Sunday, 30 December 2007

Happy Winterval

The German origin of the modern Christmas tree. The Germans had quite a religious feeling for their Weihnachtsbaum, which in turn stemmed from the pagan ancestral worship of the trees of the wood.

"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

They [are] upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also [is it] in them to do good."

^Yet another reminder against idolatry in Jeremiah 10:2-5 in the King James Version of the Bible. It was also the third Commandment if I remember correctly. But I believe it shouldn’t matter if you are a heathen.

It was a random quirk of my rota that I had a long period off over the Christmas season this year. So we had great moments simply spending time with loved ones and that was what mattered most. I was also most impressed to see the use of the Dyson airblade hand dryer at Gatwick airport and various London train station public toilets as I have been a long-term fan of the Dyson vacuum cleaner because it actually sucks.

But back on topic.

I have spent most of my life celebrating Christmas and I have many fond memories of them too. However I have stopped ritualising this hybrid pagan-Christian holiday years ago the moment I found out about its origins. I could not stand myself being a phoney so I stopped. It was really as simple as that and it’s no big deal. In fact I am more than happy to work over Christmas usually in shift swaps with colleagues as I know how much it means to many people.

I don’t mind at all if others celebrate it and I am not remotely offended so all this PC BS to ban religious symbols is nonsensical. It is often the Jews and Muslims who ask where have all the Christmas cheer gone? After all, you might be a pagan or a Christian (although a Christian should not celebrate Christmas and I know many Christians who don’t. Don’t kid yourselves about how much fun it is for it goes against many teachings of the Bible from the Old to the New Testaments). I find in fact that it is atheists, agnostics and those who are most uncomfortable with religion (and these include nominal Christians) that worship and celebrate the customs of Christmas with the most fervent zeal. When I kindly ask what exactly are they celebrating, it never ceases to amaze me how tongue-tied they become when such a blasphemous thought is introduced.

One has to be profoundly ignorant to be unaware of the numerous pagan customs shoe-horned into the supposed celebration of the ethnically Jewish Jesus’ (PBUH) birthday (why exactly do we give each other gifts if it is his birthday? Yes, it’s another pagan custom…go find out for yourself) or the mass crass commercialisation that has increasingly crept into it year on year. Okay, even if we accept it as a secular commercial holiday, it is still a deadweight loss under orthodox (ahem) microeconomic theory due to the massive surge in gift giving. And for the greenies out there, please consider the environmental impact of the clutter of waste, the millions of trees destroyed for the production of billions of cards and the purely pagan custom of setting up of a “Christmas tree”, the amount of electricity consumed by decorations bright enough to be seen from space or the carbon footprint from transportation of goods, people and junk. What I am saying is that there are greener ways to celebrate Christmas if you must.

Also, being fiscally responsible when you worship and sacrifice your moolah at the altar of the First High Church of Retail Therapy is a must. After all, you won’t be able to afford 72 virgins when you find yourself on the other side of existence called “spiralling debt”.

But surely when this does not amazingly happen (Christmas Day alone accounted for £84 million in online sales in the UK) is it appropriate and fair to place this under “Life & Style” sub-section “Women”? How sexist of the Times! Tsk. Tsk.

Other than that Christmas was great for me this year and I hope everyone else had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy and healthy 2008.



Moriji said...

Isn't a lot of the stories in the Old Testament of Pagan origin? The Garden of Eden came from Sumerian mythology.

I also read that the black stone in Mecca was Pagan in origin too. Seems to me that most religions borrow from religions that preceded it, as traditions die hard. So what isn't Pagan, anyway?

Personally, I'm sickened by the commercialization of Christmas. It's getting to be way too much for me. It's become all about buying crap.

El Draque said...

Good points moriji!

It’s not so much about pagan origins per se but the wider question of it being an example of doing the complete opposite of teachings and beliefs.

Yes, some of the stories of the Old Testament have older similar versions from the Mesopotamian civilizations. The operative word is “similar”. There are similarities and there are also differences. Unless one entertains fantastic coincidences, this means that either the more recent versions evolved from the older versions or that both groups indicate a common origin.

With regards to the black stone, set on the eastern corner of the Ka’bah, although many myths have grown round it, many Muslims regard it as just a stone. When circumabulating the Ka’bah, many will try to touch or kiss it (most fail to do so due to sheer numbers of pilgrims) and the single reason for doing that was because the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself did so. In fact when Umar ibn al-Khattab (580-644), the second Caliph, came to kiss the stone, he said in front of all assembled:

"No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither harm anyone nor benefit anyone. Had I not seen Allah's Messenger [Muhammad] kissing you, I would not have kissed you."

It is used more as a marker for the starting and ending point of the circumambulation. The stone is not worshiped and Muslims do not even prostrate in the direction of the stone, prostration being done towards any and every part of the building of the Ka'bah, and more often than not one turns to directions other than the black stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad).

The stone had been stolen from the Ka’bah and even damaged several times in its history. Neither of those two facts necceistaed a “substitute” or stopped Islam or made pilgrims congregate in another place where the stone was taken. Even the Ka’bah itself is not essential: for example when it is demolished for repairs and new construction, Muslims face towards the same spot.

The point is that the essential practices of Islam, whether one wants to discuss it’s pagan origins or not, can be found in the Qur’an (scripture) and/or the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet). This reasoning extends to any ritual of any belief, regardless of it’s origin or whether it’s “true” or “false” – if it was not there or it goes against the precepts of one’s belief then it’s only natural it has to be pointed out as not making any sense eg. an atheist voluntarily and knowingly partaking in worshipping a god. Or neo-cons embracing socialism :P

With Christmas, this is a festival that is not mentioned in the Bible or in Bible dictionaries. It was never celebrated by Jesus (PBUH) or in the first few centuries after his birth.

What is even more odd is that the Christmas tree has nothing to do with Christianity or any of its spiritual or symbolic meanings. This is especially bizarre when this was specifically spoken against in the Bible itself. And when secularists spend the rest of the year highlighting the inanity of religious beliefs and rituals.

It’s only the application of it’s own teachings, rules and logic onto itself that such anomalies become apparent. But most choose to ignore it because it’s uncomfortable to face the truth. You are definitely right about traditions dying hard.

Moriji said...

Thing is, I don't know anyone who actually worships the Christmas tree. It's just a symbol that represents Christmas, along with the wreath, Santa Claus, certain foods, etc.

And there are many other things that were tacked onto Christianity that is not mentioned in the Bible besides Christmas. Popes, pastors, etc. are all later additions.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is no mention of Caliphs in the Koran, no? Wasn't this first institutionalized after Muhammed's death?

And as far as what's talked about in the Bible, this is actually of very little importance to most people. When Christianity was adopted by barbarians in Europe during the Middle Ages, it was often because of some random event. Like I remember some king in battle tried praying to the Christian God, promising that he would convert if he won. And he did, so his whole people converted. They had no clue what Christianity was about and really didn't care.

Religion really has more to do with identity. That's why people go around killing and do all sorts of stuff in the name of it. You mess with a person's identity, and they go nuts. People could care less whether they are following its teachings or not.

I mean, do you really expect the majority of people to be able to understand the complex ideas contained in most religions? It's way over their heads. They just want something to belong to, to have traditions, etc.

And in the case of Christianity, there has always been a strong affinity towards objects that supposedly contained magical powers. That's why they've gone around seeking parts of the cross that Christ supposedly died on and people go on pilgrimages to see it.

Yes, it's technically idolatry, but all religions are guilty of this. You see Islamists raising up the Koran. After a mosque gets blown up, there is a call for retaliation. In Buddhism, you typical have a picture of some Buddhist sect leader sitting on a table next to the teacher. Or what about the cross in Christianity? What's really so important about all these things? People place way too much importance on these symbols, in my opinion.

But it's by no means just the "secularists" who are big on these symbols of Christmas. Fundamentalist Christians here in America are some of their biggest supporters. You take away the Christmas tree and you will have them claiming you are waging war on Christianity.

Hell, I remember my mom going all ape shit over it when I was a kid. That damn Christmas tree was the most important thing in the world for her. If Christmas didn't go exactly the way she wanted, she would break down and start crying. Christmas is so big in Denmark, that if you told what you did in your post to most of them, you would be met with such a strong, angry reaction. You may even get death threats, not unlike those in the Middle East where people call on those who draw pictures of Muhammed to die.

And here in the United States, there is a unique tradition which goes like this. Everyone goes home for Thanksgiving, where they pig out on lots of food. Then for the next month until Christmas, they go on a shopping spree, running around like crazy. Then comes Christmas and they pig out again. Then they sleep for a week and get shitfaced for New Years. Then it's back to reality again.

Thanksgiving was supposed to be about giving thanks, but it's turned into barricading yourself at home with your family. Back in World War II, American GIs used to give the one meal during the year that contained meat in it during Thanksgiving away to the children of Europe. Do you see this sorta spirit now? Hell, no. People couldn't give a damn about others. Do you think people in the military these days give away their Thanksgiving meals to Iraqi children? Pffffttt! Yeah, right! Fuck those terrorists!

And Christmas is no longer about appreciating those around you by giving and receiving gifts. Rather, it's about making yourself happy with the perfect gift. People go charging away on their credit cards. Who cares whether you can pay for it or not? Worry about that later. You see jewelry commercials on TV, showing some guy buying diamonds for his lady so she will love him and fuck him. That's what it's all about.

Then you have New Years Eve, which is just a drunken orgy where you get away with groping others and acting like a bunch of morons and forgetting all your problems and the terrible state of the country. It was supposed to be about celebrating the new year and hoping it will be another good one. Ha! Do you think that's what people are celebrating? No, they just what to escape from it all.

You think any of these people give a damn about the truth you speak of? They could care less. They just want to believe what they want to believe. Everything is fucking roses.

El Draque said...

You’ve hit several points note perfect.

Exactly – Popes, pastors, wreaths, Santa Claus, Christmas trees etc has nothing to do with any of the teachings of Jesus or the Bible where the both of them went out of their way to warn their followers to not follow the ways of the pagans. And that is their belief system; beliefs they keep telling and reminding the world of but equally choose to ignore in practice. No wonder organized religion gets made fun of and is so easily satirised. And that is precisely the point, for when you apply their own standards of Christianity on itself, the symbols of Christmas and even many of the so-called symbols of Christianity becomes an embarrassment.

Equally, when you apply the standards of Islam on intolerant hardliners killing Unbelievers, suicide bombers, the Taliban making money out of opium to finance their version of “jihad”, women being oppressed to forced marriages, violence, etc it all becomes an embarrassment. And that is their belief system; beliefs they keep telling and reminding the world of about “Islam” but equally choose to ignore in practice of what the Prophet or the Qu’ran teaches.

In fact you can do that with any belief system (religious or secular) where the practices and beliefs become the complete utter opposite of what is claimed. See what I am getting at?

The question of caliphs has been mentioned by the Prophet.

It has been recorded by Sahih Muslim (Kitab al-Imarah - Book of Government) of a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that he said:

"The children of Israel have been governed by Prophets; whenever a Prophet died another Prophet succeeded him; but there will be no prophet after me. There will be caliphs and they will number many (in one time); they asked: What then do you order us? He (saw) said: Fulfil bayah to them, only the first of them, the first of them, and give them their dues; for verily Allah will ask them about what he entrusted them with"

The question of having a leader for the Ummah is of a practical necessity and the Qu’ran does not proscribe hard inflexible rules regarding this – Muslims are commanded to make decisions after consultation, whether in private or public matters.

You’ve also hit another nail on the head: nobody (or more accurately, very little) cares about the Bible anymore. And I have a sneaking suspicion that is why we now have these wishy-washy PC rules that forbid the celebrating of Christmas with religious symbols in case it “offends others”. The “others” are clearly people who still care about and identify with their way of life and traditions. But seemingly nobody cares enough about the religious meaning of Christmas or Christianity anymore to the point that they would subsume such points of identity and meaning to others – precisely because they no longer care or believe in or identify with them anymore.

And this ties in with your comment about religion being more to do with identity. Not enough people identify anymore with the religious aspects of Christmas or Christianity to even stand their ground to have the right to celebrate it (for fear of offending others? Huh?). And symbols are part and parcel of identity – whether it’s a swastika, cross, star, hammer, sickle, donkey, elephant, eagle, rainbow, badge, uniform…etc etc

Religion (or any belief system) can be very simple…and it could also be as complex as you want it to be. Religion can have several layers of meanings, so that the simple may grasp the essentials and those who are wise may appreciate deeper meanings.

One of the questions I pose to anyone if they have a belief system is to ask them to see if they can distil their essential beliefs into a simple sentence such that even a child or an uneducated person can understand. If they cannot or struggle to do that, it is perhaps that they are confused and confusing.

Regarding strong affinities to objects, I think it is a human trait to associate magical powers to objects, as you see that in any belief system, religious or secular.

And again you have hit yet another nail on the head – notice even you called them “symbols of Christmas”, not “symbols of Christianity” or “symbols of Jesus”. And that explains why secularists are big on Christmas. They identify with all the symbols and traditions of Christmas – not Christianity. In fact, to the point now where there is an active campaign to ban religious symbols and thereby divesting Christianity from Christmas. It has become more and more secularised with each passing year. And then like you said, there are Fundamentalist Christians who want Christmas back for themselves to the point of fighting for wholesale pagan rituals which the Bible itself has forbidden them. It is ironic – the Christians took it from the pagans, and now the pagans are taking it back from the Christians.

The thing is I am certainly not asking any thing or tradition to be taken away whatever the beliefs are. It’s immaterial what my own beliefs are. If one wants to celebrate them, then go ahead.

It’s just a simple matter of applying their own standards, not any one else’s standards. If they are ranting on and on and on about this is what they follow and believe…uhm, then believe and follow it. I could not care less, nor does it bother me what anyone believes (so long as the beliefs do not become imposed against one’s Will on others). If one believes and follows the complete opposite of what one claims, then what exactly is going on? Isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy? I think the numerous examples you cited from Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and American culture all point to the exact same fundamental points of hypocrisy, losing the spiritual message, and people not caring anymore.

Personally I find the constant barrage on television, radio, cinema, internet and people talking to “buy this” and to “buy that” to be sickening. Of course, if one identifies with such ethos, then it makes sense to participate. And precisely because I do not identify with such ethos, I choose not to celebrate or participate in such a manner.

And I feel absolutely fine (and very relieved) about not wanting to be part of such an ethos.

Moriji said...

Yes, I see what you're getting at. But complaining about it on your blog is only going to make you more and more frustrated. The fact is these people don't care about whether their actions contradict their own beliefs. They are only looking out for their own needs to be met and their beliefs, however flawed they are, serves as justifications for their behavior. I think you expect too much of people in general.

Yes, people can be very hypocritical, but what can we do about it? Force them to act according to their beliefs? How? Short of waterboarding people, I don't see how this can be enforced.

And I think you are turning this into an us-versus-them situation. Like there are these evil people who are trying to squash religion. Which country bans Christmas and Christmas symbols? There are no such laws here in the U.S. and I doubt there is in Europe.

There are however those who don't want Christianity to be emphasized over other religions. There are many religions that celebrate the end of year, so why this emphasis on Christianity?

Personally, I don't subscribe to any particular religion. I guess I would classify myself as an agnostic. I just think it's hubris for anyone to claim to know "the truth."

But since I've gotten back in touch with my cousin in Denmark, we've exchanged gifts twice a year, once for our birthdays and once for Christmas. This is done mostly out of habit, but what we like to do is give each other gifts that will expand our knowledge on things.

And yet, I've become very anti-Christmas myself, especially this year. We are told here in the United States that it is the patriotic thing to do, to go out and spend and prop up the economy. But I think it has become such a shallow holiday.

What I'd actually like to see is Christmas return back to its Pagan roots, as I'm a big fan of nature worship. I can see the point in celebrating the cycles of nature and our place in it. I'd rather call it Winter Solstice. I prefer that over going on a spending spree with my credit cards.

El Draque said...

I too get your point about how some people will never change but at the same time I am not frustrated as it doesn’t bother me if anyone wants to celebrate Christmas. It seems to bother some people that I don’t and I guess it’s me pointing it out to such people the reasons. When I highlight the reasons for it, even to those who are not bothered by my non-celeberatory stance, they intellectually understand but realise by acknowledging it, it highlights their own absurdity for celebrating it. I am aware people are ultimately going to do whatever they please regardless of what beliefs one may claim to profess. But Christmas is one very visible example where the Christians, pagans, agnostics and atheists are at odds with each other over the same thing that has nothing to do with any of them ultimately. It’s more like they have created a “them vs them” over a hybrid non-issue, because each year we hear the same concerns of the religious about it’s increasing secularisation, the traditionalists concerns about the ejection of the customs and cultures (religious, pagan or neither) they grew up with and the pagans’ concerns about the Christianisation of their original festivals. In that sense, it’s absurd and has nothing to do with me and I am happy to have no part of it, even though it was part of my culture as I grew up.

The “banning” does not occur on a national level but at more local institutional levels. There are plenty of examples in the US and UK alone.

With regards to hypocrisy I still believe education has a role. It’s not so much as forcing people to act; it’s making one aware of one’s own actions, which may ultimately change actions by one’s volition for those who are aware of it and willing to change. Of course there will always be those who will never change regardless. Ultimately it’s each individual who is responsible for one’s own actions.

Many religions celebrate end of the year events or even whatever they want to celebrate…that is fine whatever their origins. It would be absurd however if their very belief systems explicitly states against the celebration of such events whilst such celebrations or actions were carried out. In the case of Christianity, it’s own so-called “founder” and their own literature expressly forbids the adoption of such pagan rituals. Yet you don’t have the Prophet of Islam or the Qur’an expressly forbidding Ramadan, or Jewish prophets or the Torah expressly forbidding Passover or Hindu, Jain or Sikh deities or text expressly forbidding Deepawali, or Chinese deities expressly forbidding Lunar New Year or pagan law or texts forbidding celebrations of May Day…or some international labour organization forbidding Labour Day celebrations etc etc. It is in fact theologically correct that Christians don’t celebrate Christmas – it’s not a matter of me telling them how and what they should believe; their very own “founder” and literature literally and unambigiously tells them that.

I picked the example of Christmas because their very own source of beliefs contradicts it – whoever is celebrating it. That is the supremely funny thing about it. I believe most people simply celebrate it out of cultural habit, ignorance and just not giving a damn.

This “return” of “Christmas” to its “pagan roots” is gaining ground although it’s still a minority opinion. Nature worship because one recognises the importance of and wants to celebrate Nature as a higher form makes sense for such believers, such as yourself. That is more in tune than Christians adopting wholesale Pagan rituals and Pagans following the edicts of the Church in Rome or atheists praising Lord Jesus.

Moriji said...

David, I'm not so sure you are not bothered by this, as you've wrote quite a bit. If something doesn't bother me, I'm not going to write paragraphs and paragraphs about it, especially not this much!

If you are confronted by people at work for not celebrating Christmas, you should tell them it's none of your business. I was told by coworkers to go shopping, but I just shrugged it off. If they had persisted, I would have just said that I don't celebrate.

People are just going about things on autopilot. And the more scary their world gets, the more they hang out to these things. It gives them a sense of security.

The way I look at it, it's all a big joke. I just watch this madness from a distance.

Still, being bombarded with this bullshit for a whole month does wear me down. I was so glad when it was over.

About banning, I worked as a government contractor at my first job and they celebrated Christmas for a month. It was an excuse not to work.

There is no banning in private enterprise either. Most companies have charity drives during Christmas and ask employees to contribute. And you always have the Christmas party.

The only banning I'm aware of is when customers complain. Like customers might complain about religious symbols in a mall or something. But you also get people complaining about there not being enough. Ultimately, this has to do with what the store thinks will attract more buyers.

So I don't see any banning in this country at any level at any place. In fact, there were all these bells and wreaths and trees in the lobby where I work.

Maybe the UK is different? I know in Denmark, Christmas stuff is everywhere. You can't escape from it, even if you tried.

El Draque said...

It looks like I’m overly concerned or something but it genuinely doesn’t bother me as I usually enable those who want to celebrate it to celebrate it as such, for example if they want extra time off from work during the holidays and I cover for them. In fact to put it simply, I am all for those who want to celebrate it, to celebrate it.

The reason I have written paragraphs about it is that there is simply so much farce going on from an individual to a societal level by those who celebrate it. Just like you, watching this madness from a distance gives me clarity, and what I see is an awful sense of “autopilot” as you say.

I have a habit of pointing out inconsistencies in human behaviour, which as we all know, is often irrational. That in of itself is nothing amazing, but what I do find amazing are people who go out of their way to knowingly defend a hypocrisy that they themselves had knowingly assailed. It’s just plain stupid.

And about the banning…

Historically, Christmas was in fact banned on a national scale for a number of years during the mid-17th century in England and for the first two hundred years of New England by…*drum rolls*…puritan Christians themselves.

But lets look at today…

In the UK:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

^Here we have an organization displaying the cross of all things and founded by an evangelical Christian who also founded the Swiss branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association who claim not to ban but in fact do ban for fear of offending people who aren’t offended and wanting not to be seen to be aligned with any group (secular or religious) yet sell lots of items from said groups (from Christmas cards to advent calendars to blatant Christmas gifts) to make money. If they are that concerned about projecting neutrality, why not completely change the name and symbol? After all there are the Red Crescent and the Red Star of David.

Here’s a list of companies in the US compiled by concerned souls who want their right to celebrate with pagan customs and symbols but annoyed at all the prohibitions referencing Christmas despite the fact that the majority of customers want it:

Example 1

The list is endless…here are just a sample (I can dig up dozens more with a mouse click in less than a minute) for laughs precisely because it is taken so seriously:

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

If there is no banning then why are there deliberately enforced prohibitions against people’s wishes? Huh? Why the Orwellian double-speak?

Am I to conclude that market forces are more important? – hence my earlier remark: consumerism is the world’s dominant religion.

Moriji said...

Yeah, like I suspected, there are stores out that want to attract the most customers as possible. So if they make it religiously neutral, they figure they can attract the most people. Anyway, this is a self-imposed ban and companies have every right to do that, along with dress code, etc.

And the other links are about schools. There is a separation of church and state in this country and the Supreme Court has ruled that schools should not be used for religious purposes. This I strongly support. Schools are for learning, not religious study. That's what church is for.

The one about the parade is odd.

But still, you are highlighting these and yet they are quite rare. I actually wish they were more places where Christmas was banned so I could find refuge during December. Everywhere you go in this country during December, you can't escape Christmas. It is everywhere. TV, radio, malls, works, etc.