Category Archives: Culture

Was Christmas Really a Pagan Holiday?

PhotoSpin
Christian Religious Icons Objects
© 2001 PhotoSpin
www.photospin.com

It is almost certain that you’ll run into some well meaning fool who likes to smirk at holiday decorations and with an air of popping the balloons of children announce that “Jesus wasn’t really born on Christmas, you know.”  They will often continue with “Christmas is just another pagan festival that Christianity stole.”  Well, Virginia, it just isn’t so.  Here is a link to a terrific article on the subject, originally published in 2003 in Touchstone magazine by William J. Tighe.

So when your office version of Sheldon Cooper comes around and spouts nonsense like “Jesus was born in the summer,” or “Constantine made it up,” (seriously?) point them our way and share the facts in Professor Tighe’s succinct piece. Enjoyable reading, my friends!

 

Christians and Hallowe’en

(reprinted from 2008)

In recent years we have started to hear some Christian groups encouraging Christians not to observe Hallowe’en, not to let our children trick-or-treat, not to go to costume parties. Many of those groups urge churches to have “harvest parties” as an alternative, or even just ignore the day entirely and pretend it doesn’t exist. Why do they feel this way?

A few years ago I wrote a tract about this topic, and last year I finally dressed it up for printing.  Please have a look before you buy into anyone’s odd ideas.

christians-and-halloween-brochure

A Few More Things about Christianity that Just Aren’t So

Although no comments were posted about the first installment of this series, I’ll plunge on where angels fear to blog and share some more foolish misconceptions that have become attached to Christianity–in error.  Picking up where the last left off, let’s go on in the Scripture vein.

4. Christians believe that the Bible is the only–or supreme–source of theological truth.

This is the position called sola scriptura, a Latin phrase meaning “only by Scripture.”   It is also wrong.  Christian teaching (or doctrine, a word that means, surprisingly enough, teaching) arises from the Church, which existed before the Bible, which wrote the Bible, and is the only body entitled to interpret the Bible.  The Bible is the Church’s book, not something like Eddy’s or Hubbard’s scribblings.  The next time you hear someone from one of the multiple denominations, sects, cults, or franchises purporting to explain Scripture, take it with a large grain of salt.  While you’re at it, remind yourself what Saint Peter said: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pt 1.20).

5. Baptism and Communion are just symbols.

I’d start looking around for lightning when I hear that kind of thinking.  Far from being just symbols, Sacraments are real, objective actions of spiritual importance.  Don’t think that Christianity downplays symbols and their importance, however.  Symbols are powerful aspects of the way the human intellect was created to function.  Nevertheless, Sacraments are a combination of two things: spiritual and physical, fused together.  It’s no accident that human beings are the same, spiritual and physical fused together.  We aren’t bodies that have souls, nor are we souls that have bodies–we are bodies-and-souls knit together by the Creator.  The Sacraments are intended by the Almighty to work with us, on us, and in us, because the physical and spiritual work together.

So Baptism isn’t a symbol of rebirth, it is rebirth.  Communion isn’t a symbol or sign of unity, it is the Body of Christ feeding the Body of Christ.  Calling any Sacrament “just a symbol” is sacrilege of a very high order and offensive to God.

6. The “end times” are coming soon….

I’ve seen just about every chart and timeline predicting the Second Coming–and they’re all a load of codswallop.  Jesus himself spoke of his return and said “no man knoweth” – even himself.  For us to play games with Scripture and try to predict is a misuse of Scripture and our time.  There hasn’t been a generation that didn’t think they knew when, and that’s simply not what Christians do with their time, intellect, and energy.  The very concept of “end times” is a non-Christian idea.  Feed the hungry, give to the poor, worship God–but don’t play guessing games by importing pagan ideas into Christianity.

Well, there are the second triplet of wrong ideas about Christianity.  Your comments are welcome.  In the meantime, if you find you’re hanging out with folks who hold these six errors—-well, isn’t it time you came to the Church and learned better?

Things Christians Think about Christianity That Aren’t True

This is the third part of an ongoing series about – well – mistakes that some Christians and some Christian groups make about what Christianity believes or teaches.  In other words, “what isn’t Christianity!”  In the first two installments, we looked at six wrong notions:

1.  Christianity is about keeping the rules.
2. Christians believe in the Bible.
3. There are different “ages” or “dispensations” in the Bible and in “God’s plan of history.”
4. Christians believe that the Bible is the only–or supreme–source of theological truth.
5. Baptism and Communion are just symbols.
6. The “end times” are coming soon….

If you missed any of these, you really ought to go back and read them before continuing, because the temperature here is about to get a little warm.  So without further eloquence:

7. Christianity teaches that good people go to heaven and bad people go to, er, the other place.

Oh my, no!  What Christianity actually teaches is that hell is for those who choose to go there, and they choose that by (a) rejecting God, or (b) dying in a state of unforgiven mortal sin.  What’s “mortal” sin?  Well, the word mortal means deadly, but just think of it as serious, grievous, and intentional.  Heaven, on the other hand, is where Christians go who die in a state of grace, are martyrs, or who lived a life of heroic virtue.  Heaven is also where every soul in Purgatory will finish.  For most of us Christians, that means we get to heaven, at least eventually.

There is no such thing as reincarnation, regardless how tempting it is to think of that bully from the eighth grade coming back as a cockroach.  There is also no such thing as being made god of your own little planet, or coming back to haunt places or people, all silly pagan concepts.

8. Christians become Christians when they say a prayer and ask God to save them.

Short answer: no.  This one is based on some odd misinterpretations of Scripture.  It came in not long ago, compared to the length of time Christianity has been around.  It has its roots in pietistic movements from the 18th century.  The real way Christians become Christians is in Baptism.  When we are baptized, we are joined with Christ in his death and born again in his resurrection.  So why do Christians baptize babies?  Because they need to be Christians!  Don’t they have to understand?  Really–do you understand?  Don’t they have to, well, do something?  Nope.  All the “doing” in Baptism is done by God.  It’s a Grace thing.

9.  Christians don’t smoke, drink, play cards, dance….

Please!  These are odd little proscriptions that were sneaked in by revivalists of the 19th century American frontiers.  Smoking isn’t a sin, drinking (alcohol) isn’t a sin–although getting drunk is a bad idea that was forbidden by St. Paul–you can figure out why, the very idea of losing control of one’s behavior should tell you that.  Playing cards isn’t a sin–of course gambling away your paycheck is.  Dancing isn’t a sin–at least, I’ve never seen anyone dance so badly that it was a sin, even though when I dance it may come close; I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  These activities are things that a frontier society wants to clamp down on, because they interfere with the serious business of taming the land and settling it, but in and of themselves they aren’t sinful, and Christians do all of these things.  God isn’t worried about it.

Now we’ve reached the end of our third set of three mistaken notions about Christianity.  Maybe this time we’ll see some comments.

A Few Ideas about Christianity that are Wrong

Over a nice cup of French Roast yesterday I had the occasion to mention to a priest friend that lately I’ve been pondering a list of wrong things that people believe.  I don’t mean wrong things that are thought by people outside the Church, although there sure are plenty of those.  I mean wrong things thought by people on the fringes of the Church–like the Christmas-and-Easter crowd–and wrong things thought by people who think of themselves as Christians but can’t quite be bothered to set their bums in a pew.  Sadly, I also mean wrong things thought by people who may even be in Church every week but still are clueless.  And so, although I should be re-writing  my novel or writing its sequel, instead I’m setting out to put forth a list of a few of these ideas with short notes about each.

A few years ago another priest friend of mine preached a terrific sermon along similar lines, something like “things you thought that aren’t so.”  Alas, he preached it on a Christmas Eve, thinking (rightly) that he wouldn’t have some of those people in a pew again until spring, and those people hadn’t come to church to be taught truth, they had come to be told cozy stories about cute little baby Jesus and fuzzy lambs, and maybe even hear a little Handel.  Still, he was right to tell them the truth, and I applaud him for it.  I apologize in advance if a couple of the items on his list reappear here in mine…no plagiarism is intended: the inspiration only is his; the words are mine, and the list in no particular order of importance.  This list will come out slowly, in dribbles if you will, over time as time allows.

1.  Christianity is about keeping the rules.

Well, no, not really.  While there are some rules that should be followed, and other rules that simply must be followed, the fact is that rule-following or keeping is not the essence of Christianity, it’s more of a by-product or incidental ancillary.  For example, Christianity is not about not murdering and abstaining from red meat on Fridays, although not murdering keeps your relations with God and other people straight, and not eating red meat on Fridays helps keep your self in control over your physical appetites.  Christianity, far from being about rules, is about relationships: the relationship of the created to the Creator, the relationship of the human to other humans, and the relationship of the created to the Creation.

2. Christians believe in the Bible.

Well, this is a funny one, and it’s possible to be taken not far enough and far too far, and interestingly enough both by the same people.  Simply put, the Bible is reliable to be true, for all the purposes for which it was intended, in the original languages, in the context in which it was written and in the context of the Church.  In other words, no “Bible Roulette” of flipping pages and sticking your finger in at random.  This ain’t no Ouija board–and the Ouija board isn’t either, but that’s a subject for another post, probably in October.

This also means there are no secret codes, hidden cyphers, or closet Masonic symbols tucked away in the Bible.  This is closely related to the next item.

3. There are different “ages” or “dispensations” in the Bible and in “God’s plan of history.”

Some people like to talk and write about dispensations wherein God behaves differently and changes his mind with different plans and standards for various purposes, and they all come together with “the end times.”  Sorry.  There was no “patriarchal” or “grace” dispensations, and there will be no millennium, tribulation, or body-disappearing “rapture,” whether pre-, mid-, or post- the non-existent tribulation.  Seriously, people, this kind of talk was never heard of until the early-mid nineteenth century.  In other words, to believe this, one has to think that the Holy Spirit took a nap from Pentecost for about 1,800 years. No, this isn’t Christianity, it’s just made up silliness.

More things for the list next time.  Until then, read your Bible (a whole Bible, not just an Old & New Testament), go to Church (not some independent operation, the real deal that was founded in AD 29), and pray (not a shopping list, just sit with God and be silent).

The First Thanksgiving

A priest friend of mine makes a point of preaching special holiday sermons—sermons that are myth-busters, in which he takes a popular idea or belief about that holiday and shows how those ideas or beliefs are false.  His reasoning is that holidays are the only times some people go to church, and so he may not get the opportunity to preach again to those people for several months—so he has to hit them while he can!

This is the season where, in America, everywhere you look you’ll see pilgrims and Indians and turkeys.  You’ll see specials on television about what is referred to as “the first Thanksgiving.”

The pilgrims must have had the best PR available, because they didn’t really have the first Thanksgiving!

Actually, I’m thankful that they didn’t.  The so-called pilgrims, were the enemy.  They hated us.  They hated our church, our Prayerbook, and our bishops.  They wanted to put as much distance between us and them as possible.  The puritan separatists were coming to North America not for freedom of religion, as their PR says, but for two reasons.  First, they wanted to get away from everything that makes Anglican Christianity what it is, such as tradition, liturgy, sacraments, even Christmas!  Second, they wanted the power to force everyone else to also.  No, I have no sympathy, no affection, no respect for those pseudo-Christians at all! Continue reading

Facebook’s War against Clergy

FatherWell, I finally made the list. Facebook’s hit list, that is. Without warning, my Facebook account was locked by the gestapo in charge because I had committed a heinous sin: I used my proper clerical address: Father. Horrors! I submitted, according to their demands, a copy of my drivers license, but I blacked out my date of birth and my license number, not thinking them any of their business. I also, while I had Paint open, I added “Fr” in front of my name. We’ll see if that works, or if I have to adopt measures that other priests have had to: changing my profile picture to the little graphic you see at the head of this article.

As for right now, I’m a non-person on Facebook. You can’t even search for me. I wish there were an alternative to Facebook for keeping up with my family and friends.

Ancient Worship…Timeless Faith

A few years ago, a fellow priest (hi Jerry!) and I began using the phrase with which I’ve titled this post on websites and printed matter to refer to our traditional Anglican liturgy.  We had realized that the word “traditional” had come to have some bad connotations…for example, to a Roman Catholic, it meant “all Latin, all the time,” to a certain type of middle aged person, it meant “stuffy crap I hated as a kid,” to a number of folk it was a signal of an embattled, besieged mindset.  One of the larger continuing Anglican churches at that time was using for an advertising slogan the phrases “traditional faith…traditional worship…traditional teaching,” without much success.  It didn’t help that in theological circles was popular the amusing tagline that defined tradition as “the living faith of the dead,” but traditionalism as “the dead faith of the living,” causing no end of tittering amongst the affected and soi-disant trend-meisters of the new age, the real embodiment of “dead faith of the living.”

About the same time, the neo-evangelical and charismanic exodus from Anglican Communion churches had begun, and in their attempt to co-opt the desire amongst gen-X and gen-next for the ancient, they produced the phrase “Ancient-Future Worship” to describe their adaptation of some elements of traditional liturgy overlaid with bad rock music and pagan hysterical utterances.  In a critique of this clumsy blend of so-called “three stream” religions, one wag was wont to observe that “Ancient-Future Worship is ‘oh for three’; it is not Ancient, one prays that it not be Future, and by no exaggeration could it be called Worship.”

And yet the three-stream pretenders had hit on a third of the right answer.  The word “Ancient” strikes a gong of harmony in our racial subconscious, and, as it were, grabs us by our hippocampi, tweaks our amygdalae, and draws us in.  We are, in a word, hard-wired for Ancient Worship.  Gongs are struck, candles glow, smoke rises, incense caresses the olfactory, and we see what Saint John the Divine saw when he was shown what Real Worship looks like in the heavenly places of which each of our sanctuaries is a pale Platonic reflection.

Ancient Worship…Timeless Faith.  Only insofar as we proclaim and practice these four words will we succeed–and remain in the center of divine will.