astrologyReligion and SpiritualitySkepticismUncategorized

Tracts in the Mail

As Olivia taught us recently in her DBT series, sometimes there are simply no pros to outweigh the cons of saying certain things to one’s relatives.  One such situation is the way that my very Christian grandparents keep sending me tracts and handwritten notes attempting to convert me.  Fortunately, they only ever contact me around my birthday and Christmas and don’t speak to me the rest of the year, but at the same time that just makes it more infuriating that quite literally their only communication with me is filled with proselytization.  In lieu of creating more family drama than is really necessary or healthy, however, I am going to talk about it only here, where my family is unaware that I write.

Shall we then discuss WISE MEN?  You can follow along with the entire text of my most recently mailed tract, conveniently available at tractleague complete with nonsensical capitalization of WISE MEN at every instance.  We begin with the relevant Bible verses about the WISE MEN, or more accurately, the only verses, since only one of the canonical gospels mentions them, and in that particular gospel, they visit Jesus in a house.  Apparently he got an upgrade from the whole stable thing mentioned in a different gospel?  Anyway, WISE MEN come from the East, that place where all mystical things originate, having seen a star that leads them to conclude, in best mythological style, that something important has happened.  Let’s skip the issue of the vast times and distances involved with seeing a star’s light, or the possibility that this was really a comet, not a star.  Because either way, Christians will chalk it up to their god arranging stellar events possibly as long as millions of years ago just for this one thing.  The tract goes on to claim that millions saw this star, which is not exactly supported by the text, and we know that celestial objects are not necessarily visible to millions of people, but that would get in the way of this somewhat contrived homily about WISE MEN being special for taking action to learn what events mean and concluding God. The tract very clearly  holds up the WISE MEN as examples of people who seek out evidence (for certain values of astronomical evidence) for naturalistic events and responding to nature by worshipping the Christian god.  We then get a conclusion that we should take the evidence (for certain values thereof) of Christ’s birth to repent and be humble before the Christian god.  This is all complete with cited verses, because for some reasons Christians will always end their quotations with a complete reference.  It would be sorta weird to end a quoted “To be or not to be” with Hamlet, act something, scene whatever, but it’s not weird when quoting the Bible, apparently.*

Now what I think really fails in this homily about WISE MEN is that the next several verses in the biblical text discuss how the WISE MEN’s questioning of Herod and scholars in Jerusalem leads to a massive uproar (apparently they didn’t see this magical star, or at least didn’t draw the same conclusions from it) such that when the WISE MEN don’t return to tell Herod who his new rival king is, Herod responds by attempting to kill all of the children of a certain age that he can find.  The WISE MEN were warned by a dream from God to not tell Herod the identity of the child they were searching for, but it seems like it would have been a slightly better outcome had they been warned in a dream to lie and say “our bad, wrong star, carry on.”  At the very least, when tract writers come up with repent and be a Christian messages centering around the WISE MEN, a slightly more obvious moral would be “be aware of political consequences of your actions.” I really can’t figure out how telling a current reigning king with the autocratic powers to slaughter lots of children on a rumor that you are off to worship a new one that’s more celestially announced and special than this current king is possibly going to end well.

Needless to say, I have not been converted by this tract about WISE MEN, though I suppose I can appreciate the attempt to cater to my demand for actual evidence to exist before I’d believe.

*Actually, I know why this is.  The Christians I grew up with had no sense of scholarship.  Studying means reading a few verses and having someone tell you what contrived moral you should take from it for your “everyday life.” However, since they also bragged about following the whole searching the scriptures daily and studying to show themselves approved verses, they would always turn in their copies of the Bible to the verses being discussed.  I guess to verify that such verses really exist.  But since I really never recall anything else in terms of study, for example, reading the verses around the discussed verses to try to come up with some sort of reasonable context, what else would people do to show themselves studious?  Scholarship is something that is hard to figure out for oneself good methods for, and hard to motivate oneself to do.  It’s easier to go through approved motions, and one of those approved motions is verifying that verses really exist.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.


  1. December 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm —

    ” I really can’t figure out how telling a current reigning king with the autocratic powers to slaughter lots of children on a rumor that you are off to worship a new one that’s more celestially announced and special than this current king is possibly going to end well.”

    It also occurs to me that even though an angel warned Joseph and Mary to scram, nobody thought to warn the other parents.

    • December 29, 2014 at 12:11 am —

      “…nobody thought to warn the other parents.”
      Insider trading…

  2. December 28, 2014 at 11:51 pm —

    This post made me laugh.

  3. January 7, 2015 at 12:47 pm —

    It seems to me that the Jesus birth narratives are a really poor place to start when trying to convince someone to become Christian. Even if you believe much of the rest of the stuff about Jesus, the birth narratives are pretty obviously pious myth. The two Gospels that contain them contradict one another, and they both contain elements that would have been striking enough that they would have appeared in the non-Christian writings of the time. The star, for one, and the slaughter of the innocents for another. There’s also the fact that the mythmaking didn’t stop with the Gospels — the version of Jesus’ birth that most of us learned contains a lot of elements that aren’t anywhere in the bible, and many of the popular Christmas songs have blatantly invented stuff.

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