So, you’re an atheist. You are sitting on your couch watching Rocky II about to eat a baby when all of the sudden you hear a knock at your door. Who could it be at 8 p.m. at night? You were not expecting company and your Satan-worshiping orgy is not scheduled until 11 p.m. What do you do? Do you get up and answer it- or do you wait until they leave? You are obviously confused because it’s not Halloween and besides it’s a school night. What’s going on? You are reluctant, but you finally decide to see who’s pounding at your door as if you were stuck in some hellish Edgar Alan Poe story. Right as you’re opening the door, you peer over at your calendar depicting an upside-down crucifixion and you see that it’s December 24th- Christmas Eve! You regret opening the door, but it’s already too late, for even though you’re an atheist you are not rude, contrary to popular belief. In front of you there are a dozen people standing around in neat little rows wearing ear-muffs and dressed in bright colors. They hold torches and they are yelling at you ferociously. What have you done!
As you stand there, you are sure your life is going to end, but then something twisted happens, you start feeling a warm tingling in your chest. The yelling continues but as it goes on, curious things begin to happen and soon you realize that what these people are holding are not torches but candles, and that the shouting is not shouting but singing. Carolers! These people are singing Christmas carols! You stand there awkwardly watching them rape you internally with their harmonious chanting until at last they leave. There is nothing you could have done. And you’re just standing at your door defeated, destroyed, stripped away of all pride. Your baby waiting to be eaten, is on the carpet. Rocky is living out his life on screen. Your desire to have that once-pleasurable Satanic orgy gone. Once again Christmas won.
If this has ever happened to you, don’t feel bad, you’re not the first atheist it has happened to. Which is why, I have written The Atheist Guide to Surviving the Holidays. With this guide, you and all your god-forsaken friends will be able to enjoy the holidays free from people interrupting you while you’re trying to eat a baby, have a satanic orgy, or free from any shitty Kirk Cameron movies within a 10 mile radius. Actually I wouldn’t even want to subject my worst enemy to that last one.
So hopefully you don’t find yourself in one of those we-interrupted-your-baby-eating-party situations that often, but if you do then perhaps you as an atheist, or a theist (if you guys actually read this blog), can relate at least in the most superficial of levels. And hopefully you have some kind of sense of humor because as many differences as we have as believers or non-believers, we have one major thing in common, and that is that we both know you’re full of bul… errr… I mean we’re both human and we all share this planet, so we might as well get along. Or learn to stand each other. Having said that, we got some shit we have to square off.
The New Atheists
From a very early age, most people are taught that beliefs should be respected, that they are sacred, that they are to be listened to and honored, and it is easy to see why most people would expect this logic to be perfectly rational, after all, beliefs are just ideas that have been passed down from generation to generation to become tradition. However, when these beliefs are questioned by people outside of the scope of those traditions, instead of taking a double take on those beliefs ourselves, we usually resort to the route of offense, we scream and fuss and we tend to insult the beliefs of others in spite. It seems that the society that we have grown up under has made us believe that the beliefs we hold have some kind of blanket immunity over them and they are not inscrutable or question-proof and that we not only have a right to spread them, but that we must protect them at any cost no matter how ridiculous those beliefs might seem. In fact, by the time we reach adulthood, whatever it is that has become a family, or societal, traidition is so well-grounded in the psychology of our being that it is often hard to critically think about them from a third-party persepctive and look at them with a critical eye. By the time we reach adulthood- which is the time when we’re supposed to think critically about the world- whatever it is we believe, is so ingrained in us that it often seem easier to just take these thoughts and ideas at face value than to uproot them, reevaluate them and plant new ideas in the still-fertile grounds of our minds. So usually when someone does the job for us, we tend to fuss and throw a fit instead of giving the question a chance. This is more evident in ideas that have been passed down for thousands of years and hundreds of generations, ideas that even as dangerous as they are, have had the opportunity to brew and grow their ugly roots in our minds to invade not only our very humanity but also our reason- ideas such as religion.
Regardless of what the boring constitution of our country might say, or who our forefathers were or what they said, most people still hang on to a misplaced belief that a country like the United States was founded on Christian principles, and we grow up believing that to have some form credibility with the people around us we are expected to have these beliefs and exhibit them whenever possible, precisely because the majority of the population think just like us. Unfortuately this is not the case, and some people definitely picked up on that- we’ll call them atheists.
Ever since the dawn of man there’s been two kinds of atheists, what I like to call “night atheists” and “day atheists”. As you no doubt have guessed, the former kind are the type of atheists that are passive, non-confrontational, these are the types who hate the bible-thumpin’ crowds and who hate anything to do with god, or gods for that matter, but that wouldn’t raise any alarms to make themselves known. Whether it is to keep some form of civility, or because they don’t care enough to change the status-quo, these are the type of non-believers who are content enough being in the shadows, hence “night atheists”. Now I am not blaming these people for the kind of bullshit the rest of us have put up with, because after all, being an atheist in a few eras in history got you hanged- if you were lucky- and tortured horribly until death if you weren’t. But I will say that their silence has allowed some of the worst human rights abuses in history to continue unchecked.
But then there is the other kind of atheists. These are the kind that you have heard about lately; these are outspoken individuals who use smart counter-arguments, who use reason and who back up their findings with science and proof, and some of them even have written important documents that many nations still base their laws upon, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These are the “day-atheists”, people who no longer have to be afraid to be persecuted or who simply don’t give a shit to be. They consider reason and the right from religion a part of what’s written in these important documents and they believe that we all have a right to not believe in bullshit.
They also go by another cute, little moniker that a lot of people of faith are already pre-emptively attacking for fear that this new “thing” might spread further than they’d want it to- they are called the “New Atheists“. Outspoken men and women who no longer put up with religion for the sake of civility, in other words, guerrilla fighters on paper who are waging a war on religion in favor of reason and to destroy the dogmas that it creates and the progress that it stifles. Men and women like the group some hilariously dub the “Four Horsemen” – Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and now Ayaan Hirsi Ali– are part of this new wave of counter-culture that has been a growing movement to denounce the influence (mostly counter-productive) of religion in our society. And with them, a growing swarm of people willing to join the ranks and “come out of the atheist closet” sometimes against their own families to fight for what is also their rights as well as non-believers, and non-confromists.
Now, if this sounds a little alarmist, it isn’t, and I will explain why.
A History of Christmas
Sometime back in the year 0, a white Middle-Eastern Jew was born out of wedlock when Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Yeshua before he changed his name, had an affair with the all-powerful, all-mighty god creator of the universe. As they engaged in this libidinous relationship- much in the same manner the earlier Greek god Zeus laid all the women (mortal and immortal) at Mount Olympus some two thousand years earlier- Joseph, Jesus’ adopted dad, worked hard as a mechanic…err… carpenter at his shop to sustain the poor family. As a virgin (although I don’t know how since she was already married to Joseph), the young Mary suddenly became pregnant much to Joseph’s chagrin. But convinced by Mary that it could be possible, Joseph then willingly accepted young Jesus as his son sharing the responsibility of co-fatherhood, with the omnipotent, omnivore god- who by the way never paid Mary child-support, but who did make up for it by giving him a third of the universe to be shared between all three godly figures (YWHW [pronounced Yaweh], Yeshua or Jesus and the White Dove or Holy Spirit, essentially the same deity).
Meanwhile, as Mary was about to give birth in a rather rural hospital, the lord our god was up in heaven looking for other virgins to deflower. Just then, something wonderful happened to young Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus was born on September or May or June of the year -7, or -2 or 0 or something nobody can now agree on. All alone in that barn, the newly-born Yeshua, was visited by three men- the so-called Wise Men- who were thought to be sorcerers or kings from far-away lands. And without giving it a second thought, the new parents received them and the gifts they brought with them which were myrrh, frankincense, and gold. What a show-off the guy who brought gold, or what stingy motherfuckers the other two who brought myrrh and frankincense, but anyways that’s what they brought the young little Jew. And thus the tradition of Christmas was born. A little weird that Christmas- derived from the word Christ, itself derived from the word “cross”, derived from the fact that he was crucified- is still celebrated as the giving of gifts on the day of Jesus’ birth.
Many years later, around the year 300 A.D., a man known as Nicholas (now Saint Nicholas) inspired by the tale of Jesus and the Three Wise Men, began to secretly give gifts to the people in his village. That tradition stuck over the years, well past his death, and continued to evolve into the monstrosity that it is today, which has been hijacked by corporations to sell more and more junk to the parents over-caffeinated spoiled little brats who expect the gold when they deserve the myrrh.
Anyways, over the years, various countries celebrated the tradition differently but always sticking to the rule-book set by the Vatican. Eventually symbols were added, and meals were prepared. Some of those symbols represent Christ’s suffering such as the green wreaths that you hang on your door which are supposed to be his crown of thorns; while other symbols are pagan symbols stolen, or “borrowed”, by the church such as the ubiquitous Christmas tree which represents the pagan adoration of nature. Bet you didn’t know that shit, did you?
And voila! Christmas happened!
Why Should You Care?
Well you shouldn’t really. But if all of what I just mentioned doesn’t come across as silly or unbelievable then perhaps there is no hope for you already. However, if I have sparked your interest just a little bit with my history of Christmas (available on tape and CD), which by the way I can verify and document thoroughly…by going to Wikipedia, then maybe there is hope for you, my secretly closeted atheist. Don’t worry, unlike being gay, being atheist is not something you’re born with… or perhaps it is, before beign indcotrinated.
What you consider Christmas, or other holidays such as Saint Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s, or the very, very pagan Easter Day which in it of itself is a godly mess, has become nothing more than tradition. A celebration of shit we don’t know and couldn’t care less about in order to sell/buy stuff. There is no clearer example of how our understanding of these “sacred” traditions have become twisted than in the way we shop. Because nothing says “I’m thankful for everything I have” after a plentiful Thanksgiving meal than to bunch up like cattle at a slaughterhouse at 6 pm that same day ready to kill the person who puts their greasy hands on the only 52 inch tv that was advertised just for you.
The tradition of Christmas has gone so far off the rails from what it originally was supposed to be, or what was intended to be, that to insult the institution is no more wrong than for theists to insult the winter solstice- perhaps less wrong, since the winter solstice is a verifiable natural phenomenon. But does that give anyone license to become a grinch to what other people hold dear? Well, I think the rule of thumb here is “Don’t be an asshole”.
This has never been asked to me personally, but I do know atheists who have been posed this question- “If you’re an atheist, why do you celebrate a Christian holiday?” The answer is not only simple, but it’s also amusing. We as atheists celebrate Christmas for the same reason Christians celebrate the pagan holiday that you know as Halloween or All Hollows Eve. It has become so common for this melting pot of a country to engage in foreign celebrations that it’s not necessary for anyone to be of any specific race or creed to celebrate anyone else’s holiday- or not celebrate it, after all, not a lot of people outside of the Vietnamese community celebrate the Vietnamese New Year. So, really to say that we can’t celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day because not all of us are Irish, it’s irrelevant. Besides, I’m pretty sure that like Christmas, Saint Patrick’s has changed a lot over the generations and what we now associate as a holiday to get completely plastered perhaps it was once something actually worthy of celebration- perhaps I’m wrong and that is the point of Saint Patrick’s. It is allowed to celebrate Christmas and Saint Patrick’s at least in a superficial level, after all who doesn’t like getting presents! And for free! Besides, celebrating holidays is a great way to interact and bond with other humans of different backgrounds and to learn the traditions of other cultures.
Another reason why we celebrate Christian holidays is simply because there aren’t enough scientific holidays to celebrate, or ones that have been sanctioned to be celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm as the ones already in place. There is no Marie Curie Day where you get to take off work and eat atom-shaped candy, or Copernicus Day where you give the people you love brand new telescopes. We do have Pi Day but that’s still picking up steam as of the time of publication of this blog. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t push to institute scientific knowledge into our every day lives. We simply need more holidays to celebrate the scientific achievements and we need to make them universal because scientific discoveries do not just benefit one or two countries, they benefit the entire human race. But there’s not a strong enough effort to get these holidays established- yet.
If you, however, don’t wish to celebrate the holidays, it’s not okay to go up to people on the street and pick a fight; or to yell out the nonexistence of Santa Claus in a playground, that’s just not cool. It is okay to express your opinion when asked. By this I’m not being a traitor to the cause. As an outspoken atheist, how I would wish to inform everyone that the ritual they hold so dear to their hearts is based on a myth, and a ridiculous one at that. But for the sake of peace, I am willing to keep my mouth shut until I am engaged in that conversation. And if the point was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, then the least we could do is be honest and celebrate the birth of a great man, not a god, not the son of god, but just a man. A man who erred, a man who held secrets, and a man who despite living in a very violent time, wished for the world to unite through peace- so far as we know- but a man nonetheless. How fucking ironic that millions have died in his name, but that’s for another day.
How to Celebrate Christmas
And now I think it’s time we get to the highly anticipated issue of what to rename the holidays. Do we say Merry Christmas, or do we say Happy Holidays? What could we possibly do about this? Honestly, who gives a shit! In my opinion, modern atheists are devoting too much time to things that do not really matter in the grand scheme of things. We do not have to be going around changing everything around the world we don’t like if it doesn’t affect us in the most personal of levels, after all nobody would dream of changing Cinco De Mayo just because we’re not Mexican- then again, I don’t know a lot of Mexicans who actually celebrate it.
Unless we are being forced to stand up in front of a full classroom and recite the words “under god” (a ritual that borders on ultra-nationalism), there’s no reason to kick up a fuss about saying “Merry Christmas” during Christmas or “bless you” when someone sneezes, this will not betray your atheist principles, trust me. More than being actual signs of religiosity, they are phrases of politeness- but you as an atheist are not forced to say them. Similarly, others should observe our right not to be involved in religious rituals, especially those which concern the mixing of church and state institutions, such as schools. These are the types of battles that we should be fighting instead of trying to rename holidays. It is much more important to fight for the rights of atheist children (or “freethinkers” since the word “atheist” is usually given a bad connotation) than to go around and bash every person who wishes you a merry Christmas.
Instead of engaging every person you come across with not merely your atheism but your anti-theism, I suggest we focus on the big-picture stuff, like how to wage a better war on Christmas. Ho ho ho. I joke of course. Then again, there are people who still suggest that Christmas is being threatened by the atheists who only make up about 14% of the American population. I say, bollocks! If you see the latest figures on how much money is being spent on Christmas, I’d say the only thing that is threatened around this time of year, is keeping a full wallet.
And what about this gift-giving? No one needs a holiday to do a good deed for someone else. If you can find it in your heart to be generous, you will be generous no matter what. I do agree that holidays serve an important role in the way that humans interact with each other. The purpose of Christmas doesn’t have to be materialistic in the least bit, you don’t have to give your family and friends the most expensive gift you can find, for the only thing that would prove would be that you are more concerned with the material aspect of it; in the same context, if you as a person expect to get an expensive gift, then even you are missing the point of Christmas. I suggest that instead of teaching kids to be expectant of expensive gifts, we should teach them the value of things, and especially the value of those things that are not material, like charity and patience, dilligence and kindness. I’m obviously not suggesting that kids shouldn’t expect to see anything under the tree, but they also need to know that there are people less fortunate than them and that it is only human to be charitable when possible while working hard to earn what you have earned. Depending on how you celebrate the holiday, it is better to focus on the fact that your family is together for the sake of being a family. And if you have a dysfunctional family, then what better setting to bring everyone you hate together in one place to finally break it to them. Am I right?
“But what about lying to my kids about Santa Claus?” you may ask.
As an atheist I understand the conundrum of letting your kids believe in ridiculous concepts like Santa Claus or the equally ridiculous history of Christmas, or the dozens of other elements centered on holidays that will make your head spin if you think about them longer than 10 seconds. And as always, the best solution is critical thinking and common sense.
Kids need certain fantastical elements in their young minds to associate a new and changing world to the reality, and yes, sometimes to cope with child-related stress. This is no different than what adults do every single day by seeking comfort in things like music, television, books, or simply by talking to themselves. It is a way to relieve your already cluttered mind and letting it rest from the perils of reality. No reason to deny it, we all do it, on a daily basis. However, this doesn’t mean that you as a parent are forced to blatantly lie to your children. If asked by a child if Santa Claus is real, you dont have to be cruel about it, or lie about it. A well-tailored truth will suffice, but a truth nonetheless. Follow the same logic you would use if your young child asked you about sex- be truthful but mindful that it is a child asking not a college student (Perhaps you should explain it to both of them the same way). Instead teach your children- and yourselves for that matter- about critical thinking, and let them make that decision by themselves based on the evidence they have found. If you give them the tools to discover the world, trust me that they have the capacity and drive to do it by themselves.
This seems simple enough, but I assure you, it will test your own interpretations of your beliefs and it will force you take that old thinking cap out of the the proverbial closet and make you wonder if it still fits. But in the end, the reward of looking at the world outweights whatever fantasy you can conjure, for reality is so much more beautiful than the myth.
So, this Christmas, stay safe, don’t drink and drive and if you do… no, fuck that! Don’t be an asshole, don’t drink and drive! But besides that, whether you’re an atheist or not, whether you believe or not, be with your family and/or friends, and try to look and to give a little bit of compassion for those who need it and want it, not because you’ll get something in return, but because you found it in your heart to do so.
Merry Christmas to you guys!
And for the rest of you guys who don’t celebrate it, here’s to you!
For more information please visit:
http://theahafoundation.org/ – The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation for women