Christmas as we know it depends quite a lot on the influence of Atheists.
Here are a few:
THE ATHEIST Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) created the great “GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS,” one of the sneakiest endorsements of Humanism ever smuggled into a Christmas story. The Grinch discovers the holiday is not about gifts but something ‘a little bit more’. If only Christianity would be so demur and benevolent. The Grinch arrives at empathy for others without any supernatural assistance – he does it all on his own!
THE ATHEIST Charles Schulz (Peanuts)
delivered a wonderful version of Christmas in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” which I love and couldn’t do without. Again, empathy from friends brings the happy ending – not Linus’ famous reading of Luke at the Christmas party!
THE ATHEIST Irving Berlin had the biggest Christmas hit in history with “White Christmas” – still one of the most lovely Christmas songs ever written. Never mentions Jesus, god, mangers or wise men. Yet it is beautiful and complete as a nostalgic and wistful sentiment of times gone by. It remains the most popular Christmas song of all time.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT is probably an Atheist.
I’m referring of course to the cheery ghost in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
In any case, I’m claiming The Ghost of Christmas Present my favorite Atheist.
A devout Christian, Dickens would try to deny it. But this is the ghost who visits Scrooge to show him all the fun he is missing at Christmas; the color, dancing, music, the joy of life, the joys of good company, the love of friends, good food and drink.
And his regal, confident countenance is more pagan Saturnalia than some self-loathing servant of the Lord.
Most revealingly, this ghost explicitly warns Scrooge,
“beware these two children of humanity: ignorance and want.”
This is an argument against Faith. No Atheist could have said it better!
It is also a 100% pro-humanitarian, pro-education message. I can’t think of too many Atheists who would disagree with it. If the message doesn’t strike you as fully endorsing Freethinking, well, it certainly does not encourage one to shut his eyes and say a prayer!
RECONSIDERING “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”
Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has no Atheists in it (as far as I can tell) but it has one of the greatest Christian villains in movies; the big banker Henry Potter. And as the years go by, this story seems more like a Humanist fairy tale than the Christian propaganda Capra intended.
Regular guy George Bailey is pitted against Potter, the rich, greedy villain of 1930’s depression era who would feel right at home in today’s America of 2014 where wealth and class disparity are back to their high rates of 80 years ago.
America today is more like Pottersville than Bedford Falls.
Capra might have been shocked to see Religion and its Evangelical Lobby takes a lot of the blame.
Capra famously made “It’s a Wonderful Life” as 1946 propaganda for a Christian America feeling threatened by the expansion of ‘Godless’ Communism. It is a snapshot of the view that the small town, Godly values of Bedford Falls would always beat the Henry Potters of the world.
This is a pro-religion movie. And 75 years later the world has changed and it looks as though the bad guys have switched places with the good guys. Even God is on the wrong side.
Capra probably would not have dreamed that American Big Banking of the sort Potter represented would grow to a size too big to fail thanks to Christian Republican Politics. In fact, the villain Potter would feel right at home with the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch or the Green’s of Hobby Lobby – again, thanks to a Grand Ol Party that wanted more freedom for Jesus … and Banks.
Result? America has become more like Pottersville, the commercialist nightmare version of Bedford Falls, in the ensuing decades as Main Street has lost the battle with the Evangelical Walton Family (Wal-Mart).
Though Democrats share much of the blame for the fall of Main Street, it is the Republican party which has been playing the Christian card to drum up votes for 30 years with a bible thumping brazenness not seen since the pro-slavery movement before the Civil War in 1860.
Think of Jerry Falwell, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann to name a few.
The irony is that Christian Evangelical influence in politics
has given more power to the Henry Potters of the world
while stripping power from the George Baileys
How did the Christian Lobby get so powerful? And why was this better for big business than for Main Street and George Bailey?
Well, in part, Jimmy Carter returned Christian politics to the White House in the 70’s with his ‘born-again’ tone. And Ronald Reagan incorporated Christian cheerleading into his southern political strategy to win landslides. The Christian Lobby benefitted.
The Clinton years were religiously benign in comparison to the prayerful Christian born-again Republican leaders who arrived in 2000. George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and others pushed several faith-based initiatives into the center of the country’s business from education to foreign policy.
This meant big tax cuts for the rich, fewer services for the poor and a foreign trade built against the middle class in favor of big business. Trickle Down Economics. Often overlooked is the damage it has done to science education, the increased distrust for teachers and other education professionals.
The result of all this Christian cheerleading is the highest wealth disparity and most regressive tax policies in American history. And the banks? Fat and de-regulated.
Religious boosterism has not been as benevolent, constructive or as Patriotic as Capra might have hoped. And the recent decades of on-the-sleeve Evangelism in Politics may even help explain the rise of the New Atheism.
And that is real irony.
The Humanism of Clarence
Getting back to the film, Clarence “the guardian angel” is the warmest Christian in any Christmas movie. His warmth comes not from his Christianity but from his universal empathy. He softens God’s harshness. He even shrugs off The Boss’s wishes – and it gets a laugh.
Capra would likely be horrified to know Atheists like myself could find such joy and validation for Atheism in his movie.
Sure – it’s just a movie.
But the ending is a joy because human empathy and solidarity are so rewarding. George Bailey learns to appreciate his own value to those he has touched. This has nothing to do with religion.
Clarence earns his wings NOT for teaching George Bailey about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ or for bringing George’s spirit up to Heaven, but for showing George the value of his own life right here on earth.
And this is what brings George such profound joy, it is the awareness that his life brought to much joy to others.
Most people like being happy and we love to spread it around.
This impulse is not owned by religion, nor put there by a god. If it were, Atheists such as the great ones above would not have been so capable at understanding it.
DAYS OF AULD LANG SYNE!
So enjoy the season! What better time of year to be a caring, loving HUMANITARIAN than the darkest days of winter when we could all use a hug and a warm fire?
Whatever you celebrate this season I hope you are surrounded with love and a few favorite people. Have yourself a merry time!
Love and Cheers to all,