The full-blown fundamentalist version of the “Christmas story” is truly pernicious. In the last couple years, I’ve thought about the imagery of Christmas (the child archetype) and the traditions we all enjoy which can be separate from Christianity (See previous articles). This year, I read a piece by Billy Graham called “You can know the Christ of Christmas,” and was reminded of all that is wrong with this religion, and how it can taint so much about life. I felt so sad reading this because as a humanist, it seems so wrong to denigrate who we are as human beings.
His article was all about how hopeless the world is and how helpless and sinful we are. According to him, the Christ child is great news because of the dark horrible world that needs saving. He says repeatedly that all our human efforts will fail miserably because we must have help from outside ourselves.
Graham writes, “Christmas emphasizes the glorious truth that salvation is provided apart from us, that into this sin-cursed world came One whose supreme mission is to save sinners...
“The evils that curse the world are the consequences of hearts deceived by the devil and separated from God. Thousands of human schemes for social and political improvement will ultimately fail because they do not deal with a person's basic disease.I much prefer to be positive about who I am and have faith in all of us to work together to make the world a better place, here and now.
“Many have preached about the Sermon on the Mount as though that in itself is a sufficient dynamic to bring in a new world order of peace and goodwill among men. All the religions of the world say, "Do good; do good," but they do not give us the power to do good. One of the failures of many church leaders is their refusal to believe that our deepest problem is sin.
“Without God we cannot put the world right, because we cannot put ourselves right. It is beyond us to put away the sin in our own hearts. We cannot save ourselves, let alone the whole world.”
If that weren’t enough, Graham goes on to say how exclusive the good news of Christmas is: “This hope that was given to those shepherds on that first Christmas morning is available only to those who believe.”
Have you ever noticed all the Christmas hymns that are about a Savior born to all mankind, i.e., to save the world? “Unto us a son is given,” etc. We are all supposed to rejoice because the Savior has arrived. But it’s quite a hoax when you think about the rest of the Christian deal, according to the fundamentalist view. First of all, salvation depends not on God’s “free” gift, but on your individual acceptance of it. This involves admitting your depravity and being sorry; otherwise it won’t work.
In Graham’s words, “This Christmas, many people believe that Jesus is the Son of God, without any change happening in their lives. They have never repented [...] Many people ask, ‘Why doesn't this revolution happen to more people?’ It is because millions of professing Christians are strangers to the genuine, saving faith that means coming to the end of ourselves, to the end of our self-reliance and self-righteousness, and then trusting absolutely in Christ for forgiveness and for moral and spiritual renewal.” (A weird side note here: The ministers and U.S. Congress members who had the recent “praycast” in Washington against health reform went on in their prayers with the words, “we are at the end of ourselves.”)
Secondly, the world doesn’t seem to be saved either! By the looks of things, “mankind” is worse off than ever, since that momentous night in Bethlehem. According to Graham, this too is our fault: “The world's primary need today is the Savior, salvation from sin. Failure to recognize this fact and receive God's remedy for sin is the reason why mankind has failed to prevent recurring wars and revolutions in the world.”
Yet the fantasy lives, despite any evidence, personally or globally. Graham says, “The Christmas angels praised God and proclaimed peace on earth. It was by and through Jesus Christ that peace was to come to the earth.” Notice the language, “was to come.” Until we screwed it up, I guess.
Yet, according to Graham, “Christ is God's great Christmas Gift to the world: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV).”
Now the Billy Graham Evangelical Organization is making its focus the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus coming as a baby didn’t really work so this time God must be serious. Graham issues dire threats in another article as well as telling believers not to be terrified.
He writes: “Today the only bright spot on the horizon of this world is the promise of the coming again of Christ, the Messiah. We can’t go on much longer morally. We can’t go on much longer scientifically. The technology that was supposed to save us is ready to destroy us. New weapons are being made all the time, including chemical and biological weapons.
“In Isaiah 66 we read that ‘the Lord will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury’ (Isaiah 66:15).
“It has been 2,000 years since then. Why hasn’t He come? . . .The disciples asked the same thing, and Jesus said, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority (Acts 1:7). Don’t guess or speculate. We don’t know. It may be a thousand years from now, or it may be tomorrow. Regardless, the end of the world is coming for you the moment you die, and that could be at any time for any of us. We never know. What have you done to prepare for that moment when your heart stops beating?”
In my opinion, this is an amazing combination of beliefs – severe hopelessness about self and humanity paired with enormous hope for miraculous salvation, and complete responsibility for choosing correctly while having no ability or choice about accomplishing anything else.
I much prefer to be positive about who I am and have faith in all of us to work together to make the world a better place, here and now. Otherwise, we could be waiting a long time. Instead of being born again, let’s grow up and let go of hoping to be rescued. In helping people recover from toxic religion, I've found that the core aspect of healing is to recover self-trust.
When my son was little, I was explaining some Christian beliefs to him, including the notion of miracles. He said, “Well, I don’t know about that, but I would consider a miracle to be if a bunch of neighbors would get together and make a playground for the poor children.” I was pretty stunned but so pleased for this example of “out of the mouths of babes.” I still think we have a lot to learn from babies and children, and I’ll hold onto that part of Christmas.