Archive for December, 2010
I guess it’s becoming a holiday tradition for me to make spicy chocolate crunch, since this is the second year in a row that I’ve done it. Pretty astounding for me to stick with anything that long.
So I wrapped up a package of candy and topped it off with a Fuentes cigar tied with a red ribbon, to take over to my next door neighbor’s house. Walking up their front steps, I considered how to greet them, as they are devout Muslims. I decided that this year I was going to go against my better instincts and say “Merry Christmas”. For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been a staunch advocate of the “Happy Holidays” approach.
When Asan opened the door he beat me to the punch with his own hearty “Merry Christmas”! And why not? It’s an American custom, a tradition that really has little to do with religion anymore. The Christmas season has always been about the universal ideal of “peace on Earth, good will towards men”. That is, until some mean old Christians went and ruined it.
No one used to worry about offending anyone with “Merry Christmas”. I used to work for a reformed Jewish fellow and we made no bones about the season being about Christmas. Hanukkah fell in their somewhere, but it surely wasn’t a Hanukkah season. We put a tree up in the restaurant lobby every year and, yes, there was a menorah on the mantle. We both enjoyed the season and we both enjoyed the business that the season generated. I never gave my personal greetings much thought, but probably gave equal time to Christmas, the Holidays and New Year.
But then some overly sensitive, paranoid and doctrinaire Christians became offended by the lack of “Christ” in the Christmas season (as if Christ hadn’t been upstaged by Santa Clause since long before WWII). They mounted a national campaign designed to regain uncontested control of the holidays. Coming from their lips “Merry Christmas” was no longer a heartfelt greeting meant to wish people joy and happiness, it was now a challenge like “I dare you to knock this frankincense off my shoulder!” Or the Christian equivalent of the Black Power salute: a symbol of defiance in the face of ‘secularists’ and solidarity among the ‘faithful’. Where is the grace in that?
All of a sudden it became difficult for the rest of us to wish people a merry Christmas. These zealous Christians had created an air of tension where there was none before. It wasn’t the ‘secularists’ or the rare militant atheist who made the Christmas greeting into a politically incorrect statement – it was the result of needy, insecure Christians demanding that everyone confirm their religious tradition. In their fervent devotion to the idealized story of the birth of a baby God they effectively buried the adult Jesus’ message beneath the sands of a mythical Bethlehem.
But not quite. I find it heartening, when a devout Muslim man is able to share the true spirit of Christmas with a jaded, cynical Christian like myself, without compromising his own faith in the process.
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!
It’s hard to ignore the billboard battle going on right now and it looks as if the atheists have the high ground. Their claim: religion has no monopoly on morality. Hard to dispute that one. Of course, neither does atheism. It seems that morality is fleeting and held loosely by all of us, no matter what our belief system. Mankind has proven itself to be uniquely self-destructive even as it aims to prosper. Or is it because we aim to prosper that everything we touch seems to spoil?
I think it’s interesting that some extreme Christians and atheists alike have found ways to excuse mankind’s most egregious acts. One Christian response evokes the idea that the Earth was given to us by God, that Satan is messing with our intentions and sometimes horrible things must be done in order to save souls for the after life. Some atheists claim that the things that we do are neither good or bad, they just are – that what we do is only natural and part of the evolutionary process. Natural selection often appears cruel, but it is necessary for the perpetuation of the species.
First, let me be clear: I think that the theory of evolution is the best means by which to address the questions we have about life on this planet. I do not take Creationism seriously nor am I enamored with all the aspects of Intelligent Design. That being said, I’m trying to figure out what evolutionary point there is for speculating on these, or any other ideas at all. What is the point of thinking about things that don’t put a roof over our heads or food in our bellies? I’ve started to wonder if the development of the self-aware human mind has done anything to help perpetuate our species. Does philosophy, poetry, music, art or religion help humanity in any practical way? (A lot of people say they don’t). Some prominent atheists have even suggested that there are genes for these behaviors. But why? From an evolutionary perspective they seem like such wastes of time. You’d think these frivolous tendencies would’ve been filtered out.
Not only that, but it is the human mind, with all its technical capabilities, that has placed our planet in jeopardy. Without the human mind there would be no sword, no arrow, no cross-bow, no cannon, no rifle, and no H-bomb. Without the human mind there would be no smokestacks, no highway deaths, no slums, no Love Canal, no Chernobyl, no red tide, no DDT, no flooding in New Orleans, no genetically modified plants or animals. Many of the great threats to our existence would not exist themselves.
So, how can the human mind, with its capacity for leisure, greed, curiosity, art, beauty, hatred, discovery and religion, be a product of evolution? It seems that the more ‘primitive’ minds of other species serve them better. Sure, they can’t ultimately defend themselves against the violence of humans, so I guess that natural selection has given us an advantage in that regard. We can kill them better than they can kill us. But our technology doesn’t always come out on top, at least not with microbes, rats and roaches. But because of our technology, we are capable of destroying ourselves, like no other species we know of. It almost looks as if the human mind is ultimately self-destructive and not a product, but a contradiction, of natural selection. If so, then does the self-aware human brain, particularly when examined under the light of natural selection, possibly support the idea of something supernatural going on? And if so, then what does our capacity to do both good and evil say about this supernatural aspect?
I don’t think faith concepts should be discarded or ignored because of any ugliness and violence associated with them, anymore than faith should be blithely endorsed because of those parts that are beautiful and life affirming. I think that these controversial billboards, both theist and atheist, represent minority perspectives. There are a few people on both sides of this debate that listen more than they shout. Those are the ones we should engage with and hopefully learn from. We are better off ignoring the rest, no matter how loudly they yell or how big their signs are.