I love Christmas. Last year I noticed that my enjoyment of Christmas increased vastly after I became an atheist, and this year I’m enjoying it even more. I happen to be one of those people who listen to Christmas music all year long, so the start of the Christmas season after Thanksgiving is really exciting. This weekend I started to deck out my apartment with Christmas decorations. I went Christmas shopping and found some nice holiday cards that are atheist-friendly and printed on 100% recycled paper.
This year I am thinking more about the winter solstice, but I really don’t have a problem saying that I celebrate Christmas. I don’t care whether you say “Merry Christmas” as opposed to “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Solstice”. When I pass by homes and businesses that display nativity scenes, I think they are lovely and quaint.
I feel no guilt about taking advantage of a religious holiday for its festivities. It’s only by chance that the winter holiday that’s most celebrated at the end of the year is a Christian one. It may have its roots in pagan solstice celebrations, but I don’t have a problem with Christianity’s historical hijacking of the holiday. I just love having a holiday at this time of year. If the main winter celebration in America were an Islamic or Hindu or Zoroastrian religious holiday, I would still celebrate it, so long as it came with decorations, music, food, and a propensity towards charity and warm fuzziness. I just love the warm fuzzies at Christmas.
I used to sing and play in a lot of choirs and ensembles that performed in churches at Christmastime. Usually, I was one of the only serious Christians in the ensemble. It used to really upset me when I performed in church with other musicians who weren’t taking the religious meaning of the music seriously. I wasted a lot of time pouting over it.
This year, I think I might just go to church on Christmas Eve to hear some lovely music.
Hope is something that I don’t understand at all. There are so many aspects of being a person that I don’t understand, but the beauty is that humans are the only species who can know what they don’t know. For a short period of time, I get to inhabit one of these walking, waking bodies on this Earth. I get the privilege of inhabiting a brain that comprehends only a tiny fraction of itself. Out of so many collections of atoms in the universe, I am one of the few that have the privilege of hope. I get to see the birth and fulfillment of hope. And then conceive of more hope, and hold it in gestation until it bursts, and see what will be born from it.
small-town community, snow, subsistence living, music, children, creativity, sustainable salmon, wilderness, not being at my parents’ house to witness the latest family fiasco, not being the cause of the latest family fiasco, science, art, a regular paycheck, health insurance, my Wheaton friends, friends from various places scattered around the world, my job, organic produce, Christmas.
That’s February 12th, 2009.
I’m going to the AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago! Yay!
I love the AAAS Annual Meetings. (That’s the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for you non-nerds.) I attended the meetings in 2006 and 2007, and they influenced me a great deal, both personally and professionally. I think general scientific meetings are wonderful, mind-expanding, inspiring, and fun. I wasn’t planning on going this year, but I simply couldn’t resist when I saw that it fell on Darwin’s birthday and the theme of the meeting is evolution.
I’m staying in Chicago for a few extra days after the meeting to see friends and experience civilization. I would love to meet up with some fellow atheists there. If anyone is going to be there, and/or knows of any atheist gatherings in Chicago that week, let me know.
I moved recently, and my collection of books that I had shipped to myself just arrived. Do not EVER send anything 3000 miles via parcel post or media mail. I’m just glad that nothing fell out of the gaping hole left in one of my boxes where the side was ripped out.
I am so happy to have my books again! These are some of my favorites which are the core of my library:
Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy. This story is so beautifully written and captures human emotion perfectly.
Here if You Need Me, a memoir by Kate Braestrup. She is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a chaplain to game wardens. It’s filled with inspiring meditations on nature and God—but her conception of God is vague and natural (as opposed to supernatural).
Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins was my absolutely indispensable guide when I first became an atheist. The first copy that I owned was stolen, and I sincerely hope that person found it enlightening. For me, this is like the atheist’s equivalent of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Whatever else of Dawkins’ blather I find ridiculous, he was the one who held my hand through my first months of atheism. So it’s only for sentimental reasons that my signed copy of The God Delusion is also part of my permanent library, because I thought it was wholly uninspired.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan is like the Old Testament for nonbelief. I don’t know why, but that’s how it seems. In the beautiful, poetic, mysterious, ground-laying way.
Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan will never be edited out of my library. This is the book I always forget about but enjoy immensely. The chapter “The Amniotic Universe” is a real treat that I like to pull out on rainy days. Who knew that Carl Sagan could sound so much like Frank Tipler?
The Big Book for Peace is a children’s book that is now out of print, a collection of picture stories and poems about peace, written by well-known children’s authors and illustrators. All the proceeds from the book went to organizations like Amnesty International. The stories have a wise simplicity that I just don’t see in children’s books anymore. Whenever I have the opportunity to give a gift to a child, I try to hunt down a copy of this book.
I want to say, to anyone who thinks that God is your only hope for recovery, for justice, for redemption, that he is not. Whatever impossible thing you are facing or have faced, there is such a thing as healing apart from religion. There is such a thing as redemption from suffering and injustice. These things are possible, and you do not have to wait for heaven or for a miracle to see it.
I have suffered. I have survived something that really sucks. For a long time, I’ve taken Matthew 5:4 as the theme verse for my life. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
As a Christian, I was comforted with the thought that justice and healing would come one day, with the kingdom of heaven. But now, I have seen more than mere comfort. I have seen the beginning of healing. I have seen that nothing reasonable is hopeless, and we don’t have to depend on God for wrongs to be righted.
The dawning of a new day is a beautiful thing. I watch the sunrise by the alpenglow on the forest to the west. The trees tinge pink and the sky opens, the pink moves from the trees to the clouds above, then to the periphery.
I scan my newspaper and it is fresh, unblemished. The blurbs on the front page beckon to stories that proclaim the morning. In pictures and words, the world is laid out like the spread of a quilt under which I have woken.
Some mornings just seem rosily tinged this way. It bestows a feeling like the wisp of air that often brushes against my face as I walk down Main Street in autumn.