rewritten from original draft of 2009
(From one of those “I get depressed during the holidays” people.)
An Explosion Of Thoughts
In a typical newsy Christmas letter, one of my relatives wrote, “The back and forth political ranting is becoming very tiresome to all.” His statement represents those who find comfort in pointing their finger at politics, as if they are above it all. Amidst the lulling cloud of “Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men” they shy away from unpleasant confrontation and seek out a comfortable chair, a good book and a cup of tea. But that Christmas letter set off such an explosion of thoughts in my mind that I either must vent or explode. Therefore I have set to words my mental explosion in the hope that somehow, something good will come of it.
Though it is true that “political ranting” is ubiquitous and tiresome, I could not help wonder, what if it were no longer allowed? That fear could be coming of age, if tranquility can be defined by the the absence of tiresome freedom of speech. I also reacted to the phrase, “back and forth”, which implies moral equivalence. Is political debate so obnoxious that all positions are equally responsible, equally onerous? Are the cries of those who have been wronged really the same as those who wrong them?
And what happens when we get tired of this political “theater”? Do we just ignore it, drop out of the system and let the “ruling class” deal with all the unpleasantness? Is it more important to maintain a calm and “civil” demeanor on the surface while inequities wreak havoc, unseen? Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have already done that. Statistics tell us less than half of qualified voters actually vote. That puts a real damper on the viability of popular democracy, a system which is, by nature raucous and messy.
A longtime friend of mine once told me he made it a rule never to discuss politics or religion. Since I value those two things above all else, we are no longer on speaking terms. Why should I bother with small talk if I am not allowed to share what’s on my heart? I can make small talk with anyone I meet. But when I’m with friends or family, I should be able to talk about those things I value most. Forbidding conversation on politics and religion because someone may be offended is an exchange of freedom of speech for a very shallow appearance of civility.
Friendship and Family
Uncomfortable disruptions of meals or other family activities have resulted from the rigorous argumentation of either politics or religion. Some families institute a “taboo” of those two topics in order to preserve the “peace”. This is done on the assumption that strong, personal convictions on such deeply held issues only create controversies and the passionate airing of our political and religious viewpoints is seen as divisive and something to be avoided. So, one’s emotional attachment to a particular viewpoint is often not socially acceptable to our own friends or families.
So, is the communal “peace” that we get worth the repression of our passions? Are we so afraid of confronting basic beliefs that we mustn’t be real? Are we condemned to being phony? Is such a “peaceful” pretense — convivial and shallow — even worth the effort to get together? What is it about family life or friendships that makes it so important to hide who we are, what we think, what we believe, what we value — all for a sense of being pleasantly removed from reality? Good food, nice decor, small talk, big games and specials on TV are all enjoyable to a point. But they whitewash over the authentic concerns of our inner selves.
When someone asks, “How are you?” they want to hear something fun, easy, light and fluffy. They certainly don’t want the party mood brought down by bad news. Don’t mention deep fears or concerns, or you’ll hear something like, “Here. I’ll pour you something that will take care of that.” Equally unwelcome are lofty or noble hopes. They also have the effect of bringing people down. You’ll hear, “Don’t be so serious. Lighten up.” So when we hear, “How are you?”, most of us just say, “Fine!” and everyone is “happy”. We ignore who we are in order to answer how we are.
There is the issue of appropriateness, which I understand. Social settings are not always the appropriate venue for airing our deepest feelings. However, on balance I believe we would all benefit from curtailing shallow, impersonal talk and placing a greater emphasis on being ‘real’ in the subject matter we discuss when we gather with friends and family. We can be appropriate and still be real.
The reality is that while we all want to share real joys, at the same time, we all carry real burdens. This Christmas season, if I were to honestly answer someone who asked me how I’m doing, I would say my spirit is deeply troubled at the loss of the Bible’s influence in today’s society. Also, I fear for the loss of our freedoms and am angry at a government that seems to be betraying its citizens and threatening the very foundation of our freedom. People get uncomfortable when they hear that. So I am uncomfortable being asked. But if I were free to really say what was on my mind, and someone who asked me, “How are you?” really cared to hear my answer, here is what I’d say:
Changes In My Lifetime
When I was growing up (sometime between 1945 and 1965), this nation still enjoyed what Francis Schaeffer called the “Christian consensus”. Even though my family wasn’t Christian, we (as society in general) went along with most of the moral teachings of the Bible. But it wasn’t shoved down anyone’s throat, as I can remember. There seemed to be more respect for tradition in those days. Unlike most other cultures in the world, we were a tolerant, pluralistic nation. (Yes, long before “multiculturalism” we were a diverse nation.) And because of that, people came from all over the world, to become “Americans” so they could enjoy the unique opportunities and freedoms we offered.
But that’s all changed. We turned from the tolerance of pluralism — of inviting anyone who wanted to become an American — to the lie of multiculturalism, which says you can come here but you don’t have to become an American. You can continue living just as if you were still in your old country. You don’t have to adapt to our way of life. We’ll adapt to your way of life, because our way of life isn’t any better than anything else or anyone else anywhere. As a nation, in place of a sense of American exceptionalism, we seem to confess to being responsible for most of the ills of the world, and based on that false sense of guilt, we seem obligated to make restitution.
Our government, originally designed as a constitutional republic, is morphing. Using more and more federal and economic controls, the government is working hard to convince an increasingly ignorant and apathetic public that our role should be as a part of the global community, not as a sovereign nation looking out for it’s own interests. The old paradigm in Congress was to debate issues of national interest and come up with a compromise between the conservative and liberal views. The new paradigm is to downplay anything “national” because we are supposed to be global. That means borders, citizenship, sovereignty and the constitution are all old hat. They are to be replaced with the United Nations, the World Court and the supremacy of international law.
I grieve for the loss of true community. In reality, there is no such thing as a global community. It’s just part of the “new think”. A community should be identifiable by where people live and work, a diverse yet united network of neighbors who directly and mutually meet each other’s needs. That sense of community identity has been largely lost in today’s culture where you don’t even know your neighbors. Even churches, who consider themselves “communities of believers” are made up of commuters who are willing to travel long distances (outside their community) to worship. They are more a narrowly defined activity group than a community.
Now days, “communities” are based on ethnicity, sexual behavior, politics, income level, drug use, musical taste, sports, stamp collecting, … anything and everything, except what comprises a real community. As a people, Americans have become so Balkanized into fractured sub-cultures and mini-communities, we’ve lost the sense of trusting one another. Violence and crime have dramatically increased — much of it from illegal aliens. One third of our prison population is made up of illegals. We don’t even all speak the same language! No one is required to speak English. The result is that once we are broken into these smaller “camps”, we are easier to control and less able to resist the abuse of authority. How well would Americans now pull together, in case of a national emergency (such as World War II)? Instead of causing us to embrace our differences and come together, multiculturalism has resulted in divisiveness, anger, mistrust and finger pointing.
The way we as a society deal with the finger-pointing problem, is oxymoronic. On the one hand, we have the institution of freedom of speech. On the other hand, it is politically incorrect to “offend” certain special people (“communities”). If what you have to say offends them, then what you have to say shouldn’t be said. At least, that’s how they want us to think. The whole concept of adults being able to respectfully disagree in a public forum has been replaced with the policy that freedom of speech should only apply to non-public or non-controversial speech. Everything else should be controlled (by those in power). But to the informed, we know that in such a scenario there can be no such thing as freedom of speech anymore.
This mindset of “correct” speech isn’t simply political, it’s religious, too, because to a religious person, there is nothing more important to talk about than their faith. I realize this concept is offensive. But that’s the whole point to freedom. You can’t be free without being offensive to someone. Yet that implies responsibility. I am responsible to be as intelligent and articulate as I can be, in order to promote civil discourse, in the event I air my views in public. For those who may disagree with anything I may say, it is their responsibility to engage me with as intelligent and articulate an argument they can come up with. This is called the “market place of ideas”. It’s what freedom is all about: responsibility.
Unfortunately, by and large, that’s all out the window now. In the case of global warming, proponents claim, “The debate is over.” But to the “deniers” (as Al Gore warmly called them) the global warming proponents have simply refused to talk to them. One side wants debate. The other doesn’t. How intelligent is that? Similarly, in a rush to judgement that didn’t seem to phase most of our leaders, the U.S. Congress has passed major spending legislation without time for the representatives to even read the bills. How intelligent is that? How responsible? How legal? How threatening is the notion of freedom of speech; bringing issues out into the open, where they can be honestly examined?!
Talking About Things Of Faith
So, when I think about Christmas, instead of blithely going about with, “Merry Christmas!” on my lips, I get somewhat defensive. I wonder what that “holiday cheer” has to do with the birth of Christ. And though there are seven “holidays” given in the Bible (still celebrated by Jews), the birth of Jesus Christ (Messiah) isn’t one of them. The New Testament doesn’t say we are to celebrate His birth, nor does it prevent us from doing so. The best scholarship tells us Jesus was most likely born in March anyway. So why do we do this December thing? Because in Rome, when Christianity became the “official” religion, people were used to celebrating the birth of a pagan sun god at this time. So, they kept the celebration but changed the name, the meaning and the theme.
That Christianized winter celebration became what we have come to know as Christmas. The fact is, Christmas has made a full circle from its origins. For centuries the “meaning” of Christmas was preserved by the “church”, while its pagan practices were continued. After the “God is dead” movement of the last century and the gradual decline of the “Christian consensus”, Christmas became primarily a secular holiday, preserving the traditions of its pagan origins, while compartmentalizing its Christian aspect into the category of “things to be kept in churches and out of the public”.
Faith And Freedom Of Speech
Those who want to control the free exchange of information (“political rants”) are the same ones who want to remove religious expression from the public. Counter to their claims, public forums are the most appropriate places for the freedom to express all matters, both civil and spiritual. These are not just my private concerns. They are beliefs and values that should be made public. Politics and freedom of religion are inextricably linked. And when I hear the lie that the public expression of my faith is an offense and therefore should be restricted, not only is my religious freedom threatened, but also my freedom of speech. Our history, our traditions and our founding documents all agree that our freedoms of religion and speech are not granted on the basis of being inoffensive to others.
Political correctness seeks to protect certain groups from being offended by restricting the freedoms of others. As such, political correctness is a threat to freedom, because real freedom guarantees someone will always be offended by someone else. That is the price of freedom. Unfortunately, it is now popular to curtail the exercise of freedoms when certain groups are offended by others.
Jewish Scripture And Foundations Of Law
After reading through the prophets of the Old Testament (the Jewish Tanakh), I wondered what keeps Jews from accepting that Jesus fulfilled so many of those prophecies about their own Messiah (Messiah, from the Hebrew and Christ, from the Greek and Latin, both mean the same thing).
David H. Stern, author of the Jewish New Testament Commentary, referred to Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as the Old Testament passage, “that most clearly prophesies the Messiah’s first coming.” Familiar to many is 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (NIV)
Messianic Jews (Jewish Christians) are another one of those “offensive” subjects to both Christians and Jews. And yet, both would agree on the reliability and accuracy of Scripture. The fact that among the Dead Sea Scrolls was a complete ancient copy of the book of Isaiah, which was virtually the same as our modern translations, shows that the Jewish scribes were meticulous in maintaining accuracy in their copies. As an authoritative and reliable text, nothing comes close to the Bible. It is only general ignorance and prejudice that points to the contrary. When the facts are examined, it is clear that the Bible is the most well-attested of all the ancient documents. And yet somehow, the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property continues to be a bone of contention for those who wish to rewrite the history of American jurisprudence.
Just as the laws of Moses led to the development of British Common Law and natural law in The United States, so to, the prophecies of Isaiah and his fellow Jewish prophets pointed to a carpenter from Nazareth who would change the world. But today, governments are more comfortable giving deference on an international scale, not to the origin of the traditions of western civilization, but to Islam. Calling Islam the religion of peace, while referring to the Bible as “hate literature” is evidence of the extent to which ignorance and polarization has replaced reasoned and open debate.
The Perversion of Islam
Islam, the illegitimate cousin of Judaism and Christianity, claims to revere the Bible and Jesus. But akin to countless heretics, they deny the accuracy and reliability of the the Bible, while claiming to know the “truth”. It’s interesting how ecumenical all the various “liberal” religions are, once they can all agree to discard the authority of the Bible in order to justify their beliefs. Copying the Jews, Muslims call themselves the sons of Abraham. Only they claim it was Ishmael’s side of the family that God gave his promise to, not that other guy, Isaac, the father of Israel. So much for the “Chosen People”. And for Muslims, Jesus is only a prophet, not the Messiah, not the Son of God, not the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Islam prefers the authority of the Koran. Authored by Mohammed, the Koran borrows heavily from both Jewish and Christian traditions. Yet, Muslims insist that the Koran is authoritative, while the Bible is not. They claim it to be too corrupted by copyists’ errors and translation errors for it to be reliable.
Of course, most Muslims are “moderate”, which means they don’t support such “extremes” as beheadings, violent Jihad, “honor killings”, etc. Yet at the same time, they don’t have the authority from the Koran for being so moderate. On the other hand, the Sixth Commandment specifies, “You shall not murder.” (“Murder” is the best translation of the original Hebrew text, not “kill”.) The Bible does not declare other kinds of killing immoral, such as the death penalty for criminals or just wars. Again, in order to say otherwise, requires discarding the authoritative text of the Bible. The words of Jesus instructs Christians to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That means that all the atrocities committed by the “church” in the name Jesus, were in contradiction to his teachings, not in obedience to them, while all the atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists are in obedience to the teaching of Mohammed. It’s “Moderate” Muslims who are in contradiction to Mohammed’s commands to kill the infidel.
I’ve heard it argued that there are examples from Israel’s history in the Old Testament where God told the Hebrews to go in and kill entire cities, including men, woman, children and even animals, implying that Islamic belief and violence is no worse than the violence of Biblical Israel. As horrible as those examples are (And I know how horrible they are. I’ve been reading and studying the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation for 33 years. I know what the Bible says.) The one big difference between Biblical and Koranic killings is that in the Bible God commanded Israel to destroy specific people in specific places at specific times in history; while the Koran’s general instruction to Muslims everywhere at all times is to kill any infidel who is unwilling to convert to Islam.
The Christ Child Grew Up And Became A Rabbi.
Jesus taught that a tree is known by its fruit. Just look at the fruit of Islam. Wherever Islam is in control, Sharia law is in force. Unlike the rights of citizens which we take for granted in the west, and the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution, Sharia does not give women equal standing with men in courts of law. Nor are “infidels”, such as Christians and Jews, given equal standing with Muslims under the law. There is no such thing as equal rights or freedom under the tyranny of Sharia law. A man may legally kill a female relative if he merely feels she is bringing dishonor to his family. There is no justice. No recourse. You simply must “submit” (The word Islam means submission.). (Aren’t you glad they cleared up all those copyists’ errors and inaccuracies of that unreliable Bible?!)
While the Bible doesn’t tell us about Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe, eggnog or any other of the various traditions used to celebrate Christmas, it also doesn’t say those things are wrong. There’s nothing necessarily wrong about secular Christmas traditions. But it’s good to keep in mind that for thousands of years pagans were doing many of those same things, having a great time with their families and friends, but without Jesus, without salvation from sin, without the promise of eternal life. So, getting together with family and friends can be a good thing, but it isn’t the end-all and the be-all of Christmas. That’s why Christians take this time to proclaim Christ.
And in our country, Christians are still free to do so. If proclaiming Christ offends you, accept it as an unpleasant side-effect of freedom. That freedom will remain in peril if you shirk your responsibility to take an active part in the process of “self-government”. In the meantime, genuine love means listening to those near to us, even when we do disagree. Nothing from our wealth or affluence, no physical comfort, no amount of fun or “stuff”, can substitute for validating and encouraging someone we love. We all need each other. Not in the phony pretense of never discussing politics or religion, but in being real, warts and all.