Evolving Thoughts

So what is it with Christians who are so able to debunk and demythologise the myths of everyone else, and fail to see that exactly the same logic applies to their own mythology?

A priest in northern Italy told kids there was no Father Christmas at a children’s mass. Great. We shouldn’t believe in magical beings that can break all physical laws just to get across a moral story. I concur.

What about Jesus? A magical being who can break the laws of physics, whose sole justification (and a not very good one at that) is that there is some moral foundation for treating folks nicely. Without a trace of irony (and we know that Italians understand irony), Fr Bottino said

“I told the children that Father Christmas was an invention that had nothing to do with the Christian Christmas story.”

Because the Christian Christmas story is not an invention itself, right? Wrong. It was invented in the third century, ignoring the only documentary foundations in Luke and Matthew (shepherds watch their flocks by night in March and April in Palestine, by the way) to make a point in the Christological debates.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.

Instead, it is a fable like that of Horus, or Mithras, Thoth, Asclepulius, Osirus-Dionysus, and many others. So it’s not like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. It’s worse.

A pre-Christian Greek by the name of Euhemerus held that the pagan gods were historical figures around whom fabulous stories had accreted, leading to their deification. This account was very popular among early Christian apologists, but for some reason they didn’t apply this to their own deity or deities (depending on how you count persons). And yet, no argument apart from “we believe it’s true” distinguishes the Christian god[s] from those Euhemerists were critiquing. Not until Rudolph Bultmann did Christians try to demythologise Jesus in that way, and even then his argument was not widely accepted.

Those outside the Christian communion cannot but see the blindness of these critics of pagan religious traditions to the tu quoque, but then we all can’t see our own shortcomings. At this time of year, when the northern hemisphere celebrates the winter solstice and the rebirth of the Sun, and we in the southern hemisphere follow the economic imperatives this sets, we should perhaps laugh a little at Fr Bottini, and ourselves…

Edited to correct errors identified int he comments.


  1. #1 Jason Failes
    December 25, 2008

    The Jesus/Santa Claus comparison is completely unfair!

    There’s actual historical evidence of a real man as the basis of the Santa Claus legend:

    No such luck for Jesus, however.

    Happy monkey, one and all.

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    December 25, 2008

    (shepherds watch their flocks by night in March and April in Palestine, by the way)

    So Jesus was born at Easter, then? Was his resurrection just a birthday present from dad?

    By some coincidence, the latest Jesus and Mo cartoon hakes up the same issue.

    As Christmas is almost over over there, have a good Boxing day!

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 25, 2008

    A Merry Happymas to you, John, and a Happy Birthday to all of the Gods born on this day.

  4. #4 Thony C.
    December 25, 2008

    Dino Bottino is an arsehole, no ifs, buts or maybes an arsehole. Anybody who with malice aforethought ruins the magic of Christmas for little children is an arsehole.
    As the man obviouly believes in heaven and hell I hope he brings an eternity in the latter with a large, particularly prickly Christmas tree rammed into his after orifice. And with that cheerful thought I wish you all a merry Boxing Day.

  5. #5 J. J. Ramsey
    December 25, 2008

    FWIW, about the only place I’ve seen “Osirus-Dionysus” used as a reference to a single entity is in Freke & Gandy’s execrable Jesus Mysteries. (Link is to a SkepticWiki review written by yours truly.) I realize that you aren’t going full on into the whole Jesus-myth business, since you suggested that Euhemerus should have applied his own argument to Jesus, but I still don’t like the brush with pseudohistory.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas, and for those who celebrate it, Happy Hanukkah, as well.

  6. #6 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 25, 2008

    My dumbass fairie delusion can beat the shit out of your dumbass fairie delusion! HAHAHAHAHAH!

  7. #7 Raymond Minton
    December 25, 2008

    You are quite right, John. Rather than invent new myths to replace old ones, we need to just rid ourselves of myths entirely. People should give science and rational thought a try. Who knows, they just might get used to it.

  8. #8 jeff
    December 25, 2008

    What? I’m one of the few atheists who believed in Father Christmas wholeheartedly. This is devastating and changes everything. My whole reality is crumbling. But then again, it usually does that on a monthly basis anyway.

  9. #9 John S. Wilkins
    December 25, 2008

    The Osiris-Dionysus thing comes out of a Wikipedia article I linked to. Please don’t think I’m supporting some link there – this is about the Jesus fable being like that fable, not about historical connections.

  10. #10 fred
    December 26, 2008

    A small correction:

    “A Christian by the name of Euhemerus…”

    but from your Wikipedia link,
    “Euhemerus (Εὐήμερος, Euhēmeros) (working late fourth century B.C.) was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon”

  11. #11 John S. Wilkins
    December 26, 2008

    I mixed up the original Euhemerus with the later Euhemerism of the Christian fathers. Thanks for spotting the error. I’ll fix it later.

  12. #12 J. J. Ramsey
    December 26, 2008

    John S. Wilkins: “The Osiris-Dionysus thing comes out of a Wikipedia article I linked to. Please don’t think I’m supporting some link there – this is about the Jesus fable being like that fable, not about historical connections.”

    The catch is that the evidence that the fables about Jesus have close resemblances to pagan fables is poorly evidenced. Unfortunately, when a lot of people believe B.S. about a topic, Wikipedia has a tendency to report the B.S. as if it were fact. :(

  13. #13 Xavier
    December 26, 2008

    I do believe what the Holly Scriptures declare about Jesus Crist, he existed as a human being and romans historias did wrote about how the fallowers of Jesus got to be known after ‘Crist’ Jesus. So far, pagan people did use the same ‘coined word’ to make a reference to the fallowers of the Crist, Jesus. Pagan romans were very supertitouis and for any wrong turn of their destiny or unluck matter they used to throw all the burden and blame of the fallowers of the Crist Jesus. [‘Crist’ians]or fallowers of Crist Jesus did not worshiped or held the idea that Cesar the King would be decendent of Zeus the mithological “god”. So to speak that prejidism to true [Cristian] were terrible….Pagans arrested Cristians and thrwe them onto the Colissium Theater that still exist in Rome to be eaten by fierceciful animals. Once a testimony were given of being fallowers of the Crist Jesus, they were inprison to intretained all the sopporters of Cesar, the king, whom pagan romans considered him son of the “god” of the Olimpus……Cristmas were not a doctrine of the Crist but of pagans….take in consideration the age when Jesus were executer by the romans army and count backward from 29 years old of His age and you will found Jesus did not born in Dicember, and that pagans celebrate to Mithra the ‘god of the sun’ on dicember 25th…..Who ever doubt any I have wrote here be gentle with themselves and investigate historian romans writers as Erasmus and several more that left their narretions as a strong testimony and they were not fallowers of the Crist Jesus but somehow do not their writings do not contradict the writings of the true cristians. Have a good day and do not fight, we humans commit errs but is divine to be reasonable, do not expect you that from others? Chao…go with God, Aleluya!

  14. #14 Theo Bromine
    December 26, 2008

    Quoth Thony:
    Anybody who with malice aforethought ruins the magic of Christmas for little children is an arsehole.

    Shame on the parents for encouraging their kids to consider as factual something that is demonstrably false – obviously, anyone who sets up the deception of Santa Claus knows how it will inevitably end; it’s just a question of when.

    Certainly it was not very nice if the priest was deliberately trying to upset the kids by telling them that Father Christmas/Santa Claus was pretend, but from his perspective, he was trying to help them distinguish “fantasy” (Santa) from “reality” (Jesus). I can sympathize, as that was my position at one time.

  15. #15 MrKAT
    December 26, 2008

    A former Finnish MP Jutta Zilliacus always has said that when Santa Claus was revealed to be fable to her, it destroyd her belief in Jesus and christianity, too. She always has compared them saying that Jesus is Santa Claus of adults.

    In that way the priest had reasons to be worried about kids..

  16. #16 GumbyTheCat
    December 26, 2008

    Well, Santa or no Santa, I hope your holiday was an enjoyable one, John.

  17. #17 wildlifer
    December 28, 2008

    There is no credible extra-biblical record of Jesus’ existence. For at least the first 100 years after Jesus’ alleged birth, none of the biblical authors of that time mentioned an earthly existence.
    Jesus is a myth, and never was a man.

  18. #18 DDeden
    December 29, 2008

    Father Christmas-Santa Claus: anthropomorphization, derives from the “Winter Clothes” exchange that has gone on since the north EurAsian Ice Age occupation by Hs.
    Santa Claus = Sinter Klaas = SaintNi<>chlas = sinter klaut = winter clothes all derive from some ancient Proto-Germanic or Proto Indo European phrase (but probably earlier from northern natives like Saami) for the winter clothing and food store exchange/fest/gifting from parents (of more than one generation). Linked with the Reindeer herding of the Saami-Evensk and the colorful robes, bells and medicines/treats of the traveling shaman. (I just explained this Northern (not Christian) tradition to a Doctoral student in Adelaide, a muslim mentioning the effect of Santa on his kids.)

    Now, did I just tell the truth, or did I create a new myth, based on linguistic speculation? I don’t know, but the clues fit very nicely. Happy peaceful new year & Salam muharram.

  19. #19 DDeden
    December 30, 2008

    So Santa Claus most certainly does exist. Perhaps in Oz he gets sleighed around by leaping-flying kangaroos?

  20. #20 bernarda
    December 30, 2008

    The Jesus figure was just one of several Heracles-type super-heros. Heracles also had a miraculous birth with a god as father and was tortured to death and was finally raised to heaven by his father.

    The Jesus figure may also have been inspired by a real person, Apollonius of Tyana, who seems to actually have lived at the time of the Jesus myth.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.