A Solution to Nativity Scene Battles

Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco, “Adoration of the Shepherds”

Wednesday

’Tis the season to be political. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly is once again decrying the “war on Christmas” and battles over nativity scenes are once again breaking out across the land. Last year there was furor over a scene placed in front of a courthouse in Henderson County, Texas. This year a lawsuit has been filed in Santa Monica, California.

This poem by my father gives us a different take on these nativity scenes. It takes as its basis the fact that Christianity, like all religions, is syncretistic—which is to say, it is an amalgamation of rituals and symbols, some articulated by inspired individuals (Jesus and his followers), some taken from earlier religions.  Another way of putting this is that every religion is a symbol system that human beings employ to come as near as they can to the (ultimately unknowable) mind of God.The universe will always have mysteries that we cannot penetrate, and humans use whatever materials—whatever symbols—are at hand to do what they can.

Devout followers may deny the affinities between the crucifixion of Jesus and the dismemberment of the Egyptian god Horus or overlook the fact that Jesus was probably not born in December, the time of the winter solstice and the Roman feast of Saturnalia. After all, they like to believe their religious symbols are “pure.” Examined carefully, however, Christmas proves to be more inclusive than they think.

Christmas as the Courthouse

By Scott Bates

The wise-men are Egyptian,
The virgin birth, Antique;
The evergreen is Roman
The manger scene is Greek;

T’is the Saturnalian Season
When solar gifts are cool,
So Happy Birthday, Horus!
From our Multiculture School.

If rightwing evangelicals embraced such an open version of the Christmas story, maybe we wouldn’t be having all these battles. Then again, maybe they want people of other faiths to feel excluded.

Fa la la la la.

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3 Comments

  1. Barbara
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I think some people do want non-Christians to feel excluded. The people who insist you must say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” because they either don’t know about other holidays or don’t think they are “as real” or something. I’m much more comfortable with the approach taken by a Muslim colleague. We met at UConn many years ago at new faculty orientation and have been friends for decades. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “Jesus is our prophet, and we get to celebrate his birthday if we want to!”

  2. Robin Bates
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    What gets me about those who try to politicize Christmas is that their complaining so often seem to violate the spirit of it. Of course, this is true of a number of Christians. Jesus’s love somehow is forgotten.

  3. Ed Camp
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    So appropriate for the season. Thanks, Robin.
    I can’t agree more with your discussion or conclusions!

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