Across the world, month after month, year after year, within country after country, hundreds of varied and differing religious holidays and holy days are observed by the adherents of many and varied religions; as each worships their particular god, distinct to each particular religion.
One holiday, recognized across the globe, but particular to some 2.18 billion Christians around the world, is Christmas.
The history of Christmas reveals many an irony and much duplicity. To learn the truth about Christmas, one simply needs to read any of the many Christmas related history books or Google search “the history of Christmas” or simply watch programs like the History Channel’s “Christmas Unwrapped.”
The intermingling of the nativity of Jesus Christ with many pagan religious traditions and folk tales is obvious. Most rituals and customs common to Christmas are clearly connected to early pagan traditions from Rome and countries across northern Europe and the British Isles. Considered a religious holiday, Christmas these days is loaded with commercialism, consumerism and pageantry. It is a time that makes merry the heart, for after all, tis the season to be jolly, for it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Less noticeable, year after year is Jesus Christ.
In the United States, considered a Christian country, Christmas is more than a religious holiday; it is a national observance, much like a national institution. Christmas is a day on which federal, state and local governments shut down and practically all business, as well as private and public institutions close for the day. In the United States of America, Christmas is such a well-established holiday where even non-Christians join in the celebration, taking advantage of the time off work.
Between 1609 and 1775, nearly one-half million Europeans from Northern Europe, mainly from England, with some from Scotland, Scandinavia, and Germany made their way to what would become the United States of America. Many of these immigrants had hopes of securing a brighter economic future. Many made their way to the new British colony to flee religious persecution, to flee the hypocrisy and persecution of the Church of England.
Among the many, mostly Christian peoples to come to the new world, were the Puritans. The Puritans were Protestant Christians who made significant contributions to colonial ways of life and the governmental structure of the colonies. In the mid-seventeenth century, Puritan Christians, both in America and England, were instrumental in the passing of laws, which made it illegal to observe Christmas. Their reasoning was simple: it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism. With Puritan dogma and religious doctrine in force, Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681, and the Plymouth colony made celebrating Christmas a criminal offense.
As history reveals, many Christians not as strict as the Puritans or careful about their religion, “took underground” their Christmas revelry and debauchery, the likes of dancing, singing, merry-making, Yule fires, mistletoe, drinking and saturnalia exploits, during that time. As time progressed into the 19th century, with the assistance of Christian Sunday schools along with the likes of Charles Dickens and Clement Clarke Moore, Christmas once again became an integral part of Christian worship in America. Catholic and Protestant Christians alike, embraced Christmas, with all its traditions.
As faithful to the Bible as the Puritans seemed to be, they never saw the deception foisted upon the world by the Catholic Church when it came to the Lord’s Day or Easter. The Puritans could see the paganism associated with Christmas. Why could they not see the paganism of Sunday worship? Why did the Puritans reject the seventh day (Saturday) Sabbath, when Jesus Christ clearly said he is the Lord of the Sabbath and He did not come to do away with the Laws of God? Why did the Puritans reject God’s teachings about the Sabbath and continue the Catholic and Anglican tradition of pagan (Sun) day worship?
These questions aside, the Puritans and other Protestant Christians had a substantial and imposing influence on this nascent British American Colony in the 17th and 18th centuries. What was initially religious freedom for most became religious tyranny for others.
In 1639, New England Puritans drafted a constitution affirming their faith in God and their intentions to organize a Christian nation, as “a shining city upon a hill.”
In 1775, nine of the 13 colonies had state established Christian churches. Although a variety of Christian denominations were tolerated, each colony had one dominate or favored denomination, which was treated with financial favor. All 13 colonies required office-holders to be Christian; those who possessed faith in Jesus Christ. That requirement of course changed with Article VI of the United States Constitution, which ensures that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for an individual to hold office or public trust under the United States.
By 1776, with the exception of some 2500 Jews, 98% of the European Americans who came to the colonies identified themselves as Protestant Christian and some 1.9% identified themselves as Catholic. Protestant Christian principles and values were clearly prevalent in this British American colonies.
Not only the strident and moral absolutism required of the Puritans but also Quaker Christians from Pennsylvania made it clear what behaviors would not be allowed in their territory. Article 38 of the “Character of Liberties and Frame of Government of the Province of Pennsylvania” listed offenses to God, some of which were, swearing, cursing, lying, profane talking, drunkenness, obscene words, incest, sodomy, stage-plays, dice, masques, bull-baiting, cock-fighting and behaviors that excite the people to rudeness, cruelty, looseness and irreligion.
Early colonial laws, charters and constitutions such as the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut or the Massachusetts Body of Liberties were principled with Christian ideology and naturally so, as the authors of these rules and documents were Christian. In the early years of the British colonies, Christian religious groups were influential and most attempted to enforce strict religious observance in both colonial territorial governments and local town rules.
Most attempted to enforce strict religious observance. Laws mandated that everyone attend a house of worship and pay taxes, which funded the salaries of ministers. Dissenters who sought to practice or proselytize a different version of Christianity or a non-Christian faith were oftentimes persecuted.
Although most colonists considered themselves Christians, this did not mean that all lived in a culture of religious unity. Instead, differing Christian groups often believed that their own practices and faiths provided unique values that needed protection against those who disagreed, driving a need for additional rules and regulations.
Virginia’s 1610 legal code included that the colonists embark on a ‘sacred cause;’ required church attendance twice every Sunday; in addition proclaimed that anyone who spoke impiously against the Trinity or who blasphemes God’s name be put to death. Consider if these regulations were the law of the land today?
Thorough reading of the lives of the Founding Fathers provides consistent evidence that these men respected and acknowledged the universal teachings of Jesus Christ. With regard to organized religion, several rejected Roman and Anglican dogma and the Pauline version of Christianity. Others had varying degrees of association with Christian congregations.
Among the Founding Fathers, some were Deists, admiring the teachings of Christ in addition to other great philosophers and orators of Roman Western philosophy. Several of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons. All the Founding Fathers were educated under the ideology and philosophy of the Enlightenment. As such, these men were inspired by and promoted reason, individualism, empiricism, science, rationalism, natural liberties; while rejecting authoritarianism, tradition, religious revelations, absolutism, autocracy and religious intolerance.
Not that these men were irreligious or detractors of Christianity, their principle concern was that no one religion or religious dogma and doctrine took precedence over another. These men were witness to not only the abuses of the British monarchy, but also the theocratic dogmatism of the Protestant Church of England. The Founding Fathers were very much aware how Christian dogma was influencing governmental structure and behavior within the colonies.
They felt strongly that the liberty of personal choice of worship had to be upheld and not dominated by any one particular Christian denomination. Belief in the teachings of Jesus was one thing, but to promote one particular religion or Christian denomination over another or to promote Jesus would go against the principles and education of the Founding Fathers.
Consider what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography, discussing the Virginia Constitution (enacted in 1776). “Whereas the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,’ the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.”
James Madison commented, “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by [Religious] Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in history.” The Founding Fathers were witness to the exploits of the Catholic Church in Europe, the (Anglican) Church of England and the influence of Christian churches in the colonies.
Further, Thomas Jefferson, shortly after his election as America’s third president, wrote to a delegate of Baptists in Connecticut the following: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declare that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
The Declaration of Independence makes mention of religious neutral terms - “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the World” and “Divine Providence,” and the Constitution does not refer to a divine being, Christian or otherwise. The Founding Fathers had no intension to promote religion, Christian or otherwise, as they formulated a new government for their new country.
One principle concern among the Founding Fathers was to uphold the freedom for one to worship the God of his faith without interference or encumbrance of government. This principle comes directly from the strength of these following words: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Liberty, freedom of worship was only logical and protection of the freedom of worship was imperative.
After establishing a new form of government, unique to that time, which would provide for basic civil liberties for its citizens (but we cannot say all, for slaves were considered only 3/5 of a person), Jefferson and other of the Founding Fathers still felt the Constitution was incomplete. They realized the Constitution still left out the guarantee of individual rights, including what was considered a prime guarantee: freedom from and of religion.
After much contemplation and the consideration of several drafts, the following became the legal text of the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press: or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.
In the United States of America today, one should give thanks for the crafting of such words, which are now law within the land. For with these words came the guarantee and full assurance of religious freedom. With these words one, be it an individual, individuals or an organization, can freely worship, freely assemble in worship of the God of one’s free choice. Further, a church organization or an individual can freely preach and freely promote their religious beliefs, can freely do the work of God.
The same law which allows Christians, Catholics and Protestants alike, to worship their God on Sunday in churches across the land, equally allows Jews to worship as they please on Saturday in their synagogues. Just as equally, those individuals and organizations whose beliefs and doctrines do not quite square with mainstream, traditional Christianity are free and able to worship as they choose, doing so in peace and protection of the First Amendment.
Not just for Christians and Jews, the benefits afforded by the First Amendment extend to Buddhists, who are free to worship and proselytize in the United States. Likewise, Hindus are free to worship in their temples and proselytize. The list continues: Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, the Baha’i faith, Zoroastrianism, Vodou, Shintoism, Caodaism, Wiccan, Druidry, Native North Americans, Neo-paganism, Christian Science and Muslims; these and many more are all free within the United States of America to exercise their religious expression and to worship unabated, their gods in their temples, mosques and various houses of worship.
As Thomas Jefferson remarked when referring to the Virginia Constitution; ‘in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.’ This sentiment prevailed among the architects of the U.S. Constitution.
There are hundreds of varied and differing religions across the world and practically all have made their way to the United States of America, allowing all who desire to worship in freedom with impunity. America is a pluralistic nation and regarding religion, America is a pluralistic religious nation. As such, all religions are acceptable and none can be discriminated against. One is just as good as the other. It has to be that way, for from its establishment, the principles of liberty and equality has been maintained. The freedom to worship is undeniable and absolute in the United States.
In retrospect, the decision of the Founding Fathers to remain religion-neutral, rather than promote any one particular religion or any one particular Christian denomination over any other, was epic. The Founding Fathers did not capitulate to the desires of Christian peoples and Christian denominations of the 17th and 18th centuries when writing the Constitution. Had they done so, religious freedom and freedom to worship today would look nothing like it now does.
Although fewer in number and scarcely recognized in the milieu of the American religious experience, there are those who are called Sabbatarians. These religious people believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind and read from the same Bible, as does the general Christian community. The glaring difference between Sabbatarians and Christians is the day on which they worship. Sabbatarians worship on and keep holy the seventh day of the week, Saturday, Sabbath. In addition to worshipping on the day God made holy, many Sabbatarians also worship on and observe God’s seven annual Holy Days (as enumerated in Leviticus 23). Sabbatarians are certainly in the minority in this Christian nation. Yet, they are able to exercise their religious convictions under the protection of the First Amendment.
For the Sabbatarian, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination, freedom to worship is a liberty provided within the United States of America. This freedom, ensured by our Founding Fathers, allows all to exercise their religious convictions as they choose; to worship the god they choose, to practice the religion they know.
Freedom to worship unconstrained begs the question. You are guaranteed freedom to worship. You have been given the liberty of choice. Which God then will you worship?
The Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association