Thursday, December 26, 2013

There's Something About Christmas

They say there are two topics you shouldn’t talk about at the dinner table - religion and politics - because people are very passionate them and would defend their positions and views on these subjects vehemently. That being said, I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and talk about religion – Christianity to be precise.

A friend posted a comment on Facebook about Christmas that inspired this entry. The gist of his post was that Christmas, which Christians celebrate December 25th, has its origin in the Pagan festival commemorating the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun. Needless to say, most comments on his post weren’t in support of his view.

Incidentally, a few days to Christmas, a radio show host asked listeners if Christmas should be celebrated and whether the Bible should be completely accepted as the sole authority on Christianity. Most listeners were pretty upset about the question and had no scruples about letting him know it. Some said he shouldn’t even entertain the thought, let alone voice it.

These kinds of statements never cease to baffle me.

Why can’t we question religion or the origins of the Holy book or the Holy book itself? If the Bible was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, then there’s bound to be some margins of error. After all, to err is human, right? If we believe the Bible is 100% accurate, as some people do, then why don’t we follow it to the letter? Since the Bible is based on the zeitgeist of the era in which it was written, some of the texts are antiquated, oppressive and untenable in present day, which is the reason adherents of the faith cherry-pick what part of their faith-based book to accept and what parts to ignore.

Growing up, I recall being told it was wrong to criticize errant priests because they’re God’s representatives on earth. At the time, even in my childish state of mind, I thought it odd not to criticize priests; as an adult, I think it’s downright dangerous and absurd not to do so. It’s this kind of thinking that makes “Men of God” forget they’re mere mortals at the service of their congregants. It’s this type of thinking that makes them abuse their powers and shield crimes being committed in the House of God, or in the name of God.

Let’s not forget that these Men of God are human beings, and like all humans, they are bound to make mistakes. Hence, the idea that whatever proceeds from their mouths should be accepted wholesale, with no questions asked, reeks of recklessness and intellectual laziness.

The eminent astronomer, Galileo, was berated by the Church for daring to challenge her views on the Universe. He rightfully stated that the Earth revolved around the Sun, but Church officials were having none of it and rebuffed his scientific findings. Eventually, they convicted him of heresy, handed down a life sentence and consigned him to his house, where he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

We can all agree the Church’s stance can be wrong, as it was in the case of Galileo, so if we were asked about the use of contraceptives, divorce, homosexuality or abortion, where would we stand? Should we challenge the Church’s views on these issues or let sleeping dogs lie?

Now back to the origin of Christmas. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is Christmas supplanted a pagan festival; same as Easter. In the Roman Empire, before Christianity was adopted, they celebrated the festival of Saturnalia which was characterized by feasting and gift-giving (this is pretty much what pertains on Christmas day.) Scholars surmise that when the Roman Empire finally adopted Christianity, the birth of Christ was celebrated on the last day of the Saturnalia festivities in a bid to weaken the roots of the pagan tradition.

If we accept the veracity of Christmas carols, then we have to grapple with this anomaly: Sheep don’t graze in winter, so how could shepherds have been watching their flock by night in the dead of winter?

For what it’s worth, it’s healthy to debate the tenets of religion and question our faith. How else would we grow if not by engaging in intellectual jousting? Moreover, I don’t care if Christmas is celebrated on the 1st of February or 28th of September, because the date doesn't matter. Besides, I’m certain Emmanuel wouldn’t care when we celebrated it either. What I think would matter to Him (and should matter to us) is that we embody the Spirit of the Season (whenever it may be) all year round, which means taking the first step where love doesn’t exist and giving love away only so we can find it.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rest in Peace, Mandela...

   …and a dove has been freed from its cage.  
Photo: Corbis
Mandela will remain etched in our collective memory as a symbol of persistence, tolerance and peace.  

Born in a country where he was considered a second class citizen by the white minority; a land where he and many others like him were robbed of human dignity; a place that would rob him of 27 years of his life, it’s a wonder he still had love for the people and the country that had treated him terribly for 71 years.

If he’d left jail with a vindictive heart, no one would have faulted him for feeling that way. If he’d decided to rule South Africa until his death, many people would have supported his claim to the throne since he sacrificed his life for his people and country. But being the man Mandela was, he didn't let his ego get the best of him. Instead, he chose a path only few of us would follow considering the enormous adversity he encountered.

Mandela: Paragon of Unity and Tolerance

Mandela is revered because he brought a bitterly divided country together. He didn't demonize the white minority or his transgressors, but worked at ensuring equality for all. Essentially, he envisioned South Africa as a nation that could rise from its dark past and become a paragon of tolerance.

A quote by Tony Robbins reads, “Everybody's life is either a warning or an example. You've got to decide what you're gonna be and you have to draw a line in the sand”. There’s no doubt about the choice Mandela made regarding his life which is an example to be followed by all of us, especially our politicians and leaders. We need to focus our energy on fighting for collective rights rather than personal interests; for equality between races and sexes rather than dwelling on our differences, because we’re more alike than unalike.

As the world pays tribute to a hero, it’s my prayer that we, with special reference to world leaders, reflect on the life he led and strive to emulate him in his actions. We need to remember that - to quote Mandela - it’s in our hands to create a better world for all who live in it.

Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela…