Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When Christ Becomes a War Lord

Recently I had what I thought was a conversation with a young co-ed who became incensed that I had written Xmas. She quickly informed me it was CHRISTmas and that she didn't appreciate anyone taking Christ out of Christmas.

So the teacher in me thought I would do the standard education thing: explain the use of chi by the ancients; how the early church treated the title of Christ with the same dignity and respect the Jews did with Yahweh and the Tetragrammaton; how the use of chi was perfectly acceptable through the early 18th century when people became more educated and no longer had to mark the X for their name or the name of Christ; how businesses continued the common practice to save money; and finally how it is a personal preference whether to use the chi or not.

She would have none of that.

You see, by using the chi instead of writing out the entire term Christ, I was participating in an organized plot by atheists who were trying to remove Jesus from the Christmas season. That's right. The atheists have organized, declared war on Christianity and have decided that the Battle of the Bulge is not from the extra helping of mashed potatoes and the fruit cake, but rather the effort to remove Jesus from the hustle and bustle of all that shopping we do this time of year.

Ok. There are so many things wrong with that way of thinking.  

First, Christmas is an entirely secular holiday anyway when it comes to the shopping. Who cares what they say? What matters is the religious expectations the individual and / or family may have. The shopping is not a religious exercise; nor is fighting the crowds a penance. What goes on in those stores or at those check out lines is not a worship event. Believe me: It is anything but celebrating the Incarnation.

The only reason merchants even use "Happy Holidays" is that they recognize there are many, many, many who are not Christians at all and have other faiths. Would you want to have the clerk say "Happy Ramadan" to you? So with several faiths celebrating at an entirely secular event anyway, who cares?

If the store has Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or whatever, it is irrelevant. "Xmas" is a secular event that runs from roughly the day after Thanksgiving until the last football game in January of the New Year.

Second, the whole idea that atheists are using chi as a means to remove Jesus is preposterous at best, if not an out-and-out lie. I'm sure there is an atheist somewhere that has said they want to do that and use the chi for that purpose. OK. But I've never met a single atheist who has said that. I've never even heard of one who has said that. I certainly have never known an organized Atheist Army with Sharpies a'blazing, running around with a huge X superimposed on the Christ in Christmas. For the statement that atheists are trying to remove Jesus from the season to be true, there has to be some evidence. There is none. It is just a made up, pious sounding statement that has zero basis in fact. None.

Also, the not-so-subtle pressure the militant-Christian puts on merchants is astounding. That the Christian is going to treat a merchant with threats of economic murder is not Christ like. In fact, that intimidation is more like the Pharisees of whom Jesus said gave God homage with their lips but their heart was far from Him. So those people at Walmart better say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, and they better not have Xmas signs. Never mind what is in their heart; they had better say it like the militant wants or the economic carpet bombings begin.

How is this mentality any different from the Muslim extremists who insist that depictions of Mohammed are blasphemous? Sure, the Taliban will kill the infidel. But the Tali-Christian will try to put the offending merchant out of business. What is the different internal emotion between killing the body and killing the business?

Of course, I never have found any Biblical passage that says celebrate Christmas or give gifts in December anyway.

When Jesus is used as a War Lord to beat people into submissive acts instead of being presented as the Prince of Peace that changes people's hearts, there is a problem with the Act of War. It is a heart problem that is more concerned about outward appearance than internal devotion.

So, Happy Holidays; Happy Ramadan; Merry Xmas, Happy Chanukah; Happy Kwanza; Blessed Yule Season; Merry Christmas; or whatever you happen to be or not be. Jesus is more than a shopping event and He is no War Lord.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merrill Lynch Almost Brought Down the Entire World Economy (After Destroying Their Own Company)

MSNBC Report: 

How Merrill Lynch bankers helped blow up their firm

Oh, sure, Mother Merrill had a lot of help in the Grand Scheme, but the actions of this one company nearly plunged the world into another Great Depression. The sad part of all this is that the people who were pointing out the dangers within the company were fired for doing so, all the while Merrill paid the execs running the sham millions of dollars.

This should be criminal.

Shame on Merrill Lynch and the employees who participated in the fraud.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brief History of Christmas

For some reason, people have some really strange ideas about Christmas. Some folks think it is a Pagan holiday. Others believe it to be a uniquely Christian event. Neither are true and both are correct. Fact is, Christmas is a relatively new event in the US, with the secular celebrations not beginning until just after the close of the Civil War and the religious celebrations not until the late 19th century. In other words, when someone says we've "always celebrated Christmas in America," they really don't know what they are talking about.

The religious underpinnings of Christmas go back to Pagan origins with all sorts of festivities
and emblems, many eventually incorporated into the modern celebration. (Click here for a link that discusses some of the Christmas emblems we have today. Click here for a brief history on the religious aspects that have blended together to comprise our modern celebration.) 

When someone passes along the God Spam that talks about all the representations of Christ that are in the Christmas tree .... uh, no. Not true. Someone just made that up and passed it along. (Here's a reference that attempts to relate the seasonal emblems to Christianity, most of which are just bunk, since the representation story is just made up, e.g., where in the Bible is round wreath of green said to symolize the circle of God's Family protecting others?)

Simple science, some history and some logic may explain some of the holiday decorations and lore. Did psychedelic mushrooms and the Santa story gradually weave itself into popular culture over the last 200 years? (Link.)

We've all heard that the Roman festivals were eventually adapted into
Christian celebrations under Constantine. True, Constantine needed the rising Christian population to fight his battles and the struggling Christians readily accepted the power that came from official endorsement. So the Pagan aspects became Christianized.

Through the middle ages, the Catholic Church expanded the
Christmas celebration and other Pagan celebrations were assimilated.

Then came the Presbyterians. And the Puritans.

Finally, there came Cromwell.

The Presbyterians in Scotland
and the Puritans (the same ones that came to America) completely rejected the celebration of Christmas. They called it a sinful and heretical idea that was nothing more than idolatry. In fact, Scottish Presbyterians banned Christmas celebrations and those who observed the day were met with swift and severe punishment for their sins against God. (Link.) It wasn't until the 1950s that Scottish Presbyterians removed the ban.

Cromwell became Lord Protector of England
and with his Puritan forces banned the festival of Christmas in 1645.

Those same Puritans came the New World to escape the persecution of the Anglican
and Catholic church, both of which celebrated Christmas. So when they came to America, Christmas was made illegal, with penalties imposed by the judge and the church, usually one in the same. The nativity, in particular, was believed to be the gross sin of idolatry. (Link)

So for most of the Colonies, Christmas was spent in work, not worship. (Link.)

Christmas was celebrated in a few areas of Colonial America, mainly where the Catholics and Anglicans had strongholds. Still, those were small and only religious in nature and were kept to the church, never spilling over into the community at large. In fact, George Washington even attacked a group of Hessians on Christmas day since he knew they would still be hung over from their celebration and the Patriot troops didn't regard Christmas as anything special, rejecting both Papist and English tradition. Even Congress was in session on Christmas Day doing the day-to-day work as normal. To the Colonists, Christmas was just another day.(Link.)

Like the rest of the colonies,
Christmas in GA wasn't a big deal. The Congregationalist missionaries among the Cherokees at New Echota didn't regard Christmas with any significance, though the Moravians did make quite the party. (Link.)

In 1819, Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon,
gent., a collection of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house, that were based on "ancient customs." It was all made up, of course. But the idea began to take hold and gradually people began to have parties and give gifts to the kids. Even then, there was no relating the birth of Christ with the secular event. It as just a few parties and a few kids' gifts "like they do in England."(Link.)

Christmas was just a sparse religious event among the few Episcopalians and Catholics. There would be a few nativity scenes in the Catholic churches and a special mass, but that was it. Until the Civil War, the overwhelming majority of Americans didn't do anything special with Christmas, not even exchanging gifts or going to church.

The Civil War changed a lot of things and
Christmas was no exception. More people in contact with each other meant learning new ideas. The idea of a winter party gained some acceptance and soon the thought of taking a winter break from the long hours in industrial plants swept the nation. In 1870, President US Grant made Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and New Year's Day official Federal holidays to accommodate family time, all completely secular and all without pay. (Link.) By 1893, all states and territories had followed suit and made Christmas a secular holiday. (Link.)

Even Baptists didn't celebrate Christmas until after secularization came after the Civil War. Before 1880, there are a few rare mentions of Christmas but mostly as a lecturing exercise. (Link.) However, Baptists were as caught up in the commercialization and the businessmen's prodddings to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" around 1890 just like the rest of the nation ... and ultimately the whole world.

As Christmas became more practiced, the religious connotations emerged and by the 1890s, Christmas took on a uniquely Christian overtone in America. Still, there were two distinct celebrations: one religious and one secular, with all faiths and no faiths getting in on the parties.

It is interesting to note that prior to 1945, there are no Supreme Court cases regarding
Christmas. None. It is not until after WW II ended and the erosion of Christian hegemony that people began to have disputes. After all, until the 1890s, Christmas wasn't even celebrated. During the next 50 years, the majority Christian faith adopted and adapted the Christmas season. Before long, those majority religious ideas were clashing with the secular ideas, other religious ideas and legal principles which meant lawsuits. (Link to some legal info on Christmas.)

Today, Santa is the premier secular
Christmas symbol, first appearing in 1821 and widely accepted by 1897 with the classic, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. That did it. When kids expect presents, they get them and the modern secular Christmas was born. Today, Christmas begins a few days before Thanksgiving and lasts until the final college bowl game sometime after New Years. Of course, Christmas is celebrated all over the world in its secular form, in all nations and of all faiths. Yes, even in Muslim nations, the secular Christmas is celebrated.

The religious aspects of
Christmas have certainly changed over the years. Christmas used to be viewed as sinful and something unholy by most Americans. Nativity scenes even 150 years ago -- would get you thrown in jail and kicked out of the church. Today, things are much different ... well, maybe not in some parts of the nation. Say anything about separation of church and state and ... whew.

No matter how one worships or chooses not to worship, it is entirely a matter of conscience and conviction, a right protected by the Constitution. Yet, we would be greatly amiss to say that our nation has always celebrated
Christmas. That is false. Christmas celebration is a relatively new phenomenon, only having been around for roughly 110 years or so, and even then with many different meanings than what we ascribe today.
For some more info on Christmas traditions and their history, here's another link.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Congressional Prayer Caucus Barks Up Wrong Tree

When I read that Randy Forbes had complained about something President Obama said in a speech while in Jakarta, I shook my head. (Here's the text of Forbes' complaint.) It seems Forbes and the rest of the Congressional Prayer Caucus are upset with President Obama (what else is new?) because Obama said that the National Motto is E Pluribus Unum (Out of One, Many). It's not, of course. The National Motto of the United States is One Nation Under God. So the Congressional Prayer Caucus got upset, using the stage as a chance to get another gig in on their political rival.

I have to believe Obama simply had a slip of the memory. We're talking trivia here, not strategic policy, economic planning or military operations. Forbes and the Congressional Prayer Caucus are barking up the wrong tree.

And they are being a bunch of hypocrites, too.

Frank Lockwood points out on his blog that none other than Ronald Reagan made the same statement, saying E Pluribus Unum is the National Motto. 


Of course, the Congressional Prayer Caucus wasn't around when Reagan said it, but I can't see them sending a complaint letter to The Gipper about his gaff. Maybe they would but I seriously doubt it. 

This is the same group that complained when President Obama omitted "God" from the "correct" interpretation of the Declaration of Independence when he used a summary statement and said that our rights are endowed but left off the phrase by their Creator.

First, Obama was paraphrasing and generalizing --- like we all do.

Second, the Declaration of Independence says Their Creator, not The Creator. (Yes, the emphasis is important.) Everyone has a different concept of god/spiritual things and for the State to decide which God(s) or even if there is a god is beyond the State's competence.

And, third, the Declaration of Independence is referring to the God who is like a clockmaker, not the Biblical, intervening God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and certainly not the New Testament Jesus of a divine nature who became flesh and walked among us. The understanding of "god" in the 18th century by most educated people was of a god who started this mess but doesn't intervene in the affairs of men. 

But, hey, never let a good righteous cause with a chance to score a political brownie point by manipulating the emotional whims of the faithful and gain a few votes stand in the way. (Where is my extreme sarcasm emoticon?) 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame

Put Marvin Miller In The Baseball Hall Of Fame

I remember the news reports as a kid where Bowie Kuhn was at war with Marvin Miller. As a gradeshooler and then a teen, I really didn't understand the arguments or appreciate the strategy that was being played out on the national scene about the national past time. All I cared about was if the Atlanta Braves could manage to find a way to win a 3 game series before figuring out new ways to lose. That was the 1970s, of course.

Now, I see the genius of Miller; the down right ornery behavior of Bowie Kuhn; and I've managed to see the Atlanta Braves become a baseball powerhouse, win a World Series, and entertain my kids, my father and the entire Southeast.

All thanks to the tenacity of Marvin Miller.

Miller forced the business of baseball to treat the players fairly, decently and with some respect. Sure, we've got jerks in the game and we all like to focus on the cry-babies. But what the owners/MLB was doing to players would not be tolerated in any other occupation, save a plantation/slave relationship.

The modern game of baseball is what it is because of Miller. No one else has impacted the game like him. No one. Period. No, he wasn't a 20 game winner for six seasons. He wasn't in the 40-40 Club. He never did anything on the field. But what he did behind the scenes, in the board room and at the negotiating table made baseball a more fair and honest business for the players.

No one likes the strikes. No one likes the seemingly ginormous salaries for playing a game. But major and minor league baseball is not a game. It is a business. It's a business that is worth more than the Gross Domestic Product of entire nations. And were it not for Marvin Miller, the worth of baseball would still be in the hands of a few, exploiting the natural athletic abilities of the most talented players, e.g., employees.

We all recognize there are problems in baseball. Then again, there are problems in any business or any organization. However, let's not punish Miller for the antics of the few or the inefficiencies of the beast.

Miller brought a bit of parity to baseball. Let's not penalize his accomplishments because we don't like what the business has become. Frankly, the business was worse before Miller --- we just didn't see it while it was hidden behind secrecy in the hands of a few owners.

Mr. Miller, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.