Accidental Pagans

The greatest Christmas card ever bestowed upon me had gilded edges, dazzling red and green accents, and the following message:

“Jesus is the reason for the season!” TRUE!

“Merry Christmas!” FALSE!!!!

The sender had actually crossed off the holiday greeting portion and wrote “FALSE” — with multiple exclamation points so I would know this was serious.

I was confused. But thankfully the sender included a multipage letter, with festive green and red font, explaining the pagan nature of the world’s most popular holiday. If I didn’t “hang my stockings with care” (metaphorically speaking), I would be guilty of brazen paganism.

I display this card every year. It’s my favorite decoration.

Every year I run into grinches trying to steal Christmas. They lurk in church lobbies, send “concerned” emails, and manage shady websites with MIDI hymns and mismatched fonts. Their questionable hermeneutics and historiographies let you know you are on God’s naughty list if you have too much yuletide cheer.

I have written elsewhere on the methodology used to slam Saint Nick’s season, and, as an Adventist, I have pointed to many positive things Ellen White, one of our influential denominational founders, had to say about exchanging gifts (Review and Herald, Dec. 26, 1882) and Christmas trees — even in church (Review and Herald, Dec. 11, 1879). The only negative things she says about the holiday have to do with our tendency to saturate it with materialism and our selfish ignorance of those in need — counsel even people with a secular persuasion can appreciate. I tried pointing this out to a Christmas-hater once, and they countered with the “fact” that these weren’t her “inspired writings.”


I don’t want to rehash the history of this debate anymore, but I do want to throw out an element that has bothered me — and I hope it will bother you. Why is it so easy to be an accidental pagan but not an accidental Christian?

We see people wearing apparel, jewelry, tattoos, etc., with crosses on them — but nobody would say they are secretly worshipping Jesus. People attend financial seminars and school concerts inside our sanctuaries, but does that make them believers?

Are they in danger of heaven?

When the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and built the temple of Jupiter on its ruins, would sensational pagan evangelists point out the traces of Jewish symbolism and architecture infringing on the worship of Roman gods? When evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins listens to Handel’s Messiah, does his name disappear off the Devil’s Ledger of Death and appear in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Based on some of the reasoning I hear, it almost seems like some credit the devil with more power than Jesus. Whatever happened to the reassuring words of Jesus, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28–29 ESV)?

Questions to ponder as you celebrate, or try to exterminate, this holiday season.

Featured in: December 2014


Seth Pierce

associate professor of communication at Union College in Lincoln, Neb.