On Christmas Day The New York Times opinion page featured two pro-atheism articles bemoaning traditional celebrations of Christmas and managed not to provide a Christian perspective on one of the religion’s most important holidays.
The two articles, “An Atheist’s Christmas Dream” and “Religion Without God,” both call for a new perspective on the Christian holiday, the first openly hostile to Christmas, Hanukkah, and religion in general, and the second championing a view of “God as metaphor” rather than personal deity.
“An Atheist’s Christmas Dream,” written by NYT food columnist Mark Bittman, began by expressing his disgust with both Christmas and Hanukkah:
I’ve spent much of my life trying to ignore Christmas. As a secular Jew, an atheist and a progressive, my reasons are common. It’s a commercial, obnoxious, even dreaded holiday. But it’s not changing anytime soon and we should make the best of it. (Hanukkah, I might note, is no better, although it gives us an excuse to eat latkes.)
At one point Bittman blasts religion for failing to stop war and mass killings:
But nothing slowed the killing, certainly not religion. Though you wouldn’t know it from the rhetoric, logic demonstrates that a benevolent God played no role. This, of course, is one of the reasons to dislike organized religion; each person thinks God is on his side. Perhaps turning the other cheek is too much to ask.
Bittman goes on to call for world peace and the celebration of Jesus as a “nonviolent revolutionary” rather than the son of God.
Tanya M. Luhrmann, a Stanford University anthropology professor, took a less contentious perspective, writing that she and her family would attend church on Christmas, but a “God-neutral” Unitarian Church in which no specific God is worshipped. Luhrmann cites the growing movement of God-less organizations designed to replace the church, specifically praising the British Humanist Association attended by prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.
Lurhmann ends the piece by arguing that religion is important culturally and communally, but “religion without God may be more poignant”:
Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be. Much of what people actually do in church — finding fellowship, celebrating birth and marriage, remembering those we have lost, affirming the values we cherish — can be accomplished with a sense of God as metaphor, as story, or even without any mention of God at all.
Yet religion without God may be more poignant. Atheists trust in human relations, not supernatural ones, and humans are not so good at delivering the world as it should be. Perhaps that is why we are moved by Christmas carols, which conjure up the world as it can be and not the world we know.
May the spirit of Christmas be with you, however you understand what that means.