Thursday 24 December 2020

The opposite of Christmas


The birth of Christ is the most important event in history. I think this is true even if you believe that Jesus was just a man. It is still more true if you believe that he was what Christians think he was. It’s hard to think of any single human being who has had more influence on subsequent history than Jesus. Christianity created the Western world far more than any other idea and it did so even if everything in the New Testament is lies and nonsense. It did so even if it could be proved that the Bible was a Medieval fake and there never was such a man as Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, it is quite certain that Jesus did live. No serious theologian or historian doubts this. There is more evidence for the existence of the man Jesus than almost anybody else in ancient history. If you doubt that Jesus lived you might as well doubt that Julius Caesar lived.

The issue is not whether there was a man called Jesus, but whether what the Bible says about him is true.

Why do people doubt the accounts in the Gospels and the letters of Paul and others? The reason is that the Bible tells a story about miracles whereas the story of Julius Caesar does not. If the Bible had nothing about God and nothing about miracles, but instead was just the story of a kind man who taught others to love their neighbours, then it would be treated today as no less true than any other ancient text. No one would doubt what was written about Jesus. We all just doubt the God stuff and the miracles.

What I dislike about Christmas is that the most important event in human history has been falsified.

The story of Christ’s birth is about poverty. His family couldn’t even find somewhere to stay, let alone hold an enormous feast.

Christ’s birth has nothing to do with presents. The three kings arrived on Epiphany or the Twelfth day of Christmas. There were no presents on the first Christmas day, nor was there turkey, mince pies or Christmas trees.

Most people today think that the Bible story is lies and nonsense or at least it exaggerates events. There was no virgin birth. There was no resurrection. Water did not turn into wine. All of these things are false even if Jesus existed. But because we reject what made Jesus different from other human beings, he has no importance in our lives. Julius Caesar is just another figure from history. We don’t even know his birthdate let alone celebrate it. Why then celebrate something an event that we think is unimportant about a man no more special than anyone else who taught things most of think are false. We might as well celebrate the birth of Thor, the marriage of Aphrodite or any other fake thing that the superstitious invented long ago.

There is no reason to suppose that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. There is no mention of a date in the Bible. There is no clue even what season it was. It would be better for all the churches in the world to pick another date, for instance in October and use that for the religious festival. Non-believers could then continue to celebrate “Christmas” in December, which would make it wholly fake, but at least Christians would have the chance to have a festival that was genuine.

The way that Christmas is celebrated today is anti-Christian, not merely because most people simply ignore the birth of Jesus, but because the behaviour that Christmas encourages is anti-Christian.

There is nothing Christian about spending vast amounts of money on presents, food and drink. There is nothing wrong with spending money, but Christmas encourages those who cannot afford it to spend excessive amounts on presents for their children. People go into debt and suffer later in the year in order that this one day should be extra special. When Christmas does harm, it is unchristian.

I know many people dread Christmas. It’s the time of the year that they hate the most. Hundreds of Christmas cards must be written. Relations we don’t like must be visited. People we don’t want to spend time with turn up at our houses.

There is an expectation that Christmas will be the best day of the year. Some people still retain the faith that they will experience the most wonderful day of the year. But how often are those expectations fulfilled? How often does Christmas turn out to be a disappointment or worse?

The truth is that Christmas is the most joyful day in history, because it brought with it better news than another day, but that day whenever it may have occurred is ruined by the way it is celebrated.

I am a rotten Christian. My theological training left me with a faith that is half belief and half doubt. I believe that faith is contrary to reason, because it involves believing that God is man, i.e. God is God and not God and that death is death and not death. Faith cannot be explained, nor can it be justified by reason. If we are to believe we must believe contrary to reason and contrary to science. But this is the only way to touch a truth that science and indeed reason is unaware of.

The moment of Christ’s birth is the moment where our world touched eternity. We had no real conception of God until he came into the world as one of us a mere human being. God was too distant in a place beyond space and time where we could not travel. But Jesus living amongst us meant that human beings could witness God and listen to him speak and watch what happened when he died.

Only by coming down to earth on Christmas day could God properly reveal himself to his creation. This is what is unique about the Christian message. By God becoming human he becomes one of us and someone we can understand. Jesus enables us to touch eternity and provides us the key to get there.

I cannot prove these ideas even to myself and I frequently doubt them as being too fantastic. We cannot understand miracles, but without miracles there is nothing important in the Christmas story, nor indeed in life.  

If you think that a person is merely a complicated animal, with no soul and governed by the laws of physics, then you reject freedom and also morality. You become Macbeth:


for, from this instant,

There's nothing serious in mortality:

All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;

The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees

Is left this vault to brag of.


You have not murdered Duncan, but you have murdered yourself. You will find nothing special about yourself, because there was nothing special about Jesus. You will be a mere human being and it won’t matter one little bit what you do or don’t do. The best you can hope for is pleasure, but even if you have a lifetime of pleasure it will be quite meaningless and without purpose. You may just as well have killed Duncan you would be no worse off. Enjoy the dregs.

What is miraculous is not that Jesus was born of a virgin, it would matter little if he wasn’t, but that he was born at all. God appeared in human form lived died, was buried but rose again. This is the whole message. This is the good news that has nothing to do with Christmas trees, Santa Claus or any of the tat we associate with Christmas.

What I hate about Christmas is how the most important event in human history has been debased by vulgarity and excess. Christmas ruins lives and this year will kill people because we are so obsessed with this one day that we can’t bear to give it up even for one year.

This is anti-Christian because Jesus was willing to give up his life to save every one of us. We on the other hand won’t give up our turkey and festivities even if it kills grandma. This isn’t Christmas. It is the opposite of Christmas.