Tag Archives: Christmas

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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In Support Of Santa

I’ve just recently noticed that a number of people aren’t too keen on Santa Claus – the imaginary jovial old man in red who brings toys to good girls and boys each Christmas, but might only deliver a stocking full of cinders to the naughty. What’s going on here?

I noticed in Mike Hallowell’s Gazette column last week that he thinks it’s about time youngsters were told “the truth”. As he puts it when he ponders whether it’s time to send Santa into retirement:

“I’m certainly no kill-joy, but I think the reformers have a point when they say that enough is enough, and that its time we told the youngúns the truth about where those presents really came from.”

Mike’s point is understandable, of course; since he converted to Islam a few years ago, everything he writes is now from a strictly Islamic perspective, and also explains why his Gazette column now avoids his previous beliefs in psychics and mediums, and his former belief that UFOs are alien space ships from outer space.

But he does echo the beliefs of his and some others’ religions; I’m thinking in particular of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who worship Jesus Christ, for example, but for whom Christmas itself is not celebrated, never mind it being a time for Santa and presents.

For the religious, the idea of an imaginary magical guy in the sky who rewards the good and punishes the bad is clearly something that children should not be taught. Mike Hallowell and other religious people think they should be taught the truth: in other words the story of an imaginary magical guy in the sky who rewards the good and punishes the bad.

Oh. Er…

To be fair, though, there are some some sceptics who seem to have a similar idea about what children should be taught. Take a look at this:

DearChildren

DEAR CHILDREN One Day You Will Learn About Santa Claus. On That Day Remember Everything The Adults Have Told You About Jesus.

That’s going a bit too far, I think. It’s a good idea to teach children how to be rational as they grow up, and over time encourage them to develop logical thinking skills, but there’s plenty of time for that.

Despite what any religion might tell you, all babies are born atheists. They have no knowledge of any gods, after all. In fact, they have no knowledge of anything at all. As the philosopher John Locke put it, the mind of a new born baby is a tabula rasa – a blank slate upon which life’s experience writes itself. That’s why children adopt the religion of their parents and every other belief they come to hold. Superstitious parents raise superstitious children; educated parents raise educated children; criminal parents raise criminal children. There are exceptions, of course, but the general pattern tends to hold true.

Is there really something wrong if children believe in Santa – or the Tooth Fairy, or the witches and wizards in the fairy stories their parents read to them a bedtime? I don’t think so.

I look at it this way: children are not expected to believe in Santa into adulthood. It’s a nice fantasy that parents know their children will grow out of. Same thing with the Tooth Fairy. Unlike religion, which is designed to ensnare children for life, belief in Santa is part of a learning process in which children eventually find out that there are going to be many disappointments as they travel life’s highway. It can be tough to find out that something you used to believe is just wrong, but that’s the way it is, and it’s a useful learning experience.

Both the religious and, obviously, some sceptics should stop to consider that young children don’t care about religion or scepticism. Offer a child the option of a religious ritual, a logic puzzle to solve or a new toy to play with, what will a child do? In my experience, a child will go for the toy, haul it out of the box – and then pretend the box it came in is a ship, or a plane or anything else: so often, the cardboard box is more interesting than its contents, and the child’s imagination takes it on a journey that we, as adults, just shake our heads at in wonderment. (Why didn’t we save a lot of money by just getting a cardboard in the first place?)

But what about those bedtime stories about witches and wizards and princesses held hostage in castles and everything else that isn’t real? Oh, come on. Bedtime stories are a child’s introduction to literature. Like Santa, we don’t expect a child to spend its life believing that nonsense, we expect a child to develop an appreciation of literature, art, music, drama and also develop the critical ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. All of those things are used as a vehicle to express and critically examine what can be called “the human condition,” understandable to other humans who can discern reality from fantasy, but also recognise the basic truths about life that talented writers, dramatists, musicians and even comedians can express in a way that a thinking person can ponder in a meaningful way. I think I could argue that the most important experience of any child’s life is its introduction to its own existence through bedtime stories, and yes, even its early belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.

At least a child can tell you he or she has evidence for the existence of Santa: the presents are there on Christmas Day! Eventually, though, a child can be guided to think rationally without spoiling what is, after all, the amazing and wonderful universe we inhabit. For me, the experience of a magnificent sunset loses none of its beauty by knowing that photons formed in the heart of the Sun spend a million years getting to its surface and only then travel across space for about eight minutes and then through our atmosphere to be diffracted into a range of colours, obeying the laws of physics. Some people are satisfied to be ignorant by explaining sunsets and everything else they don’t understand with the words, “God did it.” It’s an explanation that explains nothing at all, and a lot of adults are happy to not know things, although they seem to think that a non-explanation that relies on a non-existent  deity is sufficient. Those adults can never outgrow their superstitions, and are hardly in any position to complain that children should not believe in a Santa that has no more of an objective existence than any man-made gods.

Our children deserve to have their innocence; they are not really born as sinners, or as ready-made members of any religion – they are a completely new person who has to take a long time to work out what this new world is that they have been born into. Parents have a duty to guide their children as they grow up, hopefully teaching them to be rational and responsible people in their own right, ready to produce the next generation of humanity. A child’s belief in Santa is a part of its learning experience, an experience that should be enjoyable but at the same time can be let go of as it develops intellectual maturity. Religion and other superstitions are what holds back human potential. If only adults had learned to shake off their beliefs in various deities and superstitions as easily as children shake off and come to terms with the non-existence of Santa, we could now be heading for the stars.

But that is still a long time in the future, I think. Not because children believe in Santa, but because so many adults still believe in gods.

The Bad Thinking Blog Says: Long live Santa.

Let kids enjoy themselves; they have plenty of time to come to terms with reality – and surely a lot of them will do just that.