This whole war on Christmas drama leads me to a paradoxical chuckle. A fair number of Christians feel like left-leaning folk use government regulation to abolish their spiritual interpretation of their religion
Let me catch my breath here before I get too deeply into the drama. Actually, people who are sensitive to some kind of take-over of the spiritual nature of Christmas have an important point. They are not just blind evangelicals, though larger and more powerful lenses may be needed if stolid Protestant and Catholic evangelicals (and even cultural creatives) are to move to a bigger story. With a larger look we can see the government is not the culprit. Mainstream Western culture commandeered the holy days of emerging winter long before there was a democratic nation.
Besides the government is, as they say, the people. We are the people. The government is simply the servant of the people. The culture– we, the people– have co-created a debacle of the sacred since Constantine made Christianity a state religion. Let’s acknowledge that the dimming of the sacred this time of the year issues from unbridled capitalism, which has created a consumer oriented culture. Couple that with our misinformation about Dec. 25th and you do, indeed, have a conflict. But it is not just unfettered capitalism at work on you in the malls that is the seat of war on the spiritual. The obscuring of meaning goes much deeper.
Look with a larger lens at this important time of the year. If offended Christians are intellectually honest and awake, they will need to admit that Jesus was not born on December 25. Scholars disagree about the exact date but agree he was not born on the day we celebrate. Lacking any scriptural pointers, lst Century Christians suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement of Alexandria, an important early leader, picked November 18. March 28th found credence with some. Luke’s account (Luke 2:7-8) suggests, according to another source, that Jesus may have been born in the summer or early fall since Judea is typically cold and rainy in December. The shepherds would not have been out in the fields tending sheep in December, so says this line of thinking.
Why, then, do Christians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th if that date is not even close to the actual birth of Jesus?
A convincing theory suggests that this date was eventually chosen by the church because it aligned closely with a major pagan festival, dies natalis solis invicti (birth of the invincible sun god), thus allowing the church to claim a new celebration for Christianity. As Christianity encountered the nature-based spirituality of indigenous peoples, the institutional church was faced with a pathway deeply connected to the rhythms and cycles of the natural order. The Winter Solstice was celebrated as a time of re-entering the womb of darkness with a view toward rebirth of the miracle of Sunlight. It was a time of slowing down, meditating, and reflecting. Days were spent sitting around the fire telling stories, listening to elders, and enjoying a fluency of a mother tongue profoundly connected to the juicy, flow of life. As tribal people lightened their loads for winter, they also engaged in extravagant give-aways. Their value was not in accumulating but in being generous, as I noted in my Thanksgiving comments.
In order to convert peoples of the forests, the church engaged a strategy of “take-over.” They conquered the indigenous and co-opted their holy days. They built their churches on top of power points. They cut down the sacred trees in ancient Dadona and elsewhere. Now, this is where the paradoxical humor comes in. Time passed. Guilt over wars of Christians on so-called pagans was repressed into the shadows of the cultural unconscious. Then, in recent times, Christians noticed that the sublime of the Winter Solstice had been lost, that someone or something had, indeed, waged war on the deep sacred. Out came the projection of their own guilt over the war they had waged on the indigenous practioners of the Winter Solstice.
Who could the culprit be? It must be the government? Not us! Surely not us! Not me! See, that is the paradoxical humor. The War on Dec. 25th began with the church’s war on the natural spirituality of the indigenous and now the very ones who started a war project that war on the vague screen of the government. Believe me, our government has its serious flaws, but the take-over of Christmas is not one of them. We elect people whose major solution to everything is shopping. If anything, the government defends the holidays literally at all costs.
Enough of my pointing how we got off track. Receive this invitation: I call on all Christians to own this shadow of war-projection. I call on indigenous people to let go of the hurt over the repression of their sublime. May we all heed the call of Rumi, the Sufi poet:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
In our returning to the sacred web of eco-fields, we can eventually consider with respect who this man, Jesus, was, a subject I will take up in future writing.
Hint: he wasn’t who the orthodox right or the liberal left has led us to believe.