While the world has turned its thoughts to Christmas, other matters intrude: In the US, many are preoccupied by the much-hyped “fiscal cliff” and the planned increase in taxes as well as the aftermath of the the horrific shooting at the elementary school — the one in which no one had a weapon to defend themselves with. The US government’s plans to exact more taxes, and to reduce Constitutional freedoms, are much discussed.
I have obligations to Citizen Tom, voluntarily undertaken, remaining from the “Food for Thought Award” — and they include this seventh in a series on Sunday verses that have inspired my thought. In this instance, Luke 2 comes to mind, as it is both an account of the birth of of Jesus, and it begins with an announcement of government taxation:
2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2 goes on to describe the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and early life, continuing in Luke 3 with an account of Jesus being both the Son of God and the (great^76) grandson of God with each step in the 77-part intermediate lineage identified. Matthew goes into more background, but only a partial ancestry list.
But neither Luke nor the other synoptic gospels say exactly when the birth of Jesus occurred. The date seems not to have been celebrated in the first couple of centuries, though the common supposition, “everybody knows the date came from a later pagan ritual,” appears to be wrong. The Western world’s churches have celebrated this occasion on December 25 for more than a thousand years, even though the actual date this falls on would have been adjusted with calendar tinkerings. (Compare this to Easter, which gets a lunar-based calculation that is rather mathematically involved and independent of the calendar conventions of any given time.)
While the Romans instituted (at least by 275AD or so) the use of December 25th for the holiday of “Sol Invictus” (“the Invincible Sun [god]“), Augustine of Hippo wrote around that time about December 25th as a tradition among the Donatists that dates from even earlier. And at that time, before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the early 300s and made it safe (or safer) to practice, Christians seemed disinclined to adopt anything pagan in their practices.
I would say, based upon my reading, that the Romans may have tried to usurp the Christian holiday, rather than the other way around. Though, obviously, many later practices were incorporated — but this seems to have begun much later, centuries in some cases.
But why December 25th at all? It appears that in the Western tradition, Jesus was conceived on March 25th, and December 25th is nine months later. Eastern churches use April 6 for the conception date, so their birth of Jesus is celebrated on January 6th. The days in between are now called “the Twelve Days of Christmas.” Did you know where that came from?
[Edit] As Mary Catelli points out in the comments below, Jesus is assumed to have died on the same day of the year as the crucifixion — something common to both Eastern and Western church traditions.
While the rest of the subject matter is not entirely on point, 1 Corinthians 5 has a good advocation for us regarding Christmas — with even a flavor of New Year’s resolutions tucked in:
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In any event, a Merry Christmas to you all full of sincerity and truth, and Happy Hanukkah any other holiday or special occasion that brings you happiness. Since I am something of a technical geek, I hope that this Christmas image and a bit of my own humble poetry may serve as a virtual card.
Merry Christmas to all who observe
Even any or no faith will serve
For enjoying Yuletide
Is just what you decide
May you get everything you deserve
And of other faiths and celebrations
May they please those in rapt contemplations
Of the times of the past
May your bright future last
And be ready with fast demonstrations
There were challenges during the year
But so far, we have made it to here
May I say in this letter
Let next year be better!
May it bring peace and joy without fear
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
Another post in the Food for Thought series, triggered by this nomination from Citizen Tom.
One rather famous verse in the synoptic Gospels (such as in Matthew 21) includes this line: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
The same chapter contains many other recognizable phrases, and it has long intrigued me how many different Biblical expressions have made it to English conversational or literary use. For example, in this chapter are found the expression “Many are called, but few are chosen” and “Show me the money!” (often translated as “show me the tribute money” or “show the the tribute coin”).
I’ve been enjoying recent re-visits to Ayn Rand’s work, and my own Lady Anne has just re-read the full text of Atlas Shrugged and is plowing through Rand’s non-fiction work now. This makes for enjoyable discussions (but I confess a bias toward always considering discussions with my Lady to be enjoyable). Along the way (and spurred by Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness available here as a .PDF file), some lively and surprisingly vehement discussions about definitions of “selfishness” and “self-interest” and “altruism” have taken place, and I have another post on that topic coming soon. But for my purposes at the moment, in this discussion of thought-provoking Bible verses pursuant to the Food for Thought award based on Citizen Tom’s rather flattering nomination, I’m going to look at Biblical treatments of wealth, and a slightly different take on altruism.
Philippians 4 has an exhortation that is appropriate for Thanksgiving — and it is a reminder to be optimistic, and to manage your thoughts. In the Young’s Literal Translation:
8 As to the rest, brethren, as many things as are true, as many as [are] grave, as many as [are] righteous, as many as [are] pure, as many as [are] lovely, as many as [are] of good report, if any worthiness, and if any praise, these things think upon;
It is good advice, whether you are a believer or not. And it is exceedingly difficult in some respects.
I am traveling, but have a short note in the spirit of the Food for Thought series on Biblical verses.
In 2 Timothy 1, when Paul is encouraging young Timothy to get out and get busy, he includes this line:
7 for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind
No matter what one believes as to origins, there is no doubt that this combination — a “spirit of power” combined with love and a sound mind — is a very potent combination. These are the attributes shown by America’s inspired founding fathers, and they have been shown in other groups from time to time throughout history, though not with perhaps so lasting or consequential a result.
But while it is rare for groups to employ this combination together for a joint purpose, we can each strive as individual to develop and maintain these qualities independently. We each face challenges, large and small — and that sense of the size of the challenge is very personal. What might appear small to an observer can be large enough to you when it is right in your way, and in your mind.
Our mustering of the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind is also a very personal thing. I do consciously strive in this direction, with imperfect success. But unless one decides that this is desirable, and conceivable, and worth the effort, no efforts will bring you toward this goal … or any other, for that matter except by inefficient chance. Your life is worth more than that … as are the lives of loved ones in your care and protection.
Love, it seems to me, comes from a peace within yourself that allows you to reach out to hold another in an exalted sort of state. Perhaps it is not completely logical — but the lack of inner peace creates a roiled sort of love that can be harmful to all parties involved. And the lack of reaching out so that you can elevate and make someone your significant other whose well-being becomes your high priority goal … well, a self-centered love is often dismal, and sometimes pathetic.
A sound mind does not mean brilliance at math, or an excellent ability to spell, or a great memory for facts and figures. And people who exhibit these talents/skills (they’re a combination of both) don’t always have a sound thinking process.
The humblest person of modest IQ can still be of sound mind, if he or she approaches life with curiosity, holds opinions tentatively, and actively seeks to improve understanding so that the opinions can either change or be on firmer ground. Then, to actually use that information to live a better life … such a person is of the soundest sort of mind, and too often the “brilliant” are incapable of it. One of Robert Heinlein’s characters, “Kettle Belly” Baldwin, despaired of man’s ability to think:
“We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers. Look around you. Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg.
If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum. He uses one-valued logics. If he is exceptionally bright, he uses two-valued, “either or” logic to arrive at his wrong answer. If he is hungry, hurt, or personally interested in the answer, he can’t use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking. He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk. Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists. He classes his own mental processes as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein.
Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal. For explanations of a universe that confuses him, he seizes onto numerology, astrology, hysterical religions, and other fancy ways to go crazy. Having accepted such glorified nonsense, facts make no impression on him, even if at the cost of his own life.”
– “Kettle Belly” Baldwin, in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel “Gulf”, from the book “Assignment in Eternity”.
These comments may be true, and Mankind in general guilty as charged – but it is the responsibility of each one of us to learn the skills and disciplines of thinking, to think more skillfully, and more of the time. And we can learn.
A notable omission in Baldwin’s rant is attitude: Thinking skills include the ability to control the attitude that you have in your mind, so that you find the world much less troubling. Stress is, after all, not what happens to you but how you decide to react to it. Too few of us even try to develop this skill.
A sound mind, in my sort of definition at least, leads naturally to a spirit of power — a sort of deep seated confidence and acceptance that then makes you more capable of love, and more capable at life.
May you find the pursuit worthwhile, and the goal achievable. Best wishes to you all.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
In my musings Sunday, I left one connection out between the Bible’s Matthew 12 and presidential statements.
Matthew 12:29 “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.”
Barack Obama, 2002 (attacking Martin Luther King Jr and other successful Republicans): “You know, the principle of empathy gives broader meaning, by the way, to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff. But the principle of empathy recognizes that there are more subtle forms of violence to which we are answerable. The spirit of empathy condemns not only the use of firehoses and attack dogs to keep people down but also accountants and tax loopholes to keep people down.”
In the last instance, “empathy” was the code word he was using at the time for forced redistribution of wealth. The technique he proposes to “bind the strong man” is to deprive him of “accountants and tax loopholes” — and “spoil his house” with higher tax rates and regulations. The one problem with this is that the creation of wealth through inventiveness, perseverance and hard work does not “keep people down,” it provides their incomes and their motivations — and the “house” that he would spoil is the United States. It was risky for Obama to attack MLK, but I suspect that few in his audience (or even today) picked up on it.
There is another subtlety here — Obama’s assumption that reducing the amount of money going toward big government coffers is something that will “keep people down” — and that this is the intentional goal of successful people.
The contrast is interesting. MLK spoke eloquently of non-violence, and sought a day in which race would no longer be a factor. Obama speaks (then and now) of violence, revenge, and tapping into the anger of black people. Interestingly, Obama does not fight to benefit this constituency, other than to do (and heavily promote) those things that seem to pander to them without actually solving problems. For example, he recently levied (by executive order, of course, since such legislation would never pass) an order essentially exempting black students from discipline. I’ll write more about this later, but it does no favors to a student population to give them essentially free rein to misbehave.
Obama specifically left violence on the table as one of the two possibilities, stating that non-violence only made sense under certain circumstances.
Obama’s and King’s approaches are remarkably different in many respects, and Obama’s resentment of Martin Luther King Junior spills into the speech above to an extent, grouping him with “rich people” who advise “non-violence” because “they’ve got what they want.”
One problem he had with MLK was that King wanted race issues to be resolved, so that character rather than skin color was the important issue. To Obama, racial tensions were necessary: They were the fuel and pathways for Obama’s ambitions, as he explains in his autobiographies.
When King spoke, it was clear that he sought peace … that the goals of racial equality were achievable, desirable, and beneficial to all. Regarding violence, he said in 1963:
In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.
There were similarities, of course, between Obama and MLK, particularly as the latter came more and more under the influence of his Communist advisors. Both speak about redistribution, though Obama uses “redistribution of wealth” whereas King spoke of “redistribution of economic power” (here, for example). The differences are subtle.
In Obama’s speeches, he makes clear that the goal is class war and revolution and revenge against “enemies” — and he appoints people who are fiercely racist and members of racist organizations (MEChA, La Raza) to his advisory positions.
I think that this president would do well to well to study more deeply the religion he adopted (not black liberation theology, but the Christianity it was mutated from), rather than just using it for political convenience as he describes in The Audacity of Hope.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
This is the fourth in a series of Sunday posts related to the Food for Thought award from Citizen Tom:
Matthew 12 is telling part of the story of Jesus, and two aspects of this chapter struck me. First, it has been the source of a number of statements that are commonly associated with US presidents, and second that it also contains a reference applicable to our current one.
This is the third in a series of Sunday posts related to the Food for Thought award from Citizen Tom:
The Bible’s New Testament includes the same story of Jesus told by multiple authors, Matthew, Mark and Luke. These are called the “synoptic Gospels” where “synoptic” means “same view” (usually rendered as “seen together). Here is a diagram I’d not seen before of how much the three stories have in common:
One part of this shared story, which I first encountered in Matthew 19, has always struck me as a rich harvest. It’s more frequently referenced, perhaps, in Mark 10. (St. Augustine considered Matthew to be the original, but others now disagree. I will have more to say about St. Augustine next week, and some writings of his I enjoyed.)
A rich harvest
From the words in this one moment in the life of Jesus, we’ve created well-known songs and derived many familiar expressions. Remember Peter, Paul and Mary’s wedding song “There Is Love”? It is one of my favorites, as it is for my Lady Anne as well:
(Well, not exactly “Sunday” by the time I got this posted.)
As noted last Sunday, I’ve been given the “Food for Thought Award” (nominated by Citizen Tom)— and it has some obligations. Among them are these writings, on seven Biblical verses that have been significant or inspirational to me. This is the second. There are nominations involved as well, and a few sprang immediately to mind. My old friend the extraordinary SeraphimSigrist would be an ideal candidate, for one — his thoughtful writings reflect his beneficent doings in his travels far and wide spreading his faith and helping his fellow man. I always learn something interesting from him and enjoy his deep, compassionate mind.
Versions of 1 Timothy 6
This is the source of the much quoted, and it seems misquoted, verse about money and evil. I tend to favor Young’s Literal Translation (YLT), which was a well-regarded attempt in the late 1800s to preserve as much of the intent of the original languages as possible. But in the case of this particular line, the rendering has subtle differences which are significant: