the holiday season 2018

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This is a time of year that many people around the world refer to as “The Holiday Season.” In the view of most Western Christians, it is a time when Christmas is celebrated as well as the American Thanksgiving and the Gregorian New Year. I, however, have a slightly different definition of just what consists of the holiday season.

Fundamentally, much of the holiday season is shaped by the period of time around the December Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the day characterized by the longest night and the shortest days, and the point from which the days begin to grow longer. It is the time after which the last of the fall harvest is collected. In most agricultural societies, it is the time with the least amount of work and the most amount of time for reflecting. It is a time that would naturally lend itself towards spiritual matters.

Most Christians agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th.  Many scholars believe that the Catholic Church in the 300s CE declared December 25th to be the day of Jesus’s birth as an effort to compete against popular religions at the time and draw more people to the Christian religion. Many scholars place the date of Jesus’s birth in either the autumn or the spring. Yet, Christmas as celebrated in December has become the cornerstone for both a religious and secular holiday season. Nevertheless, it is a time of year when many religions celebrate important holidays, not just Christianity. It is worth noting that some common themes often emerge when looking at this holiday season.

The nature of the Winter Solstice has an enormous impact on holidays in several different religions. Yule has pre-Christian and Pagan origins, and some form of worship at the time of the Winter Solstice goes back centuries, if not millenia. In Iran, the Winter Solstice is celebrated as Yalda.

The Hindu celebration on January 14 of Makar Sakranti, also known in some parts of India as Lohri or Pangal, is related to the lengthening of the days of the year, despite being three weeks later than the actual December Solstice. It the celebration of the passing of the sun into Capricorn (according to Vedic astrology—Western astrology would date this at Winter Solstice.) Westerners would find familiar some of the themes of this holiday including dedication to the sun and a time for reconciliation between enemies.

The Hawaii-based Himalayan Foundation, publishers of Hinduism Today, saw a need to have a time for Western practitioners of Hinduism to celebrate during the Western holiday season. They decided to institute the holiday of Pancha Ganapti, a five day holiday festival which celebrates the different aspects of the god Ganesha.

Some African-Americans have also sought to redefine the American holiday season for themselves out the need for a spiritual holiday that would reflect their own history, culture and heritage. Kwanzaa was developed as a result. While not tied with a specific religion or spiritual leader.

Other spiritual events and leaders are commemorated during this time as well. Zoroastrians celebrate the passing of their founder Zarathrusta on December 26th. (Historically, many cultures put as high of an emphasis on the death of religious figures as the date of their birth, as evidenced by the fact that Easter was celebrated before Christmas in the Christian faith.) The Buddhists celebrate Bodhi day on December 8th, the day they believe Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment. Sikhs celebrate the birth of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib on January 5. He lived from 1666-1708 CE, and was the tenth and last human Sikh Guru. He was very influential in the religion’s development. At his death, he declared that the collection of holy Sikh scripture known as the Granth replace him as the Guru for all Sikhs.

Many Jews living in Christian dominated countries have chosen to give greater emphasis on the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah, which occurs between early and late December. Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Selucid Empire between 167-160 BCE. The successful revolt allowed Jews to practice their religion once again after not being allowed to under the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV, and they were able to rededicate the Second Temple.

Finally, it must be noted that the Islamic calendar may or may not have important holidays during this season. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar whose months are 29 or 30 days and whose years are 354 or 355 days long. Because of the difference in the length of the year between the Islamic calendar and solar calendars like the Gregorian, the dates that Islamic holidays fall will change each year. The “Birth of the Prophet” in Islam fell on December 1 of this year.

The richness of the holiday season combined with the spiritual symbolism of reflection and renewal are among the reasons why I chose the December Solstice as the first day of the year for the Earth Epic Calendar. Its proximity to the beginning of the year to the most widely used calendar in the world is another reason—it makes for an easier transition. But the principal reason I created this calendar is to reflect that incredible amount of gain in our understanding of the world, the Earth and our place within it. I wanted to liberate the calendar from religion, especially when religions date their calendars from the time of their own founding. Religions draw a line between the few hundred or thousand years since their founding and the billions of years prior to that time. I have always known in my heart that such a line was always artificial, and a distortion of our place and heritage on Earth. Only time and God/The Universe will determine whether others choose to pick up on this calendar or not.

Regardless of whether you might choose to take this calendar seriously or not, I truly hope you take advantage of this precious time of year to tune in with this period of reflection, renewal and celebration, in whatever form it may take.

Jerusalem capital dispute and the perversion of religion

Jerusalem capital

rquevenco / Pixabay

President Trump recently declared that he recognizes Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It has religious fingerprints all over this. The Jerusalem capital dispute is part of an ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, both of whom consider all or part of Jerusalem to be the capital of their respective nations. What makes this worse is the fact that many people who call themselves Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe Jerusalem to be the Holy Land in their respective religions. (In Islam, Jerusalem is secondary in importance to Mecca, but the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque is where Muslims believe the Angel Gabriel took Muhammad on a journey to heaven, and as such, is the third holiest site in Islam as well as the source of a very important holiday.)

Jerusalem has been under the control of many different nations over the millenia, and at various points in history, the city was held by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others. Just look how often Jerusalem has changed hands.

  • Between 13th-11th century BCE–Captured by Jews under the leadership of King David. Both he and Solomon ruled there and Solomon built the original Holy Temple.
  • 722 BCE–The Assyrians conquered Israel and Jerusalem.
  • 586 BCE–The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
  • 333 BCE –Alexander the Great conquered the region
  • 198 BCE—Conquered by the Selucid Empire (which stretched from Greece to the Middle East)
  • 168 BCE–The Maccabean Revolt established the Hasmonean Kingdom,
  • 63 BCE–The Hasmonean Kingdom fell to Roman rule
  • 70 CE–A Jewish revolt against the Romans failed– resulting in the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and caused the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.
  • 476 CE–After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman (later Byzantine) Empire ruled the region, although Jerusalem sometimes changed hands between the Byzantine and Persian Empires.
  • 638 CE– Arab/Muslim armies conquered Jerusalem. They permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
  • 1099 CE–Christian Crusaders conquered Jerusalem
  • 1187 CE–Jerusalem was retaken by a Sunni Islam dynasty, permitting Jews and Muslims to return to the city.
  • 229-1244 CE –Jerusalem was peacefully transferred to Holy Roman Empire rule from.
  • 1244 CE–the city was conquered by the Khwarazmian Tatars, who expelled almost all of the Jews and Christians.
  • 1250 CE–The Mamluk Sultanate based out of Cairo ruled Jerusalem.
  • 1517 CE–the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks,
  • 1917–The crumbled Ottoman Empire lost control of Jerusalem, at which time Jerusalem fell under the administration of the British Empire.
  • 1947–The British administration expired in, at which time the United Nations elected to establish Jerusalem as a special city under international rule as part of the Israel-Palestine partition of Palestine
  • 1948—UN mandate regarding Jerusalem was never implemented because of the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, in which Israeli declared its independence and declared Jerusalem to be its capital. The terms of peace between Israel and Jordan established Israeli control of West Jerusalem whereas Jordan assumed control of east Jerusalem, where the Old City was located.
  • 1967– In the Six Day War of, Israel captured all of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

No nation in the world has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since 1948, because all nations outside of Israel wanted the status of Jerusalem to be decided in a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. That continued until President Donald Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, 2017, becoming the first nation outside of Israel to do so.

This insistence on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is rooted in two religious movements—one among many Jews, and one among many Christians. Zionism was a movement among Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries that insisted that the Jews should have a state in the original Holy Land which they believed to be land promised to them by God in ancient times. The Hebrew Bible, according to many believers, prophesies that God will re-establish state of Israel, reestablish the Messiah from the House of David, and that all nations will recognize the Jewish God as the one God for the world.

The movement encouraged Jews to relocate to Palestine. But many Zionists have insisted on the entire ancient land of Israel, which was supposedly the Promised Land God promised to the Jews, and which includes traditionally Palestinian territory. The rest of the world has viewed this as unrealistic because most of the world believes that peace in the Middle East is dependent on the status of Jerusalem being resolved peacefully in a future Israeli-Palestinian treaty.

But to this day, Israelis have repeatedly encroached on what was previously Palestinian territory through the settlement movement. This movement has Israelis claiming certain plots of land as Israeli settlements, which results in Israelis forcibly kicking out Palestinians from their homes.

Zionism had a lot of support among non-Jews out of sympathy for the fact that the Jews were stateless and dealing with growing anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Holocaust. But many fundamentalist Christians have supported the Zionist movement for their own reasons. Based on the Book of Revelations, these people believe we are living in the End Times, during which point Jesus will return to Jerusalem to usher in a time of peace. Jews are waiting for the Messiah, while evangelical Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus. Christians believe that upon the arrival of Jesus, Jews will be forced to either convert to Christianity or face God’s harsh judgment.

Islam also believes in its own Day of Judgment. Islam has traditionally been tolerant of Christianity and Judaism, seeing them as brothers. However, there are multiple sects in Islam that have developed a much more intolerant version of Islam, and they are influential within Islam the same way the fundamentalist movement is influential within Christianity.

While I recognize Israel’s right to exist, the continued insistence by some Zionists for more Palestinian land is, in my view, religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is an ugly, intolerant, warlike outgrowth from what had originally been peaceful religions—including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To be frank, fundamentalism is not, in the purest sense Jewish, Christian or Muslim, but instead are cancers upon these religions. Doctrines that insist that certain lands are promised to a certain people are nothing but a complete perversion of religion. What makes this a perversion is that the teachings of love are harmony are pushed aside for prophecy and human views of “God’s will.”

Let’s take, for example, the Ten Commandments which are revered by both Jews and Christians. Much of what is happening in Israel right now is in direct violation of the Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandments.

  • Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder.”
  • Eighth Commandment; “You shall not steal.”
  • Ninth Commandment:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Israeli settlements and other territorial claims are a direct violation of the Eighth and Tenth Commandments—against stealing and coveting a neighbor’s property. And the Sixth and Ninth commandment have been repeatedly violated by members of Judaism, Christianity and Islam over the centuries, justifying slaughter in the name of claiming what they believe God gave to them, while slandering each other’s religions.

For all I know, this type of fundamentalism might be a means by which God tests followers of all religions. Perhaps this test asks, “Do you believe in the most important teachings of your religion?”

The leap of logic made by Christian fundamentalists regarding President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol is nothing short of bizarre. This declaration has angered Muslims worldwide, as well as Palestinian Christians–about whom fundamentalist Christians often conveniently forget. Yet these fundamentalist Christians believe that Jewish control of Jerusalem will lead to peace. How so, when the move is making people angry? Their reasoning is that Jesus’s second coming will establish one thousand years of peace, and making Jerusalem the capital of Israel will hasten Jesus Christ’s return. Yes, people really believe this.

Tossed out the window are basic tenets of human interaction, reciprocity and the Golden Rule. Is it more spiritual for us as human beings to be peacemakers, or is it more spiritual to commit aggression on behalf of one’s religion based on the belief that God or a messiah will sort things out?

This is a classic example of the point I raised in a previous post of how spiritual narrative eclipses our abilities to deal with reality. The reality is that true wickedness comes from the destruction we bring upon the earth and each other. These are the most urgent problems that need to be solved, and yet we are caught in this narrative of non-reality that keeps people from looking at the earth around them and seeing what needs to be done. If these fundamentalists want to fight each other in a battle of Armageddon, it would be far better if they move their armageddon to another planet, leave innocent bystanders alone and leave the rest of us to create a more just world.

During trying times, it is quite understandable that people will turn to narratives that try to make sense of this world. However, to rely on narratives not visible to the naked eye is a lot like suffering from great thirst and praying for water when a tap providing clean water is right next to them.