Notes from the Front

Your Atheist Correspondent Reports Back from the War on Christmas
I’m not quite ready to do 2010 retrospective posts at the moment, although there are some I’d like to do. The end of 2010 has presented me with too much unfinished business. Some of it is things I need to do and say. Some of it is simply events hanging in the balance. Either way, it doesn’t feel as though the year comes to a close tomorrow.

The Christmas rush is over, however, so I’ll take a quick peek back at that through the lens of this mythical War on Christmas. There is little enough religion in my personal life that the bits that do crop up tend to get noticed, and since part of Christmas is spent with the most religious of the connections, I got to do lots of noticing last weekend.

The Lord Giveth
The “kids” in the connection are, for the first time this year, all in college or beyond. As everyone gathered around the pool table, there were jokes made about the appropriate use of college time being learning to drink and play pool. They had to be jokes, given the way the kids were playing pool and their reaction to the one among them who was exceptionally good.

He came in for a certain amount of teasing about how he was spending his study time. The teasing ended, though, when his brother playfully suggested maybe it was a “God-given gift” instead. I haven’t been able to figure out why that statement killed the conversation. Too irreverent? Too silly? Nowhere to go from there? I don’t know. All I can say is that it was a conversational lemming.

I Shall Not Want
I was disturbed later, however, when one of the adults made his own reference to God’s gifts. He said something along the lines of “God is good to good people.” The context made it clear he was talking about this world, not any hypothetical next one.

I…was creeped out, actually. Prosperity gospel. Fatalistic mumbo jumbo. Supernaturalistic fallacy. Magical antisocial self-justification. Giving it names can’t come anywhere near describing how perfectly this goes against everything I do and am. The next time someone tells you an atheist has no reason to be “good”…yeah. This.

And I said nothing. Why? Because once I opened the gates to respond, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. I wouldn’t have been coherent enough to get a message through to anyone listening. And it would have made no difference to the person I was talking to, since anyone capable of believing that tortuous formula is quite capable of claiming persecution at the least disagreement, much less the relentless volley he’d have received.

Christ Is Risen
I’m happy to say that our tradition of giving a donation plus a small homemade gift is catching on, albeit in a small way. We get some similar gifts, even if we do still end up sitting in the midst of everyone else’s wrapping paper and boxes. Eh, college kids need stuff far more than we do. We’re also lucky that the charities supported are ones we would chose for ourselves. Good gifts.

The interesting thing about one of these gifts was the explanation that came with it. To paraphrase: “Giving is good. We chose this charity that does this. We hope you like that.” Then: “The Lord Christ is risen.” It is interesting, in part, because it was the only religious sentiment passed out with the gifts. Everyone who received one of the donations received the religion with it, but no one else did.

I find myself wondering what that means about how the givers feel about different types of gifts. Are charitable gifts not “real” gifts, so that they need to be justified with religion? Are they gifts more true to the spirit of the givers’ religion, thus earning the phrase? If so, the contrast between that and other gifts points up the contradictions of the holiday in ways that I, an unbeliever, could never hope to accomplish.

I don’t know what the answer is, or even whether it’s something as trivial as these gifts being the only ones with any kind of written sentiment attached (I don’t know whether they were), but the phrase felt enough out of place there to make me think.

The Lord Is Good to Me
For large occasions, this family gathers into a circle and holds hands to sing the Johnny Appleseed song as grace. This is amusing for a number of reasons. Appleseed got most of his seeds from cider companies, and his trees produced cider apples, so what he spread was a convenient source of fermentable sugar. He was a Swedenborgian, which is still tiny and generally considered heretical by more mainstream religious factions. Also, it was hugely fun getting the kids to hold hands with me when they were still young enough to believe in girl cooties.

This year, however, I smiled for a different reason. I happened to be standing in exactly the right place in the circle to notice that one of the kids wasn’t singing, at least to start with. He chimed in once he was clearly the only person not singing (the atheists in the room like singing and just skip the “amen”), but he had the guts to start out alone and against tradition. It gives me a bit more hope for this next generation, who are off to be educated at secular institutions far away from their parents.

It’s always so nice to get even a small victory in this war I’m not bothering to fight.

Notes from the Front

4 thoughts on “Notes from the Front

  1. 1

    LOL!1) "a good game of pool is the product of a misspent youth" and half the fun of it is being teased about it2)Oh Johnny Appleseed. That hits all my favorite woo buttons. Do you want rain then? That song… *totally*… makes it rain.

  2. 3

    Next time somebody says that God is good to good people, ask if that means the opposite: that disasters are only visited upon bad people? Was everybody in New Orleans evil when Katrina struck? Haiti? Indonesia during the tsunami? Remember Job? How about all those kids that die of SIDS or cancer or in car accidents?Also ask why God is so selectively good? and why he's so good to bad people as well?Of course, you'd have to be talking to a thoughtful person to ask such a question. Good luck.

  3. 4

    Singing Johnny Appleseed makes it rain, obviously!Which is not in conflict with him going to heaven. But I'm pretty sure Disney saying you are going to heaven is in conflict with you actually getting to heaven.

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