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.