In our age of neurotic parenting, it should come as no surprise that irreligious parents might succumb some to the evidence-free claims of many that children must be raised in a faith tradition in order to achieve some ill-defined “values”. Andrew Park at Salon has a piece up about his attempts to inject a little religion into the holiday festivities. (By “religion”, he of course means “Christianity”, because as concerned as he is about exposing his children to faith traditions, he isn’t concerned enough to start fasting for Ramadan and teaching his children about the prophet Mohammed.) After many years of wholesome secular family Christmases, Park decides to start reading Bible stories to his kids, in hopes of giving them “context” for the holiday.
What the context-free kids grasp that we adults may not understand is this: The myths and legends of a desert-dwelling people from 2,000 ago don’t have much symbolic or cultural relationship to the Christmas of our imagining, with its snow-laden landscapes punctuated with mistletoe and jolly, gift-bearing elves. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge evokes Christmas more readily than the tale of the Christ child born in Bethlehem, which most Americans probably can’t find on a map. Frankly, if you want to instill more relevant modern values into your children, you’d be better off sticking with the Dickens tale, which emphasizes the importance of love and generosity. The story of Christ’s birth, on the other hand, is about how virgins are better than non-virgins, with a side dose of arguing that babies who haven’t done anything yet can still be superior to everyone else by accident of birth.
Gee, you would never guess from reading that post that Amanda Marcotte first became infamous for her unhinged hostility to Christianity, would you?
Ironically, I agree with Ms. Marcotte’s basic premise that you don’t need to raise your kids in a religious environment. Unlike Ms. Marcotte, however, I don’t believe that raising your children in a religious environment is prima facie proof of child abuse.
Back when I was in college I took a course on the history of religion. Our instructor made a comment on the first day of class to the effect that it was difficult for a believer to study other religions because they could not be objective – their religious beliefs told them that other religions were wrong. This prompted a Christian fundie in the class to unintentionally prove the instructor’s point with a diatribe disguised as a question. If I had been the instructor I would have replied by pointing to her and saying “See what I mean?” to the rest of the class.
Militant atheism is a fundamentalist religion. A very obnoxious religion. Atheists are never content to practice their non-belief in private but insist on forcing their religion on everyone else. And because it is a religion exclusive to Vile Progs, sneering contempt is one of their sacraments.
Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of one of the greatest religious philosophers in human history. The birth of Jesus follows a theme common to many religions, myths and epic tales. It is the story of a chosen one, a heroic leader who is destined to rise from a lowly birth to become king. Sargon, Moses, Jesus, Oedipus, Arthur, Sigmund, Siddhartha, Obama; the list goes on and on. There are many variations but the theme is repeated over and over in many different cultures.
Was Jesus really the one-and-only son of God? I dunno. I can’t prove he is, but then again I can’t prove he isn’t. When I find out I’ll let you know.
Whoever Jesus really was, there was definitely a religious teacher from about 2000 years ago who made a lasting impression. The religion he founded is one of the five major world religions and he is recognized as a holy man by two of them. English language and literature are filled with references to Christ and Christian theology. You cannot be culturally literate without a basic understanding of the story of Jesus.
But you do not need to be a true believer to find great value and wisdom in the words of the man we call Jesus. His teachings went beyond rules of behavior but instead focused on individual morality. He taught that it is the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law that should guide us, and he told his followers to focus on their own behavior rather than the behavior of others.
During the past couple of millennia the religion of Jesus migrated from the Middle East up into Europe and then to the Americas. Along the way it was influenced by different environments and pre-existing cultures. Christmas trees and gift-giving are not Christian practices but they are instead cultural traditions that are practiced by many Christians.
Atheists need to learn tolerance and humility. They are not as smart as they think they are. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t have the answers either.
“The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good.” – Thomas Sowell