Looking back at Christmas

As a Christian I loved the Christmas story. With its singing angels and divine guidance; it’s a child-friendly story with an almost magical captivation.

I still enjoy Christmas, but in a very different way, I like the decoration filled house, and the cards from friends and seeing family and the extended days off work. But the Christmas story? Well it’s nonsense isn’t it?

I don’t think I ever critically analysed the Christmas story as a Christian. I accepted it as literally true because it was in the bible and I was a Christian so I had to believe it. Why should I ever question it? My exit from Christianity didn’t really involve that part of the bible so in my questioning of what I believed, those chapters and verses didn’t play a significant role.

What has intrigued me about the story in later years is that every Christmas, at least it seems that way, there is a fresh barrage of proposals for what might be the Christmas star, as if that’s the most serious objection to the narrative. Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard every single variation of celestial event being credited as a possibility. Nova, comet, conjunction, you name it, it’s been suggested. However, no one has ever answered how some travellers arriving at a town would be able to identify a specific property from a ‘star’ that is in the sky. If I step outside my house on a clear night and look up and pick a star that looks like it’s above my house and then go to the other end of town, that same ‘star’ will be above whichever house I choose to stand outside. I would also not be able to navigate back to my house using that star as my navigation aide. How on earth did those wise men manage it?

This is fatal to believing the guiding star element of the Christmas story. Well it should be. Yet every year a new swathe of Christian commentary proposes some natural event that could have been the ‘star’ and each one forgets to explain that last point. Is that bit not important? Of course it is, but it can only happen if there is some supernatural assistance of some description, in which case why even bother with the pretence of invoking a natural event? Just say God guided them using a supernatural light that only they could see. of course that doesn’t help the narrative because for something like God being born on earth, something big needs to accompany it, and you don’t get bigger or more glorious than a guiding star! So the modern day Christian is caught in a trap created by an ancient myth.

The problems don’t stop there either. The reported census doesn’t match the required time slot, it happened ten years after King Herod died, and there never was a requirement to travel to an ancestors’ town anyway. The narrative needs to get Jesus born in Bethlehem and so this is made up in order to get him there, nothing more. King Herod didn’t kill all those baby boys. Mary and Joseph didn’t travel to Egypt. One account says Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem after Mary’s 40 days of uncleanliness, another says Jesus was a young child still in Bethlehem for the wise men to visit, what happened to the home they travelled from? The gaps and inconsistencies are more blatant than a Hollywood action flick.

Back to the wise men, does anyone else find it odd that the wise men came from an entirely different land? Why could it not be fellow Jews? No doubt there’s an apologetic that says it’s to show just that Jesus was King of the World not just King of the Jews, or something. This is what’s called retrospective interpretation, probably the least honest of the apologetics strategies.

The Christmas story makes no sense and it should not be believed as an historical event. It’s a myth, let’s keep it that way.

I love Christmas, and I love it even more without the unbelievable mishmash of nonsense that Christianity tries to turn it into.

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A Wonderful Positive Conclusion

Not long ago I posted about some less than pleasant goings on among some members of the church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/dark-clouds-looming/).

Well the mentioned church meeting has happened and it turns out it went very well. There were a couple of individuals who clearly still had issues and they are personal. That said, the efforts that the pastor had gone to to encourage conciliation and to stem gossip and anonymous disparaging had clearly paid off. It’s a shame that none of this was known before the meeting started.

One of the main turnaround points of the meeting was when a key protagonist admitted that he had been convicted of his wrong attitude and expressed a desire to move forward in a positive way.

Suffice to say, my wife came back from that meeting with none of the dread she had when she went to it.

If was refreshing to hear that a spiralling negative situation can be corrected. Its not perfect and it is a lot better, which is a great thing.

Something else that happened was a conversation my wife had with another church member. This particular member hasn’t got on with my wife since we started attending over a year ago. This member came up to my wife to address that and apologise. It was made clear that the problem wasn’t my wife but that this particular individual has an issue with what happens at the front of the church. She likes the preacher to be the person who leads the whole service, namely announces the hymns and says the prayers.

The new casual style that has become the norm since my wife got involved is difficult for this person. I think its good for this sort of thing to be admitted, it helps people like my wife to understand those she is leading in worship. These people need gently leading into new forms of worship. It’s a shame that what people are used to can become such a norm and so comfortable that it represents an importance that matches the key aspects of the religion they follow.

So, the church appears to have survived what could have been a devastating split. Its not plain sailing yet, but it does represent a major positive step and has shown to many people that difficulties can be overcome and change, while difficult, can be achieved.

Pondering the Christmas Star

Its that time of year where there are a plethora of predictable items on blogs, science sites and in the news about what precisely it was that the wise men saw on in the story of Christ’s birth.

Most stories focus on the speculation of what it could possibly be. A conjunction? A supernova? A meteor? More religious commentaries might mention something more supernatural in nature that’s not explained scientifically.

There is however one little aspect of the star story that has bothered me for some time and I have yet to see its mentioned specifically in any speculation. That is this; how on earth do you identify which building a celestial body is over? Its frankly not possible. If I look at the night sky from my back garden and look at the stars, pick the brightest one and follow it down, I might identify a house a few roads away. However, if I go to that house and look up at the star again, it in no way identifies that house anymore. So this game would continue with any star that I picked in the sky. It is just not possible to identify any particular building as being directly below any star up there.

The reason for this is simple, the distance the stars are from earth is so great that the triangulation required to identify any specific point on earth by eye is not possible. Add into that the fact the earth’s rotation would mean that any identified property would change every few minutes.

So judging the accuracy and validity of the star in the Christmas story by todays knowledge of astronomy basically makes it an impossible situation. There is simply no chance at all that people from miles away would have travelled to Bethlehem and identified the place where a baby was born simply through the position of a celestial object. We’ll ignore the small fact that this would also be future telling though astrology, something that Christendom overwhelmingly condemns these days.

For the Christmas Star, or Star of Bethlehem, or whatever you wish to call it, to be a true event, something supernatural would have had to have happened. I would also expect this to have therefore been a much more shocking event and one that would have generated far more interest than just the three wise men mentioned. Also I would expect it to have been mentioned in other places and not just Matthew.

Scientific speculation aside, I simply can’t see how this account of the birth of Jesus being marked in the stars as being credible or possible.

Why is Santa such a Problem for Christians?

It was a long while after I became and adult that I first started to wonder about Father Christmas and what the Christian approach should be to the Santa myth. I think it wasn’t until I knew I was to become a parent that I really began to ponder it seriously.

What if my child draws a parallel between Santa and Jesus and concludes that they must both be in the same state, either real or myth? How do I make a distinction between them? These questions can only point to some sort of Cognitive Dissonance in the mind of the thinker.

I decided very quickly to be relaxed about it and face the questions as they came rather than to try and manipulate a position.

A modern problem?

As a child I never recall their being any issues about Santa. I knew from very young Santa was a myth, but a fun one and that Jesus and very real. The primary school I attended in Zambia always made a thing of giving all the children presents at the end of the school year and one of the fathers would always dress up as Santa and give out the presents. It was always fun guessing whose dad it was.

I don’t recall much of a Santa fuss at home though. We had stockings, but I don’t recall any pretence on there being a Santa. He wasn’t utterly ignored though, he was spoken about as though he existed, but it was always in tones that you knew were not really believed. Very much how I talk to my daughter about him really.

A few years back, I recall chatting with Christian friends about Santa and they were concerned about how to approach the issue and whether or not to reveal the myth and what to do about them telling school friends who might still believe.  It wasn’t a trivial issue, that’s for certain. One father in particular had a very real issue about the Santa Myth. He was a recent convert, married to a long time Christian wife. He had been a very fierce atheist and part of that atheism came from his realising as a child that Santa and company were a myth. As a result of all those childhood myths he rejected God too. His conversion was very emotional and he carried the fear that his children would follow the same path and him, so his view was tell them it’s a myth from the beginning and tone the whole Santa thing down.

My wife’s family has always had a Santa tradition and they have always had the concept of ‘tree presents’ small gifts that they always mark as from Santa to the family members. They are never anything fancy, those are the main gifts given from them. They enjoy that aspect of giving and I see no reason why it should be stopped, I take the view that it adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and does not in any way devalue whatever meaning one wishes to attach to the season.

The Unexpected Conversation

This year my daughter threw me a curve-ball. It was just her and me in the car and she started asking about why we bother with the pretence of Santa. I don’t know when it was that she worked out Santa wasn’t real, it certainly wasn’t this year, it been a couple of years at least. She is seven currently. She’s also known for a couple of years that the Tooth Fairy is just Mummy and Daddy pretending and she is okay with that. I suspect that when she twigged about the tooth fairy she also twigged about Santa; maybe she asked us at the time, I can’t actually remember.

Anyway, the point is, she knows and has done for some time. So she asked me directly, why bother when we know its bunk? Nothing like the directness of a child to catch you off guard!

I asked her to expand.

Her thinking seemed to be that it was silly to put up all the pretence of there being a Father Christmas making and delivering presents when everyone knew that he wasn’t real. She makes a good point.

She didn’t seem to have a problem with the Santa themed decorations and cards, or even the story, it was the talking about him as though he really did do the things the story says he does that causes the problem for her. I tried to counter by saying that talking about Santa as if he were real adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and that Christmas would lose something if we didn’t have the fun pretending. She didn’t buy any of that at all. While she didn’t actually say it, I suspect she basically considers it lying and therefore not good.

Where does that leave Santa?

In this modern era of rationalism and proof, is there any place for Santa? I’m not just talking about Christians here, but everyone.

Personally, I am okay with the myth and I don’t mind the pretence and I think if you leave out Santa, you leave out an essential part of the Christmas tradition.

What about those poor disappointed kids who believe for years and get very disappointed when they discover they’ve been lied to? Well, the important thing there is to ask why the parents made it so real for so long. In our household its works out okay, Little Miss Limey hasn’t had an earth shattering shock and we’ve not tried to perpetrate the myth beyond credibility. If we’ve got the balance right its more by accident than design and so I can’t offer any formula.

Nativity Stop-Go Animation by yours truly

With a couple of hours free this afternoon and the limey household getting into the festive spirit I decided to have a play with the family knock about Nativity set. The set in question is one my wife bought for our daughter a few years ago specifically as a set for playing with. So often you see nativity sets that are too precious to let kids fiddle with. The grandparents one is such a set and it has the marks to prove young hands can be clumsy.

Every year the limey daughter looks forward to this set coming out and it gets played with regularly over the Christmas period.

So, with a few hours going spare and the daughter at school, I grabbed my camera and tripod and had a play with Stop-Go animation

The result is 500 photos and 50 seconds of amusement thanks to Windows Live Movie Maker. There is much I can do to improve it. But hey, lets not start getting picky just yet.

Enjoy!

 http://vimeo.com/vteclimey/nativity-stop-go

Has he left the church? Should I go to see him?

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I were unhappy in our past church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/). This was one of the reasons for me no longer attending before we re-located to our lovely seaside location.

I knew that my non-attendance could never go unnoticed. I was wondering when the pastor would notice and if it would result in a visit. Despite the negative things I have said about him, he was very good at pastoral care, engaging and very sympathetic, also wise beyond his years on personal and emotional issues. He had proven to be a very real support and friend during Mum’s final years (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/death-of-a-much-loved-mother/) and previous to that, when I discovered a book about the farm my family lived on in Zambia which gave new details of Mum’s kidnap ordeal (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) he was also very supportive as the revelations brought fresh pain and memories of that most awful event.

So, when it was reported to me that the pastor had noticed my absence and had asked one of the church members responsible for pastoral care the above questions, I wasn’t surprised. However, said person is a close friend of my wife and I and my wife had confided in her many of our issues and concerns. So, on being asked these questions, said friend deflected and advised against coming to see me. I don’t know what exactly was said.

I understand the motives of said friend, but I think she advised wrongly.

I am fairly sure that if the pastor had followed his gut instinct and come to see me I would have shared my loss of faith with him. OR at the very least implied I was having difficulty with my faith.

Right up until we moved away, I pondered on visiting him to talk over my situation. I think he would have been a good ear, but I am not completely convinced he would have understood my reasoning. I also think there is a chance he may have tried to convince me I was wrong, which at that time, would have been the wrong thing to do. So I did the English thing and did nothing.