While coping valiantly with COVID, the beleaguered world is also busy planning New Year and Christmas celebrations. However, there are several controversies surrounding the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christmas as we know it today.
Ironically we celebrate Christ’s birthday, without knowing the date of His birth for sure. The Holy Bible is silent about the timing of His birth and there are no other historical documents on this subject either. All that Biblical gospels of Luke and Matthew tell us is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea to a virgin called Mary and His birth was caused by “divine intervention”, without a biological father. Interestingly, the date and the time of His birth are surprisingly missing.
What we ‘know’ in this respect is a result of an arbitrary decision or at best, only a guess. The date (December 25) was randomly fixed by an enterprising Pope. It was in the late 330s AD, that Pope Julius 1 had declared: “December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea”, despite the fact that the Bible is silent on his date of birth. In fact, there is a massive debate in the Christian community that it is entirely possible that Jesus was born in September and not December. One theory that has been often spoken off as the reason for declaring December 25th as ‘Christmas’ is that Pope Julius saw the date coincided with the winter solstice and the Jewish Hannukah, which were already times of celebration, so let the festivities be enhanced during this period.
For over three hundred years after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, there were no birthday celebrations for Him. Easter was the main holiday for Christians. The Christmas celebrations started in Rome, about 336 CE, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine.
In fact, one could argue that the date was picked up cleverly. It coincided with the celebrations of Saturnalia- an ancient Roman festival in honour of God Saturn, held on December 17 of the Julian calendar, and later expanded with festivities through to December 23. With this clever move, Pope Julius managed to subsume an important pagan festival into Christianity. Today there is no trace of pre-Christianity pagan traditions in most of Europe.
It is pertinent to note that Pope Julius l decision to steal a pagan event and re-launch it under a Christian brand didn’t go well with a large section of devout Christians. There were instances, when Christian authorities put a stop to Christmas celebrations.
In 1659, the Massachusetts Bay colony banned Christmas, as in subject to criminal prosecution and a fine of five shillings (now, about $ 8000) as part of its efforts to “reform” and ‘Purify’ the church by purging it of the idolatry and ceremonial excesses. Earlier, in the 1640s, England underwent a revolution that drove king Charles I from his throne (and ultimately to the headman’s block) and established a Puritan Commonwealth. Among the ruling of new Parliament was the decree in 1644 that December 25 would thereafter be a day of “fasting and humiliation” and that anyone caught celebrating would be charged with an offence and fined.
Not just the appropriation of a pre-Christianity pagan festival, the Church has committed many crimes
The Catholic Church’s sordid record is not confined to fudging details of Jesus’s birthday. In 1466, Catholic church Pope Paul ll forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. “They ran amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the ‘Holy father’ stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily”, it is said.
In the book, Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust by R. Michael, the persecution of Jews in the name of Christ is described in painful details. Here is an excerpt:
As part of the carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in 1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.” On December 25, 1881, Christian leaders whipped the Polish masses into Anti-Semitic frenzies that led to riots across the country.
In Warsaw 12 Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed, and many Jewish women were raped. Two million rubles worth of property was destroyed. The subsequent emergence of Hitler prior to the Second World War as a devil in Europe, responsible for the genocide of Jews, was after all not in a vacuum. The Church had surely contributed to creating an anti-Jew mindset over the centuries.
Not just the persecution of Jews, but the Church and its clergy has been mired in controversy ever since. It is not just today that we see Bishops being arrested for sexual abuse or accusations of nuns being ‘pimped out’ and priests having sex parties have emerged.
Pope Honorius I (625-638) was condemned and excommunicated for heresy by the sixth general council in 680 AD. Stephen VI (896-89) had the body of his predecessor Pope Formosus exhumed and put on trial (this is the famous cadaver synod) for his unbecoming conduct during his tenure. Stephen had Formosa’s papal vestments removed and two fingers from his right hand cut off. Formosa’s’ body was thrown into the Tiber. After the synod, public opinion turned against Stephen. He was deposed in an uprising and strangled to death.
Then there was John XII (955-964) who died a mysterious death, after having been accused of adultery and turning his pontification into a whore house. However, John XII had more than his match in Benedict IX to the only man to have served as Pope for three discontinuous periods, beginning 1032. Pope Victor III described Pope Benedict and his deeds in these words, “his rapes, murders and other unspeakable acts…. his life as a Pope so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”
What Boniface VIII (1294-1303) did during his nine-year tenure as a Pope, brought under focus the extortionist face of the Church. He released one of the most important papal bulls of catholic History. Unam Sanctum. It declared that both spiritual and temporal power were under the pope’s jurisdiction and those kings were subordinate to the age of the Church.
Despite the fact that there is no Biblical proof of 25th December being the date of birth of Christ, that we know Christmas itself is an appropriation of Pagan holiday of Saturnalia, that Jews were persecuted in Christmas carnivals and that the Church itself has been tarnished by sex scandals, Christmas is celebrated with pomp and fair by Christians, and even non-Christians, without a shadow of doubt or questions asked.
As a Hindu, I feel hurt. Here is why
I don’t really fell hurt because we celebrate Christmas. Those of us who want to, are welcome to do so. Any occasion or pretext that brings hope or cheer to life, in these difficult times, is worth holding on to. But what hurts me is that the same consideration is conspicuously absent in the case of my faith. I am asked to provide proof about Lord Rama or Lord Krishna’s birthplace or their very existence, or the rationale of my beliefs, traditions, rituals and religious practices. I am even denied my history, my roots. I am denied historical facts that invaders murdered, raped and enslaved Hindus, driven by religious frenzy.
Most of my festivals are systematically demonised and sought to be painted as social evils. Diwali is noise and air pollution. Holi is wastage of water and hooliganism. Milk offered to Lord Shiva on Shivratri is squandering of precious nutrition because of pagan ignorance, sustained by blind faith and superstition, and so on.
This smear campaign, against the traditions which define timeless Indian ethos and spiritual underpinning, is not run by some random characters. There is a well-oiled machine, funded and inspired by alien creeds and forces (with hired local help) that has been working systematically for over a century to destroy the very foundations on which the edifice of plural, secular and democratic India rests.
Recall 2007. The Government of India (remote-controlled at that time, by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, a born Christian) filed an affidavit on the Sethusamudram project in the Supreme Court claiming there was no historical or scientific evidence to establish the existence of Lord Rama and Ram Setu. In the Ram Janmabhoomi case, questions were asked about Ram’s existence and evidence to prove the location of His birthplace in Ayodhya.
Repeated assertions were made claiming that Lord Rama was merely a myth. If Ram is a myth, then so is India. Because without Lord Rama and Krishna and their message, there can’t be any India. It was indeed a cunning and devious move, aimed at taking out Indianness from within India. Minus its spiritual content, India is an empty shell, devoid of its spiritual content.
However, fearing a huge public backlash, the then Government, subsequently withdrew the affidavit. But why am I put to such obnoxious tests repeatedly? How do I prove the existence of Lord Rama in a Court of Law? Or the place of His birth? Or that of Lord Krishna? Or antiquity of Vedas? Are the Courts even competent to deal with such issues? I am glad no such ridiculous questions are asked about either the Christ or celebrations connected with His ‘birthday’.
Perhaps, Christmas could serve as a time to reflect
It’s Christmas season. Many of us will join the holy Christmas mass in a church of our denomination or choice. It’s time to introspect and reflect on all that has been done or is being done by the Church in Jesus’s name. However, there is much to talk about other than the festivities and there is much to rectify.
According to available information, in the US, over 22 million turkeys are killed each year at Christmas alone, and 10 million in the UK. Turkeys for Christmas dinner are raised through a large scale industrialised process at a heavy cost to the environment. While we sing corals for the Lord, millions of hapless turkeys have been forced to go under a butcher’s knife. No questions are asked.
No campaigns are run to save these poor, hapless animals. Is it not time to reflect?
According to the US Agriculture Department, over 1.50 crores Christmas trees were cut down in 2017. This horrendous figure is only for the US. One can imagine the havoc this obsession with Christmas trees must be causing to the environment worldwide.
In many parts of the world, Christmas trees are just not available. Church enthusiasts replace them with artificial look-alike, manufactured from assorted materials like wood, plastic, paper and synthetic stuff. While such ‘trees’ look dazzling in the glitz of malls and showrooms, their disposal as trash is a big environmental concern.
No questions are asked. No campaigns are run to save the environment. Is it not time to reflect?
Millions of innocents were burnt alive at stakes, tortured or hanged by the Church after having been declared `heretics’ during Inquisition, or accused of witchcraft or heresy. Nearer home, thousands of Hindus and Muslims were persecuted, maimed killed, forced to convert to Christianity or flee, after Francis Xavier landed in Goa on May 6, 1542.
No questions are asked. No campaigns are run for reparations and apologies from the Church. Is it not time to reflect?
Before the church moved in, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand had a thriving rich culture. The church, through its campaigns, destroyed an infinite number of aboriginals and their culture. An endless number of Dalits in India and blacks in the US were cheated of their original identity, faith and traditions by the church on a false promise offering them dignity and equality in the new faith.
No questions are asked. No campaigns are run for reparations and apologies from the Church. Is it not time to reflect?
Gospels, parables, fables and legends describe Jesus as a spiritual leader who was unassuming, simple and unpretentious. He was forgiving, full of love and compassion. But sadly His birthday celebrations include violence against nature (killing of turkeys and felling of Christmas trees) and over centuries, have become synonymous with opulence, vulgar display of wealth by the rich, lavish dinners and decorations. All this is surely not in conformity with the teachings of Jesus. It is a gross injustice to the values, He lived and died for.
Is it not time to reflect?