The real meaning of Christmas, exposed

 

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Photos of oil on water by Christopher Cudworth 2017

On Christmas Eve the Christian world fills with anticipation as one of its high holy days is about to arrive. Millions will attend church to celebrate Christmas Day, the traditional time affixed to the birth of Yeshua, or Jesus.

Yet we now recognize the Christmas season as we know it is a fabrication. The most ardent biblical literalists are the ones that have exposed the ruse, and confessed. The website Answers In Genesis fashions itself a key defender of all things “inerrant and true” about the Bible, and even it has grave doubts about the time of year in which we celebrate Christmas.

After careful scriptural exegesis of the Jewish calendar and its documentation of the time of year in which John the Baptist was born, Answers In Genesis says:

“This would have put John the Baptist at about six months in the womb around August/September. Assuming about nine months for pregnancy, John would have been born about November/December by the modern calendar based on the assumptions we used.

If the Holy Spirit did come upon Mary in the sixth month (Elul) or around August/September, as it seems to indicate in Scripture, then Jesus should have been born about nine months later, which would place His birth around May/June. Since John the Baptist was still in the womb of Elizabeth when he leapt for joy in Jesus’ presence (Luke 1:39-42), this means that the conception had to take place within the next three months or so of the visit by Gabriel—before John was born. Regardless, by this reckoning, the birth of Christ isn’t even close to Christmas on the modern calendar.”

Answers In Genesis is not alone in this correction of supposed history, but this example makes the point that harsher cynics have long claimed: Christmas is an invention of religion designed to serve a specific purpose. The narrative of Jesus born in Bethlehem was cobbled together by a series of Gospel writers who either copied one another or chose a different emphasis depending on how they viewed the Christ story.

The Nativity with the animals gathered around and Wise Men attending is also manufactured for the purpose of giving the Christmas story a focus. People need that. It helps them pass along the Christmas tale to new generations. The story of the baby Jesus lying in a manger is appealing to parents sharing the tale with younger generations.

IMG_3794.jpgAnd so it goes. In the modern era, it has become a bit more difficult for Christians to defend the verity and meaning of this story because the season has become perverted by the massive commercial significance of the holiday season. This has not been the fault of the secular world. Many people celebrate Christmas because it’s fun, but that permission has long been granted by the competing tale of Santa Claus bringing gifts to small children and adults alike around the world. Christians have willingly conveyed this myth for over a century now. There is likely no turning back.

The history and popularity of the myth of Santa Claus is irrelevant to the true meaning of Christmas. But it does have a parallel significance in where we are in Christmas traditions today. Some Christians claim that Christmas as a religious holiday is under siege by secular forces who want to ban the words “Merry Christmas” from the cultural lexicon. The so-called “War On Christmas” is preached from the pulpits of Fox News and pasted like butter on the bread of social media for so-called devout Christians to spread the word that Christianity is under attack.

This serves as an important lesson on the real meaning of Christmas. If Christianity truly is under attack, then it is justified in every sense of the word. The holiday as we know it has been whored out to commercial interests just as the Jewish temple was once prostituted by the religious authorities in Jesus’ day. He attacked those authorities first through his words, warning them of their hypocrisy for making rules from scripture and basically charging people admission to the temple of God. Jesus castigated those same authorities as a “brood of vipers” for clinging to this power and lording themselves over others.

Jesus was born into this world to challenge that type of false authority. That baby in the manger was born out of need, not from kingly circumstance. His principle message was preached first by John the Baptist who exemplified the simplicity and virtue of true devotion to God in his call to repentance.

Jesus embraced and carried this message all the way up the chain of culture to the ultimate seats of power. He offended the chief priests and denigrated the scribes for the slavery of soul they imposed upon the rest of society. And when those offended gathered themselves in righteous fury they captured Jesus and delivered him to the Romans with the intent to dispose of the itinerant preacher they considered a blasphemer.

Do you see it now? Jesus was born to expose such charlatans. That is the real meaning of Christmas. And if we were to apply that meaning to the world today, who would those charlatans be? They would be religious authorities sacrificing true devotion to God for access and control of political power. They would be leaders who were unwilling to confess their own lack of virtue, yet who claim to know the true heart of God out of their own bold ego. They would be all those who embrace such leaders and buy into their serpentine logic that trying to act like God equates to being like God.

The characters we know as Adam and Eve fell for that trick once long ago. Christians call it Original Sin, and it resonates through the world to this very day.

So when you find a moment to consider the real meaning of Christmas, consider not how or where Jesus was born, but why. And apply that lesson to all that you do. The world will expose itself one egregious scam at a time.

And you will be blessed for knowing it.

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A short letter to Billy Graham on his endorsement of Mitt Romney for President of the United States

The inscrutable Mitt Romney meets the intractable Billy Graham

Let’s deconstruct what Billy Graham has to say about endorsing Mitt Romney:

“It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney—for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms.”

Well, Mr. Graham. You left out a lot, didn’t you? No mention of protecting the poor, a favorite topic of Jesus. NO mention of holding the wealthy accountable for exploitation of the country and its resources. No mention of protecting the earth as God’s creation. No mention of holding our former President and VP accountable for unbudgeted, illegal wars and torture.

Especially no mention of the inscrutable lack of accountability by Mitt Romney, who has changed his stated positions on every single position he claims to advocate, and obscured facts about his personal business and finances that more accurately reflect his cutthroat disregard for his fellow human beings. These acts make him either an untrustworthy leader or an outright liar. Or both. The recovery Mr. Romney needs to focus on is his credibility.

Billy Graham has endorsed an ideological chimera in Mitt Romney, and as such has sided with powerful special interests and a brand of prejudiced thinking that impinges on real American rights including freedom FROM religion as guaranteed by the US Constitution. Graham completely ignores that fact of law. His assumptions speak volumes about his anachronistic brand of religion and its lack of scriptural substance in an age of rational faith and Constitutional interpretation based on human equality, not religious prejudices.

Graham proves through his endorsement that a vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket is a vote to misappropriate American rights and freedoms in favor of a stilted worldview that sadly is also a misunderstanding of the very faith Mr. Graham and his ilk have long claimed to represent. The best illustration of this desperate grab for power and respect is the scrubbing of his own website to remove the claim that Mormonism is a ‘cult.’ Like Joe Paterno, we might be seeing another hero embracing power over principle.

It is possible to lose perspective in life when your legacy is bigger than your ability to sort out your priorities. Perhaps the influence of his now infamous son Franklin Graham has jaded the Rev. Billy Graham’s once famously wise counsel. Of course, fame ultimately has a way of corrupting judgment. Position has a way of undermining the will to discern what is truly right and wrong. And time has a way of destroying the patience for change.

All in all, Mr. Graham, you have gotten it wrong, made a spectacle of yourself and the presidential race, and intimated that our current President is not a moral and considerate man. That may be the most damning of all references in your endorsement of Romney.

Supposedly, Billy Graham, you have provided wise counsel to many Presidents. Perhaps you’ve even spoken with Barack Obama at some point in time. But what you have done now is reveal the sad political prejudice of this age, which is disturbingly ill-informed single issue voting as the premise for political loyalty. One would think a man of your stature would see beyond the narrow-minded views you express. But having heard what you now have to say, we can write you off as the product of a different age. One that never really aligned with the true path of faith, forgiveness and fruition outlined in the Bible. Perhaps you should read it again.

It really doesn’t say some of the things you apparently think it does. Or have you only read it in the presence of those who agree with you, and therefore have much to gain by doing so?

Jesus didn’t like those types of religious leaders. It says so in the Bible.

Is Newt Gingrich a latter-day King David in our midst? Maybe so. But not how you think.

Whether Christian believers like to admit it or not, the Judeo-Christian tradition is both a religious and political story. Jesus Christ was willing to challenge both the religious and political leaders of his day, calling them to guide their actions with truth, justice and morality. In the process he stood up to some politically powerful people, and we know the earthly results of those efforts. But if the moral of the story stopped there, Christianity would not be much of a religion. Instead the courage of Christ in standing up to the forces of earthly power and poor religious judgment is the ultimate model for Christians to hold leaders accountable for their words, deeds and actions.

Truly, as Christians we need to draw on the example of Jesus to guide us in not sacrificing the spiritual purpose of faith in pursuit of power. Jesus set a clear example for us all. It is not okay to rationalize our faith to try to win favor with the rich and powerful. We are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that.

But many Christians find that a tough example to follow.

You would expect that Christian leaders would demand basic patterns of moral behavior from political candidates who come to them for support. These include of course reasonable respect for marital fidelity, embracing financial ethics and legislating on behalf of the the poor and needy, whose welfare Jesus most consciously favored.

Yet a certain breed of politically motivated evangelical Christian leaders seems willing and even eager to ignore basic moral principles whenever political power comes within their reach. Thus we find evangelical Christian leaders dispensing forgiveness like Pez candy to front-running political candidates who have nasty personal and professional records.

We all know forgiveness is a powerful and wonderful thing. Some would argue it is the heart of faith itself. But let us be honest: it is not true forgiveness if our primary motive is power-brokering. That is nothing more than an ugly rationalization. Christian evangelicals who claim to have their finger on the pulse of faith yet lend their support through rubber-stamped forgiveness for corrupt leaders should be called to account for giving away the authority of faith for cheap political promises.

By example we have the 2012 election cycle, in which we find Christian evangelicals bending over backwards to support none other than Newt Gingrich, the serial wife-dumper and man of apparently confused moral character who recently blamed his propensity for dalliances and faithlessness on an overabiding love of country. Talk about a cynical argument for patriotism and a poor damn excuse for a husband! Why would any Christian evangelical support such a lout?

The answer is that Christian evangelicals are still achingly desperate for political power. Frankly it may be that because their attempts to convert society to a theocracy through religious means have failed, they hope to leverage political influence to impose a virtual theocracy that would fulfill the motives of an often warped, anachronistic interpretation of scripture. In fact the consistent policy failures of conservatives in general, all who seem set on turning back the clock through an agenda of regressive, repressive doctrines is driving the movement to new extremes. They really have nowhere else to go. So they push back even harder. And that is why social and religious conservatives are willing to dismiss all sorts of sins in political candidates. It is rather like the Old Testament stories where people in the desert beseeched God to deliver them from exile. But this time round they are not justified. Quite far from.

For example, many of today’s Republican evangelical leaders are attempting to forgive the politically front-running Newt Gingrich his many sins. Gingrich recently converted to Catholicism and that would seem to give evangelicals grounds to forgive. As if he were a changed man. Despite his very long track record of questionable ethics and a calculatingly harsh demeanor toward his enemies. In fact he does not even seem to have all that much patience or compassion for his supposed friends. Or anyone. Given his strange act of endorsing child labor to teach them the value of work, one wonders if Gingrich’s next act will be protecting child-abusing priests because it will teach children the merits of obedience.

Gingrich is a living, breathing hypocrite as well as misanthrope. We can all recall how Gingrich and the entire GOP castigated Bill Clinton for his extramarital affairs. Yet we now know that Gingrich was engaged in behavior as bad or worse than Clinton’s while the whole political takedown took place. That makes Gingrich a hypocrite and a liar.

Jesus really did not like hypocrites most of all, especially in political and religious quarters. He saved a particularly harsh brand of invective for anyone leveraging religious influence to gain power, calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for turning scripture into literal law. So why does anyone think Jesus would favor a hypocrite like Newt Gingrich for president? It’s frankly ludicrous. And yet so-called Christian evangelicals seem to be lining up to endorse him.

In a November 2011 Newsweek article, writer Michelle Goldberg documented just how far Christian evangelicals will go to partner up with politicians approaching the nation’s key seat of power. When asked why evangelicals were suddenly willing to embrace Gingrich as a candidate when his serial affairs indicate a man of poor moral character, prominent evangelical Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Center, brushed away concerns about Gingrich by saying, “Under normal circumstance, Gingrich would have some real problems with the social conservative community. But these aren’t normal circumstances.”

That is moral relativism, plain and simple.

Consider also the moral gyrations of influential conservative radio host Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host who outlined the evangelical moral quandary over Gingrich this way; “Maybe the guy in the race that would make the best president is on this third marriage. How do we reconcile that?”

Deace goes on to answer his own question by drawing on examples from the Bible: (Deace says) “I see a lot of parallels between King David and Newt Gingrich, two extraordinary men gifted by God, whose lives include very high highs and very low lows.”

But let’s follow that comparison of Newt Gingrich to King David to its true conclusion.

The supposed parallel is that both King David and Newt Gingrich lived less than exemplary lives. Both committed adultery, and in David’s case he conspired to have the husband of his desired mistress sent to a war front, so that he would essentially be killed so that David could then claim the man’s wife.

The Bible also tells us that David committed multiple counts of genocide, including crimes against his own people.  So bad was David’s behavior in life that when he asked God if he could be allowed to build a temple to his Name, God responded: “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.” You see, even God has his limits when it comes to accepting rationalizations of bad behavior.

The Christian evangelical community conveniently forgets to mention this sordid little episode toward the end of the life of King David. That is because it does not seem to fit the conservative narrative of the triumphant leader who wins the permanent favor of God, and who is rewarded for everything he has done.

Instead the honor of building a house for God must be passed to David’s son Solomon, who asked God not for wealth, nor riches or honor, nor the death of his enemies, not even for a long life. Solomon instead asked for wisdom and knowledge, a decidedly liberal engagement of the Almighty, you see. And God granted Solomon that request. And Solomon built a great temple to God.

Solomon went on to educate himself on matters of the natural world and became known for his great capacity for equity in judgment and justice for all. But even Solomon had his failures of character, proving that it’s altogether dangerous to use religion to justify placing our hopes on our political leaders, both flawed and virtuous, because they are virtually guaranteed to place their own priorities and motives over those of the people they are elected or appointed to serve.