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Merry Christmas to All

It is well known that I am A Positive Christian Atheist.  In short, that means I’m a Jeffersonian Christian or a red-letter Christian, which basically mean “love the Sermon on the Mount, not so keen on the superhero powers and the deity mumbo-jumbo.”

I mean, “love thy neighbor”, “do unto others”, “that which ye have done to the least of these, thou hast done unto me”, “blessed are the poor”, that whole rich-man-and-camels thing, washing the feet of whores — I can get behind all of that, as I believe most moral people can, religious or areligious.

Which leads me to Christmas.  While Bill Orally and the Religious Wrong would like you to believe secular progressive atheists like me are out to destroy Christmas with our notions of “Happy Holidays”, nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Christmas is my favorite secular progressive holiday…After all, it has to be a secular progressive holiday, doesn’t it?  Jesus was born nowhere near December 25.  Some biblical scholars place the date around September 29, 5 BC, others around May, based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John and the context clues within (shepherds tending flocks, the Roman census, etc.)

The choice of December 25 was made by religious and political leaders of the time to subvert the celebration of popular pagan gods and the worship of nature inherent in a celebration of the solstice:

In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first “Christ mass” was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day. The Roman Catholic writer Mario Righetti candidly admits that, “to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the ‘Invincible Sun’ Mithras, the conqueror of darkness” (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).

In other words, Jesus wasn’t popular enough to celebrate His birthday on His birthday; so the Pope moved His birthday to December 25, in order to match up the celebration with what the secular (non-Christian) society was already celebrating.

If Jesus is God, isn’t it presumptuous of mere humans to pick the day to celebrate His birth?  Ah, yes, the virgin birth of the Son of God!  It’s the most pivotal event of all human history, so we’ll reverently celebrate the anniversary of that divine moment… three months from now.

We move the celebration of people’s birthdays to match the secular calendar all the time — George Washington, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln — are they telling me Jesus Christ sits at that same level where we can just move His birthday around to make our calendar more convenient?  “Sorry, God, about being late for your birthday, but the pagans don’t get into a drunken celebratory mood until December.”

Another way in which Christmas is my favorite secular progressive holiday is the fact that we get a federal day off work.  Now, I know my Constitution, especially that part about…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

…so I just know that the government can’t be giving us a day off and paying all those government employees some holiday pay in some sort of gesture of respect for the establishment of the Christian religion.  Why, that would be unconstitutional!

Furthermore, everyone gets the day off, not just the Christians.  It has to be a secular holiday if Jews, Muslims, and pagan atheist heathens like me are getting the day off, too.  No one would be so arrogant as to assume that we all need the day off to go worship Jesus, would they?  (Er, don’t answer that.)

So how is it that we get a federal holiday with the word “Christ” in it?  For guidance, I had to look at other situations where my government recognizes religion – my money, my Pledge of Allegiance, and some displays of the Ten Commandments around my courthouses.

In all these cases, the Supreme Court decisions in favor of God have rested on the concept of “ceremonial deism” – this notion that we’re not actually worshipping God, but instead we are recognizing the beliefs and influence of God-worshipping men in our nation’s history.  That must be it.  Christmas is merely ceremonial deism; it has to be if the government is endorsing it.

In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott argued that the Christmas holiday did not violate Ganulin’s right to equal protection under the law. She added that “The court has found legitimate secular purposes for establishing Christmas as a legal public holiday.” 

“When the government decides to recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from pre-holiday activities.”

“Ganulin and his family have the freedom to celebrate, or not celebrate, the religious and secular aspects of the holiday as they see fit,” Dlott added.  “The court simply does not believe that declaring Christmas to be a legal public holiday impermissibly imposes Christian beliefs on non-adherents in a way that violates the right to freedom of association.” 

Dlott also gave her interpretation of the “Lemon” test from LEMON v. KURTZMAN which is used widely in deciding if an action by the government violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. She opined that Christmas “has a valid secular purpose, it does not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular, and it does not impermissibly cause excessive entanglement between church and state.”

…even though it is called CHRISTmas.

In other words, Christmas is as religious as the words “In God We Trust” on the money I use to buy the Christmas present.

Which actually gets to the heart of what Christmas truly is in America: the secular progressive celebration of what we truly worship – consumer capitalism.  We gather together the Holy Secular Parchment, those bills featuring the portraits of the Revered Secular Saints Lincoln, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, those bills proclaiming our trust in GOD (greed over deism), and we take them once per year on our Hajj, our pilgrimage to our most sacred Mecca, the Mall.  Our entire economy depends on that time from Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) to Christmas — retailers’ annual profit lives or dies during that month. 

We have almost no end to the secular Christmas events once December arrives, from the rituals (caroling, mistletoe, egg nog) and the clothing (red & green everything, stocking caps) to the symbols (the tree, the wreath, the stockings), acts of worship (lighting up one’s house because one can afford to waste energy), the hymns (“Jingle Bells”, “Sleigh Ride”) heard at this time and no other, and the event itself, the disguising and exchange of presents and cards.  Aside from the name, there’s not a bit of Jesus worship in there, and, I’d argue, that’s the way most Americans think of it.

Yes, you could argue with me that 85% of Americans believe Jesus is the Son of God and 75% agree with the statement “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” (I’m making these stats up, just to add that authentic wingnut feel).  But I’d counter that people say all sorts of things they don’t really believe.  My guess is that people answer those questions like they answer surveys on sexual behavior or drug use; they’ll give you the answer that makes them look good.

I’ve always thought that most so-called “Christians” in America are about as deep into their theology as Britney Spears is deep into quantum physics.  Most think of themselves as “Christian” like an ethnic identity, not a serious religious exercise.  “I’m Christian” is a way of saying “I’m a good person” or “I’m just like you”.  Most people are “Christians” because their family is, somewhat like how most people vote like their parents voted.  These are the people who are usually wearing the biggest cross around their neck or have some sort of Christian bumper sticker on their car, by the way, the kind who really need you to know they are a Christian, rather than being satisfied with just acting like one.

That’s the final way I know Christmas is a secular progressive holiday; by the way the so-called Christians celebrate it.  To claim you worship the Prince of Peace, Protector of the Meek, Healer of the Sick, Advocate of the Poor, with the act of visiting the temple of the moneychangers in order to max out your credit cards in an attempt to shower those you love with expensive gifts seems, to me, the most secular, non-religious, un-Christ-like act possible.  I’d think true Christians would be taking all that money and donating it to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and free clinics instead of buying Junior a PlayStation3.

So until these hypoChristians get beyond complaining about merchants saying “Happy Holidays” and onto complaining about the merchandising itself, I can’t take this “War on Christmas” very seriously.  Besides, if they’re fighting about the secularization of Christmas, that battle began way back in 435 AD and the war was lost in 1870 when Christmas was federalized.

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