american fascism: the christian right

Many people seem surprised that the Christian Right – which, by now, includes the Republican Party – claims to be the champions of morality while they themselves act in very immoral ways. For instance, I have seen countless comments calling out the Christian Right for its tendency to lie when it suits their purpose, even when those same Christian Right activists extol the virtues of the Ten Commandments, which include a prohibition on lying. The Christian Right is willing to use the mechanisms of democracy when it results in their desired policies being enacted, but they are willing to undermine those mechanisms when public sentiment is against them; compare the Christian Right’s petulant response to protests over the passage of Proposition 8 in California, to their constant attempts to slip anti-abortion legislation past the people of states who have constantly voted against such laws.

Those people who are surprised at this moral duplicity fail to recognize a core characteristic of the Christian Right. They see the word “Christian”, and hear the leaders of the Christian Right talk about the “Bible” and “Jesus”, and assume that they are sincere in their beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian Right uses the cover of Christianity, but it is not at heart a religious or theological movement. It is a social movement that seeks political power to enact a radical and reactionary social order, and it has learned that hiding its motives beneath the veil of religion serves its purposes.

The Christian Right is a fascist movement.

The term “fascism” has been so overused that its meaning has been diluted. Sometimes that overuse has been innocent, as when teenagers accuse mall security of being “fascists” for taking away their skateboards; other times, dilution and confusion are the intent, as when Republicans recently began charging President Obama with fascism, even as they charged him with being a socialist – two ideologies that are mutually hostile and utterly incompatible. This has led to a majority of Americans having a fundamental misunderstanding of fascism as a political movement; thus, they fail to see its characteristics, even when those characteristics should be blatantly obvious.

There have been many attempts to define fascism. One of the most well-known was penned by Umberto Eco in his essay, “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt”. I am going to list the features he identifies as characterizing the fascist:

  1. The cult of tradition
  2. The rejection of modernism
  3. Action for action’s sake
  4. Disagreement is treason
  5. Fear of difference
  6. Appeal to a frustrated middle class
  7. Nationalism, and obsession with a plot
  8. Humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy/life is permanent warfare
  10. Contempt for the weak
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero
  12. Will to power transferred to sexual matters
  13. Selective populism
  14. Newspeak

Each of these is characteristic of the Christian Right in America. There are other definitions of fascism, and the Christian Right meets their criteria as well.

There is much danger in invoking the legacy of Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini or Augusto Pinochet, all exemplars of fascism. One may be accused of violating Godwin’s Law. However, Godwin’s Law refers only to invalid use of those names or the specter of Nazism; when the comparison is valid, then it does not apply. Invoking Godwin won’t work here; the only thing that separates the Christian Right in America today from Nazism in 1930s Germany is the lack of a charismatic leader, and the Christian Right continues their search that person daily.

When that fundamentalist Hitler does appear, there may be no time to reflect on the warning signs that have been clear for decades, and which are now impossible to ignore. The Christian Right has enormous power in governments across the United States. It has infiltrated organizations from your local school board to the Department of Defense and every branch of the military. It exerts control over, if not outright ownership of, major corporations, including news and entertainment outlets. It has spent the last several decades building a parallel universe of fake universities and research institutions to give its policies the veneer of respectability.

Its dream is the same dream that motivated the Taliban to transform Afghanistan into a hell on earth, only with Jesus in place of Mohammed. The Christian Right is truly an American Taliban.

They recruit members through tactics perfected by religious cults. They have created a closed and self-reinforcing world – again, in the manner of cults – to prevent members of learning the truth about the nature of the movement with which they have become involved. The great majority of those who embrace the Christian Right for solace and comfort in a cruel world are not motivated by evil, nor do they desire to do evil to others, but that is the direction in which this movement is taking them. They see the world through the fantasy that their movement pushes on them, and use tactics ranging from projection to denial to refuse to accept what is actually stunningly obvious to them. Remember, the Germans never saw the death camps or smelled the odor of burning bodies, even as they lived right next door to them.

I intend to go through Eco’s list point by point and show how each applies to the Christian Right. I will also go through the lists of others and do the same. Fascism cannot survive the light of day; it works through subterfuge and deception, and examination is its enemy. My work will not bring an end to the movement itself, but perhaps it can reach individuals slipping into that night before it is too late, and maybe it can impress upon those already fighting the Christian Right that this fight is far more important than they might want to think.


netflix or piracy

I had to cancel my Netflix subscription while I was in the Army, but otherwise I have been a loyal and happy Netflix customer for years. I’ve loved the service, and recommended it to everyone I knew who loved movies. Netflix was one of those few companies that always seemed to do good and, when they made a mistake, to acknowledge it and make it right.

Recently, Netflix decided to upgrade their Watch Instantly feature. They replaced their old system with a new one based on Microsoft’s Silverlight browser plug-in. The good news is that this enables customers to watch movies in browsers other than Internet Explorer, including on Mac OS. The bad news is that it doesn’t really work.

I have never had any trouble watching video on my computer. I can watch streaming movies and television shows in high-definition at Hulu, YouTube, ABC.com, and other video sites. (That used to include Netflix as well.) I can watch video downloaded from iTunes.

Yet when I try to watch movies at Netflix now, I get an error: “Individualization error. Cannot play back protected (DRM) content,” with the error code 8156. This happens with every movie I try, in both Firefox and Internet Explorer (both of which are fully up-to-date).

This problem is not that uncommon, as far as I have been able to determine. A Google search turns up numerous references to this particular error, but always without any solution. Netflix customer support is no help; although the CSR did try a number of things, he eventually referred me to Microsoft. I am currently in the early stages of that process now, though I have already been informed that they will probably just refer me back to Netflix – the vicious circle.

And over and over on the web, you see the same complaint: that people have been loyal and happy Netflix customers for years, who have recommended the service to all their friends, and who have now had their experience ruined in a matter of days or weeks. Meanwhile, Netflix does not seem to care enough to address the problem seriously.

This is a failure on the part of Netflix: one, for failing to address this error in a fashion that shows a commitment to their customers, and two, for relying on an obscure piece of software from Microsoft, a company well-known for their half-assed approach to software development, but craven attention to detail when it comes to bending over for the movie and music industries.

This points to that perennial problem with Digital Rights Management. I pay for the Netflix service. I do not use P2P services or torrents. The only videos that I do not pay for are those ad-supported videos (at Hulu or ABC.com, for instance) that are offered for free. I have no software or hardware installed on my computer that could capture streaming video, protected or otherwise.

And I – and all those others – are the victims of DRM. We are actual customers who have paid for our products and services, and who cannot now use them because we are being caught in this DRM dragnet. Meanwhile, people who never pay for movies or television shows (or video games, for that matter) because they get them from BitTorrent or the Pirate Bay are completely unaffected. Anti-piracy measures never affect the real pirates; they only affect the people trying to be honest customers.

More and more, I feel like a sucker.

Why not just steal the content, if that is the only way that you can actually use it? Why not just steal it, when, after you pay for it, you are suddenly and without warrant branded a criminal by a poorly written piece of software? Here is a struggle for morality in the digital age: when morality results in getting, well, screwed, then the only option is immorality – or, maybe, it is time to reassess our definitions of morality. Maybe it is time to download, download, download, without sending a penny to the content providers who would otherwise take our money and run.

If these massive corporations, whose budgets compete with the gross national products of nation-states, want to treat those of us who would be customers as thieves, while doing nothing about the real thieves – other than suing single mothers for having a handful of songs in their shared folders – then why should we not all be thieves? For the last decade, the RIAA and MPAA have acted like criminal organizations, protection rackets shaking down the little guy – pay up, or else we’ll bust up the place – while using their lobbyists to convince uninformed or in-their-pocket legislators to pass clearly unconstitutional laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In England and New Zealand, content providers have strong-armed ISPs into dumping their customers on merely the accusation of “piracy”. These are not the actions of a legitimate business; these are the actions of a Digital Mafia.

In that context, are not the thieves the good guys?

Netflix, you don’t give refunds for partial months, but my subscription ends in just over a week. You’ve got that long to start treating me like a paying customer again, and not a thief. Otherwise, you will have one less customer, and BitTorrent may have one more user.



I’ve been thinking about mainstream religious believers.

My scorn is generally reserved for the extremist right-wing, which includes fundamentalist Christians. I could easily expand that to include extremists around the world, most especially those found in Muslim-dominated nations; however, fundamentalist Christians pose a far greater threat to the future of America, and thus attract more attention.

What about mainstream believers, though? How should I approach that belief system?

Mainstream religions are as false in their beliefs as fundamentalist variants. However, that could be said for many other beliefs, so it is not the “truth” of the belief system on which I must base my analysis. Rather, I am most concerned about the effect of these belief systems on the world, including other people, and, for the most part, mainstream religionists are of little concern to me.

In fact, as a recent study has shown, mainstream Christians at least are for the most part a very intelligent and open-minded group. These Christians belief that it is a person’s behavior that determines their moral quality, and not their professed allegiance to a particular god. Good people will get into Heaven when they die regardless of the particulars of their faith; to use an overused metaphor, but one which contrasts nicely with the fundamentalist viewpoint, they believe that many roads lead to god. Surprisingly, even atheists like me can get into Heaven if we are good people; again, it is not a loyalty oath that determines salvation, but how one behaves, particularly toward other people, as well as the sincerity of their beliefs.

For the record, I find a number of interesting ideas in Christianity. However, overall I find the religion a muddled mess. The same goes for other religions as well: the Quran reads like it was written by William S. Burroughs (only without as much anal sex). The Old Testament in particular is a hideously immoral book, filled with violence and intolerance that is not just condoned by Yahweh, but required by him. The New Testament is better, but only just: for all the faults of the Old Testament, it at least did not promise to condemn the unsaved to eternal torture in Hell; the kind and benevolent Jesus was the first to voice that idea. Thus, it is not just contradictory; its nature is schizophrenic, and its eventual fixation on apocalypse is unsettling and has done much damage to the world.

Mainstream Christians have largely abandoned those ideas; if they believe in Hell, then it is reserved for the true monsters of history like Adolf Hitler or Torquemada. They do not reject the real world in favor of fantasy; they accept the findings of science, and interpret their religious beliefs in the light of reality. That, by the way, was the historical approach taken by Christian theologians, with obvious and notable exceptions, until the development of fundamentalism in the late 19th century.

So long as religion remains a private matter, it seems to have a relatively benign effect on society. In those areas of the world, however, where religion plays an important role, it brings with a host of social ills. Murder rates are positively correlated with religious faith. Divorce rates, teen pregnancy rates, and school drop-out rates are higher in those parts of America which are more religious. So are poverty and infant mortality; so long as they survive to be born, the religious right doesn’t much care for children. Religion interferes with education and social programs; it even appears to have a negative effect on the economy.

In the end, a world without religion would be a boon for humankind. Those nations which have a reduced level of religiosity also have higher standards of living. However, atheism cannot be forced; any forced belief system leads to individuals seeking out the most absurd and damaging alternatives imaginable. The preferable goal must be freethinking. A secular America must be one in which individuals are attracted to the benefits of freethinking on its merits alone. They must see the value in education and knowing how the world really works. They must understand that others do not believe the same things or the same way that they do, and they must respect their right to do so.

That is why a confrontational approach toward the mainstream believer is the wrong approach. That risks pushing such individuals into the waiting arms of the right-wing, always ready to swell the ranks of its populist army. Confrontation must be reserved for the fundamentalists, the Christian fascists in our midst who would institute an oligarchic theocracy. The God Delusion and God Is Not Great are great tools to challenge them, to refute the absurdity and horror of their ideas, and, every so often, to attract the mainstream religionist who has begun to doubt, but they must not be used on the mainstream believer; that will ultimately do more harm than good.

Moreover, the very controversy that surrounded these books is a service to our cause, as are the atheist billboards that have caused such fury among the gentle and kind-hearted fundamentalists who cannot bear to have their beliefs questioned even a bit. They get people talking, and get the word out that there are alternatives to religious belief; that the blinders can come off; that there are people out there who think the way you do, and you are not alone. Moreover, they make the fundamentalists look like the intolerant, hateful, and closed-minded fantasists that they are.

Mainstream religion does not breed extremism; that finds its origin elsewhere. Nevertheless, the mainstream can feed the extremist ranks if better alternatives are not available. In a couple of decades, as the heirs to the Southern Strategy which created the Christian Right die off, the United States may recover from the dark night that has engulfed it lately; otherwise, this will become a third-world, fundamentalist memory of a once-great nation.



According to this story in Christianity Today, the Christian Right no longer wants to be known as the “Christian Right”. It seems that that term has taken on pejorative overtones. Who ever would have thought that?

Accordingly, the Christian Right is now trying to do what Phillip Morris did in 2003 and which Blackwater is doing right now: rebrand themselves with a more media-friendly name. Phillip Morris tried to hide from their cancer-peddling by renaming themselves Altria, and Blackwater is trying to hide from their murderous thuggery behind the ridiculous new moniker Xe. The Christian Right has chosen the phrase “socially conservative Christians”.

Yeah, that’s gonna work. Excuse me if I stick with the old terms until you’ve ruined the new one as well.

Although the article provides a forum for Christian Right spokesmen to voice their usual dissatisfaction, it doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the history of these terms. You see, this is only the most recent attempt by the Christian Right to rebrand itself. Today they may claim that the term “fundamentalist” is pejorative, but there was a time when they proudly embraced that term; it was only after America at large came to realize just what that term stood for that its negative connotations became obvious. The Christian Right no longer wants to be identified as the “Moral Majority”, either, though that was another, more recent rebranding attempt; in fact, it was one of their attempts to slough off the stench of “fundamentalist”.

Regardless of what new term they come up with, they will ruin it as well, because it is never the terms that give the movement its bad name, but what that movement stands for. “Socially conservative Christianity” nowadays stands for little more than hatred of others, wallowing in rank and willful ignorance, and ensuring that the privileges of the wealthy are protected at all costs. There is little Christianity left in the movement, for good or bad; indeed, it takes most of its doctrinal cues from the darker passages of the Old Testament, finding little to its liking in the New but its sadistic apocalyptic fantasies. What is left is all bad.

It may seem a bit Orwellian that the Christian Right is resorting to semantics to hide its core mendacity, but this is a movement that heartily embraced Big Brother’s methods. They have practiced long with their pet project, creationism. When creationists could no longer hide its religious nature, they rebranding it as “creation science”. When that didn’t work, they tried “intelligent design”. Nowadays, it’s all about the code words: “strengths and weaknesses” and “teach the controversy”. Regardless of how it is described, it is still the same package of mythology and lies.

And the same applies to the movement that embraces it. The Christian Right may use any combination of words it wants to try to present a more media-friendly face, but they will never truly lose the negative image until they renounce the very beliefs that produce that image. Until then, they remain “Christian fascists”, an “American Taliban”, and the “extreme Religious Right”.

In short, they remain the Christian Right.



Julio worked at McDonald’s for four and a half years. Fortunately, he was lucky enough to have recently attended one of President Obama’s town hall meetings. Julio asked Obama what he intended to do to help people like himself, who had tried to find other work, but were unable to do so. After his appearance, Julio has been offered at least two internships, and has become a minor celebrity.

Good for you, Julio! Now, President Obama, what about the rest of the people who work at McDonald’s?

It was disappointing that Obama’s response to Julio consisted of little more than platitudes. The minor celebrity that Julio has earned has helped to obscure the President’s non-answer to his question. The media story will focus on Julio’s “success” – he essentially won a lottery – and ignore the import of his question: what is to be done to help those who work at places like McDonald’s, or Walmart, or any other low-wage, no-benefit, dead-end job, and have no alternative?

I have personal experience of that, because, all told, I worked at McDonald’s for around ten years. Let that sink in a moment: TEN FUCKING YEARS!!! It was not because I was a bad worker, or that I did not have skills. After I got my degree, it most certainly was not that I was not qualified for a better job. It was because there was nothing else. The only places that were hiring were places like McDonald’s, or Burger King, or Walmart. For a time, I thought I had escaped when I got a job at a call center doing tech support; that turned out to be worse than McDonald’s (!) and I eventually returned to my former “career”.

And I was not, by then, some teenager working after school to earn some pocket money. It is a fantasy, largely concocted by Republicans and “Libertarians”, that the only people who work McJobs are teenagers on their way to something better. Sure, a large percentage of my restaurant’s staff was comprised of teenagers, but at least half were well beyond their teenage years. These older workers comprised the backbone of the restaurant. They – “we”, I should say – worked 40 hours or more each week, and kept the story from falling apart; running a McDonald’s is not as easy as those without such experience would like to think.

And for our services, we received almost nothing. We were still “part-time” employees; the only full-time employees at McDonald’s were management. We received no benefits like health insurance or retirement plans, and we had no job security; we could be fired at any time and for any reason. We were paid minimum wage plus whatever nickel and dime raises we had received over the years; when I did finally escape, I earned just over $7.00 an hour.

And I was one of the lucky ones, not just because I did eventually escape, but because I did not have a family to support. Many of my coworkers did, and, even if both parents worked, their combined incomes still fell short of the poverty line. Republicans like to preach about the rights of the “unborn”, but what about the effects of such a life on children who have been born? The Republicans – and their Democratic and Libertarian abettors - are silent on that.

So, back to you, President Obama. What do you intend to do to help people like Julio who don’t have the good fortune to appear on TV? Is that “nothing” I hear you muttering under your breath? Because, despite your promises of “change”, you are still a centrist Democrat who will stop at nothing to ensure that the needs of the corporate gangsters who run this country outweigh the needs of its citizens? Your non-answer to Julio was the sort of evasion I would have expected from your predecessor, and was not encouraging, to say the least.

President Obama, you have been in office for less than a month. In that time, you have done some remarkably good things. You have also disappointed me more than once. This was another example of the latter. If you really want to bring change to America, then you will defend the rights – indeed, the human dignity – of people like Julio who don’t win the celebrity lottery, and who continue to toil day after day, year and year, with nothing to show for it in the end.

You have to decide who is more important: Wall Street billionaires whining about $500,000 salary caps, or the vast bulk of the American citizenry who wouldn’t see that much money in 20 years of full-time work (even if corporate semantics deny that status). Because only one choice means that America will continue as a nation.

(Oh, and as I said above, I did eventually escape McDonald’s. I just had to join the Army in my thirties to do it.)

northern aggression

“What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression,” [Representative Bryan] Stevenson said, R-Webb City, referring what Southern states called the North’s attempt to end slavery in the 1860s.

The remark caused a sudden gasp heard throughout the House’s chamber.

What Stevenson was referring to was the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation that President Obama supports that would essentially repeal the Bush-era Federal Abortion Ban. Since the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that decriminalized abortion, the Religious Right has done everything they can to recriminalize the procedure. This has included some surprisingly sleazy tactics, including the murder of doctors who perform abortions, as well as outright subversion of the democratic process.

Although most would have considered Stevenson’s remarks merely exaggerated hyperbole, they actually constitute rather a profound Freudian slip. In case you are not familiar with the term, a Freudian slip is when subconscious forces cause the truth to slip out, despite one’s conscious attempt to suppress it. To Stevenson and those who think like him, the “war of northern aggression” remains a central part of their psychological dynamic and social agenda.

The modern Christian Right was born following the south’s loss at the end of the Civil War. It was a direct response to the abolition of slavery, which the south had defended on religious grounds for over 200 years. To southern Christians, slavery was mandated by God, and racial hatred had become central to their “theology”. In essence, this construed a heresy, and it was around this heresy that the fundamentalist movement – the backbone of the Christian Right – formed in the closing decades of the 19th century.

(Racism also played – and continues to play – a significant role in the fundamentalists’ rejection of evolution by natural selection; any theory that implied that the hated blacks were equivalent to whites was blasphemous.)

Conservatives suffered a second profound loss during the Civil Rights Movement, when the system of racial apartheid that had been constructed in the south collapsed. Suddenly, it became politically suicidal to express openly racist viewpoints. Of course, the fundamentalist social movement adapted in an Orwellian fashion, adopting the use of code words and “dog whistles” to signal the real meaning of its words to its supporters. The movement has even attempted to rewrite their role in the maintenance and defense of slavery and racism, stating that Christianity was “always” opposed to slavery and it was the hateful “Darwinists” who actually supported the practice – even hundreds of years before the theory was even published.

Today, the Christian Right and the Republican Party at large, which the fundamentalists have thoroughly infiltrated, target new groups for oppression: homosexuals, immigrants, and women. It is that latter group which is the real target of anti-abortion laws, since the Feminist Movement was as much an embarrassment to the Christian Right as was the Civil Rights Movement.

Fundamentalists and their Republican puppets do not care about children, “unborn” or otherwise. Abortion is merely a backdoor they can use to reassert reproductive control over women; once women’s bodies once again belong to them, then they can work on the rest of the woman’s life. To them, this is merely one step toward reinstating the antebellum southern ideal that has become their mythical Golden Age. The Civil War may have ended the 1865, but the conservative movement continues to fight it. Like all fundamentalists, they are hopelessly trapped in the past.


ponzo reads the bible - war on christmas special

It may piss off the Christians to hear this, but Christmas doesn’t have much to do with anything in the Bible. In fact, take away the nativity scene and the rest of the holiday comes from pretty much every European tradition except the Christian one. The Romans were exchanging gifts during Saturnalia long before the three wise men showed up at Jesus’ house (yes, house – we’ll get to that in a bit), and the only thing that the Bible has to say about Christmas trees is to condemn them.

As far as the birth of Christ thing, of the four books of the Bible that discuss the life of Jesus – the Gospels – only two of them talk about his birth. And, given the Bible’s track record so far, it should not surprise you to learn that even those two books disagree with each other.

This starts making sense when you accept the most important fact about Jesus: he did not exist. Jesus was merely the cooption of pagan resurrection god myths by a particular Jewish sect in search of their long-awaited messiah. This is fairly obvious when you compare the four Gospels. They mostly agree on the gist of things, but they disagree on the details, which is precisely what you would expect from oral traditions. Furthermore, when you compare that gist to other Mediterranean and Near Eastern religious traditions, you find that they track fairly well: Greek sects had their resurrection gods; Egyptian sects had their resurrection gods; and so forth. Everything Jesus did, some other god had done before him.

As for the date of Christmas – December 25th – well, that’s not Christian in origin either. In fact, the modern holiday season, whether represented by Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, is merely the modern version of the ancient celebration of the winter solstice – that time of year when the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer again. The Romans even celebrated the winter solstice on the same day that Christians would later celebrate Christmas, December 25th. A popular myth is that early Christians intentionally set the date of their holiday around the time of the Roman Saturnalia festival, so as to partake in the festivities without drawing attention to themselves. However, Christianity was little more than a local cult at that time, and it is unlikely that anything like Christmas had begun to develop so early in the religion’s existence.

The first hard evidence we have of the celebration of Christmas on December 25th does not occur until the year 354CE. It just so happens that that date was already in use by pagan Romans as the birth of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun”. Jesus has always had a sun god aspect, which is also in keeping with the other religions from which he is liberally borrowed, and which was especially obvious in early portrayals of him. As the Roman Empire transitioned from the Greco-Roman to the Christian religion, dies natalis Solis Invicti simply became Christmas, because the god celebrated was one and the same. And both gods, in this context, were simply symbolic representations of the solstice.

It has become something of a tradition that, around this time every year, we have to listen to the right-wing bitch and moan about the supposed “war on Christmas”. To any observer, however, Christmas is in no danger of disappearing. The truth is that Christmas has always been a secular holiday with religious overtones that change depending on the particular religious tradition of its observers. It is also true that the most rabidly religious groups are not the most fervent in their celebrations of Christmas, but in their attempts to suppress and ban them.

There is no “war on Christmas”. However, there is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian “war” on every other holiday that might be celebrated this time of year. What concerns the right-wing is not that their holiday might be taken away somehow, but that someone somewhere might not believe and practice in the same fashion that they do. The right-wing is threatened by any reminder that they do not possess undisputed cultural hegemony. Fundamentalist Christianity, with its inherent paranoia and delusions of persecution, makes the perfect foundation for a homegrown American proto-fascist movement, and that is precisely what it has become over the last few decades. Christmas, being an emotionally-charged topic among its followers, has been co-opted into a symbol of their supposed persecution at the hands of domestic enemies.

Also present is the right-wing embrace of anti-intellectualism, which has reached such an extent that the right-wing now seems proud of its ignorance. Its members are loathe to learn about the world, because, in learning, they might discover something that would make them question their beliefs; since they already know that they are right – because they believe they are right – then that new learning must be wrong, and, in trying to divert them off the “straight and narrow path” of their own egoism, intrinsically evil. Thus, they divide the world into neat boxes, but only two: fundamentalist Christian, and everything else. It is this anti-intellectualism, this fear of being wrong, that causes them to miss and dismiss the long history of the winter solstice as the ultimate multi-cultural celebration.

And it is this anti-intellectualism which leads them never to know that what they purport to celebrate as the birth of Jesus is not even true Biblically, for that fear of learning extends even to their own holy book, which they dare not actually read because they might be wrong.

As I mentioned above, only two of the four Gospels even mention the birth of Jesus. Those are Matthew and Luke, and they disagree with each other. The nativity scene, and the well-known story of Jesus’ birth, is a mishmash of both, taking the gaudiest bits of one and mixing it with the gaudiest bits of the other.

For example, the three wise men only appear in Matthew. Here they visit Jesus at his parents’ house in Bethlehem. The manger only appears in Luke, where Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem for the purposes of census (itself a dubious idea) and find all the inns to be full. Unfortunately, the three wise men are absent from Luke’s version. Thus, the three wise men come from Matthew, and the manger comes from Luke, with the discrepancies conveniently forgotten.

The shepherds only appear in Luke, where they are visited by the angel while guarding their flocks. This bit is also incorporated into the standard nativity story. However, shepherds don’t guard their flocks in the field in the middle of winter, not even in the Near East (where it is not perpetually hot). In other words, according to the Bible itself, Jesus could not have been born on December 25th. Given his role as a resurrection god, it is probable that he was initially identified with the vernal equinox, which marks the approach of spring; only when the myth incorporated the solar aspect was his birthday changed to the winter solstice.

Herod and his slaughter of the first-borns only appears in Matthew, and is a wild fiction. The contemporaneous Roman historian Josephus produced a detailed biography of Herod that makes no mention of such an event, nor does any other history produced at the time (and such an event would have drawn notice). Meanwhile, in Luke only, Joseph and Mary travel to the temple in Jerusalem after Jesus’ birth to offer thanks to Yahweh for his birth, but this is missing from the standard tale, which ends in a strange anticlimax (Jesus is born, and that’s that until Easter).

As I mentioned above, these disparate tales make sense if they are considered to be different versions of the same oral tradition. The other two Gospels, Mark and John, begin with Jesus already having started his ministry. In all versions of the myth, the death and resurrection is the important part (though, again, they differ on the details), but Matthew and Luke seek to emphasize the deific nature of Jesus, as well as his Hebrew lineage (this places him within the context of messianic Judaism).

The obvious question here is why a story sprang up that incorporated bits and pieces from each of two different versions of the same tale, without anyone noticing the discrepancies. I mean, couldn’t they read? Well, as it turns out, no, they couldn’t. Not only was most of the population of Europe illiterate until well into the modern age, but the Catholic Church also did its utmost to maintain strict control over how the religion was presented to its followers. Only members of the church were permitted to “interpret scripture”, and, even then, they had to interpret it within an established framework; to do otherwise was to risk being branded a heretic. With the traditional Christian penchant for the gaudy and saccharine, it is likely that the standard tale was the result of a new and underground kind of oral tradition, one for the common people in which Jesus may be born in the most lowly of states (a manger), but in which even the wise and the powerful recognize his superiority and eventual triumph. In that sense, the Christmas story becomes a pseudo-proletarian version of the resurrection god myth.

Meanwhile, as Christianity spread throughout pagan Europe, it incorporated the traditions of the locals so as to win their support. Thus, the Catholic Church incorporated its pantheon of saints, which appealed to the locals’ traditions of multiple gods with specific domains of power. Christmas, likewise, expanded from its origins in the Roman Saturnalia and Sol Invictus festivals and adopted local customs such as mistletoe, stockings on the fireplace, and the Christmas tree decorated in lights.

Ah, the Christmas tree! Here we find the ultimate irony of the “war on Christmas” kerfuffle, because this is, in fact, the only Christmas tradition that the Bible does mention:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10:2-4, emphasis mine)

Odd, isn’t it, how the Bible itself may be the biggest culprit in the “war on Christmas” of them all!

Cross-posted at Ponzo Reads the Bible.