12.23.2005

Secularily Yours

There's nothing holy about the holidays to me. (There's nothing holy about much of anything to me, though the fervor with which I'll promote Miller's Crossing, the works of Haruki Murakami, Vonnegut's Mother Night and the virtues of kosher salt comes close.) My mother made the classic educator's mistake of encouraging me to always think for myself. I was prepared to toss the Catholic church overboard before my confirmation, but realized that doing so would be devastating for her. So I sucked it up and made some compromises. In preparation for your confirmation, it is common to choose a saint's name to be your "confirmation name". (Less common nowadays, but I grew up around some unreconstructed, pre-Vatican II types, so That's How It Was Done. It's a miracle I don't speak fluent Church Latin.) I made the most seditious choice I could: St. Anselm, who was Archbishop of Canterbury around the end of the 11th Century, and whose primary claim to fame is the positing of an ontological proof of God - such proofs being, to my mind, a big load of hooey. Empiricism uber alles! Yeah, I was cranky well before I had any reason to be. Pascal's Wager is a sucker bet - whatcha gonna do about it? I'm not a raving, ACLU-card-carrying atheist. I've got the tiniest flare of agnosticism somewhere in me, a part of me that thinks that, well, wind spirits and Jesus lag well behind "aliens came down and juiced the primordial ooze and started evolution" in the probability department, but it's all certainly possible. I'll give you a funny look if you question the separation of church and state and mentally mark you down as someone who can't be reasoned with, but I won't take you off my Christmas card list. So to speak. The holidays shouldn't mean much to me. I'm neither a fan of the Celebration Of The Birth Of Jebus nor a pedant who likes to go around pointing out the connection between pagan solstice holidays and Xmas (though I do find it amusing when people decry the commercialization of Christmas, because Christmas is a commercial). And yet I loves me some Christmas. People are nice to each other, for the most part. Some assholes are assholes year-round, but I try not to waste a lot of time on those assholes. People give each other shiny things. Last night on Sunset a truck driver let us cut in front of him when we were in the wrong lane at a traffic light, and though the subject didn't come up, you could hear the Christmas spirit in his voice. I've caught myself singing "White Christmas" to myself, sotto voce, more times than I can count, never mind that it's impossible to find anyone who'll lay you odds of a white Christmas in LA. I like holidays not for what they ostensibly celebrate and represent but for how people react to those holidays. The War On Christmas is obvious bunk (I'm pretty sure that can be proved ontologically, but I'm on vacation), as anyone who's tried to find a secular holiday card at Rite-Aid can tell you, and my wife can vouch for that personally. If there is a War On Christmas, though, I think it was lost long ago. Christmas has been seized by insurgents with grand ideas of what it should be rather than what it originally was. I leave you, dear reader, with one eminently cynical thought: I think a lot of holiday good cheer can be attributed to fear of Santa ("no coal in my stocking!") rather than love of Jesus. If you're a psychology grad student, happy holidays and you're welcome for the thesis idea. It's my gift to you. Pay it forward.

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