Monday, January 2, 2012

X Marks The Jesus

Not too long ago I saw a car with two magnets on the back. One was an outline of a Nativity scene that implored the reader to keep the "Christ" in "Christmas". The other was a Jesus Fish. This is hilarious, for reasons I will outline below.

First, let's get one thing out of the way. The "War on Christmas" is a fake conflict. Christmas is a thoroughly secularized holiday. At my office, they put up a Nativity display in the lobby. But they also put up a Menora and a tree and a few other symbols of the holiday. Most businesses have switched to non-religious greetings in their decoration as a matter of practicality, on the grounds that Jews spend money too. Others don't, but no one cares. There's an office complex near me that puts up a giant light-up creche every year. There's not picketing or objection. It's on privately held property, the owner can put up whatever he or she wants. I actually enjoy seeing that display, because it makes the one put up by the Assembly of God church down the road look chintzy. I can only see this causing consternation in schools, but everything causes consternation in schools. I knew a teacher in Texas who was asked to take down a "Jesus is the reason for the season" sign in her classroom, but I doubt that's an issue anymore in the state that's leading the fight to teach Intelligent Design in every classroom in the country.

This is not to say that there aren't Christmas opponents. Tom Flynn is rather famous for advocating against the holiday largely on economic grounds. He suggests that without the Christmas spending-rush, mall parking lots could be 20% smaller. His book on the subject is so popular that there are 23 copies available on Amazon through third-party distributors. That is to say, it's not very popular at all. But it's also worth noting that there are opponents to every major holiday. Christopher Hitchens denounced Hanukkah as a celebration of "tribal Jewish backwardness". Some take issue with Kwanzaa because it is a modern invention of the civil rights movement--it's a purely American holiday celebrating African-ness. As for Ramadan... I don't actually know anything about Ramadan.

So putting all of this aside, let's examine the ridiculous claim the abbreviation Xmas is an attempt to secularize an already secularized holiday. Drumroll... The abbreviation "Xmas" dates back to the 1700's. The use of "X" to mean "Christ" is older than the English language. This is because the word Christ in Greek starts with the letter Chi, which is rendered as an X. The Chi-Rho, a stylized X over a P, is an important part of religious iconography dating back Constantine (although the symbol is actually about two-hundred years older than Jesus... if you want to wrap your brain around that for a while).

Clearly, Xmas is not a secularization. In fact, a preacher once explained to me that, because X is going back to the original Greek, in a way "Xmas" is even more religious of a spelling. I don't actually agree with that. But I would argue that we don't have any need to keep our holiday practices adhered to their namesakes. The days of the week all come from Norse Mythology, but you don't hear anyone talking about keeping the Thor is Thursday. Actually, I hear this quite a lot, but I enjoy the company of some very sarcastic people.

Now I know what you're thinking. All of this is amusing, but I promised you hilarity. For that, we must examine the other magnet, the Jesus Fish, also known as an ichthys. Did you ever wonder how a fish ended up being a symbol for Christianity? Well, it's because of an acronym. "Ichthys" is the ancient Greek word for fish, spelled Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, Sigma. If you see an ichthys with letters in it, those are the letters you're seeing. They stand for "Iesous Christos, Theou Yios, Soter", which translates to "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior".

That's right, the Jesus Fish utilizes the same X = Christ formula that Xtians (see what I did there?) have been denouncing for literally decades because they don't understand their own history. The woman driving the car with those two magnets denounced X as an abbreviation on one side of the bumper and then used it as an abbreviation on the other.

Happy Holidays,


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