Holidays and Mixed Emotions
A couple of things make me uncomfortable about December. First, it gets dark way too early, and second, it is a religious time of year. You see, I have lost my faith. After so many years of being a practicing Catholic, the rising waters of doubt covered the rock of my faith and agnosticism became my intellectual home.
There aren’t that many of us. Agnostics are about four percent of the population, atheists about the same. Out of the 535 members of Congress there is not one declared atheist. There are openly gay members, a Muslim, a Hindu, but no non-believers. It is still a bridge too far for American voters. So, it can be lonely out here in non-believer land, especially during the Christmas season. Every so often, I am slightly tempted to take what the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called “the leap of faith.” But it is just too great a jump. I am tempted, however, to occasionally offer a prayer to any entity that might be available that she or he return lower Park Avenue to its former use.
It could be easy to use my agnosticism as a cudgel and swing it at Christian fanatics like Pat Robertson, who claimed Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for abortion. There is also Southern Baptist leader Robert Jeffress, a man President Trump recently described as “wonderful,” who said in 2011 the Catholic Church was a cult like religion whose success was due to “the genius of Satan.” But I know these are minority voices, except maybe for certain parts of Alabama.
At age 70, I have found anger to be an unproductive emotion, even aimed at those that tell me my older son’s soul is in danger because he is gay. With old age comes greater toleration of idiots. There are hundreds of millions of devoted, committed Christians following the teaching of Jesus, working for social justice. I honor and admire them for their efforts.
It is hard not to be moved by the warmth of our town during the holidays. The striking beauty of the bells coming from the Presbyterian Church on Forest brings me to a stop each time I hear them. The way the downtown is festooned with lights is a joyous sight. People seem to put the issues of parking, short-term rentals, and historic home designation on the back burner and concentrate on being more friendly.
We agnostics and atheists can partake in the joy of the season even though we do not believe a man from Nazareth is the messiah. I don’t mean just the “eat, drink and be merry” part, although that is not a bad ethos for any season. We can use this season as an inspiration to rededicate ourselves to spreading goodwill among those with whom we come in contact. We can make an extra effort to work for peace. We can work together in the spirit of Jesus, to give those that have little, just a little more.
Yes, we can have a joyous, secular Christmas time.
It was been said by some that without religion, people have no moral anchor, that it is impossible to lead a good life. I disagree. All one really needs to lead the good life is to follow the Golden Rule, which was, by the way, taught by Buddha and Confucius 500 years before Jesus.
As I leave Bushard’s after picking up some of the many pills that help me stay healthy, I hear the bells coming from the nearby church. As always I stop and listen. The sun is shining, people on Forest are smiling, and it is a good time to be alive. So, to you, my fellow Laguna residents, I say “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holiday,” or just “have a nice day.”
James Utt hopes the spirit of the season will last a bit longer than a few weeks into January