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Do as We Say to Trump, Not as We Did to Obama: Conservative Christian Sanctimony on Display

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the end of the Holiday season, or should I better say in the post-war on Christmas world of Donald Trump, the Christmas season. I find that this season is perhaps the most sanctimonious time of the year: this is especially true for many politically driven conservative Christians who when not fighting the imaginary “war on Christmas,” attacking Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, condemning Gays to Hell, or urging that Muslims be banned from the country, all the while urging military action to destroy Muslims wherever they live around the world, insist that their opponents who criticize President Elect Trump to shut up.

What I am talking about is the plethora of self-proclaimed Christian preachers, pundits, politicians, and even regular people who are insisting that Donald Trump’s opponents stop criticizing him and instead support and pray for him. Now don’t get me wrong, I will pray for the soon to be President for the good of the country, and of course as a military officer I will do my duty as is stated in my oath of office. Really, I don’t want the man to screw up, if he screws up we’re all screwed. That being said I’m very concerned so many things that he has said and done in the past and that he appears not to have changed one iota since his election. I am worried, but I do hope and pray for the best.

But that being said let me get back the blatant sanctimonious hypocrisy of Christians who demand that their opponent’s, who criticize Trump abide by a code that they never did from day one of the Obama Presidency. In fact every one of these people were incredibly disrespectfully and intolerant of President Obama, and I dare say mostly because he is black. They declared him illegitimate on day one, and the day of his inauguration their Congressional leaders declared their intent to make his a failed presidency. The surge in blatantly racist remarks was unbelievable to me because I falsely believed that we had become a better country in terms of race relations. These attacks, comments, and libelous statements by these Christians have continued even until today. Now, these same people have the nerve to criticize people who criticize Trump for things that actually do matter to the country.

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Of all of Barak Obama’s opponents, politically consumed conservative Christians have been the most reprehensible in their conduct. Now they demand others do something that they never did, or intended to do. Many even urged others to pray imprecatory psalms calling on God to bring about President Obama and his family’s deaths. They say to stop criticizing, be respectful, pray for and support Donald Trump, while never for a moment doing the same to President Obama. That bothers me, because it’s the classic do as I say, not as I do attitude that is killing the Christian church in this country. I’m sorry folks, Donald Trump will not stop the fact that people are fleeing the church in record numbers and that the fastest growing religious identification is the “nones,” or those who want nothing of organized religion; in fact his presidency may increase that as conservative Christians try to use his administration to impose their beliefs on others.

So stop the hypocritical sanctimony. It’s still a free country, at least for a while.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

The War on Christmas

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This time of year as the war on Christmas heats up I am reminded of the immortal words of Doctor Seuss:

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…”

Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

 

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types, I have to say that some Christians have waged a real war on Christmas for centuries.

Now I have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what the Christian Grinches have done over centuries. So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

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Puritan Anti-Christmas Laws

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. Today’s Christians seem perfectly at home with the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of Christian churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration, those things are a declaration of war against the very holiday that we as Christians wantonly desecrate.

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The Puritans hated Christmas…

Let us go back and look at some history. Not the kind of “history” promoted by David Barton and Glenn Beck, but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

Back in the 1600s a Christian group that was tremendously influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans.

The Puritans believed that they were the “elect” based on their theology. The Calvinist doctrine of double predestination ensured that they as the elect knew they knew they were right. For those that do not understand this doctrine, let me explain. The Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. They believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven, and the rest of us were created to live and die, and then go to Hell because God decided so before the creation of the world.

But that is not all. The Puritans also believed that as the elect that they had a “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth and as such they established a theocracy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If the Puritans had simply died out and gone away this might not be an issue. However, their theology has continued and their modern successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movements believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike the Englishmen of today, the English of that period took their religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English religionists of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were rather un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially anything to do with Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included killing real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics as well as Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads, burn at the stake, or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs. They killed first first and asked questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only without professional officials to regulate the game.

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. They were militant, intolerant and exclusive, so who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power after Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge with great gusto. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Of course they did so for the noble reason of purifying England of heresy. In fact if you want to compare them to a modern religious group, they would be pretty similar to the Taliban. When the Puritans took over the government they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas.

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Wassailers 

The Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink they called wassail was a hot-spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a rather pungent and rancid English wine, thus the need for spices and heat.

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Mob Football

Wassailing sometimes ended up with episodes of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, then it was called “Mob Football” and it didn’t have very many rules. Since it was particularly popular at Christmas, the Puritans suspected that it must have been from the Devil.

The Puritans had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something that might be fun harmful, as such anything fun needed to be completely removed from public life.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Oliver Cromwell

This miserable situation lasted until 1660; a year after the Lord Protector and head of the army and police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and everyone was happy. Well sort of, the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing heretics, especially Roman Catholics. That being said, people were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since decorating was allowed these rulers lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years. A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,

Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;

For then we scarcely did it know,

Whether it Christmas were or no.

Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided that what was going on in their homeland was not to their taste. So in 1659 under Governor Sir Edmund Andros they enacted laws like those of Cromwell. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. To keep the festivities going the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football, or anything else that might be construed as fun were criminalized. The law stated:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

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That sounds lovely doesn’t it? To their credit the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing heretics with heavy stones unless they were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch.

Christmas law 1658

Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last State Church in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about the war on Christmas, remember that a lot of the people ranting about the supposed “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish a very harsh and sterile Puritan view of faith that led to the celebration of Christmas being criminalized in England and in Massachusetts. Of course they would have a hard time doing that now since they so connected to the corporations and retailers who make big time bucks off of Christmas.

Thankfully for now we only have to suffer from the yearly rants of the fun deprived army of Christian Grinches, who without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, today, more people like all the tinsel, bells, lights, decorations, the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof to want to abolish Christmas. So the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive, at least until next year. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Advent & the “War” on Christmas

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I often talk about my struggles with doubt and faith, but in regard to faith, the season of Advent has become even more important to me than it ever was before. In fact, amid all the yearly histrionics and propaganda of the Christian Right and their Fox News Channel cheerleaders who scream about “the war on Christmas” I find Advent to be a powerful antidote.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is to baseball. Advent is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

That simple fact is why Christ came. Christ did not come to found a government or even for that matter a religion. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners. He came simply to save and redeem the world and people like us from themselves.

The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people. Yes, even the people that the supposed Christian culture warriors despise.

In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “War on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government-sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.

Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. These early Christians simply lived life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and to be neutralized had to be coopted by Constantine. It was only when the leaders of the church became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.

The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of our culturally conditioned need for physical, economic and political power over others than it is of Jesus.

All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance.

The time of waiting in expectation during advent also helps us to focus on Jesus’ words to  “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.” It also calls to mid the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”

Advent stands in stark contrast to the politically charged consumerism of the War on Christmas.  I think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating in such an environment. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” by so many supposedly “conservative Christians” is so amazing that it must be proclaimed. As distasteful as it is to the “for profit prophets” of our time, it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing and being acting upon.

It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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For Bucks and Ducks: The Brilliant Cynicism of A&E Network Regarding Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson

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Less than two weeks ago the A&E Network put Phil Robertson, the 67 year old “Patriarch” of the Robertson Clan of Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander on an indefinite suspension. When it occurred I waited to comment because I had suspicions that things were not entirely as they seemed.

The controversy was born in reaction to an interview in GQ magazine where Robertson made comments which equated homosexuality with bestiality. The interview was much more far ranging than that and if you want you can check it out here http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

Unlike Sarah Palin I actually decided to read it before making any comments and you should too. The fact is whether you agree or disagree with Robertson you owe it to him and more importantly your principles whatever they may be, to read it.  To be fair Robertson’s beliefs are not out of the Evangelical mainstream, especially the traditional Fundamentalist, the activist culture warrior and Christian Dominion crowd. Honestly I don’t think that Phil Robertson meant any harm to anyone in making those comments, it is just a big part of what he believes and he is not ashamed about what he believes. That is his right. From what I read about Robertson and his family they are generous and contribute much to an otherwise poor community.  As far as Robertson’s comments I don’t agree with them, in fact I strongly disagree with them from a theological and social standpoint as a Christian.

That being said Robertson has the right to his beliefs including the right to speak about them publicly in whatever forum he desires. Everyone has that right. However employers can restrict those rights. All of us if we work for someone else have constraints on our free speech rights in the workplace, either implicitly by contract or even the unwritten expectations of our employers. Likewise people have the right to watch or not to watch his show or buy or not to buy his company’s products. That is the free market. So if A&E wanted to suspend Robertson or to cancel the show based on his actions that would be their right and not be a violation of his rights. If the government did it that would be another matter.

When the controversy erupted and LGBT and other progressive and liberal advocacy groups protested the comments, A&E quickly announced Robertson’s suspension. That was on December 18th. In fact the suspension came so quickly that it surprised me. There was none of the usual hand-wringing that often accompanies media controversy around the star of a hit program and that puzzled me.

The first thing that triggered my suspicion was that Duck Dynasty had already finished filming for the season. Thus any suspension, unless it was a permanent cancellation of the show was only until the next season began. In other words it was a suspension of the off season. So in other words Robertson was not harmed in any way by the suspension. A&E did not fine him or take any money from him. The suspension appeared to me to be a ruse.

However, within moments of the announcement Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and preachers went into action. Robertson was the “victim” of demonically inspired homosexuals, liberals and secularists. Even those that never read what Robertson said like “Governor half-term” Sarah Palin came to his defense.

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The outcry was amazing. Facebook and Twitter groups rallied to Robertson’s defense threatening A&E with boycotts and calling for his restoration. Likewise politicians introduced legislation to anoint him an “American hero.” Pundits and cable television commentators covered the story more heavily than they would actual issues dealing with the economy, unemployment, national security or events overseas that could harm the country. Preachers rallied their flocks to the cause and many used the controversy to condemn those who were the real victims of Robertson’s actual remarks.

The cry that Robertson’s Constitutional “free speech rights” were being violated and that he was being “persecuted” for his beliefs were oft repeated. The fact of the matter was that A&E never  penalized Robertson, never took any money from him and still allowed him to continue to speak, and even double down on what he said even after the suspension without penalty. In fact A&E aired a Duck Dynasty Christmas marathon on Christmas Day in which Robertson was in every show. How that qualifies as persecution or restricted Robertson’s free speech rights is beyond me.

Conservative media, especially Fox News jumped to Robertson’s defense, proving what Susan Jacoby said in her book The Age of American Unreason: 

“If enough money is involved and enough people believe that two plus two equals five the media will report the story with a straight face always adding a qualifying paragraph noting that mathematicians however say that two plus two still equals four.”

The nine days of unremitting media hysteria came to an end today when A&E announced that Robertson would return for the next season, without penalty and without missing a show.

I was not surprised by today’s announcement. What it showed me was that A&E which had dealt with a similar situation with “Dog the Bounty Hunter” a couple of years ago used the controversy for its own benefit and bottom line. It quickly acted to “suspend” Robertson ensuring that during the so called “War on Christmas” that conservative media that media coverage would provide more free publicity than they could ever spend  on a reality television show. They used the suspension to work up Evangelicals who reacted to fully support Robertson ensuring renewed interest in the Duck Dynasty series and product lines offered by many major retailers.

All in all the controversy and suspension was a successful enterprise for the A&E network and the Robertson clan. There was massive free publicity for the show and no penalties for Robertson. Even better the suspension was cloaked behind the veneer of a network acting like it was doing something to penalize a man for saying things that offended a minority that the viewers of the show despise and then after a carefully scripted “apology” reinstating him. In the statement announcing Robertson’s reinstatement A&E promised to “launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people…” It was cynical as hell but brilliant from a business standpoint. You see for A&E it really isn’t about ideology it is about profit. If Duck Dynasty was a failing show they would have cancelled it without questions and tossed show’s Evangelical viewers in the ditch. But there is too much money to be made. In the first 9 months of 2013 the show made $80 million in advertising revenues and merchandise sales have added another $400 million, about half of which went to Wal-Mart. It would be hard for a niche cable network to make up those kind of losses.

I resisted writing anything about this when the controversy erupted because I sensed something fishy. It seemed that given the circumstances that this was a carefully orchestrated event on the part of A&E. When they announced that he would return so soon after suspending him after milking the controversy for all it was worth I realized that my initial gut reaction was right. 

Liberals and the LGBT community who protested actually fell into the A&E trap. Their protest was used as fodder for the network and for the Right Wing media for two different purposes that became a perfect storm: First the controversy fulfilled A&E’s need to bolster the show going into the next season by providing free publicity and reenergizing the viewers. Second it gave the Right Wing media and politically minded preachers the chance to demonize gays and their supporters as being intolerant and hateful, for simply reacting to words that can only from an LGBT point of view be seen as prejudicial, unfair and harmful.

It also gave A&E and the right wing media the chance to avoid Robertson’s other equally repugnant comments about pre-civil rights era black share-croppers which he had made previously.

All in all it was a cynical and brilliant scheme that worked all too well. Machiavelli and Goebbels would have been proud of the PR folks at A&E and Fox News who used Robertson’s unfortunate comments to create a controversy that enriched them and inflamed their supporters.

Progressives, liberals, activists and political moderates like me as well as the LGBT community have to learn to step back from our immediate emotional response to situations like this in the future. We have to be smarter at strategy and look at the big picture. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum. A&E probably assumed that at some point one of the Robertson’s would say something like this and that there would be a backlash. That is why they were able to react so quickly and carefully scripted their response culminating in today’s announcement. Likewise the right wing media sees this kind of controversy as grist for their political and ideological mill.

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Tony Perkins the KKK supporting head of the American Family Association demonstrated this in his press release tonight:

“The attacks on Phil Robertson revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America’s moral, political and cultural landscape. A&E Network’s reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life….”

When a situation like this occurs we need to be suspicious and ask “why this? why me? why now?” If we ask those question we can keep from being suckered into no-win situations that those who want to take away our rights to dissent use to set us up and demonize us. In the cyber age of instantaneous communication this is hard to do and we do have to get better at doing it.

If you don’t believe me just look at Perkins. He took this as a way to propagandize his prejudice and hatred of the LGBT community and progressives, for that matter all who disagree with his theocrat machinations including other Christians.

The A&E network and people like Perkins have different goals. For A&E it is profit, for Perkins it is the use of religion and the state to persecute and discriminate against easily demonized minority groups, appealing to the worst aspects of human nature. In this case those often conflicting goals coalesced into the perfect storm.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Historic “Christian” War on Christmas

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“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…” Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types I have to say that the real war on Christmas has been waged by Christians for centuries.

Now I do have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what Christian Grinches have done over the years.

So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and at their heart not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. As Christians we seem perfectly at home in the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of our churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration. But I digress….

Let us go back and look at some history. Not that fake David Barton and Glenn Beck history but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

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Back in the the 1600s a religious group influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans, who by their name we must assume were pretty pure.

Since the Puritans already believed that they were the “elect” based on the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination they knew they were right. For those that don’t know what this doctrine means let me explain. The idea was that the Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. In other words they believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven. Now that isn’t uncommon in religion but they also believed based on the same doctrine that all other people were destined to go to Hell because God decided they would before the creation of the world.

But there was another interesting part of this doctrine that wasn’t about heaven. They also believed that they had the “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth. Their successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movement believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike today the English took religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were pretty un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics and Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs first and ask questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only not as well behaved.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Oliver Cromwell

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. Militant, intolerant, exclusive  who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge and they enjoyed it. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Christmas law 1658

Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas. They were kind of like the Taliban in a sense, except they were not Moslems.  But that being said they ruled in a similar manner and made most other people miserable.

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In 1652 it was declared that no Observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day; nor any Solemnity used or exercised in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof’.

In 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the Christmas feast and all that went with it, including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas such as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes. Of course the Puritans had a different reason than modern secular Grinches for banning them. Nativity scenes were banned because they were “idols.” Not content with banning the outward festivities the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

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Wassailing 

Likewise the Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. Wassailing sometimes ended up in an out of control scene of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, back then it was known as Mob Football and didn’t have very many rules. It was particularly popular at Christmas which meant that it must be of the Devil.

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Mob Football

Be it known that the Puritans did had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something fun harmful and as such religious practices such as these needed to be removed from public life altogether.

Well this situation lasted until 1660 a year after the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy because Christmas was back.  People were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since they had a flair for decorating they lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years.

A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.

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Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws to their brethren in England. In 1659 through the newly appointed Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Cromwell’s England, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Ayatollah’s Iran and the Taliban’s Afghanistan the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

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Grumpy Puritan and Revelers 

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football or anything else. The law read like this:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was  when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas regardless of their religious or non-religious reasons please realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries.

Let us also remember that some of the un-fun Fundamentalists screaming about the “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish the Puritan view of faith which would in effect eliminate any celebration of Christmas if they could only convince the corporations that profit off of Christmas but otherwise support their political causes to go along with it.

But for now we only have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, more people like all the tinsel and bells as well as the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof and so the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive.

Maybe in doing so a few people will discover the humble, less than pretentious babe laying in the manger. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Advent 2013: God Loves the Real World

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O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(From O Come O Come Emmanuel) 

Introduction: This is an article that I wrote last year. I have updated with this introduction and made a few edits for this year for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I think that it is worth the read for those unfamiliar with the season and what it means. Secondly I see the observance of Advent as a way to actually discover something spiritual and eternal that can help us in the real world today, not just in the by and by, but today, in how we treat our neighbors and care for others. 

In a sense this very traditional observance can be counter-cultural in amid the usual din of the shopping orgy that began on Thanksgiving and will end as retailers squeeze out the last profits on Christmas Eve. The observance of Advent is also an antidote to the politically charged “the war on Christmas” emanating from certain Christian “conservatives” and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Newscorp empire. The sad thing is that for all of their alleged “defense” of Christmas most of these culture warriors and their media allies have reduced the mystery of God’s great love at Christmas to a religious holiday so covered in consumerism that it is hard to find that tiny babe in the manger of Bethlehem. Finally, I write this in the hopes that discover the joy as we wait in the anticipation of the the message of the angel who said “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy….”

I think that each Sunday of the Advent Season I will write a short reflection on the various aspects of hope, expectation and love that is the heart of the season.

Today is the fist Sunday of what we in the liturgical Christian world know as the season of Advent.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is in Baseball. It is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

That simple fact is why Christ came.

He didn’t come to found a government or even for that matter a religion. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners. He came simply to save and redeem the world and people like us from themselves.

The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people. Yes, even the people that the Christian culture warriors despise.

In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “War on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.

Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. They simply lived the life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and overcame an empire. It was only when they became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.

The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of us and our culturally conditioned need for physical, economic and political power over others than it is of Jesus.Nativity-extr

All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance.

The time of waiting in expectation during advent also helps us to focus on Jesus’ words to  “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.” It also calls to mid the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”

Advent stands in stark contrast to the politically charged consumerism of the War on Christmas.  I think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating in such an environment. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” by so many supposedly “conservative Christians” is so amazing that it must be proclaimed. As distasteful as it is to the “for profit prophets” of our time that it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing and acting upon.

It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Impending Death of Thanksgiving as We Knew It: Black Thursday and the War on Thanksgiving

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“Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.” The Ferengi 6th Rule of Acquisition 

 I have written before about Black Friday. It is a custom that seems to destroy any meaning of a sacred holiday with greater abandon every passing year. In fact I have been very critical of the abject materialism of Black Friday which I think has its own God, the God of profit. 

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This year the festivities are starting early, in fact in some places people have been lined up since the weekend so they can be first to get the latest greatest gadgets that will be obsolete in less than a year. Not actually that they will be obsolete but rather that new and improved models of the same gadget will be on sale this time next year. The sad thing is that many of the same people who have been lined up since the weekend will be doing it again next year. `

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When it was just Black Friday it was bad enough, especially as Black Friday started encroaching on Thanksgiving. But now the last remaining line between Thanksgiving, the one holiday where getting together with family or friends regardless of your religious beliefs has been obliterated. Thanksgiving is now for all intents and purposes Black Thursday. It like Christmas before it has been sacrificed to the God of materialism and consumerism. It has been sacrificed for corporate profits and the individuals perceived need for stuff. It will be observed on the backs of retail workers making poor wages often with no benefits who will have to sacrifice time with family just to keep their jobs. 

Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation noted that “the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits.” He is absolutely correct in this, but churches in the United States, especially supposedly conservative ones say little. 

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I am sorry this is a war on Thanksgiving and a war on vulnerable workers. But then as the Ferengi 111th Rule of Acquisition says “Treat people in your debt like family … exploit them.”

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Religious conservatives and their media allies on Fox News rage about the supposed “War on Christmas” but for decades have sacrificed Christmas on the Godless altar of materialism and consumerism. Now they are throwing the last remaining holiday where families and friends can gather out the window, without saying a word about it. 

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I wonder which is worse in the eyes of God, to give lip service to the religious aspects of the holiday? Or to mistreat and abuse the most vulnerable workers all while becoming indebted to the banks and corporations who have no regard for the real meaning of any holiday and only seek a greater profit? 

But then “greed is eternal.” So says the 10th Rule of Acquisition.

Goodbye Thanksgiving it was good to know you. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

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