Monday, December 13, 2010

Is There Room At The Inn...for an Agnostic?

Three years ago I wrote a post called “The What and Why of Christmas.” I reread it recently and realized some of my sentiments have changed. While I’m no longer the staunch advocate for Christianity that I once was, I still believe in many of the morals involved with the movement. I’m definitely not at the level of frustration Thomas Jefferson felt to utter, “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” I find myself leaning more towards the words of Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I’m not quite ready to embrace Ingersoll’s snide reminder to Christians that they don’t own Christmas. To me, Christmas is inextricably connected to Christianity, especially in America. I realize that if I just go back to my original post and read quickly my summarized history of Christmas, logically I can very easily dismiss that connection. However, since the connection still exists, it obviously goes deeper than logic. What is occasionally more powerful than logic and damn near impossible to control? Ah yes, emotion.

Even though I no longer attend church, I still have a number of spiritual experiences that I hold to as faith/hope defining. They are what cause me to ascribe to agnosticism over atheism. I still do not know how to deal with them in light of the separation between church and my state of being. At least two of those experiences directly relate to Christmas. The reality is that I’m emotionally/spiritually connected to Christmas.

I still get the warm fuzzies when I hear certain Christmas songs. Don’t get too excited about that or jump to identify the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I also had them the other night watching an episode of Dexter. There is nothing quite like a homicidal psychopath exhibiting the gentle, genuine love of a father love to his step-daughter to tug at my heartstrings and cause an introspective analysis on the evolving relationship with my own daughter. I almost shed a tear. Really…

Back on point, is Christmas exclusively for Christians? Or can an optimistic agnostic (that means “I don’t know but I hope so”) celebrate in the yuletide festivities too? I’m not asking for a Christ-less Christmas. I don’t want that nor is it realistic. I live in a state that makes Santa’s robe look pink by comparison. I just don’t belong to the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” club any longer.

Is it enough to simply hope for something more, even if I can’t define it? I think my current position is best described by Albert Einstein: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

Considering the evolution Christmas, and most particularly, the American celebration of Christmas, has experienced over the last few centuries, I don’t really see the need to have a defined position for now and going forward. If history teaches anything, it is that Christmas in America is not yet done evolving. John Burton Brimer once said, “America is a place where Jewish merchants sell Zen love beads to agnostics for Christmas.”

Ahhh, Consumerism. The true Scrooge of my Christmas nightmares. Bah! Humbug! Most of my Ebenezer-like attitudes of Christmas’ past have revolved around the perceived requirement of monetary gift-giving. Maybe that was because growing up, we had one pair of grandparents that clearly favored one set of grandkids over us but gave us the obligatory cash-in-a-card gift, while the other set of grandparents saw time spent with their grandkids as the Christmas present worth giving.

Anyone who knows me knows how loathe I would be to give credit to capitalism for much. ‘Cap’ has a huge ego so I try to feed into it as little as possible. So, imagine how humorous it is to me that the thing most Neo-Con Religious Right Republicans cling to as political scripture, free market capitalism, may be the very thing that they accuse liberals and their “War on Christmas” of trying to do but never accomplishing. Nothing has brought more disconnect between Christianity and Christmas than capitalism…but I digress.

Historically, Christmas has been a time of Christian reflection for me. Am I progressing towards Christ as a husband, father and man? How did I do in the previous year? In my quest for heaven, what about me stands in need improvement? Years ago, a past Mormon leader, Hugh B. Brown, once said, "For one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity." I consider the attributes implied in Brown’s statement as humanist qualities, not specifically unique to Christianity alone. Christmas then becomes ‘for one day, at least, (when) humans practice humanity’.

Presently, Christmas stands as a reminder that when we, as fellow travelers of life, extend the familial hand of benevolence towards one another. Christmas is about an ever-evolving tradition made personal through symbols and emotion. Let us take Christmas and make it our own. If that means remembering the birth of Christ, embrace it. If it means being compassionate humans, do it. If it means simply celebrating the spirit of the season, which most religions coincide on in the basic principles of love, kindness, compassion, charity and peace for mankind, then please, if only for one time of the year, celebrate a truly wonderful tradition.

Merry Christmas from the optimistic agnostic to...whatever you are.

No comments: