Archive for December, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Trends with benefits

One of the bogus arguments offered in favor of religion is the old “if it makes people happy …” line. They cite studies showing that religious people are happier or more content or find life more fulfilling or some such thing, and then suggest that this is somehow an argument in favor of the truth of the religious proposition, rather than merely a benefit of believing something that may very well be false.

But a new study by some folks at my alma mater suggests that even the psychological benefits of religion may just be the same as the benefits of any sort of group affiliation. The study finds that “it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction.” So maybe it’s not about feeling plugged in to some higher power, or perceiving life to have some special purpose, or even just having something to believe in, but rather, it’s just about having other people to believe it with.

I can’t help but think of this Onion article from years back: “Recently Born-Again Christian Finally Has Social Life”.

(pic captured from Atheist Empire)

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‘Tis the season, again

Well, it’s that time of the year again, when Christians start imagining themselves to be oppressed because their hegemony isn’t absolutely complete, and atheists find themselves wondering if it’s OK to have a coniferous tree in the house and some lights on the roof, and lots of folks are in a bit of a bind over whether to wish people a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever.

My own feeling on the whole greetings topic is (as regular readers might guess) one of “live and let live” (and that’s why I’m not calling this a Sunday Sermon, just a blog post that happens to be going up on a Sunday). Cut people some slack, as long as they’re not being huge jerks about the whole thing. If a greeting seems sincere and well-intentioned, but it turns out to be inappropriately placed (e.g. wishing a non-Christian a Christmas greeting), I say let it slide.

But of course, not all such greetings are innocuous. One of the ironies of the War On The War On Christmas is that there are a lot of folks who are denying the true meaning of Christmas (whatever that is) by using “Merry Christmas” not as a greeting, but as a salvo, a shot across the bow of an imagined enemy in an imaginary war. There are people who say “Merry Christmas” in what they perceive to be a daring act of defiance, uttering a forbidden phrase in brave defense of a religion that only claims 3 out of 4 Americans.

If you find someone doing that, saying “Merry Christmas” as a soft of “you and me against the evil hordes” gesture, I don’t see any problem with politely explaining that you’re one of the hordes. People who make those sort of presumptions, and try to enlist your help in reinforcing their presumptions, deserve to be enlightened about the foible of their worldview.

But most people aren’t like that. Usually, if someone’s wishing you “Merry Christmas,” it’s a misguided but well-intentioned gesture of goodwill. Likewise (though IMO to a lesser extent) with “Happy Holidays” — there might be a few militant types who use it as a cudgel to beat people over the head with the fact that lots of people aren’t celebrating Jesus’ birth, but in general it’s merely a way to wish someone a seasonal greeting, perhaps with an added element of inclusiveness to embrace not only Christians but others as well (note to Christians: Are you celebrating a holiday? Would you like it to be happy? If you answered “yes” to both questions, then you’ve got nothing to complain about).

But what about us? What greetings should we offer? Is it some sort of problem if we wish someone “Merry Christmas”? I don’t think so. Some people may choose to discipline themselves to avoid the phrase they were brought up saying, just as they may choose to discipline themselves to say something other than “bless you” when someone sneezes, but I don’t think it’s worth getting all in a tizzy about your (or someone else’s) choice in that matter. Do it, or don’t do it, as you see fit, and as for what others do, live and let live.

It’s not like Christianity has a trademark (now or any time of the year) on “goodwill toward men” (and women). They co-opted it, just as they co-opted pagan symbols like fir trees and yule logs. Being nice to people isn’t a Christian thing, it’s just a thing. It’s my thing, and it can be your thing too no matter what you believe about imaginary deities.

(pic via Changing Places)