John McIntyre

Too quick to take offense

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and popularizer of science, sent out a series of puckish tweets on Christmas Day, and soon the Twittersphere was simmering with angry responses from Christians who evidently felt disrespected.

Let’s have a look at those three Christmas tweets and examine why they might have caused such an uproar.

QUESTION: This year, what do all the world's Muslims and Jews call December 25th? ANSWER: Thursday

Well, that’s not easy to argue with. It’s a fact. I suppose we recognize that it’s offensive to some believers that their belief is not the only one in the world. Like the old joke about the man admitted into heaven who has to be quiet as he passes certain doors because “the [Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, denomination of your choice] think they’re the only ones up here.”  

On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642


So he was, and so he did. And Newton was also a Christian, though apparently of the Arian variety.* Maybe it’s that he could have been labeled heretical that upsets the devout.

Merry Christmas to all. A Pagan holiday (BC) becomes a Religious holiday (AD). Which then becomes a Shopping holiday (USA)

Well, we’re factual again here. There’s no warrant in Scripture to place the birth of Jesus on December 25, and the secular records are silent. Early Christians simply appropriated the Roman solstice festival of the Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, for their own purposes, as Christians have always gleefully appropriated (the polite word for stolen) pagan customs. Think Christmas trees.

To deny that Christmas, once a religious holiday, has become in this fair country a shopping holiday, you would have to be both blind and deaf. The advertising onslaught begins in October, accompanied by newspaper articles worrying whether people will spend enough by year’s end to keep the national economy ticking over.

You might think that believers would find commerical Christmas to be the real War Against Christmas, since there is not much about the frantic acquistion of goods and spending beyond one’s means that looks congruent with the Gospels, except perhaps in the kind of gimcrack Calvinism that identifies wealth with divine favor.  

So puckish, yes, but hardly in any meaningful sense blasphemous. And the sour humorlessness of the responses does not look likely to win many souls to the Faith. It no longer, sadly, surprises that so many of my fellow believers come up short on the peace and goodwill thing. 


*Nicene Creed man, myself. I was saying it just this morning.