So it’s that time of the year again, and I’ve been asked to write about my well known aversion for Christmas. True enough, I don’t look forward to the season of good will, which isn’t to say I’m ill disposed to good will or seasonal merriment. My aversion is more for the notion, the presumption, the brouhaha of it all.
Whatever else it has become, Christmas is essentially a celebration of the birth of Christ and many of course, do just that, but clearly the majority don’t, and I’m one of them. Meanwhile the commercial world doesn’t give a corporate damn about Christmas. They can barely wait for one to end before they’re promoting the next, but they’re only interested in the profit, and why wouldn’t they be, that’s what companies are there for.
So on the one hand you have a comparative few, the faithful, celebrating the famous birth, and the rest of us, what are we celebrating? Well apparently, nothing!
Sometimes I wonder if we were able to take the ‘Christmas’ out of Christmas, then perhaps it would all become more bearable, but then business wouldn’t give up it’s ride on the gravy train. Instead of selling us ‘Christmas’ presents, they’d be selling us ‘nothing’ presents. Well at least, they would then be showing their true colours.
So what’s so wrong with making the distinction? If I wanted to throw a party, I wouldn’t call it an Easter party, or a Resurrection party. So why pretend I’m celebrating Christmas, when I’m not!
I’m not piqued about New Year celebrations though, so I concur with Scottish traditions on that one. That really is an excuse for a party but it’s also just an unencumbered fact, all years come to an end. It doesn’t have the same clamour, though if there were no Christmas, it probably would.
I hate that one, when you’re out and about and you get asked, "have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?". Oh yuk!.......that is so irritating. Of course I also get viewed very much in that Dickensian ‘humbug’ sense which I really don’t mind at all, and it’s often assumed that I must therefore, be suffused with all the characteristics of Dickens’ miserly Yuletide character, because I have the nerve to manifest my dislike of all that is Christmas. It just isn’t so. Christmas has become vulgar and frenzied and I wish I could just switch it off, but I do approve of festivity.
Now, even to me, that sounds like a monumental contradiction, but somehow there is that social presumption of acquiescence in the notion of the frolicsome festivities that is so offensive. Why do we have to conform because everyone else does?
It seems to me that most of those who are into Christmas, aren’t really Christians anyway, but rather have been swept up in a lifelong tradition without ever stopping to think, why am I doing this? It’s like, London taxis still being required by law - so I’m told - to carry a bale of hay for the horse! Whether true or not, it makes the point nicely. There was a time when it seemed like a good idea, now, it’s pure nonsense.
The more I hear about Christmas and biblical stories in general - the actual rationale behind it - the more implausible it all becomes. Science for it’s part, is slowly, one by one, uncovering more tenable explanations for the pre-historical diegesis we were all brought up to believe. Not, as far as I know, that they are doing so in order to contradict established views, but that is it’s inevitable consequence. Unless of course you are a Christian and a believer, when you would of necessity, have to live in denial of the obvious. The fossil record doesn’t lie, but many people are still preaching the ‘young Earth’ theory as derived from scriptural sources.
Inevitably, that’s another source of vexation for me, belief. Why would anyone want to believe? We live in a world of inexactitude, and we can barely believe a word we hear or read. Our very security is dependant on truth, you can’t believe you’re secure, you need to know. Try and borrow some money - or lend it - without security....huh, it’s an omnipresent necessity. Oh, there’s plenty of truth out there, but it becomes true when it is shown, or known, to be so, and yet, in spite of all that,religion requires belief as a fundamental principle!
If I should ever find myself within the shadow of the Pearly Gates, and in need of an explanation for my life’s endeavours, the obvious question from me would have to be, ‘why on earth would you place people in a world where truth is one of the rarest of qualities, and then expect them to believe in an unbelievable doctrine?’
Of course we often use the word ‘believe’ more as a figure of speech rather than an actual expression of conviction. So it is primarily the religions which instil the efficacy of belief. And they need to, simply because most of their doctrine, is beyond belief.
As you view those TV debates on the great moral issues of the day, that are aired from time-to-time, you will notice that there’s always a church representative present to guide our thoughts, as if the Church of Rome - mired in scandal as it is - were somehow arbiters of moral rectitude.
The church has always had it’s own canon law to enforce it’s power over the people, ranging these days only - mercifully - from prayer to excommunication. At least for the laity that is, for the clergy on the other hand, there is a completely different rule book. The offending priest, or bishop can expect to be moved to a new and comfortable, if inconspicuous location and away from the embarrassing scrutiny of the secular world. Essentially free to continue with their grubby misdemeanour's lest they should ever be publicly exposed.
But it hasn’t always been that way. You only have to make a brief study of the history of the Church of Rome to see the full extent of that, of which it is capable. They have committed just about every crime in the book, although of course, legitimised by themselves. Today’s landslide of revelations about the buggery of the innocents, seems like a vicar’s tea party compared with the murder and torture of earlier times, not to delve too far into the infamy of the Inquisition.
Of course no-one makes too much of it these days, as though it had never happened, has everyone forgotten? Perhaps it was all so long ago for most people, but as the lawyers put it, you can’t contract out of a crime.
One of the early giants of mathematics and astronomy was Galileo Galilei, and one of the first to peer into the newly invented telescope. He discovered that the holy doctrine preached by the church was wrong. The Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around.
For making his discovery public, he was arrested and tried for heresy, jailed, and forced to recant, but mercifully released in the end. His contemporary, Giordano Bruno, was not so lucky, they burned him alive at the stake for his views on the subject. If that leads to any kind of conclusion at all, it must surely be, that the church has a greater proclivity towards murder, than to the truth and these crimes are no less repugnant by way of their antiquity.
I think Galileo has to be one of my heroes. He is credited with some inspiring statements.
"The bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go"
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."
The man was imbued with a profound sense of wisdom and humanity, though it is said he was tactless to the point of jeopardy.
So where does all this fit into the Christmas landscape? Very much, for one thing. Without the church of Christ, it surely wouldn’t exist. So how can you discuss Christmas without reference to the church? Unfortunately, I can’t find much to endear me to the notion that the story of the nativity is likely to be true, and you can’t have a lot of faith in the people who want us to believe it. Three wise men, the virgin birth, the son of God, no room at the inn, the Emperor’s new clothes spring to mind here.
Hans Andersen in his ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, recorded one of the all-time great literary observations when he crafted his tale of the corrupt weavers and their ‘invisible’ clothes. It so aptly encapsulates the notion of belief in that which is imperceptible.
Religions, have the remarkable ability to devise words to rationalize their unbelievable doctrines. Galileo’s alleged crime was called heresy, a rubric ‘catch-all’ to enable the powerful to exact terrors worse than those of the accused. Widely used and abused to extirpate political enemies. Another gem, transubstantiation, the theological wonder word to explain the conversion of Eucharistic bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during consecration and the central act of the Christmas Mass.
Since the modern imposition of drink/driving laws around the world, there have been a number of arrests of priests who were found to have exceeded alcohol limits through conducting a sequential series of Masses, thereby pushing their alcohol levels above legal limits.
But wasn’t that wine supposed to have been turned into blood? Oh dear, that rather let’s the cat out of the bag! Surely that reduces the sanctity of the sacramental wine to the realms of, ‘perks of the job’. But even if it were true, who in their right mind would want to consume the bodily remains of a 2,000 year old corpse?
"Oh, it’s for the kids", they’ll say when challenged about the efficacy of Christmas. Well it may be, but it doesn’t have to be wrapped-up in the nexus of Christmas lore. If you want to give the kids a good time, then give them a good time, you don’t need the allegory of the non-existent Santa. It’s completely untrue and most children are confused about it anyway. But more importantly, why would it be a good idea to begin a child’s young odyssey with a lie?
If only religion could find a way, through honesty and truth, instead of fairy tales and mendacious rhetoric, the world would doubtless be a better place. It’s well to remember that those pompous men of the cloth, in their ridiculous, if finely bespoken frocks and their opulent palaces of God are after all, only mere human beings, and we are all flawed.
For those of you who want to celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one. For the rest of us, tired of the antiquated and improbable tale of a mortal, if, supposedly, virginal birth, the purpose and logic of which defies reason, please allow us to eschew the seasonal conventions and forge ahead with our celebration of the other 364 days, for no reason at all.
© Jet Black/ December 2010