Why Christmas Bugs Me

David Neiwart popped up a post on Orcinus today about the whole mess in Washington State (as an aside, I grew up in Washington, and don’t believe in calling it ‘Washington State’ to differentiate from Washington DC, you should just call Washington DC Washington DC, you know?). I’ve been chewing on this now for a few days, and thanks in part to Christopher Hitchens, I’ve found out why things are bothering me.

Ideally, like Christopher, I’d love to live in a world where us atheists mind our own business and the folks of all of the other religions mind their own business, but the world isn’t like that. The very nature of religion and the very nature of the world makes this impossible, which then makes every display of religion a tacit attack on not only atheism, but every other religion out there.

Here’s what Christopher says in God is not Great:

…there is a real and serious difference between me and my religious friends, and the real and serious friends are sufficiently honest to admit it. I would be quite content to go to their children’s bar mitsvahs, to marvel at their Gothic cathedrals, to “respect” their belief that the Koran was dictated, though exclusively in Arabic, to an illiterate merchant, or to interest myself in Wicca and Hindu and Jain consolations. And as it happens, I will continue to do this without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition – which is that they in turn leave me alone. But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing. As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.

I read those words for the first time last night, and as I was reading them a little lightbulb went on in my head. I’d been struggling for a week or more to figure out why the FFRF’s sign alternatively bugged me with it’s loud pronouncement that Atheism is the one, true way and made me proud. I did, after all, give $100 for a sustainable membership right after, but at the same time I felt a little ashamed to show the picture of the image to a friend whom I knew would approve.

The sign reads:

At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
This sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice

I naturally shy away from things that have such animosity and such absolutism written in their texts. It’s one of the reasons that I’m still a little shy when it comes to Richard Dawkins. I don’t necessarily see the purpose or the reason in belittling other people to get your point across, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand. I do understand, and it took some text someone else wrote to make me figure out why, exactly, I understand. Religion can not be defeated or even subdued by merely standing by and asking politely, “Sirs, Ladies, could you please let us be?” The answer will always, emphatically be, ‘No’, because religion is a natural power suck. Hitchens goes on to say, a chapter later:

The level of intensity fluctuates according to time and place, but it can be stated as a truth that religion does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with it’s own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths. It may speak about the bliss of the next world, but it wants power in this one. This is only to be expected. It is, after all, wholly man-made. And it does not have the confidence in its own various preachings even to allow coexistence between different faiths.

A friend of mine argued with me that the FFRF sign was offensive and rude, while the simple display of the nativity scene was not. I can be sympathetic to what she said, because part of me agrees. I mean, how could a display of a few adults standing around and looking at a cute, sweet, innocent baby really be offensive? But, it gets offensive when you start thinking about what all of that cute, sweet, glurgy symbolism actually means. I mean, the mere fact that none of that symbolism is original to Christianity (though all of it is claimed to be) should at the very least annoy someone. If you add all of the years and years of people claiming superiority in the name of this little baby, using his name to start wars, finish wars and justify all sorts of cruelty, then the pure image of this cute little baby in a manger starts to become oh-so sullied… and the sign claiming that the baby doesn’t exist? Well, that starts to look rather meek, compared.

Now, listen, I’m all for being nice to people I don’t agree with and letting them do their god-worshiping on their own. I can even respect the amount of comfort and sometimes even joy that people manage to suck out of religion. I can’t relate to it, but that’s my issue. If it were up to me, the Christians, Jews, Hindus and everyone else would do their little worshiping on their own, I’d do my not-worshiping on my own, and we’d all just sort of get along and respect each other as humans who happen to inhabit the same planet. We may not agree with each other or even like the other’s beliefs, but we leave each other alone.

But, it’s not up to me, and it’s not that way. It can never even be that way. The nature of most religions is to grow, not to shrink, and in order to do that they have to drive in ever-more numbers through whatever means possible. In the United States that takes the form of using fear and subjugation to push religious law on non-religious people and to try and forcefully take over our government institutions with their symbols. It’s not fair and it’s not right and the FFRF put a giant spotlight on just WHY it’s not fair or right.

What galls me the most, though, and this is a personal failing, is that I don’t personally have the courage to just boldly stand behind this action. I know in my mind that it’s necessary. I know that right now, in the circus tent that is the Washingtion State Capitol, the point is being made – loud and clear – that NONE of those displays belong there, yet when my friend started to call me out on it being too mean… I recoiled, I pulled back. I let it go just like that because, in some part, I agreed with her. In an ideal world it would be mean. But this isn’t an ideal world and we need more people, people like me, pointing out that fact.

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2 Comments »

  1. andeeroo Said:

    fascinating take. Can’t remember when I was planning anyone’s destruction. . . religious, atheist, or other. But I identify with some
    of the very feelings you express in reverse.

    I have no beef with the winter solstice display in Washington; we all practice faith in God or faith that there is no God. Celebrate your beliefs! I have the same take on evolution or intelligent design. Teach the scientific points of view and give people the chance to decide.

    Hope you can read my humorous holiday poem with no offense.

    http://andeeroo.wordpress.com/2008/12/12/twas-the-night-before-secular-winter-holiday/

  2. Sojourner Said:

    Hi Andeero, thanks for stopping by!

    If you’re one of the few people who can be religious without trying to impose your beliefs on others (in the form of anything – proselytizing, law-making, etc… ), then I encourage you strongly to share that belief with other people of your faith. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find people who are willing to ‘live and let live’ or ‘believe and let non-believe’ and it’s caused a lot of violence the world over.

    Interesting poem… a little off-kilter, but interesting nonetheless.


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