Saturday, December 10, 2011

The War On Holy Days

Before I explode into the rant I've been holding back for the last couple of weeks, I've seen a couple of things lately that brought a smile. One of them was on my Altoids tin. Now, I LOVE Altoids, especially the Cool Honey and Ginger flavors. Right now I have a tin of ginger ones, and, as is my habit, I looked at the label the other day and was very confused by the ingredient list: "Naturally flavored with other natural flavors." What does that even mean?

I also picked up the adorable Santa snow globe my Secret Santa at work gave me in order to shake it up and make it snow. I noticed a sticker on the bottom that said, "For Decorative Purposes Only." As opposed to what?

I know this is off the subject of holidays, but I've been reminded this week of the argument over earmarks. A couple of congressman have introduced a bill that would make them illegal. My question is, how exactly will an earmark be defined? And why are they going after less than one percent of the budget when there is still so much wasteful spending and so many unnecessary subsidies to corporations that make those nasty earmarks look almost invisible. One man's earmark is another man's representing his constituents.

I am an atheist. Or non-theist. Or humanist, or rationalist...whatever name one chooses to call it. I've been this way for a long time. Longer actually than I knew myself. I was raised in the church, and was active for a long, long time. But I'm not really sure that I ever actually believed. In the mental health field, this is called "fake it til you make it." I never made it, and finally had to admit that I am not a  believer. I have friends on both sides of this divide, and it was quite a surprise when I realized that my non-believing friends are frequently more moral and ethical than those on the religious side. I think there are several reasons for this; not the least of which is that if this life is all we have, then how we treat our fellow man matters a great deal. Another reason, one that I was taught in church, is that Christians have forgiveness for "all sins, past, present and future." So according to that line of belief, once you "accept Jesus," it doesn't matter what you do, you have forgiveness. Isn't that convenient? There are even passages written by Paul in the New Testament in which he gives a rationalization for this: My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak." We are besieged by Satan and temptation all of our lives, even when we have invited the Holy Spirit into our lives. Of course, these sins we commit after being saved won't send a believer to hell;  the believer has forgiveness. But it may prevent that person from leading someone else to believe.

But the code-the morals that are taught in the New Testament: love your neighbor as yourself; treat others the way you wish to be treated; be humble and not arrogant; don't be materialistic are all notions that can make all of our lives better. The Code of Hammurabi, an almost exact precursor to the Ten Commandments was produced circa 1772 BC. The first version of what we now call "The Golden Rule" is from around 624 BC. Scientists have suggested that the desire we have to live in cooperative communities has contributed to the ability of humans to survive and thrive all over the world. Cooperative communities certainly gave humans an advantage when we moved to hunter-gatherer societies. Just like wolf packs can catch prey much larger than any individual wolf, when humans cooperate, survival is more likely.

But this is all just background noise for me right now. It is Christmas. Which occurs on December 25th. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah comes first; it is the eight days from December 20 through 28. Winter festivals of light also include Saturnalia, Mithras (very similar to Christmas,) Brumalia, Loi Krathong from Thailand, and Diwali from India. The reason the early church decided to celebrate Jesus' birthday around December 25th was in order to incorporate what pagans were already doing. It is all about the return of the sun after the winter solstice, or the "shortest day of the year." That way it was easy to claim that Jesus was the light of the world, and thus the days become longer after his celebration day. In the African American celebration of Kwanzaa, the dates are December 26 to January 1.

So, when did it become about material gifts? According to an old friend of mine, who is Jewish, Hanukkah was not about gifts until the Jewish children began to feel left out with all the gentile children getting so much in the way of material things for Christmas. I confess to not knowing how the other religions in my list celebrate their festivals of light, though I'm sure there are candles and lanterns involved.

The American economy is in the crapper. It has been since 2007-that's when the recession officially began. That was almost five years ago, and it is turning back only very, very slowly. The wealthy have done very well during these five years, but the middle and working classes have done terribly. The average male salary has gone down every year since 1973. That is nearly forty years  the standard of living for middle class Americans has been going down. But this year, the spending on Christmas is up beyond any expectations. Not only does the spending appear to be going up, people are using credit cards. Not bank debit cards, credit cards. Too much spending on credit was one of the problems that started our whole downward spiral! And there are, once again, multiple stories of violence as shoppers rush through stores to get their best possible deals on the things they "need" the most. So, despite my feelings about the adopted reason for this celebratory season, I am reminded once again of my distaste for the hypocrisy that surrounds Christmas. While Bill O'Reilly is shrieking about the so-called "War on Christmas," and people are macing each other to get the best sale merchandise, I would only say that I am not ashamed or embarrassed at all to say to anyone, "Happy Holidays." And for all of you who find that offensive, consider its root; basically I'm telling you, Happy Holy Days." It isn't about Christmas, which even Christian scholars say is not Jesus' real birthday, it is about acknowledging that for all of the time that humans have lived cooperatively together, the time of year in which the sun finally begins to stay out longer has been considered holy. 

No comments: