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Is Christmas a myth?

Written by Sherwin, published on December 1, 2010

Richard Dawkins gives talk

To answer the question, “is Christmas a myth?”, we need to first decide what we mean by Christmas. There’s a bunch of stuff that happens around Christmas that is clearly not mythological. The winter solstice is an astrophysical event. A nation wide increase in spending, in Canada, is a measurable economic phenomenon. People hand out cards that say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”. Lots of folks put up decorations; especially trees. These things are real.

And there’s a bunch of stuff that happens around Christmas that is obviously mythological. Santa Claus is a myth.1 Elves are a myth. This idea that Christmas is universal, is a myth. These stories are simply not true.

To this point, I don’t think anyone will argue with me.

But some people still think that Christmas is essentially and necessarily a Christian holiday. And this is where the it gets interesting. If Christmas is essentially and necessarily Christian, then we need to figure out if Christianity is mythological in order to figure out if Christmas is mythological.

So is Christianity a myth?

Well, that is an interesting question. If you gotten this far, you won’t be surprised by my initial analysis. There’s a bunch of things about Christianity that is not mythological, and there’s a bunch of stuff about Christianity that is mythological. Churches, crosses and bibles, after all, are all common physical objects in Canada. People who identify as Christians are also common and real. Christian values even shape our political and social and legal institutions. But that there is a male angel whose name is St. Peter, and he has wings and a big book, and he hangs out at these big baroque gates of heaven letting some recently deceased folks, but not all, enter… well that’s a myth. Most Christians don’t actually even believe that one to be true. Most think that’s a bit of human made imagery to help people try to understand what heaven is. Many Christians don’t even believe in angels.

But it’s not enough to say that Christianity is a myth, to simply say that some parts of Christianity are a myth. The parts that are a myth could be only a contingent part of Christianity. It would be like trying to argue that Toyotas have bad brakes when only some Toyotas have bad brakes. It’s a contingent, not a necessary truth about Toyotas. A necessary feature is a feature that every Toyota has, or more strongly, it’s a feature without which a Toyota stops being a Toyota.

In order to argue that Christianity is a myth, I would have to find a feature of Christianity that is necessary and mythological.

Ten good candidates for such a feature would be:

  1. God had a son
  2. God’s son was born on Earth and his name was Jesus
  3. Jesus’s mother was a virgin
  4. Jesus was visited by three wise men who found him by following a star
  5. Jesus did a variety of magic things, like turning water into wine, walking on water and resurrecting dead folks
  6. Jesus was killed (or possibly committed suicide) and three days later he rose from the grave
  7. God let his son die on purpose
  8. Jesus died for all of humanity
  9. Jesus took away our sins through his sacrifice and now everyone can live forever, unless you’re bad
  10. Jesus can still see or hear us and he loves us, especially when we bomb or shoot brown terrorists, even if we kill a few civilians now and then, as long as they’re mostly brown and don’t speak english

  1. Note to parents: I don’t think it’s cool that you lie to your children. Seriously, there are lots of cool ways to create fun and awe and excitement about the world, without lying. Stop lying.
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