Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Controversies

I don't want to sound like a grinch and spoil people's celebration of the solemnity of the season, but an item from England triggered this nagging urge in me to reiterate what has been an unresolved issue between me and dyed-in-the-wool Catholics since my High School days.

The piece of news I refer to involves the Archbishop of Canterbury , Dr. Rowan Williams, who dismissed the story of the Three Wise Men as Nothing but legend, in a recent interview. He added that it was only in Matthew where this was mentioned, and nothing was said about their number nor their origin; except to say that they were from outside of Rome. No mention was also made of their titles as Kings.

The Archbishop went further to say that the concept of these men allegedly following a moving star that directed them to Bethlehem is a tall story. Stars just don't behave that way! Talk about embellishments and imagination from the Biblical authors, they certainly know how to pull a fast one. Does the age of the biblical post make it true and infallible? The Bible was written some 200 years after the death of Christ, with stories traveling through generations of time and therefore subject to enhancements.

Back in High School, I was enrolled in an exclusive boy's school run by Dominican priests. Having an inquisitive mind and a penchant for arguing, I was referred to as the "heretic" by the priests who gave classes in Religion by the time I was in second year. This was a dangerous tag since it marked me for the entire 4 year course and I never got a grade higher than C for any Religion subject. The subject title itself was my initial question during my First Year. Why was the subject called Religion when we were studying only Catholicism? How about taking up other Religions?

The priests also spoke of bigotry and prejudice as evil, and admonished us to avoid these. When I ask "...Father, when you said that the Roman Catholic Religion is the one true religion, isn't that bigotry?". Their answer, out of the classroom and 3 days suspension.

But what nearly got me expelled in Third Year was this Christmas Story that the school principal himself was giving. It was about the birth of Jesus. I had nothing against the story or legends that surround it, except one: "How can one be a Virgin and a Mother at the same time? Isn't it a state of being one or the other? (Laughter from classmates, then angry, trembling, and quivering voice of the principal) "What kind of Catholic are you? How can you ask that question?"

He probably wanted to castrate me but he restrained himself, stormed out of the class and most likely took his hypertension medication. I got a full month's suspension, out of the High School Varsity Basketball Team, disallowed to join the Christmas communion and dinner, among others.

One other truth is that Jesus was not born in December. This was a deft political move on the part of Constantine implemented during the Council Of Nicea; to integrate the Christian and Pagan festivities so as not to antagonize either group. Even the Catholic masses being celebrated on Sundays was based on the Roman God Ra, the sun god, thus making pagans and Christians worship their gods on the same day. Ingenious! Pope Boniface was the one who pegged the date on the 25th of December if I'm not mistaken.

December can be extremely cold in the West Bank. So how can the shepherds be on the top of the mountain during this time to see the legendary star and the birth of the Messiah? Jesus was likelier to have been born in April as some scholarly accounts place it. In December, the shepherds would be with their sheep, yes, but most probably sleeping with them or doing what they would do to their wives if they were at home! Its soooo cold! Joseph, the surrogate father of Jesus, was hardly written about. What happened in his life? How did he cope with this event that has attained global proportions? Why wasn't he around during the crucifixion? I am left to wonder whether or not Joseph was a eunuch!

Suffice it to say that for every class reunion we have, which takes place every 10 years or so, I am still referred to as the "Heretic".


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