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The Christmas Myth

I have always loved the myth about Santa. The child in me still takes delight in all the trappings of Christmas, and I have no problem talking about Santa to my grandchildren. But since I was in first grade, I have known that the story is a myth. True, the story is based on an historic individual, but it has become so mythologized that the facts of the story are almost unrecognizable.

It's hard to convince people that the same thing is true about the Jesus story. One of the correspondents to the website asked me recently, when I alluded to the myth of Christianity, "What would you change?" I said, "The basic message! Jesus didn't die on the cross to save you from your sins, because you don't need to be saved." She responded, "Okay, then why did Jesus die on the cross?"

My answer: Why did Spartacus die on the cross? Because he wanted to set his people free from physical slavery. Jesus died on the cross because he wanted to set his people free from religious slavery. But the Jewish leaders, to prove his point, had him killed for his spiritual beliefs. Then, to try to make sense of the whole thing - in just the same way we look for reasons to explain Kennedy's death and 9-11 - his followers tried to glorify his death by giving it some cosmic meaning. But the simple truth is that Jesus was a teacher who threatened the religious powers. They killed him for heresy and blasphemy in order to prevent change and to protect their power. It had nothing to do with God's plan of salvation. I told her that if God wanted to save us, he could have simply waved his hand and pronounced us all saved.

"No, no," she protested. "We have to earn our salvation." To which I said, "We are part of God. We have existed with him from eternity. We were already perfect in heaven, totally accepted by God, before we ever decided to incarnate. Coming here is not going to lose us our spiritual heritage. We are still part of God. This earthly experience is merely to add to our wisdom and understanding. The notion that God will reject us if we don't say certain words is a tool the church uses to maintain control of its members."

"You have a child," I told her. "Suppose you loved that child for the first six years of his life up until you sent him to first grade. Then in first grade, he flunked a spelling test. What would you do? I'm certain that you would not throw him out of the house and onto a bonfire in the backyard and watch him scream in anguish."

We cringe at this image, but we have no problem projecting this exact scenario onto God. Myths are a way of simplifying the truth so that the average mind can grasp it. It's a good tool. Jesus used parables. However, some people want to believe that the parables actually happened, that, for instance, there was a real Good Samaritan, etc. But there wasn't. To try to make the story literal completely misses the point.

The same thing with the Christian myth. The story of Jesus/Savior is a parable, a metaphor, a holy myth designed to teach a truth. But the church long ago made the mistake of claiming that it was literal truth, and now they're stuck with it. They know it's a myth but they can't admit it, or the whole structure would collapse. So instead of telling us the truth, the church has to spend its resources propping up what amounts to a lie.

Perhaps the Santa story can teach us that we can enjoy myths and learn valuable lessons from them, while not confusing them with actual history.

Posted 12-05-05

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2005