Thursday, December 24, 2009

Obligatory Christmas Eve Post

I think I’m beginning to get why there’s this stereotype of the angry and unhappy atheist floating around out there. I’m also starting to understand why it’s become a cheap and easy shot to say that atheists and skeptics don’t create anything. See, it’s Christmas and everyone on the non-religious side of the spectrum seems to be really angry and/or grumpy. Doesn’t anyone have anything better to do? I mean, seriously. Doesn’t anyone have families to visit, gifts to wrap, dinners to make, NBA games to pass out while watching after eating too much and unwrapping presents? Has anyone noticed that there are Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters marathons to watch? Can’t we all just shut the fuck up about how stupid Christians are over “their” holiday for a while? There’s a great danger in burn out on stuff like this. Trust me, I know of what I speak, since I’ve been there before. I spent years being angry and grump all the time because I was a Christian and so many Christians just didn’t get it “right.” I felt like every trip to church was a fight waiting to happen and everyone was about five seconds from saying something incredibly stupid that would have to be corrected. Then I quit but was still in the same town and sometimes saw the same people I’d been going to church with for all those years. I’d tense up when they were around, prepared for a fight of some sort. Mostly I’d just get mad when I heard all the crap that used to make so much sense as an outsider and realized it was senseless, stupid, and often hateful. But, really, the only person who was affected by my contiunal level of self-imposed stress was me. I’ve learned to let it go, to only let my blood rise when it’s necessary and only occasionally. I can still spout off any number of reasons why something I encounter is bad theology or an example of religious propriety overriding simple humanity, but it doesn’t really bother me once the moment has passed. There’s nothing I can do about it. And for the most part I really don’t care to try. Why should I get in a huff every time some Christian claims that I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because I’m not the right kind of person? Why should I be bothered by nativity sets? These are not the fights that matter and these are not the front on which the supposed cultural war in which we perpetually find ourselves will be won or lost. The simple fact is that as long as a nativity scene doesn’t involve a violation of the Establishment Clause it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s some religious nut with no real political power saying Christmas should only be for the Christians then he or she can be safely ignored. Mockery and ridicule and angry rejoineders don’t go as far as deafening silence. It’s the lesson of the internet troll. The appropriate response is to take a deep breath and remember: DNFTT.* It’s Christmas. Celebrate, or don’t, as you wish. No one is going to break in to my apartment tonight and force me to set up a nativity at gunpoint. No one is going to knock on my parents’ door tomorrow to make sure we’re properly reverant about the celebration of the “birth” of “our lord and savior.” No one is even going to notice that I’ll neither bother to remember Jesus nor (as PZ suggests**) make a big deal about how little I care about the religious world. The holiday belongs neither to the Pope nor PZ. It belongs to me to celebrate however I want. So yesterday I went on the annual family Christmas outing to Chicago. We ate under the tree in the Walnut Room and visited the Christkindlemarket. We saw the ornament we donated for John Williams’ People’s Tree in front of the Tribune Tower. I bought the world’s ugliest Christmas ornament.*** On Saturday we’ll head back in to the city to see the Nutcracker. That, to me, is Christmas. It’s lunch under the tree in the Walnut Room. It’s the Nutcracker. Yes, it also used to be midnight candlelight services at church, but when I was a kid that was the thing that killed time before the big morning. My last few Christmases before I decided I’d had enough of the whole religion thing were spent getting so guiltified over the feeling that I wasn’t being properly reverential that it killed any attempt to be properly aware of the whole Jesus part of the story. Honestly, this year I kind of want to go and see my dad sing in his church’s choir and see the candlelight service. I probably won’t, but not because of any particular anti-religious feeling, more the simple, mundane issues that come with several days of rain and sleet followed by sub-freezing temperatures here in the land of Chicago. I’m just not sure it will be safe on the roads and I’m no longer just down the street. Either way, religious or not, it’s all just background noise. Make of the holidays what you will, because being grumpy about them will only hurt you. The grumpy atheists who are supposedly stealing the holidays from the real Christians aren’t listening to the Christians. The poor, deluded Christians aren’t listening to the skeptics. It’s just an echo chamber. A sad echo chamber that’s no fun for anyone. So, y'know, merry Christmas and whatnot... ------------------------------- *Sadly, I feel that I have to add in the standard caveat that this doesn’t apply to, say, people on school boards trying to get evolutionary science education tossed in favor of creationism. Or Congresspeople who seem to think that it would be the bee’s knees if we made prayer mandatory in our nation’s schools or something like that. Religious claptrap comes in both benign and malignant forms, after all. **I couldn't actually read the entire post to which I linked. After PZ's sour-puss Thanksgiving post I decided that I should probably avoid him on the holidays. Seriously, even as someone who is actually fairly acutely aware of how much more freedom I have now than in my church days just three short years ago, I have better things to do than sit around and think of how great it is to be Jesus free this Christmas. I've got a DVR full of Dirty Jobs re-runs, for the love of Pete... Of course that one comes right after the post where he praises the Freedom From Religion Foundation for putting up signs that say this next to nativity scenes: "At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." I have a deeply visceral disgust with that particular message. It's not the, "Won't somebody think of the children!" response that seems the default these days. It's more like, "What the fuck? There are some people who like this stuff and you're shitting in their Cheerios. Don't you have anything better to do?" Oh, also, it sounds like they found the most arrogant prick in the organization to write their precious little placard, then said, "Now how can we edit it to sound even more condescending and offensive?" There were many Christians I wanted to not be associated with in my time in church. There are many among the non-religious I want nothing to do with now. Calling out the "atheist fundamentalists" is creating too much of a false equivalence, but to say that there are some real sourpusses in the skeptic/atheist corner is dramatically understating things. Seriously, lighten up. Have some fun. ***Seriously, the only thing more dreadful than the ornament was the tree it was supposed to be on. Well, that and horrible leopard print tree skirt. Okay, the only two things more horrible than the ornament were the tree it was on and the leopard print tree skirt. Okay, and those feather things. The only three things…never mind. One thing I will say about Macy’s: their Christmas stuff is terrible. I do not know why I would actually want a foot-wide gold-and-leopard-print butterfly ornament unless it was half price and I was buying it specifically so I can bring it out and laugh at it. I have this vague recollection of Field’s doing tasteful Christmas ornaments. Macy’s seems to want to convince me to make the gaudiest, shittiest Christmas tree ever. Maybe they should have retained more than just the building and the Frango production area in that takeover… And since I got the "triple dog dare you" of internet challenges: "pics or it didn't happen:"


Leigh said...

Awesome. Thank you. I agree, frankly I could care less what other people do for the holidays. I care about what I do. I care about watching Santa Claus vs the Martians and Doctor Who. I care about watching the kiddo open presents. That's my holiday. There are pagans who get all bent out of shape because they stole our holiday. Like we own it. I get my blood up sometimes about it, but not too often. I'd rather be happy and enjoy it.
Also, Deadliest Catch. Their marathon is own right now. Just saying. Sig rocks.

BarnStormer said...

Thank you for this post, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. It's enlightening to see that there are other non-theists out there who enjoy a holiday like Christmas for what he/she makes it to be, and doesn't need to worry themselves over how other people celebrate it.

Big A said...

I myself am trying to make this transition.

I've finally hit the point where I no longer feel the need to be perpetually bitter at Christmas, but I also have collided into a situation where no previous Christmas traditions work.

On that basis, I'm working to essentially build a new Christmas for myself. I'm seriously considering building it around the Japanese romantic Christmas tradition because the idea of less Jesus; more fornicating is tremendously appealing to me :D

The Woeful Budgie said...

It's all about The Muppet Christmas Carol around here. And let's not forget TBS and their all-day run of A Christmas Story. :D

I’d tense up when they were around, prepared for a fight of some sort. Mostly I’d just get mad when I heard all the crap that used to make so much sense as an outsider and realized it was senseless, stupid, and often hateful.

But, really, the only person who was affected by my contiunal level of self-imposed stress was me.

Word. I got to that point about a year and a half ago, not long before I stopped going to church altogether, where I realized I was very nearly making myself sick over stupid things I couldn't change. I never really came around to confronting anyone on these things, mostly because I was terrified of losing my credibility by showing myself to be someone who could no longer see the emperor's clothes, but I constantly carried it all---the arguments, the imagined counter-arguments, the fear, the anger, the panic, the never-ending tension---inside my own head, like a pressure cooker.

I'd started out reasonably enough, trying to think a bit more critically about what was going on at my church, but I crossed a line somewhere and started obsessing. At some point I realized, "I'm being a huge control freak, and I need to let this go."

Of course, nothing helped quite like deconverting completely, but in the interim, I learned that peace is a discipline: something I choose to do. That's been a helpful lesson.

...a foot-wide gold-and-leopard-print butterfly ornament...


Pics or it didn't happen! :)

Geds said...


Sadly, I wrote the post at work, so I couldn't exactly watch TV. But I never really got in to Deadliest Catch for reasons I don't fully understand. Then again, I only got in to Dirty Jobs in the last six months or so, but I've been mightily aided in catching up by the fact that every other day on Discovery is Dirty Jobs Marathon day.


I used to have teachers who said, "If you have a question, ask. Because if you have that question that means someone else probably does, too, but is too afraid to put their hand up." I think most people, whether theist, atheist, or somewhere in between probably just want to be left alone to their own wacky traditions.

Big A:

I have this strange urge to re-write a Christmas song. It starts "Fucking around the Christmas tree..." and, frankly, I'm terrified to figure out where it ends. Thanks for that...


There's a pic in the post now. Also, that was a surprisingly hard picture to take, since the lock on my tape measure broke. Sad, really. That's the last time I buy a tape measure at Big Lots and expect it to last more than, um, eight years. Yeah, that sounds about right. Actually, closer to ten, now that I think about it.

Also, thanks to my bro-in-law we're a Christmas Vacation family these days. But I was seriously considering watching Muppet Treasure Island tonight. You know, just to mix things up...

Joshua said...

Honestly, as far as I can tell the vast majority of non-theists have no problem enjoying the holidays. The ones who do are either those who a) have come from a religious background (and thus understandably have issues) b) those who have to deal with highly religious families around holidays or c) those who are professional/semi-professional atheists (like PZ).

And even PZ enjoys his holidays. At least, I get the impression he does. One can rant about some aspects of something and still enjoy the season as a whole.

Geds said...

I think he enjoys them, too, Joshua. He just seems to get awfully cranky in his blog posts and I found it annoying.