast all your anxiety on God, because He cares for you" 1st letter of Peter chapter 5 verse 8.

John Robson said...

Hilary: It seems like you & I disagree on the role that evidence & logic has played has played in the advancement of human morality. I'm not going to labour the point, as I seriously recommend that you can read the tome I mentioned earlier. My position briefly though, is that someone like Martin Luther King (a serial adulterer, by the way, so he obviously didn't worry too much about ALL ten commandments) looked at the EVIDENCE showing that someone's skin colour was irrelevant to their worth as a human being. Once he'd drawn this conclusion, his campaign for justice & equality was a result of his use of logic and reason... oh and a great degree of courage too. The same can be applied to any of the individuals you name. Oh, and as a member of a cult which has shed more blood than just about any other (Crusades? Inquisition? etc etc etc), are you REALLY in a position to take the moral high ground when it comes to casting around blame for centuries of warfare? People in glass houses...

Now, on the subject of your imaginary friend...

The character of Jesus, as written about in the Gospels, bears many striking similarities to hero-like characters in earlier “saviour myths”. Mithras (or Mithra – also known in Persia as Zoroaster), for example was such a character, and his cult dates back to at least 1500BC (as in Before Christ), probably earlier – here is a summary of what his followers believed:

He was born of a virgin, in a manger, on December 25th.

His devotees would celebrate this by exchanging gifts on the anniversary of this date.

He was sent, as a saviour, to live on earth as a mortal.

He died for our sins, but came back to life the following Sunday.

He had twelve disciples with whom he shared a final meal before his death.

His followers would symbolically consume his blood and body in the form of wine & bread.

He is depicted as a bearded figure with a halo, and was worshipped on Sundays.

The leader of his cult was called “The Papa”, who had his HQ on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Does any of that strike you as being familiar at all? And it gets better, I happened to choose Mithras, but I was literally spoilt for choice when it came to finding examples of hero/saviour figures who bear striking similarities to (and who predate by thousands of years in some cases) the New Testament Jesus character. If you don’t believe me, go to your local library (or even good old Google) & check up on Dionysus; Horus; Odysseus; Krishna; Prometheus or Hercules, to name but a few. You’ll see much in all of these characters and their lives which you’ll recognise from what you’ve been told is Jesus’ life story.

Also we know that the Romans, in order to run an efficient empire, were meticulous record keepers. We have examples of Roman recipe books, tax records, even weather reports and letters sent home by Centurions, not to mention the records kept by the contemporary historian, Pliny the Elder. Wouldn’t it, therefore be reasonable to expect to find some record of a character who claimed to be a living God? Especially if he was enough of a troublemaker in the Judean province, that they had no option other than to put him to death – just in case he & his twelve followers were liable to overthrow the empire… Funnily enough, no such documentation has ever been found.

Happy Solstice :0)

Hilary said...

Have to say your comparisons with Mithras and co are badly researched. When you really compare them they are nothing like Jesus at all. You have to dig a bit more really. This is an old chestnut to be honest and one that doesn't wash with any serious scholar or historian.

It's interesting how you move the goalposts of your arguments. You argue the case for evidence of the nature you describe above but reject the evidence of a person choosing to believe in the Christ because of overwhelming evidence that to follow Jesus Christ is by far the best choice in life a person can ever make.

As for your glass houses, go back and read the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. I take no moral high ground as you call it, I follow Jesus Christ because I recognise my need of Him. As I have already said, in my last comment and in many many comments, if a person does not act like a true follower of Christ, then it is clear enough that they are not. Those who call themselves Christians but then act in clearly contrasting ways then it their behaviour shows they are not following Christ.

Well I really am going to take a break now, as tomorrow will a year to the day when my father died. I have thought a great deal over the year about his life and who he was. It has struck me how little we all know anyone at all even those family members we have lived with, grown up with, etc. We are all like circles and even with those we are closest to, we hardly know. We simply see and know as much of a person as that person chooses to allow to be seen.

There is One who knows each and every one of us. Every thought, word and deed. I do hope one day you take up Jesus Christ's invitation to you to follow Him. This time last year, I did not know my father was about to die. the verse "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" Proverbs 27:1 is well worth remembering on a daily basis.

Peace to you and yours.

John Robson said...

Hilary: Condolences for your father. I lost my old fella on Xmas eve a few years back so I do know what you’re going through right now. We still raise a glass or two in his honour this time of year…

Anyway, as a riposte to your previous point..

The Hero/Saviour myth (of which Jesus & Mithras are a couple of examples) is not, as you claim, largely discredited by most scholars & historians. That, I’m afraid, is just plain wrong. It is true that most (but not all) CHRISTIAN scholars dismiss any pattern of similarities between the Jesus story and previous myths as coincidence. Gosh, as CHRISTIAN scholars, I wonder if they had some kind of motive for reaching this position. If you want some informed opinion on the subject read Robert M. Prices “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” and “Deconstructing Jesus”, or Alan Dundes’ “Holy Writ as Oral Lit”. Both authors are respected impartial authorities on their subject with no axe to grind. And if nothing else these works refute your claim about my point being badly researched.

I also reject your claim that I am moving the goalposts when debating with you. All I am saying is that logic, reason and a respect for evidence which can be demonstrated, are more valuable to us in our quest for morality – ultimately the art of sharing the planet with each other in a peaceful way – than either an unfounded belief in a supernatural being, or a bronze age book of folk tales.

If you want evidence for this, then look at any nation on Earth where religion, of any kind (or any form of authority - religious or otherwise - which is beyond question), is given free reign, and you will see a less tolerant, unequal, usually homophobic and/or misogynistic society. Moderate “tolerant” religion is only moderate and tolerant because it has had it’s wings clipped by humanist secular values. You can deny it all you like, but the Bible (and let’s be fair the Qu’ran, too) contain some awful stuff about (amongst other things) wife-beating, slavery and putting people to death for, what seems to modern enlightened eyes, the most trivial of things. It is because we live in a society of humanist values, imposed largely against the wishes of the church, and the religious adherents, that we live in a more tolerant society, NOT because religion has evolved to become a more tolerant, inclusive thing – it hasn’t.

Hilary said...

Thanks - hope your day was peaceful.

Now as for Mithras...

Am not long in but will return in due course...

Plasma Engineer said...

Well - what an interesting blog post that turned out to be. The author was doing quite well until I got to:

"there is overwhelming evidence, attested to by multiple independent sources, that Jesus was a historical figure that actually lived in first century Palestine"

which there isn't or else people would prove it.

As I understand it, there is not even any evidence that Nazareth existed in the first century - and people have looked very hard to find evidence.

So then I wondered who the author might be. Who is Christopher Butler? Is he the Bishop, and Abbot of Downside who died in 1986? Well - this article is not in his bibliography, so perhaps it is someone else.

Certainly he seems not to be a well known contemporary (biblical) historian, or if he is, then he has done well to stay invisible to Google.

Not wishing to use the 'argument from lack of authority' I have my doubts about the expertise and honesty of the author to be honest. Then again, I am not sure where Robert Price gets his evidence either.

This discussion is worth pursuing. I can't imagine finding a single unbiassed reliable source though.

Maybe we should write an e-mail to 'Bible Geek' Robert Price to see whether he will feature it on one of his outpourings. I must admit that I only listen to his podcast when I have run out of better ones to listen to, but he seems very sure of himself and speaks as an ex-christian. Maybe he has already spoken about it. I'll see whether I can find out.