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Christmas: When truth is not useful

November 5, 2009

This is a quotation from a commenter and guest podcaster, Brian, at the Mormon Expression podcast on Fowler’s Stages of Faith (speaking of which, I need to listen to this when I have the chance!).

The transition from 4 to 5 is often prompted by being tired of the flatness of the color and flavor of faith caused by hyper rationalism, from deconstructing everything into pieces, and from constantly pointing out that the great and powerful Oz is “just” a man behind the curtain.

I think one of the best examples is the Christmas holiday. Why would a grown adult participate in the Christmas holiday when they know that Christ wasn’t actually born on December 25th, and there really isn’t a man named Santa Claus that flies around delivering presents? It’s either true or it’s false, right? It’s false. But then we might find out that participating in all the holiday fun actually brings us “peace on earth, goodwill towards man.” (whatever that means). We end up experiencing the “Spirit of Christmas.” We loop right back around to Christmas being true still, even though we know that Santa Claus isn’t real.

This quote’s interesting to think about (true =/= useful…and false =/= useless). I’d simply disagree is on the applicability and usefulness of untrue things.

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  1. The Christmas analogy is a good one. Though I think that I, as an agnostic, participate in Christmas because it is fun and enjoyable. This is true even if I reject the nonsense. If you reject the nonsense of the Church, does it remain fun and enjoyable to participate?

    For me the answer is no. That is why I don’t participate.

  2. I agree, John.

  3. Yuk. How stupidly reductionist to claim that it’s “rational” to think that Christmas is based on belief in Jesus or belief in Santa.

    That has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves.

  4. re chanson:


    Can you elaborate?

    What you’re saying sounds to me like, “Yuk! How stupidly reductionist to claim that it’s “rational” to think that Mormonism is based on belief in the Book of Mormon and the Restoration or following the tenets of the CoJCoLdS.”

    I can understand why that might be a pet peeve to new order Mormon types, but it wouldn’t really be far from the truth for many.

    We move away from the reductionism by recognizing that Christmas is *not* based on belief in Jesus or in Santa…in the same way that certain NOMs move away from reductionism by recognizing that the church isn’t defined necessarily by particular popular hypotheses regarding correct positions to take about the BoM or the church organization.

  5. Christians seem to belive that Christmas was invented for the sake of Jesus, and if you don’t believe, then there’s nothing left of Christmas for you. That’s pure nonsense.

    Holidays cater to a huge variety of human needs and desires. Like religions, they can’t (and shouldn’t) be oversimplified. Considering your extremely nuanced views of Mormonism, I have to say I’m extremely surprised that you don’t get what I mean when I say that holidays, similarly, shouldn’t be reduced to nothing but belief in a myth.

  6. chanson:

    and if you don’t believe, then there’s nothing left of Christmas for you. That’s pure nonsense.

    Oh, I agree with this, but I don’t see how it gets you where you want to go. For example, there still is something left of Christmas for nonbelievers *today* because Christmas has evolved…become a social fact that transcends and diverges from its origins. But, relating for your first part, Christmas really did originate for the sake of Jesus (however, it was NOT in the way that many Christians want to believe. It was really, as we know, a strategic move away from Pagan holiday festivities) …If these factors did not exist back then, then there would be nothing for Christmas as we know it now to evolve from.

    So, I’m still not quite getting what you’re saying. The fact that we still are celebrating Christmas shows how all of us don’t reduce it to nothing but belief in a myth. We don’t believe it, but there’s more to it, so we still follow it.

  7. We celebrate Christmas in our home, but not as a literal birth of Jesus nor do we teach our kids about Santa Claus. We have reconstructed the holiday to be an opportunity to learn about other cultures – we “celebrate” Christmas how each culture might celebrate it or a similar holiday. For example, this year we are celebrating Diwali (sp?) instead of Christmas. The holiday has lost religious and social meaning, but in turn has developed a real meaning and connection for our family.

    I think you can similarly look at how “Easter” is celebrated in the Harry Potter books by the witches and wizards at Hogwarts, and yet there is not a single mention of Jesus or the resurrection. The tradition has transcended the religious roots.

  8. My point wasn’t really to debate the merits of a particular holiday. For better or worse, it was my attempt at an example of a Stage 5 acceptance of paradox.

    In a Stage 4 framework, we are still filtering everything through our new internal, personal true/false detector. This is true. That is false. You have to be authentic and true to yourself! How can anyone live a lie? It is no longer based on our group’s rules like in Stage 3, but instead we exercise our newly won authority to make those big decisions.

    In a transition into Stage 5, the view point begins to shift again. We are satisfied with sorting things out. Now what? The process of whether something is factually true or false is now comfortable, or we become comfortable with not really knowing (in the epistemological sense).

    The new activity in Stage 5 is to pick up symbolic and metaphorical “idea objects” and let them just tell us their story. Christmas is a story. It is true and false and meaningless all at the same time. That’s OK to someone in a Stage 5 frame of mind about it.

    The down side of Stage 5 is the lack of attachment to ideas, the distance and potential apathy.

  9. Brian, thanks for commenting.

    I guess I have to say: yep, I definitely missed all of your greater point. I still don’t know if it is sinking in.

    In fact, I’ve *never* even thought of stage 4 in such a way. I had never even thought of authenticity as something that would be in the true/false dichotomy…but then again, I thought the true/false judgments that characterized stage 4 were completely different. I kinda thought that truth/falsity to a stage 4 were characterized similarly to a stage 3 individual (e.g., based on literal truth), so a stage 4 person is someone who simply feels that claims are literally and “universally” (for lack of a better term) untrue, and therefore feels uncomfortable with abiding by them.

    On the other hand, I haven’t seen authenticity in such a way. Authenticity isn’t universal…it is particular…in fact, particular to every individual. The kinds of truth don’t line up. “true for me” may not mesh with what is “universally” true.

    In fact (so many “in facts”…), I guess this comment really shows to me how much I have no idea what the stages of faith are *really* about. :0. Maybe I’ve been skewering the entire concept through severely tinted lenses this entire time?

  10. Christmas is pre-Christian – it has been called other things before the church attacted itself to earlier festivals. For me as an agnostic it is about mythology and sharing. The baby Jesus story is really just a story about family love, the magi are people following a dream and Santa Claus is a symbol of generous giving.

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