Keep Saturn in Saturnalia– The Sixth Day of Christmas

A Pagan Rejoinder to “Keep Christ in Christmas”

The atheist/agnostic group Freedom from Religion Foundation bought this “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” billboard in Pitman, New Jersey, in response to a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner that hangs in town. Someone was offended, and tried to burn down the billboard. As the article below wryly notes, the steel support beams suffered minor charring.

The billboard and ensuing hubbub provoke a couple thoughts. First, in this particular example, the atheists have a better sense of humor than the dour Christians of misdirected earnestness.

Second, with regard to the wider culture: has anyone in Pitman noticed that Christ hasn’t been in Christmas since at least 1980? If he were in Christmas, we would be paying more attention to Isaiah’s prophetic vision: beating swords into plowshares (2:4), assuring the fearful (35:4), and dealing graciously with the poor and socially inferior (11:4).

The excerpt follows, with the link below:

A South Jersey billboard proclaiming “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia” was torched Tuesday night by two unidentified men who fled in a pickup truck after only charring the sign’s steel support beams.The billboard, erected as a cheeky counterpoint to a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner in downtown Pitman, refers to the ancient pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice, held in mid-December to honor the Roman god, Saturn.

The incendiary incident is only the latest to be sparked by the billboard, which was paid for by a national group of atheists. According to town officials, many Pitman residents lost their holiday cheer when they woke up Friday morning to see the message plastered at the intersection of two heavily trafficked roads….

via Attempt to burn down atheists’ Saturnalia billboard in South Jersey.

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Another Critique of Capitalism

David Simon

Five days ago, Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” just a few days after releasing the first major document of his papacy in which he criticized the economy of “exclusion and inequality.” Once again we say: “Pope, Yes!”

Relatedly, journalist and TV producer David Simon recently gave a speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In his speech, Simon said that capitalism has “achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.”

Both the pope and David Simon are simply pointing to the obvious chasm between the well-off and the poor, and asking: does this need to be?

Christianity has become a marginalized religion in North America. We might as well claim our spot on the margins, and join the pope (and David Simon, and others) in exposing the human cost of economic practices that separate people into winners and losers, and that increasingly make it difficult for those who have “lost” to have hope. As Paul Raushenbush has written, we who are part of the Jesus Movement would do this not because we are Marxists, but because we are followers of Jesus.

I recommend taking some time with Simon’s words. An excerpt and link follow below.

America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity….

via David Simon: ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’ | World news | The Observer.

Neutering the Gospel

Pope Francis

Jon Stewart recently skewered Fox News’ Stuart Varney. Varney disagreed with the pope’s recent critique of capitalism; Stewart’s sharp satire exposes the intellectual and moral vacuity of Varney’s protests against the pope’s comments. (If you haven’t seen it, you can find the link to Jon Stewart here.)

One of Varney’s moves is to attempt to separate the political from the spiritual. He says, “I personally do not want my spiritual life mixed up with my political life. I go to church to save my soul.”

In this context, separating the political from the spiritual is a way to nullify an essential part of Jesus’ teaching and ministry: the building of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not strictly, nor even primarily, concerned with saving souls: the prayer that he taught his followers is, “… thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The Lord’s prayer expresses the desire that the world be put in order, and that that order be under the authority of the God who is always on the side of the widow and the orphan; on the side of the outcast and the poor.

Those who claim that the political and the spiritual do not meet may be, in fact, followers of one of the world’s great religions– but it isn’t Christianity.

There are good reasons why we have “the separation of church and state,” but Varney is not supporting the continued prohibition of state-sponsored churches. What he is supporting– and anyone else who dismisses the political dimension of religious conviction is also supporting–  is the tight-banded neutering of the gospel. It’s a convenient way to avoid the claims that God makes on our communal life together– of which the political is part– and thereby to avoid questions of conscience.

via AOL Mail – Message View.

A Voegelin Tidbit– Disoriented Human Beings

Eric Voegelin

I’m always on the lookout for original thinking on the larger patterns of history, as a way to get a reading on where we are, and as a way to tell what time it is. Voegelin satisfies.

Here is a brief summary of one note I jotted while listening to an early-1970s recording of Voegelin himself, speaking on the meaning of history:

He says that history moves in three steps. First there is an era of order, which then invariably disintegrates, leading to (and this is the part I love) the “disordered construction of reality by disoriented human beings.” It’s as though the periods of disintegration create societies that suffer from a kind of collective post-traumatic stress disorder, preventing them from returning to a (new) state of order. Voegelin’s metaphor for such a troubled society is the metaphor of “dis-orientation,” of aimlessness. To this apt metaphor he adds the insight that lost human beings construct realities that are distorted and disordered. We do this as a way to soothe, or to mask, or perhaps even as a futile attempt to annihilate, this nagging sense of lostness.

We 21st-century Americans are disoriented, and have constructed a disordered reality. That’s not to say that everything is going to hell in a handbasket tomorrow. It just means that general distrust– of others and of institutions– is growing; that our fetish for seeking security through state-sponsored violence and through unrestrained acquisitiveness is eroding our humanity; and that, despite historically unprecedented widespread material abundance, we rank strangely high in measures of unhappiness, like suicide rates and addictions.

In order to be healthy today, people must, to some degree, resist some (not all) of the attractions of the distorted reality in which we live and move.

.: The Eric Voegelin Institute :..