Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Xmas facts

I wonder how many Christians know that Easter and Christmas are in fact pagan celebrations? As they go about jingling their coins in their wallets to the sounds of Jingle Bells in the stores, I wonder whether any of them have ever thought these curious thoughts:

a. What have snow, reindeer, pine trees, and presents, got to do with the scorching hot Israeli desert, a prophet, and Hebrew culture in general?
b. What has a rabbit got to do with the said prophet being nailed to some poles by some Romans?

(b) has been addressed at length in South Park, as we know, where it's really about the Hare Club for Men, and St Peter was actually a rabbit (hence the Pope's silly hat, only suitable for rabbit ears) - i.e. Peter Rabbit. But on a serious note - it's a fertility rite celebrating the return of spring, not the return of Jesus. Hence the eggs (new birth), and the bunnies (that breed like rabbits). The Old Saxon deity of spring was Eostre. Ever not been bothered by the fact that everyone else calls Easter "Paschal" or some such word, obviously derived from Hebrew "Pesach" (the passover, where God genocided the Egyptians)? Why does the English-speaking world still tip the hat to Eostre?

(a) however, is more relevant at this time of year. Let's think about it. Reindeer, pine trees, presents, an old man who flies through the sky, delivering said presents. Yule logs burning on the fire. Yuletide. Hmm. What has this got to do with deserts and the birth of children again? Nothing. In the old Norse culture, and during the "dark ages" of English culture, the chief Deity, Oden (Woden, for whom Wednesday is named), flew through the sky on Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse, delivering presents at Yuletide, (geoltid in Old English), to children, who would leave out food for his horse. One of his names was Nik (as in St Nicholas or Santa Claus, and Nick as in Old Nick, the devil). The story about St Nicholas is probably a humanisation of Nik. He was an old man in a blue outfit (just as Santa originally had, before Coca Cola turned him red). The Norse would burn a yule log on 21 December - the midwinter solstice, to celebrate and bring back the Sun to light the cold northern lands in Europe. So Christmas, or yuletide as it is still ignorantly called, is really about bringing back the sun and vanquishing the cold. It has nothing to do with a prophet born in Israel. This is why it has snow, reindeer, pine trees, etc., because it is essentially a Norse holiday. If you go further south in Europe, you'll see much less interest in Santa and much more interest in Jesus, simply because the southerners don't need to bring back the sun as much as the northerners do. The only reason Santa is even recognised elsewhere in the world is because of the TV. And lastly: they do not really know what year Jesus was born, much less the day. Luke records one date, Matthew records another, and the two dates are 10 years apart!

What really happened in Northern Europe was a bunch of priests came from Rome trying to spread the "word" and found that the northerners really, really, really liked their Holy Days, especially Yuletide and Eostre. So instead of telling these pagans to cease and desist, the clever, wicked bad hobbitses simply said, OK, let's RE-PURPOSE these holy days and make up some story about how the former is Jesus' birthday, and the latter is when he was risen from the dead (new birth, spring, etc.). Very clever, tricksy false hobbitses they were.

A true Christian, therefore, should shun these pagan celebrations and rather focus on Jesus, at this time. Bring Christ back into Christmas/Easter, they say. Well, he wasn't there originally, I hate to tell you.

Violence and Difference

I was recently friended on Facebook by someone and I took a look at his motivational posters (you know the type), and saw a really good one. Basically, it's a picture of Jesus talking about how he created man with sin (he's God, remember?), then impregnated his own mother (in his form of the Holy Spirit) to give birth to himself (Jesus) so that he could sacrifice himself (Jesus) to himself (God incarnate) to forgive us for our sins (which he as God created us with). I can't comprehend how Christians haven't been bothered by this circularity for the past 1685 years. It's very odd. (The Trinity doctrine was officially accepted in 325 at Nicaea, if I recall my research correctly).

At any rate, this leads me to punt my favourite hobby horse, after the free-will debate and the existence of God, both of which issues I have written academic papers on... my favourite issue being whether Jesus existed. Now, I'm sure many of you have watched or bought the Zeitgeist movie. (I mean "purchased", not bought in the US sense of "accepted"). The Zeitgeist movie worries me for a number of reasons, but primarily because some of what it says seems to be false, e.g., that Jesus didn't exist and is merely a "Sun"/"Son" which represents the culmination of the 12 signs of the zodiac (apostles), etc. My main objection is the truth of some of their assertions, e.g., that Horus rose from the dead, was born to a virgin, had 12 disciples, and so on (for many other deities). I address this discussion in detail in my book, The Anointed (http://www.theanointedbook.com). Please do buy it, you'll really enjoy it if this is your kind of thing. (The sun/son comparison doesn't hold up in Ancient Greek, which is what the New Testament was written in. Sun, in Greek, is Helios, and son is Gios/Yios. The -os ending merely indicates that it is a noun, the stems are heli- and gi- or yi-. There is no relation. The joke only works in Germanic (Son/Sun, Sohn/Sonne, Seun/Son, etc.) In Latin it's Sol-/Fil-.

But here's my point. People will believe anything as long as you keep saying it over and over again, because very few people take the trouble to ask "Is that true? How can I tell?" when someone says something. In philosophy we call it a "bald assertion". Other examples include many of the statements made by politicians. As long as people believe, they'll follow you to do anything. Which is why, even if Dawkins is right about religion causing wars, which I think he is, the problem isn't with religion per se, the problem is with any unanalysed bald assertions. Hitler didn't emphasise the religious side of his attack on the Jews - it was more about the stereotypes around Jewish wealth and the collapsing German economy. Likewise Bush didn't emphasise the religious differences with the middle-easterners he attacked (even though they do emphasise it). I think that Dawkins is right, that religion is the cause, because Bush would not have invaded a fellow Christian country. But my point is this: any repeated statements, unanalysed, and accepted as true, are dangerous. Not just religious ones.

What really makes religious statements tricky is that they are not really open to testing, unlike other statements. They do not really lend themselves to the scientific process of verification. If, for example, some statistician had taken the trouble to find out just how many Jews were rich, in Germany, what proportion, and what proportion had benefitted from the collapse of the German economy, and he had published those statistics, then I think the Germans would have less believed Hitler when they found that it was mythology. But what statistical method can we use to prove anything about religious statements? They seem to be only open to analytical or probabilistic analyses. How likely, given the evidence, are they true? Does the suffering of the American (9/11) and Muslim peoples (invasions) not simply show that God is actually indifferent (if He's there at all)? Even the Germans said "Gott mitt uns" (God with us). Clearly He wasn't, otherwise we'd be still saluting Hitler. So these kinds of bald assertions are dangerous. Question everything.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Power

So, further to my points below about might and right, I was watching The Tudors TV series and it reminded me how crass people are. It seems as if it was a time in which you were either dying of disease or malnutrition, or, if you dared curry favour at the court, you'd end up beheaded - it seemed an inevitability. I watch such historical films, such as that, Elizabeth, Rome, etc, with a sense of wonder that humanity even exists. Are we really that stupid, or is that just overdramatisation of the violence of history? OK, so Bloody Mary, Henry's daughter, offed about 280 protestants (I can't recall the exact figure). Well, that's pretty small fry compared to Adolf. Even so, given a lifespan of about 30, huge infant mortality, plus the possibility of being beheaded just because you either did or didn't think that that wafer really was the body of Christ, I mean - how did humanity survive? Do/did we really breed that fast? It must be the case. But it still staggers the imagination.

But that reality we see there in that medieval time is pretty much the reality in much of Africa today: high infant mortality, local tribal/drug/gunrunner lords who shoot you and your village members, currying favour, etc. Not much is different. What changed?

Scholars would have us believe that Europe entered the colonial era, and parasitised off Africa and South America, robbing and raping, bringing the riches to what was to become the first world, and that the first world has, since then, flourished because of that initial parasitism (or rather, that 450 year-long period of parasitism). I'm not convinced. Nor am I convinced by Max Weber's "Protestant Work Ethic", which, to put it crudely, said that Protestants believe that they have to earn their way into heaven, unlike Catholics, who have to just confess. Doubtless, Weber was living in a Protestant country, so we have to suspect him of blowing his own horn. The Romans certainly weren't Protestants. More like Bacchists, if you believe what we see in the Rome TV series.

So what is the real reason? Could it just be colonialism? I doubt it. China has prospered since time immemorial. It has always been relatively stable and prosperous. I'm not talking about the peasants that Chairman Mao used to bulk up his cause, and obviously China, like India and other great nations, has a lot of very poor people. I'm talking more generally. China has, like India, just always been there, at least for over 2000 years. Yet neither China nor India made any major attempts at imperialism. How have they succeeded? How have they staved off insignificance and the kind of universal poverty that afflicts Africa? Is it purely a matter of large populations? No, I don't think so.

How then did Europe rise out of squalor? I'll tell you, in one word. The same word that kept China and India great for thousands of years. Scholarliness. Education. Because ideas beget ideas, which beget inventions, which beget technologies, which beget progress, and the enhancement of human life. Sometimes to the detriment of nature, to be sure. But alarmists have been worshipping at that altar since the 1960s. Yet here we still are, with probably double the population. I'm not remotely saying it doesn't matter, or we shouldn't listen. Just take a measured approach. A scientific approach. So much hysteria and hype cannot be true.