Frank Aquila (“America, a Christian nation without a doubt,” Saturday Tracy Press) follows in the footsteps of Larry Hite (August 2009) in declaring America a “Christian nation,” and does so without any effort at grace, balance or depth.
The founding and rise of America is a complex narrative that is filled with horrifically un-Christian acts and policies; deist and Enlightenment philosophies; and, yes, positive influences that accord to the beliefs of Christians in modern times.
Labeling something does not make it truer, and Mr. Aquila was motivated by a desire to obscure truth through his apologetics and sloganeering.
But we are adults and deserve better. We deserve to understand the cultural circumstances and historical drivers that underpin where we come from and how our ancestors made decisions.
And, in this marvelous holiday season, we also deserve to be freed from misconceptions like “The War on Christmas,” a proxy for political posturing and demonizing our commitment to the religious rights of minorities.
David Brooks of the New York Times demonstrated his commitment to nuance and care when he opined on the first night of Hanukkah about the internecine warfare that is at the heart of the Hanukkah story, in which religious purists battled Hellenized Jews until the purists re-established their control over Jerusalem in 164 B.C., creating a “corrupt, brutal and reactionary” regime. This was about par among Old Testament horrors, but was elevated in America into a parallel of Christmas and sanitized into a narrative of perseverance and hope.
Similarly, Dec. 25 bears little or no relationship to the date of birth of Jesus, which is unknown. The date evolved to blend pagan beliefs and practices of the solstice, Mithraism and Saturnalia, with Christian celebrations, and borrowed from speculations by early Christian writers. Perhaps the most interesting take-away from this complex Christmas origins story is how flexibility in faith systems can result in long-term survival.
Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is equally nuanced and interesting, borrowing flying sleighs and reindeer from pagan Northern Europe, Odin and the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, as well as a Turkish Christian saint who gave money to women to try to help them avoid a life of prostitution.
The gradual displacement of direct worship of Scandinavian deities by Christianization was likely enhanced by the interweaving of traditions, and variations on the Santa theme spread through Europe and England until being transmogrified in 19th century America by commercial interests and cartoonists into the jolly red-suited idealization of today.
I wish everyone a marvelous holiday season, filled with nuanced and fascinating traditions, and hope that they find the time to be good people, unapologetically committed to truth, kindness and charity, whatever their faith may be, and everyone finds the courage and intellectual integrity to resist the political demagoguery of anger and divisiveness that has unfortunately become a part of our year-end celebrations, compliments of the intolerant political right.
• Mark Davis is a consulting research scientist for the technology industry and government specializing in intelligent systems. He has lived in Tracy for the past 10 years.