Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas…A Holiday For All

Can non-Christians celebrate Christmas? Many do, and why not? I’m an atheist and I have no problem celebrating Christmas, even though it has no religious significance for me.

What’s great about Christmas is that it is both a religious holiday, being based upon the birth of the Christian icon Jesus, and a secular holiday as well.

How can I say that? I am indebted to philosopher Ayn Rand for identifying the resolution of that seemingly contradictory proposition:

[In answer to the question of whether it is appropriate for an atheist to celebrate Christmas:]

Yes, of course. A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning. The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property… of the Christian religion. (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)


This makes perfect sense. A national religious holiday in a secular nation founded on the principle of separation of church and state is a logical impossibility. Since to have a secular government means to have one that is neutral with regards to the fundamental beliefs of all of its citizens, an American national holiday by definition cannot be religious.

In fact, what we today call Christmas originally didn't have any connection to Jesus at all, writes Onkar Ghate in U.S.News & World Report:

"Before Christians co-opted the holiday in the fourth century (there is no reason to believe Jesus was born in December), it was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, of the days beginning to grow longer. The Northern European tradition of bringing evergreens indoors, for instance, was a reminder that life and production were soon to return to the now frozen earth."

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice with the holiday Saturnalia. In Northern Europe, the holiday was called Yule.

Indeed, as philosopher Leonard Peikoff notes over at Capitalism Magazine, the leading secular Christmas symbol - Santa Claus - actually contradicts some standard Christian tenets:

Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention. ... In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick's physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids' stockings, then goes back to the North Pole.

...Santa implicitly rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice -- Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.


So, regardless of your beliefs, go ahead and enjoy Christmas on your own terms.

On that note, let me extend to everyone a hearty wish for a joyous, safe, and thoroughly non-contradictory…

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

3 comments:

Mike Kevitt said...

Appropriate message for the holiday. Just one thing in it keeps me focused on the run of the mill, where you say, "...a secular government means...one that is neutral with regards to the fundamental beliefs of all of its citizens,".

That's true when fundamental belief means total, overall philosophy. But, when fundamental belief refers specifically to what I call philosophy of human relations (which subsumes what most people call politics), some of those beliefs, in ACTION, can't be tolerated or put up with, if what we have is law and government. Law and government is secular, by definition.

In human relations, the fundmental is whether or not relations are controlled by individual rights (which implies the requisite fundamental philosophy). If they are, we have law and government and, thus, politics as well. If they aren't, we have crime, probably under cover of the guise of law and government. Government is 100% biased in favor of individual rights and respects, 100%, those who want them and believe in them; it is 100% biased against, and disrespects, any other way of control; any other way is crime.

Neutrality of law and government toward fundamental beliefs against individual rights, when those beliefs are put into action, is, by definition, impossible. Neutrality of a philosophy of human relations about it (which would be a pseudo-philosophy or philosophical perversion) would allow "government, the proper function of which is to do whatever the people want it to do", in a word, crime. (This notion of government was put to me, recently, elsewhere.) Under such a "philosophy", actual government would be a momentary accident or, at best, a limited expediency.

An actual philosophy of human relations (vice a pseudo-philosophy or philosophical perversion) is biased in favor of individual rights and commands law and government to protect those rights.

In the final analysis, law and government is neutral to all philosophies or beliefs, even the most irrational or outrageous, but it's totally, 100%, against control of human relations on any terms other than individual rights.

Mike Zemack said...

Secular government is neutral toward beliefs, not actions. They are two separate things. It is in the realm of human action that the principle of individual rights defines the limits of action and the proper function of the government. Beliefs are a motivating factor, for sure. But the government may not interfere in the freedom to hold and act upon one’s beliefs until and unless those actions violate the rights of others.

Hate crime laws are a good example of a government crossing the line into illegitimacy (http://principledperspectives.blogspot.com/2011/03/cohen-hate-crime-laws-are-totalitarian.html). The line between beliefs and actions is a bright one. So my statement concerning the neutrality of government towards any citizen’s chosen beliefs is accurate.

Mike Kevitt said...

I agree, 100%, with your statement. I've re-read my comment. It might appear that I contradicted you, but I find that I really didn't. But I admit, my writing is very confusing to ME when I re-read it; anyone can easily think I was, or was meaning to, contradict your statement about gvt. neutrality.

I still fussed with your statement because some "gvts." & "laws", secular as well as theocratic, are not neutral about beliefs. I still insist that such things not be called law & gvt., but crime, and the perpetrators called guilty of crime even if they don't have criminal minds & don't think or know their actions are crimes.

To me, your statement, though accurate, still implies a green lite to crime by guise of law & gvt. If you say, "...a secular gvt. means neutrality with regards to...", rather than, "...one that is neutral...", that would close off such an implication. I think the hair splitting, here, is important. Many people see such implied green lites and sieze upon them. I'm not a lawyer, but I think "codification" of laws (genuine or otherwise) is the product of intense hair splitting which we're expected to live by, rightly or not.

The time's coming when we should speak of crime by guise of law & gvt. as exactly that & call it crime, publicly, above board, not law & gvt. Likewise, when we publicly speak of law & gvt., it needs to be publicly known, automatically, we're talking about something secular AND neutral about beliefs, BECAUSE we're talking about individual rights, with no implications opening up to anything else. When speaking of law & gvt., we should be very specific & narrow minded about what we mean: preservative, not conservative.

With law & gvt., exclusively, in place as the means of controlling human relations, I think we could afford to be totally liberal about anything else.