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Christmas Reflection 2017

More than any other time, event, or celebration, Christmas, for me, shows that you can take the boy out of Christianity but you can’t take Christianity out of the boy.  As much as I am a completely secular-humanist/agnostic/atheist (pick your term), I am still hopelessly attracted to Christmas and what it stands for.

As I said in the previous post, it is not that I “believe” in the Christmas story (stories) as a historical event (events).  In my judgment the biblical accounts have virtually nothing historical about them, other than that Jesus was born to two lower-class Jewish peasants somewhere in the land of Israel during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Beyond that – I don’t see anything historical in the accounts.   No need to explain why here – I’ve talked about it enough on the blog before.

And yet I’m drawn to the season and all it stands for, surely in a way that someone who had not been raised Christian simply cannot be.   I think for me, in my thoroughly secular life, it is because of what I take to be the very best features of the season.

Before detailing some of those, let me say emphatically that I know for lots and lots of people Christmas is the most miserable time of year, a time of loneliness, isolation, fragmentation, and unwanted obligation.   I think the fact that so many people find it such a happy time is precisely what makes it such a miserable time for others, either for those who have lost their most cherished loved ones, or all their families; or whose families have fallen apart; who have no one to cherish the season with, or who can’t stand either the grotesque materialism or the superficial happiness of it all in the midst of real suffering, or … well or lots of other things.   I completely get that.

Even so, for me, still at this stage of my life, it is the happiest season of the year.  Today I was trying to think why, since I’m no longer a believer.   I think Christmas embodies for me most of the things in life that I think of as inherently good.  (While I say that, let me stress emphatically: I despise the materialism of it all, and would be far, far happier to be rid of it all.)   Here are some of them:

  • Christmas makes me remember very good times of joy and peace and happiness with my family growing up. And it makes me feel particularly well connected to my family now (even though I’m not with my kids – they are grown and doing their own things!  Still….).  It was, and still is, a time for togetherness, for being together in spirit if not in fact, for sharing, for celebrating together.
  • Good food and drink! OK, I know that sounds rather banal, and epicurean, but the reality is that I’m an Epicurean at heart (I’ll explain that some time) (I mean in the ancient sense, mutatis mutandis for a 21st century setting….) and I very much enjoy the simple pleasures.  Couldn’t we get rid of the frantic materialism of the season and focus on the family getting together over amazing culinary delights?
  • The goodwill. Is it just me, or do people on the street just seem happier at Christmas?  More smiles, laughter, friendliness?  And general good will toward one another.  “Peace on earth and good will to all” – what could be better than that?
  • The sense of giving. Even though I don’t like the crass consumerism of the season, I like the idea of giving very much.  Wouldn’t it be great if we just gave each of our loved ones one carefully chosen and meaningful thing?  OK, 9/10 of us might not think so – but I think it would express far more love and attachment than the pick-up-whatever-catches-your-eye-as-you-go-down-the-aisle mentality so many of us (US!) have.
  • The image of God it conveys. The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance.  He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption.   That’s a great image of a divine being.  This is not a God who is waiting for you to die so he can send you into eternal torment.  It is a God who is concerned for you and your world, who wants to solve your problems, heal your wounds, remove your pain, bring you joy, peace, happiness, healing, and wholeness.   Can’t we keep that image with us all the time?  Can’t we affirm that view of ultimate reality 52 weeks of the year instead of just a few?

I myself do not believe in God.   But if I did, that would be the God I would defend, promote, and proclaim.   Enough of war!  Enough of starvation!  Enough of epidemics!  Enough of pain!  Enough of misery!  Enough of abject loneliness!  Enough of violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and suffering of every kind!  Give me the God of Christmas, the God of love, the God of an innocent child in a manger, who comes to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, the way it was always meant to be.


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    seahawk41  December 24, 2017

    Well put! I’m another who grew up in a conservative evangelical environment. I didn’t go the whole-hog thing that you did, but I was very serious about it, and the bulk of my large extended family are still there. I am now a member of a very liberal denomination, and think of myself as a “skeptical Christian”. I have not gone so far as to declare myself agnostic or atheist (two of my kids have and I’m not sure where the third is!), but that is pretty much where my beliefs are. The thing I would add to your list is the music. Whether you think of Bach and Handel or the current favorite, John Rutter (who himself says he is not sure where he is re Christian beliefs), Christian music is powerful. And for me, at any rate, singing this music reaches an emotional depth that I don’t get in other ways. There is no question: Music is what keeps me in the church!! And that in spite of the fact that I am a physicist and fully understand and accept the materialistic view of the origin of the universe and life and the evolutionary origin of humans.

  2. Avatar
    Lostallfaith  December 24, 2017

    Thank you Bart, for your thoughtful, truthful words. I agree with everything that you hold dear about Christmas. I have lost my Christian faith after many years…triggered by the loss of my son four years ago to a Christian cult in Texas. I have learned and studied through ICSA conferences, your writings and many cult expert writings, and your blog that to love is unconditional. And so I celebrate Christmas in an agnostic way, holding my family and memories dear to my heart and hoping my son will return to us one day. He now is married with a baby, and feels that anyone celebrating Christmas is not “right with God” according to Corinthians. What he doesn’t understand is that Christmas is about love, and family and that is right with me. Thank you Bart, and Merry Christmas!

  3. Avatar
    Jim Cherry  December 25, 2017

    Merry Christmas Bart. Very well spoken, as usual.
    Trying to avoid the materialism & stress of gift decisions, I give monetary gifts to our grandchildren.
    That leaves plenty of time to enjoy the Season.

  4. John4
    John4  December 25, 2017

    Well, I did shed some sentimental tears this year watching the children perform the annual Christmas Eve pageant. (Since Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday this year, we got the pagent for our church service. No sermon, lol!)

    I can understand you leaving the church and all, Bart. There’s real integrity in that, and the value of such integrity is obvious.

    But, the church’s insistence on profession its pre-modern cosmology (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth….”) isn’t everything. And neither, I suppose, is obviously valuable integrity, lol.

    I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases, Bart! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Silver  December 25, 2017

    You are very clear what you do and do not believe e.g. about Christmas. That prompts the question: Are we in control of what we believe? I’m not sure I can express the question clearly, but can we help what we believe? Is this the meaning behind ‘All those the Father gives me will come to me…’ John 6:37 and similarly statements in John 6:39 and John 10:29? These passages seem to suggest we cannot really be held responsible for our beliefs.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      My view is different from John’s. I think the answer is absolutely yes — or at least we can decide if we do or do not believe, and can change our beliefs if we choose!

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  December 28, 2017

        I’m reading John Dewey’s Human Nature and Conduct right now. He holds that human nature as such is highly resistant to change, but the ways in which we manifest that nature can be transformed with social circumstances. He hasn’t mentioned religion in that context thus far, but if religiosity is a part of our wiring (some scientists think it is) then the expressions of that nature can change. Fundamentalists can become Marxists or Freudians, for instance.

  6. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  December 25, 2017

    I Agee with everything you’ve written. I would also add that in our Culture Christmas has also gathered many Secular aspects to it. One can enjoy much of the season without the running into the religious connotations. I have come to see Christmas as a time to celebrate life and to show honor, love and gratitude toward all the people in our lives and to spend time with them and give them gifts.

    This season is bittersweet for me. My mother passed away on Christmas Eve 32 years ago when I was 22. Five years earlier my father passed away about 12 days before Christmas. His brother, my uncle, died 7 days later. That was in 1980 right after John Lennon was murdered and this big Beatles fan was already grieving. The year after my mother died my brother-in-Law was killed in a tragic accident 4 days before Christmas. Suffice it to say for a long time I dreaded the month of December!

    I built better memories when my wife and I got engaged on Christmas Eve 12 years ago.

    I do see Christmas as a time to focus on peace and love and may we hopefully bring that vision to light some day.

    Merry Christmas 🎄🎁 to you and your family!

  7. Avatar
    jdub3125  December 25, 2017

    A God of love as the Professor has described is the only God worthy of praise and proclamation. A god of wrath, hatred of enemies, war, and eternal torment is not worthy of anything, not even a capital letter, and no Christian should want fellowship with such a god.
    Merry Christmas Professor and all bloggers!

  8. Avatar
    davitako  December 25, 2017

    Happy Christmas, Bart!

    Sorry for an off-topic question, I’ve had it since childhood. After Jesus ressurected Jarius’s daughter, he told them to give her something to eat.

    Why do you think he told them to feed her? He didn’t give this instruction after other resurrections (if I remember correctly). Was it because she was dead for some time now and her body was weakened and needed some food? Or Mark is conveying some deeper theological concept on life after death?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      It’s similar to what he did when he raised Lazarus, telling them to unbind him. In both cases he is tending to their physical needs.

  9. Avatar
    Barnsweb  December 25, 2017

    We discuss reason, God and faith – myth VS historical objectivity, but isn’t it interesting how much Jesus taught of “truth” rather than reason? and that “truth” was whatever God actually said was good.

  10. Avatar
    BartyD4all  December 25, 2017

    Happy Christmas. J. Lennon

  11. Avatar
    Wcooke  December 25, 2017

    Bart, I like your God of Christmas!

  12. Avatar
    Hume  December 26, 2017

    In the Apocalypse of James what are the passwords to get pass the 7 Archons? You should tell me Bart just in case I die and they won’t let me pass! 😉

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      I would love to, but I’m sorry to say they are only for insiders, so, well, I’m not allowed….

      • Avatar
        Hume  December 26, 2017

        Lol 🙂 You may be indirectly responsible for my relocation to Gehenna.

  13. Avatar
    Yoel  December 26, 2017

    I enjoyed your post today. I grew up in a conservative protestant church with several clergymen in the family. I have questioned the religion/faith since my late teenage years, but ignored (or gave a pass on) the questions for 3 decades. Several years ago, I read a book by James Tabor in which he stated that at some point in time the basic tenets of the Christian faith became defined as being the belief in how Jesus came into the world and how he left the world; what happened in between is of lesser importance. This was an eye opener for me, because I had never thought of it that way. In fact, there are about a dozen tenets of faith that are supposed to define what a Christian is required to believe, none of which pull-at-the heart-strings. I also enjoyed your posts on the Didache because I believe “…. the way of life [is to] …. love …. your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to another.” I reconcile this dichotomy by thinking of religion as existing in the head, while faith dwells in the heart. Anyone who loves his neighbor and practices the golden rule can enjoy Christmas as much as anyone, regardless of their race, color or creed (or lack thereof).

  14. Avatar
    flshrP  December 27, 2017

    My problem with Christmas good will and fellowship is the intimate connection between that holiday and organized religion. Organized religion is arguably the most divisive force in our society (us vs them, the true believers vs the non-believers, the saved and the damned, the sinners and the saints, etc. on and on). The older I get the more I think that Festivus is the way to celebrate Christmas. You don’t have to believe in any mythical Christmas stories to participate.

  15. Avatar
    deanegalbraith@yahoo.co.nz  December 27, 2017

    Your sentiments reminded me of the rather beautiful Christmas song by Australian atheist and comedian Tim Minchin, who sings of Christmas that he has “all of the usual objections / To consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion / To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian / Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer / But I still really like it”. And later on in the song, he sings that “Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords / But the lyrics are dodgy”.

    The song is a really nice listen, and has become my favourite Christmas song: White Wine in the Sun

  16. Avatar
    Apocryphile  December 28, 2017

    Beautiful thoughts. I think and feel exactly the same as you about the season. I think that if there is a God, he/she/it can be nothing resembling the Judeo-Christian version, but I do think that the fine-tuning of our universe still requires an explanation. This may forever be beyond the ability of humans to discover, but the mystery of “why this universe”, or “why anything at all” won’t go away. Either there was an intelligent creator or imperative creative principle at work behind our universe, or the fine-tuning is simply the inevitable statistical result of an infinite multiverse. The fact that it logically has to be one of these two options is fascinating to me, and the fact that we may be able to address the multiverse question experimentally in the not-too-distant future is even more mind-blowing. Regardless, I think that before we can declare ourselves to be anything but agnostic about the God question, we need to absorb the full import of the science behind it, and what it has to say to us already.

  17. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  January 8, 2018

    Precisely, B! :o)

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