An atheist on Christmas

An atheist on Christmas

Society is: people together making culture – Karl Hess

Ah, Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  The time of year when atheists make a-holes out of themselves bitching about harmless displays of holiday cheer.

Hey, I get it.  We have a separation of church and state, and that’s a good thing.  It’s something to celebrate, not just at Christmas, but all year round.  The separation of church and state means that we can never have a theocracy in this country, it means that the government cannot tell us how, or if, to practice faith.  It means that the government cannot inflict religion upon you, or prevent you from practicing it.

Countries that have, or have had theocracies are many.   Many times they’re relatively benign and mostly unintrusive.  At other times they have been horrifically oppressive.  (then again, so have some atheist governments, but I digress)   It’s a worthy goal to oppose theocracy, in theory.  But.  At the same time, picking one’s battles is important, and as an agnostic/atheist – I go round and round on this and I’m in an atheist cycle now – I do not see any sense whatsoever in going after a Christmas tree.  Even if it’s in a courthouse, even if it’s in a school, or City Hall, or the police station, it’s just a tree, dudes.

The problem with theocracy – and I mean the REAL problem with it – is that it leads to people inflicting their will upon you and upon me.  Making us do stuff, or not do stuff, that we may or may not personally believe in, because religion runs the government.  Making us go to church on Sunday or prohibiting us from going to church on Sunday or making us go only to a certain church on Sunday.   Making our kids say prayers in school or making women wear burqas or sending homosexuals to reeducation camps.  A tree in a building is NOT theocracy.  Laws forcing people to do things or prohibiting them from doing things, is.  See the difference?

A tree in a building is not theocracy.  It is a decoration, like a statue in a park or a painting in City Hall.  A tree in a building is emblematic of something America really, really needs right now – a shared culture.

Humans need culture.  It’s something that we cannot help but create.  Culture is innate to humanity.  Humans leave a trail of culture wherever they go.  Every society that’s ever existed has had a unique culture.   Most societies have a predominant culture that virtually everyone in that society, follows.  What we are trying to do in America, this strange experiment we are running, is to have several cultures coexisting side by side.

Coexisting has a co- element to it.  It’s something that we become blind to, when we start overly focusing on the things that divide us from each other.   A tree is just a tree.  In the grand scheme, it’s minor.  If most people like the tree, if most people find some value in it, maybe the rest of us just STFU and carry on for the good of everyone else.

If you’ve ever gone out to dinner with a large group, you know how this works.  Maybe you end up going somewhere you’d rather not because it’s what everyone could agree upon.   I am an adventurous eater and I love great food, but I’ve eaten a lot of subpar dinners in restaurants that I’d never voluntarily go to.   Because, my grandma wanted to go there, or whatever.  You know what?  It didn’t kill me.  I survived the experience.  A few times I was even surprised by enjoying the meal.  It’s a hell of a lot better to temporarily endure a minor annoyance than it is to be that person who a) holds everyone hostage to your own whims while making everyone else unhappy or b) the person who agrees to it but then complains the whole time and ruins everyone else’s good time.

People like the tree.   I like them.  I think they’re beautiful.  They make me happy inside. Beyond my personal feelings, the majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and if they like the trees, I see no problem with them.  They’re decorative, they’re symbolic of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, of charity and loving your neighbor as yourself.  The majority of people like a lot of other decorative/symbolic things that don’t particularly thrill me – for example, million-dollar modern art (using the term “art”very loosely) in public buildings, bought and paid for by tax dollars.  Some of this “art” is ugly and symbolizes things that I think are kinda gross.  But I don’t feel the need to get all ban-happy over them.  I just walk on by and mutter about government waste under my breath. I endure the assault because I know that most people don’t agree with me and it’s not something that is worth fighting over.

This is what is called “practicing tolerance”.

The long term benefits outweigh the short term costs.  Just like how a terrible chicken fried steak eaten in the company of your grandma, even though you’d much prefer sushi, outweighs the terribleness of the chicken fried steak.  It’s something that you do for other people sometimes.  Walk past the tree because so many other people like it and at the end of the day it isn’t hurting anything.  We cannot have peaceful coexistence while everyone is constantly clamoring to tear down each other’s cultural icons.   It ruins coexistence for everyone.  It’s so much better to tolerate something you don’t super-love for a few minutes in the name of peace and cooperation and shared American culture.

We need something that brings us all together, even if it’s only for a few days.  The things that we’ve come up with to replace time-honored traditions are shallow and lame.  Star Wars, for example, may be a great big part of our shared American culture, but is not a substitute for Christmas – no matter how much you love Star Wars, at the end of it, it’s just a movie made to sell a bunch of shitty toys and everyone knows it.  The “philosophy” of Star Wars is a jumbled mishmash of movie platitudes strung together by a third-rate writer based on an invented religion that makes no real sense.  You can’t base your life on Star Wars.  You can’t base your culture on Star Wars.   Star Wars is not enough.

Christmas is the culmination of thousands of years of shared human culture.   Traditions from lots of cultures have coalesced into our modern day Christmas holiday.   You don’t have to be a fundamental Christian extremist to celebrate Christmas (in fact, many of them don’t). Even non-Christian countries like Turkey and Japan do Christmas stuff. It’s not theocracy, it’s because Christmas is cool.  It’s cool like Star Wars is cool – it’s cool because most people LIKE IT.  For a few weeks out of the year, we put up a tree and take some time to think about some things that are by and large, pretty nice.   Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men.  Giving gifts to people we love and care about.  The idea that there’s still a little bit of hope in the world.  All these things are positive human values.

Enduring a tree or even a Nativity scene for a few weeks out of the year isn’t going to kill you.  It may even end up making your world a little better by making some other people happier for a few minutes.  At least you’re not ruining someone else’s holiday.

For some reason, temporarily ignoring things you don’t personally like for the benefit of keeping the peace has fallen out of fashion.  Everyone is perpetually outraged over the smallest slights all the time.  It’s so toxic and destructive.  And it started with the atheists-bitching-about-Christmas-thing.  So let’s come full circle and start practicing tolerance – tolerating our shared culture.  Tolerating trees, Santas, even Nativity scenes, for the good of everyone.  For peace on Earth, goodwill towards men.




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