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"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, yes, Christmas, that time of year with a winter nip in the air (unless you live in parts of Florida where record highs in the 80s are forecast this weekend) and the time of year when the thoughts of old school Protestants (meaning those few Protestants who still find the need to base their beliefs on a militant anti-Catholicism), New Age “pagans,” and militant atheists turn yet again to the supposed “pagan” origins of Catholicism. Along with Easter and Halloween, the Feast of Christmas is yet another of those celebrations we are told “prove” the pagan origins of Catholicism. After all, everyone knows Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are nothing more than “dressed up” paganism. It’s just too bad everyone is wrong…

Instead of merely reposting my piece on the true, non-pagan, origins for the December 25th date of Christmas, I share this link to a wonderful piece by Rev. Dwight Longenecker which does an excellent job of explaining (yet again) once and for all the true background of the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25th.

Allow me to highlight a few points from Rev. Longenecker:

1. The “pagan origin” claimants begin with the capital mistake of assuming that mere resemblance proves causality. Simply because two things resemble each other does not mean one is the cause of the other. Two things can be strikingly similar yet share absolutely no causal relationship what-so-ever. Simply because Christians and pagans observed certain feasts at similar times throughout the year does not mean one automatically caused the other.

2. The Roman feast most often associated with Christmas by the “pagan originists” is Saturnalia, a Roman feast for the god Saturn which was held from December 17 to 23. However, this feast, while occurring on the wrong date (if Christianity “co-opted” this feast, why not make the date of Christmas December 17th to really sock it to those pagans?), also had nothing to do with the imagery of the solstice and the return of the sun. The focus of this feast centered more on the theme of sacrifice-to-appease-the-gods-for-a-good-harvest.

3. The Roman feast associated with the solstice was Dies Natalis Sol Invictus. The only problem here is the inconvenient fact that this feast wasn’t instituted until around AD 278, well after the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and for quite some time remained a rather minor feast with a small cult. Further, we find no evidence that Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25th until AD 360 – decades after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in AD 315. In fact, the promotion of the feast was due to the influence of Julian the Apostate who attempted to turn back the tide of Christianity sweeping the Empire. Huh, so that means Sol Invictus was used by the Roman authorities in an attempt to “win back” Christians to paganism, not the other way around.

4. The “pagan origins” nonsense completely ignores the fact that thousands (some sources say millions) of Christians lost their property and in many cases their lives over their complete refusal to, as Rev. Longenecker puts it, “offer so much as one grain of incense to the pagan gods.” Yet, the “pagan originists” would have us believe the very people who were giving their lives over refusal to participate in anything even resembling paganism suddenly decided to “co-opt” pagan festivals.

5. If we actually take time to read the historical record provided us in the writings of the early Church Fathers, we find a clear answer as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. As early as AD 386, we find a sermon by St. John Chrysostom linking the date of Christmas to the date of the Annunciation (the day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus). The wording of his sermon suggests this linking was already a long-accepted tradition within the Church. We need to remember early Christians were primarily Jewish converts and thus the roots of Christianity are in Judaism, not Romanism. The Jews believed the world began on March 25th. They also believed great men died on the same date as the date of their conception. Therefore, we find the early Christians believed the date of Jesus’ conception was March 25th. Let’s count nine months and see what we find: December 25th.

So, just as I pointed out last time, the date of Christmas has nothing to do with Romans or paganism, but everything to do with early Jewish belief and the dating of Jesus’ conception by early Christians.

Merry Christmas!

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The Godless Delusion

The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism.  By Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  Softcover.  $14.95.

Reviewed by Steven Schultz

There are only two options.  It is either one or the other.  There is no middle ground.  The issue at hand is the existence or non-existence of God.  God cannot partially exist – that position is utter nonsense which any rational person would reject.  Instead, we are left with only one choice or it’s opposite.  Either the theists are correct and God exists, or the atheists are correct and belief in God is a delusion.  In The Godless Delusion, Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley charge headlong into this debate to deliver a sounding blow to atheism by showing through rational argument the logic of the theist position over illogic of the atheist position.

The importance of this conflict cannot be overstated in light of today’s society.  Rejection of belief in a higher power and rejection of the notion man is held accountable for his actions on earth and will face final, individual, ultimate judgment based on those actions are at the heart of all of society’s ills.  The self-appointed intelligentsia tells us God doesn’t exist and that those who believe in such “delusions” are uneducated simpletons – and far, far too many of us accept this since the message comes from “science” and we all know “science” is irrefutable.  Mark my words, atheism will be the downfall of Western society.  As Madrid and Hensley point out, atheism inescapably leads to conclusions which result in the death of society – there is no escaping this reality.

To understand the true absurdity of the atheist position, we must first understand exactly what their position says.  Atheists base their argument for the non-existence of God on what they consider a rational application of the scientific method.  Yet, their argument hinges on a blatant misstep in logic.  Like a magician skillfully employing misdirection, they hope no one notices their leap of faith.  As Madrid and Hensley put it:

“They [atheists] begin with an undeniably true assertion: that the scientific method, if used correctly, has been demonstrated to be a precise and trustworthy method of gaining accurate information about the natural world – as evidenced by remarkable successes and innumerable stunning advances in the fields of medicine, engineering, manufacturing, and technology.  But where the ‘magic’ occurred is when they moved from this true assertion to one undeniably false: that science and naturalism are somehow essentially the same thing.  From this, they drew the preposterous conclusion that because science has been demonstrated as true, naturalism has also been demonstrated as true…In fact, the two are quite distinct.  Whereas science is a method for investigating the natural world, naturalism is a philosophy that says the natural world is all there is.”

In other words, for the atheist, the material word, naturalism, is all there is.  Nothing else exists.  Even our thought is simply a series of chemical and electrical reactions.  If it’s not physical, it’s not real says the atheist.  However, by doing so, he either argues for absurdity or traps himself in his own contradiction, as we shall see.

Some reviews have commented on the lack of specifically Catholic arguments for the existence of God in this work.  However, these reviewers neglect to understand Catholic theological arguments for the existence of God would fall on deaf ears with atheists.  You cannot argue from a theological standpoint with someone who does not accept theology as a basis of argument.  In order to enter into conversation with such a person, you must begin with arguments based on rational logic – which is exactly what Madrid and Hensley undertake in this book.

The authors systematically dissect the atheist position, showing how it leads to utter non-sense and reveals atheists living in a contradiction.  For example, the atheist denies the existence of natural law or absolute right and wrong, instead claiming “right” and “wrong” are merely relative, individual concepts brought about by chemical and electrical reactions in the human brain.  Yet, the same atheist complains of not being treated “fairly” when wronged.  If absolute “right” and “wrong” don’t exist, there can’t be legitimate appeal to being treated “unfairly.”  To claim “unfair” treatment implies the existence of some sort of universal sense of “right” and “wrong” – which also implies existence of something beyond the natural world or beyond mere matter since a universal truth cannot possibly exist as a physical object.  On the other hand, the theist position rationally accounts for the universal human concept of a fundamental and absolute right and wrong as part of natural law created by God.

In a similar vein, atheists are forced to either take an absurd position or to contradict themselves when commenting on the actions of people such as Hitler.  Again according to the logical conclusions of the atheist position, since “right” and “wrong” are merely relative, individual human concepts, there exists no basis on which to criticize the genocide committed by Hitler or people like him.  Hitler’s writings and speeches make it abundantly clear he believed he was perfectly justified in murdering millions of Jews – in fact, he believed he was operating for the “good” of his society.  In order to honestly hold to his position, an atheist must accept Hitler’s arguments and admit Hitler was perfectly justified since he operated within his individual concept of “right” and “wrong.”  Would any rational person hold such a belief?  Instead, most atheists admit Hitler’s mass murder of Jews was wrong.  However, to admit Hitler (or Stalin or Mao who murdered millions of their own countrymen in the name of atheism) was wrong is to admit to the existence of a universal notion of right and wrong (and its subsequent notion of the existence of more than mere physical things), which again reveals the contradiction in which an atheist must live in order to cling to his belief system.

The theist has no such problem of being forced to take an absurd position or to contradict himself.  Instead, the theist believes in existence of things beyond the material world, therefore he is able to unequivocally state actions of people such as Hitler are evil and unacceptable since they violate natural law — God’s law.  Once again, the theist position comes through as the logical, rational position which actually jives with the human experience.  Additionally, the theist position is the only position which consistently describes the human experience without having to resort to modification or compromise of its propositions.

It’s all fine and good to shout from the comfort of one’s living room or classroom, “God is dead!”  Where does it lead when this becomes more than an anti-establishment slogan, but a lived belief system?  As Jewish psychologist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl puts it:

“If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him.  When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere project of heredity and environment, we see the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.  I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz.  The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis like to say, ‘of blood and soil.’  I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

To understand the true absurdity of atheism, and frankly, the true horror to which it leads, we must fully and honestly face its full implications.  One of the only atheists to ever fully and honestly embrace the totality and reality of atheism was Frederick Nietchie – and we’d do well to remember he died a broken and insane man.  When viewed with intellectual honesty there is no escaping the full evil and horror to which the religion of atheism ultimately leads.

In order for our society to survive, we must abandon the absurd notion that man is his own master.  Hitler, Stalin, Castro – our history is filled with the results of man believing in the absurdity of atheism.  The sooner we accept the fact we have a divine Master, who calls us in love to freely surrender our will to His, the sooner we can begin to right the ship of society.  Madrid and Hensley arm us with the rational arguments to show the absurdity of atheists clinging to a godless delusion.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Godless Delusion.  Also be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues.

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Anything but God

by Steven Schultz

The “enlightened” atheist camp recently made the headlines again with Stephen Hawking’s claim in his latest book, The Grand Design, that the universe was not created by an outside force, but instead created itself.  This is an interesting hypothesis considering we have yet to find a single material thing which created itself out of nothingness.  Instead, every material object ever encountered in known human history has something else as the author of its existence.  In fact, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the changing nature of the created world itself demands an unchanging cause outside of time and the material world for its existence – the “uncaused cause.”  However, according to intellectual atheists, such as Hawking, we’re to buy their nonsense based solely on their word as “academics,” since they can offer us not a single shred of evidence as proof of their claims that the universe somehow created itself from nothing.

Hawking claims the laws of gravity are responsible for the creation of the universe.  As with most atheist theories which claim “anything but God” for the creation of the universe, he fails to tell us what caused the laws of gravity.  We’re to believe they just happened and then poof (or bang), the universe came to be.  Stephen, no matter how you slice it, my friend, you eventually reach a point where you are forced to admit, if you’re intellectually honest, that an immaterial cause caused material existence to come into being.  Even if we go with Richard Dawkins’ explanation that “intelligent alien design” (i.e. extraterrestrials – little green men) are responsible for creating life on earth, a “theory” which he describes to Ben Stein in the documentary Expelled, Dawkins must still eventually account for the existence of the space aliens.  To do anything other than this leaves us with a “poof, there it is” explanation for the creation of the universe.  We’ll come back to this point shortly.

Yet another chink in the armor of the atheist’s “it all just happened by random chance” theory is the fact the universe obeys certain natural laws (including the laws of gravity which Hawking cites).  Not only does the universe obey certain natural laws, man is able to use his reason to discover and explain these laws.  If it’s all random chance, why is there such natural order?  If it’s all random chance, why did man just happen to receive the reasoning ability to discover, understand and explain these natural laws?  Are we honestly to believe the universe not only randomly formed, but randomly formed with ordered laws and human beings who just happen to posses the right kind of minds to discover these laws instead of believing a Creator caused the existence of an ordered universe and created man in His image with the capacity to discover these natural laws and thereby come to know something more about his Creator?  As we consider these facts, we come to see just who is actually making an incredible leap of faith to hold onto his belief system.

The Catholic Church has never held that Genesis is a factual account of creation.  Instead, the Church has always taught that Genesis is an allegorical story and its main point is not to explain the how of creation, but to explain the why of creation: an infinite, all-powerful, all-loving God who created as an act of His own free will; not out of necessity, but because He chose to do so.  Belief in the “Big Bang” theory is not at all inconsistent with Catholic theology.  It becomes inconsistent though when one claims the Big Bang created itself.

Atheists reject creationism (here meaning a fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis as a “blow-by-blow” account of creation – again, this is not the position on Genesis held by the Catholic Church) as nonsense, but then cling to their own version of creationism.  There’s no difference in believing God made everything “magically” appear in the form it’s in now and believing the universe “magically” created itself out of nothing.  Both “theories,” for anyone who takes the time to look at the facts, are nonsense.  The theist position is the only one which accounts for all the facts of the universe’s existence in a consistent manner.

Seeing that the atheist position is such nonsense, we must ask why so many believe in anything but God.  For the vast majority of non-academic, secularized people (including those who nominally claim to be religious, but live their lives as agnostics or practical atheists), I believe they like the idea of there being no God (or at least not one which has any real impact on reality) since it frees them to rationalize every sort of deviant, self-destructive behavior in which they chose to participate.  If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate Truth – and certainly no ultimate judgment; everything’s relative, so let’s party!

What about the academic and intellectual atheists?  For most of these people, I believe it comes down to simply vanity.  They believe they are the most educated, most important people on the face of the planet.  They see themselves as gods on earth – the power holders, the deal makers.  To admit God exists it to admit the existence of a power higher (and more intelligent) than themselves.  Such a notion is anathema to these people.  Such a notion would mean they are not the ultimate judges of right and wrong, life and death.  I honestly believe most of these people are so full of themselves, they simply cannot fathom such an “outlandish” and “quaint” notion as God.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter since the preponderance of evidence, which can be arrived at by the use of natural reason alone (as so superbly demonstrated by St. Thomas Aquinas), overwhelmingly points to the existence of a Creator who stands outside of time as a non-material being and the uncaused cause.  But take heart, atheists, as Antony Flew demonstrated, God continues to offer Himself to you; all you need to do is accept His invitation.

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