An "A," standing for "atheist" or "agnostic" stands among the other holiday displays at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. | Associated Press
Updated: January 16, 2014 6:14AM
Not all atheists are against Christmas with public protests opposing Nativity scenes and personal diatribes over religion-based holiday shows in schools.
Many atheists — defined as “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods” — are just as excited about the Christmas holidays as joyful Christian believers. Or so says a prominent Valparaiso physician who’s a reborn atheist, of sorts, after being a God-loving, Bible-believing, soul-saving Christian for more than 40 years.
“Many atheists such as me believe in letting Christmas be Christmas,” he told me during lunch recently. “I love Christmas and I would encourage my fellow atheists to not try to change it. Nor should they try to come up with imitations of Christmas.”
For instance, the new eight-foot-tall lighted display of “A” — for atheism and agnosticism — which now resides alongside the creche and menorah in Daley Plaza in Chicago. It was erected by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation to “encourage atheists and agnostics to come out of the closet.”
Personally, I don’t need a public “A” display to come out of the closet of agnosticism. And let’s be spiritually honest with one another: Everyone is an atheist about the gods they don’t believe in.
“Atheism is an opinion after a decision about a supernatural being,” the doctor said. “Either the supernatural exists or it doesn’t exist, period. There’s no in between. Personally, I want the truth, not fables written by desert tribes thousands of years ago.”
This hotly contested seasonal debate about Christmas boils down to fear, insists the doctor, whose name I’m not revealing because he, too, has fears. Fears that his personal beliefs — or nonbeliefs in this case — will hurt his medical practice and invade his personal privacy.
“It comes down to fear from both sides,” he told me. “Religious people are fearful of losing their beliefs, their traditions, their supernatural security blanket. And atheists are fearful that no one is listening to them and their rational nonbeliefs.”
Webster’s defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil or pain, whether the threat is real or imagined.” Exactly — real or imagined, I remind you.
Nothing scares people more than being scared of so many things that they feel they can’t control. And no one knows how to wield this psychological tool more than our leaders and rulers, dating back eons, long before Jesus was born. Or Santa Claus for that matter.
“God is like Santa Claus for adults, and look how protective we are around little children maintaining the myth of Santa Claus,” the doctor said.
“There are many people who may, in fact, be rather religious with very serious doubts as to whether their story is true. In other words, whether a god actually exists,” he noted. “They wrestle with these serious doubts often.”
“Since religion brings them comfort, however, they are very quick to defend religion, especially around those holidays which seemed to bolster their comfort level regarding religion. They see any alternative views as rather threatening because of their own fears about whether God exists.”
On the other hand, atheists who feel they have woken up from a dream, or “the matrix” of religion, are fearful that the world will simply go on as it has for thousands of years, following religion’s lead.
“Some atheists are like the little boy who no one listens to and who eventually tends to throw a tantrum and make their opinions known in an angry way,” the doctor said. “They also see religion as a force against human rights and the teaching of science.”
“They are afraid that religion will maintain its hold on society and politics,” he added. “There still tends to be discrimination against atheists to come out, so that can add to their fear.”
Some atheists view this issue as strictly political, by protesting against religious dogma and its trappings in our government and secular society. Others look at more as a social, psychological or philosophical issue, as the doctor sees it.
“There are atheists all around us in society. Our doctors, teachers, insurance salesmen and store clerks are folks just like anyone,” he said. “There are more people coming out as atheists now and also more religious people coming to a realization that gods never existed.”
“This is the result of 9/11, which motivated people to look at the powerful effect religion can have over otherwise normal people. And the other factor is the Internet, which now supplies an even greater amount of freely and privately accessible information about religion, outside of the box of religion.”
The doctor, who “read himself” into becoming an atheist, cited one of his favorite books, “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind” by authors Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola. It poses an intriguing question: What is it like to be a preacher who can no longer believe the creed?
“Becoming an atheist is like coming out of a dream,” said the doctor, who also doesn’t believe in a devil or Satan. “A possibility isn’t a probability, and this is something that many people of faith don’t understand.”
Christmas, though, is something that everyone can understand and enjoy, even atheists and agnostics.
“Yes, we would like the Jesus story to go the way of the Santa story and the Zeus and Thor story, and I think it will. It is only a story,” he said flatly. “But stories, albeit stories with a fictitious basis, can still inform us about life and give us joy.”
“Don’t be mean about it,” he often tells other atheists about Christmas, its ancient traditions and religious celebrations. “Be friendly about it and be compassionate about it.”
“Atheists don’t have to believe in who the Christ is in Christmas. Simply enjoy it for what it is. And it’s OK to say have a very Merry Christmas.”
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.