Holy humbug, Batman!
Just the other day I noticed an article in my local newspaper, courtesy of the Associated Press. It reported that legions of atheists are fed up with the annual observances of Christmas. They feel socially isolated from their friends and colleagues, and they resent being surrounded by so many trappings of religion; television specials, carolers at the mall, a nativity scene in the town square. They don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t go to church, and they have resolved to “eat, drink, and be wary” in spite of all the (perceived) hostility.
At times like this I’m reminded of the horrors of September 11. Adversity often seems to bring out the best in people, as they rally to help and support one another. In the weeks that followed, or nation displayed the greatest expression of religious devotion that I can remember. Church attendance surged; interfaith prayer meetings multiplied. Neighbor shared with neighbor, classmate with classmate, stranger with stranger; new friendships were formed, among people who might never have bonded (or even met) any other way. It almost compels me to break out in a rousing chorus of Kumbaya, just to think about it.
…And then along came the atheists to complain that they feel left out, marginalized, disenfranchised from the rest of us. They had no shoulder to cry on, no public champion, no large public meetings tailored to their needs. Huh?
Apparently these people live in a cave, and they’re not keeping up. For at least the past fifty years or so, our society has catered to their sensitivities more and more with each passing year. When I was in school, we had two weeks of “Christmas vacation;” now they call it “winter vacation.” “Easter vacation” has become “spring break.” And don’t even think about bidding “merry Christmas” to your bank teller. It’s soooooo 1980’s.
My cable TV service offers a couple dozen channels of commercial-free music, and each December they add a channel devoted to “holiday” music. Yesterday I listened for about an hour, and something strange occurred to me: They had a song about a reindeer with self-esteem issues, and another about the joys of riding in a horse-drawn carriage. It seems that there’s a magic walking, talking snowman. There were songs about bells, roasting chestnuts, and an angry old man with green fur.
Notably, that playlist was decidedly unreligious and nonpartisan. Not once did I hear a mention of Jesus, Bible, Christmas, Christianity, church, sin, or any other manifestations of pious propaganda. What’s the deal?
Sadly, there are some in our society who reflexively grumble at the happiness of others. A perfectly cheerful child sees another with a balloon, and cries because he feels deprived. A young woman attends her best friend’s wedding, and chafes at being reminded of her own continual singleness. It seems that you can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting someone who can’t be content with what he has, because someone else has more.
Should I burn down every French restaurant in town, just because someone else likes foie gras, and I don’t? Is it right for me to deny a guilty pleasure to the hoidy-toidies, since they have money to burn and I don’t share their choice of cuisine? (Actually this works in my favor, because it means that I will have less competition for a table at the barbecue joint down the street.)
Of course, it's no secret that the earliest Christian communities didn't observe an annual feast to honor the birth of Christ. For them the holiest day was Easter, in honor of the Resurrection. Christmas is essentially a reinvention of the old Roman celebration of the winter solstice, disguised as a Christian feast for the sake of political expediency.
Thanks to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, we’ve done away with school prayer. Because of the American Civil Liberties Union (and others of like mind), we continually fight over Ten Commandments monuments, nativity scenes, and the precise wording of the Pledge of Allegiance. They have no quarrel with foul language and nudity on television, yet they go into convulsions at the sight of a cross on a hilltop. But why should they care?
Among my friends and associates, I count dozens of people who don’t share my Christian faith. And yet, they celebrate Christmas year after year, along with the rest of us. What gives?
Here in the Good Ole USA, celebrating Christmas is our cultural custom. It’s just what we do. And with each successive season, it loses yet another layer of its sacred nature. It becomes less holy, more commercial, more secular. Ad for this, atheists around the world should rejoice.
Get over it.