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”).
The gallery in this PopSci website is called “10 animals that are smarter than you think” and is interesting, despite leaving out octopuses (which is correct, I suppose, as I think that they are very smart).
The vampire bat is described as demonstrating “advanced social intelligence” and “reciprocal altruism.” But is it truly altruism, or is it more likely a wise investment for self-preservation? The researcher quoted in the caption notes “the bats seemed to keep track of who had shared with them in the past, and they were much more likely to reciprocate with those who had been generous to them on a previous occasion.” They would give blood to other bats, independent of whether those bats were related, with an eye toward getting the favor back in the future. And ones who had been generous would be rewarded with a meal instead of relatives, which means the vampire bat version of “blood is thicker than water” needs a number of adjustments.
So, then, would “altruism” — what these creatures do is described as “reciprocal altruism” which might be a bit closer to “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” from a larger and genetically closer fellow mammal. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it seems to me to be a mis-use of the word “altruism” if the bat discriminates who it helps based on an expectation of, or reward for, returned favors.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
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.
In the discussion on Ayn Rand’s works, the Lady Rowyn sagely suggests:
There are a lot of authors worth reading whether or not you agree with their conclusions. And whether or not people make fun of them.
Indeed. I’ve read much of Karl Marx, and am amazed that he has any followers at all. Especially women, but really anyone who thinks the notions through.
Marx is worshiped today in academia; Rand is reasonable, which lets her out of that club. I’ve got a college textbook next to me called The Critical Experience (edited by David L. Cowles), an analysis of techniques of literary criticism. The great majority of them are Marxist, or spin-offs of Marxist techniques. (Amusingly, Google Books helpfully suggests that a “related work” to this textbook is The Communist Manifesto. No surprise.)
By one page into the Introduction, the textbook is complaining that literary criticism was dominated by “white, male, American, Protestant, upper-middle-class, and highly educated.” They have been successful in reducing each one of these, I think, especially the highly educated part.
The writers of this college book are effusive in their praise of Karl Marx, granting only the possibility of Charles Darwin having greater influence upon “history and thought.” This was written (or at least published) in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union:
Marx’s contributions to the political philosophy that bears his name are well known, but his writings have also influenced such diverse disciplines as history, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, theology, and literary criticism. The proliferation of Marxist theorists in in dozens of academic fields has given rise to a number of diverse scholarly traditions…”
Feminist Theory, Reader Response Criticism, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Pluralism and others all are described as having Marxist roots, so that everything can be read in terms of the class struggle, substituting gender or whatever for the oppressed class. (In Feminist criticism, we are cautioned to avoid “rigid phallogocentric” ideas, an odd sort of double meaning under the circumstances.)
But the glow when Marx is mentioned practically radiates from the page. They like him, they really like him.
I do not.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
(This wound up being something of a scattered ramble on different philosophers in history.) I mentioned recently Ayn Rand’s definition of selfishness, as “concerned with one’s own interests.” It’s straightforward enough. In the ensuing discussion, I described this as less opaque than some of the definitions of Bertrand Russell. (I had miswritten his first name as “Bertram”; my apologies.)
I don’t have his works online (edit: found a collection), though some parts of this no doubt exist. Here’s a nice example, from his treatise on Denoting I read last year:
Thus `the father of Charles II was executed‘ becomes: `It is not always false of x that x begat Charles II and that x was executed and that “if y begat Charles II, y is identical with x” is always true of y‘.
This may seem a somewhat incredible interpretation; but I am not at present giving reasons, I am merely stating the theory.
Citizen Tom has a series of posts discussing altruism (as seen by Ayn Rand) and Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. I’m in the odd position of largely agreeing with him, and with Ayn Rand — despite his objecting to Rand’s writings. He describes well the dangers of enforced “altruism”: