American Atheists Essential Reading List Books on this list have been selected to provide introductory information on topics of interest to Atheists. They address a wide range of important subjects such as: the history of Atheist thought, the origins of modern religion, the role religion plays in modern culture and politics, Atheist parenting, and the ongoing battle for the separation between church and state. While these titles represent only a fraction of the books available from American Atheist Press, collectively they provide a broad overview of Atheist thought. Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Free Thinker by David Eller
Christianity before Christ by John G. Jackson Christian doctrines are traced to their origins in older religions.
The Case Against Religion by Albert Ellis A psychotherapist’s view of the harmful aspects of religious belief.
Living in the Light by Anne R. Stone stock# 5588 $12.00 157 pp. Subtitled “Freeing Your Child from the Dark Ages,” this book serves as a manual for Atheist parents.
Our Constitution: The Way It Was by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5400 $6.00 70 pp. American Atheist Radio Series episodes about the myth that our founding fathers created a Christian nation.
What on Earth Is an Atheist! by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5412 $18.00 American Atheist Radio Series episodes on various topics of Atheist philosophy and history.
The Bible Handbook by G. W. Foote, W. P. Ball, et al. stock# 5008 $17.00 A compilation of biblical absurdities, contradictions, atrocities, immoralities and obscenities.
An Atheist Epic by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5376 $18.00 302 pp. The personal story of the battle to end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in schools in the United States.
65 Press Interviews by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5589 $15.00 Ingersoll’s 19th-century newspaper interviews as a Freethinker and opponent of superstition.
An Atheist Primer by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5372 $6.00 A humorous look at god concepts will help children (and adults) have a clear view of religion.
An Atheist Looks at Women & Religion by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5419 Why attempts to reconcile religion with civil rights for women are self-defeating.
The Jesus the Jews Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler stock# 7026 $20.00 544 pp. A search of ancient Jewish literature yields no evidence for the existence of any historical Jesus.
The Great Infidels by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5197 How nonbelievers and Atheists have contributed to civilization and enriched our lives.
Sex Mythology by Sha Rocco stock# 5440 $8.00 A scholarly study explores the sexual origins of religious symbols including the Christian cross.
Jesus Is Dead by Robert M. Price
The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm
Please see the order form located in the center of the magazine for member discounts and shipping & handling.
nov/dec 2008 Vol 46, No.10
American Atheist ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) Editor, American Atheist Press Frank R. Zindler
Editor, American Atheist Frank R. Zindler Designer Elias Scultori
From the President
Cover Design David Smalley Editorial Assistants Conrad Goeringer Ann E. Zindler
Secular Democracies: India and the United States by Dr. Ed Buckner by Annie Besant
Published monthly (except June & December) by American Atheists Inc.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016
One Hundred Years of Commentary Atheists On The Solstice
Free Religious Index — Christmas
It’s Awful to Be a Heathen
The Origin of Christmas
Why Is Christmas?
The Dickensian Christmas
Those Christmas Cards
The U.F.O. of Bethlehem
The Foxhole Atheist
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A contribution by Jean Story of December 30, 1880 From The Melting Pot, Volume 1, Number 1 (January, 1913) A classic by Sherman Wakefield An explanation by Lee L. Dodds From J. M. Wheeler’s Footsteps of the Past (1895) Peter Crommelin’s commentary from the November-December , 1965, Rationalist of South Africa by Frank Zindler by George Rulf Martin Bard Dustin Chalker
from the president
Secular Democracies: India and the United States Dr. Ed Buckner
It was a singular honor, one paid of course primarily to American Atheists rather than to me personally, to be invited to address the Seventh World Atheist Conference at Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, on January 5–7, 2009, on the theme “March of Atheism.” Had it been possible to accept and to see once again fine Atheist friends like Vikas Gora, I would have been delighted to go. I am pleased that at least I can address that conference with a short essay. I am presenting the essay to American Atheist magazine readers as well, and I ask that readers in each nation forgive me for briefly recounting familiar history for the benefit of readers in the other nation. — Ed Buckner, President, American Atheists
“The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right that he claims for himself.” —Robert Green Ingersoll, interview reported in The Washington Post, November 14, 1880; Vol. 8, p. 56, Dresden Edition of the Works of Robert G. Ingersoll.
he world’s two greatest secular democracies by most measures are India (the largest, home to over a billion human beings) and the U.S. (with the oldest government in the world that is officially unentangled with religion, though our President over the last eight years does not seem to understand or appreciate that). I know a great deal more about the extent of actual secularism in the U.S. than I do about India—though I do know that the Atheist Centre founded by Gora in 1940 easily puts any similar American institution to shame. In both nations, secularism is advancing, or “marching” to echo the official theme of the conference, but in both the forward progress is erratic and insecure, hampered by the forces of religiosity and irrationality. In both, bogus claims of moral superiority by those who fraudulently claim to speak with supernatural forces and — worse, to hear from those forces — are dangerous impediments. India became officially “secular,” adding that word to the 1950 Constitution, in 1976 CE—but the term and the meanings attached to it by citizens and the courts have not been consistent. At least the Supreme Court of India has held, as I understand it, in 1994 in S.R. Bommai vs Union of India, that secularism is an integral part of the basic structure of Indian
American Atheist — november/december 2008
government. The U.S. has never officially adopted the word “secular,” but the general sense that the government of the U.S. shall not promote or oppose religious ideas can most reasonably be said to originate in the first clauses of the First Amendment, adopted in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Many U.S. Supreme Court cases have affected the interpretation of these words, perhaps most famously in Everson v. Board of Education (1947). As Justice Hugo Black wrote then, “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’” This ideal secularist state has never in practice been realized in the U.S.
We have, in both our great nations, a good way yet to travel before either of us can claim to be secular in the best and fullest sense of the term. Aside from the simple irrationality we constantly face (and oppose) from the religious, we must also confront two persistent false perceptions, broadly held. The first of these, and the most familiar, I believe, to my fellow American Atheists and probably to our Indian colleagues as well, is the obnoxious idea that believing in an invisible being in the sky, or even just believing in various irrational principles, improves the chances that one will be principled, kind, just, or in any meaningful sense “good.” This pernicious lie has been nurtured over the centuries by thousands of theologians, ranging from pretentiously learned, heavily educated men and women to street preachers and shamans of every description. Its effect, whether intentional or not (it most often is intentional), is to demonize and slander Atheists and Atheism strongly enough to discourage serious consideration of our ideas by ordinary people. As Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg has said, in reply to this lie in an essay titled “A Designer Universe?” (published in 2000), “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.” There is in fact no objective basis for the lie, no real grounds for associating moral decency with religiosity; it persists because it is in the clear interests of religionists to promote it. The other false perception, one not as widely recognized by Atheists, at least in the U.S.. is based on a subtle confusion between tolerance and toleration—and that is the main focus of my essay. As Atheists we should practice “tolerance,” meaning that as individuals we should accept that other individuals may differ with us on crucial matters and yet be worthy of our interaction and respect. But we should not be satisfied with “toleration,” meaning an official, governmental policy of preferring one viewpoint but allowing other viewpoints to be held. Possibly the most famous preacher around when the U.S. was officially born, Baptist John Leland (1754-1841), vigorously opposed “toleration.” Leland is credited by some as inspiring James Madison to support guaranteeing religious liberty in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Modern Americans and possibly modern Indians as well are likely to be startled, at first, on learning that a man so important in our history disparaged anything like tolerance. Surely toleration should be encouraged in everyone, liberal or conservative, religious or Atheist! Here’s some of what Leland wrote in 1790: Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and es-
tablished creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils. A general assessment (forcing all to pay some preacher) amounts to an establishment; if government says I must pay somebody, it must next describe that somebody, his doctrine and place of abode. … This doctrine turns the gospel into merchandise, and sinks religion upon a level with other things. History is needed to explain how toleration could be so despised. While toleration legislation, like the British Toleration Act of 1689, was seen by those in power as great progress and as generous and magnanimous treatment of minorities, it was rightly perceived as condescending by the minorities. The whole question does not resolve into simple matters, however. The most famous writings related to this are the Bloody Tenent of Persecution (1644) by Roger Williams (1603?–1683) and the 1685–1704 Letters Concerning Toleration by John Locke (1632–1704) and these in turn had great influence on the American founding fathers and American ideas regarding freedom of religion. Official “toleration” of dissident religious ideas was of course better than its predecessors: beheadings or imprisonment or torture for not accepting the approved religion. This is sort of like “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws of the American South being considered superior to slavery. Such toleration was ultimately well short of what was wanted by dissidents like Leland. To oversimplify a little, such acts and the rationales behind them were seen as saying, “Well, you people are obviously wrong, but we will graciously allow you to make these grave mistakes without governmental interference.” The nonconformist theistic reply was something like, “Who are you to decide for me what is a mistake in these matters? I take my orders from God via my conscience, not from some worldly government via a magistrate.” Nor was John Leland the only one to reject toleration emphatically in favor of liberty. Thomas Paine, crucial philosophical leader during the American Revolution, declared in the Rights of Man (1791), which he addressed to George Washington, that “Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding Liberty of Conscience, and the other of granting it” (p. 55, Heritage Press edition). George Washington addressed this as well, eloquently, as President, in his famous letter to the congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790: It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as it was by the indulgence of one class of the people that another enjoyed the exercise of their natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it, on all occasions, their effectual support. november/december 2008 — American Atheist
Washington’s declaration is unambiguously in favor of liberty over the old ideas of toleration, even as he clearly opposes intolerance. Jefferson and Madison, the key architects of religious liberty in the U.S., were the key founding fathers who thought John Locke had not gone far enough in developing his ideas on toleration. As Jefferson noted, Locke denies tolerance to those who entertain opinions contrary to those moral rules necessary for the preservation of society, as for instance, … [those] who deny the existence of a god (it was a great thing to go so far––as he himself says of the parliament which framed the act of toleration––but where he stopped short we may go on). [Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Religion” (1776), The Complete Jefferson, p. 945.]. The very essence of the modern American idea of secularism, the idea developed and founded in the Constitution and First Amendment, is an idea that is neither religious nor antireligious, neither Christian nor Hindu nor opposed to Christianity or Hinduism, and that idea is to proclaim, unmistakably and even fiercely, not toleration but freedom. Modern Americans and Indians are pretty uniformly committed, at least in common parlance, to “tolerance,” meaning accepting another’s right to see things—especially religious ideas— in ways that disagree, even sharply, with our own conclusions. In the main, this idea of tolerance is quite positive, quite desirable, as an individual virtue. But it does not follow that toleration— meaning official permission for those who dissent from the accepted religion to exist—is therefore a national virtue. That would imply that some have the choice to allow others to disagree—and if it is a mere choice, it can be taken away. All of us in both our great nations are right to prefer and work for individual tolerance but not for governmental toleration—in short, we should trust in freedom, with liberty for all. This is at the heart of the importance of secularism. k
New Life Members American Atheists Welcomes New Life Members Raymond N. Spencer — Covington, GA Robert Hicks — Hayfork, CA
In Memoriam Doris J. Baron—Belleair, FL Martin Bard—Lancaster, PA 6
American Atheist — november/december 2008
Roof Rescue Fund Contributors Thanks to the generosity of the people listed below American Atheists is well on the way to paying for the rescue of the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives. In May of 2008 it was discovered that leaks in the roof of the American Atheist Center in Cranford, New Jersey, had increased to the point that they had damaged books in the stockroom and were threatening even the irreplaceable Atheist library housed in the same building. When the leaks actually reached the library, an urgent appeal for funds went out to help defray the more than $70 thousand being spent from the Trust Fund to replace the roof. The new roof is up; the library is safe. We thank all the donors listed below whose contributions have been received as we go to press. Their help is greatly appreciated. They are truly Atheist heroes!
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The Founder’s Friends... So many of you help American Atheists with donations and other financial support—and we want to find a way to say “Thank You!” We are pleased to announce the re-establishment of an American Atheist tradition—The Founders’ Friends, begun by the Murray O’Hair family. Those contributing $50 or more to American Atheists will have their names and amounts entered in subsequent issues of the American Atheist. Just fill out the blue card with the information requested, include your gift, and mail it back to us in the enclosed envelope. Be sure to check the appropriate box authorizing us to thank you by printing your name and contribution amount in the magazine. Mailing addresses will not be mentioned. This is our way of saying THANK YOU to an extraordinary group of people—those of you who want to “do more” and financially support the critical work of American Atheists! American Atheists thanks the following persons for their generous contributions to our cause.
Dick Hogan, TX — $200 Barry and Amy Robertson, CO — $200 Dr. Richard G. L. Thain, Canada — $50 Thomas Bauch, MN — $250 Dan Streit, FL — $75 Stan Bradley, OH — $50 Steve Gustavson, UT — $100
ll over Christendom the bells will soon be ringing in celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Christ. In Germany the Christ-Child will visit every home and bring presents to all his little brothers and sisters. In Italy the Bambino will lie in every church, and sweet young mothers will feel as if they had a share in the maternity of Mary. In England the Holy Child will be joyously greeted, and holly wreath and mistletoe berry will hang in every hall. In France less notice will be taken of his coming, yet many a Bethlehem in sacred fane will find a worshipping crowd of women and children. In far off Russia the sacred icon will be greeted, and the halo-encircled infant will stretch out hands of blessing from his mother’s arms. Europe will rejoice from East to West. Turkey alone will have no Christmas Day. If from Christmas, 1883, we throw our glances backwards across the centuries, many another Christmas Day rises before our eyes. Back over the years when wassail bowl and huge boar’s head carried high in air might be seen in every baron’s hall; when the Yule log was cut with ceremony and carried joyously home for burning on Christmas night; when white-robed Christian priests, eastward turning, sang how Very early, very early, Christ was born. Back over the years, growing rougher and rougher, till white-robed Druid priests greet the Christ-Child, turning eastward as the first pale rays of the sun dawned on the sacred mistletoe of the oak with golden horizon on December 25th. Back yet further, till we stand under the cloudless sky in the rainless Egyptian land, and see the white-robed priests of Osiris hymning their new born God, turning eastward to greet the dawn in the early morning of Christmas Day, 2,000 years before the Jewish Christ was born. Back still, and ever back till under the burning sun of India we find priests, still white robed and eastward gazing, pouring out the sacred soma to hail me birth of Christna, on
Christmas Day, 5,000 years ago. And then our eyes grow dizzy at the distance, and the mist of the ages hides from us the earlier Christmas Days. Who is this Christ-Child, born ever in the dawn of the 25th of December, who has been born on that date each year as far backward as historical search can press? Let us take his story, which is one in its outline all the world over, though local coloring may touch its details. And let us take it in the oldest form yet known to us, in the Hindu legend, most venerable of all religious myths. Three thousand five hundred years before the Christian era, there was a maiden named Devanaguy (or Devaki), sweet and pure, living in the province of Madura, and it was revealed in a dream to Kansa, king of the land, that this maiden should bear a child who should be royal, and king of the Hindus. So when Devanaguy had attained womanhood, Kansa threw her into a tower hermetically closed, that she might never bring a child into the world. One evening as the virgin prayed, a light shone round about her, and Vishnu appeared to her in all the glory of his divine majesty. The power of the Highest overshadowed her, so that the Holy Child who should be born of her might be called the Son of God. And when the time came for the birth of the infant long prophesied of by Poulastya, and by other holy men, a sound was heard as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the tower where Devanaguy lay with the new-born child, and the wall was rent, and the Virgin and the Child were guided by an angel to a stable, and the shepherds running to the place worshipped the newly-born. And the child was named Christna, in Sanskrit the sacred one. Then Kansa, learning what had occurred, was wroth, and he sent out and ordered the massacre of all the male infants within his states, who had been born during the night previous to Christna’s birth. But Christna was miraculously saved, and was carried away with his mother by Nanda, Devanaguy’s uncle, into a sure place of refuge. november/december 2008 — American Atheist
At the age of sixteen Christna left his home and began traveling over the country, preaching as he went. A band of disciples followed him, being attracted by the miracles he wrought. He raised the dead, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and the ears of the deaf. Once, to encourage his disciples, he was transfigured before them, and he appeared in the glory of his divine majesty, his face shining with such brilliancy that Ardjourna and his companions, unable to support the sight, fell on their faces. And after that they named him Jezeus, or “the issue of the pure divine essence.” The day came when death was drawing night, and it came to pass that two women of base extraction approached him, and pouring over his head precious perfumes, they worshipped him. And the people murmured at their presumption in touching the Holy One, but Christna gently accepted their homage. Then, knowing that his hour was come, he withdrew from his disciples, and kneeling down he awaited death. And a band of conspirators who were seeking to kill him, surrounded him and pierced him with their arrows, and taking his body they hung it on a tree. And in the morning his disciples came to seek him, that they might bury his sacred body, but it had disappeared, it was revealed to them that he had returned to the heavenly home whence he had come to earth. Such is the outline of the most ancient legend of the Christ Child, as given in the Holy Scriptures of the Hindus. In Egypt, in the story of Osiris, born, persecuted, murdered, rising, ascending we have the Christ-Child under another name. In Judea, in the story of Jesus of Bethlehem, we have the repetition of the Hindu legend, slightly altered in many details, but broadly identical. To Christendom Jesus of Bethlehem is the Christ Child, and to him are given the same love and homage offered to his predecessors in every Eastern land. Who then is this Christ Child born in winter, encircled by peril in his infancy, fighting against difficulties through his short life, conquered by a violent death, rising from the dead triumphant, ascending into heaven and reigning from his seat in the sky? This Christ-Child is the Sun, the brightness of the supreme glory, and the express image of the Deity, himself Light of Light, Very God of Very God. The story repeated every year is a solar myth, and in this symbolic story is traced the yearly circle of the sun. Therefore is the Christ Child always born at the winter solstice, and as the sun is then in the sign of the Zodiac called Virgo, he is a child in a virgin’s arms; comparatively weak and feeble he is then, but still it is his birth, because from that time onwards he gains in power, as he begins his yearly climb. But danger surrounds his cradle, and Kansa, who tries vainly to slay him, symbolizes the short days and long nights of winter and its accompanying storms, And so pass the early months of the year, the sun’s time of struggle with the powers of darkness, till the last struggle of the equinox draws near. Day and night grow equal and seem to struggle for the mastery, till the full moon is reached, the Paschal moon, the first after the 21st of March. 8
American Atheist — november/december 2008
lf the death and resurrection of the Jewish Christ be historical events, why should their dates vary year by year? The anniversary of the death of Voltaire is always the 30th of May; the anniversary of the death of Christ is the Friday before the Sunday which falls after the full moon first after March 21st. The reason for the variation of this date is a very simple one. The resurrection is a solar festival, and it varies with the moon. In this triumph of the Christ it is the “Lamb of God” who triumphs; he is the “Paschal lamb,” without blemish and without spot. The sun is then in the sign of the lamb, and in this sign is his triumph; hence the lamb becomes the sacred animal, the symbol of the Savior. Long ages since the zodiacal sign at the time of the spring equinox was the bull, and then the bull was the sacred animal, and the Bull of God was the sun triumphant, as is the Lamb of God now. After the Easter resurrection the sun rises higher and higher in the heavens, “ascendeth up on high,” pouring down his beams of Light and Love on man. He ripens the grape, and the juice thereof becomes his very blood; he ripens the com, and the grain is his body, his very flesh, given to eat to his worshippers. All the world knows how this graceful myth is vulgarized and coarsened in the Christian “Holy Communion,” and how the poetical fancy that the beams of the Sun god are in very deed transformed into the corn and grape, becomes the revolting theory of “eating the flesh and drinking the blood” of an actual human being. Each Christ has his band of twelve faithful followers, for twelve are the signs of the Zodiac, twelve the months of the solar year. The artificial division of the solar cycle into twelve, and the fanciful signs given to the constellations which were the “twelve Houses of the Sun,” have become in course of ages twelve actual followers in attendance on the central deity, As sign of their solar significance the deity and his chief saints wear the halo, the solar circle, drawn often as the round sun itself at the back of their heads, while the Virgin mother stands on the crescent moon, and round her head the crown of seven stars, the sacred planets. Twelve, as one of the two sacred solar numbers, is constantly repeated in the history of every Christ-Child. Regarding only the Jewish myths, its continual reiteration with its multiples and submultiples would be curious, were not the solar significance clear. Jacob has twelve sons; there are twelve tribes of Israel; twelve stones in the breastplate of the High Priest of the Sun god; twelve apostles of Christ; the woman clothed in the sun has a crown of twelve stars; the city of God has twelve foundations, twelve gates, twelve angel porters, twelve names written on it; the tree of life bears twelve sorts of fruit. Seventy-two (six times twelve) are the second rank of disciples; four and twenty (twice twelve) are the elders round the throne; one hundred and forty four thousand (twelve times twelve thousand) are sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel; one hundred and forty thousand virgins are redeemed from the earth, and follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. The walls of the holy city measure twelve thousand furlongs alike in breadth, length and height. Four, a sub-multiple
of twelve, is also of constant occurrence, signifying the four seasons of the year, and the four points of the compass. The sacred river of Eden divides into four heads; four living creatures support God’s throne in Ezekiel’s vision; each of these has four faces and four wings, and each of the faces (lion, ox, man, eagle) is that of a Zodiacal sign; in the Apocalypse, a mere book of astrology, there are four living beasts in the throne of God; four mystical horses appear; four angels stand on the four corners of the earth and hold the four winds; four angels are bound in the river Euphrates. The number seven obtained its sacredness from the ancient theory of the “seven planets,” the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn; our week of seven days has its basis in solar worship. Not to trouble ourselves with the sevens of the Old Testament, as in the animals saved from the flood, or the seven-branched candlestick ever burning in the sacred temple of the Jewish deity, it will suffice to take those occurring in the Apocalypse. There are seven golden candlesticks, surrounding the “Son of man,” who holds seven stars in his right hand; there are seven churches, with seven angels; a book is sealed with seven seals; and only the Lamb (the Sun victorious) with seven horns and seven eyes may open that book. There are seven spirits of God, and seven thunders roll; seven chief angels stand before God, and they have seven trumpets; the dragon has seven heads and seven crowns; the beast has seven heads; seven angels have seven vials filled with the seven last plagues; the scarlet woman sits on a scarlet beast with seven heads; there are to be seven kings before the end comes. lf all these sevens are accidental they are very inexplicable; but accept the Apocalypse as an astrological romance, and it becomes interesting and curious. The custom of turning eastwards during the recital of the creeds; of building churches pointing eastwards and of placing the altar at the east end; of burying the faithful dead with their feet pointing eastwards, so that on rising their faces may be eastward turned; what have all these things to do with a God everywhere present, no more a dweller in the East than in the West? But they admit of the simplest explanation if they are merely relics of solar worship, and are traditions of the time at which our forefathers turned eastwards to greet the rising Sun, and bowed towards the sun-rising as they proclaimed their faith in the Light of Light. The language of solar worship is interwoven with our every thought and speech. Light is to us the symbol of joy, of knowledge, of hope; darkness of misery, of ignorance and of despair. Reformers are ever speaking of the dawn of a better day. Students [speak] of light thrown on obscure questions. Lovers [speak] of the sunshine from the faces of the beloved. We worship the sun today in realest fashion, identifying with him all that is fairest and dearest on earth. Well might we enter the churches of Christendom on Christmas morning with the olden words on our lips: “Ye know not what ye worship! .... Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare we unto you.” k
From the December, 1949, Liberal B. M. Saner
Yuletide Greetings The sun has completed its journey And now will return once again; To gladden the crops and the vineyards, And comfort the spirits of men. Ere Jesus and all of his cohorts Had made their appearance in time; Or even ere glorious Homer Had written one immortal line – When Athens was still in the future And Memphis was still in the mold; By bards of the barbarous peoples The story was told and retold. Yes, even before the God Krishna, Whose legend the Christian Church thieved And tagged on their mystical Jesus A story by millions believed – The Sun God was worshipped at Yuletide By people all over the earth. Who knelt and gave thanks and oblations To honor their patron’s rebirth. Far saner to worship this day star, Which brings us the heat and the rain. Than kneel to the God of the Christians With horrors and wars in its train. So, in line with this old pagan custom, From which our holiday grew; But freed from the latter’s delusions, I send my best greetings to you!
november/december 2008 — American Atheist
100 Years of Commentary Atheists On The Solstice
escribed simply, the Winter Solstice seems a boring enough thing. The Winter Solstice is merely one of the two points at which our sun reaches its greatest declination north or south. On the projection of the plane of our planet’s orbit on the celestial sphere, a solstice is 90° from the equinoxes. The Winter Solstice, usually occurring around December 21st, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. Doesn’t sound like anything to break out the champagne about, does it? Perhaps not to the average urban man or woman, to whom the only meaning of the turn of the seasons is whether to light the pilot on the furnace, but the change of the seasons was a life and death matter for our agrarian forefathers. For them, the solstices and the equinoxes signaled the all-important change of seasons. The movements of the moon, of the sun, and of the numerous constellations (now hard to notice against city lights) marked significant events such as the planting time, the harvest time, the approach of cold months, or the return of warm months. Unless they paid careful attention to the changes in the night skies, primitive men and women might lose track of agrarian schedules. Bereft of ever-bountiful grocery stores, the people of ancient times were dependent on the sun and the soil for nourishment. Caught without convenient central heating systems, they needed the sun or fuel for warmth. As the days shortened during the latter part of the year, they understandably worried about their future survival. What if the sunlight days disappeared altogether? If one looks at it from this point of view, the importance of solstices to primitive (and not-so-primitive) humankind is obvious. When the Winter Solstice passed, the days grew longer. There was hope that it would once again be warm and comfortable, that food would start to grow again, that the young animals would begin to be born. Life, happiness, and joy were
American Atheist — november/december 2008
keyed to the growing seasons, and the growing seasons were, and are, keyed to the sun. Back then, the Winter Solstice was, without a doubt, exciting enough to break out the champagne, or whatever else one could lay one’s hands on. Evidences of ancient solstice celebrations can be seen in almost all cultures today. In the vast majority of these cases, the old and joyous occasions have become mildewed with religious significance. Now Atheists of all types and in all centuries have been fascinated with religious significance. They have wondered why people engage in what can be ritualized and sometimes bizarre acts. They have wished to know the origins of Christmas and of winter celebrations of all types. They have wanted the “behindthe-scenes” stories on all the Solstice (and Christmas) customs. More often than not, the information they wish to have is unavailable. It is lost in the mists of time or the fires of the Inquisitions. But over the years, Atheist writers and researchers have managed to uncover a few things of interest. Sometimes their research has been faulty; sometimes it has been guesswork. On the other hand, in many cases they were going into the realms of history where “no man has gone before” – or very few men, at any rate. Sometimes their opinions have been bitter. After all, Atheists have been excluded by religion from one of the basic celebrations that humankind has held for thousands of years. Sometimes they have gleefully joined in the almost worldwide Winter Solstice celebrations, only pausing on the way to remind everyone that it really is not a religious festival. We have reprinted here the commentary of Atheists on the Solstice during the past one hundred years. In the following pages you will read everything from the old-time Atheists’ commentary on the origin of Christmas to modern writings on the significance of church bells and the UFO of Bethlehem. We hope you enjoy it. Happy Solstice. k
A contribution by Jean Story to the Free Religious Index of December 30, 1880
e would not, and could not if we would, lessen the world-wide interest manifested from prehistoric ages in this day of common rejoicing, the day when the Sun of Heaven begins its annual return northward after the winter solstice. It matters not what national tradition, secular or religious, the day may be assumed to commemorate, whether it be the anniversary of the miraculous birth of Osiris, of that of Hercules or Bacchus or Adonis, or Mithra or Khrishna, or the Christ child, it is nature’s everwelcome guarantee of another seedtime and harvest. The wherefore that all these demigods had the same natal day, corresponding to our Christmas, is because they all had the same virgin mother, the constellation Virgo. Owing to the precession of the equinoxes, the constellation Virgo is now in the autumnal equinoctial sign. And, as it extends over more than forty-five degrees of the zodiac belt, it has been within the limits of this sign for about twenty-five hundred years. During all these years, the earth has always been on a direct line between the sun and some portion of this constellation at every vernal equinox. This overshadowing of the Celestial Virgin by the sun’s vernal rays was the annual procreation of the sun’s son, their common offspring on the earth. After the sun has passed through the six signs of the lower or southern heavens, and through three signs of the upper or northern heavens to its greatest declination north,* it becomes apparently motionless for three days. This, to our pagan ancestors, was a time of fearful suspense. They not only feared the sun was leaving the earth during its prolonged declination; but, when it stood still, they mourned its death. The morning of the day when its first movement northward changed their mourning into feasting was celebrated by all nations as the anniversary of the accouchment of the Celestial Virgin. Hence, the resurrection of their god Sol from his annual death at the end of the winter solstice was simultaneous with the birth of his earthly son, the “man-child.” But this infant representative of the sun’s procreative power within the earth’s northern hemisphere is always hidden until the vernal equinox, when the earth is again at the autumnal equinox. Here, on the celestial atlas, we find the son of the winged virgin, the immortal Hercules, who with one hand is dealing a death-blow upon the head of the great red dragon, the symbol of cold; while with
the other he is dragging away the dog Cerberus, the symbol of darkness, thereby forcing the cold and darkness of winter from the northern heavens into the southern heavens, in order to maintain astronomic justice within the earth’s northern and southern hemispheres. However necessary the seasonal labors of this mediator during the earth’s infancy, when mankind assumed that it was cradled in the “great deep” as incapable of self-provision as a human infant, and believed that the sun was obliged to make the entire circuit of the heavens, a journey of about two hundred and eighty million of miles, daily, as well as annually, during which it must needs pass through the “underworld or infernal regions” in the lower heavens, over which the great serpent Hydra, whose deadly wound from the club of Hercules had become healed, presided with fiery opposition, these labors evidently ended when humanity attained a more mature plane of thought. The fact that the earth now attains its needed quota of light and darkness, or heat and cold, by its own axial rotations and revolutions around the sun, is a significant hint that its human inhabitants should depend on their own self-provisional powers rather than on heavenly or miraculous aids. Although the sun is the most glorious and most beneficient object known or knowable, and its annual return northward promises the greatest boon vouchsafed to man, yet it is in no way profited by either adoration or sacrifice. The radiation of its heat and light is as much a necessity of its nature as their reception is to the nature of its terrestrial offspring. This is equally true of each more remote ancestral sun, and of each ideal of its creative power. But our fellow-beings cannot only be benefited, but ourselves enriched, by opening the mines of love within our pent-up hearts, the truly enjoyable fruits of which multiply in the ratio of their reciprocal impartation and reception. And no more appropriate day can be selected on which to bestow gifts or exchange mementoes than on our long-cherished and time-honored anniversary, Merry Christmas. k Editor’s notes: This appears to be upside-down. It is the sun’s greatest declination south of the celestial equator that marked the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. We have maintained Story’s spellings of 1880. Currently, however, the preferred spellings of accouchment and beneficient are, respectively, accouchement and beneficent. november/december 2008 — American Atheist
It’s Awful to Be a Heathen From The Melting Pot, Volume 1, Number 1 (January, 1913)
e who have just celebrated once more the birth of the founder of the brotherhood of man must realize how awful it is to be a heathen and have no Christmas. What does an ornery heathen know about the Christmas song of “Peace on earth, good will towards men?” Not a thing – the cusses never hear of it till we pound it into them with our missionaries and muskets. Of course, this “Peace on earth, good will towards men” comes high as a cat’s back, but we’ve got to have it in our business. It takes three hundred million dollars a year to run our army and navy and buy guns and ammunition, but our Christianity is dirt cheap at that. The poor, wicked, God-forsaken heathen couldn’t do this to save their gizzards – they couldn’t raise the price even if they wanted to do it – and how can the Lord be expected to bless them with “brotherhood” and “peace” and “good will” when they haven’t got plenty of guns to back it up? And what do the unregenerated heathen know about “Suffer little children to come unto Me” when they haven’t any big cotton mills to gather the little children in and make them suffer? The heathen have no Christmas – they don’t know a thing about Jesus, who was born in a manger, and who gave us our religion of the brotherhood of man. Even if Jesus had been raised among them the chances are they wouldn’t have known enough to crucify him as a sacrifice for their own sins. The heathen have no idea what Christmas means; they have no brotherhood and good will; no Standard Oil, Steel Trust, Supreme Court, standing army, white slave traffic, child labor, slums, landlords and mortgages, or any of the other trimmings that go with our “Christianity.” They don’t even know what suicide and crime and insanity are – there are whole sections of heathen lands without even a bughouse or penitentiary. You can read Stanley’s Darkest Africa and you won’t find a word mentioned about these things.
American Atheist — november/december 2008
As remarked, it’s awful to be a heathen and have no Christmas – no merry reminder of the birthday of the founder of our brotherhood of man that we “Christians” enjoy. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, especially along Christmas time, for not saving the heathen a blamed sight faster than we do. We’ve prayed for over 1900 years for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth, and outside of the United States and Europe the world is still floundering along without the blessed “peace” and “brotherhood of man” and “good will.” Hell is probably crowded already way out to the suburbs with the lost heathen. It isn’t fair to ask God to build hell any bigger in order to accommodate the rush, when we, if we only will, can furnish the heathen with our salvation, and at the same time more than get our money back selling them embalmed meat, shoddy clothing, boots, shoes and a tolerably fair article of liquor. Let us, who have just celebrated the Christmas season, and who enjoy all the blessings of brotherhood, etc., etc., that our “Christianity” bestows on us, implore our good brothers in the faith whom the Lord has blessed with lots of stolen boodle, to cough up more dough so more missionaries can go forth to the heathen with our Christmas carol of “Peace on earth, good will towards men.” Let these miserable heathen know that our gospel is free – all they have to pay for are the shoddy goods and booze that go with it. Show them how precious it is to be saved and happy like we are. We may have to shoot hell into them to do it, but what else are you going to do with a lost heathen that won’t let us save him? We can easily baptize what are left – water is cheap – and that beats letting them all be eternally damned. In the meantime we who are redeemed and sanctified, and who are practicing the “brotherhood of man,” and “peace on earth,” and “good will,” and all the rest of the Christian virtues, can offer heartfelt prayer and praise that we are God’s chosen people. We’re saved all right any way – anybody can see that from the way we are running things. k
GET READY TO PACK YOUR BAGS FOR
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
35th National Convention The
AMERICAN ATHEISTS April 9-12, 2009
Emory Conference Center Hotel/Emory Inn — 1615 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329 Said to be the “Best Kept Secret” in Georgia the Emory is a hidden oasis as its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and serene wooded views combine diverse meeting spaces, beautiful gardens, walking trails, and much more to create a one-of-a-kind experience. The Emory is just 20 minutes from Atlanta’s HartsfieldJackson International Airport. The downtown business district and vibrant Buckhead are less than 12 minutes from the hotel. Complimentary on-site parking is an added bonus. The Emory offers a two-tiered guest room rate. Guest rooms in the hotel are $109 plus tax for single/double. Guest rooms in the inn (directly connected to the hotel) are $89 plus tax for single/ double and include breakfast. You must make your reservations directly with the hotel/inn on or before March 10, 2009 to enjoy our special convention rate. Be sure to tell them you are with the American Atheists convention. Emory Hotel/Inn reservations: 1-800-933-6679. Visit the Emory Conference Center Hotel/Emory Inn at www.emoryconferencenter.com Confirmed Speakers at this time: Dr. Ed Buckner: President, American Atheists, Inc. Prof. Richard Dawkins: Science Celebrity/Writer Mike Malloy: Nationally-syndicated talk radio personality Jim Morrow: Writer (D)evangelical: Stand Up Comedy Troupe
Thursday, April 9th 6:00 – 9:00 PM Great Hearth Room: Registration and informal reception with cash bar. Friday, April 10th 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Lullwater Ballroom, Programs 7:00 – 11:00 PM Silverbell Room, Open Banquet, Award Ceremony, Members Meeting Saturday, April 11th 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Lullwater Ballroom, Programs 7:00 – 11:00 PM Silverbell Room, Open Banquet, Honor Lifetime/Gift and Legacy Members Sunday, April 12th Dining Rm; Hosted Breakfast. Arrive anytime between 8:00 and 11:00 AM and be greeted by your board members and state directors who will be eager to chat with you, enjoy a cup of coffee together or maybe a place at your breakfast table. Sunday afternoon group outing. Destination and time to be announced Of course, our convention will feature a host of speakers, entertainment, books, products, various venders, endless conversations, greeting old friends and making new friends.
The Origin of
Christmas A classic by Sherman Wakefield from the December, 1948, Progressive
he study of origins is always a fascinating and interesting one, but when our popular institutions and customs are under consideration the interest is easily doubled. Just now the Christian world is preparing to celebrate Christmas, one of the favorite festivals of the Christian Church. If one were to ask the average Christian the reason for the celebration, he would undoubtedly reply that it is the birthday of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is being observed. But, one may ask, what have hearth-fires, green decorations, mistletoe, and Santa Claus to do with the birth of Christ? It was with the purpose of answering such questions that this article was written. However, their roots are so varied and far-reaching, and their ramifications so many, that it will be possible to sketch only in broad outline the motives back of the chief present-day customs at Christmas, and of some that are now extinct. From time immemorial the winter solstice has been celebrated universally as the Birthday of the Sun. Then it is that the days begin to lengthen, and the power of the sun to increase. As the sun in primitive times was usually personified and made into gods who lived on earth in human form, we find that such deities as Mithra, Osiris, Horus, and Adonis were said to have been born on or near December 25th, the day that was believed to be the winter solstice. On this day the Egyptians represented the newborn sun by the image of an infant, which was exhibited to his worshipers. Both in Syria and Egypt the celebrants retired into certain inner shrines the evening before, from which they rushed at midnight crying: “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!” Since all these deities were said to have been born of a virgin it is hard to say what she represented. Perhaps she was the Zodiacal sign Virgo which began to appear at that time, as Carpenter and others suggest. Be that as it may, there entered into the Roman Empire during the latter part of the first century of our era the cult of Mithra, a Persian sun-god. From this time it grew so rapidly that up to the end of the fourth century it remained the foremost cult of paganism. Mithra was regularly termed Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), and the 25th of December was called Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). On this day festal lights and fires were kindled to celebrate the joyous occasion. It is significant, as will be indicated later, that Mithraism
American Atheist — november/december 2008
became the most powerful rival of Christianity, and very nearly the official religion of the Roman Empire. If that had occurred, undoubtedly the western world would now be Mithraic rather than Christian. A celebration of a different nature from that of the Birthday of the Sun, was the Saturnalia which was observed in Rome from the 17th to the 23rd of December. It was held in honor of Saturn, the god of sowing and of husbandry, who was reputed to have once lived on earth as a righteous and beneficent king of Italy. His reign was called the “Golden Age,” and during the celebration the conditions of that time were supposed to be duplicated. All public business was suspended, declarations of war and criminal executions were postponed, and friends gave presents to one another. In general, the occasion was one of feasting and revelry. But the most remarkable feature of the celebration was the license granted to the slaves. They were allowed to rail at their masters, become intoxicated, and were even waited upon at table by their masters. Another phase of the Saturnalia was the casting of lots by the freemen for the election of a mock King, who may originally have represented Saturn himself. He was merely in charge of the festivities, however, and issued playful commands to his temporary subjects to furnish entertainment. Frazer [author of The Golden Bough] is of the opinion that originally the King in his part as Saturn was sacrificed, but without settling the point it should be stated that Fowler insists there is no evidence whatever that a human victim was sacrificed on this occasion. The sun was also worshiped by the Celtic and Teutonic peoples, but it is impossible to identify it with the names of any of their deities. The winter solstice was celebrated with fires, feasting, and rejoicing. In Scandinavia the festival was called Yule, and in every house was performed the rite of burning the Yule log. This rite of the Yule log, clog, or block, as it was variously called, soon spread, so that we find early traces of it in Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, England, and throughout Europe generally. Among Christians it was sometimes given the name of Christbund or Christklotz. There were various superstitions associated with the Yule log, which were generally that the fire had the power of inducing fertility. For example, if a piece of the wood was steeped in the water given
the cows to drink, it was believed it would help them to calve. Some people thought they would have as many chickens as there are sparks which fly from the burning log when it is shaken. It was also believed that if pieces of theYule log were kept throughout the year, they would protect the house against fire, and especially lightning. The purpose of the fires seem primarily to have been to help the sun rekindle his apparently expiring light by magical influence. As a secondary object the fires had the power to induce fertility, because the sun had that power. The power to ward off fire and especially lightning requires further elaboration to explain. The worship of the oak-tree or of the oak-god appears to have been a common practice of the Indo-Europeans in Europe. In Greece one of the most famous sanctuaries was the oak of Zeus at Dodona, where the deity delivered his messages to mankind. All places which had been struck by lightning were fence in and dedicated to Zeus the Descender. Altars were set up within these enclosures and sacrifices were offered on them. In Italy every oak was sacred to Jupiter, and in Rome he was worshiped as the god of the oak, the rain, and the thunder. Going northward, we find that the Druids among the Celts of Gaul deemed nothing more sacred than the oak, and they chose oak groves for the scene of their services and performed no rites without oak leaves. In fact, the very name of “Druids” is believe by good authority to mean nothing more than “oak men.” Among the Teutons the oak was especially sacred, and it was dedicated to the god of thunder, Donar, Thunar, or Thor. Now the identification of this Teutonic god with the Italian thunder-god, Jupiter, was made when the Latin dies Jovis was rendered into Thunar’s day or Thursday. In view of the sacredness of the oak among the Indo-Europeans, it is interesting and significant that when a kind of wood
is specified for the Yule log it is usually oak that is designated. Now the reason that the oak tree was deemed sacred is the same for which mistletoe was held in veneration as the two are inseparably connected. Mistletoe was considered sacred by the Druids provided it grew on an oak tree, for they believed that whatever grew on those trees was sent from heaven, and was a sign that the tree had been chosen by the god himself. The mistletoe was ritually cut by a priest in a white robe with a golden sickle, and was caught in a white cloth so that it would not touch the ground. It was believed that a potion prepared from the mistletoe would make barren animals fertile, and that it was a remedy for all poisons. In general, these views regarding the mistletoe were also held by the Italians. Evidence was lent to the view that mistletoe had fallen from heaven by the fact it is not a plant of the soil, and is found only among the branches of trees. Mistletoe, like the Yule log, had the property of protection against fire, on the theory that it fell on the tree during a flash of lightning. Another great virtue of mistletoe was its ability to afford protection against sorcery and witchcraft. The mistletoe was viewed as the seat of life of the oak, and it was thought that an oak could not be injured or destroyed until the mistletoe had first been cut from it. This view was probably reached by the observation that in winter the oak was leafless while the mistletoe remained green. On the other hand, the connection of the oak with the thunder god and with fire was probably an inference based on the observation that the oak is struck by lightning more frequently than is any other tree. The mistletoe has the added association with fire by the fact that it turns a golden color all over when it withers, and for this reason it was called “The Golden Bough.” Christmas, on December 25th, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus, was a late festival in the Christian Church. We first hear of it through John Chrysostom about the year 385, who calls it “The birth of Christ after the flesh.” He says “It is not yet ten years since this day became manifest and known to us.” He indicated further that it was far from being generally accepted at that time, and one may gather that eastern Christendom was even opposed to it. This reference to the new feast as of the birth after the flesh implies the existence of an older feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus after the spirit. There was such a feast, which was celebrated on January 6th, and we call it today the feat of the Epiphany. The original significance of the feast was to
Reproduced 1993 by: Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 november/december 2008 — American Atheist
celebrate the “new birth” of Jesus at his baptism, when he was spiritually anointed the messiah. For the early Christians, the baptism was the great event in the life of Jesus, and it didn’t matter whether his fleshly birth was natural or not. Because the Christ was held to have been born in the waters of the Jordan, he was symbolized as a big fish, and Christians who had also been reborn by baptism were called “little fish.” What little notice was given to Jesus’ birth “after the flesh” was celebrated with the festival of his “spiritual birth” on January 6th. But as time went on the original significance of the baptism was lost sight of, and Jesus came to be regarded as having been the Christ from his mother’s womb. Hence the miraculous birth became all-important, and the celebration of another day than January 6th as the birthday “after the flesh” became necessary. At the same time that old Epiphany feast took on the new significance of commemorating the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. In time, however, the Wise Men were identified with three mythical kings variously called Magalat, Galgalat, and Saraim, or Athos, Sates, and Paratoras. The Christians called them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. These “kings” were probably the three bright stars forming the belt in the constellation of Orion, for the name “Trois Rois” is commonly given to these stars by French and Swiss peasants to this day. Thus originated the familiar “Three Kings of Orient” in Christian tradition, as there is no Biblical authority for regarding the Wise Men as kings or for fixing their number at three. The “Star of the East” was merely the inclusion of pagan astrological beliefs in the Christian story. It was the star under which the Christ was born. Why the 25th day of December was selected for the celebration of Christ’s birth, when it was changed from January 6th, is clearly set forth by an early Syrian Christian as follows (quoted in Frazer, Adonis, 1:304): The reason why the fathers transferred the celebration of the 6th of January to the 25th of December was this. It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same 25th of December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true nativity should be solemnized on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the 6th of Janury [sic]. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice has prevailed of kindling fires till the sixth. Hence with the Christian acceptance of the pagan winter solstice celebrations, there entered into Christianity the customs of lighting candles and giving presents, which have persisted to the present time. However, the celebration of Christ’s birth on the 25th of December is not universal among Christian even today, for the Armenians still celebrate his birth and baptism together on Epiphany, the 6th of January. 16
American Atheist — november/december 2008
We now enter upon another branch of the modern Christmas celebration. St. Nicholas was born at Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor, about the beginning of the fourth century A.D. He became the Christian Bishop of Myra. His historicity is doubted, however, and his name is thought to be the Christian title of the Greek god Apollo, whose worship was very popular in Patara during the third century. Be that as it may, various legends grew up about him showing him to be the patron saint of children. St. Nicholas has always had two festival days, one on May 9th, the day of the Thargelia of Apollo, and December 6th. So when the split came between the Eastern and Western Christian churches, the Eastern Church retained May 9th as St. Nicholas Day while the Western Church accepted December 6th. As far back as 600 or 700 years ago it became the custom for children to hang up their stockings or shoes on the eve of December 6th and to find them filled with candy and toys in the morning, which had been placed there by the good St. Nicholas. Up to about 200 years ago St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Christendom. He was especially beloved in Holland, and there he received the popular nickname of Santa Claus; Nicolaus, the Low Dutch for Nicholas, being abbreviated to Claus, and Santa being corrupt Latin for Saint. But the Santa Claus that we know today, coming on Christmas eve, is a late American creation, for he was originated in 1823 by the Rev. Clement Clarke Moore, in his famous poem “The Night Before Christmas.” The American Santa Claus is now accepted universally. There remain a few more Christmas customs to be considered. Decking houses and churches with evergreens seems to have been a pagan custom which the early Christians were sometimes forbidden to imitate. We first hear of a Christmas tree in 1605 at Strasbourg, and as late as 1840 it was introduced into England and France. We have already considered the sacredness of the mistletoe to the pagans, so we are not surprised to find it in Christianity. The traditional privilege allowed to men of kissing any woman found under mistletoe is probably a relic of a period of license like the Saturnalia, or perhaps of a custom similar to the rite of Mylitta at Babylon. The first man to hymn the nativity was Prudentius, in the fourth century. The degeneration of the Miracle Plays in the Middle Ages occasioned the general diffusion of noels, pastorali, and carols. The earliest German Weihnachtslieder date from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the earliest noels from the eleventh century, and the earliest carols from the thirteenth century. The general giving of presents at Christmas is a survival of the Saturnalia; the Yule log is derived from our Teutonic ancestors, as has been indicated. Altogether the celebration of Christmas is so thoroughly pagan that throughout its history it has been condemned by conservative Christians. Its observance being forbidden in England by a special Act of Parliament in 1644, is perhaps the outstanding instance of that. But the custom will probably continue as long as the human race lasts, for it sees to be a general human tendency to rest and enjoy oneself at the time of the winter solstice. k Editor’s note: the [sic] in Frazer’s quote appears in the original.
Why is Christmas
An explanation by Lee L. Dodds from the December, 1947, issue of The Freethinker
hristmas has been celebrated by the Christian Churches for nearly 1600 years as the birthday of the Christ Jesus. Many will be surprised by the mention of 1600 years, as this is the twentieth century. But, as a matter of fact, the church did not adopt the 25th of December as the birth date until the year 354 A.D. The exact date has never been definitely determined and even Mary, his mother, did not remember, or did not reveal the date. Why then, was this particular date selected? In the early days of the Christian era, all of the inhabitants of the Roman, Greek and Egyptian world were familiar with the custom of a great celebration on or about the 25th of December, in honor of the birth date
of their particular God. The early fathers of the Christian Church were having a difficult time in their efforts to supplant the old, or pagan religions and in pure self-defense, were compelled to adopt many of the pagan holidays and ceremonies of those older religions. The myth of a virgin birth for their heroes and Gods was a common belief of practically all religions, for thousands of years before the time of Christ. Julius Caesar, Plato, Alexander the Great, King Cyrus of Persia, Apollonius and myriads of others were supposed to be divinely conceived. As for the Gods, one did not amount to much if he was not conceived of a virgin. It would be impossible to list all of them, if known, in an article of this scope. The most popular at the beginning of this era
were Mithra, Dionysus, Heracles (Hercules), Jupiter, and many other older Gods, too numerous to mention. Of the virgin mothers of Gods, who, after all, should be given some consideration, we find such names as Venus, Danae (Diana), Isis, Apis, Cybele, Demeter, Juno, Kore (Persephone), Ceres, Ino, Here (the Greek Juno), just to mention a few. The fact of the intercourse of a God with mortal woman was conceded by all to be a perfectly normal proceeding. In fact, a normal conception of a God would have been considered abnormal. Such is the logic of superstitious ignorance. There is not a single precept or dogma of the Christian religion that cannot be found in most of the older, so-called pagan religions; especially so are the rites and devotions of the birth in the manger. This was just as much a part of the ritual as the virgin birth itself. It was common to all the Gods, for thousands of years before the time of Jesus. The Christian church adopted the whole myth, even to adopting the cave in Palestine as their own, which had been, for centuries, used for the same purpose by the Mithrians. The basis of most of the older religions was Sun worship. Jupiter, Mithra, Horus, etc. were descended from the sun, or sky father (Heavenly father). In making a study of these various religions, we swim in a sea of myths that almost leaves us dizzy. We find Christs and Christmases, virgin mothers and divine sons, stable births and persecuting monarchs, annunciations and foster fathers throughout the whole religious world, so that the whole story of Jesus dissolves away into a mythical mosaic of ancient beliefs. Seriously, the idea of Sun worship would seem to be the most logical of all forms of religious worship. It does not take any very extended line of argument to convince us of what would happen if our Sun should suddenly happen to be blocked out. This short synopsis of the beginnings of the Christmas celebration is abhorrent to the intelligence of this Atomic age. How long will we continue to poison the minds of our children with these superstitious myths? k november/december 2008 â€” American Atheist
he Christian institution of our principal festival is best stated in the words of St. Chrysostom [c. 347–407] (Hom., xxxi): “On this day of the birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome, in order that while the heathens were occupied in their profane ceremonies the Christians might perform their holy rites undisturbed. But they call this day ‘the Birthday of the Invincible One [Mithras].’ Who is so invincible as the Lord that overthrew and vanquished Death? Or because they style it the ‘Birthday of the Sun.’ He is the Sun of Righteousness, of whom Malachi saith, ‘Upon you, fearful ones, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.’” The only connexion between jolly old Father Christmas and the young man of sorrows, said to have come to an untimely end in Jerusalem, is a church-made one. On the face of it Christmas is a Pagan festival. The head of the house, who invites his scattered family to make merry with him at this time does exactly what his Pagan ancesters [sic] did centuries before the Christian era. Nor has the strong arm of religion quite banished the Pagan name, for in many parts Yule-tide and Yule-log and a glad Yule are still favorite terms. And Yule signifies the revolution of the year. The hauling home of the Yule-log and lighting it from a remnant of last year’s log, the custom down to modern times, was the survival of the ever-burning house fire, rekindled once a year from the ever-burning village fire; and takes us back to the early times when, in the words of Max Müller, “the hearth was the first altar, the father the first elder, his wife and children and slaves the first congregation, gathered together round the sacred fire.” The Yule festival was celebrated by the Druids with great fires lighted on the tops of the hills. The Venerable Bede [c. 672–735] says (de Rat. Temp. xiii) that in England the heathen inhabitants celebrated this very time. “They began,” he says, “their year on the 8th of the Calends of January [25th December], which is now our Christmas Day; and the very night before, which is now holy to us, was by them called Maedrenack, or the Night of Mothers; because as we imagine of those ceremonies which were performed that night.” The days at this time just beginning to lengthen, the Mother night was held to give them birth. The women took part in a nocturnal watch, now generally transferred to New Year’s eve. To get back to the origin of Christmas, we must put ourselves in the place of men who had no clear conception of the uniformity of natural law, and to whom, when winter with its long gloomy nights came, killing off vegetation, the question of questions was, When would brighter seasons return? Evergreens which told of the vitality of nature would be honoured, and the first assurance of the longer day hailed with acclamation. The Northern nations looked with special interest on the conflict of light and darkness. The passing of the period of the shortest day is the renewal of hope, the birthday of the Savior.
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Before Christians brought their superstitions to these islands the inhabitants celebrated the return of lighter days with a festival of rejoicing. The mistletoe is a Druidical emblem. The Yule log goes back to our Pagan forefathers. These show a solar character, as did likewise the bonfires lighted at Midsummer or St. John’s Day. How appropriately does the genius of Midsummer, St. John [the Baptist], say of the genius of Christmas: “He must increase, but I must decrease,” as the days begin to lengthen from December 25, and to shorten from June 24, till they reach the shortest, of which the genius saint is the unbelieving Thomas, standing in all the darkness of unbelief as to whether the Lord will rise again. In the Christmas service chant, “Sol novus oritur” [‘the new sun arises’], we see the adaptation of ancient solar thought to Christian allegory. When Christianity spread through the Roman Empire it found everywhere among the heathen a festival to the sun-god, or the general spirit of life and vegetation celebrated at the winter solstice. From December 21 till the end of the year the Romans held the Satur-
nalia, a season marked by the universal prevalence of licence and merry-making. Temporary freedom was given to slaves. Everyone feasted and rejoiced, work and business were for a season entirely suspended, the houses were decked with laurel and evergreen, visits and presents were exchanged between friends, and clients gave gifts to their patrons. The whole season was one of rejoicing and goodwill, and all kinds of amusements were indulged in by the people (see Chambers’ “Book of Days”). In the now extinct Lord of Misrule, and schoolboys “barring out,” may be traced a remnant of the Saturnalia. “Some also think,” says Bingham, “that the very design of appointing the fest of Christ’s Nativity and Epiphany at this season of the year, was chiefly to oppose the vanities and excesses which the heathen indulged themselves in, upon their Saturnalia and calends of January at this very time of the year.” Precisely so.
The Puritans saw that Christmas was a remnant of Paganism, and when in power during the Long Parliament did their best to suppress the festival. Ear-cropped Prynne, in his HistrioMastix, lets out in fine style: “If we compare our Bacchanalian Christmases and New Year’s Tides with these Saturnalia and Feast of Janus, we shall find such near affinity between them both in regard of time (they being both in the end of December and the first of January) and in their manner of solemnizing (both of them being part spent in revelling, epicurism, wantonness, idleness, dancing, drinking, stage plays, masques, and carnal pomp and jollity), that we must needs conclude the one to be but the very ape or issue of the other.” But Christmas was too strong for the Puritans, and at the Restoration the old festival was celebrated with new vigor. The custom of decorating houses with evergreens, evident symbols of life continued through the dead of winter, prevailed long anterior to Christianity. The Christian Father Tertullian [c. 160–c. 220], early in the third century affirmed it be “rank idolatry” to deck their doors “with garlands or flowers on festival days according to the custom of the heathen.” Polydore-Vergil [c. 1470–1555] says, “the decorating of temples with hanging of flowers, boughs, and garlands, was adopted from the Pagan nations, who decked their houses and temples in a similar manner.” The Christmas tree, derived from our Teutonic forefathers, and carried through the world wherever Teutons go, with its fruit of good things for the little ones, is another sign of faith in returning spring and harvest. The mistletoe was regarded by the Druids as the seed which carried over vegetative life from the old year to the new. Hence, to kiss, and pluck a seed, was a sign of life and fertility. The infant Christ is as much a symbol of the returning year as the holly or the Christmas tree. The birthday of Christ is the
birthday of the new year. Just as they now sing carols to the new-born king, so, in ancient times, they sang carols to the vegetation itself, of which Shakespeare’s “Heigh-ho the holly” is a remnant. In the North they carry round the Christmas tree, so the Southern Catholics carry round the infant Christ with his mother. In English villages this used to be the custom. Girls carried a wax doll in a box surrounded with evergreen and fruits. Whoever gave them money took a leaf which, carefully preserved, brought luck. This was good tidings of great joy, so that there was a proverb, “As unhappy as the man who has seen no advent images.” So bakers would bake Yule doughs or little images, with currants for eyes, which were presented to their customers. These were intended as images of the Newborn King, and it was believed that he who preserved his Yule dough unbroken all through the year would not be injured by fire or water or be slain by the sword. Barnaby Googe [1540–1594] thus refers to the old midnight mass: Then comes the day wherein the Lord did bring his birth to passe; Whereas at midnight up they rise and every man to masse; This time so holy counted is, that divers, earnestly, Do think the waters all to wine are changed suddenly In that same hour that Christ Himself was born and came to light, And unto water strait again transformed and altered quite. These are beside that mindfully the money still do watch; That first to the altar comes which they privately do snatch. The priests, least others should have it, take off the same away, Whereby they think, throughout the year, to have good luck in play, And not to lose. Then strait at game till daylight do they strive To make some present proof how well their hallowed pence will thrive. That is to say, they first stole the money from the altar, and then began to gamble with it in church to prove its virtue as protecting them from loss. In South America, to this day, they hold a cock-crowing mass on Christmas. The young people at midnight interrupt the priest with cock-crowings and shouting, and after they leave the church spend the time in revelry. Googe thus refers to the masses on Christmas Day: Three masses every priest doth sing upon that solemn day november/december 2008 — American Atheist
With offerings unto every one that so the more may play. This done, a woodden childe in clowtes [rags, patches] is on the altar set, About the which both boys and girls do dance and trimly jet And carals sing in prayse of Christ, and for to help them heare The organs answere every verse, with sweet and solemn cheare. The priests do rore aloud; and round about the parentes stande, To see the sport, and with their voice do help them and their bande. On Christmas morning, before break of day, the greatest uproar prevailed through a great number of boys going round from house to house, rapping at every door, and roaring out, “I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” which words were vociferated again and again, till the family was aroused, and the clamorous visitors were admitted. Cole (Hist. and Antiq. Of Filey, p. 137), says: “The first who came were treated with money, gingerbread and cheese, which are distributed to all on the Christmas morning, but less liberally than to the first comers. No person, boys excepted, dared presume to go out of doors till the threshold had been consecrated by the entrance of a male. Females had no part in this matter, for although a lady were as fair as an angel, her form would be viewed as prognostic of death, were she the first to cross the threshold on Christmas morning.” These customs of first footing and lucky-birding are now transferred to the New Year. In Yorkshire children still go vessel-cupping — as they call going round with the box containing Christmas dolls, or images taken from the mantelpiece. “Please may we sing you the ‘Vessel-cup’” they say; but instead of singing the Wassail-cup, they sing a Christmas carol. The box in old times would sometimes contain a cup instead of dolls. Drinking from the wassail bowl was a pledge of health and fortune. In some places still the wassailling of orchards, pouring beer or cider on the roots of trees at Christmas is still maintained, a venerable fragment of tree-worship. It was the custom in Devonshire, and probably in other counties also, to perform the following ceremonial on Christmas Eve. In the evening of the farmer’s family and friends being assembled, hot wheat-flour cakes were introduced, with cider. This was served round, the cake being dipped in the cider and then eaten. As the evening wore on, the company adjourned to the orchard, some bearing hot cake and cider as an offering to the principal tree; the cake was deposited on a fork up the tree, and the cider thrown over it, the men firing off muskets, fowling pieces, pistols, etc. In Norfolk they sprinkled spiced ale over the orchards and meadows, and in the New Forest they mixed apples with the drink, singing: 20
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Apples and pears with right good corn Come in plenty to every one, Eat and drink, good cake and ale Give Earth to drink; and she’ll not fail. Eating the boar’s head was a symbol of triumph over winter. The allegation that it was done in abhorrence of the Jews is a comparatively modern explanation. The old Oxford carol, “The boar is dead,” explains the symbol: The boar is dead, So here’s his head, What man could have done more Than his head off to strike. Meleager like, And bring it as I do before? He living spoiled Where good men toiled Which made kind Ceres sorry; But now dead and drawn Is very good brawn, And we have brought it for ye. Then set down the swine yard, The foe to the vineyard Let Bacchus crown his fall. Let this boar’s head and mustard Stand for pig, goose, and custard, And so ye are welcome all. In the Odin Religion as Carlyle tells us in his article in the Westminster Review, October, 1854, ‘Freir rode on a goldenbristled boar, Gullinburste; his festival was held at the turn of the year, at Yule-tide; and is still commemorated in that season at Oxford and other places, where ‘the procession of the boar’s head,’ Freir’s symbol, is solemnised at Christmas time; a custom really venerable, considering how far down it has traveled on the road of ages!” Plum puddings and mince pies are not, as Brady says, “In token of the offerings of the wise men from the East,” but representative sacraments. They are compounds of the good things of the past season, partaking which would ensure prosperity for that ensuing. Hence the saying, as many pieces of pudding or mince-pie are partaken, so many happy months. As the communion was originally taken by all the clan, to this may be traced the family re-unions at the present day. Pantomimes are associated with Christmas; and because the harlequinade is of Latin origin some think they are quite modern. I hold that this and the common view that the drama has grown from the miracle plays of the Middle Ages is wrong. It has been so usual to ascribe everything to the Church, and this theory has been supposed to reflect such credit upon the stage, that it has been allowed to pass unchallenged. Yet I am convinced this is a mistake. The Christmas pantomimes have
developed from the court masques performed at Christmas, and these again from the Yule-tide mummers, who were long anterior to the miracle plays. In Ben Johnson’s Christmas, His Masque, two of the characters are taken by Minced Pie and Bride Cake, as in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream we have the personal representation not only of a lion and a wall, but of moonshine. This takes us back to the old idea of mummery, which was that of imitative magic. Both the Christmas mummers and the miracle plays, developed from a common source; the idea expressed in festival ceremonies of savages, the buffalo and other dances of North American Indians, and the carrying of the Bambino to child-bearing women; the notion that the representation of actions was a charm to realise them. The Christmas mummers wore the heads of animals. The principal characters of the harlequinade represent the four seasons. The harlequin with his magically changing wand is the spirit of spring. The gay dancing columbine is summer, the sausage-stuffing clown, autumn, and tottering pantaloon, winter. The clown also preserves features of the Lord of Misrule and abbot of unreason, a character probably derived from the temporary kings, and earlier than Christianity. The following act of a “pageant” which took place at Christmas 1410 is extracted from the “Records of Norwich,” and throws light on the character of the festival. “John Hadman, a wealthy citizen, made disport with his neighbours and friends, and was crowned King of Christmas. He rode in state through the city, dressed forth in silks and tinsel, and preceded by twelve persons as the twelve months of the year.” The Records continue: “After King Christmas, followed Lent, clothed in white garments trimmed with herring skins, on horseback, the horse being decorated with trappings of oyster shells, being indicative that sadness and a holy time should follow Christmas revelling. In this way they rode through the city, accompanied by numbers in various grotesque dresses, making disport and merriment, some clad in armor; others dressed as devils chased the people, and sorely affrighted the women and children; others wearing skin dresses and counterfeiting bears, wolves, lions, and other animals, and endeavoring to imitate the animals they represented, in roaring and raving, alarming the cowardly and appalling the stoutest hearts.” Stow in his “Survey” (37) says: “At the feast of Christmas there was in the king’s house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of honor or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. Amongst the which the mayor of London, and either of the sheriffs, had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These lords beginning their rule or Allhallow Eve, continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas Day. In all which space there were fine and subtle disguisings masks, and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails, and points, in every house, more for pastime than for gain.” The lawyers also elected a Christmas lord, and they had the usual shows performed in their several Inns of Court. Their lord was
up early in the morning hunting out his officers, and “pulling all the loiterers out of bed to make their early sport, but after breakfast the fun was suspended until the evening, when it was opened again day after day with great spirit until the holidays ended. The Judges attended every evening, and the ‘under barristers’ were bound to dance before their lordships. On one occasion, when this was omitted, the whole bar was offended, and at Lincoln’s Inn, the offenders were by decimation put out of commons for example’s sake; and should the same omission be repeated, they were to be fined or disbarred; for these dancings were thought necessary ‘as much conducing to the makings of gentlemen more fit for their books at other times.’” When the old mysteries came to be adopted by the monks, they preserved some curious features. There is one called “The Miraculous Birth and the Midwives,” the object of which is to exhibit the Nativity, and to hold up those to dishonor who ventured upon questioning the purity of Mary. It opens with a scene in which Joseph informs Mary that they must go up to Bethlehem to be taxed; but he fears to take her. My spowse ye be with child; I fer yow to kary; For, me semyth, it wer’ werkys wylde: But yow to plese, right fayn wold I: Yitt women ben ethe to greve, whan thei be with childe, Now latt us forth wend, as fast as we may, & al myghty God spede us, in our jurnay. While they are on their journey, Mary espies a tree, and in answer to her question, Joseph informs her that it is a cherrytree. Alluding to her then condition, she asks him to pluck freely for her eating, and urges that she longs for some of its fruit. But Joseph says, “Let him pluck you cherries that gat you with child.” Mary now prays to God to make the tree bow down so that she may pick for herself, and immediately her wish is granted. When Joseph saw the tree bow, he humbled himself. Then follows the staying in the stable, the bringing in of midwives, who make speeches, and one of them – incredulous as Thomas – declares that the story of the other nurse, “that Mary is a virgin pure” cannot be true, for which she immediately loses the use of her arm, which falls “dead and dry.” This alarms and convinces her, she prays for pardon, her arm is restored, and then she declares her resolve to publish the wondrous birth unto all men. With this the mystery terminates. As kept us by the laity Christmas mumming usually preserved features of old nature worship. Father Christmas himself was a popular character, or St. George, the sun-god, many of whose features are like those of Horus, was at the head of the seven champions of Christendom, originally the seven days of the week. But the merest glance at Christmas customs should suffice to show that Christmas was not instituted to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Palestine at a time when shepherds could not watch their flocks by night, but Christ was said to have been born at the time of the winter solstice, since this was the Pagan season for celebrating the re-birth of the Sun. k november/december 2008 — American Atheist
Dickensian Christmas Peter Crommelin’s commentary from the December 23, 1972, issue of Great Britain’s Freethinker
or more than a hundred years the genial humour and humanism of Charles Dickens (1812–1870) has contributed much to the festivity of an English Christmas. It is for this reason that I have selected 25 December as the best day in the year for celebrating the coming of Dickens into the world. Having recently read The Misery of Christianity (a plea for a humanity without God) by Joachim Kahl, I have come to the conclusion that the coming of Dickens is worthy of joyful celebration. The joy of Christmas may come to be associated more with the death of the Christian faith rather than with its apparent survival in an unbelieving world. The Dickensian point of view is essentially that of a good-tempered humanist living in what purports to be a Christian community and making the best of it, without much inner conviction that Christianity is really contributing anything worth having to the better distribution of health and happiness here on earth. The strategic genius of Dickens enabled him to avoid any direct confrontation either with science or theology, but he demonstrates fairly convincingly that the human individual can and must be able to live his or her own life without too much dependence on any external. As science and theology must inevitably be external to the individual, they only appear as shadows from the Dickensian point of view. Dickens makes no attempt to see anything from a purely scientific or from a purely theological point of view. He always tries to see things from the human point of view, and that means in fact from the point of view of a specific individual in 22
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one particular and well defined set of circumstances. If there is a god in Dickens it is not the God of Christian theology; and if there is Atheism in Dickens it is not the kind of Atheism that might result from overabsorption in physics or chemistry.
Natural Genius Dickens was no philanthropist; he was a professional writer who achieved wealth and fame in the full exploitation of his natural genius. More than a hundred years after his death, a multiple of readers have cause to be glad that he did not fail in his self-appointed task of making a genuine contribution to the literature of humanity. I do not say that this is more important than the literature of science or the literature of philosophy, but it is equally important. Dickens was the greatest comic writer of all times, but like all masters of comedy was well aware that life is not all fun and games. Even now, Dickensian poverty has not been totally extinguished by Social Security. The nastier characters created by Dickens can still be found from time to time in public positions and institutions; they may be a bit of a joke, but rather a poor joke as far as their victims are concerned. The “Guilty Governments” who contributed to the conversion of Scrooge were not perhaps entirely figments of the Dickensian imagination. As a secular humanist, however, Dickens was not infallible. He makes Scrooge celebrate his conversion to humanity by going to church on Christmas morning: that was a mistake. In vulgar parlance, “He didn’t ought to’ve done that.” Going to
church as a duty creates an unpleasant smell of cant, hypocrisy, and humbug. Dickens and Scrooge shared the same hatred of “humbug.” So going to church is certainly not necessary to the celebration of a Dickens Christmas. Nor is the eating of meat. When one thinks of the millions of living organisms that are maltreated from the moment of birth to the moment of death simply to provide nourishment for the human species, one begins to feel that far more encouragement should be given to the vegetarian habit. By eating meat I deprive myself to some extent of the right to protest against the vicious cruelty of those who spend their working life in torturing living organisms for the cause of scientific research. The end desired is excellent; the means employed are a disgrace to human nature, and are for this reason a crime against humanity. A similar crime against humanity is committed by those who torture the human organism in order to induce total submission to some form of military or political dictatorship. If by eating meat we place ourselves on the same moral level as cannibals, torturers or murderers, then it is high time that we all became vegetarians. I am very glad that the ethical objections to the eating of meat do not apply to the drinking of alcohol. Beers, wines and spirits are all much more conductive to human happiness than the eating of meat, and are much less costly in terms of animal suffering. It would be difficult to imagine the celebration of a Dickens festival with nothing stronger to drink than milk and water.
Dickens, the Bible and Shakespeare The greatness of Charles Dickens can only be measured by comparison and contrast with such literary entities as the Bible and Shakespeare. The Bible is sometimes called “The Good Book”: it presents the human race as something which, apart from a Chosen Few, is fit only for eternal damnation. God, we are assured again and again, will have no mercy on his enemies. The morality of Shakespeare is better than that of the Bible but not so good as Dickens. For Shakespeare, all the world is a stage, and men and women are merely acting out a play that is not of their own making. This really is a most unsatisfactory concept of the real world. A good man is something much more important than a good actor, and a bad man is something infinitely worse than a bad actor. A novel, no doubt, is a sort of stage but is one in which the author can be much more true to life and down to earth than one who works within the narrow conventions of the theatre. Certainly the novels of Dickens have done much more to stimulate the social conscience than the plays of Shakespeare. The works of Dickens (not excluding his history of England for children) are the written record of his own personal genius. They also provide a unique course of study in the art and science of being human. That I take to be the essence of all that we call secular humanism. k
From the March-April 1965 Age of Reason, an essay by Joseph Lewis
Jesus Christ or Santa Claus
egularly, about this time of the year, a small group of over-zealous religionists get undue publicity by using the slogan “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas.” Some go so far as to have stickers on their cars. To this suggestion, I say, if you put Christ into Xmas you will take the Joy out of the Yuletide season. “Xmas,” as we know it today, was originally a Norwegian Festival of gift-giving and had absolutely nothing whatever to do with the so-called birth of Christ. It was a day of celebration, after harvesting, when the days began to lengthen, giving vent to Joy that darkness would not befall the earth. Scientifically it was the Winter Solstice. In fact, there is not a particle of evidence whatever that December 25th is the birthday of Jesus Christ. If such a person ever existed, the date of his birth is historically unknown. When Christianity came into existence, the Festival of the Winter Solstice was widely observed as it had been for centuries before and efforts were made to suppress this “Pagan Celebration.” Some religionists, even today, deplore this celebration as “sacrilegious.” The early church fathers, unable to stop this joyous holiday, finally appropriated it as the birth of Christ! No greater fiction was ever perpetrated!! Santa Claus, that Jolly Good Fellow, is a nonsectarian character and knows no distinction of race, color or creed. He is a Harbinger of Good Cheer and Happiness and to replace this symbolical Giver of Joy with the crucified Jesus would, indeed, be a stark tragedy for the world. Put Christ in Xmas and take out Santa Claus … NEVER!!! november/december 2008 — American Atheist
Those Christmas Cards from the November-December, 1965, Rationalist of South Africa
wry joke in Punch: “None of these cards seems to strike the right note of bogus cordiality towards a person whose birthday you basically don’t care about” (drawing by Handelsman), reminds us of the Christmas greeting problem. This affair of Christmas cards has become an elaborate, costly and largely meaningless racket. Creators of designs, paintings, sketches and of those touching little verses, are already hard at work for Christmas, 1966, even while you and I are coping with December, 1965. The thing is a snowball which gathers moss as it rolls through the years. Many people are revolted by the gross commercialism of this flood of conventional greetings. And, revolted, we may revolt. “I am not sending cards this year.” But, as the cards arrive and pile up on the mantelpiece, resolution wavers. Who will be a mean curmudgeon in the midst of so much goodwill? We end by shipping out, when the best designs have been sold, to buy of the poorer remnant cards and post them hastily. For rationalists the problem is difficult in a special way. Even the rationalist has friends whose good wishes he values and to whom he wishes well, however much they may be lost in obscurantism. How can he maintain his rational principles and at the same time respond graciously to the kindness of his friends? This is perhaps the smallest of the problems of daily life which beset the intransigent freethinker. To decide not to send any cards is a negative attitude and one which has no great propaganda value; moreover, it may be attributed to meanness. But freethinkers above all else are not joy-killers and have no wish to be so reputed. They are not mean in matters of cakes and ale and mistletoe. Also the homemade greeting card, even not particularly well executed, may give more pleasure than ninety-and-nine handsome printed cards. So let us either send cards issued in aid of some cause or devise our own cards, saying, with no religious leit-motif, something of our good wishes for the new year. Suggestions: “Wishing you a wonderful year,” or “Here’s to 1966!” or “Wishing you happiness in the new year!” Hackneyed? Yes, indeed. It’s up to you to invent your own messages and trim them with your own cheerful designs. k
American Atheist — november/december 2008
Smalkowski Case Settled in Federal Court in Oklahoma
A Special Report To the Board of Directors and the Membership of American Atheists from Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director for American Atheists It is my distinct professional and personal pleasure to announce that the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, at Oklahoma City, by American Atheists against the Hardesty, Oklahoma public school and certain named officials has been dismissed as settled. The order was filed yesterday, October 29, 2008. It is now part of history. I am not at liberty to make public the terms of the settlement agreement, but both the monetary considerations, and the assurances provided by the defendants, were satisfactory to American Atheists, were approved by the past and present Presidents of American Atheists, Frank Zindler and Dr. Ed Buckner, and were of such a character that I recommended that American Atheists accept the settlement. This case arose out of what we alleged was a denial of civil rights, and a conspiracy to violate civil rights, by state actors in Oklahoma against members of the Smalkowski family and other members of American Atheists. The Smalkowski family has made its own separate settlement with the defendants. Our lawsuit was based on the denial of civil rights to Atheists in the Oklahoma school, using the treatment of the Smalkowskis as evidence for this claim, and seeking redress for Atheists. This case was filed just over two years ago. The history of what happened is contained in writings that have previously appeared nationally and in this journal regarding the events that formed the cause of action for the Federal lawsuit. The factual background is a matter of public record. A special “thank you” goes to attorney Richard Rice of Oklahoma City who served as local counsel on this case. Rick is a Christian. He made that clear to me from the outset. And he believes in the rights secured by our Constitution. And he fought for them. Without his most competent and professional assistance, the result announced today could not have been achieved. On this issue, we are in the same line. We thank the Smalkowski family for their praise of our efforts on their behalf and we wish them well in their future undertakings. Edwin Kagin National Legal Director American Atheists, Inc.
The U.F.O. of Bethlehem by Frank Zindler
American Atheist Press, Austin, Texas (1991) Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled. … Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem. … When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. — The Gospel according to St. Matthew
very December in America, newspapers ranging in quality from the New York Times to the Possumtrot Gazette begin to carry feature stories by astronomers. The subject of discussion is never galactic evolution, black holes, or binary neutron star systems. Rather, the stargazersturned-journalists muse about comets, planetary conjunctions, and supernovae. If one examines any of these articles, however, one quickly discovers that they are simply rehashes of the question, “What was the Star of Bethlehem?” In other words, they are works of astrofiction, not astronomy. Generally, they are no more compelling scientifically then are the supermarket tabloid accounts of “The U.F.O. of Bethlehem.” The startling thing about these articles is that many of them are written by actual astronomers – educated persons who, because of their practical experience as observers, should be able to tell at a glance that the Gospel star story is mythology, not history. Typical of these feature stories is an article written by Tom Burns for the Columbus Dispatch. Burns is the vice president of the Columbus Astronomical Society, and writes a weekly astronomy column. His article begins with a personal touch: When people ask me why I brave the cold and give up sleep to drive to the middle of nowhere to gaze at the
brilliant winter stars, I think of the experience of three stargazers almost 2,000 years ago and their long journey in quest of a star. Wise men from the East traveled to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.” … What was the star in the East that the three astrologers followed? As can be seen in the passages quoted, Burns’s credulity extends even to the notion that there were three wise men, Magi, kings, astrologers, or whatever. Matthew’s Gospel – the only canonical Gospel mentioning the miracle star – nowhere indicates that the star-trackers (trakkies?) were three in number. It was not until the fourth century that the trio tradition became established. Prior to that time, the number of ‘Magi’ (the Greek text calls them magoi) varied from two to fourteen. Not all the articles written about the so-called Star of Bethlehem (hereafter, the S.O.B.), of course, are as uncritical a the one by Burns. An Associated Press article which appeared in the Plain Dealer on the same day that Burns’s piece appeared bore the title, “Astronomers Still Debate First Christmas,” and began with the mildly provocative statement,
november/december 2008 — American Atheist
CINCINNATI (AP) – Centuries after the event is believed to have occurred, astronomers remain at odds over whether there really was a Star of Bethlehem that led three Wise Men to find the Christ child. Although the leader mentions “three Wise Men,” the article later notes that The Bible does not mention how many there were or where they came from. Tradition holds that there were three, probably because of the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It then notes that December 25 was not the date of Jesus’ birth, and quotes David Duszynski of the Cincinnati Planetarium as saying that “The Dec. 25 holiday date, which the Christians essentially stole, was originally a holiday for the sun.” Before going into a detailed critique of the hypotheses which have been advanced to explain the S.O.B., it is necessary to examine the biblical account of the star in its text-historical context.
Matthew’s marvel It is a fact both curious and important that only one of the four canonical Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew, contains the story of the prodigy in question. If such a marvel had in fact occurred, why did the other Gospel writers make no note of the fact? Why, indeed, do no Near Eastern extrabiblical sources mention the star? In the case of the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, the answer is easy: Mark contains no information on the childhood of Jesus at all, beginning his tale with an adult Jesus going to get dunked by John the Baptist. In the Gospel of John, Jesus (“The Word”) has no beginning at all, having already existed for an eternity when he begins his earthly career with John the Baptist, just as he begins it in Mark. Only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in the even later “infancy gospels,” does Jesus have a childhood. If Jesus is a mythical figure, it is not surprising that he has no childhood in the earliest documents that mention him – the letters of St. Paul and the Gospel of Mark. But if he was an historical figure, it is hard to explain why the earliest documents contain the least biographical detail, the latest documents the most. It is also difficult to explain how biographical accounts of a real person could be as contradictory as the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Why does Matthew indicate that Jesus was born in the Bethlehem home of Joseph, whereas Luke has him born in a stable, his family having come from Nazareth when there was no room in the inn? Why would Matthew think he was born during the reign of Herod, who died in 5 or 4 B.C.E., when Luke thinks he was born during a census conducted by Quirinius in 6 C.E.? Why would a person who actually lived be given two utterly incompatible genealogies? A careful study of the stupendous differences between Mat26
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thew and Luke creates a strong impression that we are dealing with fiction, not history. How could Luke not know of the hostility of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents? How could Matthew not know of the census of the Roman Empire? How could the Roman Empire not know of the empire-wide census? It is somewhat startling, but nevertheless a fact, that these puzzling aspects of the New Testament are much more easily explained if Jesus never existed than would be the case if he had once lived. The total lack of biographical details in the earliest accounts is understandable if they were the first documentation of a vague tradition that a Messiah had already appeared at some time in the recent past – just as the supermarket tabloids of today document the “fact” that Jesus has already returned to earth and is temporarily living in London. The many contradictions between the Lukan and Matthaean accounts make sense if they represent independent attempts at creating first a Davidic ancestry, and then a miraculous nature, for the Messianic figure described by Mark and proclaimed by Paul. The anonymous compilers of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, although they worked independently of each other, both tried to remedy deficiencies in the Gospel of Mark, the Greek text of which they plagiarized almost entirely. The oldest versions of Mark had no post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and so both Luke and Matthew propped up the resurrection doctrine by inventing post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and inserting their contradictory anecdotes at the end of Mark’s story. While it was important for Luke and Matthew to ‘prove’ that Jesus had been a savior, they first had to show that he had been the Messiah expected by students of the Hebrew scriptures. Although a variety of Messiahs were being awaited at the turn of the era, a Davidic Messiah was probably the most universally expected. Thus, it was necessary to construct genealogies for Jesus which traced his descent from King David. Since the compilers of Luke and Matthew worked independently of each other, and since there appears to have been no actual genealogy for them to copy, two shockingly incompatible genealogies were constructed for the same person!
Inventing Jesus When the genealogies of Juke and Matthew were first added to the torso of Mark’s Gospel, the legend of the virginal birth of Jesus was not yet in vogue. Consequently, both genealogies trace Jesus’ descent through Joseph, not Mary. After the original compilation of both Gospels, however, later hands altered both genealogies to conform to the single-gender origin by then required of men who had been gods. By doctoring up the genealogies to conform with a virgin-birth origin for Jesus, however, the later editors rendered them useless as proof of Davidic descent! The original version of Matthew’s Gospel appears to have created a substantial part of Jesus’ biography out of the traditional biography of Moses. Just as Pharaoh wanted to do away
with Moses, causing Moses to flee, so too Herod wanted to find the child Jesus, causing his family to flee into Egypt. Just as Pharaoh commanded that every male child born to the Hebrews be cast into the Nile, so too Herod allegedly massacred all Bethlehem boys under the age of two. When Pharaoh died, Yahweh was able to tell Moses in Midian, “Return to Egypt, for all those who were seeking your life are dead,” and when Herod died, an “angel of the Lord” was able to tell Joseph “Go back to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Imitating the return of Moses with his wife and children to Egypt, Joseph returned to Israel with Mary and Jesus. It is probably not accidental that the position of Egypt in the two stories is reversed: when Moses flees from Egypt, Jesus flees into Egypt, etc. It is now known that during the first few centuries of the current era, many Moses legends were in vogue. The Matthew episode appears to be modeled more upon these legends than upon the Old Testament accounts of Moses. Another characteristic of stories which I believe formed part of the original Gospel of Matthew is the presence of the formula “for thus it is written by the prophet,” or “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet,” or similar locutions. The compiler of Matthew was concerned to make the subject of his biography fulfill what he thought were Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures. Amusingly, the result of this labor appears to have been a biography as contrived as the “prophecies” cited to support it. As Thomas Paine demonstrated in his work Examination of the Prophecies (Part III of The Age of Reason), there is not a single passage cited by New Testament authors as being an Old Testament prophecy of Jesus for which an honest reading in context can discern any connection whatsoever to the Gospel situation. The virgin-birth idea, like the motif of the sacrificed and resurrected savior, was borrowed from the pagan mystery religions, and when it was inserted into the gospels of Matthew and Luke, a number of other pagan legends slithered into position as well. Jesus had to be made as wonderful as all the pagan gods combined. Mithra, Krishna, Attis, Osiris-Horus, and other gods had virgin mothers; so too should Jesus. The infant Mithra was worshipped by shepherds; so too was Jesus. Krishna the infant was visited by wise men bearing gifts; so too was Jesus. A star heralded the birth of Krishna and other gods; and so there had to be a Bethlehem star for Jesus as well. The belief that special stars were portents of the births of kings and gods alike was widespread in ancient times, and it is impossible to be sure from which pagan tradition the S.O.B. story was stolen. It seems significant, however, that Jesus was caused to be born in Bethlehem, the site of a sacred grove dedicated to the Syrian god Adonis, the resurrected savior and lover of Venus (Astarte). According to Sir James Frazer, Adonis was the spirit of the corn (wheat), the stuff of which bread is made. Is it merely coincidental that the name “Bethlehem” in Hebrew means “house of bread,” and that Jesus is alleged to have said, “I am the bread of life”? Is it an accident that the worship of Adonis involved a festival commencing with the
sighting of a “bright star” (Venus) rising “in the east”? It is relatively certain that the S.O.B. story was not in the original version of Matthew’s Gospel. Raymond E. Brown, perhaps the greatest authority on the infancy narratives, by making use of the Moses legends and other materials that appear to have influenced the compiler of Matthew and his later editor(s), has actually reconstructed the nativity story without the star and the Magi. His reconstruction of Matt. 1:18–2:14 is quite convincing, and I think it is worth reproducing here: Now, when Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Take Mary your wife into your home, for she will give birth to a son who will save his people from their sins.” So Joseph got up from sleep and took his wife home, and she gave birth to a son. Now Jesus was born in the days of Herod the king. When Herod the king heard this [in a dream], he was startled, and so was all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him. Then he sent (secretly) to Bethlehem with the instruction: “Go and search diligently for the child.” Now, when [Herod had done this], behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying “Get up; take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went away to Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
When was that star? Preferring not to think of the S.O.B. as a glowing U.F.O. sent miraculously from “heavenly realms of glory,” many biblically naïve astronomers have attempted to relate it to actual celestial phenomena. Unfortunately, before they could answer the question “What was the S.O.B.?” they have had to try to answer the question “When was the S.O.B.?” The reason for this is that the cyclic nature of many astronomical phenomena would allow astronomers to compute the cast of characters that was playing in the heavenly theater at the time of the supposed nativity, and with this knowledge they would be able to pick out the “star” of the show. But here they come to grief. One might think it a simple thing to determine the date of the nativity – after all, our calendar divides human history between B.C. (‘before Christ’) and A.D. (anno Domini, ‘in the year of the Lord’). Why don’t we simply set our planetarium to show us the skies in the year A.D. 1? The answer is that even if Jesus had been born, it could not have been in the year One. The reason for this is that when the Roman monk Dionysius Exiguus fixed the origin of our calendar, he made some mis-
takes. Working in the early sixth century C.E. he tried to relate the date of the nativity to the Roman chronology, equating A.D. 1 with A.U.C. 754 (Ab urbe condita, ‘from the founding of the city’). Alas, he overlooked the four years during which Augustus ruled under his own name, Octavian, and so Dionysius had the birth of Jesus occur after the death of Herod. In consequence of this fact, nearly all modern scholars have concluded that Jesus was not born in the year A.D. 1. In addition, many of us have concluded that he was not born in any year. Giving up on using the calendar itself as a clue, Christian astronomers turn to the Gospel accounts for clues. But the conflicting accounts given in Luke and Matthew make it quite impossible to fix upon a specific date. Indeed, if one supposes that neither Luke nor Matthew has a greater probability of being true, one is forced to conclude that there was no date at all on which Jesus was born, and therefore no date at all on which the S.O.B. graced the skies of Palestine. I have already noted that in Matthew the nativity takes place during the reign of Herod the Great, whereas in Luke it takes place during a census conducted “when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Since Herod died between December of 5 B.C.E. and April of 4 B.C.E., and the census conducted by Quirinius in Judaea (not in Galilee, and certainly not throughout the entire Roman Empire!) took place in C.E. 6-7, one can see the mighty problem Christian astronomers have to solve. Given what I have already noted about the evolution of the nativity story in Matthew, a logical person confronted by the ten-year discrepancy in the date of the would-be Messiah’s birth would conclude the whole affair was a fiction, and would go on to more profitable pursuits. But a Christian astronomer has to assume that Jesus was born, and must either try to reconcile the “apparent contradiction,” or choose between evangelists. One such astronomer is Dr. David Hughes, a lecturer in astronomy and physics at the University of Sheffield, who has even published an article on the S.O.B. in the normally prestigious journal Nature. In his book The Star of Bethlehem Mystery, he attempts to reconcile the Gospels, determine the time of the prodigy, and identify the U.F.O. The first problem, reconciling the C.E. 6-7 date of Quirinius’ census with the fact that Herod died no later than 4 B.C.E., is dealt with by attempting to show that Quirinius was governor of Syria on two different occasions, one of which comes closer to the time of Herod than does the term he served from C.E. 6 to C.E. 7 or later. Raymond Brown, on the basis of the writings of ancient historians, lists the following known governors of Syria: 28
23–13 B.C.E. ca. 10 B.C.E. 9–6 B.C.E. 6–4 B.C.E. or later 1 B.C.E. to ca. C.E. 4 C.E. 4–5 C.E. 6 to after 7
M. Agrippa M. Titius S. Sentius Saturninus Quinctilius Varus Gaius Caesar L. Volusius Saturninus P. Sulpicius Quirinius
American Atheist — november/december 2008
It will be noticed that there are several brief periods for which we do not know the name of the governor of Syria. Quite gratuitously, Hughes – like many other Bible apologists – supposed that Quirinius might have served as governor during the period between 3 and 2 B.C.E. and actually lists him as being governor of Syria for that period in a table printed on page 51 of his book. There are at least two problems with this idea. Firstly, from what we know of the career of Quirinius, it is quite clear that he was occupied with other matters during those years. Secondly, the date suggested would still be too late, being at least a year after the death of Herod! In practice, Hughes abandons Luke and adopts the story in Matthew as the basis of his chronology. He concludes that Jesus probably was born in the year 7 B.C.E., probably in August or September. Sharpening the point of his pencil just a little bit more, he concludes that Jesus was born on a Tuesday evening – September 5, 7 B.C.E.!
What was that star? Although The Star of Bethlehem Mystery is over two hundred pages long, quite a bit of it is padding and only a part of it considers the various celestial candidates for the S.O.B. Among the candidates are novae, supernovae, planetary conjunctions, and ball lightning. (The possibility that the S.O.B. was truly a miracle is considered by Hughes, but not found to be very satisfying.) Space does not permit examination of all these alternatives, but Hughes demolishes most of them in his conclusion that the S.O.B. actually was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn: The physical occurrence that made up the star of Bethlehem was the series of conjunctions, the apparent coming together in the sky and accompanying risings and settings, of the major planets Jupiter and Saturn. This is not a new conclusion, in fact it can be dated back over seven hundred years, but the movements of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces fit the large majority of the facts. The Piscean conjunction is rare enough to have been considered unusual. This explanation also has the advantage that the Magi did not have to go continually across the desert for every nova, comet or fireball that happened to appear. It was possible to predict the conjunction, and Babylonian magi had done just that, as the cuneiform tablets testify. The phenomenon had an inherent astrological message which equated it directly with ‘his star’ (Matthew 2:2). No comet, nova, fixed start, fireball or whatever could justify this appellation. It was long-lasting, long enough to be seen when the Magi were in their own country, while they were on the journey and on the final leg from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Historically it occurred at the right time, in 7 B.C. And finally, even though it was an extremely significant event to a trained astrologer, in reality it consisted of two perfectly normal planets moving as usual along
their ordained celestial paths. This is why Herod and the people of Jerusalem could easily miss its significance. While readers may wish for a while to visualize the Magi dropping their crystal balls, picking up their frankincense and myrrh, and racing west across the desert every time a nova, comet, or meteor appeared, they may want to imagine also the scenes that would be associated with the Magi “following” the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. First of all, there is the problem of imagining just why experienced stargazers would think two planets were one star. Much of the popular literature on the S.O.B speaks of planetary conjunctions as though two planets come so close together (as viewed from the earth) that they appear to fuse into one very brilliant object. While this does occasionally happen, it did not happen during the conjunction nominated by Hughes for S.O.B. honors. At the first conjunction, on May 27, 7 B.C.E., Jupiter and Saturn came no closer than 0.98 degrees – twice the apparent diameter of the moon as seen from the earth! Then the planets separated to a distance of 2.9 degrees (about six lunar diameters), came to within 0.98 degrees of each other on October 6, separated slightly to 1.2 degrees, came back to 1.05 degrees of each other on December 1, and then went their separate ways – perhaps to light the paths of Mormon Messiahs in Mexico, or to illuminate the births of babes in Bechuanaland. Which “star” would the Magi follow? And how does one follow a star anyways? If the Magi started to follow the planets shortly after their risings, as described in the S.O.B. episode, they would have begun to head east (after all, the star is said to have risen in the east). The Magi would have started to head back home to Iran. By midnight, however, the planets would be in the south, and our Magi would be heading towards Saudi Arabia. As the night wore on toward morning they would head westward toward the Mediterranean Sea. With the beginning
of a new night of travel, this Mad Hatter behavior would replay again, the path of our unwise wise men describing a series of curlicues on the earth’s surface. Depending upon how fast they walked, how regular their rate, and which planet they “followed,” the absolute sizes of these curlicues would differ greatly, and their final destinations would differ incredibly. But this is only a part of the Magi’s problem. There is the requirement that “the star which they had seen at it rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay” (Matt. 2:9, New English Bible). Although Tom Burns, the Columbus astronomer, seems unaware that there is any problem in an astronomical object “stopping above” a particular house, stable, or outhouse, David Hughes is painfully aware of this problem. The best he can do is cite a legend of unknown antiquity or provenance: According to the legend the star had been lost in the daylight by the time the wise men had reached Jerusalem. When they reached Bethlehem, apparently at about midday, one of them went to the well of the inn to draw water. Looking down into the well shaft he saw the star reflected in the water at the bottom of the well. The wise man immediately realized that the star was directly overhead and the re-sighting of the star under such unusual circumstances was to him ample assurance that they had arrived at the place where Jesus Christ was born. Readers will note that it is one star, not two planets, that appears in the well, and even Hughes admits that A star in the zenith standing over the stable at Bethlehem will equally well stand over every object in the neighbourhood. For the “star” to pick out an individual building it must hover above the rooftops, which is something no astronomical star does. No matter. Hughes reasons that the Magi learned from Herod’s chief priests and scribes that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, about six miles away from Jerusalem. In those days Bethlehem was a small village, and once the Magi got there – regardless of where the stars appeared to be – they quickly would be able to screen the available newborns, pick a Messiah, and be on their way. With faith, it seems, all things are possible – even in astronomy. november/december 2008 — American Atheist
Follow that U.F.O.! The astronomer Hughes has admitted that objects at astronomical distances from the earth simply do not do the things required of the S.O.B. in Matthew’s gospel tale, and the whole matter probably could be ended at this point. But there is one remaining possibility not considered by Hughes with proper weight. In fact, it has not even been considered lightly by Hughes. What if the S.O.B. was a U.F.O. piloted by extraterrestrials? A glowing saucer could easily have been mistaken for a star when it was a few thousand feet above the ground. Instead of the Magi following it, it could have pulled them – first toward Jerusalem, and then toward the stable in Bethlehem – using the same forces U.F.Os. always use to pull boats, planes, and trains into the Bermuda Triangle. If, as some people think likely, Jesus was himself an extraterrestrial masquerading as an earthling, it is more than likely that the Magi (after tripping to Cloud-Cuckoo-Land on frankincense and myrrh) were actually taken into the S.O.B. mothership for anatomical study, so that Darth-Jesus would know exactly what pieces to put where in order to look like an earthling. How he knew he should leave off the beard before teleporting himself into the manger, or course, is an unanswered question desperately in need of further scholarly study. In concluding this unexpectedly long investigation, I must point out that the U.F.O. hypothesis concerning the identity of the S.O.B. has the merit of being able to account for a hitherto supposedly eccentric reading of Matt. 27:46 found in an Aramaic scroll discovered some years ago in the Genizah at Knott’s Berry Farm. Instead of reading “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” the Berry-Farm Scroll indicates that the last words of Christ actually were, “Beam me up, Scotty! There’s no intelligent life down here!” k References  Tom Burns, “Long Ago, Three Stargazers Found Hope in Heavens,” Columbus Dispatch, 25 December, 1988, p. 1.  Associated Press, “Astronomers Still Debate First Christmas,” Plain Dealer, 25 December 1988, sec. B, p. 4.  In addition to the nonsense found in newspapers in December, we should note also that many civic planetaria change their programming in December. Instead of giving planetarium programs on real astronomy, most planetaria are converted into tax-supported vehicles for the advancement of gospel pseudoscience.  In the Infancy Gospel of James, written after 150 C.E., Mary is given a Davidic ancestry to overcome the defect of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which – although claiming Jesus to have been born of a virgin – trace his genealogy through Joseph to prove Davidic ancestry. To overcome the embarrassing gospel references to Jesus’ “brother,” Joseph is made to be a widower already having sons before his betrothal to the (perpetually) Virgin Mary. Jesus is born in a cave (like Mithra before him), and is visited by star-following Magi. In the Infancy Gospel of PseudoMatthew (eighth century?), Jesus again is born in a cave and is placed in a manger, but performs miracles when only three days old. In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (ca. 150 C.E., the child Jesus is a regular terror, performing miracles of a very nasty nature. In the Arabic Infancy Gospel (later used by Mohammed or whoever compiled the Koran), Jesus changes children into goats, then turns them back into children again. 30
American Atheist — november/december 2008
e word Messiah derives from the Hebrew word meshiah, ‘anointed.’ Th The oldest manuscripts of Mark, including the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus end the story at Mark 16:8, with the women running affrighted from the empty tomb.  Although there was no genealogy of Jesus to study, the compilers of Matthew and Luke did, or course, have available material from which they could pilfer names to put into their fictitious lists. Material from the genealogies in the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Ruth can be found in the genealogies of Jesus. Collectors of biblical contradictions will find it highly rewarding to compare all these genealogies.  One of the oldest manuscripts of Matthew, the Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus, ends the genealogy with “Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Christ.” No virgin birth there! It is customary in many seminaries for students to be taught that the genealogy in Luke is actually the genealogy of Mary, thus tracing a Davidic ancestry for Jesus despite the fact that the virgin birth idea vitiates the Matthaean genealogy. There is, of course, no truth in this at all. One need only read the genealogy beginning at Luke 3:23 to see that it goes through Joseph just as the one in Matthew does.  Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, vol. 2 (New York: The Citadel Press, 1969), pp. 848–93.  The Greek name Adonis is derived from the Semitic word adonai (‘my lord’), a term of address originally used in connection with Adonis’ Babylonian predecessor Tammuz. The word adonai was used by the Jews as a substitute for the forbidden sacred name YHWH (pronounced Yahweh). Sometimes, instead of pronouncing adonai instead of Yahweh, the vowels of adonai were mixed with the consonants of Yahweh and, after being dragged through Latin, turned into the pseudo-name Jehovah. When Christians declare “Jesus is lord,” they are continuing a tradition practiced long ago in Bethlehem, when the rays of a rising Venus reawoke the ardor of the slain and resurrected Adonis, Jesus’ handsome predecessor in the salvation business.  Sir James George Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion, part 4 of The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 2 vols. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935), vol. 1, p. 257.  Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah. A Commentary On The Infancy Narratives In Matthew and Luke. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1977), p. 109.  Non-Christian scholars generally avoid the use of B.C. and A.D. Instead, the terms C.E. (“Common Era”) and B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”) are employed.  David Hughes, The Star of Bethlehem Mystery (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1979).  Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p. 550.  Hughes, Star of Bethlehem Mystery, pp. 199–200.  Ibid., p. 6.  Ibid., p. 7.  Actually, the priests and scribes could not have told the Magi to go to Bethlehem, since there is no Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah would be born there. The passage in Matthew reads “Bethlehem in the land of Judah,” making it appear that a village is the subject of prophecy. The passage in Micah 5:2 from which this is drawn, however, has nothing to do with a village, but rather refers to a clan: “But you, Bethlehem in Ephrathah [not Judah!], small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel” (New English Bible). According to the King James Version of 1 Chron. 2:50-51, Ephrathah was the second wife of Caleb, mother of Hur, and grandmother of Bethlehem. But even if Micah 5:2 was in fact a prophecy of Jesus, it was a false one. Jesus was never a governor of Israel.  The Israeli archaeologist Aviram Oshri challenges this idea. He claims [Archaeology, November/December 2005, Vol. 58, No. 6, p. 42] that there is no archaeological evidence to indicate that Bethlehem in Judea was inhabited at the turn of the era. Rather, he thinks that a different Little Town of Bethlehem—in Galilee—is where Jesus was born.  
ike our policemen, our Yuletide postage stamps are wonderful. According to the Post Office’s official blurb, this year’s three Winter Solstice stamps – beg pardon, it should, of course, be Xmas stamps – are all in a religious vein. However, it was not stated whether this vein was, perhaps, somewhat diseased and whether it should not really come under notifiable diseases. Anyhow, the information was that the motifs had been taken from the de Lisle Psalter of the Arundel Collection in the British Museum. Cunningly suppressed was the rather astonishing fact that the depicted three scenes were already, at least, 2000 years old before the New Testament was concocted, for they appeared already on the Temple walls at Luxor, Egypt, round about 1705 B.C. There, one can see the so-called “Nativity” scenes, viz, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields; the annunciation of the angel to the virgin; the adoration of the infant by the three Magi, and the nativity scene itself. In other words, millennia BC, the Egyptian mythology used already the symbolism of the birth of a baby, much in the same way as we use the figure of a youngster at the side of Old Father Time. Unfortunately, the priestly falsifiers of the New Testament turned allegorical figures into historical ones, and thereby saddled the Western World with the white man’s burden, namely: the impossible figure of a savior who cannot save and a redeemer who does not redeem, despite ecclesiastical assurances to the contrary. On the fourpenny stamp (which will be the last special stamp issued at such a cheap price), can be seen a robust angel, trailing a banner with the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo – “Glory to God in the Highest” – which must have frightened the poor sheep no end, for they can be seen jumping higher than any goalkeeper. The fivepenny stamp shows the nativity scene with the recumbent goddess Isis (Mary) on a delivery-couch, with the newly-born baby Horus (Jesus) in a manger, whilst the god Osiris (Joseph) sits nearby with a troubled mien. In the
background can be seen the heads of an ox and an ass. These two animals belong to the Egyptian mythos as Yorkshire pudding belongs to roast beef. The ass’s head was the symbol of the Messiah – not an irreverent joke in bad taste, but sober fact, for Anup was the ass-headed god of the Egyptians. That is why the Gospel Jesus was portrayed as riding on an ass – and, according to one version, even astride an ass and her foal, a very clever circus act which must have impressed the populace immensely! On the tomb of Rameses VI can be seen the Sungod riding into full glory
anger of Moses. Actually, it was a brass figure of Taurus, the Bull, the well-known sign of the zodiac, which dominated that particular era. This was followed by the age of Aries, the lamb which played such a great part in early Christian symbolism, so much so, that the lamb was equated to an imaginary “savior” and often invoked in hymns and prayers. By far the best stamp is the one shilling-sixpence one, portraying a sitting Mary, showing a rather too prominent spot of rouge on her cheek. But the funniest thing is the way she is holding the holy infant who, for all the world, looks
Philatelic Fun on the back of the dark moon. This was turned into a phantom Messiah’s “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” (Aarrw-Salem or Fields of Peace), which scenario should have come after his death. The masculine bull (or ox) symbolised creation and was part of the Egyptian religion and greatly venerated. The Israelites must have liked it too and the so-called “golden calf ” aroused the great
like a ventriloquist’s dummy! The three Kings, who are seen offering presents to the newly born baby, were already a feature of Egyptian mythology thousands of years before the alleged event in the gospels. However, pietistic philatelists will be pleased to have another set of yuletide stamps, suitably adorned with the Queen’s head in gilt which seems to say: “We are not amused!” k november/december 2008 — American Atheist
The Foxhole Atheist
t is with great sadness that we note the passing of Martin L. Bard. In many ways, Martin provided the inspiration for PA Nonbelievers and he was one of their most active and respected members. In nine years he missed only two of their monthly meetings: one when his wife died last year and the other shortly before he died. His book The Peril of Faith, published by American Atheist Press, has been an inspiration and motivation to many Atheists and Freethinkers. Martin was 83 years old when he died on Friday, September 26, 2008 at Heart of Lancaster Hospital. His wife, Sara J. Ellmaker Bard died in December of 2006. He was employed for 32 years by American Brands, Inc. as a foreman in the cigar tobacco storage industry. He was a 1942 graduate of Hempfield High School and attended Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster. A veteran of World War II, Martin served in the U.S. Army. Active in the Democratic Party, he ran for the offices of Lancaster County Sheriff, County Commissioner, and U.S. Congressman winning in the Primary Elections. Born in Lancaster, he was the son of the late Samuel S. and Naomi Leaman Bard. Martin is survived by three daughters, Carol A. (Charles) Rhodes, Duncannon; Sharon L. Houck, Lancaster; Kristina Bard, Manheim; a son M. Michael (P.J. Whiskeyman) Bard, Lititz; ten grandchildren, four great grandsons; and a brother, Samuel L. (Pearl Knier) Bard, East Petersburg. He was predeceased by his sister, Betty Bard. All American Atheists will miss him. k
American Atheist â€” november/december 2008
PC Dustin Chalker joined the Army Reserves at age 17 and attended basic training prior to graduating from his high school in Mobile, Alabama. Upon graduating, he attended Advanced Individual Training where he was trained as an Army combat medic. In March 2004, he entered the active Army and is still currently serving at Fort Riley, Kansas. SPC Chalker has served overseas in Korea and has completed a 15-month combat tour at Camp Speicher in Iraq. During this tour, he served with courage and distinction in numerous combat missions, earning the Combat Medic Badge and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in action. He is currently concluding his tour at Fort Riley, Kansas and is anticipating being transferred to the Washington DC area where he will continue his service. SPC Chalkerâ€™s effort on behalf of church-state separation and Atheist civil rights include chairing meetings of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) while at Camp Speicher and with his participation in a landmark lawsuit against the Department of Defense. This suit, filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) seeks to end discrimination against non-religious service members. SPC Chalker has ambitions of continuing his activism as a lobbyist and speaker after he leaves the service. To further these goals, he is currently working towards a college degree in political science. k
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American Atheist — november/december 2008
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