Filthy pagan Christmas
The Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has caused a minor uproar by condemning the growing popularity of yoga among Christians, because yoga’s philosophical basis in Hinduism is inconsistent with Christian teaching.
Let’s pass over without comment the circumstance of the head of a major theological seminary who appears to be unacquainted with the extensive tradition of meditative and mystical practices within Christianity. Instead, let’s just look at where his argument could lead.
To Christmas. Or rather, to the abolition of Christmas.
Christmas, as the Reverend Doctor Mohler must surely have heard, was originally a pagan solstice festival, the holiday on which the Romans celebrated the Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. It occurred at the time of the Saturnalia, the annual bout of feasting and exchange of presents.
There is no biblical warrant for dating the birth of Jesus at or near December 25.
The Reverend Doctor Mohler may also have heard that the Christmas tree also has dubious origins, during a time when pagans in the Teutonic forests brought evergreens into the house to mark the solstice.
And he may also know that those flint-eyed Evangelicals, the Puritans of early New England, despised the Christmas holiday and forbade its observance.
So, if he wants to purge ungodly and non-Christian practices, he might just let yoga go for the moment and aim for the Big Target.
In the unlikely event that he is instead amenable to reason, he might consider that yoga, apart from its philosophical dimension, can be considered as a purely mechanical function, especially since meditative techniques show up commonly in many religious traditions.
Or he might get a little more relaxed about the syncretic tendencies in Christianity. English, as I’ve remarked before, is a sluttish language that has incorporated elements of the many other languages it has brushed against. In a similar fashion, Christianity has adopted and transformed for its own purposes numerous practices of non-Christian origin, Christmas being mainly one of the most obvious of the lot.
Take a deep cleansing breath, Reverend Doctor.