The ever-moronic Bill O’Reilly recently took the head of American Atheists, David Silvermann to task for “attacking Christmas”. As usual, the chief fool amongst the village full of idiots that is Fox News, either completely missed the point, or far more likely, wilfully misrepresented it in order to appeal to his demographic and court controversy.
O’Reilly failed utterly to comprehend why atheists might want to take the “Christ” out of Christmas, turning it instead back into the secular holiday that everyone can enjoy. But he was so desperately disingenuous that he even went so far as to rant repeatedly that Christianity is not a religion; it’s a philosophy. Yeah, and being a moron is not a matter of having a low IQ – it’s a lifestyle choice.
O’Reilly usually bleats on about America being “a Christian country”, as if the majority opinion was the best basis for policy. The majority of Americans thought slavery was acceptable a couple of hundred years ago, and most civilised people don’t consider THAT acceptable any more. In any case, America is only a Christian country because those warm-hearted Christians (Roman Catholics and Precisionists (an offshoot of Calvinists)) came over from Europe and eradicated or displaced the native Americans, most of whom believed in a more personal form of spirituality, based around beliefs of Animism and Panentheism (essentially the belief that God or a life force is part of all things).
But whether America is a Christian country or not, Christmas itself is a hotch-potch mixture of pagan rituals, middle-aged folk tales, and modern commercialism. Christ’s role in the celebration is almost non-existent.
The precise date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, however, it is suggested that the homophones “sun” meaning the warm yellow thing that makes plants grow, and “son” – a male child – were combined to create the date in December which corresponds to the Southern Winter Solstice, the time when, in the Northern Hemisphere, the midday sun is at its lowest in the southern sky. This time of year, which has had significance to cultures going back as far as 10,200BCE, was appropriated by the Christian church around 400CE.
So the date of Christmas, whilst not arbitrary, was certainly contrived, and unlike Independence Day in the US, bore no relationship to the timing of actual historical events. A far more significant pagan celebration already took place on or about that date, because it celebrated the point after which the days would start to lengthen, and new life might begin again. Unlike belief in a zombie Jesus who died, rose again (doubtless hungry for brains and going away hungry where Christians are concerned), the Winter Solstice was a time of year that was quite literally connected to the cycles of life and death.
But even if December 25th represented the precise day on which Jesus was born, and had not also been connected with a multitude of pre-Christian festivals going back thousands of years, Christmas is a holiday that Atheists are as entitled to celebrate as free from the guilt of hypocrisy as any Christian – more so in fact.
Christmas has as much relevance to its supposed origins, as Halloween has to do with honouring Pomona the goddess of fruit trees, and Samhain, lord of the dead. For a small few devout Christians, they DO indeed use Christmas as an opportunity to specifically contemplate and celebrate the birth of Jesus, but for the vast majority of Christians, their commemoration is limited to a single church service and a few extra words during prayer-time – if that. For the vast majority, Christmas has come to mean exactly the same things as it is for atheists – a short vacation during which we all make an extra effort to get together as families, and celebrate what it means to be part of a close-knit group of people bound together by blood.
It’s true that without Christianity we wouldn’t have Christmas vacation. Maybe Thanksgiving would have expanded, or perhaps Solstice would have flourished instead. Maybe we’d have nothing. Who knows?
For Christians, Christmas is a time rich in symbols – the manger, holly, the star, the wreath, bells, and even the cross. For atheists, it makes no sense to adopt these Christianity ideograms, but there are plenty unrelated to the Christ story – Santa, the tree, candy cane, snowmen, snowflakes, and Rudolph. These represent the season and the spirit of giving that accompanies it, and in some ways are far more positive symbols than the dreary Christian icons.
The Bible entreats Christians to be modest about the way that they pray. Matthew 6:6 says ” But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Could anything be less private than the sickeningly ostentatious sight of the Pope’s Christmas mass in St Peter’s Square?
However, to go back to the question from Moron O’Reilly, a buffoon with more bluster than hurricane Sandy; why would Atheists want to take the Christ out of Christmas? Because America is founded on SECULAR values, not Christian ones. Even if you allow that over 50% of Americans are Christians, as Penn Jillette points out, that superset comprises many different flavours of Christian beliefs, many at deep odds with each other. We should take the religion out of Christmas holidays because America should not be adopting the religious OR philosophical beliefs of any sect. It should be a country where almost all are tolerated equally.
Rather than allowing Christmas to become a divisive time when Christians are assisted by local government to assert their beliefs over those of everyone else in the form of public displays of Christianity, it should be a time for promoting community. I have no problem if individuals want to publicly show their gullibility, sorry, faith in the form of household decorations, clothing or by holding public rallies and services. But I completely share David Silvermann’s belief that it is not appropriate for local government to start promoting Christian ideography. As has been said many times before, even if you are a Christian, you should also be opposed, for what if the flavour of Christianity being promoted is not your brand?
A true democracy should try to encompass and tolerate all of its people, not those who hold the currently popular majority view. For what if tomorrow, atheists gain the majority, and as Silvermann points out, we start printing “In God we do NOT trust” on our money?!
I don’t want Christmas banned. I don’t want people to stop celebrating Christianity at Christmas – but I do want to ensure that Christianity is not shoved down people’s throats.
For a video version of this post go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CNeQJrhh4I