Daily archives: December 28th, 2007

The Star of Bethlehem

Every year we listen to a host of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. The story of the star appears only in Matthew’s Gospel, in one of the two Infancy Narratives in the gospels. The other is in the Gospel of Luke. Both of these stories are wonderful tales which are really trying to tell Christians about the adult, risen Christ — according to Christians. These stories are not at all about what really happened. Phil Plait does an excellent job dealing with what may or may not have really happened, and he’s probably right that the tale grew in the telling.

There were no birth certificates. The birth of Christ wasn’t even celebrated in early Christianity. The celebration grew up gradually throughout the Roman Empire, really only taking root after Christianity became a legal religion in 313 C.E. Christians gradually converted the old Roman feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) to a celebration of the birth of the Christ. While the Northern Hemisphere was at it’s darkest, Christians began to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World. The celebration was symbolic from the start, and the Gospel writers were quite comfortable using symbolism to introduce a wider audience to the Risen Christ by telling a rich story of His birth. Did they take some liberties? No doubt.

Theology is my day job. See, some Liberals do appreciate religion.

Why am I giving space here about the famous Star? Call it a preemptive strike against the Christian radicals as we move further into the election season. We are still in the middle of a Holiday Season, and have already endured strange and bizarre claims that there continues to be a “War on Christmas.” We can anticipate equally weird and bizarre claims as we move forward to the 2008 Presidential Election.

What will the weird right have in store for us? How will they work to create God in their image? In anticipation of all of the unholy rhetoric about to spew forth from the conservatives, I can’t help thinking of Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Simple emotion may sway simple people. The weird right has used simplistic and hate-filled quasi-religious arguments before to sway the masses. Whatever they come up over the next 11 months, we must hold them to facts — and science. Otherwise, we haven’t got a prayer.

Benazir Bhutto Buried

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest Friday in Pakistan as unrest continued to spread throughout the country. The government is blaming al-Qaeda and the Taliban, an assertion that is wildly premature. No one from al-Qaeda has come forward to claim responsibility, and al-Qaeda is hardly shy about such admissions. Bhutto supporters allege that President Pervez Musharraf’s government is responsible — an assertion which may also be premature at this point. From this distance, all we can do is speculate.

The larger and more alarming concern is the continued destabilization of Pakistan, a nuclear power. The questions are overwhelming.  Ahmed Rhashid of the Washington Post iterates some of the most compelling:

Her death only exacerbates the problems Pakistan has been grappling with for the past few months: how to find a modicum of political stability through a representative government that the army can accept and will not work to undermine, and how to tackle the extremism spreading in the country.

Was Musharraf responsible? Was al-Qaeda involved? These questions pale in comparison to what may lie ahead for Pakistan. Musharraf does not seem the least bit interested in establishing a democracy, and President Bush should not forget this. Musharraf is no ally — but he must be dealt with. The only route to Afghanistan is through Pakistan, and Musharraf now holds every card in Pakistan.

To his credit, President Bush called on Pakistan to pursue justice in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, and to honor her memory. In a statement, Bush said:

The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice. Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as Prime Minister and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.

We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.

He’s right. Musharraf would do well to bring her murderers to justice. Otherwise, Pakistan will be lost to conspiracy theories forever, and someone even more radical than Musharraf may come closer to controlling the country’s nuclear arsenal.