A Christmas Night Manifesto for Secular Humanists (Part 2)
By the looks of me and the things that I do, one would assume I’m a Christian believer.
Every year, I put up a Christmas tree and hang up pretty lights and decorations. I’ve committed most of the verses of popular Christmas songs to memory. I attend Christmas shows, even those held inside churches. I send out Christmas cards to friends and family. I buy presents. My heart is filled with joy. I even get sentimental.
Fact is, I am not a Christian. I’m an anti-theist. That means I’m opposed to theism. I don’t discriminate. I’m opposed to all religions. I actively seek to expunge religion’s deleterious influences on society, culture, politics, and economy. I speak out on the false notion of faith, its demands for blind obedience, and enslavement of the mind.
So, how can I be ideologically consistent and remain true to my beliefs while engaging in the practices of faiths that I do not share? How can I celebrate Christmas? That’s the basis of this essay, the second in a two-part series.
Year ago, the last time I visited the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and attended the annual Christmas pageant in that sanctimonious structure sculpted out of marble and limestone in upper Northwest, adorned with all the false vestiges of piety, filled to the rafters with pipe organs playing beautiful music, its acoustics so meticulously well-designed that it seemed the man standing at the front in the white robe with gold trim reading poetic passages from a so-called holy book written nearly two millennia ago, it really did seem all that all sound within was indeed the voice and music of god, and all the opulent accompaniments of religious faith really were a mental maze with only one means of salvation — to believe.
Atheism cannot match religion. They’ve already mastered all the tricks of the trade when it comes to fooling the human mind for centuries, and when those tricks sometimes didn’t work and dissent filled the ranks — then coercion, excommunication, torture, and finally burning at the stake certainly did make believers of straying apostates.
No, atheists can’t joust with the angels, and never will. Atheists have no Sistine Chapel. Atheists have no St. Peter’s Basilica. There is no art, nor architecture, nor any music of the spirit to atheist philosophy and practice. Never mind that all these churchy things were created by humankind (not god), often under financial duress or the promise of career enhancement. Building expensive stuff for the princely rich Vatican and its thousands of outposts around the world was a pretty good gig back then, and it still is. Who could blame the best painters and sculptors and architects and masons of the day for taking the best-paying jobs around and constructing monuments to god? Nice work if you can get it.
See — myths and lies require constant reinforcement. Monolithic collectivism of thought and action needs fear to survive, and then flourish. Whether it’s an annual May Day parade in Pyongyang or the mesmerizing rallies of Nuremberg, it takes all the apparatus of state or religious authority to preserve order amid what is the true nature of the universe, which is chaos. Free thought can only be permitted to exist provided it serves the purposes of society of the illusion of uniformity for the common good, which means order.
From it’s earliest days, Christian practice has always required a handy toolbox of gadgetry and wizardry — be they grandiose structures, artworks, symbols, sayings, or rituals — all of which reinforce the invariable demand for common sacrifice among believers. It’s that way with totalitarian states, too.
This day, December 25th, the day many celebrate as Christmas, is the most powerful and persuasive of all the weapons in the Christian toolkit. Bar none. It’s difficult not to hum along with the choir singing Silent Night. It’s impossible not to smile and even tear up when we see a child excited to sit with Santa Claus. It’s downright unsociable, even profane, not to go along with all the joyful trappings of what’s become known as the “holiday season,” which by grand design is taking a few steps outward and drawing the community circle a little larger so all the heretics like Jews and non-believers can fit in and still get invited to the parties.
Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Different words. Same thing.
Since we can’t possibly compete with the awe of cathedrals, since we can’t silence the music of choirs, since we can’t match the artworks of the great masters, since we haven’t written the counterpoint to Ave Maria, since the holiday season isn’t the ideal platform to appeal to greater reason, since we can’t charm our kids with snowmen built to resemble Richard Dawkins — instead let’s not even try. Let’s pick our battles carefully and seek better opportunities. After all, being the intellectual equivalent of Scrooge isn’t likely to dislodge people from the cozy if implausible comforts of faith. Rejecting Christmas openly won’t win us over any converts. In fact, that’s counterproductive.
Instead, let’s enjoy ourselves. Let’s be just as joyous, and even more so. Let’s attend the parties. Let’s make the toasts. Let’s drink the eggnog. Let’s exchange presents. Let’s have fun with the Santa myth. Then, let’s argue for science and reason when and were we can — at every opportunity where we have the symbolic high ground. Christmas isn’t that time.
There can be no compromises when it comes to standing up for and speaking out on behalf of our beliefs and principles. But Christmas Day is not the proper occasion to engage in battles of the intellect. Not when the battle of the heart has already been won by the other side a very long time ago.
Note: Read PART I here.