McLean column: The big difference between faith and stupidity
My mother loved Christmas. She was generally optimistic, cheerful and generous, but was especially so around Christmas. She decorated, made cookies and gingerbread men, wrapped presents and spread good cheer from Thanksgiving until Christmas.
One year in late October, when I was 12, my 15-year-old sister was killed in a car accident. Overcoming her grief and sadness, Mother made sure that I still had a great Christmas. It was not until I had children that I realized what an effort that had taken.
Years later when she was dying with cancer, she willed herself to live until January in order not to spoil Christmas for the rest of us. She was a great mom, and although I didn’t think about it as a kid, a good Christian.
The traditional celebrations of Christmas as practiced by my mother had origins many years ago. Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D., after his conversion, proclaimed Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Romans had celebrated the pagan holiday of Saturnia at that time around the winter solstice. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6. Armenians celebrate Jan. 19. There is no actual date cited in the Bible for the birth of Christ.
The name Christmas comes from the Roman Catholic Christ Mass from around 100 A.D. Although both Romans and Swedes used evergreens in the winter for decoration, Martin Luther popularized the Christmas tree. Saint Nick was originally a Roman saint known for giving gifts to poor children. From that tradition came Santa Claus made popular by the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”
For believers, Christmas is the celebration of the time that God came to Earth in a human form as Jesus in order to save us. For most it is also a time for family, feasting and giving. A truly joyous time even for those Christians who celebrate only Christmas and Easter.
According to an ABC News poll, 83 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. In a Pew Research poll, 92 percent of Americans say they celebrate Christmas, which includes some 86 percent of non-Christians. In the same Pew poll, 81 percent of Christians believe baby Jesus was born in a manger, 75 percent believe the wise men were guided by a star, 74 percent believe an angel announced the birth to the shepherds, and 73 percent believe in the virgin birth.
A few weeks ago one of my friends asked our Bible Study group if we were stupid to be Christians. Intrigued, I researched the question on the internet. There were more than 10 pages of comments and articles on why Christians were stupid. There seemed to be a lot of anger and even hate directed toward Christians, which was surprising given the high percentage of Americans who celebrate Christmas.
John Glenn, the astronaut and former senator who recently passed away, said, “Looking at the Earth from this vantage point, looking at this kind of creation and to not believe in God, to me, is impossible. To see [Earth] laid out like that only strengthens my beliefs.”
While one does not need be Christian to believe in God, John Glenn was a Christian.
I do not believe John Glenn, Dr. Albert Switzer or Mother Teresa were stupid to be Christians. Nor do I think that Dr. Michael Berkeley and his wife, Maci, were stupid to open a hospital in the rural mountains of Mexico to treat the local indigenous population even though it meant giving up a lucrative practice and lifestyle in Aspen.
Those members of the Kiwanis and Rotary who ring the bells for the Salvation Army outside City Market and Wal-Mart are not stupid. They are caring and willing to give up their time to help others. Nor are those who put money in the bucket stupid. They also are giving to help others less fortunate.
At this Christmas season it makes me wonder why some seem to feel so threatened by the faith of others. C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” said, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”
I understand the human need to rationally explain everything in our universe. We know the earth is round, can explain gravity and understand the law of conservation of matter. No matter how we try, science with a capital “S” cannot explain how life began, infinity or time without beginning or end.
While some of those 83 percent who self identify as Christians are nominal or cultural Christians, many do have strong faith. For someone who does not have faith, it is almost impossible to understand. To have faith, one must give up trying to understand everything in the universe and place trust in God.
Christmas is the time to show love, generosity and compassion for others as my mother did. I believe that is the best way for Christians to demonstrate the difference between faith and stupidity.
Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at email@example.com.