He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, January 6, 2014

Follow-Up: The "War" on Christmas

There were a couple of responses to my comment on Chris Stedman's entry which I reposted here.  I would like to address the charge of the Christian appropriation of the traditions of other extant religions.

I'll start by quoting the responses and then address the basic argument.  The ancillary arguments I can address later if anyone wants me to do so.

"The most profound thing you can do for your made up story is admit it had nothing to do with December and given the facts of the case he would have been born sometime in June/July….not December. Lets also look at the facts that the story of the bible is thousands of years older then the Christian version dating all the way back to the Egyptian book of the dead. All religion stories were borrowed/stolen from religions before it and all words were created to control and keep calm the population. ITs been translated, wrongly I would add, so many times that you are no longer following the word of “god” , you are following the rules of man."

"Christ isn’t the reason for the season… The Church placed Christ’s birthday where it is because it was initially a Pagan holiday, and what better way to combat a competing religion and try to win over more followers than forcing your new holiday into replacing an ancient one?"

The basic notion here is that Christianity appropriated the Christmas holiday from religious traditions which were contemporary with them.  Setting aside the question of how it's possible for a religious group to steal a day from someone else, we can consider a parallel case with current examples and see if we can reach the same conclusion.

Let's suppose for a moment that Sam Harris (my favorite secularist philosopher) had recently died in September of this year, and let's further suppose that upon his death there is a movement to create a holiday in his honor that will celebrate science and reason, a holiday upon which the teachings of Sam Harris will be read and gifts will be exchanged.

Now this movement needs to select a date in the calendar on which to celebrate the holiday and December 24th is chosen because it is a day when people are more likely to be able to take off of work or at least have the evening off of work. It is also chosen because it provides those who would prefer not to celebrate any of the religious holidays of the season an opportunity to enjoy a celebration of their own for their own reasons and not feel left out of the fun.

I would be very reluctant to suggest that this holiday is at all "appropriating" Christmas from Christians or any holiday from anyone else regardless of proximity on the calendar. I would be more inclined to to suggest that its roots are independent of Christian traditions (or any others) and that there are understandable practical reasons for selecting that date.

Would it really make any sense for me to accuse those who celebrate Reason Day (or whatever it would be called) of merely appropriating an existing holiday? Do you think that I should react with the same sort of childish drivel that Fox News would no doubt be spewing at that point, yammering about how the reason-worshipers and/or science-worshipers stole Christmas?

Of course not.  And I wouldn't react that way.  I have a healthy respect for Sam Harris and a great appreciation for reason and science, so I would be more likely to join in the celebration.  Happy Reason Day!

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