A Little Pagan Won't Kill You - Maybe
September 29th, 2017
The basic flaw with the prohibitions the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses imposes on their members concerning birthdays and (most) holidays is that it doesn't attend to the obvious distinction between a practice that is pagan per se and one that only has accidental (contingent) association with paganism. Provided something isn't pagan in of itself, and isn't done for a pagan end, where exactly is the scriptural ground for its prohibition; aren't all things pure to those who are pure?
In fact, from time to time a Watchtower or Awake! will appear, seeming to demonstrate that they grasp this point, at least when it concerns other once pagan things, such as windchimes, wedding rings and piñatas; here are three relevant excepts from Witness publications.
"Would it be wrong for a Christian to use wind chimes in his or her home? . . . If one’s motive in putting up a wind chime [which in some places have connection to paganism] has nothing to do with false religion, superstition or demonism, and there is little possibility of others’ getting the wrong impression regarding its use in the home, it is a simple matter for personal decision." - Watchtower June 1st, 1981 (p. 31)
"Even if it were a fact that pagans first used wedding rings, would that rule such out for Christians? Not necessarily. Many of today’s articles of clothing and aspects of life originated in pagan lands. The present time divisions of hours, minutes and seconds are based on an early Babylonian system. Yet, there is no objection to a Christian’s using these time divisions, for one’s doing so does not involve carrying on false religious practices. . . . Really, the question is not so much whether wedding rings were first used by pagans but whether they were originally used as part of false religious practices and still retain such religious significance." - Watchtower January 16th, 1972 (p. 63)
"We found that for many people in Mexico, the piñata has lost its religious significance and is considered by most to be just harmless fun. In fact, piñatas are used in Mexico on many festive occasions, not just for the posadas or for birthdays. And piñatas can be purchased in many forms other than the traditional star shape. They are sometimes made to resemble animals, flowers, clowns.
"When considering whether to include a piñata at a social gathering, Christians should be sensitive to the consciences of others. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) A main concern is, not what the practice meant hundreds of years ago, but how it is viewed today in your area." - Awake! September 22nd, 2003 (pp. 23-24)
I fail to see how such reasoning doesn't apply to birthday celebrations or most holidays and many of their attendant customs. Apparently the 'Faithful and Discreet Slave' didn't find anything too objectionable until the 50s, when, as far as I can tell, they first condemned celebrating birthdays.
They claimed that such practices "are steeped in false worship," even though this is demonstrably false (at least by the standards described above), since most people don't view celebrating Christmas or their friends' birthdays as pagan in the slightest. (But the more modest, but accurate "they were . . ." wouldn't support the prohibition they wanted to impose. (See: Watchtower November 1st, 1951 (p. 607)
A separate, perhaps weaker, argument was also laid out (and is still common among Witnesses today): the Bible mentions two birthdays where someone was murdered! Check and mate! Clearly, this is a sign that God views birthdays in a negative light, right? Well, it's not exactly an airtight argument. The inference they make strains credibility too much.
It's not like the Bible said that birthday celebrations as such are objectionable. Surely, the pagan motives and beliefs that accompanied these specific celebrations aren't proper, and the murders committed at them are especially evil, but it goes far beyond reading between the lines to claim to find a biblical prohibition on birthdays.
At best, it proves too much. If merely being mentioned as the occasion for other, essentially unrelated evil actions is evidence that they're evil, it seems like we'll have to ban eye-liner as well. After all, it was mentioned in connection to wicked queen Jezebel and apostate Israel; and we don't want to be like them! (2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30)
Witnesses seem to be like the Jews of old who labored to construct a Talmud that would govern even the most insignificant matters. This is contrary to the spirit of freedom Christians should enjoy. Let us seek, not to adhere to an arbitrary set of commandments, but the advantage of our followers so that love should have its work complete.