Archive through December 24, 2003

sean's picture
John Hudson's picture

... dealing with the ambiguity of religious variety.

This is a very good phrase. Between totally supressing all religious expression and seeking to destroy all religions except your own is a huge area of genuine respect for other persons and their beliefs. Most religious people I know occupy this area, and accept the struggle of showing love and compassion while not glossing over the real disagreements and incompatibilities of one set of beliefs with another.

I mind the syndrome that makes western Christians so uncomfortable with the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

I think you are misinterpreting the phenomenon. I don't think Christians are uncomfortable with not everyone celebrating Christmas: in fact, a lot of observant Christians participate very little in the popular Christmas celebration. I do think that the shops and other businesses that rely on Christmas for huge consumer spending are uncomfortable about people not celebrating, and not celebrating by spending. This is why every year Christmas becomes less and less about the nativity of Christ, and an increasingly generalised 'Holiday Season'. Last year was something of a nadir in Canada, with many municipalities not putting up Christmas trees or calling them 'Winter Trees'. [To his great credit, the Jewish mayor of Toronto said 'This is silly: it's a Christmas tree and that's what we're going to call it'.] I don't like this silliness because I don't like the Orwellian distortion of it and the subversion of religious festivals by consumer capitalism. I'd rather there were no popular holiday celebration at all: I would still go to Mass on Christmas Eve, and my Jewish friends would still go to the synagogue during Chanukah.

The irony of Chanukah being the Jewish component, as it were, of the syncretic secular holiday season is that the Maccabees were fighting against syncretism and ecumenism.

John Hudson's picture

...as well as the moving of Christmas from January 6 to December 24...

Hrant, the date of Christmas wasn't moved from January 6th: the whole calendar was realigned. January 6th in the Gregorian calendar is December 24th in the Julian calendar. On January 6th, the Roman Church will be celebrating the Epiphany, while the Armenian and other Eastern Churches will be celebrating Epiphany on ... Janury 6th in the Julian calendar (i.e. January 19th in the Gregorian). It only gets really confusing with moveable feasts: I remember asking a Greek Orthodox how they calculated the date of Easter, to which he replied that he wasn't sure 'but it probably has something to do with not ending up on the same day as the Catholics'. :-)

William Berkson's picture

I haven't studied the history of this, but I've been told by those who seemed to know that the Dec 25 date was part of the compromise between the Roman state and the Church to get Christianity to be the state religion of the Roman empire. The Carnival started on that date in the Roman calendar; Sabbath worship was shifted to Sunday for similar reasons, as Romans had worshiped the sun. Also the Roman law of monogomy was accepted. There is no New Testament basis for a winter date of Jesus' birth, the only thing being a hint at a spring date, as I understand. Again, I have not studied this history, but it sounds quite interesting.

John Hudson's picture

Sabbath worship was shifted to Sunday for similar reasons, as Romans had worshiped the sun.

I believe the switch from Saturday to Sunday predates the establishment of Constantine by a good long time and has nothing to do with Roman pagan worship. Practically, it was a way to distinguish the early Church from the Jewish community from which its first members came, to clearly establish the distinctiveness of the Church as something other than a sect within Judaism. Theologically, the shift from the last day of the week to the first day of the week emphasises the resurrection and the new beginning in Christ.

Jordan Harper's picture

No, I don't concede it at all, since the cross is the central emblem of Christianity, not of particular historic events of the mediaeval period, let alone the fumbled words of a twit like George Bush.

My use of the word mediaeval was not really meant literally. My suggestion was that in 'responding' to the tragedy of 9/11, your choice to display a crucifix could be taken the wrong way by someone who viewed the world from an islamic perspective. Irrelevant of your intentions.

In the same way that people of the Jewish faith (or sympathetic to it) may take certain indirect critical observations/comments as antisemetic, while others (myself included) made no such leap.

I don't see the crescent moon and think of all those centuries of religious warfare, and more than I think of a couple of decades of Israeli history when I see the Star of David.

I know exactly what you mean, and in time I'd like to think that the west will be able to look past a decade* of the swastika's misuse.

However, I am offended by the suggestion that, in the name of not offending other religions, we should supress all public religious expression.

I apologise if you were offended, I meant to suggest no such thing. All I tried to do was make a logical extension (or two) of some statements posted, and see where it took me.

Jordan

* of it's 'official' misuse anyway.

John Hudson's picture

My use of the word mediaeval was not really meant literally. My suggestion was that in 'responding' to the tragedy of 9/11, your choice to display a crucifix could be taken the wrong way by someone who viewed the world from an islamic perspective. Irrelevant of your intentions.

It is possible, but seems to me unlikely. More to the point, it is speculative. If a Moslem reader had written to me at the time and asked why I had the cross there I would have told him, or if he had written to complain I would have explained why. I'm not inclined to police my actions just in case they might possible offend some person who might just possibly see them.

In the same way that people of the Jewish faith (or sympathetic to it) may take certain indirect critical observations/comments as antisemetic, while others (myself included) made no such leap.

I have trouble reading the equating of Jews with Nazis as 'indirect critical observation'. If you miss the antisemitism in that, then I'm concerned. Only last Sunday, the French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray commented in an interview on 'the return of antisemitism in our Old Europe': '[Not] to recognize it, not to call it by its name, is an unconscious way of accepting it. ...Its contours are vague and are not reduced to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ...The path that leads to Auschwitz is always before us and it starts with little weaknesses. Hence,' he insisted on the need for 'constant vigilance and frank solidarity with the Jewish communities.'

As I mentioned earlier, there is a long established discourse of antisemitism, that uses stock phrases and associations to engender double standards and prejudice. The nature of this discourse is that individual phrases come loaded with a history of deliberately manufactured hatred that cannot be easily unloaded.

There is, of course, anti-Moslem sentiment in both Europe and North America, but it has neither the antiquity, refinement or consistency of discourse that one finds with antisemitism. In North America, most anti-Islamic sentiment is attached to the so-called war on terror. In Europe, it is an issue of immigration and identity. But even in the current anti-Islamic discourse that surfaces in our societies, the cross is not an emblem or a rallying symbol for hatred; it is not, in fact, part of the discourse at all. Sure, idiot Bush mentioned the word 'crusade' once, and then quickly apologised and made sure it didn't happen again. The Pope's very strong condemnation of the American-British adventure in Iraq was a much more prominent statement of the orthodox Christian position regarding the war and made it clear that in no way could the invasion be considered a crusade in the mediaeval sense.

hrant's picture

Anti-semitism certainly does exist (just like racism against any ethnicity). I agree it's old (Jews are old) and sophisticated, but that's just a quantitative issue. But a concern for the reckless behavior of the Jewish lobby in the US as well as Israel itself also exists. One does not preclude the other.

It's pretty obvious to any objective and observant person that Israel is using the US like a big dumb cyclops to get away with the opression of Palestinians. What the "Jewish communities" need most of all is advice: that they get over it, and back off, if only for their own good. Many Israeli Jews are realizing this more and more, but their US "brethren" (not being at any risk of life themselves) are much thicker and fundamentalisic. In the same way that the victors of WWI took too many spoils and thereby laid a solid foundation for WWII (and the Holocaust!), there has to be fairness for anybody to live on this planet safely. And lest you resort to the buzz phrase "don't blame the victim", know that I'm not interested in justifying genocide, just reducing it. I don't want more Jews to die. The best way to this is for things to be more fair than they are now. The only other option is annihilating everybody else.

hhp

gerald_giampa's picture

I have trouble reading the equating of Jews with Nazis.

John, would you have trouble equating Christians with Nazi's?

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