A Christian, Planning On Stealing Stuff
~ AND LO, EVERY YEAR around this time, we hear the same seasonal message– no, not the bemangered baby and Wise men and angels one, but how The Christians Stole Christmas.
You know, Norse yule logs, Druidical mistletoe, Roman saturnalia gifts, divine nativities, Germanic evergreens, feasting on roast beast, solsticial timing, all that and more was shamelessly pirated, hijacked, & filched from honest peace-loving environmentally-friendly pagans Whos down in WhoVille, by the imperialistic intolerant and narrow-minded grinchy Christer thieves. That’s the endlessly regurgitated story, anyway.
We’ve read it in the holy books of TIME, Newsweak, and on lots of atheist/ agnostic/ neo-pagan blogs, so clearly it must be true. Christmas = pure copyright infringement, via greedy religious extremism. It’s a favourite talking-point especially of nerdulent neo-pagans (a fake religion invented in the past century, via fictionalizers Robert Graves & Gerald Gardner & other ‘just makin’ shit up’ kinda sources), who are to ancient pagans what Ye Olde Renaissance Faire attendees are to the real Middle Ages.
Explaining Teh Stupid
The first error in thinking here is simple– something owned or done by somebody else is theirs forever, somehow. After all, pagans used baskets, therefore (either) (1) “real” Christians shouldn’t use dirty paganized baskets, or (2) the stupid old Christians, when they’re using baskets, only stole the ideas from pagans anyway.
The other implicit & unexamined notion here is this: in order to be a ‘real’ religion, you have to be pagan (or at least anti-Christian), so if Christians want their own religion, they may never use anything used before to be a ‘real/ original religion.’ No candles, incense, seasonal observances, statues, trumpets, singing, buildings, robes, poetry, rituals, philosophy, eating together, music, giving things, using plant-life, art, celebrating at particular times, or using any ideas or things from ever anywhere before. Cuz pagans got there first, and finders keepers, neener neener: and no take-backs. OOoooOOOooo– you proved Christianity is just a stealing-cult.. via a recently invented cheap re-writing of history for polemical purposes? Not so much, akshully.
How weird is that? Pretty much inhuman, I’d say. And pretty stupid. Even God thinks so.
How God Akshully Works
After all, the whole shape of God’s work is redeem, not destroy– reuse, recycle, build up out of what was there before, and to work in and through everything. That’s scriptural, not Binkist speculation. First, John 3:17– “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Second, St. Paul to the Philippi Church “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
It’s all God. And Jesus Christ is “Lord of both the dead and the living,” declares the apostle Paul (Romans 14:8-9).
St. Thomas Aquinas stated this principle most clearly when he said “Grace perfects, it does not destroy nature.” Perfects, completes, remakes, recycles.. it’s how God rolls.
Making All Things New
Thus, Christians speak of ‘fulfilment’, not erasure. The lovely poetry of ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ says “The hopes and fears of all the years/ are met in thee tonight”– Jewish hopes, pagan dreams & longings– everything. It’s a big claim, but it’s an ancient authentic Christian claim.
The Taliban blow up ancient world-heritage statues, and Muslims deface and destroy history, churches, their own roots– by contrast, ancient former pagans become Christians use all they knew and believed and thought, and reused pagan images and buildings and best ideas as perfected in Christ. The same with the great thoughts of the philosophers, and the literature of the classical world: they looked everywhere and saw things as if for the first time, and found Christ in everything. They take what is and transform it into a newer, higher pattern.
A Few Examples
Thus, early Roman Christian nobility had large houses, which became churches; and the most glorious buildings they knew of were the lofty basilica law courts of the Forum of Rome– thus, when the church was legalized, pagan temples were made into churches, and the basilica became the pattern of the first great churches built by Constantine all over the empire. The same obtained in music, art, hymns, theology, statuary, writing, and all the rest.
Ancient Pre-Christian Basilica, Rome
Again, when the missionaries went to semi-Romanized Germany, the evergreen trees and dark god-haunted forests became examples of Christ’s gift of everlasting life, and a sacrifice once made– no more animal or human blood under the trees. Jesus Christ is “Lord of both the dead and the living,” the ultimate power of God’s love over heaven and hell and earth and all spiritual things seen and unseen.
The Pope Commissions St. Augustine of Canterbury For England
In his AD731 Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum or An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the venerable Bede actually depicts the process when official missionaries came from Rome to southern England (where Christianity had come with trade and the legions probably in the first century). The monks came, asked permission of the local king or nobility to set up a mission-house, said prayers and celebrated mass, did charitable works, taught, helped the hungry, sick, and widowed, and asked nothing in return from the locals.
When curious people came and asked about this new way, they were taught, baptized, and gathered with the monks to pray on Sunday (the day of Christ’s resurrection). Once enough people were converted, they either built a church, or used the local pagan temple. The pagan statue and ritual objects would be removed, a cross put on the eastern wall, and an altar set up. Eventually, the monks were invited to preach to the local King, and so things spread.
Sacrifices to the capricious old gods and the dooms of death & fate? Jesus, the divine Son of the Father has made the one sacrifice– but slaughter the oxen and feast with thanksgiving to Jesus. The symbols and dates of the old pagan seasonal feasts? Redeemed, transformed, reused, given new and fulfilled meanings, with events in the life of Christ and the Church, and celebrations of the great friends of God, the apostles and saints and martyrs.
The early Christian missionaries (utterly unlike, say, the radical Reformers or Puritans, or certain modern evangelicals, or radical Muslims, or utopians) did not come in and say “OK, folks everything you ever said, did , thought, or believed before is utterly, totally, and evilly wrong”. Not really much of an invitation there.
Hence the transformation of harmless customs like yule logs and mistletoe, or more serious matters of trees and temples and human & animal sacrifices, into better things, unified around the cross. Remember: all Christians in those days were converts form paganism, so it was “their” interior and exterior world that was transformed, remade, recycled and reused in the making of the Church, Christendom, and the Christian West. Here is true diversity– that the one light of Christ was gathered out of the many colours of Israel, Greece, Rome, Germany & Britain– and wherever and as the church spread.
You Bin TOLDED
So the next time some snotty clever says “but that’s merely a stolen pagan symbol”, you’ll know they’re repeating a misunderstanding, and not seeing how God, and the human and Christian minds, works. If we can understand recycling old paper into new notebooks, then we can understand the basic principle and claim of the Christian faith that it’s all God’s, and once he came into the human neighbourhood bringing divine friendship, redemption, and love, that indeed as Jesus says “Behold, I make all things new.”
Sitting and happily admiring my plastic evergreen tree, with mistletoe in the doorway, a yule-log cake on table, with little statues of Zoroastrians bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on the living-room half-wall, awaiting a feast-day of the birth of the baby Jesus– over top of a variously celebrated ‘pagan rebirth of the sun’ festival– looking forward to gift-giving, eating, friends & family, I remain,
P.S. Yes, I know Christmas elves were stolen from Norse and Irish & Scots folklore, and the ‘little people’ were not cute, or safe, or always good, and were big into mischief & baby-stealing. In Iceland, builders still appease the elves, who are said to undermine and bedevil houses and other structures. Indeed, The Elf Binks tries to be mostly good, but is not particularly cute.. or safe.