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The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas

It is that time of year again!

The idea that typical Christmas traditions – like Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, or even its date – all somehow derive from paganism is so common that it has become almost a truism.  The pagan source is either described as something the Christian Church coopted and Christianized or merely as something that has survived as a historical or cultural accident despite the influence of the Church in Western Civilization.

As it turns out, the assumption that Christmas traditions are just pagan holdovers may, indeed, not be based on reality or historical facts but, rather, on unquestioned presumptions – a “conventional wisdom” if you will – based merely on the similarity between the traditions.

It appears, for one reason or another, scholars have recently taken another look at the origin of Christmas traditions, and their findings have revealed that the conventional wisdom about their origin appears to be mistaken.

Instead of rehearsing the facts and arguments myself, I would suggest checking out this article (see here (“Yes, Christ was Really Born on December 25: Here’s a Defense of the Traditional Date of Christmas” by Dr. Taylor Marshall on his website)) and this article (see here (“Calculating Christmas” by William J. Tighe on Touchstone)).

In addition to the above articles, I highly suggest watching this video:

This additional video is primarily addressed to Christians who object to Christmas trees on biblical grounds:

As it turns out, a great article by Daniel Lattier on this subject was recently published in Intellectual Takeout and can be found here and below:

It’s generally accepted that early Christians adopted December 25th as the day of Christ’s birth to co-opt the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Some believe this fact undermines Christianity.

But according to Professor William Tighe, this “fact” may actually be a myth.

Based on his extensive research, Tighe argues that the December 25th date “arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.” He also goes so far as to claim that the December 25th pagan feast of the “’Birth of the Unconquered Sun’… was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance of Roman Christians.”

Tighe explains…

In the Jewish tradition at the time of Christ, there was a belief in what they called the “integral age”—that the prophets had died on the same days of their conception or birth. Early Christians spent much energy on determining the exact date of Christ’s death. Using historical sources, Christians in the first or second century settled on March 25th as the date of his crucifixion. Soon after, March 25th became the accepted date of Christ’s conception, as well.

Add nine months—the standard term of a pregnancy—to March 25th, and Christians came up with December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth.

It is unknown exactly when Christians began formally celebrating December25th as a feast. What is known, however, is that the date of December 25th“had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time (Roman emperor from 270-275), nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.” According to Tighe, Aurelian intended the new feast “to be a symbol of the hoped-for ‘rebirth,’ or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire…. [and] if it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.”

As Tighe points out, the now-popular idea that Christians co-opted the pagan feast originates with Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who opposed various supposed “paganizations” of Christianity.

Of course, to Christians, it really doesn’t matter that much whether or not they co-opted December 25th from the pagans, or vice versa. The Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on that detail. But it’s nevertheless valuable for all of us to give closer scrutiny to shibboleths—such as that of the pagan origins of Christmas—which are continually repeated without being examined.

 

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Student Sues After Suspension From M.S. Program Over Refusal To Counsel Gay Couples

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“A suit was filed last week in federal district court in Missouri by a former student in the Masters in Counseling program at Missouri State University alleging that he was removed from the program because of his religious views on counseling same-sex couples on their relationships.  The complaint (full text) in Cash v. Governors of Missouri State University, (WD MO, filed 4/19/2016), alleges in part:

Plaintiff’s experience at MSU has been devastating, crushing, and tormenting, culminating in his termination from the program — all because he interned with a Christian organization and expressed his religious beliefs on a hypothetical question about counseling a gay couple on relationship issues.

… Plaintiff was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview … regarding a hypothetical situation…. Since he did not give the “correct” answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program.

Thomas More Society announced the filing of the lawsuit. AP reports on the case.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

New York Court Refuses To Dismiss Suit To Declare Muslim Marriage Valid

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“In Jackson K v. Parisa G, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1487 (NY Sup Ct New York County, April 8, 2016), a New York state trial court refused to dismiss a suit by plaintiff who believed he had validly married defendant in an elaborate Iranian Islamic ceremony in New York, attended by 200 guests, even though the couple did not obtain a New York marriage license.  Alternatively plaintiff sought damages for fraud and conversion of a $25,000 engagement ring. A 20-minute ceremony was performed by Ms. Sholeh Sham, who now says she is not a member of the clergy and had no authority to marry the couple. Plaintiff however claims the marriage was valid under NY Domestic Relations Law Sec. 12 that validates marriages solemnized “in the manner heretofore used and practiced” by a particular religious denomination. The court said in part:

The court need not decide at this point whether it is possible for the court to determine the validity of the purported marriage on neutral principles. The ultimate issue is whether the ceremony meets the requirements set forth in DRL §12. Plaintiff argues that, in Defendant’s denomination, no particular religious leader must solemnize a wedding ceremony. Under New York law, an officiant at a religious wedding ceremony need not be limited to a traditional concept of a member of the clergy or a minister ordained by a religious order….. Whether Ms. Shams was qualified to solemnize the marriage is an issue of fact….

The court also allowed plaintiff to move ahead with his claim of fraud, saying:

Here, the complaint includes detailed allegations to the effect that the Defendant accepted Plaintiff’s marriage proposal and engagement ring on July 29, 2009…; that the Defendant told him that her family wanted to select the wedding  officiant to be certain that the marriage would be recognized in the Islamic Republic of Iran and valid under Iranian law….

… Plaintiff alleges that Defendant convinced him that Ms. Shams was authorized to marry them at the time she officiated at the September 4, 2010 Ceremony, and that they were actually married on September 4, 2010. Only after years of purported marriage did Defendant tell Plaintiff they were not married.

You can learn more about this issue here.

A Collection of Family Law Writings by James W. Cushing, Esquire

Over the course of my career, I have written extensively on a wide variety of family law issues and legal principles.  These writings have been published in The Legal Intelligencer, Upon Further Review, and The Pennsylvania Family Lawyer as well as posted onto my blog.  I have collected these articles and blog posts and have listed them below.  Thanks for reading!

Articles:

Musings:

Former Kosher Supervisor At Manischewitz Sues Over Pressure To Compromise Standards

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

A lawsuit was filed Wednesday in state court in New York by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz who was a kosher supervisor for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (“OU”) and who certified products of Manischewitz Co.– a major producer of Passover foods– for more than 20 years.  As reported by NJ Advance Media and AP, the suit, filed just days before Passover, claims that Horowitz was forced to take a long leave of absence after complaining that he was being pressured by the OU to be more lax in his inspections of certain products.  Horowitz claims that OU cooperated because it was afraid that Manischewitz would move to a different kosher certifying agency.  Manischewitz denies the charges. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages for emotional distress and damage to reputation.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Suit Challenges Cross At Site of Historic Spanish Mission

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation this week filed suit in a California federal district court challenging the constitutionality of a 14-foot tall granite Latin cross in Santa Clara’s Memorial Cross Park.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. City of Santa Clara, (ND CA, filed 4/20/2016), says that the cross was donated and placed on city-owned property in 1953 by the Lion’s Club to mark the site of the second Spanish Catholic mission established in the city in 1777. The site continues to be maintained by the city. Plaintiff claims that the city’s actions violate the Establishment Clause of the federal and state constitutions as well as the “no aid” clause of California’s constitution.  FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit and containing a photo of the disputed marker.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Lay Minister Sues Georgia Health Department For Employment Discrimination

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“As reported by The Blaze, a doctor and public health expert who was dismissed from his position with the Georgia Department of Public Health within two weeks of his hiring has filed a religious discrimination suit in federal district court in Georgia.  The complaint (full text) in Walsh v. Georgia Department of Public Health, (ND GA, filed 4/20/2016), contends that Eric Walsh’s position was terminated because of the content of sermons he had given as a Seventh Day Adventist lay minister. In the sermons, he criticized Catholicism, called homosexuality sinful and characterized evolution as a religion created by Satan. The suit seeks damages, reinstatement and injunctive relief for violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1st and 14th Amendments. A statement from a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health said that the withdrawal of a conditional offer to Walsh had nothing to do with his religious views, but instead was triggered by a finding that Walsh failed to disclose outside employment to his prior public health agency employer in California. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Suit Challenges School Voucher Program That Excludes Religious Schools

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“In a suit filed yesterday in a Colorado federal district court, parents of school children challenged the School Choice Grant Program adopted last month by the Douglas County, Colorado, Board of Education because it excludes participation by religious private schools.  In a fragmented decision, the Colorado Supreme Court last year struck down an earlier school choice program adopted by the county which included religious schools. (See prior posting.) Yesterday’s complaint (full text) in Thomas v. Douglas County Board of Education, (D CO, filed 4/19/2016), contends that exclusion of religious schools violates the Free Exercise, Establishment, Equal Protection, Due Process, and Free Speech clauses of the U.S. Constitution.  Institute for Justice issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Tennessee Legislature Protects Therapists Whose “Principles” Conflict With Client’s Behaviors

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The Tennessee General Assembly yesterday passed HB 1840/SB 1556 (full text) which provides in part:

No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.

The bill insulates counselors and therapists from civil liability and criminal prosecution. It also protects them from license suspension or revocation except when their refusal to treat involves an individual who is in imminent danger of harming himself or others. The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.  As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, it is unclear whether Haslam will sign the bill or veto it.  He has 10 days to decide.

An earlier narrower version of the bill protected therapists’ sincerely held religious beliefs, but the bill as passed protects any “sincerely held principles.” The American Counseling Association, which strongly opposes the bill, says:

HB 1840 is an unprecedented attack on the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics….  If HB 1840 is signed into law, its enactment could also jeopardize federal healthcare funding for Tennessee because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has clearly stated that no state has the authority to deny healthcare to anyone based on religion, race, sexual orientation, or other federally protected populations.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Abstention Required In Suit For Defamation In Excommunication Proceedings

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Pfeil v. St. Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, (MN Sup. Ct., April 6, 2016), the Minnesota Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision (2 justices not participating), held that under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the 1st Amendment prohibits holding a church and its pastors liable in a defamation action for statements made during church disciplinary proceedings seeking to excommunicate plaintiffs. The majority concluded:

Ultimately, adjudicating [plaintiffs’] claims would excessively entangle the courts with religion and unduly interfere with respondents’ constitutional right to make autonomous decisions regarding the governance of their religious organization.

Justice Lillehaug’s dissenting opinion complained:

 Today the court creates what is, essentially, an absolute privilege to defame in “formal church discipline proceedings.” No matter how false and malicious the statement, and no matter how much the victim is damaged, there is no remedy whatsoever in Minnesota’s courts.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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