The first challenge in dealing with non-believers is to distinguish between atheists, agnostics and those who are just too lazy to go to church (synagogue or mosque). There is now a spectrum of freethinkers who fall somewhere between the belligerently anti-clerical Christopher (“God Is Not Great”) Hitchens, the cerebral Richard (“The Evolution of God”) Wright (seen debating each other on the New York Times site) and the Brights, friendly folk who define themselves as naturalistic, free of supernatural and mystical elements, by which they mean “no god” but without being nasty about it.
I personally embrace the term ignostic, which means I don’t know whether I believe as you do until you define what you mean by god. If by god you mean Bart Stupak or Mike Huckabee’s white-bearded white guy who will smite you if you fail to follow outdated rules written thousands of years ago in a sexist, homophobic and racist agricultural culture somewhere in the Middle East, then consider me a fire-breathing atheist in response. But if you mean the warm and welcoming spirituality of a Deepak Chopra, we can talk.
Bill O’Reilly may think there’s a war on Christmas, but I find the season tests even the most charitable ignostic.
It was the Salvation Army bell-ringers who drove my mother over the top. We could not pass one without her ranting about how evil it is to make drunks listen to sermons before feeding them. (I assume she had her father/my granddad in mind. Both of us had little doubt our always-inebriated patriarch would starve on the street before pretending to pray just to eat.)
My biggest frustration as a religion-less child was finding that Christmas Eve ushered in two solid days of bad TV. A television-addicted child of the Fifties, I would look forward to the two weeks free of school as a chance to hunker down in front of the old Philco, only to find all three networks began showing Catholic masses on Christmas Eve. Isn’t this America? Land of the free?
I spent my youth pointedly refusing to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance after Eisenhower inserted them. I was the heathen youngster banished to the hallway each morning when the principal in my rural Ohio school would defy the Supreme Court ban on school prayer by reciting from the Bible over the PA. (“Bonnie will now leave the classroom because SHE and her family doesn’t believe in God,” he would intone each morning.) But allowing the networks to blizzard me with religious propaganda crossed a line that supposedly objective newscasters still blur. (You know who you are, CNN’s Don Lemon.)
I watched my parents wrestle with the issue of whether to buy a Christmas tree. Brotherhood bush?
Yet I must admit to experiencing a sense of joy one Christmas Eve when I joined my friend Karen and her family at the local Unitarian Church’s midnight celebration. The church was filled with blazing candles and hundreds of red and white poinsettias, and the enlightened minister thankfully never said anything about any god. Do Unitarian-Universalists qualify as real Christians in the eyes of a Pat Robertson or Pat Boone?
The period around the winter solstice is a great time for a festive celebration to remind us that spring will come someday (unless global warming triggers a new ice age). Even the imperial Romans shed their togas and boogied down with their slaves during the week-long holiday called Saturnalia, which was already a hand-me-down from earlier cultures. Today’s pagans still dance naked and burn money. (Not as appealing since the advent of my middle-age paunch.) Seinfeld inspired the new holiday Festivus, with its aluminum pole (as our own Rico Tom Rico recounts in his re-gifting of “A Holiday Tale Retold”).
But rather than take up arms against Christmas cheer, perhaps it is time for me to mellow and go with the flow. At least until I run into a bell-ringer or a Sarah Palin end-timer.
Ho, ho, ho and a happy Kwanzaa to you.