Seriously, can we put the tree up yet?

10 Nov

I’ve never been questioned regarding my celebration of Christmas but this post has made me think about it more than I’ve ever done before. It hasn’t made me reconsider my position, but it has made me consider it and a comment wouldn’t have done my waffly wordy musings justice.

I’m an atheist. I’m not a fundamental atheist, if there even is such a thing.  According to Frank Schaeffer there is, but this piece on Alternet which sees him accusing Richard Dawkins of fundamentalism and calling me and people like me “deluded” and “not terribly bright” has scuppered any respect he earned from me after I read his autobiography. Yes I read (and enjoyed) Frank Schaeffer’s autobiography. Pretending that religion doesn’t exist doesn’t strike me as a particularly balanced view of the world. Religion as I see it marks a developmental stage in our species, an almost inevitable by-product of sentience. I believe self-awareness and a sense of our place in time led us to look beyond ourselves for answers to questions we couldn’t answer. Don’t ask me to prove that, I might be an atheist but I’m a bit wishy-washy on the deductive reasoning front, life needs a bit of conjecture and “what-if?” sometimes.

church2weeIf I was presented with incontrovertible proof that any of the plethora of gods out there existed I wouldn’t continue denying their existence, and as far as I’m concerned that’s what makes me and atheists in general non-fundamental, we don’t deny the weight of evidence. Neither do we preach to people of faith the way people of faith preach to us. You won’t see us standing on street corners thumping copies of Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I have no desire to convert anyone to atheism and am extremely uncomfortable with Jehovah’s Witnesses and LDS missionaries who feel the need to try and convert me. I do take umbrage at that and am often tempted to go bang on the JWs doors over Christmas, sing carols at them and leave a gift, just to see how they like the intrusion.

It’s not difficult to raise atheist children, in fact it’s the easiest flipping thing ever. You don’t actually have to do anything, there’s no defaithing programme or unbelieving to be done. It’s so easy I would call it lazy. I have managed to effortlessly raise completely heathen children who paint Easter eggs and sing Christmas carols (well… they have their ears assaulted by me singing Christmas carols).  They attended a primary school headed by a lay-preaching christian extremist (in my opinion) and still managed to emerge untouched by faith. The worst thing you can do if you hope to raise a child who is capable of skeptical inquiry and  thinks critically is tell them what to  believe. One of my main objections to raising children in any religious doctrine is the denial of their  right as free-thinking individuals to choose their beliefs for themselves. Making your child an atheist is no different from, and certainly no better than, making them a christian or a muslim or whatever. I can see no moral high ground in that whatsoever. So far mine are taking the heathen route, but I’m not daft enough to think that will never change and should they choose a journey of faith I am almost certain I will be able to respect their choice  inwardly as well as outwardly – unless they “choose” Scientology in which case the claws will be out and hell mend anyone who gets in my way.

I live in a culture that marks its celebrations and festivals using christian symbolism. That’s not to say that the spring and mid-winter festivals of Easter and Christmas are inherently christian, they have been adopted by christianity whilst retaining their pre-christian roots as celebrations of rebirth and the turn of the year at its darkest point (how northernhemispherobic is that!). Why wouldn’t I celebrate them? When I was a child I was taught that the eggs we painted and rolled at Easter were representative of the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. Even at a young age I wondered at the gaudy decoration! We “do” the Tooth Fairy, we “do” Santa. I find it hard to equate my telling of the”Santa lie” with telling my children I believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God when I obviously don’t. I also tell my children their faces will stay like that if the wind blows, that eating bread crusts will give them curly hair and that sitting close to the TV will damage their eyes, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to support any of these spurious claims. Yeah, I’m a big fat liar!

church1weeIf I lived in a country where it was impossible to enter politics without a religious agenda I suspect I would be a bit more dogmatic. The Church of Scotland itself helps and undoubtedly has a lot to do with how comfortable I am with christianity and its place in my culture. I absolutely adore the Watchnight Service on Christmas Eve and have attended several over the years. I was married in a Church of Scotland by a minister (2 in fact, my ex-husband’s uncle performed the ceremony) who knew perfectly well I was an atheist. I don’t feel that any of these overtly religious observances compromised me in any way – how could they? How can you compromise an absence of belief? There is nothing there to compromise. If my local church isn’t offended why should anyone else be? Every Church of Scotland minister I have met has treated me with and earned my respect. And I like traipsing round churchyards with my camera…

My children are exposed to religions from the world over in all their wonder and all their horror. To deny religion is the sort of blinkered closed-mind-set I don’t appreciate in religious fundamentalists. It’s a very human thing to take things on faith alone, to believe in that which cannot be proven. It’s a very human thing to question our existence, to ponder our purpose and to expand and record our knowledge. We don’t all arrive at the same answers but those answers can, I believe, co-exist.

So… can we put the tree up yet? The tree with baubles and lights and tinsel and not a single bit of christian imagery?

Another three weeks?

Bah humbug!

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3 Responses to “Seriously, can we put the tree up yet?”

  1. Kelly November 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    Awesome. I just might print this out and put it in my Christmas cards this year.

    On a side note: My husband enjoys inviting the Mormon Missionaries into the house and them putting something fantastically explosive and distracting on the TV, because they are NOT allowed to watch TV during their mission. He likes to watch them squirm.

  2. Princess K November 12, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    I absolutely adore this post! I am personally agnostic. My heart wants all the “greater power” warm fuzzies, but my mind screams “bullshit!” My hubs was raised Catholic and is totally athiest. We celebrate all the holidays, bow our heads during prayers, and don’t care that the 10 commandments are posted on main street! I was raised to make my own choice and while I like the idea of fellowship that a church can bring, I cannot accept the idea of following blindly like a sheep and believing in something that just doesn’t make sense to me. You put this into words wonderfully.

    I think raising children without religion will create just as wonderful heathens as raising them with religion will do… 🙂

  3. Funny Christmas Songs December 11, 2009 at 2:27 am #

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