Saturday, December 03, 2005

That Christmas Spirit

Around this time of year many newspapers traditionally reprint letters and editorials meant to evoke the "Christmas spirit." Since they are certain to bring it up: What, exactly, is the Christmas spirit?

Christmas is supposed to be the time of Christ's birth. Of course, no one really knows the actual birthday so a pagan celebration date was hijacked. Come to think of it, that's how we got Christmas trees and wreaths.

Yet if we're going to celebrate the birth of Christ, even if the timing is somewhat arbitrary, shouldn't we have a strong interest in what Christ actually taught us? In recent years, Jesus has become a "holy" owned subsidiary of the religious right. Somehow, the specific teachings of Jesus have been dropped in favor of a political agenda of lower taxes, war in the Middle East, and public endorsements of rightwing beliefs.


Asked about whether or not to pay taxes, Jesus, observing that the government's coins bore the image of Caesar, said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus also noted that "a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." And for emphasis he reiterated to his disciples that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." [Matthew 19:23-24]

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus came across as decidedly non-violent. He said "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." [Matthew 5:38-39] "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Particularly appropriate for the present day, Jesus also said "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Finally, what about public prayers and government support for public piety? Jesus was not exactly ambiguous on this point. "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." [Matthew 6:5-6]

Karl Marx was wrong. Religion is not the opiate of the masses; it's the Prozac of the people. Middle class Americans use religion to deal with anxiety. And for the vast majority, despite the teachings of Jesus, it doesn't seem to place any real demands upon them in return. It even permits them to appeal to the authority of God to settle disputes in their favor. Such a deal.

So as all you Christians lay down your credit cards for Christmas gifts this year, remember the words of Jesus: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." [Matthew 6:19-21]

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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