An Atheist Christmas Homily
Due to the nature of my thesis work, my radar is unnaturally (and often annoyingly) tuned to any and all occurrences of the word “atheist”—especially when found in conjunction with the word “Jesus.” For the first part of this opinion piece by Andre Comte-Sponville in today’s Washington Post I was thinking, “OK, here we go again… another angry atheist, endlessly ranting about the evils of superstition, the innumerable deleterious social effects of Christianity, etc, etc.”
Well, Comte-Sponville does seem, if not angry, then certainly a little grouchy, but it is the holiday orgy of consumption that draws his ire, not the typically “Christian” themes (are there any of those left?) of the Christmas season. What emerges, after several Scrooge-like paragraphs about the evils of Santa and the obligatory consumption promoted by a secularized and over-marketed Christmas, is a fairly profound statement about the significance of the season:
And what is the opposite of Santa Claus? A child rather than an old man. Poor rather than rich. Hidden rather than exposed. He who has nothing to sell, nothing to give, nothing more than his life and his love. The opposite of Santa Claus is Jesus Christ: the naked infant between the bull and the donkey, the innocent victim between two thieves, the crib and Calvary. These two images, in their extremes, are the most famous of the beautiful nativity story. They demonstrate the essence of this God, who is the weakest of all gods, the most human, and for all that, the most earthshaking.
And then, a few lines later…
This is why I am an atheist, while remaining faithful—as best as I can—to the spirit of Christ, who represents justice and charity. That is the true spirit of Christmas—the basic opposite of which is the spirit of Santa Claus (if he has a spirit at all), and beyond that it is the spirit of his zealous fans, big and small, who embody selfishness and consumption.
It seems to me that this is a timely reminder worth keeping in mind as we move into the holiday season—especially those of us who number ourselves among the followers of this Jesus, the “most human” and “earthshaking” of Gods.