2010-12-25

Atheist Christmas

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Incarnation of Vishnu/Krishna
Image by ellenm1 via Flickr

I was going to keep this a Christmas-free zone but the quiet here today is screaming at me to say something. I can understand atheists in Western countries who feel uncomfortable with Christmas. There it is closely tied up with religious associations.

The strength of these religious trappings varies, I am sure, with each cultural locale. There are many who can and do love Christmas without giving a thought to its religious origins.

While living in Asia I could not resist asking some Chinese whom I knew were either Buddhists or Taoists, if anything, why they were wearing Santa hats and wishing all and sundry Merry Christmas. Their answer: “It’s Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas.”

I even saw a Moslem girl happily wearing a Santa cap over her head-scarf.

But seeing Christmas being celebrated alongside the Chinese New Year alongside Deepavali alongside Hari Raya and a half dozen others it drove home to me that it just one of many social rituals that would have to be invented if it did not exist from time immemorial. Humans are social creatures and rituals are important to us as social creatures and that’s that. There’s always room for the odd individual to bow out for a time, shorter or longer.

The fact that it has religious associations probably has more to do with the centrality of religion in the lives of people than with the festival itself, if that makes sense.

Here are a couple of other views:

http://mwillett.org/atheism/atheistchristmas.htm

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10 Comments

  • robertb
    2010-12-25 17:55:58 UTC - 17:55 | Permalink

    Merry Christmas, Neil.

    • 2010-12-25 20:11:05 UTC - 20:11 | Permalink

      Oh all right, I’ll stop being a Grinch. Merry Christmas everyone. (Ouch!)

      • 2010-12-26 10:06:46 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

        Yeah. Merry Christmas.

        I see that some progressive Christians (liberal is a dirty word here in the U.S.) have found a way to appreciate the non-literal meaning of Christmas. Take Pastor Susan, for example:

        http://progressivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/taking-the-christmas-story-seriously-%E2%80%93-but-not-literally/

        It didn’t work that way for me. When I discovered in my teens that the Bible was untrustworthy, the whole thing fell apart like some beautiful blown-glass figurine — magnificently intricate and awe-inspiring in one moment, a pile of ugly shards in the next.

        Neil, I suppose that’s why the middle-road historicists get so upset when you question their methodology. When they had their crisis of faith they didn’t slide all the way down the slippery slope. They reached out and found the historical Jesus branch. Some found a way to reconcile it with a continuing faith in Christ. Others didn’t. You keep saying, “You’re holding onto nothing but circular arguments. Let go!” But they don’t want to let go. It was bad enough falling the first time.

        • pearl
          2010-12-26 15:52:51 UTC - 15:52 | Permalink

          I remember reading years ago Why Christianity Must Change or Die by John Shelby Spong, the book mentioned in the link you offered, Tim. I guess I don’t think in terms of a slippery slope, although I might if I had a career invested in religion such as the pastor writing the post. Books like that were just part of a journey for me, a journey that continues with lovely curiosity, not hampered by predetermined goals. It’s not about falling for me; it’s about expanding.

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  • Bob Carlson
    2010-12-25 19:20:11 UTC - 19:20 | Permalink

    According to this site, even the tradition of gift giving had a pagan origin, preceding the time that those who believe in the historicity of Jesus suppose he was born. The colorful, secular nature of the celebration is spelled out in this composition titled I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, that evidently dates back to the 1950s, because I remember that we had the 78 rpm recording when I was a kid, This can be enyoyed even by your readers who aren’t of Scandinavian descent, so, as the end of the piece says:

    Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
    But I still have lots of fun,
    Yust da same as you, I enyoy it too,
    MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE.

  • Mike Wilson
    2010-12-26 04:00:03 UTC - 04:00 | Permalink

    That is an awesome idol. I need one for the campus interfaith chapel. Merry X-mas!

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