Saturday, December 5, 2009

Billo's Bellow

(I get these essays in my email from Zepp and since I don't know if he has his own webpage to visit, I share this with you.)

Yule be home for the holidays

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson
December 5th 2009

We're coming up on the Yule Season – you may have noticed one or two ads mentioning it on the TV – and Bill O'Reilly is on his annual campaign to save Christmas.

That would be the Republican Christmas, of course. It's sort of a strange holiday in which Jesus urges everyone to go out and buy lots of shit for the kids, so they will worship. If lots of money is all it takes to get American right wingers to worship Reverend Moon and Kangarupe Murdoch, then lots of money and gifts ought to bring those little sucks into line, Jesus-wise.

Billo spent a few minutes whining about the “coal-in-your-stocking crowd,” which would include such groups as the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Billo's ire was raised by signs on buses that read, “No God? No Problem! Be good for goodness sakes!”

The funny thing is that you'll find a lot of members in both groups celebrating the holidays in various ways later this month. A lot of Humanists celebrate the Solstice, New Years', or both. And a surprising number of people in Freedom from Religion are, in fact, religious. They just understand how important it is to keep religion and government separate, because each will horribly corrupt the other.

But it's not Republican Christmas, an event that includes plastic trees, artery-clogging eggnog, huge credit card bills, and an endless agony of sending and receiving cards, and putting names in databases so you don't forget to send a card next year. All this is combined with copious amounts of sanctimony, even though none of the activities listed actually involved the putative religious aspects in any way.

Billo is riding that sanctimony, saying that not believing in God means there's no point in celebrating anything. As he says, “The question is, why bother? Why spend money at Christmas time to spread dubious will among men?”

If you were hoping for a heartwarming homily right out of the pages of Reader's Digest about family and love and peace and goodwill toward men, that just isn't the Republican Christmas.

The reason people don't celebrate Billo's Republican Christmas, according to Billo, is “atheists are jealous of the Yuletide season. While Christians have Jesus and Jews have the prophets, non-believers have Bill Maher. There are no atheist Christmas carols, no pagan displays of largesse like Santa Claus. In fact, for the non-believer, Christmas is just a day off, a time to consider that Mardi Gras is less than two months away.”

I bet more Jews celebrate Bill Maher then celebrate Christmas. Even among Republican Jews. It's not because Maher is, technically speaking, Jewish (He was raised Catholic, now a Humanist, but his mother was Jewish), nor because, technically speaking, so was Jesus. It's just that if you send a letter to Bill Maher, you have a chance of getting a reply. Plus Maher doesn't go for smiting fruit trees because they aren't bearing fruit out of season, or demanding that followers forsake their families to follow him. Maher's pretty mellow about that sort of shit. So it makes more sense to celebrate him.

I fell down laughing at the statement that there are no pagan displays of largess like Santa Claus. It's true. Republican Christmas has Santa showing up at the stable fashionably late, singing, “Yo, ho, blow the man down” and giving the baby Jesus a yarmulke and season tickets to the Rams. Humanists don't have anything like that. Nor do Christians. But the pagans do. Santa may be loosely based on a Christian saint, Nicolas, but the figure actually dates back some 3,000 years. Odin, a figure also known as Jólnir (Old Norse "yule figure") who was celebrated from Solstice to early January as a part of the ancient Nordic lunar calendar, was the first Santa figure. Nuthin' pagan about THAT, nosireebob! Later versions, based on the fourth century Saint Basil, and the sixteenth century Saint Nicklaus, came later. The modern Santa is based on nothing more than an illustration by a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. Nast almost certainly drew from pagan lore, combining Mōdraniht, (Mother's Night) with Saturnalia.

Billo, characteristically, shifted to a vaguely threatening posture, noting that 78% of people in the US like to say “Merry Christmas” and only 22% say “Happy Holidays” and noting that all those Merry-Christmas babblers aren't going to have much goodwill left over for people who disparage their eggnog.

Most people are a little fed up with the holiday. The Guardian had a poll for favorite Christmas movie, and Billy Bob Thornton's “Bad Santa”, a cynical and depraved satire, was leading. I voted for it myself. If there's a movie the wife and I watch every Yule, that's it. There's just something about the sight of a drunken Billy Bob Thornton sprawled in a plastic Santa throne whilst a dark stain spreads across the front of his red Santa pants that proclaims the true nature and joy of Republican Christmas.

Most people just sigh and deal with Christmas. They do it for the kids, although it has never been clear to me how teaching kids utter absurdities such as the Santa legend, and then pulling the rug out from under them when they get to be about eight, fosters trust and reverence for equally absurd religious stories. If Santa's a fake, then why believe the Bible? To me, it makes a lot more sense to explain the gift giving as a custom in which people reach out to one another, and show they care. That's a lesson and a rationale that doesn't go away when a child is eight.

The only groups that actually oppose Christmas are Christian. Most of them have pretty valid reasons, as seen from their perspectives. Some groups recognize that Christmas is basically just superimposed on ancient pagan holidays, and are literate enough to know that Joseph and Mary weren't going to be walking around half the middle east in the dead of winter, and that such an odyssey would been in late summer. It doesn't help that none of the mentioned events have any historic correlation. No big bright stars appearing out of nowhere. There was a Herod, and there was a big Roman census, which did occur—10 years after Herod's death. Herod died four years before Jesus was supposedly born. That only two of the four gospels have any of the elements of the nativity at all is further cause for concern.

As a result, most Christians treat the nativity as an allegorical fable. This includes the Catholic Church, which realized many years ago that it was impossible to reconcile the irregularities and flat-out contradictions in the gospels. They believe that Jesus is the son of God, but they recognize that the fable that he was born in a manger on December 25th with three wise men, shepherds and so on was pure malarky.

Most just go ahead and enjoy the holiday, mindful of the fact that it's more a commemoration of an idea than any actual events. And they don't go around demanding that people believe fables that they don't believe themselves. They celebrate Christmas in their own way, and leave others to celebrate it – or not – in their way. This always struck me as a sensible approach.

But oddly, the strongest opposition comes from the folks who insist that the bible is literal, and that the nativity occurred exactly as described in the two gospels, and loftily ignore the contradictions between the two. However, they admit that nearly all the elements of Christmas are of pagan origin, and the commercialism is an abomination.

Billo likes to pretend that atheists get upset when people say “Merry Christmas” to them, but the fact is that few do. Some of them will even say “Merry Christmas” right back, especially if it's someone they care about, and whose beliefs they respect. Atheists don't dig in their heels and get surly unless someone forces them to say “Merry Christmas.” And Billo, who can't understand that he lives in a country where no person may impose religious observance on any other person, is flabbergasted that employers aren't willing to force employees at malls to chirp “Merry Christmas” at customers who are already fed up with the patent emotional phoniness of the commercial celebrations.

The fundamentalists are the only ones who get upset about the term itself, because they realize that the vast majority of people, when they say the phrase, don't mean it in the biblical sense. The fact that there is no coherent biblical sense makes it even worse.

Some like to pretend it's their holiday, and nobody else has any business appropriating it. In fairness, that isn't limited to fundamentalist Christians; I've heard similar grousings from Wiccans and other Pagans.

But it's pretty much a secular celebration, the tinsel and the gifts and Santa and all of that, and in any event, everyone in America is free to observe it or not, as strikes their fancy. And it is that freedom that so upsets Billo, who wants to force people to observe a holiday he doesn't even believe in himself.

Happy Yule, and if you see Billy Bob Thornton up on Santa's pagan throne, surrounded by mythical pagan creatures such as elves, think twice about plopping the kids in his lap.

They might splash.


Mariano said...

The ads are mere propaganda that answers to an argument that no one has made. The claim is not that atheists lack of morals but lack of moral premise, lack of ethos.

It is also a reprinting of their ads from last year:

Yet again, during a time of the year when people are generally more inclined towards charity—peace on earth and good will towards non-gender specific personages—atheists are busily collecting hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars during a time of recession not in order to help anyone in real material need but in order to purchase bill boards and bus ads whereby they seek to demonstrate, to themselves, just how clever they are—need any more be said?

Anonymous said...

Yes. Plenty of atheists give to charity, the billboards are just a way to say be good for it's own virtue.