I believe in Charles Dickens’s version of Christmas

It is a fine thing.


Even if irrelevant in various obvious details to a steaming hot summer in 21st century Australia! But people try, as the following picture in Mount Keira Road this morning shows.


See also When did we start saying ‘Merry Christmas’?

There are references to ‘mery’ Christmas from the 1500s and the carol God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen was first published in 1833. But the two key events which established Merry Christmas as one of the most commonly used expressions in the English language both occurred in 1843.

The first was the publication of a commercially produced Christmas card with slogan ‘Merry Christmas’. Exchanging cards became one of the ‘new traditions’ of Christmas introduced by the Victorians and Merry Christmas was the default message.

But it was the publication of CharlesDickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ on December 17, 1843, which really established ‘Merry Christmas’ as the universal greeting. In this and other respects Dickens can be said to have invented the modern, secular Christmas festival.

The people at Lakemba Mosque have been given the good oil (commonly called a fatwa) by a resident scholar on all this: Don’t. I’ll leave it to Keysar Trad, who looks more reasonable as time goes on, to say the obvious.

A community advocate and Muslim convert, Rebecca Kay, told Fairfax Media: "It’s sad to see the Lebanese Muslim Association, which considers itself the peak body representing Australian Muslims, with comments like these. It goes to show how far they are from representing the community.

"The notion that Muslims wishing other people a merry Christmas will take them out of their faith is outright ridiculous, laughable and borders on the extreme."

Keysar Trad, a former official with the Lebanese Muslim Association, said in his time with the organisation they used to regularly greet people with merry Christmas. "I don’t know what has changed," he said. "But now as a representative of Australia’s peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, I would like to wish all your readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year."

I am far from sure what purpose was served by the original fatwa, as Muslims quite clearly regard the birth of Jesus differently from Christians. Do they really need to be told that? On the other hand, some appear better able to live in a pluralistic society than others. The ones I have quoted are not a problem and do not have a problem. I do wonder why the Sun-Herald thought the story merited a front page.

Meanwhile the Pope is saying really stupid things about GLBT people.

Pope Benedict has used the beginning of the Christmas period to ramp up his assault on gay marriage, stating that the very foundations of the family were threatened by same sex partnerships.

In his annual Christmas address to Vatican officials – one of the most important speeches of the year – he decried moves to allow same sex couples to marry and indicated that the Vatican would be willing to forge an alliance with those faiths who are also opposed to equal marriage rights…

In the speech, the Pope also denounced what he described as people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”

Franco Grillini, a prominent spokesman for Italy’s gay community, called the Pope’s words “great foolishness,” adding: “Where gay marriage has been approved, there has been no consequence on heterosexual marriage.”

This idea — people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process – shows complete failure to understand what it is to actually be GLBT and caps it with a denigration that to me denies the true humanity of GLBT people.  And a Merry Christmas to you too, Benedict!

God save us from all who pretend to believe or sincerely believe that they really really know the mind of God. As I have said quite often in the past ten years and more, one thing I am sure of is that there are NO infallible “authorities” on God, and God has never written a book… Or dictated one…

As a matter of fact, speaking of Christmas…

  1. Interpretive Gymnastics: A look at the problem of Quirinius ‘ census
  2. P. Sulpicius Quirinius
  3. On Herod and Quirinius
  4. The Historical Jesus
  5. Seven Golden Rules for Christian Theologians concerning the Old Testament and Its Relationship to the New Testament

A quick quote from #4:

“If one wishes to understand the historical Jesus and early Christianity one must understand first century Judaism. During this historic era the Roman occupiers of the land were particularly oppressive and there was much opposition to them particularly in the Galilee.”
(Rabbi Moshe Reiss, PhD.)

Not much is known about the historical Jesus since nothing was written down by him or about him during his lifetime. It is believed that he was born around 4 BCE and died in 30 CE.  He was a Jew, born probably in Nazareth in Galilee and he probably had brothers and sisters. According to scholars such as Rabbi Moshe Reiss, quoted above, it is very likely that “He had a typical Galilean Jewish education including studying the Hebrew Bible, the traditions of the people after the biblical period and he undoubtedly went to synagogue. One can safely assume his family as religious Jews kept the commandments; dietary laws, circumcision, tithing, laws of purity and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Jesus dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew, taught and argued in parables like a Jewish Rabbi and was crucified as were many first century Jewish radicals.

And from #5:

Historical criticism has effectively undermined the validity of the great majority of Old Testament citations by the authors of the New Testament; indeed, it is seldom possible even to imagine that Old Testament writers can have had in mind the persons and events that New Testament writers claimed they did. The oft-proposed thesis that this issue cannot be resolved either negatively or positively does not hold. The long and short of it is that New Testament authors have systematically mistaken or distorted the meaning of Old Testament texts in the service of polemical and doctrinal agendas. Matthew’s five citations of prophecy in his nativity account are among the best-known examples of the practice, and perhaps the most comically inapposite. In the interest of honesty and better communication with the public, academic theology needs to demonstrate the same kind and degree of intellectual honesty that long ago led natural science to disavow the Ptolemaic world picture.