Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Belief, Tradition, Myth and the Insecure Atheist

I think a lot of people maintain a "belief" in god because they fear the apparent void of not believing. The label "atheist", and to a lesser degree "agnostic", suggests a very cold, dark, and unfulfilled existence. To many, the concept of atheism conveys an illusion (and it is an illusion) of immoral living; of a person wandering selfishly amongst the believers doing as he or she pleases because he or she believes he or she can without any consequences, neither present nor in an afterlife. I am atheist. My life has never felt more meaningful, full of purpose, and replete with morality. I enjoy my  life because I know I am good to the earth and the creatures on it for the right reason: because both deserve it. Not because I am afraid of hell. Not because a voice other than my own has told me to. Nope, I am a good person because I control my life and it is the right choice for me to make. I don't think being a believer is the only path to moral living. In fact, since I have found my place in the Humanist approach to life, I feel a greater need to approach each day by the "Golden Rule." And before you tell me that the "Golden Rule" is a Christian creation do your research....it's not. I could get into all of the scientific evidence out there suggesting that charitable, moral living is a genetic trait with all kinds of evolutionary foundations but this is not the time nor place (although a future post will be). Instead, I'd like to talk about Christmas. Not seeing the connection? You shouldn't......yet.

I love Christmas. Everything about it, I love. It is the one period of winter that I enjoy. The snow is fresh and white and the temperature here in Ottawa  is generally humane. I love the cheesy music, even that which celebrates Jesus.  I love getting gifts - admit it, you do too. I love giving gifts (in fact, I bought my wife's the other day and ended up giving it to her within an hour - I  hate waiting). I love Christmas parties. I love all the food and booze. I love the "free pass" everyone seems to get. Free to eat a lot. Free to drink a lot. Free to spend too much money. Free to tell people how much you appreciate them. Free to visit friends on "school nights". Free to put a tree in your home.  There is just an intrinsic sense of good cheer that makes the holiday season a wonderful time. So how does an atheist justify being a Christmas junkie? If you are Christian, especially an argumentative one, I am sure you wish you were sitting in front of me right now ready to pounce on this crock of hypocrisy. Not so fast.

Let me start my "defense" with one simple historical fact: "Christmas" as we know it (late December celebration of the birth of Christ) was, and I say this respectfully without dramatic intent , hijacked by Christianity. I'm not upset by this. I have no problem with, and in fact quite enjoy, nativity scenes and songs about the birth of Christ. I even miss going to Church on Christmas Eve - one of the best memories of my childhood (maybe I will go this year). In fact, I think Christianity has done some great work with a celebration of the winter solstice that existed long before Christ was thrust  into fame. The difference between how I celebrate Christmas and how believers celebrate Christmas is that I approach it as a celebration of a fictional myth whereas the believer celebrates a literal historical event of supernatural quality. I love the story of Christ in spite of the fact that I don't believe anything more than the idea that he was born to a woman named Mary and that he spent his time on earth spreading a message of love, charity, and good will. The concept of him using the "vehicle" of divinity to spread this message speaks to the fact that he was probably delusional, mentally ill, and alive during a time of limited explanation for mundane, worldly phenomenon. I also consider the idea that maybe he knew exactly what he was doing; not believing in God  at all, but knowing that such an outrageous claim would be the perfect spectacle to bring attention to his noble message. In the end who really knows and, I would argue, care what the truth on Jesus is? The important point here is that I feel comfortable celebrating Christmas because I celebrate the fun, romantic, mythical element of it without believing in it literally. It does not bother me as an atheist to celebrate the fictionally divine birth of a man named Jesus who spread messages of morality even though I know some believe the story literally.  I even enjoy the story of him being considered the son of God. I, of course, don't believe this but think it is a great piece of the story revealing how far science has come bringing us to a point where we no longer need this belief to explain so many elements of our existence. In other words, I enjoy the divine element of the Christmas story much like I enjoy a good Grisham. It's a nice way to escape reality without ceasing my belief in reality.

My comfort level with Christmas is illustrated in my "conservative" thoughts on how  politically correct Canada has become during the Christmas season, often at the hands of insecure Atheists. While I certainly welcome and enjoy displays of other celebrations such as Hanukkah and Kwanza, I find it absolutely ridiculous when people suggest Christmas trees should be referred to as "Holiday Trees" or schools should cancel Christmas parties to avoid insulting non-Christians. The fact is that Canada was founded by believers in the Judeo-Christian faiths. Our history is based on this and we will (and should) always have traditions based on these once-held beliefs. I am secure enough in my non-belief to support the maintenance of national heritage through the celebration of traditions, like Christmas, that originated from that which I don't believe. I challenge other Atheists to quit the insecure attack on the Christmas season and allow this great celebration of tradition, myth, and heritage enhance their already liberating atheist living.

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