Do Atheists Celebrate
Religious Holidays?

Kayla

From: “Kayla”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: February 22, 2003 6:41 AM
Subject: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section

Hi. I was wondering, do strong atheists celebrate any holidays at al ? Or are you open to other religions and participate if your family is engaged in a religious holiday? I personally believe that there is no God at all of any kind, and I believe that atheism is the correct “religion” for me. I’ve been researching atheism for a couple of weeks now, and I just want to make sure that I know what I need to, to begin considering myself an atheist.

Thank you,
Kayla

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Kayla”
Date: February 22, 2003

An atheist is anybody who lacks a god-belief for any reason, including ignorance of god-beliefs, agnosticism, acute indifference to the subject of religion, or knowing for a fact that all god-claims have just got to be phony! Any of these reasons for being without theism qualifies one for calling herself an atheist. And if you can think of any other reasons (short of feeling the uniquely compelling persuasion of the cold barrel of a Saturday Night Special pressing against your temple, for example), then they’re probably valid, too!

If a man walks up to you and makes a god-claim and you go “Amen to that, brother!” then you are a theist. If you don’t, then you are an atheist. This is the traditional definition, used by a large majority of atheistic thinkers and philosophers since the rise of the Era of Enlightenment made it legal to be a non-Christian in Europe.

The vast majority of atheists are indifferent to religion — and thus, indifferent to their own atheism! Of course!! Who wants to sit there and think about something that distinguishes you from a modest majority of humans? Most of us simply don’t think about religion — or our atheism — at all. Others of us are flat-out obsessed with it, often putting on the appearance of being bigoted (and just as often crossing that line and flat-out being bigoted!). Some activists (such as myself) are engaged in efforts to make life better for people who happen to be atheists.

  

Since no gods tell us what to think, we’re on our own — pure and simple. While you can easily find full consensus among humans regarding a great many moral questions, the opposite is true when it comes to matters of what religionists call ritual. And holidays would certainly fall into the ritual category, don’t you think? If there is no consensus regarding ritual, we are left with a strong suggestion that these are personal and cultural matters, based entirely on who you are, how you view the world, how (and where) you were raised, and what you may or may not have done with that upbringing upon entering adulthood.

In other words, celebrate what you want to celebrate — while you still can! If Christmas is when you’d just as soon pick up some overtime, then there are plenty of other holidays. You can also make one up: pick the day and consult one of those “This Day in History” references that broadcast journalists use, and tip a Guinness or three to some obscure President or war hero or even the anniversary of an oblique moment in the life of a religious leader (such as the day Joseph Smith’s first wife allegedly seized and destroyed the first manuscript to the Book of Mormon forcing him to start from scratch and write the whole thing over again). If you lack creativity, then check out Mexico, whose people celebrate over 6000 holidays and festivals each and every year! Surely you can find something!

And if you don’t want to, then don’t. We’re not going to send you off to writhe and wail forever in the pits of the cosmic moral barbecue over a decision like that! We’re not like Jesus, you know!

I celebrated Christmas for the first time last year and it was a hoot! I saw no person for over two months. It was the most un-Christmassy Christmas I think anyone could ever hope for when facing the prospect of doing your first-ever Christmas as an adult of 46 years. One would not want to be overwhelmed with Christmas on the first date! (I pour scorn upon myself, here’ waxing, as they say, Hudibrastic, which is to say mock-heroic, à la Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.) Numerous friends and acquaintances knew I was celebrating and knew I was alone and recently crippled and thus very much housebound. But nobody who has an extended family or large “family” of friends (or even just a warm heart and hearth) invited me over to join in their festivities. (So much for Jesus’s commandment to visit the frail and imprisoned!) So I tipped my own Guinness to the bitter cold and held the gray cat in my arms, as is my habit anyway, no matter how I feel.

It’s not like I’m evil or I smell weird or I belch or I get plastered; I don’t have a history of turning over the buffet table, stealing the kids’ Christmas toys, or biting the bottom off of a chocolate to see what flavor it is and then returning it to the box if I don’t happen to like that flavor. I am none of these things that were invited to our family’s family reunion. The worst that ever happened (and it usually does, at one point) is that I’ll catch the first half of a migraine and will need to go lie down for a while until it blows over.

  

I must address the question of seeing atheism as a religion rather than simply a religious view, that is, an opinion about religion. I do this simply because this discussion will have a bearing on the answer to your question.

I do not consider atheism a religion; rather, I consider it the very absence of religion.

Of course, while I think and act as a “strong” atheist, I am technically a “weak” atheist! This is because I finally learned to stop falling for the chauvinism foisted upon our culture by the Christians, chauvinism which tempts me to say, “I don’t believe in God,” rather than saying, “I don’t assent to the claim you just made.” In other words, “I disagree with your opinions about religion.”

Listen closely to this language: “I don’t believe in God” — or — “I don’t believe in ... God ...” — or — “I don’t believe in [the] God [who exists].” When I use that language, it begins to sound as if I’m “acknowledging” the existence of the Christian deity! (Oops! I did it again! rather, it begins to sound as if I’m granting assent to the Christian god-claim!”) The correct — and unbiased — way to state the case is to say, “I lack a god-belief of any kind.” This language technically puts me into the “weak” camp — by default. The better, even more direct (and fully truthful) way to say it is, “I have no reason to grant assent to any of the god-claims that I have encountered.” It’s one thing to use shorthand among friends and associates who know what we mean when we use abbreviated language (“I don’t believe in God”). But when dealing with an evangelist (or Evangelical) or when being cornered by the religious nut at work (etc.), we do well to make the god-claim itself the grammatical subject of our sentences (“I disagree with the claim you just made”) rather than speaking as if their claim is true or that we agree with their claim (“God doesn’t exist,” which almost sounds like, “[The] God [that we agree exists] doesn’t exist”).

This keeps the real issue, the god-claim, in the forefront of any discussion of The God Question.

When we are engaged in a discussion of the god-question (or even describing it, as a newspaper reporter would do), to talk about “God” or even about “gods” is to jump the gun: we have not come to any agreement as to the truthfulness or accuracy of any of the various claims that deities exist. If you take a close look at the two, you will note that there is a big difference between them.

I also like to remind myself that whenever I call myself an atheist, I define myself according to what I don’t believe, rather than according to anything that I do, think, say, or am. I’m letting other people define me by their behavior and their viewpoints. Specifically, I let them define me by behavior in which I don’t engage and viewpoints in which I do not hold!

I think that’s why the vast majority of atheists have never once even called themselves “an atheist”! They lack a god belief. Some occasionally assert, “No gods exist!” Some even become antagonistic toward religion at times — or even any time the subject comes up! For the most part, though, the subject of religion does not interest them at all (at all) and thus neither does atheism. If pushed with a proper definition of the word atheist, most will say, “Yeah, that’s me!”

How does this relate to the subject of holidays? Simple: since religion means little if anything at all to me, then it follows that the religious element in the holidays likewise means very little to me.

What is Christmas with the religious element removed? Why, it’s the original Solstice celebration with the ancient mythology removed. Let’s light a big fire, cook a huge meal, invite everybody we know, and have a festival. Have fun! That’s what it’s for! Christmas has been going on a lot longer than Christianity has. They simply changed the name of it when they stole it.

So it is “X-Mas” after all!

They whimper, “Put Christ back into Christmas!”

No! We don’t want to! We don’t have to, either! Christmas (or Solstice, if you will) is about exchanging gifts, scarfing down a huge meal, sitting by the fire with young children competing for your lap “King Of the Hill” style, and then spending the night locked in tight embrace with the love of your dreams. It’s always been that way.

Santa? The tree, shoved up the arse of that little angel on top? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? What do any of the trappings of Christmas have to do with the Christian religion? Only that Christians are welcome to celebrate Christmas, too. But they cannot try to take it away from us by redefining it in their sneaky advertising campaigns for Jesus.

The same goes with holidays that have any nonreligious trappings at all: I simply omit the religious stuff, and get on with the fun!.

Okay, you can go ahead and take part in the religious stuff if you want to — if the situation calls for it. You may just be the only person sober enough to take Grandma to Midnight Mass. You don’t have to actually pray, because nobody will be the wiser either way. Nobody needs to know, especially your frail grandmother, on what is (to her) a very special, very holy night.

Then again, you may be part of the crew searching for bodies after a disaster such as the Great White show in Rhode Island (we’re staggering from that mess as I write this). Whenever the workers would find a body, The New York Times reports, they would all stop working, stand up, remove their hats, and pray, as chaplains officiated.

As inappropriate and inconsiderate as an activity such as that might be, are you going to stand up and say something about it? I doubt it.

I know I’m not going to say anything about it — not even in private, to the chaplains. I don’t know who called for this practice! It could easily have been ordered by a guilt-ridden club owner or band member. Hey! Nothing is going to remove the actual guilt for this mess, but I’m not going to rob someone of the opportunity to try to put a little salve on their pain!

The dominant religion in our culture, the Christian religion (like most religions) is obsessed with death. The bias and bigotry and inherent greed displayed by all this (not to mention all the pomp and ritual that followed the World Trade Center attack) shows only that our culture has become steeped in this obsession. Yes, there is a need to say something, to do something, but while you’re pulling peoples’ charred bodies out of a burned out building is a patently inappropriate time and place to be expressing your opinion. Nevertheless, if you’re ever engaged in this morbid task and they start similar shenanigans, unless you want to make some very unpleasant waves (and many of our readers might want to do just that — to the detriment of us all), just take off your hat with the others and wait until the chaplains are done praying. Okay?

Later (perhaps much later), after the sting of this tragedy has quelled, you might wish to approach the chaplain or officer who decided that it would be done this way and explain, quietly and with as little fanfare as possible, that the religious tradition which you grew up with or which your family now practices considers the ritual of prayer (or public prayer) to be degrading. You might want to toss in the opinion that you’re glad that Jesus was opposed to the practice of praying in front of others or in public (especially in front of television cameras or print reporters). Had it been me, I would have mentioned that public prayer has always made me uncomfortable, from a very young age, long before I read the opinions of the Jesus figure on this subject.

But meanwhile, just go along with the rest and don’t make waves. True, someone might die in the rubble, waiting for you to get done, who might have lived had they received a breath of air just a few minutes earlier, but that’s — wait a minute! Scratch everything I just said! Go ahead and make a big stink if they do this when you’re there! Shout at the top of your lungs that our job right now is to save as many people as possible!

  

The whole point is this:

Whenever atheists are faced with a sticky decision, the only recourse we have is to think. That’s the only thing any of us have, to be sure, but we atheists know that fact. As atheists, we do not have a “God” or anybody else either looking after us or telling us what to do. For this reason, it is paramount for us to think about what we are doing.

Yeah, I’d have a tough time if I were working in a crew and the leaders decided to break the most important law in the country and trample your most precious right; in principle, your most inviolable right: the Liberty of Conscience (under which fall Liberty of Speech and Religious Liberty among others). I’d have a tough time if the leaders were doing this under the cloak of a most solemn and certainly most emotionally upsetting circumstance: a disaster involving the deaths of many.

What goes on in the privacy of my own mind is entirely and exclusively my own business. Thus, I do what I think is right, I refrain from what I think is wrong, and I stand up and either face the consequences or sit back and enjoy the rewards that inevitably follow doing whatever it was that I chose to do.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Seven-and-one-half years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

From: “Kayla”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: February 25, 2003

Thank you! That helped me a lot. I was also wondering where atheists get married, or if they get married at all? I was wondering this because most people get married in a church, but a church is the House of God. If an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as God, then where would they go? Do they get married in a garden maybe?

Thank you again,
Kayla

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Kayla”
Date: February 26, 2003

On the chart of which religious viewpoints get married and divorced the most, fewer atheists (etc) get married than for any other religious viewpoint. We’re lowest on that chart, I’m afraid.

Atheists are a very diverse bunch. Of course! The only thing we have in common is what we don’t have in common with religious folks! Our positions on all other issues cover a range that you won’t find in any religion — I promise!

However, I don’t think religion would (or should) stop any atheist from doing any of the following:

Either way, nothing can stop us from creating our own non-church setting:

You name it: if it’s their mutual interest, then at least one couple has tailored their wedding to that interest.

I’ve never cared for the idea of marriage, myself. Nevertheless, I aggreed to make plans to marry my last girlfriend (even though I knew full well that the relationship would not last long enough to make it to the aisle — much less down the aisle!). Here’s what we had planned, nonetheless: since we both love singer Mojo Nixon, and since I know him as a personal friend (I helped him get his career off the ground in 1984), and since he has a license to conduct marriage ceremonies (and does this in full character), we made plans to hire him to throw a “benefit wedding” for us, ostensibly to give this young couple of not-so-youngsters a financial leg-up, so to speak. In our fantasy-plans he would marry us during his musical performance! Pure entertainment, of course, except that with him it would be a legal wedding.

  

Many atheists, including myself, consider marriage to be “a religious rite in which I have no business engaging.” (I’d still go ahead and do it, “for Mom” (her Mom), if that’s what she wanted; my aversion is not that strong!) I word it that way deliberately, in order to avoid making that call for any but the individual making it. I have given that as an answer to the “Are you married?” question more than thrice! Of course, many of us consider the entire concept of marriage to be patently immoral: what you’re doing, such people say, is locking yourself or another into a “contract.” I don’t like this idea, especially when it’s dealing with such a sensitive and private subject as whom to live with in intimacy.

Many homosexuals “default” to atheism (if you will) simply because they are given profound and unforgettable demonstrations which ultimately urge them to investigate the validity of religion’s claims! (and we know what tends to happen when people do that!). However, were it not for their homosexuality, a statistical majority of them would never have encountered reasons to question “the faith of their fathers,” and likely would have remained religious without having given it a second thought. With this disproportionate representation of homosexuals, our marriage rates will go down.

True, some homosexuals remain religious — to the point where an entire denomination was formed in the interest of catering to them. Other denominations accept them to the point of providing religious “marriage” even though the state will not honor the ceremony civilly (an unfortunate reminder that the separation of religion from government has not yet been given the coup de grace by our current presidential administration). On that, I go along with my Father and advocate that a “life partnership” become accepted by the state as the legal equivalent of marriage, for the purpose of wills, anti-discrimination in buying a home, etc. This would allow “marriage” to retain the traditional meaning and, in fact, migrate even closer toward the religious rite that it is. However, if the state and society end up going for homosexual marriage rather than the legal equivalent (calling it something else), I’ll go along with it.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to explore this question!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Seven-and-one-half years of service to
    people with no reason to believe