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Keeping Santa in Christmas but dropping Jesus

Christians typically every year take up the cause of keeping Christ in Christmas.  The American Atheists organization has taking up the cause of keeping Santa in Christmas and dropping Jesus.  Here is a sign they put up in Times Square:

atheist christmas billboard

Steadfast Lutherans » Keep the Merry…and the Myth.

Similarly, Christians regularly decry the commercialization of Christmas.  Ayn Rand,  conservatives’ favorite atheist, says commercialization is the best thing about it.  From Michael Schmitz:

 

“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”

-Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, December 1976

The date of Christ’s “genesis”

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson has started a fascinating series on why the church celebrates Christmas on December 25 and when this started.  He includes a number of links and references, and he critiques the notion that Christians co-opted a pagan holiday.

I was fascinated by the evidence he offers about the Feast of the Annunciation (when the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit), which was celebrated on March 25, a date established before  200 A.D.  The church added nine months from that date, which gives us the Baby so conceived being born on December 25.

I have heard it said that the date of Christ’s birth was once considered to be March 25, but that claim is based on a mistranslation and misunderstanding of “genesis.”  Rev. Abrahamson quotes Clement of Alexandria, in his “Stromata,” dated between 193 and 215 A.D.:

And there are those who have determined our Savior’s genesis
not only the year, but even the day, which they say took place
in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon.

Rev. Abrahamson comments:

The important line is “our Savior’s genesis.” The month of Pachon in the Egyptian calendar at that time corresponded to March in the Julian Calendar.

Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar. ANF 2:333 translates “birth” rather than “conception”. The translation of “genesis” as conception is consistent with Clement’s usage of this word in other contexts, for example:

“It is not therefore frequent intercourse by the parents, but the reception of it [the seed] in the womb which corresponds with genesis.” (Clement of Alexandria Stromata 3.12.83.2)

via Steadfast Lutherans » Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas.

So the early church believed that a person’s “genesis” begins with conception and not with birth.  That’s an important point for the pro-life cause today.

Making a paganism from pop culture

Another level of New Age syncretism:  Going to a Star Wars filming location to await the Mayan apocalypse (scheduled for tomorrow) because “the force is strong here.”

At the center of the rebel base where Luke Skywalker took off to destroy the Death Star and save his people from the clutches of Darth Vader, Guatemala is preparing for another momentous event: the end of an age for the Maya.

Deep inside the Guatemalan rainforest stand the ruins of the Maya temples that George Lucas used to film the planet Yavin 4 in the movie “Star Wars,” from where Skywalker and his sidekick Han Solo launched their attack on the Galactic Empire’s giant space station.

This week, at sunrise on Friday, December 21, an era closes in the Maya Long Count calendar, an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days, the start of a new, more spiritual age or a good reason to hang out at old Maya temples across Mexico and Central America.

“If it is the end of the world, hopefully Luke will come and blow up that Death Star,” said Alex Markovitz, a 24-year-old consultant and Star Wars fan from Philadelphia, looking out over the site of Skywalker’s rebel base. “I see why they shot here. It doesn’t look real. It looks like an alien planet.”

Once at the heart of a conquering civilization in its own right, the ancient city of Tikal is now a pilgrimage site for both hard-core Star Wars fans and enthusiasts of Maya culture eager to discover what exactly the modern interpretations of old lore portend.

In the 1960s, a leading U.S. scholar said the end of the Maya’s 13th bak’tun – an epoch lasting some 400 years – could signify an “Armageddon,” though many people trekking to the old temples believe it could herald something wonderful.

Discovered in 1848 when locals unearthed human skulls whose teeth were studded with jade jewels, Tikal draws tourists from around the globe. Visitors this week said they felt a powerful presence in the blue skies above them.

“The force is strong here,” said Jimena Teijeiro, 35, an Argentine-born self-help blogger. “The world as we know it is coming to an end. We are being propelled to a new age of light, synchronicity and simple wonderment with life.”

Maya scholars and astronomers have dismissed the idea the world is on the brink of destruction but mystics and spiritual thrill-seekers have flocked to feed off Tikal’s energy. Park guards said they had to throw out 13 naked women who were dancing and chanting around a fire pit near the temples last week.

“Something big is going to happen,” said the president of Guatemala’s Star Wars fan club, entrepreneur Ricardo Alejos. “The Maya were an incredibly precise people. Something big is going to happen and we’ll find out what in a few days.”

via Maya apocalypse and Star Wars collide in Guatemalan temple | Reuters.

The next paganism currently being constructed may well combine mysticism with pop culture, which has become our main medium of  thought and sensibility.

Women in the “band of brothers”

Four women in the U. S. Army have filed a lawsuit  in federal court demanding that the military drop its practice of excluding women from combat.  Robert H. Scales, a retired Major General with combat experience, raises a concern that I haven’t heard before:

Infantry and armor soldiers alone do virtually all the intimate killing. Here’s where the issue gets hard for me. Intimate killing is done in small units, normally squads and teams. In these engagements they fight and often die not for country or mission but for each other. We borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and term this phenomenon the “band of brothers effect.” This is the essential glue in military culture that causes a young man to sacrifice his life willingly so that his buddies might survive. Contemporary history suggests that U.S. infantry units fight equally well when made up of soldiers of different ethnicities, cultures, intelligence and social background. The evidence is also solid that gays make just as good infantrymen as do straight men.

I’ve been studying the band of brothers effect for almost 40 years and have written extensively on the subject. We know that time together allows effective pairings — or “battle buddies,” to use the common Army term. We know that four solid buddy pairings led by a sergeant compose a nine-man, battle-ready squad. The Marine squad is slightly larger. We know from watching Ranger and special forces training that buddy groups form often spontaneously. But the human formula that ensures successful buddy pairings is still a mystery, and that’s the key stumbling block in the debate. Veteran SEALs, special forces, Rangers, tankers and line infantrymen will swear that the deliberate, premeditated and brutal act of intimate killing is a male-only occupation. But no one can prove it with data from empirical tests because no such data exist from the United States. They just know intuitively from battlefield experience that it’s true.

To be sure, women soldiers may be fit, they may be skilled and they may be able to “hang.” Many have proved with their lives that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But our senior ground-force leaders, as well as generations of former close combat veterans from all of our previous wars, are virtually united on one point: The precious and indefinable band of brothers effect so essential to winning in close combat would be irreparably compromised within mixed-gender infantry squads.

via Not yet time for women to serve in infantry – The Washington Post.

“Intimate killing.”  “Band of brothers.”  “Battle buddies.”  One would think that the intimate two-person bond between “battle buddies” would also be affected by homosexuality.  At any rate, it would seem that we should identify what the different units in our military are for and then determine what arrangements would make them more effective towards that end.

Countdown to Mayan apocalypse on December 21

Harold Camping’s end of the world prediction did not take place, but now we are approaching the New Age equivalent.  The calendar of the ancient Mayans has time running out on our December 21, 2012.  A range of New Agers, including flying saucer cultists, have picked up the theme.  And in those secularist bastions of Europe, Russia, and China, panic is spreading.  From the London Telegraph:

Ahead of December 21, which marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar, panic buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with an explosion in sales of survival shelters in America. In France believers were preparing to converge on a mountain where they believe aliens will rescue them.

The precise manner of Armageddon remains vague, ranging from a catastrophic celestial collision between Earth and the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, a disastrous crash with a comet, or the annihilation of civilisation by a giant solar storm.

In America Ron Hubbard, a manufacturer of hi-tech underground survival shelters, has seen his business explode.”We’ve gone from one a month to one a day,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on the Mayan calendar but, when astrophysicists come to me, buy my shelters and tell me to be prepared for solar flares, radiation, EMPs electromagnetic pulses … I’m going underground on the 19th and coming out on the 23rd. It’s just in case anybody’s right.”

In the French Pyrenees the mayor of Bugarach, population 179, has attempted to prevent pandemonium by banning UFO watchers and light aircraft from the flat topped mount Pic de Bugarach.

According to New Age lore it as an “alien garage” where extraterrestrials are waiting to abandon Earth, taking a lucky few humans with them.

Russia saw people in Omutninsk, in Kirov region, rushing to buy kerosene and supplies after a newspaper article, supposedly written by a Tibetan monk, confirmed the end of the world.

The city of Novokuznetsk faced a run on salt. In Barnaul, close to the Altai Mountains, panic-buyers snapped up all the torches and Thermos flasks.Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, even addressed the situation.”I don’t believe in the end of the world,” before adding somewhat disconcertingly: “At least, not this year.”

In China, which has no history of preoccupation with the end of the world, a wave of paranoia about the apocalypse can be traced to the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster “2012″.

The film, starring John Cusack, was a smash hit in China, as viewers were seduced by a plot that saw the Chinese military building arks to save humanity.

Some in China are taking the prospect of Armageddon seriously with panic buying of candles reported in Sichuan province.The source of the panic was traced to a post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, predicting that there will be three days of darkness when the apocalypse arrives.One grocery store owner said: “At first, we had no idea why. But then we heard someone muttering about the continuous darkness.”  Shanghai police said scam artists had been convincing pensioners to hand over savings in a last act of charity.

Meanwhile in Mexico, where the ancient Mayan civilisation flourished, the end time has been seen as an opportunity. The country has organised hundreds of Maya-themed events, and tourism is expected to have doubled this year.

via Mayan apocalypse: panic spreads as December 21 nears – Telegraph.

What I want to know is, how are the Mayans supposed to know when the world will end?  What inside information are they thought to have?  At any rate, it is remarkable that people and societies that consider themselves too sophisticated for Christianity can nevertheless embrace New Age irrationalism.

So will there even be a Christmas this year?  Some people will presumably wait to do their shopping, or perhaps max out their credit cards because they won’t have to make the payments once the world ends.

We have to worry not only about the country going over the fiscal cliff but about the whole world and maybe the whole universe going over an existential cliff into the void.

But, in the words of the great Merle Travis, if we can make it through December we’ll be fine.

Death of a Christian jazzman

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died at age 92.  The man and his quartet showed sheer genius.  My old guitar teacher once sat in with him and it was one of the highlights of his life.  Brubeck was a Christian who composed a great deal of sacred music.  From David A. Anderson:

“I approached the composition as a prayer,” jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck said of his “To Hope! A Celebration,” a contemporary setting for the Roman Catholic Mass, “concentrating upon the phrases, trying to probe beneath the surface, hoping to translate into music the powerful words which have grown through the centuries.”

Probing beneath the surface marked all of Brubeck’s music, from the revolutionary 1959 polyrhythmic album “Time Out,” to his oratorio, “A Light in the Wilderness,” and his setting of Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, “Pange Lingua.”

Brubeck is best known in the secular jazz world for his startling compositions using different time signatures, such as 5/4 time in the classic “Take Five,” or the mixture of 9/8 time and the more traditional 4/4 rhythm of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Both pieces are on the “Time Out” album, the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies and still one of the best-selling.

Religious faith, however, was never far from Brubeck’s creative mind. . . .

In a 2009 interview with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Brubeck said his service in World War II convinced him “something should be done musically to strengthen man’s knowledge of God.”

That experience gave him the idea of an oratorio based on the Ten Commandments, particularly the “Thou shalt not kill” part.

But he did not act on the idea of writing sacred music until 1965, when he wrote a short piece, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” to comfort his brother, Howard, whose son had died of a brain tumor at age 16.

That piece was incorporated into 1968’s “A Light in the Wilderness,” his first full-scale sacred composition.

That was followed by a series of pieces including 1969’s “The Gates of Justice,” a choral work using words from Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Truth is Fallen,” in 1971; “La Fiesta de la Posada” in 1975; and “Beloved Son,” in 1978.

“When I write a piece, a sacred piece, I’m looking hard and trying to discover what I’m about, and what my parents were about and the world is about,” he told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Raised a Protestant although never baptized, Brubeck became a Roman Catholic in 1980 after completing “To Hope!”, a Mass setting commissioned by the Catholic periodical, Our Sunday Visitor.

via The sacred ran through jazz legend Dave Brubeck’s music – The Washington Post.

Brubeck shows that it’s certainly possible and desirable to have contemporary Christian music, even to have it used in worship–if it could only be rich and complex and artistic and in accord with the Christian sensibility, unlike much of what passes for that genre today.

Here is his “Celebration” Mass. It’s just over 10 minutes, but keep listening for the choral parts and for when his quartet breaks in (around the 4 minute mark).

Here is “Take Five,” Brubeck’s most famous piece.  (Pick out the 5/4 time.)  Brubeck right now is taking five before the Resurrection.


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