On the 17th of June this year (my earth day), something unprecedented happened at home. Those who have at least known me in any way will know how much of an outrageously open minded person I am. Sometimes it is very tough to tell my faction because I don’t believe in groups, I believe in humanity. And if it takes forgoing my origin to understand another with another origin, that seems to be no problem. I love Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are always ready to teach their perspective of the Word. They do it joyfully, passionately and I have to commend them on that. However, my birthday was the worst nightmare with them included. It was a nightmare because instead of the day to be a special one of reflection it tuned into one of the normal debates I usually partake in. One of them, an old man who usually comes by to share on Wednesdays came around, he shared some Biblical verses with me and the whole situation progressively got insightful and interesting as it had always been. He was about leaving, but my longing to understanding complexing issues couldn’t prevent me from asking. The question just came. It was my birthday and at that moment I felt the need to ask “Are claims concerning Jehovah Witnesses’ disregard to celebrating Anniversaries true? If so, why?”
The 73 year old man (that of which I knew because he told me) smiled. He started out. He spoke in twi dialect but translating to english will be better considering a global audience.
“We (Jehovah Witnesses) do not celebrate birthdays. I can give you 4 reasons. The first, birthday celebrations have their roots from pagan worship and the bible clearly speaks against spiritism and divinity through Deuteronomy 18:14 and Galatians 5:19-21.” He later explained to me that birthdays were linked to Horoscopes and Astrology both of which were related to practises outside christianity. He alluded to the Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, and claimed that in this dictionary lies information asserting that a birthday celebration was the time evil spirits and other negative influences attacked the celebrant. Now, I could not check to find out if the above dictionary truly asserted what he claimed but I love English dictionaries and knew that myths, folklore and legends were not reliable as far as the truth was concerned. I knew these were shared down from generation to generation usually through oral tradition and found it rather unfortunate that it was used as a reference point against the whole fabric of birthdays. The truth in oral tradition is literally edited from time to time as it gets to the latest generation. It was my birthday and I was more than willing to defend it. Myths are commonly held false beliefs and misconceptions. Folklore, that I need not tell you. It is composed of tales and supersitious stories. Legends, stories of unknown origin describing plausible but extraordinary past events. Now, if the reason for labeling birthday celebrations to spiritism is linked to unaccountable oral thoughts, there lies controversy and we need to be certain before we call something a fact. Folklores, legends and myths do not prove certainty, they just prove assertions and assertions could be falsified especially with time. Through this, tagging birthdays to spiritism and divinity could not be a reliable point. Its very true though that astrology and horoscopes use birthdays to predict personalities and the future but it will be absurd to judge humanity by the actions of a human. A knife in the hands of a medical doctor can save lives but in the hands of an armed robber could be a tool of torture. Birthdays are bigger than horoscopes and astrology, astrology and horoscopes can’t make them entirely negative.
I asked for the second reason. “The only event worth honouring is that of the death of Jesus Christ“, he said. I knew nothing about this and gradually realised that Christmas could be wrong since it is not about the death but the birth of Christ. Using the following excerpts of scripture he added flesh to his point. Luke 22:17-20, Ecclesiastes 7:1 and Hebrews 1:4. Now, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 22 verses 17 to 20, Jesus calls on his followers to take his body and blood in remembrance of Him. This excerpt did not call on christians to forgo birthdays, all it did was to inform christians on what to remember. This is about His death alright but it does not annul all other events. There are so many pillar events in the bible that champion the christian faith, events like the Transfiguration, Wedding at Cannan, Sermon on the Mount and the Birth of Christ. Now, if these events were not worth remembering/important for the efficiency of the christian life, I doubt the Bible mentioning them. What will be the use of the bible telling us about the birth of Christ if it is not important? The birth of Christ teaches a lot of lessons. Personally, I learnt that its not about where I’m from but where I am going. I can have a humble and poor birth but that does not mean fixation in poverty, I could be great because Christ was born in a manger but ended up as the savior of the world. It wasn’t just the poor He saved, the rich were beneficiaries. Through the events circulating the birth of Christ, one can be aware of God’s power. The power to have a Virgin conceive without sexual intercourse. The power of resisting death in the mist of wicked rulers like King Herod. It teaches us trust and obedience through Joseph‘s actions. You can’t tell the birth of Christ shouldn’t be focused on. That is simply wrong because there are lessons to learn. Birth creates your identity. Why are non-christians called upon to be born-again before entering into the kingdom of God? The bible in the Gospel of John Chapter 3, did not inform us to die-again, it rather required that we be born again. That shows importance with birth. Re-birth was and still is the ticket to God’s kingdom. Birth is identity. Imagine Jesus without an origin? How will we understand his very nature? Birth is and will always be important. Remembering it will not get God furious, He will only disregard your day of emergence if it prevents you from doing what is required. We should be able to draw the line perfectly. A true christian will always cherish the day he/she became born-again. The day they found Christ.
In Ecclesiastes 7:1 (KJV), we are told that “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” Drawing the line well is needed here. There is a difference between “the day of death is better than the day of birth” and “the day of the birth is not important at all.” This Bible verse clearly depicts a Scale of Preference. That does not mean our births are not important? Simple logic should inform one that he/she has seen birth but not death and in effect to that, should work towards a better death. By a better death, I mean living a life with purpose as the late Dr. Myles Munroe will put it. Bill Gates once gave a quote in line with a similar scenario. He said “If you are born poor its not your mistake, But if you die poor its your mistake“. The Bible does not tell us to ignore birth, it needs us to focus and plan towards that which we have not seen, our death.
Hebrews 1:4 (KJV), “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” This verse does not kill or improve Birthdays. All it does is to make humanity aware of the life Christ lived and how that lifestyle gave him an oustanding name compared to that of Angels. It educates us on what we will achieve in case we follow the tread of the Messiah. Inheritance still faces the fact of birth, a benefict acquired from one person to another by virtue of birth or character.
We moved on to the next but most common reason. The Bible mentions birthday celebrations twice and these two celebrants ( Phar′aoh and King Herod) were not servants of God. People died on the only two ocassions mentioned by the Bible. These two occassions are found in Genesis 40:20-22 and Mark 6:21-29.
Genesis 40:20-22 (KJV) “And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.”
Now, Bible spoke about the two occassions because specific events occured. You may say on the birthday of Pharaoh, a baker was killed. But we cannot let this bad event blind us from seeing the glory of God unless we are more poised for pessimism rather than optimism. It is clearly stated that Pharaoh hanged the chief baker as Joseph had interpreted in the king of Egypt’s dream. Let us take note that Pharaoh did not understand the message his dream conveyed and had to call on numerous so-called experts in practises outside God’s law. These evil worshippers were not able to ensure interpretation, Joseph was the only one who did. Now, the birthday was not reason for the death of the chief baker. The reason for his death was Pharaoh’s dream which was later boosted by the interpretation from a servant of God. Without the interpretation, I doubt Pharaoh will have ordered the execution of the chief baker. The site simply happened to redeem Joseph and to show God’s power. It basically shouldn’t be about Pharaoh rather how God used Joseph to reveal the unknown. That is the reason for making us aware of that event. Using that event to label all birthdays bad is stereotypical, very stereotypical. We have all seen a friend celebrate their anniversaries, how many times did the exact situation mentioned in the bible happen in the celebrations we witnessed? The answer is obvious. Bad things may happen but it is not outrageously continuous.
On the birthday of King Herod as stated in Mark 6;21-29 came the death of the voice crying out from the wilderness (John the Baptist). The king’s daughter danced so well King Herod spoke under the influence of alcoholic foolishness and stupidity. He promised to give his daughter whatever she requested and through the negative influence of Herodias, daughter requested for the head of the baptist. Now, the 26th verse of Mark Chapter 6 states ” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.” This also has a lesson to teach. The lesson to be careful and specific with promises. The birthday is mentioned because an event of importance occured, the death of John. It is not mentioned because it in itself is a bad day to be celebrated. Judging birthdays to be wrong just because of two events of deaths that were not planned and one which occured with the help of God’s servant (Joseph) is completely illogical. The Bible never said birthdays were right but it never said they were wrong either. We cannot think for God by our own created analogies. That will be creating our own word and law.
Last reason given. Early Christians did not celebrate their birthdays. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (KJV) “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” Now, in Paul’s book, we are called to follow the path of early christians. It may be true early christians ignored their birthdays. I use “may” because there is no certainty they never did. Now the Bible mentioned birthdays because those two events marked situations worth knowing as explained in the third reason. What if nothing spectacular happened on the birthdays of early christians and with respect to that, the bible chose to ignore such days? God is not trivial, He knows what is important to know and will not give us useless information. Early christians did not celebrate birthdays but that was not the only thing. They also did not speak against birthdays. Now, speaking against birthdays will also mean violating the model early christians used just as celebrating birthdays violates their way of life if you want to perfectly follow that. Birthdays have the potential to incite the positive and negative, so we cannot call anniversaries bad unless those celebrations disregard what God requires of us.
IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT BIRTHDAYS
☆Humanity’s consciousness of growth will be affected inversely. Birthdays automatically informs us of our road to reality (inevitable death). The celebration makes visible the gradual steps of physical development in the celebrant’s life that could have been ignored due to how brutish life is. Every year added to life adds up to one’s philosophy of life. Birthdays are signals to remind humanity of progressiveness. It is important from this limelight. Through this awareness, we can ignore death and enjoy the happiness that time brings.
☆Influence to live well will be little. Birthdays reminds us of the ticking time bomb of death. With that we can be induced to live a life with purpose so as to make the world a much better place. One may say “making the world a much better place is a worldly ambition and outside christianity” but this is definitely wrong considering what God requires of us. Jesus tells us to go out into the world and preach ( Mark 16:15), that is an example of making the world a better place simply because the word carries eternal life from the spectacles of Christianity.
☆No Measure of Works and Records. There is no doubt that age influences our actions strongly. Lets take the females of the human species as an example. Unlike man, woman is restricted when it comes to conception. She is chained by menopause later in her life as far as making babies is concerned. With a birthday, she is constantly reminded of her biological clock and this could be a challenge for her to work harder according to her means if she really needs to be a direct mom according to biology. Her actions are measured just because of her age and birthdays constantly remind her of her age. Feminists have issues with the force society exerts on ladies to marry within the timeline of fecundity but the very biological nature of females makes it difficult to champion such societal complications. Another general explication will be achievements. Imagine a 20 year old owning a $20 million annual profit firm. This will be news only because of the age attached to the owner of such firm. No one will be shocked if the business is owned by a 50 year old. This inspires the young to beat age and time. There are simply deadlines to situations and birthdays emit signals of a progressive age.
☆Appreciations and motivations from birthday remembrance will not be there. I recieve numerous calls, facebook timeline posts from others, letters, WhatsApp messages, gifts and many other forms of appreciation just on one day. That day is my birthday. On your Birthday, people whether they are pretending or not make you more aware of the impact your existence has upon their lives. Now, who doesn’t want to be appreciated for a good course? On my birthday (2015), my 11 year old younger brother wrote a short note that touched me. Now, I don’t think God will be pissed about the letter below. Through the messages received on such a day, one can be inspired to do more at achieving the best.
☆Another example of a more wild animalistic nature will be portrayed. Humans are higher animals, there are just a few things to differentiate us from other species. The ability to maximize our neurological system to challenge the constrains of Environmental Determinism. Social practises like birthday celebrations is another. Now, we don’t just exist without observing where we come from and where we go as other species do. Humans live life. They are aware of the complications of time through maturity and measure this through ages. Every birthday is a mark to the vast span of one’s life.
Achaab Daniel Abalansa
Facebook: Achaab_dan GH