Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Joining the club


Sometimes people ask me if I feel “left out” at this time of year (full disclosure: nobody asks me that, I just said it as a way of introducing this post). My reply (full disclosure, this “reply” is entirely in my imagination) is, “On the contrary, this is the time of year I feel most included.” Here’s why:

At this time of year, there’s a big to-do about a magical being who knows if you’ve been bad or good, who sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake, etc., and who can do magical things like visiting billions of homes in a single night, defying all the known laws of physics.

And it’s pretty obvious that there are lots of people who actually believe in this magical being. And everybody kind of gets the message that it would be really uncool to tell these people that they’re wrong, or even to express the opinion that these people are wrong. There’s a very strong sense that we should all just play along, so these people don’t get disillusioned by having their mistake revealed to them.

In other words, the holiday season is when everybody over the age of about 8 gets a taste of what it’s like to be an atheist.

Happy holidays, everybody!

Sunday Sermon: Tardis edition

I really should have written this a few weeks ago, given the subject matter, but let’s just pretend I have a time machine and that this is still December:

Something that occurs to me is that being an atheist is kind of like being a grownup at Christmastime. We have this shared knowledge that’s not polite to express in public, because there are still folks who believe in the magical bearded man, even though we know he isn’t real.

And I wonder if a lot of atheists are people who grew out of Santa Claus, and then just kept on growing. I mean, at some point as a grownup (or semi-grownup), you start going along with the program, and you knowingly let the little kids have their silly fantasies about Santa.

And you do this because you know that it’s relatively harmless and that one day they’ll grow out of it and come to realize Christmas isn’t really about some silly notion of a guy who lives at the North Pole and rides a magic sleigh full of toys.

It’s really about how the son of God was born to a virgin after being immaculately conceived as part of a grand plan for God to forgive mankind for having the sinful nature God gave them … and then you start going “Hmmm …”

‘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)

Sunday Sermon: A not-so-even Keillor

Garrison Keillor, whom I usually admire, goes a bit off the rails in this rant about Christmas (which prompted this response from Gina Welch, among others).  Here’s where I think Keillor goes off the rails: “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah“? No, we didn’t.”

I have to confess, if it weren’t Garrison Keillor, I’d wonder if there might be some anti-Semitism there. I understand what he’s getting at (it’s interesting that there are lots of Christmas/holiday/winter songs written by Jews), and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps only because I’m a fan.

But the problem is, he’s objecting to a Unitarian church where ” ‘Silent Night’ has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God” because it violates his own sense of propriety and tradition, but he’s badmouthing lots and lots of songs — “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting …”) to name just a few — that are just as much a part of lots of other people’s holiday traditions as “Silent Night” (in its original, pristine version, written 18 centuries after the event it describes) is for Keillor.

It’s sort of like George Carlin’s observation about highway driving — everyone you’re tailgating is an idiot, and everyone tailgating you is a maniac. Keillor seems to think that traditions are to be kept and revered and maintained in static form forever and never criticized, except when they’re someone else’s traditions.

P.S. This will probably be my last Sunday Sermon — and perhaps my last post — for the year. I’m off on a week’s vacation in sunny Vieques, Puerto Rico, and I’m not sure I’ll be posting from there. It’s been a wonderful year for this blog — special thanks to Parenting Beyond Belief and its readers’ suggestion I start my RSS feed — and hopefully the new year will bring still more good tidings or whatever folks like us are supposed to call them. Thanks!

(pic via Curmudgeonly & Skeptical)

Sunday Sermon: Who Would Jesus Boycott?

Let’s say you’re a fine upstanding Christian organization, and you decide to put “Christ” back in “Christmas” (and take it out of “Christian”) by disobeying Jesus and casting judgment.

And let’s say that in this stone-throwing campaign, you’ve tried to ruin a business because you thought they didn’t use “Christmas” in their advertising , but it turns out they’d already used it before you called for the boycott.

What do you do when it becomes obvious that you’ve borne false witness? Why, declare victory, of course.

That’s what the AFA did in its yearly “Naughty or Nice Christmas List” after falsely claiming The Gap didn’t mention Christmas in its ads after it had already run ads mentioning Christmas.

(pic via Zen Comix)

Season’s greetings

‘Tis the season, not only for corny holiday cliches, but for bickering about the proper way to wish people a happy merry whatever.

Here’s a suggestion: Let’s try to have one consistent standard. If you don’t want to hear Christians whining about being greeted with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings,” then don’t whine about people greeting you with “Merry Christmas.”

Not because it’s the same — it’s not. There’s a big difference between being inclusive (e.g. “season” or “holidays”) and being exclusive (referring to one specific religion’s holiday, e.g. “Christmas”).

But the principle is, if someone’s trying to be nice, do you give them some credit for that, or do you sneer at their attempt just because it doesn’t measure up to your standards, or meet your preferences?

On the other hand, if you want to preserve the right to complain loudly and vociferously about  being wished “Merry Christmas” (and you don’t mind that you’re playing into every negative stereotype about atheists being “strident” or “militant” or “politically correct” or whatever), then understand that other people have just as much right to complain, just as loudly and vociferously, about being wished “happy holidays” or whatever.

Sure, complaining about insufficient inclusivity isn’t the same as complaining about insufficient exclusivity, but free speech is free speech, even for people who are wrong or stupid or bigoted or whatever. So pick a standard, and stick with it.

(pic via Atheist Holiday Greeting Cards — collect them all!)

Putting the “X” back in Xmas

atheist_christmasIs it time for the War on Christmas already? It’s not even Halloween!

Well, maybe not just yet (although I’m sure I’ll be nice and busy in a month or so), but there’s already a minor stir across the pond about a book that, among other things, addresses how atheists can try to get along with other people during the holiday season (hence my interest).

Ariane Sherine, the creator of England’s atheist bus campaign, has a new book out, “The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas.” It’s a collection of essays from atheists ranging from Richard Dawkins to Simon Le Bon (yes, of Duran Duran).

The book has made a bit of a splash across the pond, in English newspapers the Guardian and the Times, and a Guardian blogger (apparently himself an atheist) mentions the book in a column suggesting that atheism (or at least “New Atheism”) is classist. Sherine herself attempts to set him straight.

As for myself, I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea to look down on people of another class (even a “higher” one), but at the same time I don’t think it’s our fault that atheists tend to be better educated than theists, or that better educated people tend to make more money and occupy higher positions in society (though it’s worth noting that I’ve got 2 college degrees and I’ve been unemployed for 10 months now).

At any rate, being smug or arrogant is never polite, even when it’s justified.