Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. How Not to Defend Jehovah's Witness Theology
    November 4, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

    […] Roman Montero, comment on Dale Tuggy, “Podcast Episode 67—Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?” Trinities (blog), Dec. 22, 2014, accessed Oct. 8, 2015, http://trinities.org/blog/podcast-episode-67-is-christmas-a-pagan-holiday/. ? […]

  2. Roman Montero
    January 20, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

    Full disclosure, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. But I don’t think the idea of a pagan taking up Christian practices, and making them pagen really fits, because paganism is not totalizing and demanding of exclusive worship the same way the abrahamic faiths are, paganism has no problem incorporating practices from other “religions” (in quotes because the whole concept of what a religion is, is completely different from paganism and the abrahamic faiths). The abrahamic faiths are different though, the torah forbids many things that are just similar to pagan worship, even if they pretend that it is for worshiping God.

    So it isn’t just decorating ones home and giving presents, it’s part of a religious or semi religious practice, with a Christian intent. So there is nothing wrong with decorating your home with trees in itself, or giving presents in itself, but doing it as part of a Christian practice is problematic. I would take 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 serously, and argue that keeping worship clean is important.

    In the law code, for example, banned tattooing, because it was a pagan practice, used in pagan worship. A new night argue that he’s not getting anything pagan tattood, rather he’s getting something holy tattood, say the shema or something, but that wasn’t the point, the point was that the Jews were supposed to be completely clean from any pagan customs, even if those customs were re-worked in Christian language.

    Now about the meat part, remember this was meet sold in a market place after it was used in a ceremony, there may not have even been a way to tell if it was used or not, the meat was not being used as part of a religious or semi religious ceremony by the Christians, it wasn’t a celebration, it was just … Eating some meat, which back then usually meant either you were rich or it came from some religious ceremony. But it’s apples and oranges, it would be more similar to the question of whether or not you as a Christian should use a building formally used as a Buddhist temple as a store front for the electronics store you want to start. Christmas is different, it’s taking religious symbols and rituals (not just objects) and using them in a religious ceremony claiming to be Christian. Even if these things are “good” in themselves we have to differentiate between the holy and the profane, the holy is worship, the profane is everyday life, giving gifts and being with friends and family is good, that’s not all Christmas is, it’s a religious or semi-religious observance, and it most certainly isn’t christian, especially if you want to be a sola-scripture Christian, but even if you arn’t, I think taking pagan religious practices and trying to turn them into a Christian holiday is something that goes against biblical principles in both the Old Testament and the new, especially with it’s emphasis on keeping worship pure.

    One more thing, Christmas came about because the church in history wanted to make it easier for pagans to convert, so they basically took their pagan customs and christianized them, now I would have been against doing that, and I think many others would also, Christianity shouldn’t change to fit pagan’s worship tradition, pagans need to change to fit Christ. But if we are against he church doing that historically, why would we continue the tradition?

  3. Michael Errington
    December 27, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    I hope that this wandering proves relational to your original philosophic premise: function v. origin of religious elements. Please consider a hypothetic scenario.

    I have just starting wearing a pentagram around my neck with the intention of expressing my religious devotion to the God who created all things, not unlike triangles, crosses and iconic symbols of fish. You should see the looks I’ve been getting, especially inside the walls of the congregation. I have tried to remain completely indifferent to these responses and expressions because it yields a bit of ignorance on their part; for those same people share chocolate crosses and bunnies around the spring holiday. Just think, the torture stake that was used to sacrifice the body of the Christ for humanity’s sin has been metamorphosed into a delicious caffeinated snack. Not wanting to appear insincere, my response to the more sober skeptic is usually filled with pure intentions coupled with a zealous yearning to express my faith creatively and when compared to the chocolate relics of Calvary and Canterbury my conscience is cleansed.

    The number five, as it relates to biblical numerology, finds its significance in redemption, a wholesome tenant inside the covers of scripture indeed. THE NUMBER OF GRACE. Redemption. Israel came out of Egypt 5 in rank (Ex 13:18). David picked up 5 smooth stones to fight Goliath (1 Sam. 17:40). The Holy Anointing Oil was pure and composed of 5 parts (Ex. 30:23-25). (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) What is Biblical Numerology? Mat Slick) Therefore, I find the function of this relation in biblical principles to be superior to its origin within its hedonistic roots thereby annulling pagan ascription.

    We can weigh the function of the pentagram inside the parameters of Biblical principles to be valid amidst philosophical reasoning, but should we consider what the inspired Word of God has to say of this ‘assimilation’, or the repurposing and integrating of pagan symbols and practice with religious value or worship? What has God said on repurposing?

    Jeremiah 10:2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

    Deuteronomy 12:30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.”

    Leviticus 20.23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.

    I suppose much could be said about God’s stance regarding the full integration of the specific elements rife with pagan ascription into true worship of Himself (assimilation). Consider the children of Israel in the wilderness. When given an opportunity to replace the newly elected mediator (Exodus 20:18,19 and recollected in Hebrews 12:19) with a golden calf ( Exodus 32:1), attention to detail should highlight a desirable shift by the children of Israel in mediator-ship to God from Moses to a golden calf thereby replacing the god who led them out of Israel. We should find that their intentions were fairly tenable given that they knew not what became of Moses, the original mediator (we do not know what became of this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt Exodus 32:1b) and replaced him with a pagan idol. What seems to be overlooked by most commentators is the idea that the children of Israel were going to have a feast to Yahweh the next day (Exodus 32:5) thereby assimilating the familiar idolatrous practices of Egypt with true worship of the Eternal Being. I could go on, demonstrating the principles of true worship in contrast to assimilation of heathen religious practice established within the antiquated bookends of the Hebrew Scriptures. There seems to be a specific form of worship granted to God’s followers from the beginning, an acceptable sacrifice that was congruent with Ables’ offering, a particular fashion that was codified in God’s law to Moses (the Levitical Priesthood) and one that is harvested in the New Covenant (God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:24).

    I believe that a failure to recognize the effects of idolatrous practices by the nation of Israel in the form of assimilation is a fantastic oversight by those who claim to worship the Creator Scripturally.

  4. Dale
    December 23, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for the feedback. Here are some brief replies:

    1. “leaving the objects of a custom aside, how would the passage of time mollify or abrogate the prescriptions within a pagan custom itself”

    Well, it depends what the custom is. If it is “Hail, Odin!” – that’s not going to really be re-usable, unless those words have come to mean something different. But, say, eating a certain kind of cake, decorating a tree, playing a certain melody – plausibly, the only reason God would hate something like that was because of its socially-assigned meaning, in worshiping a false god or gods. If that community passes away, so does his reason for disliking whatever it is. We should not attribute to him an irrational dislike of, say, the color green, just because there used to be priestesses to Diana who always wore green. (Not really – I made that up – it’s just an example.) It’s not the passage of time that makes a difference, I think, but rather the passing away of socially-assigned meanings.

    Similarly, the reason for not mixing pagan traditions into worship is to avoid syncretism – in the ancient world, the pantheons were fluid – the fictional characters were often combined, as were practices. Any such mixing would directly interfere with his purposes for his special people, Israel – a tiny people, surrounded by many larger peoples, and constantly subject to their influence. But if we should today use some practice that in former times was used by the priests of Ba’al… so what? Probably only God will know this, and if it’s not an inherently harmful practice, it’s hard to see what God would still be against it. Surely, he’s not still sore about the Ba’al worshipers…

    Of course, if you want to play it safe, then you must do what you think is best.

    One can also argue not from holiness but from practicality – don’t have already have enough customs, and if we add on, isn’t that going to be a less practical strategy, less beneficial long term.

    Here too, though, I think it depends on what we’re talking about.

    2. Presents, trees, family time, feasting, honoring God for sending his Son – these too are “very good,” and involve God’s generosity towards us. Their goodness does not require specific divine commands.

    3. Yeah, I consider the Santa business a side issue. Often, it is a tradition of lying to children. If you think all lying is wrong, then this is wrong. I don’t think all lying is wrong, though. One could argue that it is a game which is fun and harmless. On the other hand, I have a friend who was really quite mad (at age 5, I think) when he discovered the deception! Of course, for some people it’s just a little game of make-believe – they don’t actually deceive their kids. Either way, I could well see how someone could object, and I really have no interest in defending either tradition. We don’t need a mythical, flying, sleigh-jockey to give gifs to one another. 🙂

    But of course, we don’t NEED Christmas at all.

    God bless,

  5. Nathan
    December 23, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    Hi Dale,

    Surely you didn’t think you were going to be able to speak about Christmas without getting a measure of seasons (un)greetings as well, did you? 😉

    As always, thank you for the interesting monologue. I thought you reasoned your points well philosophically and that you ably laid out many of the core issues that undergird the Christmas dispute.

    However, there are a few items of interest that I think require further elaboration:

    1. You mentioned that the passage of time can change how a custom is viewed within contemporary culture, but it would seem from your podcast that this notion requires further substantiation. For instance, leaving the objects of a custom aside, how would the passage of time mollify or abrogate the prescriptions within a pagan custom itself? It is understandable that some type of moderation might occur within the mind of a believer, due in part to their socio-cultural proclivities, but I’m not sure how the passage of time could affect God’s mind and his view of the reclamation of prescriptions associated with pagan customs. To be fair, I’m not sure if this was something you had time to consider in your podcast. Nevertheless, I think a case would need to be made to show how God is unaffected by the repurposing of various prescriptions within pagan worship – particularly since we already do have testimony that excoriates the introduction of pagan prescriptive forms into pure worship (Duet 12:29-30).

    2. I think your use of Paul’s counsel concerning meat sacrificed to idols is useful, but it requires further clarification. As I see it, there are a couple of problems that make Christmas disanalogous to the subject of Paul’s entreaty. Firstly, meat is something specifically created by God and thus can be classified as something deemed to be “very good” (Gen. 1:25, 31). Secondly, meat it is something that has been specifically given to man by God for the threefold purpose of nourishment, sacrifice, and sacrificial nourishment (Gen. 9:3-4; Lev. 1:3, 9:5ff). Hence, as Paul rightly observed, sacrificial meat could be used as food – and food used as food is something mandated and sanctified by God. Or, in keeping with the conceptual framework you presented, the function of the meat was sanctified due to its purposive end being sanctified also. In these matters I think we would agree, since they have strong Scriptural attestation. In practical terms, however, I don’t see how most Christmas customs can enjoy the same standing as eating food, since their prescriptive form is largely based upon the emulation of practices that have never enjoyed the same level of sanctification.

    In this I think it is also important to draw another distinction between what constitutes a pagan attribution (meat, trees, stars etc.) and that which constitutes a pagan observance (Saturnalia, Lemuria etc.) Obviously a person cannot participate in the emulation of a pagan attribution as it is descriptive, but they can in the emulation of a pagan observance since it is prescriptive.

    3. Another point that I noticed that you didn’t pursue at any length (there’s only so much one can fit into ~30 mins) is one that is ostensibly even more clear-cut for a Christian’s conscience, namely the matter of parental duplicity in the propagation of the Santa myth. I cannot see any Scriptural case that can be justifiably made to support the transmission of a generational lie (and a lie at the time of the commemoration of Christ as lord, no less) As such, even if a Christian feels unencumbered by any of the other Christmas rituals (perhaps because they feel the issues appear to dissolve into historical ambiguity) at least this is one artefact that can be assessed without the need for historical, cultural, or theological scrutiny. Instead, it is one that can be examined by a heart encouraged by the word of truth and a mind counselled by the warnings of old (Ps. 101:7; Joh. 4:23; Rev. 21:8)

    “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” – Eph. 4:25 NIV

    Oh, I almost forgot. I hope you have a wonderful week Dale!

    Take care,