Well, just as newspapers reprint the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" piece every year, I'll start my own agnostic tradition and link back to my 2006 post, "An agnostic Taoist on Christmas Eve."
Not much has changed.
We're still heading to a vegetarian buffet at Salem's Marco Polo restaurant tomorrow. We're still irritated by Salvation Army bell ringers, Christmas music in stores, and the prevailing cultural sentiment that if you don't believe in Jesus, somehow you're impoverished during the holiday season.
That's ridiculous. We feel overwhelmingly grateful that unlike the vast majority of people in the world, we don't subscribe to religious fantasies that have caused an astounding amount of death and suffering over the millennia.
This morning I celebrated my non-Christian faith by re-reading part of Sam Harris' "The End of Faith." It made me ever so happy that I wouldn't be going to church tomorrow.
My purpose in this chapter has been to intimate, in as concise a manner as possible, some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith. Unfortunately, this catalog of horrors could be elaborated on indefinitely.
Auschwitz, the Cathar heresy, the witch hunts – these phrases signify depths of human depravity and human suffering that would surely elude description were a writer to set himself no other task. As I have cast a very wide net in the present chapter, I can only urge readers who may feel they have driven past a roadside accident at full throttle to consult the literature on these subjects.
Such extracurricular studies will reveal that the history of Christianity is principally a story of mankind's misery and ignorance rather than of its requited love of God.
So we'll open presents tomorrow. And have many good thoughts in our minds. They just won't include any fantasies, such as the notion that a man born of a virgin died for our sins because his Father in Heaven demanded a sacrificial human lamb.
Good god. Civilization has progressed so far in the past two thousand years. And also, when it comes to religion, not an inch.
[Christmas day update: I love this well-written, light-hearted, thoughtful piece posted at Daily Kos, "A Dog at Christmas." It's right on both about dogs and how the holidays should be celebrated, if you don't accept the Christian dogma.
To wit, look at all the Christmas trappings -- mangers, trees, baby Jesus, lights, etc. -- as a dog would. As interesting sensory phenomena without added meaning.
Someone emailed me today, calling me an agnostic hypocrite for celebrating Christmas in the minimal fashion we do. I see his point, sort of. But I told him that I'm not celebrating anything religious when I give myself or someone else a present.
Similarly, I'm not celebrating the resurrection of Jesus when I eat a chocolate bunny at Easter. It's possible to go along with some cultural traditions without buying into the whole crazy religious scene. Freedom means being able to pick and choose, not be bound by "all or none."]
"Good god. Civilization has progressed so far in the past two thousand years. And also, when it comes to religion, not an inch."
Well, you can say those very sentences, in a public venue, and not have our nuts end up in a vice. I mean... there has been SOME movement :-)
Posted by: Bpaul | December 25, 2007 at 10:24 AM
Yes let's celebrate (as a previous commenter said)--
"Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie, who was his own father, can make you live forever if you simbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove some evil force from your soul, present in all humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat the fruit of a magic tree.... Yeah, that's likely!"
***However, the spirit of kindness and generosity towards others is a good thing. So, take the good with the absurd.
Posted by: Zip Lee | December 25, 2007 at 10:58 AM
Bp, good point. Criticism of religion is indeed tolerated to a much greater extent now. But I'd ascribe this mostly to secular changes (like the Enlightenment), not to any basic evolution in religious thought.
If fundamentalist Christians in the United States had their way, they'd stifle agnostic and atheist dissent insofar as the Constitution allowed.
Zip Lee, religious people certainly often are kind and generous, just as non-religious people are. We shouldn't credit religion for kindness and generosity, though. The ancient Greek philosophers preached and practiced the same virtues from a secular foundation.
I just ran across the "Unitarians Are Good. For Nothing" t-shirt.
That says it all. Lots of people are good not to get a reward in heaven, or desirable karma, but for nothing other than doing good itself. To my mind, that's a higher order of goodness than doing good because you're commanded to, or to earn divine goodies after you die.
Posted by: Brian | December 25, 2007 at 01:06 PM
A more meaningful celebration at this time of the year is the Winter Solstice and it harkens back to nature, not to a 'religion' as such.
The problem with what is called Christianity today is it doesn't follow Christ, has little resemblance to anything he taught, favors torture, materialism, wars of financial gain, etc etc. That religion should be more accurately termed christianst as it kind of pares off a few pieces of what were taught to be Christ's teaching, as well as Lao Tzu and many other spiritual teachers through the ages, and goes straight on to what matters the most-- financial gain and power for a select group.
The funny part is that Christianists today are so worried that their holiday will be stolen and yet they aimed it to be at the time of Saturnalia, the Solstice and Hanukkah to steal that time for a birth that never happened then.
The rituals most equate with Christmas are mostly pagan and if we all went back to pagan celebrations at this time of the year, they'd have more meaning for our own lives, be less materialistic, and do more for the earth. Of course, it'd also spoil the profits of a lot of businesses...
Posted by: Rain | December 25, 2007 at 02:09 PM
What a GREAT DAY today.
My son and I tuned up his car and flushed the cooling system.
Then we put our new studded snow tires on the car.
Punched out a pile of stencils to label all of the new hives.
Damn! One sure feels good at the end of the day if something meaningful and tangible took place in their day.
Let's hear it for REALITY!!!
Posted by: HarryVanderpool | December 25, 2007 at 04:06 PM
I may have to track you down to pick your brain, I'm starting my first hives this spring... they're top-bar and urban, so not the normal deal, but I'm excited.
Posted by: Bpaul | December 25, 2007 at 04:56 PM
Bpaul, Harry makes it easy to track him down. Just follow his comment signature to the Oregon State Beekeepers Association website.
There you'll find that he's the regional representative for the Willamette Valley. So he's got a lot of knowledge that you can pick out of his brain.
By the way, loved your comment, Harry. Reality -- that's what it's all about.
Posted by: Brian | December 25, 2007 at 05:35 PM
If you're not Christian why are you opening gifts? It is after all a Christian holiday.
Posted by: Debbie | December 27, 2007 at 02:47 PM
Debbie, actually it isn't just a Christian holiday. It's also a pagan holiday, as anyone can tell by the godless shoppers in stores all through December. See:
Does anyone really think that Jesus called for the worship of VISA cards?
I celebrate the winter solstice and giving. Including giving to myself (we also give a lot to charity; some Christians copy this common secular practice, when they aren't out using their VISA cards).
Posted by: Brian | December 27, 2007 at 03:15 PM
Brian has a point, Debbie.
Its not all about opening gifts; its about giving.
For example, I sat down and GAVE a check to 1000 Friends of Oregon not too long ago....
....then on November 6th I RECIEVED a heartwarming blessing from Oregon Voters!
One just has to get into the happy, happy spirit.
Posted by: HarryVanderpool | December 27, 2007 at 04:32 PM