Friday, December 16, 2005


The War Against Christmas, Paul Mirecki and Joseph Campbell

The debate over retailers and others reportedly preventing employees from saying, "Merry Christmas" reaches new heights this year. Paul Mirecki, religious studies professor, attained notoriety in announcing his intentions to teach a class that repudiates Intelligent Design theory.

Much debate centers around whether or not there really is a "War Against Christmas." Katrina Vanden Huevel at The Nation thinks there isn't and if there were it wouldn't matter. Michelle Malkin thinks there is. One link shows how the USPS no longer offers religious themed stamps. I agree with Malkin and believe the interpretation of this ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ..." has gone far beyond the intent. There is a tremendous difference between making no law and making a postage stamp. But that's not what this post is really about.

Joseph Campbell studied and wrote about the purpose and function of myth in cultures and societies. While not being well versed in Campbell's works, I read Myths to Live By years ago, I believe that Campbell's work ties all this together. Campbell believed that myths were essential to individuals and cultures. Part of the description of Myths to Live By, at the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, says this:
...we must recognize their (myths) common denominators and allow this knowledge to be of use in fulfilling human potential everywhere.
From Wikipedia
He began to look paradoxically at moral systems as both incorrect and necessary. Like the postmodern relativists he believed such things as 'right' and 'wrong' are just contrived ideas, but also like them he understood a moral system is necessary from the perspective of a student of mythology and psychology. In this way he melded also the concepts of modernism and postmodernism, although some interpretations place him as a postmodernist before his time.
I find this fascinating. While all this religion stuff maybe "incorrect," it is necessary. Most people probably understand this and believe this on some level although, I believe, at a mostly subconscious level. This explains the strength and vigor of the reaction to attempts to limit the use of the word "Christmas" and other such actions against Christianity in this country. These actions are a threat to the health and success of our culture.

No doubt many will quickly disagree with me. People such as Robert Jensen consider our society and culture evil and not deserving of perpetuation. Others think that modern man has, or should, rise above such things as myths. The work "myth" is more often used in the negative as shown by Huevel in her column.
So complete is their martyrdom-like passion for this myth that you'd think we lived in a time when Christians were regularly being fed to Coliseum lions.
One, of many, things I can't fully understand about modern man (mostly Americans in this case) is how they feel they should somehow be immune or free from the laws of nature and any constraints however necessary for the survival of the individual and a society.

Watching the lack of preparedness for hurricanes and the slow poor rescue and relief efforts combined with the huge public outcry impressed upon me that many think that, somehow, because we have better technology, better communication, better education, or whatever we should be able to take a hurricane in stride with no more inconvenience than a maybe a bad thunderstorm. Yes, the preparation, relief and rescue were poor but much of the outcry did not seem to be well grounded in reality.

In the same vein, many think that we, as a society, should be able to discard religion, etc. as easily as we shed a winter coat in the spring. But to carelessly discard the myths that our culture and society is built around can be a very risky business. No society has survived for long without its myths in place. Those who are resisting the "War Against Christmas" and most likely feel very real threats.

A story a religious studies professor told in a class I took:
A tribe worshipped watermelons and forbade that they be eaten. One year an outsider came and saw all the watermelons being grown but not eaten. Thinking this stupid, he promptly took a watermelon, cut it open and began eating it to show the natives that watermelons were simple a food. The outraged natives killed the man immediately.

Later, another outsider visited the tribe and saw all the watermelons. He asked about them and learned of the watermelons' religious significance. Believing that watermelons are good to eat but understanding the religious importance, he created a complex religious "ritual" which he showed to the natives and told them that if they performed that ritual when the watermelons were ripe that it was good to eat the watermelons. The natives performed the ritual, ate the watermelons and declared the man to be a great prophet.
Deep in our psyches we are not far removed from the ancients and pre-historic man. One should always remember this.

BTW - Paul Mirecki is not getting much support from the other religious studies faculty at Kansas University.

Interesting to note attempts to change mythos and ethos, e.g.:" [I]t is possible to recognize, right down to the choice of words, what was true of many elements of the National Socialist Christmas: the formal adoption of Christian ritual combined with a complete change in content.
None of these carefully coordinated contributions made any reference to the purely Christian elements of Christmas. Indeed, starting with the language and going on to customs and ideological content, they were all systematically replaced. Christmas carols taken from hymn books turned up with the familiar tunes, but National Socialist texts; in place of the Christmas chapters from the Gospels, 'German fairy-tales' were offered for reading aloud to convey German mythology...and the Christ Child turned up under the name of the 'Child of Light.' "
(Christmas Under the Third Reich
By Esther Gajek
Anthropology Today, Vol. 6, No. 4. (Aug., 1990), pp. 4-5)

Similarly, people are not going to stop believing in "mythic reasoning," once the old is supposedly gotten rid of, instead they will exchange for something new.
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