9 December 2005

Plain Dealer heathens celebrate the unveiling of our particularly Satanish toothpick
Christmas tree. From Rona's Flickr photostream. (Note copy desk "Scream" doll.
Christmas trees make lots of folks scream these days!)

National Public Radio has a wonderful feature on both the radio and their Web site called, “This I believe.” I have been inspired to write one myself, though it will be on my Web site, not theirs. So here is my holiday message for 2005: “This I believe: Evergreens do not connect us to evil forces.”

It’s that happy time of year again when some people who call themselves Christians don’t celebrate Christmas or put up a tree because “Christmas trees are pagan!” These are the same people who won’t let their kids trick-or-treat because “that’s worshipping the devil!”


I think back to when I loved putting up the Christmas tree, even though now I am too lazy to bother. At the time I could not even define “pagan,” so how could that be pagan worship? I also remember having lots of fun at Halloween. I wasn’t thinking about Satan but about scaring people and getting candy.

This leads one to ask, “Can people worship something unknowingly?” Isn’t our whole idea of worship based on knowledge, correct actions – like taking communion – personal commitment, prayer and conscious devotion? I believe we may have unconscious fears and desires, but I don’t think we can unconsciously worship something when our definition of worship depends specifically on putting your heart and soul into it: focus, determination, adoration and intention.

If we can worship unconsciously, then we’re all in trouble. For example, maybe wearing a watch – more correctly known as a chronograph or chronometer – is actually worshipping Chronos. That would make any watch-wearing person an unconscious pagan fundamentalist. Or maybe viewing fireworks on the Fourth of July is unknowingly worshipping the founding fathers as if they were gods! Or maybe gathering with relatives for Thanksgiving turkey is unknowingly worshipping the pilgrims – or the turkey! Or how about celebrating the new year? I bet the pagans celebrated the new year, whenever it might have fallen according to their calendar. Since they celebrated it, do they own it now? Is it forever tainted, like the Christmas tree? Is New Year’s Eve really New Year’s Evil?


I just read a couple articles on worship, and the main idea seems to be that one simply can’t go to church, kneel, sing, pray and let the sermon wash over him because that doesn’t count as worship; the idea is that “real” worship comes from a person’s mental and emotional intensity to concentrate on god and reach out to him, her or it with as much power of heart and mind as they can muster: just being in church doesn't count. So how can putting up a tree – when you have no interest in pagan practices – be worship? It can't: If half-hearted worship doesn't really count, then no-hearted worship must amount to nothing at all!


Another addition to this discussion is the actual Bible passage that seems to ban the Christmas tree, sent along by a person who read this before it was posted to the Web site:

Jeremiah 10:1-4: “Here ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, House of Israel: thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen … for the customs of the people are vain: for they cutteth a tree out of the forest … They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

My first reaction is, “I am not of the House of Israel! So does this even apply to me? Also, we never put gold or silver on our family tree, and we never nailed it up! We decorated with plastic and glass and stood it up in a metal stand. And once it fell over – on me! So this passage obviously doesn’t apply to what we were doing!”

I know people will we say, “But that passage MEANS you should not have a Christmas tree!” Who says? That's a loose interpretation, and I can just a vehemently say, “In MY interpretation, it all hinges on the actual use of real gold and silver and the hammering and nailing!” Once in the realm of meaning and interpretation, we may begin a lifelong discussion or debate.


That reminded me of another Bible passage I came across recently from Deuteronomy: “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which [is] as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods … thou shalt surely kill him.” But the sixth commandment says: “Thou shall not kill.”

So I am wondering what will happen to me should I get in a theology discussion over the holidays in regards the Christmas tree. Will I be killed or spared? Which passage will win out?


If this unconscious-worship idea isn’t feeble enough, I will give an even better example of something more profoundly wrong-headed: This ban on Christmas and Halloween is premised on the idea that god is an idiot; that god might look down, see my mom’s tree, and think, “Bette Fobes is a pagan!”

First of all, I personally don't belive in god, but if there is a god then he, she or it knows everything and would know that my mother, for example, does not associate the Christmas tree with anything religious. When she decorates the tree, she has only one thing in mind: “WOW!” See, no pagan thoughts or feelings there, just “Wow!” Just someone being dazzled by something colorful and lovely, something that connects her to her childhood. Is that so hard to understand? Same with a Halloween mask. If god is stupid, he might look down and think, “Little Jon Fobes is worshipping Satan!” But if he knows everything, then he knows what’s in a person’s mind and heart, which is: “I am gonna go scare Fred and get some candy.” No devil worship in that. Just a chubby kid having fun. Why do some people not realize this?


We can’t totally blame people for having strange ideas. I have a book on the way from Amazon that explores the theory that supernatural beliefs are completely natural, simply an outgrowth of normal human imagining and cognition, though not necessarily beneficial. And we know also that people are forever confusing their beliefs with facts, another mental quirk we might be better off without; they think, without a doubt, that something “out there” is causing their beliefs and fail to associate them with anything cultural or personal; even journalists trained to know the difference between fact and opinion lose their way! So you can’t really blame people too much for getting lost in a set of beliefs … as much as you might wish they could at times take their eyes off the end product of belief and attend to the process. But for the most part, that’s not the human way. People like me, who think about belief and ask annoying questions, are the real oddballs. I am afraid Lisa is right when she looks at me and yells, "FREAK!" (This happens at least once per shift!)


So it seems to me that this ban on Christmas and Halloween is all premised on the mistaken notion of unconscious worship and a belief that god is a moron and doesn’t know what’s in peoples’ hearts.

It’s based on the idea that a symbol – like a tree or 666 – can retain a metaphysical meaning placed on it by some group long ago and taint our current traditions or connect us to something we don’t know about or care about, which is to say, if you don’t think you’re deifying Washington and Jefferson when you watch a fireworks display, then why would you think you’re glorifying pagan deities when you bring a tree into the house, and why would you think trick-or-treat has anything to do with Satanism when all it means, ultimately, is additional trips to the dentist? But if you DO think this way, you better throw away your party hat and noise-maker because New Year’s Eve might really be New Year’s Evil.

I think the ban on Halloween and Christmas has been put in place by people who want to think they’ve figured out a great puzzle, uncovered a big secret or fought through a long-standing theological muddle; it’s the pet theory of people who want to think they “know something” that most other people don’t, something that marks them off from the 2 billion ignorant Christians who still eat BLTs, worship on Sunday and decorate trees for Christmas – even if they're just toothpick trees!

It’s a way to feel important by dreaming up nonexistent connections between evergreens and evil forces.

Good grief!



©jonfobes 2005