Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The DaVinci Code II: A Christmas Conspiracy!

Every year at this time Christians must face a barrage of challenges from people who think Christmas is just too Christian. Municipalities battle over religious imagery in public parks. Schools across the country declare the time as "Winter Break," afraid to even use the term "Holiday" for fear that the etymological roots of the word might be revealed. Even so, the religious aspects of Christmas are still welcomed by many non-Christians because a baby in a manger is much more comfortable an image than a bloody savior on a cross.

A baby born in a manger surrounded by animals quietly lowing is a lovely storybook image, as inoffensive as the Noah's Ark toy Lid received as a birthday present. (On the packaging, Fisher-Price says that "Noah built a floating zoo" as if that's all there was to it. There's no wrathful God in sight. Someday Lid will learn that death and destruction were part of the same story depicted by happy plastic animals marching two-by-two up the little plastic ramp into the little plastic boat.) I recently learned that there's even a Veggie-Tales nativity playset with a baby carrot standing in for the baby Jesus.

The problem, of course, is that the little baby carrot grew up and started saying scandalous things, defying the religious teachers of his day, and saying that no one could get to God except through him. He had the audacity to forgive people of their sins, and then kick over tables in the temple courts. Sentenced to death, he came back to life, and with his reappearing charged his scattered followers to bring his message to the entire world.

This is clearly too much.

In the last few years, Dan Brown has been doing his best to debunk the adult Jesus with his best-seller, The DaVinci Code. And now Newsweek's Jon Meacham gets in on the act with the latest attempt to debunk the baby Jesus to ensure that the happy storybook Christmas story never strays outside the realm of "story."

Some may suggest that Meacham is simply presenting various viewpoints, but some viewpoints are conspicuously absent. It's also important to note the tone of Meacham's piece.

A telling passage from the article reads:
To many minds conditioned by the Enlightenment, shaped by science and all too aware of the Crusades and corruptions of the church, Christmas is a fairy tale. But faith and reason need not be constantly at war; they are, John Paul II once wrote, "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth"—and the spirit cannot take flight without both. This is why modern, grounded, discerning people do make leaps of faith, accepting that, as the Gospel of John put it, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Here the implication is clear. An elightened, scientific mind, aware of the history of the church, would understand that the nativity is just a story. Faith, then, becomes a sort of wishful thinking that combines with "reason" to give us all happy feelings.

Meacham relies on scholars of the "Jesus Seminar,"and others committed to the de-deification of Christ. The article reads like a prequel to The DaVinci Code, with conspiracy theories about whether the miracle of the virgin birth was a cover-up giving way to gossipy tales about Mary being an adulteress.
"It was Jesus himself who fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin," Celsus wrote in A.D. 180. "In fact, however, his mother was a poor country woman who earned her living by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter-husband when she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, he hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God."

The conspiracy deepens, drawing in writers of the gospels and early church fathers as well. Sound familiar?

It makes for compelling reading. But astonishingly, Meacham puts forth all this conspiracy as fact, not once bringing in someone who sees the Christmas story as historical truth. Meacham's article isn't reporting at all.

And as with The DaVinci Code, wacky conspiracy theories that cannot stand up to the facts enter the public consciousness like an insidious urban legend until folk belief becomes the standard. (The DaVinci Code gave birth to an entire sub-genre of DaVinci Code-debunking books. When the film version of The DaVinci Code is released, look for more.)

Christians have a lot of work to do during the holiday season just to keep Christ in Christmas. But the work needs to continue long after the last packages are unwrapped and the tree is put out by the curb.

Linky goodness: Cheat Seeking Missiles has an entry on this subject as well, and I have to quote the opening, because it's very cool.
"If your mother says she loves you, check it out!"

According to Lee Strobel, that sign hangs in the newsroom of the Chicago Tribune. Its cynical, hard-edged sentiment represents the John 3:16 of modern journalism: For we so question the Word that we ask every besotted question, that whosoever belittles Him shall not go unpublished, and enjoy everlasting fame.


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