Sunday, September 23, 2018

Happy Yuletide, Brother Holding

This is an e-book published by Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministries, the one-man organization of J P Holding (also called Robert Turkel). Holding is a fundamentalist evangelical based in Florida who occasionally tries to sound more “main line Protestant” by attacking cultists, conspiracy theorists and other fundamentalists. Another recent Tekton pamphlet debunks the claim that Donald Trump is the Anti-Christ! J P Holding used to be well known among skeptics and was Richard Carrier's polemical target in “Not the Impossible Faith”, a book I review elsewhere on this site. Holding has also acquired something of a “reputation”, due to his often intemperate and bizarre attacks on both Christian and atheist critics (some examples can be found in the commentary thread below, where the former prison librarian attacks an earlier version of this review).

“Christmas is Pagan…and Other Myths” is a rather bad pamphlet written in a jocular and frivolous style, which makes it sound like an extended troll post. It's directed against Christian groups which don't celebrate Christmas. He wonders whether the anti-Christmas fundamentalists are high on cannabis, or drunk on spiked eggnog. The author has little trouble debunking the more peculiar anti-Christmas arguments, such as “in 1909, the name of the Persian deity Mazda was used as a brand name for Christmas lights by General Electrics. Therefore Christmas is a pagan Mithraic cult”. However, he never disproves what many non-Christmas Christians consider to be *the* central argument against the celebration: that December 25 is really a pagan holiday, more specifically that of Sol Invictus, which was taken over by the Church during its Catholic or proto-Catholic apostasy from the true faith. In fact, Holding is forced to concede that December 25 might very well have been the ancient date for the winter solstice (usually given as December 21). Nor does he manage to disprove the broader point often made by those who don't celebrate Christmas, i.e. that the holiday really isn't particularly “Christian” to begin with, certainly not if you're a Protestant. It's clear from the author's own account that Christmas is a bundle of many different traditions, some coming from folksy Catholicism, others modern, while still others may be pagan or at least pagan-inspired (pagan survivals can exist in folk customs). The only thing Christian about Christmas seems to be, surprise, the claim that Jesus was born on this particular date, a claim never made in the Bible, although there may be a late second century or early third century source for the tradition, the Church Father Hippolytus.

Holding's *real* argument is that it *really doesn't matter* whether December 25 was Jesus' birthday or not, or whether the day was originally a pagan celebration. Nor does it matter whether or not certain Christmas traditions are strictly Christian or not. Jesus redeems all pagan traditions, and it's silly legalism to worry about such things anyway. However, he never offers a sustained theological argument for his position in the pamphlet.

The last section of “Christmas is Pagan” isn't a polemic against Christian “anti-Christmas crusaders” at all, but a lengthy attack on atheist skeptics, who believe that the contradictions between Luke and Matthew show the Christmas story to be sheer myth anyway. Holding begs to differ and attempts to harmonize the two stories, arguing that the discrepancy between the two Gospel writers is easily explained if we assume that they had different sources. Luke's source may have been Jesus' own family, while Matthew had talked to the Magi, but not to Mary and Joseph. Also, Luke adapted his message for a Roman audience, perhaps even for the Roman authorities. This suggests that the Gospels, while historically true, aren't “inerrant” or “inspired” in the strict evangelical sense, in effect an adaptation to a more mainline Protestant perspective!

In the end, I don't think Tekton Ministries have managed to defeat the “crusade” (or the spiked eggnog). The weakest flank may be in serious disarray, but the castle is still standing! Will a theological siege ensue, I wonder?

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