Saturday, December 29, 2018

Atheism for the Religious and/or Spiritual 5

The reason for the season

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I don’t have a link to this one unfortunately. I heard this story while driving years ago. It’s one of those stories from listeners on NPR. They set up some theme and people call in and tell a personal vignette. The theme for this one was something about introducing kids to religion when you are not a regular church-goer.

This particular dad picks out some mainstream Protestant churches and takes his daughter to a couple of them. They go to a Christmas service, which is about a baby arriving, so the kid relates to that. If I remember right, it was questions about the meaning of Christmas that got her started. That is a message of hope and the coming of something that will bring peace and joy, so everything was going pretty well.

After Christmas, we get Martin Luther King day. While all this learning about Jesus is going on she’s learning about that in school. They didn’t choose a home church so she was getting accustomed to noticing churches while they were driving around and considering if it looked like one they might like it. Dad doesn’t really have a curriculum in mind and has not thought about any potential pitfalls of this whole endeavor until one day they drive by a Catholic church. There’s Jesus on a cross. Suddenly all the questions and the innocence of discovery take a deeper and darker turn. He hadn’t covered the bloodiness of the crucifixion yet.

He has to quickly update her on the story of how that message of love and hope was not received so well by everyone. Some people don’t want everyone to love everyone else. Some people don’t think everyone is equal and don’t want to afford them equal respect and equal opportunity. When Jesus showed up and started suggesting they all should do that, they wanted him to be quiet, so they killed him. Oh, the little girl said, you mean like Martin Luther King Jr.? He ended his story there. There was really nothing left to add.

Sam Harris has a thought experiment that actually plays out every time a new person is born and goes through the experience of something like this. The experiment is to imagine that you wake up tomorrow and you and everyone else can remember how to do your jobs and the basics of survival, but you’ve lost all cultural memory. There are books on your shelf, but you don’t understand their significance or how one relates to the others. You know you live in a country, but you don’t know why there are boundaries or why we need police. At what point in our attempts to rediscover our own past would we prioritize a story about people in a desert and voices they heard and their choice of clothing or food? How would we choose from all the other stories about beings that we can’t see and can’t find anywhere except in these books? Would we believe in their promises and expect results from the actions they tell us to take?

My answer to those questions is probably obvious, so I don’t need to explain myself further. I wonder how someone who feels compelled to bring the message of Jesus to every remote culture would answer that. An Inuit Eskimo was once given an introduction to Christianity and afterwards he clarified that now that he knew of Jesus, he had to either choose to believe in him, or suffer an eternity in hell. He was also told that if he had never heard of Jesus, he wouldn’t have this problem. So he rather angrily asked why then did they tell him about Jesus at all.

Most of us don’t live at these extremes, but most of the people reading this probably grew up in a culture that had some version of Santa. Even those who didn’t include that story in their traditions saw Santa at every store and at some corner ringing a bell and suffered the music along with the rest of us. I’m noticing this year more than ever, people talking about a meaning of Christmas that transcends the trappings. The “war on Christmas” has become cliché and it seems most agree about over commercialization. The problems of the crazy uncle in the family are juxtaposed with the happiness of being with family.

I even read an article where old Scrooge was defended. Poor guy, everybody keeps using his name as if it means being cranky and unloving, even though, in the end, he becomes “better than his word” and helps the little boy heal and keeps Christmas in his heart throughout the year.

Christmas Lectionary, Year C
Christmas Lectionary, Year A
Christmas Lectionary, Year B

1 comment:

  1. I remember that NPR story as well. I think (but am not certain) that it came from this episode of This American Life ( I enjoyed this essay, as well as your New Year's one, a good deal.