Keeping the “Christmas” in Christmas

I had already started this post a couple of times, and each time I ended up getting bogged down with excessive wordage and tangents that trailed off and died slow painful deaths concurrently. I have also blogged about this in the past, but it’s once again on my mind so I’m going to try to keep this short and semi-sweet.

It’s Christmas time, and as it is Christmas time I will be wishing my family, friends, and people I meet, Merry Christmas; because it’s Christmas. I am not a Christian; I am not religious; I don’t believe in gods, messiahs, or poorly engineered censuses within Roman provinces in the ancient Near East. Yet, I wish you a Merry Christmas all the same, because it’s Christmas; and every other PC, accommodating, watered-down term seems, well, lame. I also realise that there are other faith traditions that celebrate this time of year, but other than using something broad like “Happy Holidays,” I will continue on with, Merry Christmas. For me, Christmas is about family and tradition. It’s about memories from the past and new ones in the making. It’s about decorating trees, opening gifts, and sharing meals. It’s about cookies and milk for Santa, and hay under the table and garlic under the table-cloth to ward of evil spirits. Christmas is about singing carols, working out which key to start off in. It’s about that feeling on Christmas morning that I experienced as a child, and now get to experience through the eyes of my own children.

I will be spending Christmas celebrating with my family as we carry on old traditions and create new ones. Others will be spending their Christmas celebrating in their own special way; some will even be celebrating the birth of Jesus. However you wish to celebrate, have yourself a merry little Christmas. I invite my fellow atheists to wish each other Merry Christmas as well. After all, we can wish each other a happy Thursday without getting all bent out of shape over Norse religion, can we not? Of course, the choice is entirely yours; but as for me, I will be keeping the “Christmas” in Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

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Thank you, Mr. Hitchens

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say about the passing of Christopher Hitchens.

He was someone who I admired, and of course still do. I am saddened by the fact that he is gone, but I am thankful for the volume of work he produced while he was still alive. Until the very end, Christopher continued to produce work of quality and integrity that showcased his amazing intellectual prowess. I did not agree with everything he said. There were times when I would think, “Now that’s taking things a wee bit too far.” His debates, though heavily grounded in logic and reason, were nevertheless not immune from an occasional ad hominem attack; but then I will not deny that I revelled in the display.

As someone who has struggled all his life to articulate thoughts, I many times found in Christopher’s words my own inner voice; a voice woefully quiet and undeveloped; a voice that longed to translate the thoughts swirling inside my brain. So many times I would catch a phrase, an argument, an idea and I would smile to myself upon discovering, “Yes! That’s what I wanted to say!”

As an atheist, I found in Christopher the courage to be myself. I found a guiding voice to help me realize that, after all these years, I never believed in virgin births or resurrections; talking snakes or zoological lifeboats; miraculous healings or other assorted party tricks as anything more than, well, tricks; and, at the base of it all, I never believed in gods. That I grew up pretending to be someone that I wasn’t has had an effect on me, and it has taken me some time to finally be true to myself. I do not consider myself to be outspoken, but I nevertheless feel much more at peace with myself. Just as important, I found myself not to be alone. Through the work of Christopher Hitchens I discovered a vast and diverse community of fellow rationalists and non-believers; a community where I am unafraid to disagree with others; a community that isn’t bound by dogma or blind devotion to assertions that shun examination; a community that promotes honest investigation and the full implications that come with it, not circular reasoning.

One of the ideas that Christopher Hitchens spoke of repeatedly and at length was that morality comes not from a book or divine revelation. Morality comes from humans living and interacting with other humans. How we relate to each other; how we treat each other; how we expect others to treat us; how we grow and develop as a species; this all comes from thousands and thousands of years of trial and error, through times of prosperity and devastation, through peace and conflict. Life is messy, that is the reality of being a human, a primate, a biological organism. To retrofit supposed wisdom after ages upon ages have already passed, is to cheat our legacy and deny all that has come before. To quote Mr. Hitchens, “We’re half a chromosome away from chimpanzees and it shows.” We have so much more to learn, to discover about ourselves and the world around us. To proclaim that through revelation we already have the answers, not only to our origins, but to our current position and, indeed, a sneak peek as to what is to come, again without solid evidence is not only dubious, but it promotes stagnation; for why bother to look any further when the answer has already been presented to us? Why bother to question, to explore, to reach beyond ourselves, if the boundaries of knowledge have already been marked by lines that were draw generations ago. I would rather push forward and risk the unknown then settle for the illusion of certainty. In my opinion, it’s the only way we can continue to grow.

Christopher Hitchens is gone, but he has left his mark and gained his own version of immortality through his work.

Thank you, Mr. Hitchens.

Merry Somthing-or-Other!

The holiday season is once again upon us and so I will take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. That’s right, I said, Merry Christmas; not Happy Holidays; not Joyous Yuletide; not Wondrous Winter Solstice. Merry Christmas.

 “What’s this?” some of you might be asking, “Is he fixing to put the Christ back in Christmas?” No… well, yes… sort of. Let me try to explain.

First off, this will not be a discussion about one religion co-opting the calendar of another. Nor will it delve into the sacred versus secular celebration debate. I don’t feel like taking those on today. Rather, I’d like to keep it simple; I’m focusing on language; labels. What does it mean for an atheist to wish someone, someone like you, a Merry Christmas? I guess a lot of it depends on how you would like to receive it. Some of you might look at it as speaking to your own personal religious experience of this time of year. Others might take offence, seeing it as a way of excluding those of other faiths or, indeed, a non-believer during this time of year. Yet others might be simply confused by what I’m on about. Let me be as clear as I can be.

When I wish you a Merry Christmas, I mean to offer my desire for you to enjoy this time of year in whatever way you choose. Some make a special effort to reconnect with friends and family, others seek solitude in the midst of the hustle and bustle. There are those who simply detest this time of year, and to them I offer my greeting not to mock them, but to extend my hope that they can rise above their ill feelings or at the very least, weather the storm.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” you say, “but why not use Happy Holidays? Why, as a non-believer would you insist on using Merry Christmas which, as you are well aware, is derived from Christ’s mass?” Actually, I do often use Happy Holidays as an encompassing term for both Christmas and New Year’s, but I digress. I say Merry Christmas quite simply because, and here’s where I finally get to my point, that is what the day, and the surround holiday season is called. It’s Christmas. For better or for worse, regardless of past traditions, here and now in our Western culture, it’s called Christmas. Allow me to expand. If I happen to see you on the fifth day of the week, and I say to you, “Happy Friday,” it does not mean in any way that I am advocating for the renewal of worship for the Norse goddess Frigg, for whom the day is named. Again, if we are about to go our separate ways on the eve of a particular long weekend in Spring, I may very well say to you, “Happy Easter!” This does not mean that I am off to celebrate the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Ēostre, and am expecting you to do the same. Rather I am wishing you a pleasant holiday, which, since we are on the topic, is derived from holy day. In short, it’s all a trick of the language by way of etymology.

I may add that I grew up in the Christian tradition, and as such have been immersed in the pageantry of Christmas from a very young age. I guess what I’m trying to say with this point is that, on some level, I appeal to you as a “cultural Christian.”

So once again, I, Seán (which, ironically, is derived from the Hebrew Yehochanan, Yahweh is gracious) wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

… or Happy Christmas, as it were.