Category Archives: Religion

Benedict Resignation a Ploy

People aren’t used to thinking of the Papacy as political but like most things people aren’t used to thinking this is truer than whatever they do think. The Papacy has been political practically since its inception, and this is one of the most political pontiffs we’ve had in recent generations, which is why the total lack of speculation about the real reason for his “retirement” is just one more sign that even our “best” journalists have become incurious and thus singularly inept. Their acceptance of an excuse so weak they’d see through it in a school board election without the consideration of a single subtler possible agenda.

Let’s face it, next to “I want to spend more time with my family” (which they might well have used if he had one), a resignation for “medical reasons” is one of the most popular political dodges of the decade. Could there be something more behind this move than “I’m getting to old to stand on balconies in the cold and wave?”
Yes, indeed there is and it’s not all that hard to figure out you can purge your brain of the automatic acceptance of anything a religious leader says on the supposition that a “holy” man would never, you know, lie.
Benedict is and always has been the kind of hard-core conservative Catholic who thinks Mussolini was misunderstood and anyway those Jews got what they deserved. During WWII he was happy to ignore “rumors” about gas ovens and exterminations and such and preferred to believe that all the Jews were being rounded up so the Germans could give them macrame lessons so they could learn how to support themselves making pot holders and plant hangers. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the ultraconservative Curia’s enforcer. As Pope he has been relentless about punishing liberal clergy and even threatened to excommunicate whole countries. His weak-kneed praying for “the poor” never included any suggested actions that might actually have helped and never came close to so much as embarrassing those responsible for that poverty.
Beginning to see it? Ratzinger wants to make sure of his successor and the best way to do that is to resign and spent the intervening 3 weeks making sure the College of Cardinals know and will vote for his chosen successor. You want to know who the next Pope will be? He will be the most conservative cardinal in the bunch if Ratty has anything to say about it.
Which he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t decided to retire.
Ratty wants to try to control the succession to make sure no Pope is elected who might be considered liberal. Another John XXIII would be considered a disaster by Ratty and the wingnut Curia which might have to off him as they did John Paul I.
And so it goes.

Separated At Birth?

You wouldn’t think Iranian President Ahmadinejad and batshit-crazy wingnut blogger Pam “Atlas Juggs” Geller would have anything in common, would you? She hates his guts and he thinks she’s a lunatic. She wants him assassinated and he wants her eviscerated. But you’d be wrong. They’re both Holocaust Deniers. Which is weird because Geller is, like, Jewish.

You know, there is a sort of resemblabce here. They both look like they’ve been injecting way too much botox, Pammy in her forehead and Prez A in his nose. Co-incidence?

And oh yeah, as long as we’re discussing La Juggs, she thinks passing the healthcare “reform” bill on Xmas Eve is blasphemy!!!! (You have to imagine a deep bass voice through an echo chamber on that last word.) I might agree. I tend to suspect that Christ would NEVER want his name associated with a bill that shamelessly molests innocent people. (Via Norwegianity)

Max Blumenthal Interviews Fellow Jews on Gaza

Not much I can say about this except that as you watch you might want to remember that these are the people making our Middle East policy.

The Myth of Christmas

Reprinted from 12.24.06

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950’s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

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Rev Andrew Weaver: A Fighter for Justice to the End

In the world of the intertubes the word “friend” has taken on a whole new meaning. A friend can be someone you’ve never met, never even talked to except through the medium of the web, or never communicated with in any way except reading what they wrote every day, over time coming to feel as attached to them as to the people whose hands you held when they were sick or whose jokes made you groan over a beer at your local pub.

Is it as real? I don’t know but it sure seems that way. I never met Rev Andrew Weaver in person. We talked on the phone a couple of times and emailed each other regularly but I didn’t even know what he looked like. Yet when I called up Talk to Action the other day and discovered that he died over the weekend, I was as bereft as if I had lost the kind of friend who might have introduced me to my first Little Feat record or talked me out of getting serious about that girl who stole every penny from her last boyfriend and then burned down his house.

Andrew would have done either, maybe both, had the need arisen. Fortunately it didn’t. But we did have long talks about Bush, his library, and the nature of god, the universe and everything. I found it odd having the same kind of conversations with Andrew (I never called him Andy; one, well, wouldn’t – he wasn’t the “Andy” type, not to me) in our respective middle age that I used to have in my 20’s, those deep, theological and philosophical discussions about life and love that you never seem to have once the pressures of daily survival grip you with their claws.

Those things still mattered to Andrew, though. He displayed a passion for Large Questions that was somewhat surprising in its width and breadth for a man his age. We were both too old to be as didactic in our opinions as when we were younger and Andrew certainly had a leavening humor that helped keep my sometimes dour cynicism in check but there was no mistaking the deep conviction behind the calm demeanor and the sly jokes he used to maintain his passion for justice and humanity without diving into hatred or despair.

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Tess in the Modern World

At the end of the 19th century when Thomas Hardy was writing novels (Tess of the D’Urbervilles was published in 1891), the Industrial Revolution was already beginning to change milleniums of settled routine, impacting society and culture in ways no one had predicted. Most people were, as usual, slow to catch on but the artists of the turn into the 20th century were struck by the changes as if by a bolt of unwelcome lightning.

In the 18th century, the Age of Reason had already demoted Christianity and other primitive religions to the status of crackpot cults and deified the Mind. Now, with the Industrial Revolution disconnecting humanity from the ancient rhythms of rural life, there came a fervent response to the emotionless rationalists, a worship of “the natural” as opposed to the man-made. Led by Rousseau’s rather silly elevation of the “savage” into a primordial, essential human value, the Naturalists praised the artlessness and honesty of Nature untampered by human hands or social conventions. In its purity, they said, it is a reflection of God Himself and cannot be improved upon.

In retrospect they, too, were silly and terribly naive but they had hold of a genuine and important truth nevertheless – that, contrary to the teachings of Christianity as they’d been dogmatically defined for centuries, the human body was neither sinful nor “dirty” and shouldn’t be suppressed and strenuously restricted but rather loosed from its ludicrous theocratic bonds to be the joyous nexus of life that God had always meant it to be.

Naturally (pun intended) this included sex.

Continue reading

The Bush Library (8): Opponents Fight Back

Last we heard from the Bush Library fight, the Methodist General Conference had just rejected the Bush plan for a library and propaganda center at Southern Methodist University, and the Bishops, kowtowing to pressure from the White House, had agreed to ignore that vote. The fight goes on, however. Rev Andrew Weaver & friends have just started a new website called What Would John Wesley Do? that is assembling the arguments and evidence for rejecting the Library/Propaganda Center as well as making the case for the legal necesssity of accepting the GC’s decision. One of its first additions is a scathing letter from Tex Semple, an SJC Delegate for 20 years.

On March 14, 2007, Southern Methodist University asked the Mission Council, a meeting of SCJ representatives, for permission to lease campus property to the Bush Foundation as the site for the President George W. Bush library, museum, and policy institute. 

In January 2008, following the Mission Council meeting, the SCJ College of Bishops interpreted the action of the Mission Council and gave the assurance, requested by the Bush Foundation, that the Mission Council had authority to approve the lease of the jurisdictional property on the SMU campus.

But the College of Bishops does not have this authority according to Paragraph 56, Article II.4 of the constitution of The United Methodist Church (p. 38).  In the 2004 Book of Discipline, it specifically states: “The Judicial Council shall have authority to hear and determine the legality of any action taken therein by any jurisdictional conference board or body, upon appeal by one-third of the members thereof in a Jurisdictional Conference.” 

By giving their interpretation, the SCJ College of Bishops not only preempted the authority of the Judicial Council but also set the stage for the lease signing and for closing the door to a Jurisdictional Conference vote.

(emphasis in the original)

Which was, of course, the whole point. The Bush forces would probably lose the SJC vote the same way they lost the GC vote, which went overwhelmingly against them, 844-20. Their solution is the usual Bush Solution: go around the will of the majority and use raw power to bring leaders more sympathetic to your position in line. The Bishops, like everybody else who comes in contact with the Bushes, knuckled under, violating their own laws and procedures. Mr Semple suggests they couldn’t have picked a worse subject to support.

The greater problem is the partisan multi-million dollar Bush Institute, which will be totally under the control of the Bush Presidential Foundation, not SMU.  While any viewpoints expressed by Institute Fellows will accordingly be identified with the Foundation, it nevertheless makes SMU the location and signifying marker of this partisan think tank.  Furthermore, the purpose of this Institute is to promote the politically partisan and ethically questionable ideas and policies of George W. Bush. 

The influence of neo-conservative and supply-side economic thought and policy has been dominant in the United States now for more than 35 years, and the Bush Administration the most disastrous example of it.  These politics and economics have contributed to a sharply growing inequality in income and wealth, a tax system that serves the rich, an increasing insecurity for middle class families, the flattening of wages for workers while their productivity increases, growing concentrations of power in corporate America and in the media, and the loss of regulation of corporate activity resulting in devastating disruptions of our national life, such as Enron and the sub-prime loan housing crisis.  This list names only a few of the problems with neoconservative politics and supply-side economics. 

Furthermore, commitment to a so-called “free market” without regard to the common good is a violation of Christian teaching.  Not to mention that commitment to a “free market” oblivious to concentrations of economic power is delusional fantasy when it is not a self-serving worldview committed to the interests of the few at the expense of the many.  What we have in neoconservative politics and supply side economics is what someone has called “feeding the horses so the birds can eat.”

(emphasis added)

 Mr Semple’s point isn’t that he doesn’t like trickle-down and thinks it doesn’t work. His point is that the very idea goes against Methodist teaching, a point I wish the hell somebody had brought up 30 years ago when Reagan sold it to a country not paying much attention to what he was saying. He goes on to quote the Methodist Book of Social Principles to show how Bush has been systematically ignoring them.

Even worse, Bush’s pre-emptive war against Iraq, the complicity of his administration in torture, and the serious disregard for human rights in the Bush administration campaign against terrorism raise even more sharply the question of why we would permit this institute on the SMU campus. The Social Principles state: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ…” (165, C).  Is this not even more so when the war is pre-emptive?  The Social Principles further declare: “the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching” (164, A).  The complicity of the Bush administration in torture stands clearly in opposition to this teaching.  

Further, the Social Principles assert that “We strongly reject domestic surveillance” (164, A), yet this has become policy in the Bush administration.  I have not mentioned at least five other violations of The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles by the Bush Administration: environmental abuses (Par. 160), the health of children (162, C), the death penalty (164, G), social services and poverty (163, E), and freedom of information (164, D).

All in all, it is one of the most cohesive indictments of the Bush Administration’s disastrous policies that I’ve read in months, and the only one I think I’ve ever read that identifies his actions as anathema to specific religious teachings, something else I wish someone had done a long time ago because Mr Semple is quite right: the Bush/Cheney Administration has done so many things forbidden by any number of religions that they’re beyond the pale. Had anyone else done what they’ve done, Bill Clinton for instance, they would have been excommunicated.

Not Bush. Bush buys off the Bishops – or scares them, or manipulates them – and gets his Rove-run propaganda center on the campus of a college that used to pride itself on teaching Methodist principles. If the bishops have their way – by breaking their own Methodist law – they won’t be able to say that much longer.

The Bush Library (7): The Legal Battle

With Bishop Jones fronting for the Bush family and scorning the wishes and feelings of his own church membership, the effort to stop the Bush Propaganda Center is moving toward the courtroom. Bush’s insistence on siting the Propaganda Center at SMU despite the vote of the UMC’s GC rejecting it has created a legal problem for the Methodist Church. Andrew Weaver explains (from an email).

Our legal team tells us that we need to go to court to give us the best chance to protect the property rights and voting rights of the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates who are the elected representatives of the property owners, i.e., the 1.83 million UMC members of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ).

Unfortunately, the legal effort needs a member of the SCJ to come forward and act as the plaintiff. That hasn’t happened. Why?

Many fear the consequences to their future ministry if they appear to challenge their bishop, while others fear being countersued by the Bush Foundation.

With the Mafia-like scare tactics and intimidation typical of the Bush family’s dealings since Grandaddy Prentiss played kissy-kiss with the Nazis, George W and Karl Rove have effectively squashed the threat that for once they might have to obey an inconvenient law. With a tame bishop in their pockets and an on-retainer legal team, each ready to punish any Methodist who dares listen to his/her conscience instead of George W Bush, it seems that the Bush family will get away with flouting the law – this time church law – yet again.

Jim Hightower reported last month that Bush has ex-campaign shyster and all-round political hardman Karl Rove setting up the Library/Propaganda Center.

The Bushites have cut a deal with SMU executives to locate his presidential library on this private campus in one of Dallas’s wealthiest neighborhoods. They’ve targeted some Arab oil kingdoms, corporate chieftains, and wealthy heiresses to be the “megadonors” they need to raise half-a-billion bucks to establish George’s ex-presidential palace.

This one is to be markedly different than the usual complex of library, museum, and policy institute that other presidents have built. First (and unsurprisingly), rather than placing the full archive of the administration’s papers in the SMU complex so historians and others have access, Bush is to have a heavily-censored, anti-academic library. None other that Karl Rove will help with the censoring, making sure that historians only peruse documents that cast the Bush-Cheney regime in a glowing light.

(emphasis added)

Rev Weaver notes:

The majority of the delegates feel they can live with the library, even with its current limitation — censorship by the president and his heirs in perpetuity through his Executive Order 13233, signed soon after 9/11.  What many delegates are disturbed by and will vote against is the partisan think-tank to honor George Bush, which is being organized by Karl Rove.  Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the partisan institute, and that deeply troubles many. 

So Karl Rove, as we reported some time ago, is going to be the connecting link between the so-called “library” and the Propaganda Center, making sure, in effect, that the library ignores scholarship for Bush worship and the “institute/think tank” ignores thinking for mindlessly pimping W’s policies and ideology. Which includes, Weaver reminds us, his ceaseless support for torture. Weaver makes the argument, as guest blogger at Wallwritings, that “Torture Is Not a Methodist Family Value“. After a short history of Bush’s advocacy of torture and Methodist founder John Wesley’s condemnation of it, Weaver writes:

President Bush refers to himself a “proud Methodist”, but he has shown little sign of contrition, regret or repentance for his personal behavior which violates Methodist standards set long ago by John Wesley. Instead, Bush attempts to justify himself and place a shield of protection around government officials who use torture. 

W may identify himself as a “proud Methodist”, but as investigative reporter Joe Esterhaz proved in his book American Rhapsody and others have confirmed, George W Bush doesn’t attend a Methodist Church and hasn’t since he became born-again under the tutelage of theatrical fundie Arthur Blessit.

Whenever Bush got into trouble, it wasn’t Billy Graham or Methodist preachers he ran to for solace and counsel, it was Pat Robertson and Bob Jones. I began to suspect that Bush’s Methodism was part of Karl Rove’s For Campaign Purposes Only “compassionate conservative” illusion and that he was really a fundamentalist in disguise, a far-right-winger playing to the center. Then, when Graham himself debunked Bush’s account after the publication of W’s campaign biography, ghost-written by a sports writer named Mickey Herskowitz, I knew it.

The idea that the Bush family itself is Methodist in any legitimate sense must of necessity be questioned when we consider, say, Poppy’s unusually close relationship with whacko fundie Rev Moon. A relationship so close that he hosted Moon at his presidential library in (where else?) Texas after Moonie “interests” donated $$1M$$ to said library.

The fiction that any member of the Bush family is actually and in reality Methodist has persisted right to the present day even though there isn’t an iota of evidence to support the proposition from any quarter. Poppy and Barb are Moonies, and W is a born-again fundie evangelist whose chief spiritual advisor is the guy who thinks hurricanes are caused by homosexuality.

Given that his Methodism is now a busted myth, why all the determination to make sure the library gets sited at a Methodist university? The answer is simple, especially if you’ve ever studied the way Bush and Rove do things: it’s cover.

Rove helped Bush to run the most secretive presidency in US history because he knew bloody well that if the public caught on to the real Bush agenda, we’d throw them out on their asses. So it was common for Rove to provide cover to distract or hide their real policies: Orwellian names (“Healthy Forest” for a bill opening public lands to commercial logging), foxes in charge of henhouses (a corporate lawyer who specialized in breaking unions appointed to head the Labor Dept), and the standard Bush bait-and-switch (promising to increase funding for Pell Grants days before he cut them out of his budget). This is simply another cover.

Rove and Bush both know that if the Methodists knew what was actually going to go on at the Propaganda Center, they’d revolt. But Bush needs the reputation of the Methodists as centrists and mainstream religious bi-partisans in order to provide his radically ideological “institute” with a patina of legitimacy. “We can’t be cranks, we’re part of a Methodist university.”

IOW, the Methodist Church is being used by the Bushes. It is to be the sheep’s-clothing under which the wolf hides so unsuspecting prey will think they’re safe and wander close enough to be eaten. Is that the role the UMC wants to play? Clearly not, but Bush is in an apparent position to force them to be his “beard” whether they like it or not.

Not that the opposition is giving up. They have an alternate plan.

Over the past several months we have systematically analyzed the 290 delegates of the SCJ with the help of delegates or clergy from each annual conference.  I have personally spoken with over 40 delegates.  We identified about 130 progressives, 100 conservatives and 60 moderates in the 11 annual conferences.   We need 146 votes to win.  If we can educate the delegates about the dangers of the Bush partisan think thank to the academic integrity of SMU and the good name of our church, we can win the vote.  Most United Methodists, including most bishops, are people who seek to do what is right and good.

I wish them luck.

The Bush Library 5: An Open Letter to the United Methodist Church

Dear UMC:

I didn’t realize it until recently but you control Southern Methodist University, which I thought had become independent years ago. Rev Andrew Weaver explained to me that I was wrong and that it is still your responsibility.

That’s why I’m directing this to you: I’m pleading with you to stop this project. Not for my sake – the Bush Library is going to be built somewhere and as far as I’m concerned SMU is as good a place as any. No, I’m asking you to stop it for the sake of SMU itself but more importantly, perhaps crucially, for the sake of Methodist values and beliefs.

Continue reading

Kurtz, Marcotte, Paul, and The Church

In the wake of Amanda Marcotte’s resignation from the John Edwards campaign, Howie Kurtz has responded with one of his patented, snide, attack-without-attacking columns in the WaPo. After a reasonably fair summation in which he quotes liberally from Marcotte’s resignation post at pandagon, he swings into Howie-mode with this little gem of a graf:

The former North Carolina senator was caught between conflicting pressures. On one hand, Marcotte and McEwan, like many writers in the freewheeling blogosphere, had written profane and offensive attacks on their detractors, using language that no presidential candidate would be comfortable defending. On the other, liberal bloggers were embracing their cause, depicting them as victims of an orchestrated conservative campaign to discredit them.

There are two outright lies in that short graf and one opinion stated as fact. Let’s begin with the First Lie:

1. “…had written profane and offensive attacks on their detractors”.

The posts which so offended Donohoe and from which Howie quotes later on – out of context, naturally – were NOT attacks on her “detractors”. They were attacks on the Catholic Church’s anti-female attitudes, biases, and policies, in particular its rigid insistence on mixing into the abortion debate with what an objective observer could only call a “heavy hand”. It would be impossible in any legitimate sense to consider the quotes for which Marcotte was pilloried a personal attack on any “person” when they were so obviously aimed at an organizational entity. Here’s the quote:

The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.

“The Catholic church” is not a person and, so far as I know, has never attacked Amanda Marcotte. Benedict would probably be a “detractor” if he knew or cared what she said but he doesn’t. I feel safe in saying that you could search his recent speeches exhaustively without once hearing the name “Amanda Marcotte” pass his lips, so she certainly wasn’t responding to anything he said about her.

As a recovering Catholic and a minor student of Church history, I can also tell you, categorically, that there’s only one mistake in that sentence: Catholics don’t “tithe” (give one-tenth of their pre-tax income to The Church). Continue reading

Marcotte Resigns

Via MNObserver at Norwegianity comes the news that Amanda Marcotte has resigned from John Edwards’ campaign. Her first post back at the old stand explains why. Continue reading

Dem Candidates1: Hillary and Barack

eRobin started something in the Comments to my criticism of SNL’s recent parody of her:

Here’s the bottom line on Hillary Clinton: We on the left are all supposed to get over how much we hate her politics b/c we want a Dem to get elected. Where is the outcry to have her give up her presidential aspirations and accept the fact that she is nothing but a distraction and an easy target? Where is her committment to getting a Dem elected?

When I said she had real vulnerabilities the SNL skit ignored in favor of going after made-up ones, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking about. She’s ambitious, not all that competent, rigid, and her public personna is real like the animatronic Abe Lincoln at Disneyworld is the one who wrote the Gettysburg Address. The real problem, though, is that she isn’t a liberal or even a Democrat. She’s a moderate conservative with mild liberal tendencies she usually manages to ignore. She would have been right at home in the GOP of Bob Michel and Howard Baker. And she’s got her head so far up the DLC’s ass that she spits corporate donor cards.

hillaryobama.jpgFrom what you say, I take it the DLC is already pushing their “we have to nominate somebody electable” meme and she’s trying to position herself to fit in. That’s how we got Kerry, and it was Terry MacAuliffe and company whose “advice” killed Al Gore’s campaign before it even got started. The election would never have been close enough to steal if it hadn’t been for the DLC.

Frankly, I’m having the same difficulty with Obama. Continue reading

The National Park Service: Grand Canyon Created by Noah’s Flood

Via the Wege. Read it and weep.

HOW OLD IS THE GRAND CANYON? PARK SERVICE WON’T SAY — Orders to Cater to Creationists Makes National Park Agnostic on Geology

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”

These people are out of control.

Merry Christmas, O’Reilly

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950’s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.

The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.

***

Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.

“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”

It doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870’s and 80’s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.

Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday

The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.

  • Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
  • Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
  • Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
  • Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
  • Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity.
    St Nicholas of Myra

    St Nicholas of Myra

    Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….

  • The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney – Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.

    After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”

    So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.
    An early Nast Santa cartoon
    The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas (“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.

Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.

Slowly, Slowly, the Truth Dawns

We’ve been saying for some time that there are two strands to Junior’s quivering bow. The first is his belief that govt exists only to help corporations increase their profits, the other is his fundamentalist Xtian belief that govt should be a theocracy, accountable to and run by his personal version of the Xtian god.

This is a Christ a lot of us wouldn’t recognize. This is the other Christ. You know, the one who, instead of throwing the money-lenders out of the temple, blessed their work and extorted 10% of their take for himself (it’s called ‘tithing’); the one who told the blind and the lame to quit faking and get back to work; the one who said feeding the hungry just encouraged them to stay on their fat asses instead of signing on to be thrifty slaves as the Good Lord intended; the one who said that when someone smote you on one cheek, you should turn to your trusty .45 and blow them away; the one who said making friends with your enemy was appeasement and appallingly French, and that a much more appropriate response was to rain down fire on them in shock and awe. You know, that Christ.

We have insisted that a key ingredient of the Bushian worldview is his belief that he was meant to be president in order to bring about the Apocolypse, and that the whole Rovian sales pitch actually centers on identifying Junior as The World’s Savior, the Only Man, the Country Itself–‘L’etat, c’est me, buddy.’ We said that this explained his listlessness toward environmental issues (“What’s the use worrying about it? The Lord’s going to abandon the place anyway.’), his hostility toward the separation of church and state, and his open contempt for non-believers (on several occasions he has barely been able to restrain himself from calling them ‘infidels’).

We were attacked for saying these things, both by ardent Bushian followers and by thoughtful but unimaginative liberals who–as liberals too often do, god bless em–insisted on giving him the benefit of the doubt and took us to task for ‘going too far’ and ‘losing our perspective’. But the events of the past 4 years have tended to confirm what we said, and now some people are beginning to catch on.

Look. This much has become clear. Bush is, more than anything else, an extreme fundamentalist Christian. He is widely regarded as the most openly pious and sanctimonious president in modern American history. He actually preaches the GOP screed in evangelical churches across America. He panders so slavishly to the anti-choicers and the Bible-thumpers and the homophobes it makes Jerry Falwell swoon and giggle.

And Bush actually says, out loud, that God speaks through him, and that God is on our side we bomb the living crap out of Afghanistan and Iraq and that it is the Almighty’s wish that we take control of these angry pip-squeak nations and in so doing kill thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of young Iraqi soldiers, as over 1,000 American soldiers are now dead over a makeshift cause that never really existed. God wanted it this way, that’s why.

Bush has called Jesus his “favorite philosopher.” He has claimed that the act of being “born-again” saved him from a long, sad life of vaguely homoerotic frat parties and repetitive binge drinking and going AWOL from the National Guard, all so he could turn his full attention to righteously ruining multiple businesses and then making Texas the most murderous and polluted state in the union.

But, you know, why stop there?


[A]bove all, God is nothing if not all about putting a quick and fiery stop to all this Earthly nonsense ASAP. He is nothing if not all about the coming apocalypse. And He is nothing if not all about saving those who believe, as Bush does, that he is among the chosen to be saved.This is the fundamentalist truth. And this is the BushCo maxim. The End Times provide the ultimate meaning, the final straw, the only thing worth caring about, because it defines the BushCo worldview like nothing else except maybe embarrassing grammar and crushing deficits and a secret craving for gin. You can see it in his sad, vacant eyes: Bush is absolutely convinced that God is a Republican.

That’s what we’re facing. That’s why they will steal the election if they have to; that’s why every demonization of dissenters or opposition is justified; that’s why raping the world’s resources as quickly as possible for the profits is acceptable–they need a nice stash of cash for the easy life when they get to Heaven, not to mention that they might as well make themselves as comfortable as they can here for whatever time is left before The Trumpets Call.

This isn’t a joke, though it sounds like one. It isn’t overkill and it isn’t hyperbole. It’s the ultimate destination of their actual beliefs, and it’s the only element that fully explains their insane foreign policy. Believers in the other Christ, the Bizzarro Christ, are running the country in his name, getting ready for the End Times. If you want to know what Bush’s second term agenda is, read the Book of the Apocolypse. It’s all in there.