Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why Secular Humanists should celebrate Christmas!

It's Christmas morning.  They were forecasting snow for higher elevations, maybe even a little for us poor in Christmas spirit in the lower elevations, but so far only wind has shown up.  Everyone else is still in bed, the stockings set out.  The Christmas Eve party at my sister's was not short of good food, and I enjoyed the game and the walk through the neighborhood to see Christmas lights -- let's be frank, though, it wasn't the same without Dad.  And my brother is home, recovering from surgery on his knee after tackling a minor perp on the Seattle subway a few weeks ago, and waiting to begin his new job as under-sheriff of a small county police department along the Columbia River.  (Where he polices the salmon very well, too.)

The twelve days of Christmas have run out: time for this series to finish, as well. 

The truth is, it's pretty easy to get most people belonging to the first three religious groups -- Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims -- to admit that it makes sense to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Secular Humanists are sometimes, to use the seasonal expression, a harder nut to crack.  But let's give it a whirl. 

(12)  Do secular humanists really want to play the role of Ebeneezar Scrooge every Christmas?  It's a useful role, but you know how the story is going to end. 

(11)  The fact that Christmas comes at the same time as the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia, and that Christians have wisely merged the three holidays, make it all the more sane to celebrate the holiday as given, and put the "human" back in "secular humanist."

(10) Jesus was, after all, the most famous human who ever lived -- whether or not he also happened to be God.  Check the date on today's calender.  Whether you prefer AD or CE, you know what we're counting from -- the date five-year old Jesus picked up his first hammer, and started building stuff -- now a barn, now a staircase, now a life, now a world. 

(9) Around the world, we celebrate the birth of people like Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, George Washington, Sun Yat-sen, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King.  Are any of these lives imaginable, apart from the influence of Jesus?  Christmas, therefore, fulfills the scientific criteria of simplicity, a kind of Occam's Razor of ritual. 

(8) You can enter into the spirit of the Halleluyah chorus, and of so much great sacred music, this time of year, so much better, if you appreciate its source! 

(7) Because of course, your kids want a tree, and want to open presents and stockings, too, and want to eat Christmas cookies, too!  

(6) Female secular humanists should celebrate Christmas with especially good cheer, because Jesus has improved the lives of women around the world dramatically, in many different ways.

(5) Science had pretty much died out a few centuries before the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, in some limited and confusing sense.  Europe was on the defensive for the next 600-700 years, against a series of foreign invaders that conquered the civilization of Antiquity.  When far outposts of that civilization began reemerging in fits and starts in the 9th, 10th, then more strongly the 11th Century, the Big Bang of intellectual expansion over the subsequent centuries came under the direct tutelage of the Church, and largely inspired by Christian theology and philosophy.  As many historians of science have pointed out, just as ancient science was inspired by the beginnings of theistic thought among Greek philosophers, more powerfully and directly, the rebirth and tremendous growth of modern science was sponsored by Christian teaching that was pervasive among the educated classes of the new Europe. 

(4) Secular Humanists should also thank God for the impact of Christian missions.  Around the world, as Robert Woodberry shows, Protestant missions (in particular) led to the institutions that allow for and encouraged democracy.  Missionaries also fed, clothed, educated, taught trades to, created economic opportunities for, rescued, protected from sacrifice, sexual abuse, hundreds of millions, indirectly billions of people. 

(3) Jesus did, too inspire most of the greatest reform in history, including the anti-slave trade, and lots more besides, that I don't think I'll list again this Christmas morning.  (The morning is drawing on, people will soon start getting up.  But walk around town, if it's not too cold out, and see what people are doing to help one another, and where great institutions for liberation got their start.  Dig deep enough, and usually you'll find some trace of the Christmas story in there, somewhere.)   

(2)  Christmas celebrates values that you do, or should, hold dear: the victory of innocent victims over murderous tyranny.  (Unfortunately the need for which seems to be made clear again every year, including this one.)   The exaltation of the humble.  The love of parents for their child, from whom they anticipate wondrous things.  The power of weakness, that Lao Zi wrote about 500 years before Jesus' birth. 

And how about the idea of God become man?  Isn't that pretty profoundly good news for people who call themselves humanists, and therefore ought to celebrate the enoblement of the human race that this implies? 

(1) Jesus' birth is worth celebrating, because Jesus' life is worth celebrating -- even for secular humanists of good will. 

Merry Christmas! 


Laura said...

Do you think they realize that we are celebrating Santa's birthday? They seem to confuse the 2 a lot.
Merry Christmas, David!

Laura said...

OOPS! Typos!
We AREN'T celebrating Santa's birthday.
Fixed :)

Loren said...

That's about as silly as a Gnu Atheist writing about why Christians should participate in celebrations in honor of the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How great it would be for them, how doing so would show that they are not a bunch of killjoys, etc.

Or a Muslim writing about why Christians should fast on Ramadan. Or a Jew writing about why Christians should celebrate Hanukkah. Etc.

If I'm going to celebrate anything at this time, I'll celebrate what was originally celebrated, not some lame attempt to latch onto pre-existing celebrations -- one that's not even supported by the Bible. Celebrated for at least 5 millennia before, like at Newgrange and Maeshowe and the Goseck Circle. Sing O Tannenbaum some time - what does it celebrate about that tree?

I can't reach as far back with language, so this is for a bit over 2 thousand years ago:
Goda Yehulan -- Good Yule
Felicia Saturnalia -- Happy Saturnalia
reconstructed Proto-Germanic and Latin

David B Marshall said...

Laura: Thank you! I hope you had a Merry Christmas, too!

Loren: In case you haven't noticed (again) I gave REASONS why secular humanists should celebrate the birth of Jesus. (Who, unlike the reverred Spaghetti Monster, was an historical personage.) Mockery is not a rational response to actual arguments. You did this last time, too: if secular humanists want to claim the Christian cloak of reasoning, you need to engage a bit more in actual reasoning. Make it a New Year's resolution, maybe.