Friday, May 14, 2010
Atheists and Christmas
Attention those out there reading blog:
I've corrected the embarrassing typo errors in the blog on Phillip Pullman and C. S. Lewis. And the Freethinker Child story is finally completed.
Recently, atheists have received a reputation of being anti-Christmas. From what I've read, some non-beleivers are just fine with the Christmas holidays; they celebrate and exchange gifts, though they pften place more emphasis on the pagan elements like Santa Claus and Christmas trees. But generally they aren't bothered by the religious trappings either, just because they don't happen to believe. Others, however, feel more harshly, and scorn the Christian elements. They take part in the festivities, but perfer to call it Yuletide or Winter Soltice, and loathe to wish anyone a "Merry Christmas". There are some atheists (not sure the percentage) who forgo the holiday altogather because of its Christian core. Never mind that Christians themselves often complain over the commercialization of the holiday, and some extremists even condemn Santa as Satan. Christmas is "Christian", and therefore even such as Santa Clauss and Christmas trees are scornfully viewed as "religous icons." They forbid their own children from sharing in the Christmas spirit as much as any devout Jehovah's Witness.
This sort of extreme negative reaction to the holidays is not common, but, though atheists may harber a diverse array of opinions about Christmas, the number Christmas-haters among committed atheists appears to be disproportionally high. Of todays leading atheist intellectuals, Christopher Hitchens, has, in particular expressed his deep personal revulsion at Christmas. At this point, I want to make a distinction between a "Scrooge" and a "Cromwell." A Scrooge is someone who keeps Christmas in his own way, and allow others to keep it in theirs. In a word, he loathes Christmas, but only wants to be left alone. A Cromwell, on the other hand, is someone who seeks to impose his own anti-Christmas sentiment on others by means of the state. The Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell's initial opposition to Christmas was actually somewhat justified in light of the drunknesness and excessive indulegence Christmas celebration had become at the time. His solution--which outlawing even the baking of a mince pie during the season, however, is one few would not consider extreme. But of course, there is not doubt the Cromwell beleived he was fully serving Chirst and has the country's best interests in mind.
While thier ideology runs completly opposite that of Cromwell, today's ideological athiests doubtless have nothing but the best intentions regarding their opposition to Christmas. Are atheists the new Cromwells? Well, not necessarily. Most, as already said, would qualify more as Scrooges, although I am not sure about Hitchens. We've all heard about the "War on Christmas" by the politically correct Left, but I beleive it's generally blown out of proportion. However, there is no doubting the loathing some of the atheist persuasion feel regarding the holiday, and it comes as no surprise that such ideological opposition is in the name of supposed tolerance. Which brings me to the topic at hand. The the other day, I was doing research for my page George C. Scott's famous renditon of Dickens' A Christmas Carol:
While doing so I found a review site which appears to be done by someone who is an avowed athiest, and seemingly very liberal, but not one whom I'd call very consistent in his/her liberalism. It's a well written review, but hardly one partial to the Christian faith:
The reviewer gives Scott's Carol, a rousing endorsement, and I couldn't agree with him more about the following line:
As you might expect, the most watchable version was the one in which Scrooge was played by George C. Scott. The power of George C. absorbs the character of Scrooge and he is absolutely perfect in the role.
The fact hat he highly recomends the films, and especially Scott's performance, almost leads me to beleive his take on the tale itself might possibly be satire. But to prove a point about how Dickens Carol could indeed be misconstrued by those of the anti-Christian persuasion, I'll assume here that it's serious. The reviewer writes:
The message of this story is that it is okay to use the despicable practices of torture and terror to promote your religious agenda. It is okay for a law-abiding and legitimate businessman to be brutalized for his lack of religious beliefs.
Notice he assumes from the start that Carol is ideological, and that the Spirits' mission is cram Christianity down's Scrooge's throat. In a way, he's got a point. Dickens' Carol is a story with a message that is in fact a throughly Christian one, part of the reason it's considered the greatest Christmas story of all time outside of the Nativity story. However, this is in way that is often overlooked or downplayed by modern Christianity. The reviewer defends the unrepentant Scrooge by saying:
There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Scrooge is doing anything underhanded or illegal, he merely loans money to people who borrow it from him of their own free will, and he tries to collect it when it is due.
Okay, so it's true that Scrooge shows no sign of being a dishonest or crooked business man. In fact, I've always pictured Scrooge as a ruthlessly honest individual in both his personal contacts and his financial dealings. He is no liar, cheat, or charlatan. As the reviewer rightly points out, when it comes to Christmas, Scrooge merely wants to be left alone. So what is his great sin? Quite simply: selfishness. Profit has become an idle to him, and this is precisely the reason that Bible warns agaisnt it. Though Scrooge goes out of his way to harm no one, he also shuts himself out to the poverty and hardship around him. Jesus talked repeatedly of the necesseity of doing good and helping others. As Christians, we are in fact commanded to do this. The reviewer goes on to say:
In an unforgettable night of terror, Scrooge is abused mentally and physically by uninvited spirits, as he deprived of sleep, humiliated, and threatened with death unless he “redeems” himself and becomes a believer in Christmas. This central theme is no different from what is practiced by modern day Christianity. The only thing that Scrooge was guilty of was his genuine desire to separate himself from the spectacle and hypocrisy of Christmas. His only crime was that he wanted to be left alone.
Actually, the spectacle is much different than is preached by modern day Christianity. Why? Because much of modern Christianity has dumbed down the message of Jesus. Over and over again those seeking to convert others downplay the message of good works, insisting in fact, that one need do nothing in order be accepted by the Lord, that good works constitute "Buying one's way into heaven." This is done to make Christianity look easy and a free ride compared with other faiths. Taken to its extreme form, this sort of preaching nearly makes a mockery of the actual teachings of Christ. I say this because I recall a lady in my Pastor's Bible study group, who happened to say, when Dickens' A Christmas Carol came up in the discussion, that the message of Carol was not a Christian one because promoted salvation through works. But it does not promote salvation through works. Nor, as the atheist reveiwer suggests, is it in the least true that Scrooge was merely bullied into good behavior by three ghosts. It should be obvious to anyone who has bothered to examine the story with any depth at all that Scrooge revisits his past in order to rekindle that quiet sensitive youngster he once was, then witnesses the hardship of those he has shut out from his world in his present. By the end of the story, Scrooge truely wants to change. Although the vision of his own possible future is indeed terrifying to him, even this is because of the great remorse he feels at that point in the story. His reaction on Christmas morning is one of joy and reformation, a true change of heart, not that of a cowed, bullied man, suffering fro,m intimidation and sleep-deprivation. The following text expert form Carol makes this clear:
"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!
Also a memorable scene in the Scott version, I might add. However, back to the reveiw:
Instead of being bitter, hopeless and suicidal over his small stature and crippling afflictions, he is cheerful and glib, and can induce more vomiting than a cattle car full of bulbous-headed midgets in clown suits. Tiny Tim teaches us that it is quite all right to be crippled and living under a death sentence because it reminds us of the Christ who healed the sick and lame. The fact that there is no Christ around to prevent him from dying a horrible death from the ravages of polio is conveniently never mentioned. The only salvation for Tiny Tim is Scrooge’s money; no gods required. He sings “Silent Night” and is continually saying “God bless us, each and every one”, as well as other cliched phrases that made me want to beat him to a lifeless, bloody pulp with the fat end of his crutch.
Do you get that in the first line? The reveiwer apartently thinks being bitter, hopeless and suicidal over one's affliction is a good thing while being cheerful and glib about it is to be admonished. Most kids who managed to be cheerful anad glib in the same situation as Tim would be commended for their courage--at least I'd rather hope so. Why does he find the reference to Christ so offensive? Possibly becasue it's just that--a reference to Christ. But Christ's teachings were to care for the sick and downtrodden--as Scrooge eventually does. So in that since, yes, Christ is there, as it is through His teachings and Scrooge's obedience to them that Tim is finally spared. Why phrases as "God bless us everyone" incites such violent urges in the mind of the review, is however, not something I would care to speculate on.
One last point he makes, in refence to the Albert Finney version in which Scrooge is actually shown a glimpse of himself in hell:
Mind you, this sentence of eternal torture is for merely choosing to be left alone and for not sharing the bizarre fantasies and hallucinations that possess the Christian brain at the end of December. This is a holiday that was stolen by the Christians from the Pagans, the celebration of the return of the sun; the winter solstice festivals. This scene is the greatest trailer for Christianity I have ever seen, showing the cruel depravity of the death cultists.
Again, not so. Scrooge does not "merely choose to be left own," although this is what he has convinced himself in the beginning. He has allowed himself to embrace a "survival of the fittest" mentality which proves destructive to both himself and to those around him. When one considers the following review line:
Only slightly less sickening are Bob Cratchit and his pandering wife. Typical breeders and deeply religious, the Cratchits are content to pump out their defective hellspawn despite their inability to adequately feed them.
It appears the reviewer himself embraces a sort of social Darwinism. Calling the children of the poor "defective hellspawn," is hardly an indicator of tolerance. Why does the author despise Christianity? His apparent problem wiht it appears not to be intolerance, but charity. Living for purely selfish reasons--I've heard it denied by atheists time and again that this could not possibly be reason for their atheism, so they say. It's all about reason and rationality--so they say. But it's even been occasionally admitted by atheists that Christians, in general, give substantiatively more than to charity than atheists do. I've been more than a bit critical of modern Christianity in this blog. But even so, Christians, so long as they're sincere, at least have one thing going for them that athiests don't--Jesus Christ.