Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Random thoughts on Christmas:

*Opening presents with the kids, at an hour we'd rather be still in bed, after playing Santa Claus till late. Is there any feeling, any mood, quite like this? I've been the kid of course, and I've seen other families do it. But when it's your kids it's... the same but different.

*I remember a long period when I pretty actively didn't like Christmas. I used to say it was the commercialization, and that's no doubt partly true, but in retrospect I think it was that I didn't have a family of my own that it felt good with.

I really started to enjoy Christmas again when I went to Poland and lived with a Polish family: mother, daughter and granddaughter. (Only the daughter spoke any English at all, so I started to pick up Polish right off.)

The first years after the fall of communism, there were consumer goods available but money was still awfully tight so people would give each other a Christmas-wrapped can of beer or shaving foam.

It was so touching and so unaffected that it made Christmas a happy time for me again.

*Years ago I got the impression that quite a few people in this country really don't like Chirstmas. Once in an Anthropology class when we were discussing holidays, I barked "Quick! Everyone who doesn't like Christmas raise your hand."

Fully half the hands in class went up.

I think it's the pressure of "Who do I buy a gift for and who do I send cards to and oh my God what if they do and I don't?"

My advice - relax. Enjoy.

*We've had the annual attack of the Christmas grinches of course. You know, the nativity-scenes-are-unconstitutional crowd. Seems not to have been so prominent this year though, perhaps it has finally gotten through to them that they are really pissing people off.

Of course, that was their intent all along, to be noticed. But people who try to get noticed by irritating other people eventually have that experience when it dawns on them that they've really pissed everybody off at them...

*Something called the Philadelphia Freethinkers Society has promoted a "tree of knowledge", a Christmas tree decorated with books.

It's awfully silly, but a lot nicer than raining on everyone else's parade - and I always loved books for Christmas.

*I've said before, what strikes me about militant atheists such as Hitchens et. al. is not that they don't believe in God, it's that they do believe, but they're mad at Him.

Central to this attitude is the complaint that God made Man, and condemned him to suffering. Some people take this personally.

I have some cool speculations about the universe and Man's place in it, which I'll share with you later, if you promise not to take them too seriously.

But since it's Christmas I will share this.

"God made Man in his own image, male and female created he him."

The only way this makes sense to me, the idea that we are in the image of God, is that we are self-aware beings. We can look at the universe and wonder. We can say "I exist!" No animal does this. Only we - like God.

Of course, the next realization is, "Someday I won't exist." That's the part we don't share with God.

That is the basic suffering that we can't avoid. We may not be born with congenital defects. We may escape violent death, maiming, war, pestilence etc - though that has only been likely in this corner of the world in this century. But we cannot escape this. All that we love will be taken from us eventually.

How could a compassionate creator do this to us? This is the charge hurled at God since we began to think in terms of a creator.

The obvious answer is - we are God's children, but like a good parent, he wants us to grow up. No one can reach maturity without experiencing reality with the freedom to make mistakes - and suffer the consequences.

Still, how could a just God condemn us to a suffering that he can have no personal experience of? Is this justice?

The answer in the Christian myth is, the incarnation. God put a piece of Himself in his creation to experience everything that happens in it - the joy, the pain, the exaltation, the horror.

So that when we shout our pain to God, He can say, "I know how you feel, but this too will pass."
Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year.

*And please note that I am using "myth" in the ancient sense, not the modern usage of "not true."


  • At 8:22 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    Having corresponded with some militant atheists, and having come perilously close to having been one myself, as opposed to the friendly variety, I can assure you that they don't believe in God. As an (friendly, I assure you!) atheist myself, this is one of the misconceptions that is often leveled at me.

    Many militant atheists would be angry at God if they did believe in Him (and no small number started off that way), but they're more angry at the institutions dedicated thereto, which they perceive (unfairly, in my opinion) as promoting ignorance and superstition, stifling science and philosophy, and perpetuating a few choice styles of persecution and oppression (especially against nonbelievers).

    "Atheist" is a pretty bold thing to declare yourself if your contention with theism is theological, rather than ontological or epistemological, and those who use the term for shock value are probably not sufficiently intelligent to understand the rather elegant little bit of apologia you've put forth here anyway.

    Well, I think that's a bit too much nitpicking on my part, but I guess if it's going to be said anyway, you'd rather not hear it from someone angry. Merry Christmas.

  • At 8:37 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    "The opposite of the fanatical religious, is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whethere there is a God or not."

    -Eric Hoffer

    More later.


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