- ► 2017 (47)
- ► 2016 (122)
- ► 2015 (325)
- ► 2014 (287)
- ► 2013 (141)
- ► 2012 (28)
- ► 2011 (25)
- ► 2010 (36)
- ► 2009 (11)
Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
I'll be releasing each of the three videos throughout the day today, so come back and watch them all!
Part 1 - Patrick's Mission
Part 2 - Patrick's Method
Part 3 - Patrick's Model
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Does it bother you if a store clerk wishes you “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? I guess it could depend on the context. If I was purchasing, say, Channukah candles then the clerk’s salutation would probably be seen as appropriate. However, what if it was just my Saturday grocery run? Should Merry Christmas be avoided because it could possibly cause offense to some people?
As our society has become less Christian and more politically correct, some argue there has been a push to wish everyone happy holidays as a safeguard against offending anyone. But I don’t see such a move as effective. Indeed, sometimes they have consequences opposing their intended effect.
Take for example the recent statement by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. After a video of President Trump wishing Georgia rally attendees a merry Christmas and encouraging the greeting’s use, Nessel took him to task on Twitter for the remark, writing:
I remember the first time I was at a store with my son and an employee said “Merry Christmas” to us. My son looked devastated as asked “Are we the only people who don’t celebrate Christmas?” I answered “No, and we are just as American as everyone else.” Glad @JoeBiden knows that.
Various conservative outlets jumped on the tweet, one that Nessel has since deleted. The Daily Wire lead with the headline “Michigan AG Slams People Wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ After Trump Warning.”1 Breitbart wrote “Michigan AG Dana Nessel Launches “2020’s War on ‘Christmas’.”2 It strikes most people that taking umbrage at another person wishing you Merry Christmas is silly. Her denouncing those who would draw upon a traditional greeting mentioning a Christian holiday celebrated by the vast majority of people in the country (be they Christians, atheists, and even some of other faiths) feels more than insensitive. It feels like an attack.
After deleting the original tweet, Nessel sought to justify her stance with this comment that is still available online:
Saying “Happy Holidays” this time of year does not denigrate Christianity. It simply acknowledges and respects the great diversity of our nation and includes each and everyone of us who call ourselves proud Americans.
Is this true? Her claim is worth investigating and thinking about this carefully can help shift through some of the more divisive rhetoric that’s been weaponized this year. It may even help Christians better their witnessing efforts.
The Ugliness of Sloganeering Salutations
While the Coronavirus pandemic may be the most top-of-mind crisis of 2020, the tensions over race and law enforcement are certainly in a close running. Part of the fallout from these events was the elevation of the slogan Black Lives Matter. Its originators, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors saw the slogan as “A call to action, to make sure we are creating a world where black lives really do matter.”3 As the racial tensions and civic unrest elevated over this summer, the phrase morphed from a simply rally cry to a creed and a political movement. Some of the more radical activists began demanding people speak the phrase to show they are not racists. Garza and Cullors founded the Black Lies Matter Global Network Foundation and their web site began promoting far-left positions. She stated in a 2015 interview, “I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists.”4
People, not surprisingly, reacted against the slogan. Some didn’t like the idea that they must signal their virtuosity by saying the phrase. Others didn’t want to identify themselves with the radical politics of the movement. Still others felt that the phrase didn’t tell the whole story. A counter-slogan of All Lives Matter began to crescendo in response to the ubiquity of Black Lives Matter.
That, in turn, caused a similar backlash. Blacks felt that such a phrase
diminished the point they were trying to make. The common analogy they offer is
to picture yourself at the doctor’s office after you smashed your finger with a
hammer. When he asks “which finger should I treat?” you would never
respond with “Oh, doc, ALL finger matter!” Of course they all do, but the one
that’s hurting needs the attention now.
Good Housekeeping even ran an article stating that it’s problematic to say “All Lives Matter”:
While the intention of the phrase "All Lives Matter" may be to put everyone’s life on equal footing and convey a sense of unity, responding "All Lives Matter" to "Black Lives Matter" is actually more divisive than unifying. That's because it discounts and diminishes the focus on the violence and discrimination Black individuals face every day in this country.5
Switching from Slogans to Meaningful Conversation
This reaction to the reaction brings me back to my opening example. Let’s apply Nessel’s statement to the BLM slogan controversy. Without doing damage to her meaning, I can simply replace two terms and see if her argument is still appropriate:
Saying “All Lives Matter” this time of year does not denigrate black people. It simply acknowledges and respects the great diversity of our nation and includes each and everyone of us who call ourselves proud Americans.
Interestingly, there are a lot of people that would agree with Nessel’s original statement, but object to the revision and there are just as many on the other side of the political fence who would agree to the revision but reject the original! Yet, in both we have a group that offers a phrase of identity (either “Black Lives Matter” or “Merry Christmas”), a group that feels it has been in some way disparaged (Blacks or Christians), and a more encompassing category phrase (“Happy Holidays” or “All Lives Matter”) that becomes the substitute. If the logic is sound, it seems it should hold true in both sets of circumstances. So, an organization that instructs its employees not to say “Merry Christmas” but only “Happy Holidays” may be as offensive to Christians as hearing “all lives matter” as a retort to “Black Lives Matter.”
However, there is a caveat because the phrase Black Lives Matter is also the name of an organization that promotes values antithetical to Christian beliefs. If I were to use the phrase Black Lives Matter, would I also be giving undo credibility or endorsement to the organization’s political stance? Even if I mean to affirm the broad concept, how do I know that’s what those who hear or read my reply will not assume I accept those stances? In our social media/soundbite world, being misunderstood is too common place and sloganeering on either side can lead to a breakdown in communication instead of a path to meaningful conversation.
Therefore, let me offer this alternative. If someone askes me if I think black lives matter, I usually respond with “I’ll go further than that. There are a lot of things that matter. Money matters. I say black lives have inestimable worth.” In using this reply I can accomplish three things: 1) I can affirm the real pain those in the black community feel, 2) I can avoid any misunderstandings of tying myself to a political stance or movement, and 3) I can stimulate additional conversation. It allows me to talk about the imago Dei and why human beings carry intrinsic value. It opens the door to evangelism opportunities.
Similarly, don’t wait for a clerk to wish you happy holidays. When you fist step up to the counter, you can wish them a merry Christmas. You can also ask them “why do you think this particular holiday draws so much more attention than any other? What is so special about Christmas?” By moving beyond slogans, we can communicate better, be understood more clearly, and inspire others to think more deeply. That would make Christmas the happiest of holidays.
2. John Nolte. “Nolte: Michigan AG Dana Nessel Launches 2020's War on 'Christmas'.” Breitbart, Breitbart, 7 Dec. 2020, www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/12/07/nolte-michigan-ag-dana-nessel-launches-2020s-war-christmas/.
3. Elizabeth Day. “#BlackLivesMatter: the Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement.
4. Jared Ball. “A Short History of Black Lives Matter.” The Real News Network, The Real News Network, 23 July 2015, https://therealnews.com/pcullors0722blacklives
5. Lizz Schumer. “Saying That ‘Black Lives Matter’ Doesn't Mean That Other Lives Do Not.” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc., 5 June 2020, www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a32745051/what-black-lives-matter-means /.
Monday, January 01, 2018
January 1 marks the beginning of a new year and with it the promise of new opportunities to better ourselves. Of course the beginning of the New Year means many new laws begin to take effect. This has been true ever since Julius Caesar changed the calendars back in 45 B.C. when January 1 first marked the beginning of the year. Just three years later following Caesar's assassination, it was on January 1 that he was posthumously proclaimed divine by the Roman Senate.
The move to make Caesar divine was a political one. Caesar's grand-nephew and heir Octavian wanted to capitalize on Caesar's popularity with the common people and leverage it in his favor as he engage in a power struggle for the empire against Caesar's enemies. After his success, Octavian became known as Caesar Augustus ("the venerable") which "had a religious significance as designating one worthy of reverence, and marked him as more than man."1
The act of declaring Caesar a god was a key moment in the history of Rome. The Romans, unlike the Greeks, Egyptians, and other eastern cultures didn't have a tradition that a ruler would be a descendant of the gods.2 They held Romans to be superior to all other groups, and like all other cultures of their day, believed the aristocracy was superior to the underclass. But they didn't see the Roman leadership as direct descendants of the Roman pantheon.3 It was Octavian's political maneuver that established the Roman Imperial Cult where the emperor would be worshiped as divine. Later Caesars actually began to believe their own propaganda, and grew even bolder in their proclamation of being from the gods.
Another January 1 Wathershed LawJanuary 1 marks the anniversary of another watershed law, this one more recent in history. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln gave an executive order affecting more than three million people in the Civil War-torn United States south. The Emancipation Proclamation as it is known officially declared "all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons." While the Civil War wouldn't be settled for another two years, Lincoln's executive order legally marked the end of slavery in the United States of America.
The contrast between these two acts is interesting. Both of these laws affected the history of civilization. One sought to elevate a man above other men. The other sought to recognize the equality of all men. While both gave their proponents certain political advantages, one ultimately resulted in more human suffering and enslavement of other cultures while the other brought freedom and dignity to a previously repressed group. What changed? Why is there such a difference in the basic view of human beings?
The unifying force between these two is Jesus. The true God-man came into the world of one who claimed himself to be divine and leveraged it to spread His message that all men are equally valuable. Instead of demanding worship from others, He humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross so that all men of every race would be set free from the slavery of sin and death.
As we jump into a new year, you will certainly see many new laws take effect. Some of them are selfish in nature, seeking to bolster our personal pleasures without regard for the wider effects on society. Others are more magnanimous. But don't forget about Christmas just yet. Without the Emmanuel, without the God with Us, it might be that New Year's would only mark the beginning of another period of forced worship to one more of the various despots human nature has always produced. And that is nothing with celebrating.
2. Burton, Ibid.
3. Burton, Ibid.
Friday, November 04, 2016
AS the holidays are approaching, families will be reunited and seldom seen relatives will have the opportunity to share with one another. Burt when the topic of faith comes up, the conversation can quickly turn contentious. How can you get "God conversations" started where others are interested in engaging instead of arguing with you? How do you set the stage so others won't be put off before the conversation has begun?
First, listen more than you speakOne of the bigger problem in witnessing today is Christians equate it with preaching or dumping our information onto someone else. Some think "as long as I say 'Jesus died for you' and share a couple of scriptures, my witnessing obligations have been met!" That's a complete misconception of what sharing the Gospel is. Jesus never did this. Jesus actually cared enough about each person he engaged to ask them about their lives and he tailored his conversation to their interests. With the religious leaders (Nicodemus/Pharisees) He discussed theology and with the common people (woman at the well, the blind man) he engaged them in the tasks they were doing or the needs they had.
With Zaccheus, Jesus went further. Zaccheus was a tax collector; this meant his attention to the Jewish laws and requirements were not strictly observed "because someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about tithing his foodstuffs."1 But Jesus wanted to build a relationship with Zaccheus, not just preach at him, so he invited himself over for dinner. It was the building of intimacy and the care that Jesus showed towards Zaccheus the individual that prove3d effective in the sinner's repentance.
People's favorite subject is themselvesSo, my first point in starting God conversations is to make sure you listen more than you talk. Take what I call the second grade class photo approach. Do you remember those pictures you would take in elementary school with your class in three rows and the teachers standing at each end? When the class pictures were distributed, what was the first thing everyone did? They looked for themselves! I'm sure you were interested in your friends and what kind of faces they may have been making, but you first wanted to see how you looked in the picture. That's because no matter the person, everyone's favorite subject is themselves.
Given this, the Christian can be very effective in beginning conversations not proclaiming pronouncements but by asking questions and trying to understand the person with whom they're conversing. Ask, "What's the thing you're passionate about these days?" Most people's passions have a moral component that leads into conversations on good and evil. Even sports or hobbies have broader implications, as the Colin Kapernick controversy has shown. Make sure you follow up their answer with another, such as "Why did you get involved in that specifically?" or "What is it about that that you find satisfying?"
Paul used this technique to great effect in Acts 17 when he was asked to present before the Greeks at Mars Hill. He first starts with a compliment (Men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious in all respects.."), then quotes some popular poets, then ties hose interests to his message. Paul made sure he knew the interests and ideas that motivated the Athenians before he brought up Jesus.
By seeking to understand the drives and motivations of an individual, you'll be in a much better position to discuss things like what makes life meaningful. You may also find the conversation you planned would not be effective at all, as I did here.
People will tell me they've had the greatest conversations when they feel they were heard – not when they were talked at. That means you must listen first.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
Monday, June 06, 2016
I'm writing this blog post on June 6, which is 72 years to the day that the Allied forces, led by the United States, invaded the beaches of Normandy, France. By all accounts, the Allied invasion proved to be the decisive turning point in the war, giving the Allies the upper hand. It also proved to be one of the costliest in terms of casualties with 2,500 Americans dying in the initial invasion, and most of those at Omaha beach. The British and Canadian troops saw about 1900 fatalities.1
It was no surprise that the invasion of a German stronghold would inflict heavy casualties. That's one reason why the invasion force was so large; the Allies knew they would lose a lot of men. But, why would those men—most of whom were less than 20 years old and had their entire lives ahead of them—assent to participate in something with such a high chance of death? How does this benefit them? Wouldn't being alive be better, even if it was alive with a dishonorable discharge or perhaps spending a few years in a military prison?
Freedom is the most common response given for the sacrifice made by these brave men. Both the veterans who survived the invasion and those who remember their deeds say they sacrificed their lives to allow others to live freely. Denis van den Brink, communications officer of the city of Carentan, France, a city that was an immediate beneficiary of the Allied efforts, put it well:
The allied army, more specifically, the American Army, they came to liberate, not to conquer. That's what it says in the Coleville cemetery, where 10,000 Americans are resting forever. That says it all, for the very first time in the history of mankind, they came to fight, die, win, victory, and then go home. That's the one and only example in the history of mankind and we had all these foreign Soldiers coming and dying and to fight for our land and then to free our land and then instead of staying they just went away. 2
How Does a Naturalist View of Life Make Sense of This?The heroism of the soldiers at Normandy is beyond doubt. It is recognized by the theist and the atheist alike and I don't doubt the sincerity of either. However, how does a worldview such as naturalism make sense of fighting and dying for someone else for the sake of an idea? How does upholding the value of liberty, especially for a people you don't even know, become more valuable than life itself on a purely evolutionary paradigm? Why would freedom be so important?
I've heard some atheists try to explain away this difficulty by saying it is simply the law of reciprocity in action. You wouldn't want to be enslaved, so you act as you would have others act if you were the subjugated. I've shown why this claim fails before. If we evolved a sense of reciprocity, it may not benefit our survivability but it may in fact increase the number of individuals who die because they place themselves in life-threatening situations just because they see another person in a life-threatening situation. It would be very easy to see how such an instinct would lower then subsequent populations instead of bolstering them. And on a side note, it sure seems like such an instinct is pretty repressed especially when one considers experiments where witnesses do nothing other than watch when a person is being victimized.
Of course, the second question one must ask is by what criteria does one measure whether ideas such as freedom and liberty are truly valuable at all? As I said above, wouldn't survival be better? If the primary driving force for the advancement of human beings is their evolutionary growth, then they must be able to survive and reproduce. That would means survivability would be the highest moral calling, not massive self-sacrifice for an abstract concept like liberty. But we place ideas like freedom, liberty, and self-sacrifice above survival. Why? Who says these should be valued more highly? Where did that idea come from and how does it integrate within a naturalist worldview?
The sacrifices of D-Day can teach us much. It provides a stark contrast between human beings as rational, moral beings, and all other animals, whose highest motivation is only to survive. It shows that humans are different in kind and not simply by degree. And it shows there are values that naturalism cannot explain. I for one thank God for those who provided that sacrifice, and it makes me more confident that there is a God to thank.
2. Mack, Christa. "72nd D-Day Liberation of Normandy Observed." www.army.mil. United States Army, 6 June 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
This week is Holy Week, where Christians mark the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No matter if you're a believer or not, it is clear that Easter changed history. Christianity was the most radically transforming movement in human history; and something started that cascade of transformation.
If we are to understand the transforming nature of Easter, we need to look no further than the very beginnings of the faith. Jesus's followers were Jewish and they held to standard Jewish beliefs. They expected a Messiah, a savior, to be a political or military leader who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and restore the glory of David's throne. They expected to observe the Jewish Levitical laws unto death and that resurrection was an event reserved for the end of time.
All those beliefs changed the day Jesus rose from the dead. As N.T. Wright explains, his resurrection was a paradigm shift for both Jesus's followers and even Paul, who would consider himself an adversary:
The first and most obvious conclusion which the disciples would have drawn, as soon as they came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead, was that he was indeed the prophet mighty in word and deed, and that he was, more particularly, Israel's Messiah. This would not be because they had already believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be raised from the dead, but because the Jesus they knew had been tried and executed as Messiah, and this extraordinary and unexpected event (as it seemed to them) had apparently reversed the verdicts of both the Jewish and the Roman courts. We can see at several points in the New Testament, not least in Paul and Acts, the way in which the church scrambled to pull together biblical texts to make the connection between Messiah and resurrection, a connection which nobody had thought necessary before but which suddenly became the key move in early Christology. The texts strongly suggest both that this was a new connection and that it was the first vital link in the chain.The paradigm shifting nature of the Resurrection coupled with its quick adoption by thousands of Jewish converts argues against its story being fabricated. It is simply much harder to believe that a Jewish culture so steeped in monotheism and Jewish tradition would give up their beliefs so easily had there not been more than the tales of a few rural fishermen. Paul's conversion screams the loudest against fabrication.
From that point on, our best early evidence is Paul. He had, in the senses we have explored, a different kind of meeting with Jesus, but he quickly came to the conclusion which the others, too, had arrived at: that in this Jesus, now demonstrated to have been Israel's Messiah all along, Israel's one true god had been not merely speaking, as though through an intermediary, but personally present. 
The Resurrection has been changing minds and hearts ever since that first Easter morning. Its power rests in its truth.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
This weekend marked two important dates in the advancement of freedom. The more widely known was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, celebrated on the third Monday in January. MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United States, set aside to remember not just the work of Dr. King, but his cause.
To view another human being as less worthy or less capable for no other reason than the color of one's skin or heritage is wrong, for all human beings should hold an "equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of independence. MLK Day recognizes the concept enshrined in that document. Senator Jack Kemp, when voting for the holiday after rejecting it years prior, made the point well:
I have changed my position on this vote because I really think that the American Revolution will not be complete until we commemorate the civil rights revolution and guarantee those basic declarations of human rights for all Americans and remove those barriers that stand in the way of people being what they are meant to be.1I think that's what makes MLK Day important. It makes Jefferson's belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" consistent for our nation. Jefferson's ownership of slaves may make some question his beliefs on this subject, but living inconsistently does not mean the idea itself is wrong; it only demonstrates the person who seeks to follow that idea is flawed.
The Other Holiday for FreedomThe other day that marks the advancement of freedom is less well-known, but no less important, and it also involves the writings of Thomas Jefferson and he felt this document was just as important as his crafting of the Declaration. That document is the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, otherwise known as The Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty and it became one of the sources for the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and it was passed on January 16th of 1786. January 16th has come to be known as Religious Freedom Day.
In the statute, Jefferson lays out why the state should not be able to compel only certain opinions or religious views. It not only argues against elevating a certain denomination or sect (such as the Church of England, that had been recognized as the official church of the state of Virginia), but it argues that government impeding any religious beliefs is a violation of the natural rights of men. Jefferson argues that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." He then points out "proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right" (emphasis added). 2
Jefferson finally argues that any civil official who wants to enforce his own understanding of what is allowable and what is not regarding religious questions actually robs all people of liberty:
To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own3
Losing Religious Freedom TodayBut in cases of Christians who seek to both exercise their professions and uphold their religious convictions, that's exactly what we are seeing today. Civil magistrates are trying to override the beliefs of Christian cake bakers, photographers, and county clerks with whom the magistrates' opinions differ. Even the Obama administration hailed Religious Freedom Day as honoring "one of our most cherished ideas" even while it pursued legal action against a group of nuns who hold that abortion is morally wrong.
Today, while racism is widely reviled both in public and in the media, the importance of religious liberty is being eroded. Much of that comes from the confusion over what religious liberty entails. But be certain that if religious liberty is eroded then there will be no check left against whatever opinions those in power wish to impose on the citizenry.
When signing MLK Day into law, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed:
Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."4The same relationship exists with religious freedom. If we lose the ability to speak about our faith when legislation is debated, we lose our voice of conviction. If we must be compelled to a certain action even though it stands in opposition to our understanding of right and wrong, we are being denied our natural rights. Natural rights cannot be taken from people by governments. Our country is founded on this principle. To compromise on religious freedom would mean subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the powerful. That's a future that even Dr. King would loathe for his children.
2. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786." Transcript. VirginiaMemory.com. http://www.virginiamemory.com/docs/ReligiousFree.pdf
3. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786."
4. Reagan, Ronald. "Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday." Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. 2 Nov. 1983. Web. 19 Jan 2016. http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1983/110283a.htm
Sunday, January 03, 2016
"How do I share my faith better?" is a question that Christians struggle with again and again, especially when families gather for birthdays or holidays. While Christmas may be over, our recent podcast series "Talking to Family about Christmas" offers effective ways of sharing your faith with friends and family members. You can listen in to all four parts of this recent series here:
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Last week, I published a three-part series on why the date of Christmas is not based on Roman or pagan holidays. While the claim is popular, history argues differently. As I said there, some want to believe in the paganism aspect so they can hold onto the trappings of a secular Christmas without any charge of hypocrisy.
The reaction I received was surprising. I expected several atheists or skeptics to doubt the claim, but there were quite a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who were deeply offended that Christmas wasn't pagan and simply didn't want to give up on the idea. They pointed to things like Christmas trees, even ripping Jeremiah 10:1-10 wholly out of context as a command not to have them! They just KNEW Christmas was pagan and they were better Christians than I was because they didn't celebrate it!
While people of the 21st century tend to reduce the celebration of an event such as Jesus's birth to "Jesus's Birthday," Christians of the fourth century had an entirely different motive. They weren't focused so much on marking a birthday as we would be, but marking a pivotal point of history: the day the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The early church wanted to celebrate the incarnation of God into man, which is precisely what Christmas was meant to do. They wanted to uphold the foundational teaching of Jesus as the God-man.
The Heresies Against Jesus's HumanityPeople who are open to the evidence believe Jesus existed, even if they don't believe he was divine. Even strong critics of Christianity such as Bart Ehrman maintain that not only did Jesus exist; it is foolish to believe he was mythical. Ehrman even wrote that one shouldn't deny "what virtually every sane historian on the planet—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you—has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed."1
The bigger problem the early church faced was not as much whether Jesus lived or if he was in some way divine, but whether he was truly God and truly man at the same time. Many Gnostics taught that Jesus wasn't a physical being at all. He was a spiritual entity that would appear as physical. This view is known as Docetism, coming from the Greek word meaning "to appear."2 Interestingly, Bishop Serapion of Antioch condemns this view in a letter that is dated right at the same time Hippolytus offers the December 25th date for the birth of Christ.
The importance of celebrating Christ's entrance into the world is to recognize that Jesus who existed as God really did humble himself "being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). Jesus was a real human being in every respect, and just like all humans, he entered this world by being born. Because Jesus was born, he is considered a kinsman of Adam, and thus the only one who could redeem all of Adam's offspring from sin, as Paul explains: "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:21). The book of Hebrews agrees, stating ""Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). Paul also tells Timothy "There is One God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). We celebrate Christmas because of the miracle of God becoming man. That's a much different concept than simply having a birthday party.
The Danger Facing Christmas TodayBut even if it were true that December 25 was originally a pagan holiday, that doesn't taint the holiday. Taking the date from a pagan celebration doesn't mean those celebrations are pagan any more than it means I'm honoring the Norse god Thor by writing Thursday on my checks or honoring the Roman god Juno by calling the sixth month June. The names of June and Thursday have lost all pagan value and are simply common parlance.
The real danger Christmas faces today is a similar one. We've forgotten why it is absolutely crucial to our salvation that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Those who can rail against the pagan origins of Christmas cannot seem to see the importance of underscoring Jesus's humanity. If we dismiss Christmas altogether, we are in danger of missing part of the story of our redemption. That's something I'm not willing to throw away.
2. González, Justo L., and Catherine Gunsalus. González. Heretics for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. Print. 37-38.
Image courtesy Plum leaves and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
Monday, December 21, 2015
Most childhood plays of the Christmas story show a young Mary and Joseph wandering from house to house in Bethlehem, knocking on doors only to be met with a head shaking "no" no the other side. While there is conjecture as to whether they were turned away from an inn or simply couldn't fit in the main living quarters, the story is clearly that Mary gave birth in the town of Bethlehem.
But how certain are we that Bethlehem would truly be the location? Is it more likely Jesus was born in Nazareth and Bethlehem became a later invention? Like all historical facts, nothing is impossible but why would someone believe that Bethlehem wasn't the birthplace of Christ? The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are both sources close to the time they record (within one generation), and they had direct access to Jesus's brothers and Jesus's mother. They could ask them directly, which Luke states he did (Luke 1:2).
Further, there are no competing accounts of Jesus's birthplace in any historical record. In fact, as Paul L. Maier notes, even Christian artwork depicting the Nativity shows a wide array of different scenarios that reflect the culture of the artist's day, but everyone seems to agree on some kind of stable or grotto or cave where the animals were kept, just as Luke reports.
The Church of the Nativity Adds EvidenceInterestingly, Maier also believes the Church of the Nativity that thousands of pilgrims visit every year offers good evidence for Bethlehem as the location of Jesus's birth. While the ostentatiousness of its current ornamentation may be off-putting to Western Protestants today, Maier explains that one must look past the modern adornments to the historical tradition of the location itself:
Did it all really happen here—at this spot? Though final proof is necessarily lacking, the surprising answer lurks closer to probably than possibly.
Where there is no direct archaeological evidence—and there could be none in the case of the birth of Jesus—nothing is more important in establishing the authenticity of an ancient site than antiquity: the place must have been regarded as such from earliest times. If the Church of the Nativity had been built here in 600 A.D., for example, its claims to mark the authentic site of the birth of Jesus would be almost worthless. But
Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome, erected the original Church of the Nativity at this place in 326 A.D., over the very grotto that had been identified as the true site by the early church father Origen and, before him, Justin Martyr, writing in 150 A.D. Justin stated that Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a stable-not the typical stone or wooden stable so familiar in Christmas art. Earlier still, in the 130's the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian tried to desecrate the Jewish and Christian holy places in Palestine, but, ironically, thereby preserved identity!
After he had put down an insurrection by the Jewish nationalist and would-be Messiah, Bar-Kokhba, in 135 A.D., Hadrian expelled the Jews Jerusalem and paganized all known holy places of Jews and Christians, erecting a temple to Venus at the site of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a grove dedicated to Adonis over the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
After visiting the latter in the early 200s, Origen later wrote: "In Bethlehem the grotto was shown where Jesus was born .... What was shown to me is familiar to everyone in the area. The heathen themselves tell anyone willing to listen that in the said grotto a certain Jesus was born whom the Christians revere" (Contra Celsum, i, 51).1
What Other Accounts Count?For the Bethlehem location to have been venerated in such a noticeable way that Hadrian would intentionally destroy them in 135 means it had been recognized as such for years or even decades prior. That puts the Bethlehem grotto, like the location of Jesus's crucifixion at what is now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on very good historical grounds. While the tomb is much more likely to be specifically known by the disciples than his birthplace, there is still both archaeological and written support for these locations.
Give the tradition of Jesus's birthplace goes back to the early second century in respect to the grotto, and back to the first century in the Gospel accounts, holding that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as opposed to elsewhere is the most reasonable belief. Dr. Maier concludes similarly, noting "Some critics doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and argue instead for Nazareth or elsewhere. Such opinions, however, are based only on scholarly conjecture, and no source has been discovered to date that disproves Jesus' birth in Bethlehem."2
Maier's point is interesting and one that happens often with those who wish to dismiss the accounts as given in the ancient sources. They offer a competing conjecture, but without a shred of evidence. Just as those who try to deny Jesus was buried in a tomb have no historical evidence for their claim, neither do those who doubt Jesus's birth at Bethlehem. It's all a lot of hand-waiving by people who wish to deny the fact that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Michah 5:2. But history argues against them.
2. Maier, 1991. 32.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Over the last two posts, I've explained how historical research is showing the date for celebrating Christmas was not chosen because of a Roman holiday like Saturnalia, but how the early church linked the date of Jesus's birth to the date of Jesus's crucifixion. That means Christmas is not a response to a pagan celebration such as Saturnalia but it has Christian roots.
However, Saturnalia is not the only candidate offered by critics as why December 25th was the focus of the coming of the Son of God. There is another holiday that actually occurred on December 25 mentioned in antiquity. This was the Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, translated as is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." It was celebrated on December 25 in 354 AD according to the calendar of Philocalus.1
The Sol Invictus cult followers worshipped the sun. Thomas Talley reports that while Emperor Aurelian did not first introduce Rome to the cult, he popularized it and the celebration day. Previously, local celebrations of Sol revolved around the dedication of the god's temples in August and/or November. In fact, the word Natalis can mean more than simply birthday, but it may also be used for the concept of an anniversary, as Roger Pearse notes:
There is also the question of what "natalis" means. It could mean birthday; but also it can mean "anniversary of the dedication of a temple". This seems to be the meaning for other "natalis" in the calendar. We know that Aurelian dedicated the temple of Sol Invictus. Thus we would get a festival on the anniversary of the dedication of the temple, and thus the idea that the festival was created at the same time by Aurelian.2Tally tells us the "indigenous Sun cult at Rome does not seem to have been especially sensitive to the winter solstice or any other quarter days."3 Also, Steven Hijmans declares that while Aurelian set the feast, it may not have been set in December until much later:
there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day [December 25]. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.4
The Roman Solstice and Who's Borrowing from Whom?One mistake we must be careful of is placing too much emphasis on the similar sounding words "sun" and "Son." This is a common misstep for English speakers. While the Latin word for sun is "sol, the word translated son is "filius," breaking any ties to a play on words. Yet, Romans did hold to the idea that December 25 was the "birth of the Sun as the days began to noticeably get longer. Schmidt quotes Macrobius who states it was the Egyptians of the 4th or 5th century that developed the metaphor of the sun coming on the solstice as an infant and growing until the summer, where it would then shrink again as an aging man.5
Of course, all of this is well after the 202 to 211 AD mark where Hippolytus ties December 25 to Jesus's birth. If the Natalis was originally celebrated in August or October or November, why was it changed to December? One possibility is that Aurelian dedicated a new temple on that day and thus they celebrated that dedication as a feast day. Thomas Talley gives us an even more interesting possibility:
Halsberghe, without suggesting that there already was a Christian festival on December 25, presents the probability that one item in Aurelian's religious agenda was the provision of an authentically Roman alternative to the increasingly successful Christian mission.6Of course, there's much much more, but I think you can see that the charge of Christians chose December 25 in order to "Christianize" or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best. If you want to dig into more of the history, T.C. Schmidt's series is a great place to start, although it is only available via the internet Archive now. He summarized his findings thus:
- Saturnalia did not occur on December 25 and had nothing to do with the birth of any god or anyone else.
- A feast to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) did occur on December 25, but the earliest evidence for it dates from the mid to late 4th century. There is no evidence that Emperor Aurelian established a Festival of Sol Invictus (or anyone or anything else) on December 25.
- Egyptians apparently presented an infant as a representation of the newborn Sun on the winter solstice, but this evidence also dates from the fourth and fifth centuries.
- Hippolytus in
202-211 AD set the date for the birth of Jesus on December 25, because he
thought Jesus was conceived 9 months earlier on the Passover, the day in which
he also thought the world was created (5500 years earlier), the Vernal
Equinox March 25.
Clement of Alexandria (193-215 AD) quoted various anonymous sources about the birth of Jesus and roughly agrees with Hippolytus, claiming that Jesus was born in late fall to early winter. Clement's sources clearly seem to believe that Jesus was conceived on the Passover and was born roughly 9 months later; in fact the only difference between them and Hippolytus is that they differed on when the Passover actually occurred. However there is a significant possibility that one of Clement's sources was Hippolytus himself because of the preponderance of possible dates he gives that fall on the 25th of a month (He gives 4 of them and then another date on the 24th) which corresponds with Hippolytus' belief that Jesus was both conceived, born, and executed on the 25th of a month.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "Antiochus of Athens and the Birth of the Sun-update." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 28 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/antiochus-of-athens-and-the-birth-of-the-sun/
3. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 88-89.
4. Hijmans, S. E. Sol: the sun in the art and religions of Rome. 2009 Groningen: s.n. 588 quoted from T.C. Schmidt. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/sol-invictus-evidently-not-a-precursor-to-christmas/
5. Schmidt, T.C., "Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the birth of the Sun." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 19 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/christmas-the-winter-solstice-and-the-birth-of-the-sun/
6. Talley, 1986. 89.
7. Schmidt, T.C. "Sol Invictus evidently not a precursor to Christmas." Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140717194947/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/sol-invictus-evidently-not-a-precursor-to-christmas/
Thursday, December 17, 2015
There is a widespread conjecture that the early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 as a response to pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnalia or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus. Given that the Gospels do not record any date for the Nativity, choosing one would have been left to a conjecture by the early church fathers, much like an adopted orphan would have a birth date assigned to her when the actual date is unknown.
Yesterday, I demonstrated how it is more plausible to believe the church fathers chose December 25 not in response to pagan celebrations, but because of its tie in to the date of Jesus's crucifixion, which is the pivotal date of all human history in their eyes. Today, I want to look at what we know about the Roman celebrations to see if they were actually celebrated on December 25th. If they weren't, does it make sense to believe that Christmas was meant to replace them?
Roman Time and SaturnaliaBefore we get into the texts discussing timing, it is important to understand how Romans referenced time. Unlike modern times, whereby we number every day, the Romans divided a month into three parts: the first of a month, known as the Kalends, the middle or Ides of a month (as in "Beware the Ides of March" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), and the space in between them known as the Nones. Other dates were referenced as before these three points, so the 25th of December would be eight days before the Kalends of January.1
When studying the ancient reference to Saturnalia, a primary source we have is written by the Roman Macrobius , who lived in the fifth century. His work Saturnalia provides much of the details of the origin stories of the celebration as well as its customs. Ancient texts scholar T.C. Schmidt highlighted this passage from Saturnalia Book 1, chapter 10 giving the dates of the celebration:
Our ancestors restricted the Saturnalia to a single day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but, after Gaius Caesar had added two days to December, the day on which the festival was held became the sixteenth before the Kalends of January, with the result that, since the exact day was not commonly known—some observing the addition which Caesar had made to the calendar and others following the old usage —the festival came to be regarded as lasting for more days than one.
And yet in fact among the men of old time there were some who supposed that the Saturnalia lasted for seven days…
[But] one can infer, then, from all that has been said, that the Saturnalia lasted but one day and was held only on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of January; it was on this day alone that the shout of "Io Saturnalia" would be raised, in the temple of Saturn, at a riotous feast. Now, however, during the celebration of the Saturnalia, this day is allotted to the festival of the Opalia, although the day was first assigned to Saturn and Ops in common.2
The Addition of SigillariaSo Saturnalia was a three-day long feast that began sixteen days before January 1st. Their December was 31 days long as is ours, so that places Saturnalia on December 17, far too early to be mistaken for December 25. However, that isn't the end of the story. Macrobius then notes that another celebration, Sigillaria was celebrated after these three days:
I think that we have now given abundant proof that the festival of the Saturnalia used to be celebrated on only one day, the fourteenth before the Kalends of January, but that it was afterward prolonged to last three days: first, in consequence of the days which Caesar added to the month of December, and then in pursuance of an edict of Augustus which prescribed a series of three rest days for the Saturnalia. The festival therefore begins on the sixteenth day before the Kalends of January and ends on the fourteenth, which used to be the only day of its celebration. However, the addition of the feast of the Sigillaria has extended the time of general excitement and religious rejoicing to seven days.Schmidt in his article provided a translation of chapter ten in its entirety, as dates are referenced throughout. He then concludes:
Macrobius does an excellent job summarizing authorities that were available to him, most of which I think have been lost. His conclusion is quite clear, Saturnalia originally was one day and occurred on the 14th day before the Kalends January, but when Caesar altered the calendar it was extended to three days and started on the 16th, later a new Festival of Sigillaria extended the celebrations to complete seven days, meaning that the Festival ended on either the 10th or ninth day before the Kalends of January depending on how we count. Of course neither of these days fall on the eighth day before the Kalends of January, that is December 25.3
The Dates Don't FitRemember, Macrobius was writing in the fifth century AD and we have Christmas sermons from John Chrysostom preached on December 25th from a century earlier. Yet the dates don't correspond. If Christmas was create to supplant Saturnalia, the Christians would have chosen December 17th. Add to that the references I noted yesterday about the December 25th date stretching all the way back to A.D. 200 and you have a very real dating problem with Saturnalia being the origin date for Christmas.
Imagine a modern church seeking to replace Halloween celebrations by having a Harvest festival on November 8. It wouldn't work! People could celebrate one and then attend the other. The concept of substitution would be fairly ineffective.
I haven't yet discussed the one Roman holiday that actually does land on December 25, which is the Sol Invitus or "The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun." I address that particular claim in this post.
2. Schmidt, T.C., "The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas". Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 18 Dec 2010. Web. https://web.archive.org/web/20140721073230/http:/chronicon.net/blog/christmas/the-dates-of-saturnalia-and-sigillaria-and-christmas/
3. Schmidt, 18 Dec 2010.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Christmas is a much-beloved holiday, celebrated by billions of people across the globe. In the U.S. Alone, the Pew Center reports that nearly 96% of the population celebrates Christmas, including eight out of ten non-Christians, including atheists, agnostics, and those who have no faith commitment.1 However, Christmas is also a uniquely Christian holiday; its core message is about a personal God taking humanity upon Himself and stepping into the world to redeem sinful human beings who could never redeem themselves. The Christian message is inescapable.
I believe the love of Christmas coupled with the loathing of Christianity is one reason why atheists continue to repeat the claim that Christmas is a repurposing of a pagan Roman holiday. Two of the most popular pagan holidays put forth are the celebration of Saturnalia, which honored the Roman god Saturn, or the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, that is the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." Both of these celebrations were held in the second half of December, making them somewhat close to Christmas.
Looking at the History of ChristmasThe claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such.2 Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'"3
When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots.
Much of the thrust of the "pagan Christmas" claim rests on the idea of a Christianized Rome trying to convert a populace that wouldn't want to give up its feast traditions, akin to the practice of churches celebrating a "Harvest Festival" instead of Halloween. Yet, scholars like Yale University's T.C. Schmidt are finding the marking of December 25 to go much earlier in the Christian history.
When translating Hippolytus' Commentary on Daniel, written just after AD 200, Schmidt notes that five of the seven manuscripts contain December 25 as the date for Jesus' birth and another offers the 25th of either December or March.4 Clement of Alexandria in this same time offers the date of March 25 as the date of the incarnation, that is the conception of Jesus, in his Stromata (1.21.145-146).5 Both works tie the idea that Jesus's death would have happened on the same day as his conception.
Christmas and Easter are LinkedThis is the key to the December 25th date. As Thomas Tulley works out in his book The Origins of the Liturgical Year, there was a belief within the early church that the date of the death of Jesus would also reflect either his birth or his conception.6 Augustine wrote of this, saying "For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."7
St. John Chrysostom in his writings goes ever further by noting that the Angel Gabriel's announcement of Mary's conception happened while Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:26). Chrysostom argues that Zechariah's service was the Day of Atonement, thus making the conception of John the Baptist happen in the fall. Add six months and Jesus's conception lands in the spring, e.g March 25. I don't know that this calculation is historically accurate, but it does show how much the early church tied the events together. The idea of randomly choosing a pagan date seems a pretty big stretch.
Here's the thing. If Christians were recognizing the birth of Christ by the beginning of the third century, does it make sense to think that this was a fourth century invention to sway the Roman populous over to Christianity? Christianity was gaining ground in the time of Clement, but it was by no means out from under the shadow of persecution. It also wasn't borrowing much from pagan customs at the time. So why believe they would do so for this date?
In order to get a fuller picture, we must look at the Roman holidays and their histories. You can read that post here and part three is here.
2. Schnepper, Rachel N. "Yuletide's Outlaws." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/opinion/the-puritan-war-on-christmas.html?_r=0
3. Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. Print. 4.
4. Schmidt, T.C. "Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas" Chronicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 21 Nov 2010. Web. http://web.archive.org/web/20130303163053/http://chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas 16 Dec 2015.
5. Schmmidt, T.C. "Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th." Chrinicon.net. T.C. Schmidt. 17 Dec 2010. Web. http://web.archive.org/web/20120822053409/http://chronicon.net/blog/hippolytus/clement-of-alexandria-and-the-original-date-of-christmas-as-december-25th/ 16 Dec 2015.
6. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Pub, 1986. Print. 91ff.
7. Augustine of Hippo. On the Trinity, IV, 5. Logos Virtual Library. Trans. Arthur West Haddan. Darren L. Slider, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. http://www.logoslibrary.org/augustine/trinity/0405.html.
Image Courtesy Adam Clark and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.
Friday, December 11, 2015
One of the more popular modern Christmas songs is "Mary Did You Know?" which reflects upon the ministry, miracles, suffering and sacrifice of Jesus by asking his mother if she understood just who it is she had birthed. It's touching with a tinge of sadness as the joy of a new birth is contrasted with her certain future heartache (ref. Luke 2:35). Those of us who have children of our own can especially feel the poignancy of the vulnerable baby in your arms and the dangers she faces from the world.
However, I often wonder why we don't pause to reflect more on the understanding of Joseph during this holiday season. Joseph, according to Craig Keener, was probably between the ages of eighteen to twenty years old and had the marriage arranged by his and her parents. When Joseph and Mary were betrothed, it would have been in front of two witnesses whereby Joseph declared his intent to marry the girl. This was a legally binding relationship which opened up a year-long waiting period before the wedding. 1 Keener explains:
Betrothal provided most of the legal rights of marriage, but intercourse was forbidden; Joseph is courageous to take his pregnant betrothed with him, even if (as is possible) she is also a Bethlehemite who has to return to that town. Although tax laws in most of the empire required only the head of a household to appear, the province of Syria (then including Palestine) also taxed women; but this would apply only if she owned immoveable property. Joseph may simply wished to avoid leaving her alone this late in pregnancy, especially if the circumstances of her pregnancy may have deprived her of other friends.2The scandal of Mary's pregnancy would most likely lead people to speculate whether Mary and Joseph were improperly intimate prior to marriage or whether Mary was unfaithful to Joseph completely. Either way, it didn't make things easy for him.
Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:19-21, ESV).Joseph's faithfulness to respond to that dream is truly courageous. I think most people would assume his desire to still marry his pregnant fiancé would imply that it was he who acted improperly and got her pregnant to begin with. The level of scandal and shame such an act would spark should not be underestimated. While Mary was faithful to the call of God, she was also visited by the angel Gabriel, given some instruction on what will happen, and even given a sign as to the truth of these things as her relative Elizabeth was pregnant even though she was past the age of childbearing. Matthew tells us that Joseph had only the dream, and his entire future was riding upon what he did with that.
Has anyone thought about what an eighteen or twenty year old male would be facing in a similar situation? Most young men this age are dreaming of a particular type of future: independent, stable, with a wife who loves him and children of his own. Add to that the fact that Joseph came from the royal line of David, he should have been in a position of comfort and power. That wasn't to be, but knowing how young men think, I'm sure he had dreams of creating a good, stable life for himself and his family.
However, given that Mary's first child would not be his progeny and she became pregnant even before marriage, his future is on a decidedly different track. He took Mary with him on the journey to Bethlehem, possibly to protect her and help her since the odds were out of her favor in the town where they both lived. A stigma of immorality would continue throughout their lives, even following Jesus as the Pharisees alluded to his illegitimacy (John 8:41). Yet, Joseph took the road of self-denial and self-sacrifice. This young man exemplified true virtue in standing beside Mary.
We don't know when and how Joseph died. Given Jesus's charge of his mother to the apostle John in John 19:26, it is assumed that Joseph has already passed away. We read no more about him after the birth narratives. But it would do us well to reflect upon Joseph's stand. This is a model of what a virtuous man looks like. We need to underscore it for the young people in our churches today. Would there be more Josephs in the world.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
What should Christians make of these billboards? Is it an attack on Christianity? It clearly holds a message contrary to Christian teaching, but the American Atheists claim they aren't trying to undermine Christmas. According to the channel, American Atheists spokesman Randy Gotovich said "We're trying to be inclusive of everyone in Christmas and saying that anyone can celebrate it. It shouldn't be viewed strictly as a Christian holiday."2
Perhaps Gotovich missed the common referent in the words Christ mas and Christian—the word Christ. While people who are not devout or even Christians may celebrate Christmas, the concept of Christmas falls apart without Christ. The holiday makes no sense. The refrain of "Peace on earth, good will toward men" is a call for every human being to replicate the selflessness and mercy that God showed by sending his son to save sinners. That's why taking the entire quote of Luke 2:14 is important: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (ESV). Only in the Christian worldview does this kind of selflessness make sense. It certainly doesn't work in a world based on survival of the fittest.
Gotovich's statement unwittingly displays something. Atheists ideals cannot exist on their own. Imagine if the American Atheists were more honest and sought to abolish Christmas entirely. Why not say, "We don't need this holiday infused at every turn with religious implications and mythicism. We have Darwin Day. Let's celebrate that instead." How many followers do you think they would attract?
The Confused Message of "Be Good for Goodness' Sake"Instead of promoting atheism by its own virtues, the American Atheists want to keep Christmas, but corrupt it. AA President David Silverman tried to redefine the holiday on their website by saying "The things that are most important during the holiday season—spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry—have nothing to do with religion."3 Again, what? Where did he get that from?
First off, ideas like spending time with loved ones should not be seasonal. Charity and altruism are good things. But atheists don't think so if the altruism carries religious implications. In instances such as those, they'd rather shut down food pantries than allow a church the freedom to help the needy.
But the biggest problem with the billboard is whose idea of "being good" is being adopted here? What standard or scale are the atheists using to weigh whether an action is in itself good or bad? They obviously believe that skipping church is a good thing and going to church is a bad thing. But what if they're wrong on that point? Then how can they "be good for goodness' sake" when telling someone to skip church, which is bad?
When the atheists borrowed that line from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," they misrepresented it. The line is using "for goodness' sake" as an emphatic device, just as you might hear a mother say while scolding her son, "Why do you have to take your brother's toys? For goodness' sake, you have plenty of your own to play with!" By changing the meaning to try and make it say that goodness has its own ontology, that is that goodness exists outside of anything else, they beg the question.
One cannot be good for goodness' sake without knowing first what defines goodness. And therein lies the problem. Atheism has no grounding for goodness. There is nothing to give their pronouncements about what is good or bad any value at all. Everything becomes subjective, like Silverman's claim that "being merry" is an important holiday value. Being merry is nice, I guess, but it isn't a virtue. All it takes to be merry is an open bar at the company Christmas party.
Without the transcendent source of God to anchor goodness, there is no way anyone can be good for the sake of goodness alone. Where does one start? By seeking to leverage the inherently religious principles of Christmas (in which God establishes the foundation of sacrificial love) to try and undermine the practice of religion, the American Atheists have set up a contradiction.
Let them present their own worldview. Let them hold their own holidays. For goodness' sake, why do they keep trying to take the Christian ones? That's simply naughty.
2. Fisher, 2015.
3. "Santa Says ‘Just Skip Church' in Atheists' Holiday Billboards." American Atheists. American Atheists, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. http://news.atheists.org/2015/12/07/santa-says-just-skip-church-in-atheists-holiday-billboards/.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Thanksgiving is a unique holiday in the United States. It recognizes and promotes religious observance in the form of thanking God for His provision not only for our personal lives but for our nation as a whole. In reality, the United States is still a nation of people who hold the spiritual in high regard. You can see that by reviewing some of the past proclamations by our elected representatives as well as how Thanksgiving came to be a recognized holiday in America.
While I'm sure some atheist factions have complained about the supposed conflict between church and state on this one, none have been able to effectively challenge the holiday in a meaningful manner. However, what the atheists have not been able to accomplish, the merchants very well may.
Below, I've collected many of the Thanksgiving observations, quotes, and reflections to help you find the true meaning of the holiday. I personally make sure I reflect and thank God for all he has done for me and blessed me with in the past years and in the years to come.
Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving
- Why is Thanksgiving an "Accepted" Religious Holiday?
- The Nature of Giving Thanks
- Thanksgiving Binds Us to the Past and the Future
Past Thanksgiving Proclamations
- William Bradford on the Spirit of Thanksgiving
- First Continental Congress Proclamation
- A Thanksgiving Proclamation - U.S. Congress 1782
- What Does Thanksgiving's First Mother Want Us to Know?
How We're Losing the Thanksgiving Tradition
Get the latest news and articles delivered to your inbox each month - absolutely free!