Follow-up on St. Patrick’s Day: The Problem with Syncretism

March 18, 2009


So yesterday, I had a mild complaint about St. Patrick’s Day. My roommate wrote a response. I started to respond with a comment, but, seeing how long it is, opted to make a post. My Response:

I put being Catholic as a reason to care about St. Patrick’s Day, to be fair. But, it makes little sense to make a de facto national holiday based on only St. Patrick. I could understand a holiday around celebrating missionaries (or better yet, Christ’s calling for us to fulfill the “Great Commission”), but making one for a specific missionary is more problematic. St. Patrick’s Day would not be an unofficial “Be a Stereotypical Irishman Day”, featuring green-dyed hootch, if people were not so focused on St. Patrick = “Drunken Irish”. Same thing goes with the other Christian holidays that are now awry in it’s national celebration. St. Valentine  = “Eros or Amor or Cupid of whatever you want to call that pudgy naked kid with wings and lust-inducing arrows”. Ash Wednesday = “Recover from Madri Gras hangover”. Christmas = “Santa Claus”. Easter = “Pope Snowball”. Reformation Day = “Goblins”.

You take the focus off of Christ, it is inevitable that whatever meaning you are trying to encapsulate will eventually be forgotten underneath the wave of syncretism that will sooner or later rise up. It is in our evil, sinful nature to take our eyes off of the prize. It does not matter whether the new focus was something inherently good (say, the life and work of St. Patrick); supposed to help us better focus on the Godhead (idols, icons, crucifixes, WWJD wristbands, et cetera); or were designed to be, to use the evangelical term, “seeker-friendly” (drawing one’s patron saint for the year as part of older St. Valentine’s Day celebrations, exemplia gratia). The evil inherent in us will turn it to another distraction. As The Simpsons put it in a Christmas special (paraphrasing):

“[Moe bowing to a duck with a halo on it]

Burns: That’s not the Messiah, you fool.

Moe [continuing adoration]: It has a halo. Hail, Quacky”

Moe put the focus on a halo instead of the Christ child and was crushed by a “Hanukkah Bush”, along with the Burns Herod and his Roman Guard.

And I still stand by my statement that the holiday has little to offer people who are not drunkards, Catholics, or Irish. Catholics can view it as a time to venerate St. Patrick, which in my eyes in that gray area of idolatry. Drunks can view it as an excuse to get wasted. Irish can view it as an ethnic pride day. You don’t fit any of the categories, it makes little sense to care much about the day.

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4 Responses to “Follow-up on St. Patrick’s Day: The Problem with Syncretism”

  1. Tony G Says:

    It sounds like you’re agreeing with me while being too stubborn to actually agree. The focus should not be the individual, but it’s the individual’s example that should point us to Christ. We see examples of this all the time even in the Protestant world (think Foxe’s Book of Martyrs… READ A BOOK!!!) I agree with you about it being commercialized, along with all those other days, and you should criticize that. I also criticize this “unofficial national holiday” business because it’s a de facto drinking holiday.

    I just ask that you recognize that there are those who celebrate the day, as they do with Christmas and Easter, for it’s original intent, and not as a reason to get drunk, and not as a form of pseudo-idolatry (many Protestants do so).

    And just as an FYI, the Catholic calendar has days that commemorate missionaries to almost every region of the world, you just have to look for them, because they’re not commercialized like Patrick. (Ex. Stanislaus to Poland; Isaac Jogues to Canada; Kateri Tekawitha to other Pre-Columbian Native Americans, etc.) I hope this helps.

    [roomate note]

    I love you (in a Christian hetero man-love kinda way),
    – Tony G.

  2. liberexmachina Says:

    Stop trying to steal my blog clique/catchphrase. Sorry if this is less intelligently put; the Jack La Lanne Power Juicer infomercial is distracting.

    Part of my argument is making a big deal about people “as an example” is just as bad as the secular drunkenness and whatnot. Taking the focus off Christ only encourages us to put the focus on something less savory. Focusing on St. Patrick allowed the general populace to focus on hooch consumption. Focusing on Pope Snowball allowed the general populace to focus on the Hare Club for Men. Focusing on Quacky got Moe crushed. In other words, without the overt focus on Christ, it ultimately does not matter if the initial focus is something positive; the slippery slope will see that the holiday will revolve around something worse (with Fat Tuesday being to most obvious example I can thing of).

    You ever notice that infomercials repeat the same 3-4 minute pitch over and over again?

    And how exactly does one juice power?

  3. Andy Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Steven! I wore drab, olive green slacks on the 17th in order to give some credit to my questionable ethnic heritage while at the same time throwing a technicality in the way of any rabid reveler who would dare pinch me. I don’t have much use for the holiday, either.

    Follow-up question: Why do we call St. Valentine’s “Valentine’s Day,” and we don’t call St. Patrick’s Day just “Patrick’s Day?” Hmmm …

  4. Andy Says:

    Oh, and we had the Central Texas Republican Assembly’s monthly meeting at an Indian food restaurant on St. Patty’s Day! How cool is that?


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