Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Season for Reason

A couple of atheist-related things happened this December. 

First, I was interviewed by a graduate student doing his thesis on something about atheists' being the most distrusted segment of society. I think he was hoping for some horror stories; I had none to give him. No one has been rotten to me about my absence of faith (thanks, y'all!). But then again, atheists don't wear insignia or otherwise stand out on the street, so how would you know? Plus, I told him I have no designs on public office and really have nothing at stake, being an already outspoken stay-home mom type. 

Let me tell you this, though: it was good to be able to speak openly with someone interested in the whole atheist experience. One of his questions threw me for a loop: it was something like, "How did you come to believe in atheism?" I don't "believe" in atheism; of all the -isms, it's the least -istic. But after making that clarification, I was happy to talk. 

The other thing that stands out from the interview was not the observation he made, which others have made since I started this blog: that admitting one's atheism is like coming out of the closet for an LGB, as he put it. Rather, it was a related theory he postulated: that atheism is no more a choice than sexual orientation. I believe that's true. 

Like an LGB, I could choose to continue to pretend. But it would be a lie, one that makes me feel like who I really am is wrong. I'm gratified that I don't feel the need to hide. 

Second, I went to church. I know, right? My son and his friend were solo vocalists on Christmas eve, so I couldn't NOT go. Discounting some pervasive cognitive dissonance, it was a beneficial experience. I decided that with one fundamental exception, my underlying philosophy of living isn't too different from the priest's: it's about people, and how you treat them. Especially the tired, poor and humble. Everyone was really huggy afterwards, in the fellowship hall and on Facebook. It was cool. Thanks, Christians! 

I have to admit, it's been a little strange this December not knowing if I should say, "Merry Christmas" to people--or really, whether I should say, "Thank you," when they say it to me. I mean, I'll tell a Jewish person, "Happy Hanukkah." Heck, I've said it to someone I thought was Jewish--twice, actually, before he corrected me. I don't need to correct people, right? My sister-in-law teased me for accepting Christmas presents; her exact taunt was, "Moral convictions be damned!" 

Anyway. A merry month, even for a fledgling self-described atheist. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Season's Greetings

This will be my first December as an open atheist. Will anything change? Probably not. Hopefully not.  

Here are some things I love about the Christmas season--look, I'll acknowledge the season even if I don't subscribe to the miracle--that might seem inconsistent with non-belief.

I still love to get Christmas and holiday cards, no matter if they're slathered in all manner of religious iconography, especially if they contain a photo or a handwritten note. It's about reaching out to the people in your life, stoking fires that might have been neglected.

I love the memory of what Christmas is through a child's eye. No school; just home. Being bundled in a warm house with Mom baking the cookies her mother used to bake: Brazilian coffee cookies and almondy spritzes, both plain and chocolate. Being bundled in a warm car with Dad driving the family to look at Christmas lights. The glow of little electric candles in your bedroom window after lights out. It's about the connection of generations, being part of something beyond your own self.

I love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. We'd take the time as a family to watch this each year, bundled on the couch or floor of the family room. My favorite part is the scene with Linus in the spotlight. You'll recall that Charlie Brown is isolated with his pitiful tree on the right side of the stage, while all his friends--including his dog--are on the left. "Lights, please." Linus quotes the story of Jesus' birth as told in the book of Luke. Slow down, take a deep breath, quietly reflect. "And on earth peace, and goodwill toward men." Things got better for old Charlie Brown after that. It's not about gaudy decorations or presents; it's about love. 

I love this poem by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest: 

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee to-night.

The everlasting Light, electric candles, Christmas tree lights, menorah. The warmth of hearth, ovens, heaters, blankets. We all find tidings of comfort and joy in these symbols of love. 

Yoga classes conclude with "Namaste," a greeting I learned meant, "The light in me salutes the light in you." Wikipedia divulges a number of other meanings, including this nugget: "I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One."

To my family, Christian, Jewish and otherwise, to my friends new and old, to Luke, Fr. Brooks, Charles Schulz, and to all of you, I say:

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Season's greetings. Namaste.