On Christmas, thoughts on religion and political correctness

Hey, if you're celebrating today, happy Christmas.

I'm not celebrating. As a Jew, I've been not celebrating Christmas for 38 years now.

It's not that I hate Christmas (though, I'll be honest, a bunch of the stuff that it'd be nice to have in the house is waiting until next week because I do hate the mess retail outlets are for the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas), it's that Christmas isn't an everybody thing.

It's not a war against Christmas, any more than your insistence on wishing me a merry Christmas is a war on me more here). I intend to have a very nice December 25, actually. It involved waking up early, having some coffee and some eggs, kissing my wife as she headed off to work, getting this blog post up and then getting to work myself.

I suspect it will be a fairly quiet day at work, beginning with photos from Mass at the Vatican, then parades, then a Knicks game, and about half time in the Cavs game I'll be done and heading off in search of some Chinese food.

Maybe this is a time to talk about the war on Christmas. You know, because a movement toward political correctness is a direct exclusion of Christians. No, it's not, really. It's meant to be inclusive of everyone. I suppose a proper greeting might be, "Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, happy Kwanzaa, happy New Year and enjoy whatever else you might celebrate this season." It's a little cumbersome, though. I don't see it catching on.

You may have seen this one floating around Facebook:

That's not bad, unless you're among those who think it's just a group of Christians trying to get everybody to just go back to "merry Christmas" and be happy about it.

I don't care. I'm probably not going to wish you a merry Christmas unless I know you celebrate it. Otherwise, just deal with my, "have a great day," because that flow chart includes tolerance — gratitude, even — for that, too.

Maybe it's a good time to talk religion, too.

The BBC asks if religion might disappear someday. More people, after all, are stepping up to admit they're atheists, and to state they don't need a deity to be able to live a moral life. Some people call this Secular Humanism.

I believe those folks who can live a moral life without a God figure looking over them. Me, I'm a primitive monkey. I need to believe there's something bigger than me out there. Not to fear, not to blame, but just to say, hey, thanks, I'm doing all right down here, and I'll get better.

On the one side of it, there's Kevin Smith's film "Dogma." The assertion is that God gets a little miffed that everyone's just out there speculating and killing each other. Enter Sam Harris, who basically says, "Not all religions are equal, and some of y'all really need to cut the shit." Those are my words, by the way, not his. Go read him and listen to his stuff. He's a really smart dude, don't let my watering his ideas down steer you away.

I think we're getting into rambling territory here, so I'll leave you with some Nat King Cole and a fire to warm your day. Happy Christmas, if you're celebrating.

Looking at Franklin’s virtues

Frustrated with the dogmatic bent of the Presbyterian Church — which always seemed to him to be looking for more Presbyterians instead of making good people out of the Presbyterians it had — Benjamin Franklin sought to define the most important virtues in life for himself outside the boundaries of Church language, and he did so with the idea in mind that the Church's virtues were few with wide definitions, so he wrote more, with more narrow definitions.

From his autobiography, Franklin's 13 virtues (with his explanations) are (in the spelling of his time):

1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Chastity.
13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I've written about moderation before. It's one of the hardest things to achieve in our world as it is, I think. Even now, while I'm concentrating on writing, I have the television on and eight browser tabs open, with my tablet to the right of my laptop and my phone to the left.

I've also written about quiet and needing to shut up once in a while. Every now and again I get drawn into a stupid discussion, but for the most part, in both real life and online, I'm getting much better about not saying anything unless I have something to add to a discussion. I won't raise my voice to be heard, so if I do have something to contribute but the conversation isn't civil or at a normal tone, I keep out of it.

Basically, I think Franklin got it right. Be good to people, live as simply and as calmly as you can. It's interesting that he paired Jesus and Socrates as representatives of humility. I believe it's clear that it has nothing to do with Jesus's divinity if he's paired with a very early scientist.

What do you think are good rules for life?

Book Review: The Secret History of the World; also: The world will not end 12/21/12

Let's start with this: The world will not end on Friday.

The Mayan calendar ends then. Or maybe it's an Aztec calendar someone found in Mayan territory (because they were kind of in the same area anyway).

But you know what could happen? The sun could come under the influence of Aquarius.

Yep, I can hear you. "Josh, you've gone over the edge, man."

Nope.

I don't know what role the stars and the moon and the planets play in life. Maybe they don't actually play a role – maybe it's more of a reflective or predictive thing, if you know where to look.

But I'm certain, after reading Mark Booth's The Secret History of the World, that there's something there.

I was a fan of the Hardy Boys mysteries growing up. This evolved into a love for "Unsolved Mysteries" and later "The X-Files." It makes sense, then, that secret societies and their beliefs would appeal to me.

Booth's history stems from hobbyism. He's interested in esoteric thought, and he's sought it throughout his adult life, and he's declined initiation into secret societies because he wanted to write about what he's found. He didn't want to take an oath that disallowed that.

Say what you want about conspiracies, some of the great minds in history – Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, and many more – were parts of groups like the Freemasons, Knights Templar and Rosicrucians, among others.

Roughly every 2150 years, the sun moves into a new zodiacal constellation, and Aquarius is next. I think it's easy to understand this as true. The only real premise you have to accept is that based on Earth's orbital path and rotation, we get different views of the sky. If you need observational proof of that, go to a location with a view of identifiable buildings or landscape (trees, etc.). Take a photo of the sunset, just as the bottom of the sun hits the horizon (or disappears behind the buildings or landscape). Go back in three months and duplicate the photo, then in six months and then in nine months. You'll see the sun is in a different spot in relation to the markings. [Or you had to take the photo from a different point to get the sun in the same relation.]

Some scholars have narrowed the time frame of this astrological transition to sometime between 1980 and 2016. So why not the upcoming solstice? It's as good a date as any.

What does that mean for us and the next few generations? Who the heck knows? Life may not feel any different. But if it does, don't be awfully surprised.

Anyway, that's not the crux of this nearly 600-page book. It's really a look into spirituality (including a large section on Christian spirituality), Sun God myths (Jesus was only the latest in a long line of figures who was born of a virgin Dec. 25, visited by magicians upon birth, called things like "lamb," had 12 disciples, was sold into slavery or imprisonment by one of those disciples, and resurrected after three days), prophets, art, magic and influence.

Booth writes of the beginning of thought, the beginning of language, the beginning of love, and the beginning of romance, as understood in secret histories.

It's not light reading. It took me about four months to absorb it, and I certainly read other books and essays, sometimes putting Booth's tome away for four or five days at a time to let the information sink in.

The book is a wonderful look at a perspective that, in all likelihood, is different from the one of you've been wandering around with, and it's written by a man with a genuine curiosity for both the subject matter and for writing. While the subject matter isn't easily absorbed, the writing style is; you won't need a translator for it.

Highly recommended reading.