T’is the season for blessings and blasphemies.
That is my suggested “war on Xmas” replacement for “Merry Xmas, although it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But it’s a more logical fit anyway; a seasonal shift that promises sunnier days on the edge of a re-set of the Julian calendar. More than enough that we really don’t need all of the mythical stuff about baby Jesus’ birthday. My new greeting has more relevance to its Pagan roots; the Xmas narrative has about as much relevance to the occasion as Scrooge or some Celtic Women smarmy cock-up of I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Indeed, out there in the world there is so little evidence of “peace on earth and good will towards men (or women, or nature),” and so much concern that the commercial success of the shopping season augurs some sort of economic recovery that the only spirituality of the holiday is to be found in well-fortified eggnog.
Still, I don’t think it is going to be the “war on Xmas” nuke that finally wipes out the commercialized metaphysics that has become so historically-installed that we date our years as anno domini. We literally cannot start making a new year’s resolutions until we celebrate another baby Jesus birthday. I have to admit that, curiously, somewhere in my indoctrinated metaphysical marrow there is a lingering nostalgia for that feeling I had as a young boy returning home from a midnight mass in a big-flaked snowfall smelling of spicy incense, humming some phrase of Gregorian chant, and thrilled with the anticipation of waking to Santa’s presents under the tree. How all of that got orchestrated into an event that co-mingles fairytale, spirituality, and acquisitiveness still mystifies me. Decades later I can still summon the thrill of it.
One can’t help retaining a certain mnemonic fondness for what we know in our rational moments rests on a foundation of magical thinking and bullshit. Why not, the more credulous corners of the mind might plead; why not have one little season of the year of suspension of reason, rationality, and respect for empirics? One, feel-good season of putative “goodwill towards men” (that’s a good one) in which we just lay back and wallow in the sweet sentimentality of It’s a Wonderful Life, of Zu-Zu’s petals, of the heart-tugging refrains of “I’ll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams.” One can almost hear the rustle of angel wings, the soft footfalls of Donner and Blitzen, the “ho, ho, ho,” the wet kiss of your maiden aunt under the mistle toe. Surrender to it—it is perhaps the greatest self-deception in the history of human imagination—baby Jesus’ birthday! The little Messiah gets gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and you get that train set, bike, or iPad you hankered for. You can’t beat that: the finest materialistic goodies of your terrestrial life, and the arrival of the Savior who’s going to take you all the way to the promised land.
Twenty-one centuries since that star of peace supposedly hung over Bethlehem the mythology, intolerance and violence of religious faith—all faiths—continues to sow bigotry, ignorance, intolerance and death. Millennia after the first shaman discovered the power of fear of the unknown and unknowable, fear still forms the basis for all religious belief. Directing that fear toward intolerance of those who do not share one’s belief remains the time-honored and dominant method for thievery, torture, murder and war. Christianity professes to be about love of neighbor as of oneself. But, like all religions, it is not about love, but about power. Christ was supposed to be the countervailing power to Roman-Pharisee power, and maybe that was his noble intent—but look at what a nasty, hypocritical, war-mongering institution Christianity became. And American Christians might be the worst of this wretched lot—with Trump as their new Messiah.
So I say to blazes with the incense and Gregorian chant; I now defer the Pagan origins on which the season is actually founded, far more relevant to the times and circumstances in which we need to defer to the Nature from which we are truly formed. I prefer my grandkids playing with the Wii or their iPads than diddling with the crèche, where to place the animals and the wise men, and the angel atop the tree. If I can nudge them toward kindness to their kind and good stewardship of their planet it is more purposeful than any hackneyed holy family homily from a pulpit.
And so less and less attention is paid to putting the baby back in Baby Jesus’ Birthday. It is as it should be because it is perhaps better that Christ is left out the hypocrisy of it all. After all, the baby grew into a liberal rabbi, tinged with Eastern humanism and preached on behalf of the sick, poor and innocent. He wouldn’t last a week in Judea today, or a day in Arizona.
If we need any confirmation that religion is about power—confirmation beyond the story that the Holy Family was on the run at his birth and the threatened powers that be caught up with him thirty-three years later—it is that contending faiths are as much a threat to one another as they are to secular authorities. There is, as always a “war on religion—by other religions.
And what is all this mayhem over? Well, it is a god-sanctioned basis for stealing, killing and political dominance, sitting on a foundation of contending liturgies both within and between faiths. The differing deities and dogmas of various faiths and especially their fundamentalist offshoots are the prime cause of interfaith and hence, often, international violence and war. Sunni and Shiite Muslims are ready and eager to slaughter one another over a succession issue from the 8th century. Coptics hang onto their monophysite “heresy” from the 5th century Council of Chalcedon, a silly argument over whether Christ’s possessed distinct human and divine natures. And, of course, Christians enjoyed slaughtering one another during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. All religions have these schism’s, the residue of internecine power plays among the hierarchies that have learned to live well at the expense of the faithful. And when it serves their purposes there is always the extermination of the “infidel” as a causus belli.
We know it’s that time of year again, announced by every commercial medium before that last left over turkey sandwich has been munched; and those of us who have been brought up on all of its mystical imagery and acquisitive expectations retain residue of downy snowflakes drifting through the nimbus of a streetlamp on our way to a heavily-incensed midnight mass, and the nave-shaking organ thundering Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Heady stuff, that; especially if it’s a little kid’s head high on the scent of pine and with visions of sugar plums and Hostess Ding Dongs dancing about. Yes, it’s that time of he year again when Christians, Republicans and other American a-holes drag out that old canard because some liberal brought suit against having a crèche in the Capitol rotunda that evil forces are ratcheting up their “war on Christmas,” as they advance their war on reason and rationality.
“Good will toward men,” Ha! Felicitous Solstice. Good will toward Earth.
©2016, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.24.2016)