Nativity, Space and Time

Ah Santa Monica, the beach city espousing California culture from the surf to the diversity of the people searching for their American dream. I wish I was there now in an evening temperature of 18 degrees celsius with sunshine above and sand beneath, rather than the 6 degrees here having just shaken the rain off having put the rubbish out for collection. As Arnie said “man I need a vacation” and it sounds like the place to be.

Although, for a secular tourist, the main time to have been walking the beachfront there was last year. In the Palisades Park there has been for about 60 years a nativity display in numerous booths at this festive time. Things started to change in 2009 when Damion Vix took one of the booths during the nativity display. He had a sign stating the words of Thomas Jefferson:

Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies.

Then fast winding to 2011 with numerous requests to use the booths a lottery was held for them. Vix with others that had organised for a mass of non religious themed applications acquired 18 of the 21 spaces from the city council this way. This left just two for the nativity display, and one for a Hanukkah themed one. In the past the nativity displays had been automatically allocated fourteen.

So we went from mainly this:


To this:


Accept there was vandalism and arguments over the non religious exhibitions, and half of the booths were left empty by the atheists. Council officials had had enough of the discord, the administrative costs and visual impact on the area – and has set aside plenty of other spaces for nativity displays. The booths would be closed to everyone for this year. This then became a matter for the courts as the nativity committee demanded the opportunity they had always had before. The judge rejected their claim as religious expression was widely available in Santa Monica, and the reasons given by the council were not biased and there was other available space. There was a timely argument from the nativity group:

“The birth of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Western civilization, our calendar derives from it, but now somehow it’s just not right to have a classic depiction of this event in a Nativity scene in a city park,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the Nativity committee.

It actually derives from the Julian calendar, by that epic pagan Caesar in 45 B.C.E, and then the new Gregorian calendar. The problem with the new calendar was that it had the whiff of popery. After all it was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 C.E that had the much delayed reform implemented, so the calendar would be more in line with scientific astronomical observations. These indicated there was a ten day discrepancy. Protestant critics called this reform the work of the “Roman Antichrist”. This schism of faith delayed the whole of Europe adopting the new calendar to correct the error. As a result some people from this period can appear to have two different dates of death or birth depending by which calendar you use.

So hail Caesar for bringing us the calendar that we use to mark western civilisation, with tweaking by the “Antichrist” to match scientific observations.

If we do go by Christianity as a means of measuring the calendar it was Easter, Christ’s death, which was the key event to be worked out and commemorated by the faithful and devout. Sometimes the new year would start and the old one end with Easter depending when and where you were. The Byzantine Empire started year zero supposedly from creation, much the way a young earth creationist would work it out, at 5509 B.C.E. The year beginning in September.

The point is the birth of Jesus has not been the linchpin for the passage of time in western civilisation. Rather a pagan, who wore togas, quite possibly liked his salads and so wanted to be king of kings, has that honour.

This is where I have a bone with the non religious displays in Santa Monica because this was a chance to inform and inspire. Fair enough that they went out of their way to challenge religion and the automatic place and deference it can be given using the lottery process. What they could have done also was joined in to celebrate life, the universe and everything.

Such as:


Or a tree of knowledge celebrating human writing and thought:


Sam Harris makes the observation that we cannot just challenge how religion marks the passage of time and rituals for events. There has to be a secular alternative. If we do that with a sense of fun, joy and good humour we really will be doing that cause all the more good.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78


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Filed under OUT campaign, Religion

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