A Skeptical Christmas To One And All

I’m a sceptic and an atheist, and yet I’m looking forward to the Christmas and New Year holidays and I intend to enjoy myself, together with my family and friends. But that idea seems a bit odd to some religious people I know: how can an atheist enjoy Christmas – a religious festival; and also isn’t it a bit hypocritical, to boot?

No, not at all. As Christmas comes around, I see it as a time to just relax, having a break from work, and maybe getting into the party spirit. Admittedly, I’m not a youngster any more, and partying in the way young people now do it is not for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun, or that I am going to put a damper on anyone else’s enjoyment. I won’t be going to any Christmas church services, of course, but I’m also not going to criticise any Christians who do so. We live in a free country (so far, anyway), so I support everyone’s right to follow their religion as they choose. I also expect and hope that people of other religions will respect the right of Christians to go about their celebrations as they have done here for many years. I don’t want to see any Christian celebrations having to be curtailed or stopped in the name of political correctness in case the feelings of other religions are hurt. Cobblers to that idea.

I will, naturally, have to run the gauntlet of some Christians who despise me for not believing the same as they do, or appreciating the fact that I actually support and defend their right to be Christian. It’s just a pity that those Christians, as well as members of other religions, do not have the tolerance to want to allow me to have freedom from religion in the same way they have freedom of religion.

Right now, I’m seeing a lot of holiday spirit in the local High Street – buskers playing Christmas songs; any day now, I’m sure, the Salvation Army will make an appearance as they play the more religious carols, and I even look forward to it. I will also, no doubt, contribute some money in the collection box, as I also regularly do for some of the non-religious causes (the local fire brigade usually have a display that I always contribute to). It’s just a nice atmosphere they all create between themselves, and it works just nicely to make at least the very few short weeks in the run up to a special family day a good time.

At this time of year, there are young children who know little about religion, but who believe in Santa Claus, and hope to receive a reward for being good. That’s not much different from many of their parents, who believe they, too, are going to receive a reward for being good, albeit in some (equally mythical) afterlife. The difference here, though, is that we don’t expect children to believe in a make-believe entity when they grow up. But many adults do that very thing. At least a child can provide evidence for the existence of Santa in the form of presents delivered, but the adults rely on faith that they have to continue with until the day they die.

It is inevitable that children find out and come to terms with the fact that Santa was a comforting fantasy when they were so young. But it’s a tragedy that so many adults can never find out the same truth about whichever god or gods they happen to worship. And there is no shortage of religious people who are happy to tell the members of every other religion that they’ve got their theology wrong (and some are even willing to kill to prove their point).

That’s one of many reasons that I have no religion: I have no reason to harm anyone else in any way just because I believe something different. As it happens, the fact that I have no beliefs is a good enough reason for me to be able to listen to what others have to say, without at all having to hate anyone else for thinking differently.

That’s something I keep in mind always, but especially at this time of year when most people at least seem to be making an effort to be nice to each other. I wish they could do the same all the time.

But Christmas or not, if I happen to meet you, whether it is where I work, or at a bus stop or in a pub or whatever, I will be just the same person you might meet at any time of the year. I will be nice to you; I hope you will be the same to me

Dare I, as an atheist, say it – Merry Christmas to all my readers.

 Santa gets it

(Just joking with the pic.)

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3 responses to “A Skeptical Christmas To One And All

  1. A topical post, and one I can empathise with pretty well entirely. Though I have to say that, despite living literally next door to an Anglican Church, I have never experienced any attempts to preach to me (that excludes the occasional Jehovahs Witnesses, but baiting them is my idea of fun).

    On the subject of imaginary characters, yes Santa and his entourage, great fun though they are, probably qualify as mythical. On the other hand, what is the position on Jesus these days? I think we can safely discount the nativity stories. What we treat as one story is really a combination of Matthew and Mark (I think that’s right), both of which conflict, and neither of which comport with the evidence. The idea of the virgin birth seems to have been ‘imported’ from other religions, there is no evidence of Herod having conducted a census, though Herod wasn’t King at the relevant time anyhow, and there’s no evidence of any mass murder of babies.

    So the nativity is probably pretty fictional, but what about the character known as Jesus. Historical or mythical? There’s a growing body of academic opinion now on the side of myth but it’s impossible for a layperson properly to form an opinion. Have you any views on the subject?

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    • Geoff, sorry for the delayed response (Christmas hurly-burly and all that).

      Regarding the Jesus character, it’s not all that clear cut. I don’t think the Jesus that Christians worship was a real person, partly because there are no reliable records of his existence and execution. The Romans were meticulous record keepers, after all, and there is no convincing evidence to corroborate what the Bible says. There is a supposed description by the contemporary historian Josephus, but academics seem to agree that it is a forgery anyway.

      I think there is reason to believe that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was a compilation of many characters, a portrayal that is condensed from a combination of accounts of many itinerant preachers of the time.
      One thing I have always found curious is what Jesus is supposed to have spoken aloud while he was on the cross: “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”

      It is possible that someone was crucified at that time and even spoke those very words. They could also be the words of some deluded religious maniac who had convinced himself and others that he was the son of God, but who had suddenly realised that “Plan A” (being saved at the last minute) wasn’t going to happen. So the poor sucker died and it was up to the rest of his followers to carry on with the myth, albeit with an ad hoc rationalisation to explain the demise of the “Messiah.”

      I’m just speculating, of course, but I think my proposed scenario is more likely than any supernatural explanation. The death of Jesus was supposed to be part of God’s plan, and Jesus (being God in human form) shouldn’t have been surprised, and didn’t need to wonder why God (himself in human form) was hanging on a cross. It’s one of many conundrums that have troubled me since I was a child being threatened with eternal damnation for asking questions about it all.

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  2. Thanks for the reply, and really there’s no need to apologise for any delay.

    I’m reasonably confident that any ‘reality’ attaching to Jesus comes only from the last three years of his life. The fairly meagre earlier references seem to have been invented simply to give the impression of some sort of foundational background, but more especially an attempt to try and match prophecy. This has resulted, amongst other things, in the hugely clumsy nativity stories, which can pretty well be dismissed in their entirety.

    I’m interested in your suggestion that Jesus may be an amalgam of characters, and am reminded that I’d heard that elsewhere. I’m also inclined to read up on the Josephus point, as he seems important to apologist arguments.

    Enjoy the rest of the holiday.

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