Via Jeffrey Osthoff on Google+
Earlier today I read a witty bit of satire on the blog de-conversion, in a post entitled “Salvaging Santa.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the approach to Santa depicted in that post – and the approach to faith it was intended to parody – is in fact one that I’d advocate and view positively.
I think it is the fact that some people still approach the Bible or other aspects of traditional religion differently than they approach Santa that is at the heart of the problem – and its solution.
Most people find that they can indeed embrace both science and Santa. Many of the “new atheists” criticize liberal Christians for saying that their religion is not about fact-claims, and is neither against science’s conclusions nor subjectable to scientific verification. Yet many of those same individuals are, I imagine, able to incorporate Santa into the lives of their families. The assumption that Christian faith and Christmas celebration involving Santa are fundamentally different is not necessarily correct – although I can already hear conservative believers and atheists lining up together (as usual) to disagree with me.
Including Santa in Christmas celebration is a way of symbolizing generosity and the “magic” of “the most wonderful time of the year.” But most of us can see that it is a combination of individual, family, community and cultural effort that enables us to have that special feeling at this time of year. One can find places in the world where December 25th is just another day – nothing special, no special feeling. We create that feeling through tradition, ritual, and music – and of course gift-giving and having at least one day off work. But should we allow the fact that one can study Christmas scientifically, sociologically, historically and musicologically – and find no actual literal magic therein – lead us to give up “believing in” and more importantly practicingChristmas? Or is such a conclusion unnecessary, and Christmas – including Santa – something that might be worth preserving even though it can be subjected to the same rationalistic analysis as faith traditions – and seem to come up short in many of the same ways when thus analysed?
Of course, as with God, so too with Santa there is a danger that we will use him for ideological or commercialistic ends.
What do you think? While some view similarities between Santa and figures from this or that faith tradition as reasons to reject religion, and others try to emphasize that their central figure is not really like Santa, it seems to me that the similarities in fact do clue us in to what religion is all about – and why it can be worth hanging on to.
That is, more or less, the name of this Romanian Christmas Carol:
God’s distant call
flares in the night,
so long expected, so longed for;
and all my life,
Christ called my name,
and now at last, I’ll answer Him.
Renewed, his hope,
his light in us,
our Lord appears,
his cry of changeless love.
The piece above (also found again at the bottom of this post in a different format), “Even When He Is Silent,” is a setting of a text found in a Nazi concentration camp after World War II:
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining. I believe in love, even when I feel it not. I believe in God, even when He is silent.
The two pieces, settings of very different texts by Arnesen, seemed to me to deserve to be juxtaposed and reflected on side by side. Christmas is an excellent time for exploring not only light, but the interplay of light and darkness.
Arnesen seems to have a particular fondness for creating Christmas music, and so I will share several more of his works in this blog post. If you have been listening to the same Christmas music over and over, year after year and day after day, this should be refreshing. Let me offer as the next piece his “Dormi, Jesu”:
Another piece that needs to be included here is his Julenatt:
Cradle Hymn is also fitting for Christmas:
You can hear more of Arnesen’s music on his SoundCloud page, his publisher (Santa Barbara Music Publishing), and on Spotify. What are some of your favorite Christmas works that don’t get as much attention as they deserve?
Eclipses were treated as portents throughout much of history (see Anne Graham Lotz’s ambiguous comments on this subject). Eventually, however, people realized that these are entirely predictable events that result from the moon passing between the sun and Earth (in the case of solar eclipses) or the Earth passing between the sun and the moon (in the case of lunar eclipses). As you know, we have one coming up this month, on August 21st 2017, that will be visible in many parts of North America.
The Washington Post has an article which highlights the views of fundamentalist pastor Gary Ray and his calculation that the eclipse, and other astronomical phenomena, indicate that the Rapture will happen soon. Here is a quote from the article:
Ray, a writer for the evangelical Christian publication Unsealed, views this eclipse as one of several astronomical signs that the day when Christians will be whisked away from the Earth is fast approaching.
“The Bible says a number of times that there’s going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We see this as possibly one of those,” Ray said about the eclipse.
He is even more interested in another astronomical event that will occur 33 days after the eclipse, on Sept. 23, 2017.
The Book of Revelation, which is full of extraordinary imagery, describes a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” who gives birth to a boy who will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter” while she is threatened by a red, seven-headed dragon. The woman then grows the wings of an eagle and is swallowed up by the earth.
Ray says that image will be created in the sky on Sept. 23. The constellation Virgo — representing the woman — will be clothed in sunlight, in a position that is over the moon and under nine stars and three planets. The planet Jupiter, which will have been inside Virgo — in her womb, in Ray’s interpretation — will move out of Virgo, as if she is giving birth.Astronomers don’t see this as a particularly unusual event. But to Ray and others, it could be the sign that the Rapture is ready to happen: “We think it’s God signaling to us that he’s about to make his next move.”
And Ray thinks the two eclipses that are slated to travel across the United States in 2017 and 2024, together marking an X across the nation, could be the starting and ending signs bookmarking a seven-year period of awful tribulations that Revelations says waits in store for nonbelievers who are left behind on Earth when the Rapture occurs.
“That time frame is speculative, 2017 to 2024. But it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of things that really point us to that,” he said.
Therefore, the eclipse preparation that Ray recommends is a bit different from the scientists’ association’s advice.
“My number one encouragement to people would be to just trust God. More importantly, to trust the right God,” he said, warning that those who do not believe when the day of the Rapture comes will be left behind to face the tribulations. “If people want to be ready, the one thing you can do is accept what He has offered, which is the gift of grace and forgiveness. That’s all we have to do to be ready.”
Kurt Willems has a good preemptive response to that in his blog post “Why Rapture Predictors are Always Wrong.” But I would even more strongly recommend Ben Corey’s earlier post, “Why the Rapture and Santa are Both Fairy Tales: a theological explanation.” See also what Episcopal churches are doing for the occasion of the upcoming eclipse.
Also on the topic of the eclipse, but much more lighthearted in character, there is a theme song for the occasion: Solar Eclipse of the Heart!
Finally, at the intersection of lunar eclipses and flat-earthism: