Friday, October 26, 2012

The Huron Carol

The Huron Carol ("'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime") has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. My mom loved it and sang it every Christmas, and so I love it too. It's a bit of an obscurity in the Lutheran church, but I always used to pester my choir director to work it into the hymns once during the Christmas season, and she usually humored me and did so. I also have a lovely children's book with the words and illustrations, which I always used to pull out and sing to my younger kids at Christmas.

Last year, despite the fact that I was firmly in the atheist camp by that point, I got a great version of this hymn by the Canadian Tenors from iTunes. My oldest asked me why I wanted it, given my lack of belief, and I explained that it reminded me of my mother, and besides, a good story was still a good story. After all, we still read the Greek myths even though we don't see them as any sort of truthful reflection of reality. In any event, our family still celebrates Christmas, in a secular sort of way, and the kids ought to know where the holiday comes from (and yes, that includes learning about the pagan holidays the Christians ripped off, too!). And it is still a lovely song, which I enjoy belting out at the top of my lungs when no one's around to hear me.

Yesterday I broke house rules (which state no listening to Christmas songs till after Thanksgiving) and listened to the Huron Carol. It occurs to me that ironically, this hymn constitutes a very good proof that there is no God and no Christ. If you're not familiar with it, it's a song written by a Jesuit missionary in Canada, which supposedly put the Christmas story into a form the natives (the Huron) could understand and relate to. It was originally written in Huron as "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, He is Born"), and the English translation begins like this:

'Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled 
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim 
And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born, 
Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria. 

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round 
But as the hunter braves drew nigh 
The angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus your King is born, 
Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The English version was written in 1926-- entering public domain just last year-- and may not be a terribly faithful translation, for all I know. But the point nevertheless stands that the Huron had never heard of this story till the Jesuit missionaries told them about it. They had their own beliefs and their own gods. This song was of course designed to convert the natives and make them believe that Jesus was born for them as well as the rest of the world. But if that were really the case, and if Jesus' birth had truly been such a world-shaking event, then wouldn't God have already made this declaration to the Huron? Indeed, wouldn't he have told people everywhere?

Of course Christians will argue that he delegated them to spread the good news-- but that seems like a ridiculously ineffective means of spreading what is supposedly crucially important information over the face of the earth. It means that the Huron people weren't informed of this life-changing, soul-saving news until the 1600s. In other words, it took over a millenium and a half for them to learn about it. If Jesus mattered all that much, surely an omnipotent God who loved his creation so could do a better, more efficient job of getting the word out?

Ironically, this hymn meant to convert the Huron is a reminder that there is no God, and that Jesus (if he ever existed at all) didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.  If any of the mythology it presents so beautifully were true, then the Huron would already have known this story. A loving God would surely have seen to that.

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