Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway?

Well, tomorrow’s the big day. The day that some look forward to all year, some dread for weeks, and others just think it’s a nifty day, but only one day so why drag it out for so long?

In addition to hearing about how people are supposed to be waging a “war on Christmas”, chances are you’ve seen bumper stickers or signs proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, so you should “Keep Christ in Christmas”. These cute slogans stem from the mistaken notion that Christmas originated with Christianity. The truth is that virtually nothing originated with Christianity. Everything about the religion, from its core principles to the supposed biographical details of its supposed founder to even its supposed founder’s name (in linguistic variance) are borrowed from and/or parallel to older traditions from other cultures.

Virgin birth? Already been done. December 25th? Likewise. Three kings bearing gifts? Old hat. Miracles? Ditto. Twelve disciples? Tell me something I don’t know. Crucifixion? Been there, done that. Resurrection? Ho-hum. No wonder they strung the dude up along with a couple of thieves!

Christianity has a long, bloody history of conquering, eradicating and stealing from other cultures. It didn’t begin with the relatively benign “civilizing” of Native Americans (which included wiping out their religious practices) by 19th Century missionaries after the more macho invaders had massacred many of them wholesale. It didn’t begin with the early European explorers to the New World who sometimes reversed the order – first converting and baptizing the natives before murdering them so they wouldn’t be sending them to hell, and wasn’t that considerate. Nor did it begin with the Crusades, or other medieval insanity that included branding pagan traditions as “devil worship” and spreading nutty rumors about evil hexes, black masses and human sacrifice.

Nope, it goes back almost to the very beginning, or to at least the 4th Century. Our history books (written by Christian historians) tell us that ancient Christians were ruthlessly persecuted, tortured and slaughtered by pagan authorities. The part of the story they leave out is that more often, it was the other way around. We hear a great deal about Nero supposedly feeding Christians to the lions, but we never hear about hot lead being poured down the throats of non-believers. Or Christians invading and brutally murdering entire cities of pagans – not to mention how they tortured and murdered other Christians who interpreted certain passages in the Bible a little differently. All done in the name of a mild-mannered mystic who taught folks to love their neighbors.

It was perhaps inevitable that Christians should adopt December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of their prophet king. It was a date that already had been used for such purposes by other religions/ mythologies, and for very good reason. December 25 is the approximate date when the sun, having reached its greatest distance from the earth (at least so it appears) at the Winter Solstice and then having spent three days in relative limbo, begins it “resurrection”, its journey back toward us. (This is, of course, expressed from the ancient geocentric viewpoint; in reality, it’s the movement of the earth rather than the sun that causes the change.) In other words, it’s the true beginning of the new year.

The annual event was commemorated among the ancients under a variety of names, including Saturnalia and Yule, with customs that included lighting a log, decorating a tree, gathering mistletoe, singing songs and giving gifts. When early Christians took it upon themselves to convert the rest of the world to their beliefs, they shrewdly decided that it would help to blend their holidays and customs with those of the pagans. The strategy was so successful that for many centuries, much of the world simply called the date Christmas, with Yuletide becoming a mere synonym, and the origins of the festival were more or less forgotten. It’s only in fairly recent times that Western civilization has begun to remember that this time of year is a special occasion for everyone, and not just followers of one religion.

And now some Christians are insistent upon reclaiming what they stole fair and square. They’re pissed about all this PC “happy holiday” and “season’s greetings” crap, which they regard as a personal affront, and want everyone to say “Merry Christmas” the way God intended. And when places of business are so arrogant and intolerant as to wish the public good cheer in some manner except that prescribed by The One True Religion, they just might face boycotting until they acquire some godliness.

Compounding the irony is the fact that nobody has a clue when the real Jesus (if there was a real Jesus) was born. Not even what year, much less what date. But if there really was a real person to whom these legends and teachings are attached, and if he really was anywhere near as enlightened as what the Bible indicates, then he would not be such a petty megalomaniac as to approve of his followers stealing someone else’s holiday to mark his birthday, and certainly he wouldn’t approve of condemning people who don’t go along.

If you choose to believe that the biblical story of Jesus is literally true, you certainly have that right. And if you choose to follow the principles he allegedly laid out, power to you. But if you do, you should be aware that holiday chauvinism is not consistent with those values. There’s certainly nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”. And if you want to display Jesus, Joseph and Mary on your lawn (all light-skinned and blue-eyed, of course, despite their Middle Eastern origin), no one’s gonna stop you. Put the faces of the Three Stooges on the wise men if it floats your boat. (On second thought, better not; they were Jewish.) But if you’re going to pass judgment on people who choose to observe this season in a more inclusive and/or more traditional fashion, you’re definitely not honoring the spiritual teacher whose birthday is probably not tomorrow.

And on that note, we wish everyone a very Happy Reconciliation Day.

9 thoughts on “Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway?

  1. Hello POP,

    Because I have not read many of your previous posts I recently stumbled upon “Whose Holiday is It Anyway?” and, I have to say, that even though I find nothing wrong with assigning an impressive Astronomical event, involving the suns observed relative and movements during the Winter Solstice, I don’t believe this possibility necessarily negates the entire Christ story and the teachings in it. But, one thing I think you may have wrong is that, during the Winter Solstice the Earth is actually closer to the sun, not farther away. And winter actually results in the Northern hemisphere because the Earths tilt on its axis (away from the sun) creates more atmospheric interference, diminishing the intensity of the sun. It becomes colder because light has to travel farther on its skewed path through the atmosphere, which results from its tilt. I may be wrong, but I’ll check this out later, since I did have an Astronomy class in college, in which I remember the Professor passing on such a factoid.

    Just like the existence of Billions of years and incredibly long periods during which the cosmos itself, as well as the life within it, evolved, does not logically prove that there is no God, the fact that many religious celebrations have had their roots in previous cultural myths and traditions, does not prove that a real person called Jesus Christs did not exist, or was not perhaps, later given that title by his disciples and historians. And, although I believe that the gospels were written down hundreds of years after the crucifixion does not prove D. M. Murdock’s contention that the gospels “could rightly be called Gospel Fiction.”

    How does the existence of other cultural holidays and astronomical events, even when sharing symbolic content similar to that in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or the Muslim faith, or, for that matter—the mad hatters birthday, tea party—conclusively prove that many of the events and teachings in the Gospel have no validity at all? Isn’t this kind of like the idea that correlation does not necessarily equal causation i. e. isn’t it possible that certain astronomers of that time, saw a nifty correspondence between the suns three days in limbo and its return or (resurrection) and the accounts of the gospels spoken by early Christians (or visa versa). And since when does the apparent path of the sun–seen from Earth’s relative viewpoint imply a period of limbo? And, if three days of such astronomical purgatory end with the suns return (not it’s resurrection, since it never died or disappeared) provide some indisputable and alternate explanation for the story of the resurrection?

    At one time in my life I read a book called, THE SACRED MUSHROOM AND THE CROSS which was a scholarly attempt to prove that early rituals using psyloscibin or magic mushrooms, Inspired the Christ story and also represented the sacred force of nature and a mystically significant phallic appearance. This book contained a number of impressive ideas. And, the author took great pains to deliver a believable theory, but even his scholarly attempts did not prove that theory to be correct.

    My own view is that the similarity between the teachings of Christ in all four books of the Gospel, are strikingly similar, and, even if only one contained the original words and teachings, that doesn’t negate the wisdom and beauty of those teachings any more than it negates the long verbal history that Alex Haley endured in order to track down his ancestor who was abducted and forced into slavery, as not being true, or accurate. Spoken histories are basic traditions in all kinds of cultures, and if the followers of Christ believed in the utmost importance of his teachings, they very well may have taken great care to recount the stories of his teaching—although yet unwritten–with extreme accuracy. And as far as his personality being fictional and mythic, its easy to see where that conclusion could be reached, but for me, no other living person (with the exceptions of a few other wise and loving religious Icons) has ever said things so beautiful and touching—followed by making the extreme sacrifice of giving his life as a testament that a spiritual world exists, which although perhaps beyond understandable reason, is still as real as the feelings of love we may share for one another.

    As I have said before, I admittedly have no way to rationally prove these beliefs, but every poet who has ever lived, knows that not all truth and spirit comes only from logical reasoning. In fact even Einstein (although not believing in a personal God) saw evidence of a divine force driving the Cosmos, and that his Theory of Relativity was not the result of only rational thought.

    Although those of us who refuse to close the book on all things that cannot be proven, yet may exist, believe—The message passed on by such an incredibly loving being, makes the belief in miracles entirely reasonable and verifiable in the human heart.

    Christians are far form being perfect, and yes, they have often been as warlike and crazy as people having other beliefs and irrational superstitions, but not all of them are that way. Those of us who remain willing to believe in the divinity of love don’t need a mathematical formula to validate the words of a very wise being—one who, while practicing his message of love and non-violence, was entirely different form 99.99999999% of us and most likely had nothing to do with any commonplace revolutions or gambits for power!

    Although we shouldn’t need miracles to believe in them, many of us also don’t need to deny them in order to achieve complete dependence on the infallibility of logic. And like Richard Dawkins, we understand that even science may never be able to explain everything we see or feel. But, it would also be silly to deny the clear physical evidence that we often discover in the real physical world. I just don’t see where one has to imply the non-existence of a supreme being while also experiencing the universe with the awe and fascination of a child.

    Many mystics have recommended that we should not completely close accounts with our perceptions of reality, and science has not yet taught us every reason and cause behind all phenomenons, just as religions don’t have some divine right to prevent us from looking for those answers—in order to suppress our free thinking and natural curiosity. Yet if anyone is awestruck by a being who epitomized pure love, advocated forgiving one’s enemies, taught us that the greatest spiritual status belongs to little children, that the first shall be last, and assured a dying criminal on the cross next to him, that he would be with him in heaven that very day—even while looking down at the soldiers who were torturing him to death, while saying, “father forgive them, they know not what they do!” I would not dispute that persons awe. I would also say that any revolutionary who would commonly rely on the strength of his arms and the violent sacrifices made by followers—no matter how good a person that rebel may have been—he would be crazy to endorse such a program of non-violence and selfishness! Forcefully changing the world doesn’t involve such universal and loving actions, and how would such a leader help the oppressed become free from their yokes if they merely advocated forgiveness for those who persecuted them?

    Faith is faith, and science is science. Neither can only exist until completely divorced from one another, But one person may require physical proof while the other requires believing in the human heart, So, although those on the religious right bemoan our lack of understanding about the teachings of Christ, they often do so because they already know, that December 25th, and Easter, do not accurately represent the dates of these religious events. I only wish that all of them would be aware of how enjoyable these occasions for celebration can be, especially when including load fun for children and adults, along with symbolic expressions of giving and caring.

    While cultural traditions and symbolic rituals often cover the same grounds as those that are practiced in other cultures and at other times, the person who gave the sermon on the Mount, may have been assigned his godlike status by zealous followers who felt the need to mythologize him. But, how can this ever negate the truth and beauty which such a person epitomizes—whether physically speaking, or not, I too, (like the Roman soldiers at his crucifixion) can only gaze upward in awe and say, “This man surely is the son of God. No math, no chemical formulas, no fossilized missing links are required, only someone who is touched by what Jesus said and did—Most of which is expressed in the same way in all four biblical accounts of his life and teachings.

    Sorry to go on for so long, but your posts are very thought provoking and you bring up many valid yet unconventional points. I hope I have responded in kind.

    • You are correct about the sun, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I meant to say that the sun SEEMS farthest away in winter, but I put the word “appears” in such a position that it did not make this clear; as it stands, the statement is inaccurate, so I’ll have to reword it. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

      As for the Jesus story, the bottom line as far as I’m concerned is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And even though the Jesus story is just about the most extraordinary claim ever, there is no proof at all. The burden of proof is on the believer, but many Christians believe they should be given the benefit of a doubt.

      Furthermore, there is a distinction between believing in the literal truth of the gospel accounts and believing in the underlying message. I wish more Christians would focus on the substance rather than the dogma. There is certainly a great deal of wisdom in the Bible, but it often requires digging beneath layers of figurative language, historical context and linguistic thorns.

      • Hello Pop,

        I agree that there is no direct proof concerning the existence of Jesus, but as you know, those who have faith in what is reported about his life and teachings, don’t really need such proof before responding to the Gospels as they are written. And, I also certainly don’t believe everything in the Bible is absolutely true, which, in regards to the creation story in Genesis, has been directly disproved by tons of empiracle geological evidence, including an extensive fossil record. However I don’t believe that the existence of Jesus or the validity of the teachings which he is said to have actually taught, can be absolutely disproved either. But thank you for a tolerant response and another of the usually excellent articles that you write. I should also say that I enjoyed the video on D. M. Mudock’s website titled “respect my religion. Whether she is an atheist or not, the points she so effectively brings up in this short video are absolutely right on, and, if more people who consider themselves as being legitimately spiritual, could absorb this message, the world would rapidly become a better place.

        I thought you should also know that I have made an edited version of my comment on this forum and it will soon be posted on the website, themoderatevoice.com. Here is a post of that edited version which I believe expresses my views much better than the one written on this website which is so full of grammatical errors.

        Thanks,
        Peter W. Johnson
         says : March 10, 2014 at 7:20 am
        Peter W. Johnson hello POP,

        Because I have not read many of your previous posts and only recently stumbled upon “Whose Holiday is It Anyway?,” I would like to say, that, even though I find nothing wrong with assigning an impressive Astronomical event involving the sun’s observed and relative movements (as seen from Earth) during the Winter Solstice, with some sort of religious significance, I don’t believe this possibility necessarily negates the entire Christ story and the teachings in it. But, one thing I think you may have wrong is that, during the Winter Solstice the Earth is actually closer to the sun, not farther away. And, winter actually happens in the Northern hemisphere because the Earth’s tilt on its axis (away from the sun) creates more atmospheric interference and diminishes the intensity of the sun. It becomes colder since light has to travel farther on a skewed path through the atmosphere, and because the Earth changes its relative seasonal tilt. I may be wrong, but I’ll check this out later, since I had an Astronomy class in college, in which I remember the Professor passing on this interesting factoid.

        But, Just like the existence of Billions of years and incredibly long periods of time during which the cosmos itself, as well as the life within it, evolved, does not logically prove that there is no God, the fact that many religious celebrations have had their roots in previous cultural myths and traditions, does not prove that a real person called Jesus Christs did not exist, or was not perhaps, later given that title by disciples and historians. And, although I believe that the gospels were written down hundreds of years after the crucifixion, this fact also does not prove D. M. Murdock’s contention that the gospels “could rightly be called Gospel Fiction.”

        How does the existence of other cultural holidays and astronomical events, even when sharing symbolic content similar to that in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or the Muslim faith, or, for that matter—the mad hatters birthday tea party—conclusively prove that many of the events and teachings in the Gospels have little or no factual basis? Isn’t this kind of idea, like the idea that, correlation does not necessarily equal causation? i.e. isn’t it possible that certain astronomers of that time, saw a nifty correlation between the sun’s three days in limbo and its return or (resurrection) and the accounts of the gospels spoken by early Christians (or visa versa), and associated this astronomical event as having spiritual significance? But, since when, does the apparent path of the sun, as seen from Earth’s relative viewpoint, imply a period of limbo? And, how can three days of such astronomical purgatory ending with the suns return (not it’s resurrection, since it never died or disappeared) provide an indisputable and alternate explanation for the story of the resurrection?

        I once read a book called, THE SACRED MUSHROOM AND THE CROSS which was a scholarly attempt to prove that early rituals using psyloscibin or magic mushrooms, Inspired the Christ story and also represented the sacred forces of nature because this mushroom has a mystically significant phallic appearance. This book contained a number of impressive ideas. And, the author took great pains to deliver a believable theory, but even his scholarly attempts could not absolutely prove that theory to be correct.

        My own view is that the similarity between the teachings of Christ in all four books of the Gospel, are strikingly similar, and, even if only one of them contained his original words and teachings, that doesn’t negate the wisdom and beauty of those teachings any more than it negates the long verbal history that Alex Haley endured in order to track down his ancestor’s existence and record of being abducted and forced into slavery hundreds of years ago. Spoken histories have a common place in the traditions of all kinds of cultures, and if the followers of Christ believed in the utmost importance of his teachings, they very well may have taken great care to recount, in painstaking detail, the verbal history of those teaching—which although yet unwritten–-may have contained extremely accurate information. And, as far as his personality being fictional and mythic, its easy to see where that conclusion could be reached. However, for me, no other living person (with the exceptions of a few other wise and loving religious Icons) has ever said anything so beautiful and touching—followed by the extreme sacrifice of giving their lives as a testament that a spiritual world exists. And, although perhaps this world is beyond understanding with the use of reason, is may still be as real as the feelings of love we may have for another person.

        As I have said before, I admittedly have no way to rationally prove these beliefs, but every poet who has ever lived, knows that not all truth and spirit comes only from logical reasoning. In fact, even Einstein (although not believing in a personal God) saw evidence of a divine force driving the Cosmos, and said that his Theory of Relativity was not only the result of rational thought.

        Although those of us who refuse to close the book on all things that cannot be proven, because we still believe that the message passed on by such an incredibly loving being, makes the belief in miracles entirely reasonable and verifiable in the human heart, none of us can rationally prove that Jesus spoke with divine authority. But for a being like Christ, who obviously wanted to spread a gospel of pure love, he must have experienced great disappointment when those who agreed to listen expected him to entertain them with the equivalence of magic tricks, just to sustain their interests.

        Christians are far from being perfect, and yes, they are often as warlike and crazy as people having many other beliefs and irrational superstitions. However, not all of them are that way. Those of us who remain willing to believe in the divinity of love don’t need a mathematical formula to validate the words of a very wise being—one who, while practicing his message of love and non-violence, was entirely different form 99.999999999% of us and most likely had nothing to do with any commonplace revolution or gambit for power!

        Although we shouldn’t need miracles in order to believe in love, neither do many of us deny them in order to achieve complete dependence on the infallibility of logic. And like Richard Dawkins, we understand that even science may never be able to explain everything we see or feel. But, it would also be plain silly to deny the clear physical evidence that we often discover is evident in the real physical world. I just don’t see where one has to imply the non-existence of a supreme being to also scientifically experience the universe with the awe and fascination of a child.

        Many mystics have recommended that we should not completely close accounts with our perceptions of reality, and science has not yet taught us every reason and cause behind all observable phenomena. But religions don’t have a divine right to prevent us from looking for those answers—in order to suppress our free thinking and natural curiosity—but, if anyone is awestruck by a being who epitomizes pure love, who advocated forgiving one’s enemies, taught us that the greatest spiritual status belongs to little children, that the first shall be last, as well as assuring a dying criminal on the cross next to him, that he would be with him in heaven that very day—even while looking down at the soldiers who were torturing him to death, while saying, “forgive them Father, they know not what they do!” then I would not dispute that persons right to be awed. I would also say that any revolutionary leader who would normally rely on the strength of arms and the violent actions of his followers—no matter how good such a rebel may have been—he would be crazy to endorse such a program of non-violence and selflessness! After all, forcefully changing the world doesn’t often involve such universal and loving actions, and how could such a leader help the oppressed become free from their political yokes by merely advocating forgiveness for those who persecuted them?

        Faith is faith, and science is science, but neither can only exist when completely divorced from each other. While one person may require physical proofs, another may need to believe in the sanctity of the human heart. So, although those on the religious right bemoan our lack of understanding about the teachings of Christ, they often do so because they already know that December 25th, and Easter, do not accurately represent the real dates of two religiously significant events. I only wish that all of them could also be aware of how enjoyable these occasions for celebration can be, especially when including loads fun for children and adults, along with symbolic expressions of giving and caring.

        While cultural traditions and symbolic rituals often cover the same grounds as those which are practiced in other cultures and at other times, the person who gave the sermon on the Mount, may have been assigned his godlike status by zealous followers who felt the need to mythologize him. But, how can this ever negate the truth and beauty which such a person’s life and death epitomized—whether the Christian accounts of Christ have historically verifiable roots, or not—I too, (like the Roman Officer at his crucifixion) can only gaze upward in awe and say, “Truly this man was the son of God!”No math, no chemical formulas, no fossilized missing links are required for anyone to believe this, only someone who is touched by what Jesus said and did—Most of which is expressed in the same way in all four biblical accounts of his life and teachings.

        Sorry to go on for so long, but your posts are very thought provoking and you bring up many valid yet unconventional points. I hope I have responded in kind.

        Peter W. Johnson
        1506 Missouri Ave. Apt. 4,
        Superior, WI. 54880
        Phone: 715-395-0092

  2. In one of the last paragraphs I said:

    “no matter how good a person that rebel may have been—he would be crazy to endorse such a program of non-violence and selfishness! Forcefully changing the world doesn’t involve such universal and loving actions, and how would such a leader help the oppressed become free from their yokes if they merely advocated forgiveness for those who persecuted them?”

    I should have said “endorse such a program of non-violence and SELFLESSNESS, not “selfishness.” Sorry.

  3. Hi POP,

    After randomly selecting this prior post of yours again, I feel the need to make a few more comments. My different appreciation of the Gospels in the New Testament, or at least my different appreciation of them compared to your own, rightly could inspire me to make many more points at length, but I will confine them to discussing relevant ideas inspired mostly by this paragraph from your post:

    “If you choose to believe that the biblical story of Jesus is literally true, you certainly have that right. And if you choose to follow the principles he allegedly laid out, power to you. But if you do, you should be aware that holiday chauvinism is not consistent with those values. There’s certainly nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”. And if you want to display Jesus, Joseph and Mary on your lawn (all light-skinned and blue-eyed, of course, despite their Middle Eastern origin), no one’s gonna stop you. Put the faces of the Three Stooges on the wise men if it floats your boat. (On second thought, better not; they were Jewish.) But if you’re going to pass judgment on people who choose to observe this season in a more inclusive and/or more traditional fashion, you’re definitely not honoring the spiritual teacher whose birthday is probably not tomorrow.

    And on that note, we wish everyone a very Happy Reconciliation Day.”

    I hope you realize that not all of us who are touched and awed about the teachings of Christ, (in the four Gospels) do so while also adhering to the belief that everything in the bible is completely and literally true.
    In fact one example you use, in regards to the dark skinned backgrounds of those living during Christ’s time indicating that Christ was likely not lilly white and blue eyed is true–and is a belief that would entirely contradict the role of genetics–but so what?

    Many cultural Icons are depicted in ways that conform to the cultural myths that commonly make such Icons seem more impressive by describing their appearances in terms that are normal for people inhabiting certain regions. But, I think I can speak for many believers, by saying that, whether Jesus was black, white, oriental, or Native American, his appearance should not deter us from responding with utter awe to the examples he provided, the way he lived his life, and the incredibly loving things he did. To me personally. his teachings have to do with the moral principles he exemplified, and the utterly beautiful ways they were expressed. I also think it entirely reasonable to conceive of Christ as a spiritual essence, rather than just a culturally impressive superstar who is often depicted as being physically similar or the same, as people from specific and different cultures–actually, as a spiritual entity, he might have very well likely represents the lives and teachings of other great religious Icons as well. So Couldn’t they all essentially be the same being— one delivering a very consistent message about love, courage, humility, compassion, forgiveness, and devotion? No matter what they looked like, what body they were in, or, if the facts concerning their different lives were mostly indicative of the cultures in which they were born?

    I can also appreciate how plain dumb it is to criticize religious Icons worshiped in various cultures other than our own, and then defend equally incredible stories about our own Icons? Its much easier to conceive of someone like Christ riding away on a white stallion, than floating into the sky while flanked by prophets and Saints—at least from the perspective of a scientist. Joseph Smith’s revelations after reading sacred words through a pair of rose color glasses may cause us to titter, but do we really believe that walking on Water, changing water into wine, or feeding thousands from a basket with a few fish and loaves of bread, is any less unbelievable? From a strictly rational perspective, these unsubstantiated claims are all pretty hard to swallow.

    But Christ said his Kingdom was not of this world, that, “before Abraham was, I am,” and also that lest we saw miracles we could not believe.” So, before we think the things Jesus did can be disproved with science, we should consider that many of those who believe he did them, have never claimed such miracles can be asserted with logic, or with scientific principles anyway—at least not concerning what science currently knows. But, aren’t many theories proffered by (astrophysicists) in particular, often mind blowing and inconceivable also? Are there really an infinite number of parallel Universes, just because mathematical equations support that possibility? etc. etc.

    A Skeptic magazine was once offered me at a discount rate, but when I wrote to explain my feelings that the existence of a spiritual world is entirely possible, I was countered with discussions about a well known experiment undertaken to determine if a human body loses any weight at the moment of death, and thus could provide evidence for the existence of a soul. The fact that researchers found absolutely no loss of weight at all, prompted the editor of this skeptic magazine to conclude that the existence of a God, and/or a spiritual reality, is absolutely non-existent. But just think for a moment— have most religious people ever claimed that something like a (soul), must possess physical properties?—the very definition of the word affirms the soul’s incorporeal nature, and thus supports the idea that it doesn’t need to conform to physical limitations in order to be real. So how can one claim proof that something not physical or physically measurable in the first place, doesn’t exist, simply because it doesn’t move the physical arrows on a scale?

    If one wants to appreciate the works of scientists and the knowledge they have amassed, as opposed to any religiously held beliefs, one can only do so by considering scientific quests in terms of objective physical reality–but has spirituality ever been strictly indicative of things only objective or physical? Before one can appreciate the nature of various spiritual teachings, one has to realize that, although scientists deal with a real material world, no believer has to interpret that fact as meaning that universal spiritual laws cannot actually govern time and space itself?

    I decided not to subscribe to the magazine’s offer because the included pamphlet ruthlessly pigeonholed all religious people, as nothing but believers in fairy tales—even though its authors may have been well acquainted with scientific theories that are so far out, that they blow away the very concept of time and space, as well as the rules of conventional rationality, merely because they MIGHT be true?

    I understand how those asserting incredible metaphysical beliefs may offend those of us who revere the power of rational thinking and how we can become so frustrated by their pretzel logic, that we feel like banging our heads against the wall—especially after they reject one rational and objective scientific proposal after another! But let’s realize that there are millions of Christians (for example), who do not subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs. In fact a very large number Christians, (probably a majority), rejects very much of what evangelicals and fundamentalists have to say!

    POP You often use sarcasm very effectively, particularly when pointing out the absurd and illogical assumptions and biases of others. I have always liked that aspect of your posts. But like so many other critics of religion you tend to generalize and demean believers in general, simply because certain of their numbers are not playing entirely with a full deck. You need to realize that many of them find solace in their faiths in ways that make their lives meaningful and fulfilling. And, many of them also do very good works for their fellow men. The mental image of painting the stooges faces on the three wise men, is a gratifying way to imply that most Christians are also sharing the same faulty deck. It relieves one’s own frustrations about their obstinate refusals to reason.

    I have often thought that no matter how bizarre another man’s beliefs may be, it’s not healthy for our own intellects when we resort to petty and sophomoric criticisms in order to portray those people with demeaning words. It is undoubtedly a lot less of a sin than burning people at the stake, torture delivered by the Spanish Inquisitors, or wars launched in the name of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or Krishna. But making sport of others because of their faiths, does not befit the dignity and value of our own intellects when we take such a tact. Sacrilegious insults have a point, but really a very small one, especially when they’re used to ridicule even the possibility that a spiritual world we ourselves do not see—really exists.

    As far as the distance of the sun from the earth—the sun actually IS CLOSER in the winter. The perceived size of the sun, as well as the amount of energy that comes from it to the Earth’s surface, is almost completely determined by the tilt of the Earth’s axis, or, by prevailing atmospheric conditions. Otherwise it would definitely look larger in winter—if we can assume that its actual physical size did not significantly change? But, does it actually LOOK larger in any season?–I haven’t noticed. Perhaps I’m wrong but I still think you may be describing the astronomical distances involved incorrectly.

    • Yes, the sun is closer in the winter. I was not trying to describe astronomical reality, but how things must have appeared to the ancient mind.

      • That’s true, but I personally, cannot recall ever seeing the sun appear or (seem) larger due to seasonal changes alone. At times due to the sunlight’s angle or atmospheric conditions, it will appear larger, but this effect can happen during several different seasons, not just during the winter. The effect is also dependent on from what terrestrial location the sun is observed, and is short lived, since atmospheric conditions may be completely different 24 hours later, or when the next season begins.

        Since all of these effects are not long lasting, and since many ancient civilizations had fairly advanced knowledge of the different factors which cause them to appear, it is doubtful that the people of those times, would use the relative appearance of the sun, to create a myth about Christ. They must have known that tomorrow the sun might look completely different, or that, with the coming of the spring this illusion would end. So would the appearance of the sun be so significant, even though the people of those times knew that it “seemed” closer or farther under several different conditions—not just during the winter? The ritual itself may have been used to represent parts of the Christ story that were symbolically applicable to it, but not due to the way the sun “seemed,” to appear.

        Personally I have never thought the sun looked either larger or smaller during the winter, and I live near the 45th latitude. So I would guess that if any different appearing sizes are significant, they are very slight differences—not enough to be accurately discernable by the human eye.

        I also find the entire message from fundamentalists, unnecessary and basically irrelevant. Even if “correct” religous beliefs are as important as they say, merely engaging in seasonal events that have evolved from different, historical and/or cultural perspectives, can not really obscure or distort the importance of Jesus. If our parents expose us to any Christian Church experiences at all, we are, while very young, fully aware that the Christmas holiday ascribes enormous spiritual importance to the birth of Jesus—whether the calendar dates during which it is celebrated are accurate or not. What’s more, allowing children to have tons of fun while teaching many of them to appreciate the importance of giving to others, is definitely not out of line with Christian teachings in any way.

        Materialism has its influence during Christmas, but that has also always been true of the world and its celebrations in general. So, merely gathering in front of a symbolically significant and decorated tree, and/or opening modestly priced gift that most children give and receive during the Holidays, is not going to define their perceptions of money, wealth, or Jesus Christ, in any inappropriate ways!

      • The thing is, ancient civilizations knew the connection between the sun and light and warmth. And they had a habit of personifying (i.e., attaching a deity or spirit to) every phenomenon they encountered. They noticed that during the winter, light and warmth were in short supply; so they concluded that their sun deity was farther away (or at least paid them shorter visits) during those months. Thus, they may have assumed the sun looked smaller, without even noticing whether it did or not — or their narrative may have compelled them to imagine it did look smaller. In his book Rhythms Of Vision, anthropologist Dr. Lawrence Blair mentions that when Magellan landed in the New World, the natives were literally unable to see his ship because their worldview didn’t accommodate such a vessel. That’s an extreme example, but a compelling narrative often does trump the evidence of the senses. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.

      • Yes, your explanation could be true, I guess I thought you yourself were claiming that the sun appeared smaller in winter due to its farther distance from Earth.

        As we know the rough distance is usually placed at 96 million miles or so, and since the Earth’s orbit follows an elliptical track, its distance from the sun does vary. However when we are dealing with millions of miles, I don’t think the differences between closer and farther differ enough to make the sun appear discernibly larger in the summer or smaller during the winter. And, I don’t think the unassisted naked eye can really discern such small changes in its appearance at those distances.

        Thanks for responding.

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