As I was preparing for this upcoming holiday season (Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Years) I had ample opportunity to do a little thinking about what Xmas means to me and why, despite being an Atheist, I celebrate and anticipate this holiday with so much excitement and fond recollection.
As a child Xmas was a time of wonderment, Santa Claus, Reindeer, colorful decorations, candy, toys, music, trees, friends, warm and kindly visits with neighbors and relatives. But, mostly there was this butterfly-like thrill in my gut associated with the glut of Xmas morning. For a child what could be better? Once a year I was treated like a prince and showered with gifts and warm memories.
One of the somewhat unique features of Xmas at my house was the lack of religious teachings, or at least I never really noticed any. There were never Xmas Eve service away from home, never any forced attendance of special services or whatever Xians do on this holiday. No, my Xmas very secular, personal, family oriented and perfect (for us).
Fast Forward to the present.
I still insist on saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to my patients when they leave my office. I don’t feel that anyone should ever take offense to someone’s well wishing. This is foolish reasoning. There is nothing more abrasive about wishing someone a Merry Xmas than there is saying ‘have a nice day’. Why would I care if a Xian wished me a Happy Easter or offered to pray for me? Both may be a complete waste of time, but they are kind offerings and hurt nobody!
For me, in the end, Christmas is a Traditional time to spoil my children, and Wife. It is a time of the year when I try to do extra for other people who may be less fortunate than myself. I put money in the salvation army bucket, I read my 3 year old ‘The night Before Christmas’, I even watch that dumb movie about the BB Gun. I love Xmas, I love what it has brought to me and my family.
I am really curious how other Atheists approach this holiday. Do any of you have fond memories of Xmas past? Is Xmas just a pain in you ass? Does a stranger wishing you ‘Merry Christmas’ piss you off?
Credulity may be a form of innocence, and even innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities. Hitchens God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
West Virginia Salvation has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.
A Muslim friend and colleague of mine made the remark to me yesterday that Atheists seem to focus on making fun of religions. He pointed out that some of my criticisms and comments seemed more like playground taunting than real scriptural or theological debate. I didn’t have a ready answer for him, but I tried to allay his concerns a bit. My wife has expressed a similar concern with my style of criticism.
I don’t think my approach to Theists and their corresponding beliefs are vastly different from other Atheists. Frankly, I do find humor in certain, if not most beliefs, simply because a lot of them are silly and very simplistic. Additionally I would like to say that I am not above Faith, ritual belief, superstition and belief in intuition. I make choices based on ‘gut feelings’ all the time. I can fully accept that these are a bit silly, but persist nonetheless.
I think I felt a little indignant with my friends comment, simply because it devalues what I am trying to do with my life; that is pursue a wholesome and truth filled life that adheres to a creed of non-coercive behavior and focus on family, nature and science. Similarly I can see why a Theist may hold this view of Atheism, as we often simplify and deduce fallacy in what they highly value.
Maybe all of this is my ‘Sympathetic Atheist’ side talking, but what value is there in undercutting a pleasant, friendly, non-threatening Theist’s beliefs? How far can you go before you simply become a ‘Witness of Atheism’, when is it simply reverse proselytizing?
Addendum: I unwittingly titled this post Sympathetic Atheism, which to my chagrin is a direct plagiarism of my friend Sabio’s post “Sympathetic Atheist” (at least in title and spirit.) Please follow the links to his seminal blog on the subject!!! This is a good illustration of how we Humans pick up on what appears like a good idea and then claim it as original thought.
We must also confront the fact that evolution is, as well as smarter than we are, infinitely more callous and cruel, and also capricious. Investigation of the fossil record and the record of molecular biology shows us the approximately 98 percent of all the species that have ever appeared on earth have laspsed into extinction. Christopher Hitchen God is not Great
Part 2 of My Coffee Chat With a Methodist Preacher
I was curious what TP’s opinion of Gays in the church was and what he thought about the sudden onset of a tornado soon after the Minneapolis Luthern Church made a decision about homosexuals in the church. I figured if he thought tornadoes were God’s wrath for Gay’s the likelihood of our finding any common ground for discussion was zilch.
TP has a very interesting, if not slightly confused impression of what it means to be gay. I called him out on some of his assumptions. Largely he feels that homosexuality is not an abomination of God, or particularly sinful, but he frankly said that ‘it is just wrong.’ He made the comment that he has a few gay friends and their life is miserable, presumably because they are gay.
My counter to his argument was that if a Gay person’s life is miserable it is not because of being gay, but more likely because of society’s (Society: amalgamation of the institutions of education, religious, social and political) oppression and overt hatred of gayness. Either this, or they are just miserable people, like any hetero person may be.
TP seemed to concede a little on this point, but did make the trite remark that not doing God’s Will ultimately creates a division between you and the Holy Spirit. Obviously being Heterosexual is God’s Will.
To drive my point home further, I explained to him that we see a lot of species in the wild that use homosexual pair bonding for purposes of protection, alliance formation and when there is a lack of females. I have recently become familiar with the term ‘homosociality’ which I love.
I wanted to know if he thought gay to straight conversions could be made through the Power of Christ. He admitted that he did not know of any ‘cure’ for gay people (men or women). But that a person has control over their actions, no matter what they feel inside. He made a point about a relative with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He notes that even though she is fraught with problems of spasticity and physical limitations, she does everything in her power to try and combat her illness and take therapeutic medications when available. So, she tries not to be handicap in public…hmmm.
So, apparently being gay is a disease, punctuated by failure of will, ultimately leading people to unholy practices which will ultimately take them out of God’s Grace and deliver them to Hell.
Geez, God must really hate humans!
Due to the length of time we talked and the vast, somewhat disparate spectrum of material we covered I will make several smaller posts, rather than one large post.
So, I met with The Pastor (TP) for the first time today. We met at a local coffee shop in our town. We spent over 90 minutes gently jousting most ideas back and forth and some other’s with conviction that you would expect from and Atheist and a Baptist raised Methodist Preacher. There were moments that we chided one another’s beliefs and assumption, occasionally even laughing at each other, as well as, with one another. But in general the meeting was congenial, expository, cursory and yet ripe with promise for future focused discussions. And there was NO talk of Hell, Damnation, nor of my lack of baptism! I mention this because I very plainly told him that I am an Atheist, always have been and likely will always be one.
When we first met in the parking lot we said hello and shook hands. TP apologized for being a few minutes late, mentioning that as soon as he was preparing to leave his office, ‘everybody needed something.’ I replied ‘they were probably wondering why you wanted to hang out with a heretic like me!’ He chuckled and responded ‘I didn’t tell anybody about you.’ We collectively chuckled and the tone of the meeting was now set.
I will start with what is probably the most contentious and obvious disagreement we had. Keep in mind, I like this guy, and I can’t wait to have another, more focused meeting.
One of the take home messages that I found sort of irritating was that he iterated several times that he does not consider me an Atheist. His impression is that I am a ‘Seeker.’ So, naturally I asked him what he meant by the term seeker. TP seemed to confuse my desire to take an interest in learning more about the Christian faith with my true intention, which is to learn more about WHY people adhere to the Christian faith. The fact that I am a scientist seemed to strengthen his argument. His impression is that I am searching for ‘The Truth.’ Frankly, I am seeking answers, but I am not seeking them in archaic textbooks about heavenly deities or mortal God-men. I am seeking answers through, at times, laborious study and repetition of outcomes.
After talking with him for a while, I think I understand the Christian Mind (the sane ones at least) a little better. For TP anyone with curiosity, virtue, good moral character, etc can only be doing God’s work. The argument would be that the opposite actions would be inherently evil and therefore Satan’s work or more politely, separate from God. For a non-theist like myself, I really am only doing what comes natural to me without ever once pleading with God for direction, special treatment, wisdom, safety…etc.
Lastly for this post, I did ask him bluntly if he was feeling apostate toward his religion. He smiled and we chatted a bit, but you know he never did say no…