Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry Christmas!

And I mean it! I worry less about people saying merry Christmas to me than I do about this crazy idea that there are places in America you're not allowed to say it. Where, exactly, are these places?

Despite my own feelings on the matter and despite the apparently successful all-out assault on the holidays, people say merry Christmas to me all the time, and I live in this so-called heartland of amorality San Francisco. And who are these powerful, uptight atheists oppressing the religious by not allowing anyone to say merry Christmas? Can you introduce me to them?

This silly "controversy" barely merits the name. I really don't care if someone says merry Christmas to me. In fact, I usually say it back to Christians, and mean it sincerely - though I would probably feel more comfortable doing that when the Christians in question know it doesn't mean I believe in their holiday. Try responding (gently) that you aren't religious but you wish them a sincere and merry Christmas all the same. If you want to ultimately remove religion from public policy and erode faith, you can do it by making its practitioners question what faith even means - just like that.

But every year the Religious Right has its share of nutcrackers bravely taking a stand against the War on Christmas, like this gentleman from the normally sane op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, explaining that we atheists caused the credit crisis: "The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines." Allow me to say without a trace of sarcasm: what a great argument for Christmas and faith. Daniel Henninger is saying that religion is nonsense and that it doesn't save anyone, but it's good at acting like a big security camera in the sky. So never mind the occasional pedophile or lunatic flying a plane into a building - religion makes people play nice and pay their mortgages on time! That said, I would be glad to see an analysis of which states have the worst mortgage default rates. I wager that the more religious states of the country are near the top. I also don't hear many people arguing that the more violent parts of the world got that way for lack of religion.

More than once I've had a professing Christian confide in me that he didn't believe a word of the Bible but sent his kids to church and Sunday school for this reason. This is a Hobbesian or modern Chinese Communist Party approach - the use of a noble myth to inspire patriotism and keep people in line - and interestingly, there's a streak of this among political neocons who ally themselves with the Religious Right; many of the best-known neocons (like Karl Rove) are themselves atheists.

No matter. You can have the fun without the boring rituals and the nonsense. I grew up with presents under a tree (which doesn't make me Norse either by the way), and in the future I plan to give presents to my own kids on Christmas morning. So again this year, along with Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers, I'll be putting up a Christmas tree at my house. Really it'll just be a branch cut from a big old ponderosa in the snowy Sierra backcountry, but it'll be pretty just the same. Merry Christmas!

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