Recently two very different religious leaders -- one considered left of center, and the other a fundamentalist -- converged in agreement about the meaninglessness of Christmas. And they both hit the nail on the head. Christmas is bunk. It's blasphemous to associate Jesus with the holiday.
From 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 is 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 -- the one 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 hates 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 is worried about Starbucks' plain red drinking cup! He denounces Starbucks for simply recognizing what is: Jesus has long since been removed from Christmas.
On the other hand, there's 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 refugee, the imprisoned desperado, the coatless person we pass on our way into Starbucks.
That's the one our culture hates -- mostly led by "Christians."
So what to do to avoid making this Christmas an empty charade? How avoid the blasphemy of pretending that Christmas has anything at all to do with Jesus?
I hardly know how to answer that question. I suppose we can start by recognizing that Christmas is a winter festival and nothing more.
But that's not nothing. Winter festivals are great. They're fun. 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.
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 -- the antithesis of everything Jesus stood for.
So let's end the charade. Have fun. Eat, drink, and be merry. That's what winter festivals are about. And forget the blasphemy of associating Jesus with any of it.
Raise your red cup and toast a happy feast of Mithra! Here's to war, guns, bombs, drones and empire. That's what most "Americans" really worship.