Back in 2004, during another period of extended unemployment, I did a lot of internet writing and conversation on various group sites. I found in my archives a "conversation" about the meaning of Christmas which I didn't even remember writing until I found it again today. I am sharing it with you in hopes that it helps to keep the season bright. It is a bit lengthy, but I hope that it has meaning for you.
First part (long) – the post by another group member:
Subj: [Christians_List] Fw: The Delusion of Christmas
Date: 12/25/04 8:11:41 AM Pacific Standard Time
Received from Internet: click here for more information
Got this message this morning.
It is the best Christmas message I've heard all year!
The Delusion of Christmas
Much thought has been going on in my head during the last few days about what "Christmas" really represents. I am not trying to be scroogelike or a funstopper, but I just cannot shake off the fact that there is something profoundly disturbing about this time of the year.
I am not speaking about everyone throwing good taste to the wind as we have discussed before, or the rampant materialism engendered in the young and impressionable, or the fact that Jesus Christ could not possibly have been born on December 25th, or the syncretist pagan origins of this festivity, or the fact that there are so many suicides and admissions to psychiatric hospitals at this time of year. I am not speaking here about any of those things -- although indeed I could, at great length.
No, there is something else -- something far deeper even than any of those things -- which profoundly disturbs me to the core of my being. It is the way that "Christmas" fosters delusions of the highest order. We have become multi-delusional and "Christmas" is used to great effect in order to reinforce those delusions.
We live in a cruel post-modern world in which we have become delusion-dependent. We cannot live without our delusions. We are addicted to delusions and like all good addicts, we are in denial about our dependence on them. We are even in denial about their very existence. In our delusional world, dictatorship successfully poses as "democracy". In our delusional world, voting poses as the pinnacle of political achievement. In our delusional world, total war poses as peacemaking. In our delusional world, neo-colonialist slavery poses as the importation of freedom. In our delusional world, withering ignorance poses as admirable strength. How deluded can we become?
"Christmas" has become a kind of icon for every hopeful idea imaginable - an escape from the reality of every dastardly thing. It is a yearly injection of hope for the happiness, harmony, goodwill and peace which can never finally be found in this present universe but which the world craves anyway.
Peace on Earth?
Never has this essence of what Christmas represents been more poignantly manifested than when warring sides hold a truce on December 25th. An illusion of pace is fostered for 24 hours, following by a resumption of hostilities at midnight on December 26th. That is the best that "Christmas" represents: a forced hiatus in the business of killing and chaos.
On television on December 25th, we are presented with a multitude of vignettes which reinforce the classic "Christmas" delusion that everything in every way is getting better and better, peacefuller and peacefuller. So we see Christmas in Iraq, with a few views of smiling children receiving presents from Santa's sack. "Santa's Sack comes to Iraq". A few vox pops from Iraqi parents pleased to see their children smile for the first time in years.
We see politicians and news pundits standing outside an Iraqi church service saying "This could never have happened under Saddam" (which of course is a complete lie. See http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2002-12-19-iraq-christians-usat_x.htm). George W. Bush gives an "end of the year" press conference in which he has the audacity to state that "Life in Iraq is better than life under Saddam". The same liar who made this statement is then presented in that CIA propaganda tool, "Time Magazine", as "2004 Person of the Year". Dubbed as "American Revolutionary", Bush was chosen by the magazine:
"For sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years, George W. Bush is TIME's 2004 Person of the Year".
Do you now see what I mean by delusion-dependent culture? One of the big signs of a totalitarian regime is its alteration of truth and reality -- it's very assertion of falsehood as truth, to be believed by the sheople. Truth goes down the memory-hole, as Winston Smith will confirm. "Who is Winston Smith", do I hear you say? Ah, now there's some research for you.
The British Government "still claims that fewer than 4,000 civilians have died" in Iraq [ http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=595115 ], whereas the British Medical Association's prestigious "Lancet" journal published research on October 29th showing that at least ten times that number -- 100,000 civilians -- have been killed as a result of the war, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3962969.stm . That is genocide.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of certain propagandist people saying "Peace, peace" when there is no peace (Jer.6:14). The people then wanted to foster a delusion. They, too, lived in a delusion-dependent culture, in which false prophets propagated the delusion of peace as it suited them. They denied that God's judgement was coming and soothed the people with false notions of peace. Just like the smooth-talking politicians of today. Whenever I see one of them posturing on television or read about them in newspapers and magazines, I recall the wisdom of the psalmist: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" (Psa.55:21). Things just don't change.
Peace, as the Scriptures show, is not something which can be achieved by human endeavor. People always assume that the "peace on earth" heralded at the incarnation by the angels is the removal of war from this earth by political or governmental activity. Such is not the case at all. The Lord Jesus Himself stated that He did not come to bring peace in the conventional sense, i.e. through the cessation of hostilities. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matt.10:34). The very essence of the Gospel puts people in a spin and generates enmity because the vast majority in the world is opposed to truth.
Peace comes into this world in two stages.
First, as a state of heart, peace comes through refraining from being at enmity towards God and coming to faith in Christ. "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom.5:1). Only a person who has found such peace can become a real peacemaker.
Second, as a state of world, peace comes into being naturally after the universe as it is presently constituted has been wound up after the Second Coming of Christ.
In this world as it is presently constituted, there will always be wars and rumors of wars -- increasingly so as the end of the world draws near (Mk.13:7-8). But after the "new heavens and new earth" have been created in the wake of the Day of Judgement (Isa.65:17; cf. 2 Pet.3:10-13), "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isa.65:25; cf. Isa.11:6ff). Those passages speak about the new universe which the Lord will create out of this old one like a phoenix rising from the ashes. They are not about now. They are not about any fictitious millennium. They refer to the restoration of all things, the reconstitution of the entire universe. Only then will "world peace" come and not before.
In that sense, the incarnation of Christ does herald "peace on earth". But only in that sense. All else is a delusion.
Goodwill to All?
"Christmas" will propagate enough of that feelgood factor to make us feel at ease with ourselves. We may watch a "Christmas" charity marathon on TV and think what a wonderful world it is. The 7300 calories which each person in consumerist countries will easily digest on December 25th (as shown in the UK "Daily Mail" health article on 21st December 2004) will make us feel satisfied with our little lives and the coin we tossed into that beggar's lap will assuage the do-gooders. The fullness of our stomachs will enable us to continue to imagine that "God's in his heaven, and all's well with the world". But the fullness of our stomachs simply disguises the emptiness of our hearts.
The average non-obese person needs around 2000 calories a day to maintain body weight. The excess calories eaten by the gluttonous people in consumerist countries in just one Christmas day could keep 15 million starving people alive for a whole year. Still feel good about it? [Fact: 65% of American adults are overweight or obese - half of those are counted as obese. 15% of American children are also overweight or obese, http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2003-12-15-obesity-edit_x.htm . Fact: Nearly one billion people in the world go hungry every day.]. (By one billion I mean 1000 million).
The "god" of Christmas
"Christmas", as an attempt at a 24-hour heaven on earth, even has its own god called Santa Claus. A benign, bearded, bespectacled granddaddy-like-they-used-to-make-em who gives you whatever you ask for. Just write and he provides. No problem. He never says no -- just "ho, ho, ho". He never says anything about the war, about the famine, about the delusion-dependent culture that we are in. After all, he is himself a product of that delusion-dependent culture and absurdly protected by political correctness. In a school a child can claim with impunity that Jesus Christ never existed; but woe betide him if he dares to tell the other children that Santa doesn't exist. (My own kids got into big trouble for that in the UK!). There is a virtual conspiracy to ensure that the delusion is continued. Even NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) gets in on the act [ http://www.noradsanta.org/ ]!!
Above all, "Christmas" is responsible for fostering the delusion that people are intrinsically good if given the chance. However, after the hangover of New Year has worn off, so will the goodwill. Guaranteed. It will be business as usual, until the next 24-hour injection of false goodwill comes around in December 2005 to remind us all how altruistic we are.
For all its attempts at presenting an optimistic facade to the world, putting a gloss on evil so that it appears good, stirring up people's consciences enough to cough up a few dollars for the underprivileged, halting hostilities for a day, portraying the icy Arctic circle as the romantic home of a centogenarian social worker, putting a few temporary smiles on the faces of the young by pandering to their greed, satisfying our hunger with a foodfest that would shame the Romans, "Christmas" will still only ever be a tasteless tradition, an ingenious device, a crude chimera, a clutching at dry straws in the midst of a fiery furnace.
Am I alone in being disturbed by these things? Am I just being an oversensitive killjoy who can't put his pen in its holster for just one day? Am I the only one in the world who can't wait for the next seven days to be over with and then we can move on to something real? (Those were rhetorical questions, btw, but you can answer them if you want to)
Stay cool this Christmas. Wear a blindfold!
Yours, with intrepidity,
My Response –
Happy Second Day of Christmas!
I understand this writer's point of view and I agree with a lot of it. But in my opinion, he is dealing not with delusion, but disappointment. I believe that it is possible that his own heartsickness at the cruelty, injustice and hatred that exists in the world is causing his condemnation of Christmas as it has become in our Western society. I agree wholeheartedly that every year that goes by and Christmas is but a small blip on the radar screen of our consciousness is disheartening. As the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Christmas Carol" says, "We Spirits of Christmas do not live only on one day of the year, but the whole 365 days of the year, where ever there are human hearts who bear witness to the Child born in Bethlehem." (my paraphrase from memory). But, with our modern technology and our nightly news, we see very little evidence that this Spirit has lived on in humankind beyond December 25.
We need to remember that much of life that goes on is not contained in the Nightly News. We need to remember that deeds of love, kindness and peace go on every day, unseen and unheard, as the true Saint Nicholas once gave his gifts in Myra. It is easy to watch the warmongers and mega-capitalists who fill the airwaves and written media with their messages of death and selfishness and to become so depressed that one cannot believe there is any other message being broadcast. But the message of Love does not shout - it whispers! The author of the Book of Love is Anonymous. The painter of the New Vision does not sign his work. The child on the playground who refrains from joining the bullies in their persecution. The teenager who chooses to volunteer time to work with the Special Olympics or other organization, or even to start one of his or her own. The family of five who sponsors three children through an organization such as Christian Children's Fund. The single mother who invites an elderly neighbor for dinner once a week because she is afraid that it might be the neighbor's only hot meal each week. The successful businessman or businesswoman who really does everything that he or she can to ensure good benefits for their employees and whose business decisions are filled with the sense of responsibility for the success of every member of the company. The mega-successful musical artists who participate in fundraising events for free. The millions of people who do tithe or put contributions in the church plate in spite of the fact that sometimes the money is misused. They put it in anyway, trusting that at least some of it will do good. The millions of people who regularly contribute to Best Friends and other animal sanctuaries and conservation movements. The millions of people who rush to contribute money, clothes, food, medical supplies and help whenever there is a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other disaster.
These millions have Christmas in their heart, whether they are Christian or not. There is something of the Spirit of Christmas that has infected millions, maybe billions, like a virus! It is the impulse of the Birth of Love. It is the Wonder of the Shepherds and the Wisdom of the Kings. It is the story of the Little Drummer Boy, it is the story of the "Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry, it is the wealth of stories of Christmas Magic from England, America and all around the world that illustrate the simple fact that we All have a gift to give and that we will find the moment in which to give it. We can't all join a religious order, give everything we have to the poor and follow Him in physical fact. But most people have at least one moment in their life in which they do let go of their own needs and desires and provide for someone else what is needed by the Other. As Christ said to us, "Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me." And we do, whether we realize it fully or not.
We can explore and debate the date of Christmas, the correct time and place of Christ's birth and all of the aspects of the development of the Christmas festival through history. We may accept all of it, reject some or most of it, or reject all of it based on what we perceive as truth. But in our fully justified criticisms and judgments and decisions as to the "spiritually correct" versions of the holiday, we would do well to take a few moments and ask ourselves, "What would the world really be like WITHOUT Christmas?" Not just without the Birth of Christ, but without the REMEMBRANCE of the Birth of Christ throughout the past 2,000 years? However it has been expressed or repressed, Christmas HAS lived on and lives on still and every year, every person has the possibility of seeing past the presents, tinsel and lights and really catching a glimpse of the true meaning of love. Every person has the opportunity once a year to recharge his or her spiritual "batteries" so to speak - to re-commit to the Child of Love and to stay open to whatever opportunities are offered by life in the coming year to serve Him in any way, large or small.
Yes, there are many delusions and disappointments around Christmas. We can be angry that each Christmas comes and goes without having put a permanent end to war, hunger and all human suffering. But Christ "came and went" and humans have gone on for the past 2,000 years as miserable and mixed up as ever. But there is something in us that wasn't there before. There is Hope, Faith and Charity. And they live on in Christianity and in Christmas in a way that I have not yet found in any other religion or culture (in a lifetime of searching). They live on in each one of us that is so very disappointed and disillusioned because the world is not yet what we wish it to be. The balm on that wound in each of our hearts is to remember that it is largely due to the experience of Christmas that we have the vision of how it should be in our hearts to start with. This vision of a world of Love is the Gift of the Christ to us and our desire for that world of Love is our gift to Him.