Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Atheist in support of Christmas

ArkansasMatters.com ran this article on November 19th: "Charlie Brown Christmas Show Causes Church and State Controversy." It reports that a Little Rock church was performing matinees of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for local schools. The schools sent permission slips home for the field trip, but parents who believe in the separation of church and state protested children being led into places of worship by their government-run schools as part of the school day.

That makes sense and I like Maressa Brown's reasoned opinion which she posted on
The Stir. She writes, "The season should never be treated as an excuse for doing something that wouldn't be considered appropriate at any other time of the years...like taking public school students to see a religiously-themed play with zero application to their curriculum at a church!"

But as an atheist, I can't help but think this is the stuff that gives atheists a bad name. Is it the right move to eliminate all religious instruction from the American public school system? Wouldn't it be better to allow all religions equal time? I believe spiritual beliefs are hardwired into the human survival mechanism and without them, we would never have survived as a species (I also think we should never have survived as a species, but that's another hypocritical discussion). Rather than argue that it's wrong to shuttle innocent, open-minded children to church, how about shuttling innocent, open-minded children to every place of worship possible? I'm in favor of an all or nothing approach. Introduce American children to mosques, temples, synagogues and yes, churches. Do you know how bored they'd be? Rather than become indoctrinated and mind-washed, kids would be so turned off by the tedium of spiritual practice, they'd want little to do with it. Or they'd choose their own path, which is also fine (religious beliefs can be extremely useful and nourishing, but -- again -- that's another argument).

On the other hand, atheists shutting down school activities is in keeping with the Christmas spirit given that Christmas has a long history of people trying to stamp it out. But my American atheist brethren: do you really believe the American Christmas tradition has much to do with religion? Come on: it's a cultural tradition of consumption and childhood fantasy. Who really cares about Jesus as we stand in long lines, tally up department store bills and ingest obscene quantities of cinnamon and vanilla? Christmas is mostly a big party with the same nominal relationship to Christ that it had back in the beginning when the Christian Church linked the feast day of a pagan god to its myth of a savior.

Let's be reasonable. Those who want to go to church on December 25th and pretend this is all about God are free to do so, but besides that let's have fun! In the public eye, Christmas only becomes about religion when people shout it loud enough, so hush. And let the kids have a field trip to see a play that mentions Jesus in the end -- why the hell not? After all, it's Christmas.


Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Someone tried to post this but couldn't. I'm doing it for them: I support the right of atheists to partake of Christmas should they so desire. However, I resent and oppose policing them to share your particular attitudes towards it.

Moreover, using your own atheist identity to accuse them of tired old anti-atheist cliches is to turn yourself into a living weapon against them for no greater crime than asserting their rights. Quite alarming.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

My response: First, thanks for the comment! I, too, am against policing people to make sure they share certain beliefs and doctrines and I don't think that's what my post endorses. Also, would you please specify what anti-atheist cliches I'm using? Thanks!

Redag said...

You take attitudes with regard to Christmas that allow you to treat it as a secular event without religious implication. That is your right. What isn't right is blithely presuming that others can or should hold the same opinion. Another person might have traumatic religious associations with Christmas and be unable or unwilling (and it doesn't matter which) to do the same. You marginalize such people in a way I find problematic. You do this by at least appearing to attack people for exercising their legal rights.

Why should atheists not avail themselves of their rights? The fact that you are not in a position to _need_ to assert those rights doesn't mean you get to denigrate those who must or who choose to do so. You come across as someone using situational privilege to defect from the broader freedom of conscience coalition. Every single citizen of this nation deserves the full protection of the law, and this means the freedom to avoid any religious endorsement by the institutions of their state.

You raise an interesting question about seeking out more religious exposure. However, it is not the world we live in. It is a hypothetical and we do not know if the logistical challenges would prove superable.

That world would have to come first, before atheists could be expected to yield their rights (inalienable and all) to a new system.

Redag said...

Additionally your notion that "every kind of worship possible" is somewhat problematic. We can certainly imagine kinds of worship that great chunks of our society would find objectionable to send children to. Imagine the court problems that would arise sending people to see ceremonies involving sex magic, or animal sacrifice, or self-flagellation.

Cliches and stereotypes about atheists that you play into:

"But as an atheist, I can't help but think this is the stuff that gives atheists a bad name. Is it the right move to eliminate all religious instruction from the American public school system?"

This seems to correspond to the claim that atheists enforcing their rights legally are bad people and that one is right to think poorly of them. Perhaps you did not mean it that way. I would certainly welcome clarification. As you should know 'equal time' or rather, equal expressive access is one of the legally possible outcomes of church/state secularism issues. You've probably seen stories about municipalities that raffle off such spots for the holidays. This is legal, and so far as I know not the target of any atheist or secularist counteraction.

"On the other hand, hot-headed atheists (and I am one) shutting down school field trips that violate rules of church and state is in keeping with the Christmas spirit, given that Christmas has a long history of people trying to stamp it out."

I am interested in knowing what you feel is the long history of people trying to stamp out Christmas. This looks like it feeds a historically out of context sense of persecution amongst modern, hegemonically dominant Christians.

And yes, as long as it has us calling it 'Christmas' the winter holiday holds a deep connection to Christ. Mind you, call it anything else, do it for other reasons and that connection is severed. But the motive of people seeking to display devotional material on public land is to express dominance. The _point_ is to intrude on the rights of minorities, it is not incidental.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Redag, I’m enjoying this discussion. I like your point that “the motive of people seeking to display devotional material on public land is to express dominance.” I think I agree. I just don’t think our American Christmas counts as devotional. Yes, it’s more Christian than it is Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, but if we weigh the devotional foci of American Christmas against the secular, the secular stuff wins. Christmas, as it’s practiced in the U.S, simply isn't religious enough to be worth much attention by separation-of-church-and-state supporters (in my opinion, this being my blog).

About Christmas’ history of being suppressed, I’ll put my information on that in another post soon. I was being tongue-in-cheek: aligning people like Maressa Brown with the seventeenth century Puritans who wanted a religious America without the debauchery of Christmas. See what I was doing there? Sorry. I’ll have to do another NOTHER post on the whole “war on Christmas” thing, which wasn’t what I had in mind when I wrote today’s post.

Redag said...

To clarify, the usual devotional display that comes up are nativity manger scenes. Do you see that as actually non-devotional?

I am glad you're enjoying this.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Yes, those nativity scenes are pretty Jesusy. Still, as an atheist, I don't think they're worth much attention. Rather than get rid of them, let's give all religions equal time.

Redag said...

As I mentioned, the equal access option is out there in the legal space. But you and I, neither of us can choose if a community will avail themselves of it. Sometimes they'll just tempt people to sue who don't have any other redress.

What I'd appreciate more than anything is your understanding that people doing that are suffering for the effort they put in. That they are standing up for all of us.

You can't just magically hope that people take your preferred policy. If they did so when a suit was in the offing neither of us would have problems.

Steve Meier said...

I totally embrace your point. Consider Christmas a winter solstice celebration and just ignore the Jesus part. Let's embrace all the world religions whose beliefs embrace tolerance, co-existence and love of the fellow man. I really enjoy vicariously taking part in religious holidays even though they are not mine. Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, and even secular holidays like Chinese New Year. Perhaps there should be an Atheist holiday so us non-Atheist can learn and appreciate your beliefs.

Redag said...

Most importantly, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES is the fact that you are OK with something an excuse to take away the rights of other people.

Never. Ever.