Secular Cultural Religious Holidays
I don’t think that all the people wishing strangers “Merry Christmas” are necessarily religious Christians celebrating a religious holiday.
I think that wish is part of the secular cultural celebration of Christmas (the one that involves trees and presents and stockings and Santa and decorations and Rudolph and snowmen).
That is, I think the reason the other winter religious holidays don’t generally come with greetings for “Happy Hanukah” or “Merry Ramadan” is that they’re not also secular cultural holidays.
There are plenty of folks who celebrate Christmas with a tree and lights and presents and stockings and Santa and decorations and Rudolph and snowmen and not a bit of Christian tradition.
Do you get as worked up about Halloween as Christmas? That one’s a Christian holiday, too, if you want to get technical. All Hallow’s Eve is the night before All Saints Day in the Christian church. But plenty of people celebrate Halloween with candy and trick-or-treating and costumes and decorations and pumpkin lights and ghosties on the lawn, and not a bit of Christian tradition.
I’d argue they’re both like being Jewish in Israel. Could be that you’re religious. Could just be your ethnic designation. I have Christian friends in Jerusalem who are Jewish, which obligates them to join the army for 2 years, but doesn’t impact their religion (except that they can only legally marry someone else also registered as “Jewish” . . . so when my Jewish friend who is a practicing Christian married her husband who is Christian and not Jewish, they had to leave the country, get married in Turkey, and come back and apply to have their marriage recognized.
Easter, even, has a secular-cultural component. Go to your local Target, and look at the pastel display. All that chocolate, all those eggs, all the bunnies and chicks and plastic Easter grass is part of the secular-cultural celebration . . . the crosses are still religious.
Evangelism Explosion and the “Sinner’s Prayer”
Evangelism Explosion is a program based on two questions:
1. Do you know for sure that you are going to be with God in Heaven?
2. If God were to ask you, “Why should I let you into My Heaven?” what would you say?
This approach is supposed to engage you in a serious conversation and lead to your conversion.
I was once asked this by a client. I knew what the “right” answers were and I knew what she wanted to hear from me . . . and I just couldn’t bring myself to answer.
What I wanted to say was:
“Why would you ask me this when we’re not in a relationship with each other? What kind of method hold this kind of alienating question up as the way to evangelize?” but I just didn’t have the heart to say that, either.
I *despise* these sorts of things, because it reduces an entire religion to the saying of a little magic spell (often called “The Sinner’s Prayer“).
J Philip Newell, in one of his books (one on the history of the Celtic church, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, not one of the books of Celtic prayers (like Celtic Benediction: Morning and Night Prayer), gives a defense of Pelagius that asks the question of how different a religion Christianity might be if Pelagius’ idea that people were inherently good, and that the point of Christianity was to unlock that goodness, instead of the idea that people are inherently bad and in need of having religion shoved down their throats. How different a religion would it be if we considered from the outset that others are good?