Guest Post by Michael Mirolla
I read recently where an atheist group calling itself a church, the Church of Atheism of Central Canada, was denied charitable status under Canada’s Income Tax Act because it lacked a “belief system.” Be that as it may, while being pummelled by Christmas music during the holiday season, it occurred to me that this Church of Atheism might have an opening to make itself more palatable. How, you ask? Well, rather than arguing for a belief system (which is very difficult when you don’t believe in a higher being or entity), perhaps it might be a better idea to dedicate their time and efforts to creating/modifying carols and hymns to try to get their message of non-belief across. With that in mind, I’ll start it off with: “O Come, All Ye Faithless.”
Being far, far away from family this Yuletide season and missing them immensely, I thought it a good time to resurrect something written almost a decade ago for a Montreal website called Rover Arts, which sadly is no more: You know the joke about “Interrupting Cow”? Here comes Interrupting Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas (or whatever the latest politically correct designation might be). I just don’t appreciate the fact it gets in the way of being productive. Difficult to put in 16-hour days with people waving bottles of fine wine, single malt, and five-star cognac under your nose. Even more difficult to keep up the jollity when you know you’re slipping further and further into the quagmire known as “the deadline” or “the pit of postmodern time.”
Take, for instance, the time it is taking me to write this piece. Here I am, complaining about quagmire slippage, when I’m putting aside a string of to-be-done-yesterday tasks in order to wax negative about one of Christianity’s (and Walmart’s) most cherished festivals. It’s a bit like interrupting the earning of wages in order to attack the wage-earning system. But, being humans (rather than Rumi’s fish), we can’t seem to help it.
In truth, I have always looked upon the season as an interruption. At one time, in that surreal period called childhood, it was a pleasant interruption – from school tasks, family obligations, the day-to-day routine that quietly slipped into boredom. It also helped you escape for a few days from the ongoing slashing and clashing that filtered down from the adult games going on around you.
Of course, there also was an oblivion factor involved: amid the shouting and laughter, amid the hints and glimpses of paradise, all we were aware of was the constant flow of dishes to and from the table, the endless bottles of homemade wine, the once-a-year melt-in-your-mouth treats. What we didn’t realize was that, like all notions of paradise, Christmas was flawed at its very heart by an uneven division of labour: some were having the fun; others sweating to produce it.
Perhaps the redeeming factor (“redeeming,” now there’s an interesting word) was that, as children, we still believed. We still felt the tug of the mystery. We still ran towards the light without assuming it was an oncoming train known as mortality. Perhaps that’s what made Christmas a pleasant interruption.
Today, however, there is little that is pleasant about the interruption. In order to celebrate, we talk about shutting things down for a few days (as if we were automatons). Or we talk about moving at half-speed (as if that somehow is going to regenerate us or allow us to tack the other half-speed onto the end of the process when we know full well we are going to have to go at one-and-a-half-speed simply to catch up). Or we decide we’re not going to answer those text messages … with equally disastrous results (not to mention the stress and anxiety it creates for our thumbs).
But family, you say, surely, if nothing else, that is worth the interruption. Well, let me see: although living in the same house, Jane hasn’t seen John (aside possibly from some path-crossing at breakfast) for more than a few minutes throughout the year. So now, they are going to gather around the Christmas dinner table to … ah … share some memories … exchange O. Henry gifts (mine was two days’ work while I see yours is only one day’s) … and be merry.
When it comes to family, unless we take the time to make each day of the year as warm and memorable as we pretend Christmas is, it’s not worth the effort. Once-a-year cleaning out the Augean stables of the neglect, inattention, relational sloppiness, and general laxness built up for 364 days makes little sense. And, if someone were to tell me that they are respectful, attentive, cherishing and nurturing all year long, then what’s the point of interrupting that with Christmas?
So, now that I’ve finished writing this piece and pissing some people off, can I get back to my 16-hour day? Unless, that is, someone is willing to pass an uncorked bottle of Lagavulin under my nose. That interrupts me every time – Christmas or not.
So what can atheists give each other for Christmas? May I suggest the Atheist Christmas Coloring Book, subtitled Celebrate Reason for the Season. It’s by Rick Marazzani, who says: “We are raising our kids as cradle atheists. No ghosts, or demons, gods, or angels except in fairy tales. But we love the spirit of Christmas.” [Interview on “The Tentative Apologist,” November 15, 2018]. You can download the colouring book here.
For those atheists who like to curl up with a fun book over the holidays, there’s How to Be a Good Atheist by Nick Harding. Here’s part of the sell pitch: “Fed up of religion telling you it has all the answers when it doesn’t? Tired of hearing about divine mysteries when there aren’t any? Irritated by the pious evangelistas telling you you’re going to hell when you’re obviously not? Exhausted by creationists … for simply being creationists? Want to know more about the so-called atheist conspiracy? Then this book is for you.”
Famous atheists you might know: Isaac Asimov, Björk, George Carlin, Marlene Dietrich, Jodie Foster, Katharine Hepburn, Nehru, Salman Rushdie, Mark Twain, Frank Zappa. And me.