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Survey: Christmas and religion November 22, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in family, interviews, issues.
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A journalism student in London recently sent me a group of questions through my Contact page that he would like answered for an article that he is writing. I hope you don’t mind that I answered them here instead of replying via email!

Please let me know when you’ve read them, Marc!


1) Figures show that on Christmas the attendance in church is much higher than at other times of the year which shows that for many Christmas is the only occasion they will go to church for. Therefore, do you think – if Christmas was “cancelled” – the people’s “last link” to religion be taken away?

Not necessarily. My family is an example of the kind of people who only attend church on Christmas, but that doesn’t make them any less Catholic than the people who attend mass regularly — they’re just lazier. They still live by the other doctrines and principles of the church, one of which, unfortunately, is “atheists are OMG TEH EVILZ.”

2) There’s also a debate going on whether it actually is okay to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” who doesn’t celebrate it. Because of that some stores (especially in the US) already changed their display and advertising slogans from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” or something similar. What is your opinion on that? Do you think the religious origin of Christmas gets pushed into the background too much and it’s more or less all about consumerism?

Hell, I hope it becomes all about consumerism. I can see the point of “Happy Holidays,” but I don’t like being told what I can and can’t say, and frankly, this “politically correct” bullshit bores me to tears. I’ll say “Christmas” if I want to, damn it!

I would be sensitive enough, though, to change that to “Hanukkah” or “Kwanzaa” when speaking to someone of a different religion. There’s no Hanukkah or Kwanzaa where I live, however, so I just say “Christmas.”

3) Then of course there are the atheists like you, who don’t celebrate Christmas at all or – if they do – for who it has nothing to do with Jesus’s birth or anything else religious, but is just a holiday. Do you think religion is necessary to celebrate Christmas?

When someone mentions “Christmas,” I think of a day when you can sit down at the table and eat really good food with your family, exchange presents, and generally be cheery as you feel the chilly Christmas wind blow past. Jesus is the last thing that comes to mind. There are some people (ahem, mom) who insist that only Christians should celebrate Christmas, but I don’t see why the rest of us should be denied our presents just because we believe in one less god than they do. Maybe I can’t celebrate with them, but I’ll certainly find a way to actually have a good time, with or without the family.


This Christmas, part 2 October 16, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in anecdotes, family, issues, rants, teen angst.
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[This Christmas, Part 1 is here.]

Just when I thought I was running out of things to blog about, Mother Dearest proves herself to be a goldmine of material. Thanks, Mom!

For a while now, I was under the assumption that my parents and I had reached a detente, since they hadn’t brought up the subject of my non-belief with me, and they were even nice enough to buy me lots of pretty, shiny things the past couple of weeks. As it turns out, Mom was just waiting to spring it upon me.

I was having a Sunday buffet lunch with the ‘rents, and as Dad left the table to get some sushi, Mom brought up Christmas once again.

“So, what are your plans for Christmas? You know, since you’re an atheist and all?”

I think I’ve now mastered the look of concealed contempt and exasperation. You know the way Ryan the (Former) Temp from The Office looks at the camera when Michael Scott is being his usual moronic self? Where Ryan’s face is almost blank, but you can see the “Oh, Jesus,” in his eyes alone? Not like Jim Halpert, though, because the way Jim looks at the camera is far too obnoxious. Ryan is much more subtle. Anyway, that’s probably what my face looked like the moment my mother mentioned Christmas.

Remembering what some of you had told me, I explained to my mother that some atheists still celebrate Christmas. “It actually started as a pagan holiday that the Christians appropriated for themselves.”

Mom gave me this incredulous look, like, Is she serious? These heathens are STEALING our Christian holiday!

“Yeah,” she retorted, “but you know where CHRISTmas comes from!”

(Well, yeah, Mom, I just explained it to you. Here’s your sign.)

As tempted as I was to shove my lasagna into her face to shut her up, I just dropped the subject. There’s really no point in arguing with these people. Like I said, you can’t explain logic to a believer. (Is Mother Dearest considered a fundamentalist even if she doesn’t go to Church anymore, and has gay friends? She makes fun of her gay friends behind their back, though. As they do with a lot of other groups.)

Dad had returned to the table as I resignedly mumbled, “I’ll just hang out with some friends for Christmas.”

“But all your friends are Christian.”

“I have some atheist friends.” This is a loose reference to Martin and Gab, a couple of dudes I’ve never met outside of the internets. (Although they now know what I look like, gee thanks for stalking, Gab. :P) I’m not even sure how serious you two are about meeting me for Christmas, but either way, I’m not wasting it at home when my own family doesn’t even want me there.

Mom finally shut up, but the luncheon was already kind of ruined and I’d lost my appetite. I absent-mindedly poked at my fruit salad while they finished their uni sushi (good God, uni sushi looks like sushi that’s been puked on).

We spent the rest of the day at the bookstore, where I bought a couple of Rolling Stone issues; the clothing store, where they got me some boxers (I have a Miller Lite one that says “Beer Delivery Guy” on the ass. I don’t know why I find this amusing, but I do); and finally, the supermarket, where I stocked up on baking goods and saw this hot thirtysomething Indian guy who looked like Hemant Mehta (who is also a very fine specimen, and pretty please pose nakey for that Skepdudes calendar kthnx ilu). I don’t know why, but most of my hot guy sightings only happen at supermarkets. Not that I’m complaining, but I really should go shopping more.

In the car, Mother Dearest continued to prod me on my non-belief. I have no idea why she always chooses the car for these irritating conversations. Probably because there’s no way of escaping.

“Did these atheist friends of yours come from that secular high school we sent you to?” she asked, already sort of hinting that she regretted sending me there if that’s where I got my beliefs from.

“No, they’re from [Dream College], actually.”

“Then where did you meet them?”

I had to maneuver my way out of answering “I met them online,” because that sounds kind of seedy, somehow, what with all the child molester stories floating around. “Um, friend of a friend,” I replied. Which is sort of true. They have a friend who hit on my friend who had a thing with my other friend. Yeah.

That silenced her for a moment, but desperate for more ways to bash my atheism and scare me back to Christianity, she asked, “Don’t they require a baptismal certificate at [Dream College]?”

“No, Mom,” I replied, now bored and annoyed. Since this was going to be a long car ride, I busied myself by thinking about how this whole conversation would sound on my blog, heh-heh, and leafing through a Rolling Stone article on Judd Apatow. (I can’t believe they didn’t feature that on the cover! I almost didn’t buy the issue because it had Amy fucking Winehouse as the cover girl!)

“Well, I can’t encourage your atheism because I don’t know much about it, but I think it is very important to have a belief. It is religion that teaches us moral values, like humility [says my elitist mother who doesn’t even approve of me going to Dream College because the people there aren’t smart enough], generosity [says my mother who hates beggars, won’t even make eye contact with them and God forbid one of them even touches the hem of her garment, she’d go apeshit. I would give them money myself, but my parents actually scolded me. “Don’t encourage them,” they’d said] and kindness [says my mother who’s taking Christmas away from me because I’m a heathen atheist]. I don’t know what values you learn from atheism, and it makes me very sad that you’ll be growing up without a moral compass.”

At this point, I was more interested in the life story of Judd Apatow than in my mother’s bone-headed arguments. I could have gone into a long-winded rebuttal about the golden rule, and Maher’s classic “I won’t slaughter you, and don’t take my shit,” but again, not saying anything is the fastest way to get her to shut her piehole. I know this from experience.

It’s sad, though, how we atheists are always written off as being soulless and unethical. But whenever I treat the taxi driver to lunch, or spare some money for a fellow pedestrian who just needs some bus fare to make his way home, or defend homosexuals even though I don’t really have any gay friends, or spend my entire evening helping a friend through his heartache instead of studying, I don’t do it because I want brownie points from The Big Daddy, or safety from the sea of fire below, or seventy-seven virgins, or because it’s my dharma. I don’t even do it in the name of atheism or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I do it because seeing the way their faces light up really warms my heart, and it makes me feel like I’m not the monster that people say I am. If theists need the promise of a reward to motivate them into doing these things…well, that’s really, really sad, and maybe I have more faith in the goodness of people than they do. And I didn’t even learn this from what they taught me in Church or in my Catholic school, I learned it from the people who were nice to me.

In any case, I have a feeling this is only going to be the second of many one-sided conversations I’ll be having with my mother. Honestly, it’s like being gay (though she’d probably like me better if I were a Catholic lesbian rather than an atheist breeder) and having your mother occasionally say something at lunch like, “You know, there are success stories of people who have recovered from their homosexuality” or “God doesn’t really like gay people, and I think it’s time we researched more on how to fix you.” She’s not an out-and-out atheist basher, otherwise I would have been kicked out long ago, but the intolerance is definitely there. She sees my atheism as a defect that she’s desperate to correct. Since she knows she can’t, she’ll settle for the occasional backhanded remark.

There’s a fitting Grey’s Anatomy quote for this, actually. Dear Mom: As Dr. McDreamy once said, before he turned into Dr. McDouchebag (though he was well on his way), “There is a land called Passive-Aggresiva, and you are their queen.”