The fellow at left is not Santa, but he's drawing some heat for the equivalent of debunking Kris Kringle. Yes, Virginia, a favorite (but anonymous) correspondent has become aroused and forwarded me this lecture from none other than prominent believer (?) Rush Limbaugh:
"The liberal Christians out there, these wacko Christians that are liberal just try my patience. It's that time of year again just before Christmas, when some religious leaders feel the need to explain that the miracles of the Bible never happened, or that the homeless roaming the streets in Buffalo are the modern equivalent of Mary and Joseph. We get the bastardization of the story of the Bible this time of year by liberal Christians. Today's violator, if you will, is no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and what he says is that the star of Bethlehem, the star of Bethlehem "rising and standing still," he said stars "they just don't behave like that." Now, that is the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a man of the cloth, and he said that it's just not possible. Stars don't just stop up there. He also says that "belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a 'hurdle' over which new Christians had to jump before they" can be signed up as Christians. You can be a Christian without believing that. No big deal. I mean, who really thinks that happened anyway? says the Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, a lot of Christians know where his reasoning is going to end up, or where this line of reasoning will take you, because it ends up denying the fundamental basis of Christianity, which is the resurrection. Because if that didn't happen, then the whole thing is in trouble, and if these biblical miracles didn't happen, the star of Bethlehem didn't stop, if there was no virgin birth, then, of course, there probably wasn't a resurrection. In which case, what the hell is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing in the business, if he wants to rewrite it this way?"
Rush goes on to invoke a version of the cosmological / 'fine-tuning' arguments for the existence of something like the supernatural, and thus God, then concludes:
"Whether he knows it or not (and this is the key point here for the Archbishop of Canterbury), his very existence is a miracle, as is all of ours a miracle. That is, it cannot be explained by modern science. By the way, the Archbishop of Canterbury also said the nativity scene is a "legend." Not real, just a legend. So for those of you out there who feel compelled to take some of your Christian beliefs, discard the miracles, and replace them with modern science and thereby invent a new religion, go right ahead -- and if this is what Dr. Rowan Williams wants to do, if he wants to throw out the things in Christianity that he just can't explain in his "superior mind," go ahead, Dr. Williams. But just don't call it Christianity. You are distorting and debasing it. Call it whatever you want. Call it Williamsism. I don't care what you call it, but do not call it Christianity. When you start cherry-picking things that you want, cherry-picking things that your superior mind says you can't possibly accept because stars don't stop; there's no virgin both, and nobody can rise from the dead, fine. Go base your own religion on that; find the flock that you want, but don't call it Christianity.."
The link above provides context for evaluating this passionate argument, which feeds into the general conservative trope of 'The War on Christmas.'
Hey, I'm sympathetic: I remember a similar irritation when Marvel and DC began exploiting their continuity problems as a justification for reinventing their particular universes. Superman and Reed Richards were temporarily 'killed off' and whole characters were simply trashed in the interest of maintaining market share. Which, frankly, is probably one of the things that motivates the Archbishop. He's not actually arguing against the possibility of miracles so much as he is making a case for the irrelevance of the details of said miracles to the central claims of Christianity---and in so doing hoping to broaden the appeal of Christianity.
Does this seem like a trivial response to this sense of outrage? Well, so be it. I can get irritated when a comic book company monkeys with icons of my childhood, and if there really was an attempt taking place within Christianity to 'kill off' the Nativity and all of the associated legends, I'd be more than irritated, I'd be outraged.....but not because I've placed my faith in the Virgin Birth, or an immovable Star, or Three Wise Men, or in fact on the absolute truth-correspondence of any particular passage of scripture. Christianity does not consist of such details, which make such fine sound bites but which fall far short of what is distinctive about Christianity. After all, other faith traditions have all manner of legends woven into the fabric of their beliefs, some of which are obviously borrowed/evolved from older sources.
Yet, my correspondent seems to say something along these lines: that if you have to so tinker with the original recipe for cake so much that you end up with fig newtons, does it really make sense to call it cake? Isn't it a cookie?
I can't argue against this, because it speaks to what a person is invested in. I think it is important to realize that while historically Christmas is distinguishable from Christianity, in practice most Christians are heavily-invested in whatever Christmas traditions they've been taught, to the point where the legend of the Three Magi is routinely transposed from Epiphany to Advent with all sorts of details treated as 'fact' which actually have no basis in scripture. Ironically, some of the most likely churches to promote this are the evangelical 'mega-churches' that give lip service to Biblical inerrancy, etc.
As for me, I don't have any problem acknowledging either the possibility of miracles or the influence of popular legend in the development of the Christian faith. It is obvious that syncretisms have made their way into Christianity; admitting this, however, doesn't make Christianity more or less relevant. Or true, for that matter.
A friend and mentor passed this on to me, and it was too good not to sure. Disclaimer: My wife's nickname ("Pengy") has nothing to do with this excellent take on the film March of the Penguins, which in France was known as Le Marche de L'Empereur....
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 12:55 PM
Over at PZ Mwahaha's, a reader named Observer popped up with a comment in the middle of an exchange related to belief and an interview given by John Haught (shown in the picture at right). Haught's a Catholic theologian who's been an evolution-friendly voice within the pews, someone that I as an advocate for evolution find congenial.
However, a recent interview described at the Apostle Paul's place finds him waxing....vaguely....about vagueness, seemingly the very stereotype of the literal theologian whose torturing of the text manages to elide every drop of supernaturalism out of the old Bibble. It's interesting to watch some of the criticism, and quite a bit of it appears valid on the face of it. Some of it appears less so, and so I have found myself happily embroiled with other Pharyngulans.
But in the middle of all this, Observer writes:
I am enjoying some of your commentary, but until you actually describe what it is you believe, or what it is you believe non-fundie theologians believe, how much farther do expect this conversation to go?
It's a fair question, and I in essence shared a few thoughts about my experience over there and then directed any interested reader to visit me here and look for posts labeled 'Behind The Curtain', and comment, if they so desire. So that's the gist of it, but here's some of the juicy details:
Regular readers of Pharyngula may know that I am a poor spokesman for organized religion, precisely because I tend to regard faith-based claims as not justified by evidence. I'm not sure so much if that's due to any particular intellectual consistency (my critics would say 'no'), or whether it's just an aspect of my personality. At any rate, I would make a very poor sheep.
Some very bright people here have suggested that I might be in the 'pre-atheist' stage. I mull that over quite a bit. Another poster here with a fascinating personal history involving Spiritualism has written rather movingly and persuasively about the capacity for personal self-deception where faith experience is concerned. I think about that quite a bit, especially when I am involved in faith-centered activities. So it would be dishonest of me to pretend that I have the final word, that I am utterly convinced that my own faith experience is entirely valid, and I find much of the discussions here on belief etc. to be valuable and clarifying.
Since I am a guest here, however, I draw the line at either pushing or directly exploring my own personal beliefs in this forum. For those who are interested in such things, for whatever reason, can visit my blog and peruse posts under 'Behind The Curtain', and (if they like) leave comments. I would welcome criticism.And I would!