Bad theology is everywhere. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious as when faith gets tangled up in nationalism and war and terrorism. Sometimes it is still obvious, but some people can justify it, as when faith is coopted by party political agendas. Bad theology in these categories usually leads to bad outcomes for nearly everyone involved.

Bad theology abounds in our world. Bad theology around the birth of Christ has been with us since the second chapter of Matthew. Recall that the scribes and chief priests were called in to advise Herod. They gave him the right information, but for what reason? As it turned out they were able to accomplish just over thirty years later what Herod attempted to do around two years after Jesus was born.

Then there is bad theology that leads to good works. Let me define bad theology for purposes of these few paragraphs. Bad theology is thinking about God as seen in religious action that I happen to disagree with. I expect the same is true of most people. I can tolerate most of this type of bad theology and even be friends with people who adhere to it. If I did not, I would not have any friends. Nor would I ever be challenged to think more about my beliefs and be convinced to change a little from time to time.

I was in the U.K. during the time of a horrific famine in Ethiopia. A group of pop-artists came together and sang a song called, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I still hear it from time to time and my reaction is the same now as it was then — revulsion. Get this line, “Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.” Or this gem (which is not as bad as it sounds), “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.” Yet this song anchored concerts in the U.S. and U.K. that raised over 150 million dollars for Ethiopian relief.

We are now accustomed to the Salvation Army kettles. I would venture to say that most who ring the bells today know little about the religious teachings of the Salvation Army. There are some who may not be religious at all. Yet, they are there — bad theology and all — standing in the cold (and sometimes the rain) ringing bells and wishing people “Merry Christmas.” And there are others who may give little thought at all to religious matters (except maybe at Christmas or Easter) who are nickel and diming toward helping people who need help — and with a glad heart. Seems like I read somewhere that “God loves a cheerful giver.”

I suppose that for every year that I live, I will have some thought of, “Christmas is not what it used to be.”, or “Christmas has become so commercialized and it seems that Jesus is forgotten.” I crave for the simple beauty of a quiet worship and good theology. You know, like it is supposed to be.

G.K. Chesterton, whose writings are witty, shrewd, and occasionally beyond me on first reading wrote an essay called, “Christmas and the Aesthetes.” He addressed people like me, who believe that the holiday has been corrupted by people who do not take it seriously enough. He calls a few people of his time by name and then says of Christmas, “Here is a solid and ancient festive tradition still plying a roaring trade in the streets, and they think it vulgar. If this is so, let them be very certain of this, that they are the kind of people who in the time of the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar; who in the time of the Canterbury pilgrimage would have thought the Canterbury pilgrimage vulgar; who in the time of the Olympian games would have thought the Olympian games vulgar. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that they were vulgar. Let no man deceive himself; if by vulgarity we mean coarseness of speech, rowdiness of behavior, gossip, horseplay, and some heavy drinking, vulgarity there always was wherever there was joy, wherever there was faith in the gods. Wherever you have belief you will have hilarity, wherever you have hilarity you will have some dangers. And as creed and mythology produce this gross and vigorous life, so in its turn this gross and vigorous life will always produce creed and mythology.”

There is a lot of bad theology around Christmas. There is a lot of misdirected action and no doubt, too much drinking and partying by some. I also know this. It is time a of deep emotion — of great joy and great missing. It is a time when we give gifts to people we do not know. It is a time when we “raise a glass to those under the burning sun.” It is a time of many beautiful, good works. I can live with that.

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