Friday, December 21, 2018

"What Fools These Mortals Be"

Valerie Tarico is making a side business out of being a former evangelical.  Obviously her childhood was the source of much trauma in her life; or concern, or trouble, or what have you.  I don't know; I've known people to grow up in very, very conservative Christian denominations and be the kindest, most charitable people I know (mostly my mother's family, largely Primitive Baptists, and perhaps I'm jaded or biased, but they are truly kind people to one and all, and you don't get much more conservative theologically than Primitive Baptists).  Of course, what Ms. Tarico grew up with seems to have been a church more deeply lodged in the culture of where she grew up than my grandparents church ever was (you probably haven't even heard of the Primitive Baptists).  That embedding in culture (my family members' church is far too marginalized to be considered any kind of cultural or worldly power; it's probably a better model of Christianity, probably closer to Paul's "house churches," than anything else extant in the world) is frequently a source of trouble for Christianity (not for religion, for Christianity; there is a difference, though most Westerners don't seem to understand that).  Part of that problem is the pug ignorance about Christmas, which still rears its head from time to time, even if only in passing, as in this case:

After the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were bundled into the Catholic Bible, the two infancy stories merged. The three astrologers became Kings riding camels. Mary got her own “immaculate conception” and became, to some, a sinless perpetual virgin. The place of Jesus birth became a stable filled with adoring animals. And the holy birthday moved to winter solstice, weaving in delicious and delightful pagan traditions including feasting, tree decorating and festivals of light. The birth of a long-awaited messiah fused with the rebirth of the sun—and their joint birthday party became, in the dead of winter, a celebration of bounty and beauty and love and hope that captivated hearts even beyond the bounds of Christianity.

That's the last paragraph of Ms. Tarico's most recent seasonal offering.  Nothing she has to say in the rest of the article about the nativity stories is particularly surprising; it's even dated by Internet standards.   The Daily Beast ran an article last week citing the Protoevangelium of James (a/k/a The Infancy Gospel of James), which is basically a variant on the nativity story in Luke (popular even in the second century!  The classics never go out of style!) with the appendage of the birth of Mary (whose parents are Anna and Joachim), the story that provides the narrative of the Immaculate Conception (that's Mary's conception, not that of Jesus).  Frankly, a much more interesting take on the history of nativity stories than pointing out Matthew and Luke's versions don't jibe with each other at all.  Then again, Tarico betrays her fundamentalist upbringing by claiming the gospels of Matthew and Luke were "bundled into the Catholic Bible."  Those gospels became part of the canon long before there was a "Catholic" church.  And the idea that Christmas celebrations took over pagan ones is a Puritan canard meant to distinguish the "pure" Christians of Puritanism, from the unrighteous members of the church they denigrated as the "Whore of Babylon."

First, Saturnalia wasn't a time of feasting.  Feasting itself is more likely a result of Christmas celebrations, not a cause of such celebrations being in December.  Second, tree decorating came from German mystery plays in medieval Europe, long after Europe was Christian.  There was an article in Slate about what strange efforts people go to trying to keep the needles on Christmas trees, and the main point of the article was:  the tree is dead!  Strange way to honor what you supposedly worship.  Tarico links this, as many do, to the English Druids, but she then says the first mention of a Christmas tree is in 16th century Germany.  How those two groups connect is beyond me, but you know, people in the past are a homogenous group of "ancestors" who did thinks in a simple and pleasant fashion, unlike the complexity of the modern world.  Right?

And rebirth of the sun?  In northern Europe that return of the sun doesn't happen for months.  Today may be the shortest day of the year, but the sun's "re-birth" isn't realized for months.  Today is the first day of winter, not the last.  Besides, Christmas observances started in Egypt, and only got to Europe in the 4th century.  Not a whole lot of sun worshippers left in Europe by then (the Romans worshipped their leaders as gods, and the Greeks were never that enamored of pantheism).  To say 4th century Europe was influenced by Druids and sun worshippers is to say American culture was heavily influenced by the natives who set up elaborate sun calendars in the American southwest, calendars we have only recently figured out.  Again, the past is simple, the present is complicated; or something.

Old stuff, I know, but still: it's the shortest day of the year.  Blame it on Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD!

1 comment:

  1. It is something I hadn't realized until I confronted the mental habits of current atheist-online-college-credentialed people, how the entire past seems to mush together into an amorphous blog of junk, without distinctions of either place or culture or individuals OR TIME. I don't think the written record shows that that practice was as bad in the past, though anachronism would seem to mostly be a feature of old time popular culture and ideological polemics. I think it got worse as people got those from TV and movies. A while back I saw a clip from the version of Pride and Prejudice that Olivier was in, the costumes! Everything they do in the movies is a lie.