Sunday, December 23, 2012

Winter Celebrations - What if you’re an Atheist?

I’ve had several people on Facebook recently ask me a question.  Gently, carefully, and making certain they weren’t being somehow insulting or hurtful, they’ve asked me in several different ways either how I celebrated Christmas or wanted to wish me “Merry Christmas”, but were uncertain of how to approach it, knowing I am an atheist and don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I am extremely appreciative of the manner in which these folks, some of them very religious, have chosen to show their concern about my beliefs and their desire to wish me well and a happy holiday without being somehow clueless about it.  It is a welcome counterpoint to the public “defense” against the so-called “war on christmas” by right wing pundits.

It shows that to private citizens, the attempts of the modern atheist movement to become better understood has had some affect, in short, a victory of sorts.  Yay!

And, frankly, thank you.  To those of you showing this concern, please know that I appreciate it and hope I can return that personal consideration, while still moving forward with my own poor attempts at communicating my beliefs.

Speaking of which, let me explain a bit about just what I do believe and how I celebrate this holiday season.

Friday night was the third Friday of the month, and nicely coincided with both the date for my monthly discussion group of atheist and humanist friends and this year’s winter solstice.  This was a fantastic confluence between two things closely related, and allowed us to begin what we hope will be an annual tradition.

A frequent question from religious folks is, “Just what do you believe in, since you reject god?”   A good question, the answer to which is often either misunderstood or just made up.

To reject the theology of a heaven is to reject the idea of an afterlife, as I noted in my last post.  This life is all you get, and as such, we believe you’ve got to make the best of it you can.  This makes life itself much more important, since there’s no encore, no curtain call and no cast party afterwards!  One shot is all you got.  (I could go on, but you get the picture!)

Therefor, life becomes very important, and the things on this earth which support and nurture it are paramount, if we want to sustain not only our own, but the future as well.  There are many things which fit that description, but at the very most basic level is the earth itself, which is the environment life must adapt to fit.

One of the most basic things about the earth and its environment is its orbit and the angle of its rotation.  Put those together, and you’ve got climate and most importantly, seasons!  Now, there are countless species to whom the seasons and the ebb and flow of temperature differences are the essence of their life cycles and ability to procreate.  The Earth has a defined seasonal progression which is the defining fact that determines the life cycle of the entire ecology.

It is, therefor, worthy of attention!  Our ancestors paid that attention by celebrating the four equinoxes, which together define the Earth’s orbit and thus, the life cycle we depend on for life itself.

The Winter equinox is the more celebrated, because it is the one which heralds the lengthening days and the return of life to the earth’s surface.   The celebration of the return of the sun is an ancient one, and while today, we don’t fear that the sun won’t come back, the shortening of the long nights and the lengthening of the daylight hours is a welcoming thing!

The cycle of life is what sustains us.  It provides us with all that keeps us alive, it gives us the endless fascinating parade of life forms around us and is the one thing we can surely pass on to our children which we can be sure to last.

We don’t really have any set or “traditional” ways to celebrate.  The methods and ideas are so new and our ability to openly celebrate is still dependent on our location - some parts of the world, and the US, are not safe yet.

 So, we are still feeling our way, and many of us just have a party.  Others have candlelight vigils at what they feel are appropriate places.  The music, of course, is quite basic and not at all attuned to the atheist way of thinking.

But we’re working on it!

So, as we’ve been starting to say lately,  Happy Solstice - or maybe Merry Solstice!  The jury’s still out on that one...


Anonymous said...

so glad you addressed your celebration of the Happy Holidays with those of us that care about how you feel and react as to all of the Christmas hoopla..i have been meaning to ask you must have heard my silence..and i was wondering what was the tradition taught to your girls when they were young....
blessings of peace and love to you always..jbv

Robert Ahrens said...

Our traditions in earlier years was basic American generic christian. I grew up First Christian, but lapsed as I grew older, but Christmas stayed through the girls' older years. Once they left, things began to change.