Documentary commentary: "The Christmas Question" by 119 Ministries. Amazon Prime, but it's also on YouTube. (This blog is a spin-off from my frequent Facebook posts "Documentary Pick". We watch a documentary every day for homeschooling. Today's "pick" is more of a commentary, and it ended up being too long for a Facebook Post and ended up here.)
So, first you need to know who 119 Ministries is. They are a Fundamentalist Christian group who pretty much advocate a Biblical life devoid of any other influences as much as possible. It's Christianity that appeals to the Old Testament and Jewish teachings as the primary source of choice.
I can also empathize where they are coming from, because I used to have tendencies to lean towards such fundamentalism. To me, the Bible was literally true in every sense of the word, and I drew conclusions on my own that are similar to their arguments for circumcision. I deeply, deeply regret doing that to three of my boys, it went against my gut feelings, I cried hard every time, but I went along with it anyway because I felt it was a Biblical teaching. In a way, I was a fundamentalist Mormon, by the definition of that word. Not FLDS, but I empathize where they are coming from too, in a way. There is this appeal to teachings in their original form. It appeals to history (which I love). It appeals to pure religion, unadulterated by time and the weaknesses of men. I get it. The problem is, this kind of thinking leads to extremism, to an "us verses them", and that's not healthy.
Knowing who 119 Ministries is, I assumed going in to "The Christmas Question" that it would go in to the history of Christmas, its Pagan origins, and end with an argument against celebrating Christmas altogether if one wants to be a true Christian. That was a given, actually. But as a Christian-turned-Pagan, I was actually very pleased with the documentary's presentation overall, even if I disagree with its conclusions.
They interviewed many scholars, historians, and Pastors with different viewpoints. They respectfully disagreed towards the end of the video, but it wasn't in a way that disparaged them. It was in a way that admitted how hard and painful it is to give up Christmas, but how it was the right thing to do. They even interviewed the popular YouTube witch Scarlet Ravenswood. They portrayed her views fairly, and their only implied counter-argument was that she is a witch therefore one should not align themselves with her views. I actually really like Scarlet, and was excited to see that they had chosen her in their interviews. She was enthusiastic about Yule and all of its beautiful symbolism, and they kept that. I appreciated it.
The history presented in this documentary was very good. It was in line with my own discoveries, even going deeper in places than I have gone. I learned new things. It was incredibly comprehensive. Regardless of their conclusions, mostly drawn at the end of the film anyway, the history presented in this film is very good overview of Christmas history, especially as it relates to the Christian church. We do not know when Jesus of Nazareth was born, but the theories that have circulated and been debated have changed history. For those who can take their conclusions with a grain of salt, but want a good Christmas history lesson, this documentary is one of the best out there.
I wish to address their religious conclusions specifically now. I do it knowing that it may make some of my Christian friends uncomfortable, which I regret, but I think it's an important thing to talk about, because if anything, it may help those same friends understand my own spiritual journey out of Christianity and into a Paganism itself. I am not doing this to convert anyone by any means, but I do feel that their closing arguments should be addressed for the sake of a complete review of sorts.
The big question the whole film centers on, "The Christmas Question", is, should Christians celebrate Christmas? Other pastors who are aware of the historical issues are shown to answer that they believe everything can be sanctified by Christ. That the birth of Christ had been celebrated by Christians by centuries, and that intent is more important in worship than historical symbolism. I feel this is a healthy approach, personally.
119 Ministries counter-argues this response by asking if other Pagan symbols that are more foreign to Christians should be "sanctified" in like manner. They showed the Triple Goddess, the Horned God, and the Spiral Goddess symbols superimposed onto Christian churches, and asked Christian study groups to discuss whether these symbols were appropriate to use, and whether Christianity could sanctify the good behind these symbols for Christian use. Naturally, the reactions were very negative. One man said that if a person is sanctified from these things, they would be cleansed from them, and leave them behind. That's fair, I think.
Then one of the women interviewed throughout the film said that never in the Bible do we see Christ taking Pagan symbolism and sanctifying it for his own use. They make an argument that Jewish festivals are the best holidays to celebrate because unlike adapted Pagan holidays after Christ, these ancient holidays look forward towards Christ and are hence more Christ-centered. That's also a fair viewpoint, although this is where I would inject a different historical viewpoint.
If one is going to go through the lengths of studying history, studying Christian documents to the point that long-standing, centries-old traditions are stripped from ones worship and/or cultural practices, where do you stop? When it feels right? It is all fine and good to say that Christianity after, say, the Nicene Creed, adapted Paganism, and therefore one can dismiss everything afterwards. But is that really where it started?
As a Mormon, I was taught that there was a great apostasy after Christ died, which began immediately. Mormonism stands apart from much of the rest of Christianity because it does not accept the Nicene Creed. It is, in part, why some other religions say they are not Christian. But if this apostasy is true, where does that leave the bulk of the New Testament? Most of the New Testament was written at least 100 years after Christ died, written by men who were supposedly apostate, written after the light of Christ had withdrawn from the earth, and compiled by men who were part of what was once openly called (but since redacted) "The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil". There were SO MANY Christian documents that they could draw from to compile the New Testament, and these men were supposedly uninspired. Everything not chosen for the New Testament has since been swept aside as apocryphal writings, so we shouldn't take them too seriously. But why the books we have today, and not the others? In many cases, it had to more to do with popularity than inspiration.
And more to the point, the New Testiment itself was constructed to convert, and their target audience consisted mostly of Pagans. Bart Ehrman (whose research I draw many of my own following conclusions from) , in his "How Jesus Became God" (not how he literally became God, but how people historically came to believe he was a God), likes to ask his fresh college students how many books there are in the New Testament. There are 27, which is really easy when you think about it. 3 is a sacred number, and 3x3x3 is 27. Isn't that something? It wasn't a coincedence. Furthermore, why are their 4 gospels? Why not 5? Or 3? One for each cardinal direction; one for each of the four elements. Why was the trinity so important? It's not a Judaic thing. Did it have anything to do with the trinities of pagan beliefs? The Norns. The Triple Goddess. 3 in one, one purpose carried out by 3 faces. This was a Pagan concept adapted by Christianity. And the Book of Revelation! It is simply packed with gods, dieties, and symbolisms completely in-sync with the apocalyptic concerns of then-modern-day Pagans. To deconstruct Christianity to the point of withdrawing all Paganism, if done honestly, is to deconstruct much of the New Testament in the process. How far down the rabbit hole do you go?
Historically, Christianity was initially an emerging new religion. Politically, religions, in order to obtain legitimacy, had to have ancient sources. In the ancient world, Jediism and Pastafarianism would never fly. Truth did not matter nearly as much as age. Christianity had a problem because, in spite of its growing popularity, it was far to young. So, it was constructed in a way that it could claim to be a continuation of the Old Testament. But Judaism did not widely adopt Christianity because it was, in fact, a different religion. It just was. Christian beliefs evolved so much before the Nicene creed. It had many early branches, with esotaric beliefs that were far removed from modern Christianity. One has to look no farther than the Gnostics for examples, although there are many more. Origen is another early Christian theologen whose teachings on the pre-existence of man, whose spirits he called "intelligences", may be of special interest to Mormons.
In summary, they ask the question "Should Christians celebrate Christmas". Their answer is, in essence, no, because it is a Pagan holiday. My response is, if you're going to go down the rabbit hole and extract everything Pagan, keep digging. Don't stop at the Nicene creed. Examine the New Testiment itself. Its origins. Its authors. Its historical context. For that matter, Semitic beliefs used to be far more Pagan in nature, with multiple dieties, but that's a discussion for another day. Judaic beliefs were often taken out of context by early Christian theologins, and that is unfortunate.
Alternatively, don't extract Paganism from Christmas. Don't dig through the history any more than you desire. Let it be a fun anecdote to your own traditions. Enjoy Christmas knowing that it is your intent that matters. That's OKAY. And if you don't want to celebrate Christmas, THAT'S OKAY! Just don't judge others who DO celebrate Christmas. It's self-righteous, holier-than-thou behavior to tell people they are sinning if they celebrate Christmas, and I'll judge 119 Ministries freely for that since they do not hesitate to judge in their own way.
More than anything, I suppose it is the hypocrasy that frustrates me about their attitude. Research as far as we have gone, and no farther. Do not listen to apostates like Bart Erhman who lay out the New Testiment and its historical context so plainly. And certainly do not listen to what Pagans have to say about these holidays, because, you know, they are Pagans, what more needs to be said? Actually, perhaps listen, but practice the opposite of what they do because there shouldn't be any common ground between us in spite of our shared heritage. Or something. I don't know. I'm glad I watched this documentary. I really appreciate the thouroughness of the history they presented. Most of it was very well done. It was just their final conclusions that set my mind at work with the desire to share my counter views. Thanks for listening.