Christmas Is Blasphemy: Put Mithra Back in Christmas!

mithra

Last year at this time, two very different religious leaders – one considered left of center, the other a fundamentalist preacher – converged in agreement about the meaninglessness of Christmas. They both concurred: except as a secular winter festival, Christmas is religiously meaningless.

On the left, Pope Francis called the Christian world’s upcoming Christmas celebration a “charade.” He said there’d be parties, gift exchanges, and family gatherings in the name of celebrating Jesus’ birth, but it would all be absurd pretense.

That’s what charade means: an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.

And the pope was right. Starting around Thanksgiving, so-called Christians pretend to honor “the Prince of Peace” – the one who took no one’s life, but sacrificed his own rather than take up arms — who was himself a political refugee – conceived out-of-wedlock – brown-skinned, poor, and living under imperial occupation – the one who would be a victim of torture and capital punishment – who was all the things that good Christian supporters of Donald Trump and of the U.S. War on Terror hate and despise.

That’s right. our culture despises Jesus and all he really stands for.

And that’s where the fundamentalist preacher comes in.  He agrees with the pope – well kind of.

About the same time Pope Francis was talking charade, Rev. Joshua Feuerstein, denounced Starbucks for hating Jesus. The good reverend was outraged by the coffee giant’s holiday cups which display no specific reference to Jesus. That’s a sign, Feuerstein said, that Starbucks agrees with the movement to remove Christ from Christmas. Starbucks hates Jesus. So let’s boycott Starbucks!

On the one hand, could anything be more absurd? The world is burning. Our way of life is destroying God’s creation. Our country is waging war against the poor everywhere – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia . . . We supply weapons to all sides in the endless war our “leaders” have declared. And our man was worried about Starbucks’ drinking cup! He denounced Starbucks for simply recognizing what is: Jesus has long since been removed from Christmas.

On the other hand, there was wisdom in Rev. Feuerstein’s accusations. And it’s not just Starbucks that “hates Jesus;” it’s our entire culture – including our churches. In that sense, Feuerstein agrees with Francis. However, hating Jesus has nothing to do with coffee cups. As I said, it means despising those Jesus identified with in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) – the poor immigrant refugee from our endless bombing campaigns, the hungry street person, the homeless beggar, the imprisoned desperado, the coatless person we pass on our way into Starbucks.

So what to do to avoid making this Christmas an empty charade?

We can start by recognizing that Christmas is a winter festival and nothing more. Every culture has them. They are times for ice sculptures, bright lights, reunions with family, for feasting, drinking, parties and exchanges of gifts. All of that distracts us from the oncoming season’s dark and cold – and from our destruction of God’s planet.

That’s the way it was in ancient Rome too. Rome had its Saturnalia. In fact, December 25th was the birthday of the Sun God, Mithra, who was a favorite with Roman legionnaires. In that sense, Mithra’s birthday was a military holiday – a celebration of empire and its wars. Our militarized culture should be at home with that.

So let’s end the charade. Have fun.  Eat, drink, and be merry. That’s what winter festivals are about. But forget the blasphemy of associating Jesus with any of it.

Raise your Starbuck’s cup and toast a happy feast of Mithra!

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

10 thoughts on “Christmas Is Blasphemy: Put Mithra Back in Christmas!”

  1. Makes me think of Tom Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ. It turns out that all the stories told about Jesus were in existence hundreds of years before he lived, down to the smallest details recorded in the Bible. Carl Jung would not be surprised by the pre-existence of these archetypal stories of the Divine Hero made flesh. Of course the truth of this historical basis in no way impugns the value of Jesus and his precious teachings, but only puts them in a deeper context.

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  2. Mike – You are in the Cassandra position; most people cannot understand you because your life experience and developed thinking and consciousness are so far ahead of where they are. I sometimes forget that when I try to share concepts and perceptions that seem obvious to me, they may be anything but to those I am talking with.

    When I use the words Sufi, Gurdjieff, Zen, AA, Quakers and others – they stand for years of study and practice and gradual understanding on my part. There is no way to quickly bring someone else onboard with the understandings I have striven to acquire over a lifetime of spiritual search. This gap between those of us who have done this long work and those who have not is one of the real obstacles to a much needed general awakening in a significant number of our fellow Beings.

    When you play the Mithra card, I am immediately on board and understanding the truth of what you are sharing. But how many of those who have even found their way to your blog are completely thrown off balance and confused by this unfamiliar reference thrown into their homegrown Catholicism?

    It is true that people need shocks to their familiar business as usual state of mind: but how to deliver these shocks so that they result in moments of new understanding remains a problem in our continuing efforts to awaken the sleeping public. Some openness to being shocked by new information would seem to be an essential prerequisite to being transformed by it. How to attract those with this openness seems to be a crucial hurdle on the way to the better world we dream of….

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  3. I really wonder how many hits this blog is getting? Did everyone just turn away? Is there a silent crowd out there? It would be nice to hear what folks think about these provocative essays of Mike’s. It would even be fine if someone would speak up and tell us we are full of it, and offer a totally divergent view from what is put forth here. We need to have a conversation about these issues – otherwise all this possible wisdom just evaporates in an ominous silence….

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  4. Excellent Mike….the Mithra stuff was all part of a get-to-know-plan…just trying to break us in to the the cosmic miracle…and we havent begun yet. We are still in battle mode … hate your brother more than yourself. And urinate on the enemy on behalf of our way of life…our principles!
    JC

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  5. Very briefly Mike, on something I, and indeed many of us know little about.
    Recently on Rohr you would have seen a post re a reference to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, where if there is a god he has to be there. We goofy (Hebrew word) Catholics call all these Egyptian, Orientals, Ancients and one-eyed Jacks – Pagans. Pagans!!!! Who made up that tag.
    Even brother Francis is beginning to show his clean teeth.
    Close to ‘closing time’.
    When we all reflect.
    Mike. like me we are all stumbling around a quagmire.
    So, I guess was the sword carrying god of the Romans Legions.
    Wich gave space to the Cross.
    And yet you had him/her on the masthead of your blog.
    My guess Mike is you know more about what confuses us than I – and many others.
    As a race we need to stop pissing on people.
    Urinating is a dirty word.
    (Funnily I believe the only Hope is in the getting-fired-up US of A.)
    Jim
    Class of ’62

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  6. Well meant shocks to people’s religious consciousness are not meant cruelly or simply to piss on another’s being. Such shocks are delivered in the hope of awakening some glimmer of light within the shockee. That these gestures often result in their intended target doubling down on their defensive attachment to questionable religious beliefs is an unfortunate reality. But the occasional positive response of a few to being jogged in their spirituality, leads the ones putting out these shocking ideas to continue doing so, in spite of so many having ears but being unable to hear.

    Although it seems rude to shake someone roughly to wake them up, what is one to do when the house is on fire?

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  7. The problem is that those who jump to the conclusion that they are being pisssed on when someone has simply put out some ideas for their consideration, are probably those who have never learned to question their own beliefs, or be open to other ways of thinking about an important figure like Jesus. Many are similarly touchy when questions about race, sexuality, politics, militarism, etc are raised. They seem to think that the degree to which they get pissed about someone else’s ideas automatically invalidates those ideas without any further consideration.

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  8. Sorry when Mike I use the word urinate it is the image for ever in my mind of the 5 well hung marines standing over the bodies Iraqi dead mutilated rebels. The new banner for Blow back. This was my intention.
    It originated I think in the ‘love your neighbor’ law as expressed in Islam…thou shall not urinate on the tent of the man next ‘door’. This I believe is the one and only commandment Jesus left us.
    Sorry Mike I was not clearer. I knew where you were coming from. Amen.
    Regards to all. Cash

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