Before getting into the main part of this post, let's warm up with some compelling tweets today from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love them!
QUESTION: ThIs year, what do all the world's Muslims and Jews call December 25th? ANSWER: Thursday
[Comment: Tyson failed to mention atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Daoists, and so many others who don't believe in the Christ part of Christmas. But he only had 140 characters to work with.]
On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642
Merry Christmas to all. A Pagan holiday (BC) becomes a Religious holiday (AD). Which then becomes a Shopping holiday (USA).
Tyson points out that of all the ways to view life, this world, and reality as a whole, Christianity is only one way. And in my secular scientific atheist opinion, nowhere near the best of them.
But this is just my subjective opinion. Just as the faith of every religious believer is: subjective.
As I have been saying on my Church of the Churchless blog for over ten years, there's no problem, none at all, of having personal beliefs that can't be backed up by objective facts and demonstrable evidence.
However, if someone claims that a subjective belief should be accepted as something objectively true for everyone, then we do indeed have a problem.
Which is why I decided to post a comment to the lead editorial in today's Salem Statesman Journal newspaper, "Message of Christmas still rings true in 2014."
Download Message of Christmas still rings true in 2014 (if above link no longer works)
The editorial starts off this way:
The Christmas story is one of joy, of celebration, of hope. Its message of peace on Earth and salvation for humankind is as powerful, as relevant and as needed today as it was on that silent, starlit night some 2,000 years ago.
Well, some people feel this way. Lots don't.
Those words, salvation for mankind, are utterly meaningless to billions of humans. And isn't that the central message of Christmas: "Christmas is all about the message of God and the coming of our Savior."
OK. For Christians, it is. Those of us who don't believe in God or the need for salvation look upon Christmas very differently. This likely includes tens of thousands in the Salem area, the Statesman Journal readership base.
We consider that religions divide more than they unite. We favor a more universal, inclusive, and scientifically defensible message, not a mythical, divisive, supernatural story limited to Christianity.
So I left this comment on the editorial:
Nice sentiments. But there's some confusing paradoxes in this editorial.
We are supposed to go beyond religion and find the common humanity beneath our differences. But the way to do this is through the unbelievable virgin birth story of one particular religion, Christianity?
Unbelievable, that is, to the billions of people in the world, like me, who either don't believe in any God/divine being, or believe in a different one than Christians worship.
So I disagree that embracing the "Christmas story" is the way to go if we want to solve the many pressing problems that continue to afflict humankind.
Rather, the path forward is to recognize the difference between subjective, personal, faith-based stories and the objective, universal, fact-founded realities in today's world.
What brings us truly together is truth.
Yes, part of that truth is our individual moral, ethical, religious, and other preferences. But more important is the common ground on which we all stand: shared knowledge, values, and understandings.
In this vein, I urge the Statesman Journal to consider how well it is furthering the formation of this common ground in its reporting and editorial policies.
As Salem's one and only general circulation community newspaper, how well are you digging into the most pressing issues facing this town?
For example, how competently are you serving as a watchdog over City of Salem policies which further the sort of inequality and discord this editorial decries?
Where are the in-depth, balanced, investigative stories about the efforts of City officials to take a billion dollars out of citizens' pocketbooks to pay for an unneeded Third Bridge while so many other pressing community needs go unfunded, or about the horrible state of Salem's mass transit and alternative transportation systems which doom those without a car to face great difficulties in getting to a job or pursuing usual activities of daily life?
The Statesman Journal should be a force that brings Salemians together to address Big Issues. Instead, it has devolved into a frothy USA Today clone dedicated to furthering special interests.
The paper has become part of the Salem power structure that seeks to keep money and power flowing to the already rich and powerful, not an independent crusader for truth and justice.
So while I resonate with many of the sentiments in this editorial, I challenge the executives at the Statesman Journal to back up your empty talk with solid journalistic action.
THAT truly would be a present all of us in Salem would enjoy receiving in 2015.
Now, I readily admit that I veered into critiquing the Statesman Journal, one of my favorite activities, from questioning the value of dogmatic one-sided religious belief. But as I wrote the comment, it made sense to do that veering.
Words are cheap. Actions require an expenditure of time, commitment, and energy.
Publishing an editorial about "choosing to act with caring and compassion and justice and understanding" is one thing. Carrying out journalistic policies that, as the saying goes, "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," that's another thing.
There's essentially zero evidence that the Statesman Journal is willing to dig into the truth of how money and power are wielded in this town to keep Salem's version of the "1%" comfortable, while making the "99%" pay most of the bill for this largesse.
Not surprisingly, editorial page editor Dick Hughes left a pithy reply to my comment:
I am sorry for your negativity, Brian.
Equally unsurprisingly, I felt duty-bound to leave a response.
Dick Hughes, actually, I am a very positive and optimistic person. I believe we humans are inherently prone to act positively and kindly toward each other.
However, whenever we divide ourselves into "clans," such as Christian and those without faith (in the Christmas story or whatever), this makes it more difficult to find the common ground beneath our differences.
This editorial could have talked about how every religion, spiritual path, and philosophy has its own inspiring stories, myths, and metaphors -- each of which is equally valid as a guide to living, if someone resonates with them.
But this opinion piece failed to understand how meaningless the "Christmas story" is to anyone except devout Christians. And like I said, those Christians are more devoted to platitudes about how we should treat each other, than to concrete actions.
I'll probably explain myself more in a blog post tonight. I realize that Christianity is the dominant cultural influence in this country, so Christians expect that everyone should resonate with the Christian message.
However, this is a lot like white people not understanding how people of color experience daily life, including their interactions with police and other authority figures.
To fail to understand how minorities experience life (and yes, us atheists are a distinct minority), is understandable given the privileged world view of Christians. But I enjoy trying to convey what it is like to be a non-believer in a mostly believing world.
See, for example, one of my many Church of the Churchless posts on this subject, Why atheists are more "spiritual" than religious believers.