The thing is, I am not a complete cynic, and I even have a soft spot for Christmas. For example, The Rev and I watched White Christmas the other night, as we do nearly every year. And this morning I took the time to lovingly replace, for the 152nd time, the fake Christmas garland above the cats’ window. Furthermore, we are celebrating today by preparing a (mostly) traditional dinner for my family and a couple of close friends. And I don’t even hate Christmas music: hearing Schubert’s "Ave Maria" can bring me to tears, and there are even (dare I confess this?) a couple of Enya Christmas songs in my holiday CD mix (sorry, Chris).
Most significant of all, I am, after all these years, still a fence-sitter rather than a complete rationalist. As fond as I am of Skeptical Inquirer, the Magazine for Science and Reason, I know that science and reason alone cannot save us. I know that despite our seasonal pleas for peace on Earth there will probably always be "wars and rumors of wars," and that even though we pay lip service to morality, our moral advancement will probably never keep pace with our technology. I know that for every great advance science makes to enhance or even save our lives, somebody will more than likely use that innovation to destroy lives. If, for example, science discovers (or, some would say, finally openly admits) that sound frequencies can heal or kill, guess who’s going to rush to get their hands on the killing frequencies? Many of the truly astounding breakthroughs and discoveries – the things that once would have seemed like magic – will be co-opted by governments and war departments long before average citizens can avail themselves of the advances.
And yet faith hasn’t been able to save us either, mainly because no one can agree on the One True Faith – or, more accurately, because so few are willing to admit that there is no One True Faith. Throughout history, faith and politics have always seemed to end up in bed together, and politics always ends up on top.
Even though the true meaning of Christmas is supposed to be about faith and love, I am cynical about the holiday for all of the expected reasons: the forced cheer, the unrealistic expectations for a "perfect Christmas" that create more misery than joy, the crass consumerist frenzy that isn't mitigated at all, but only made stronger, by the sappy tales of holiday miracles. "Love transforms everything," we’re being told this season – a lofty message, but the messenger is Kohl’s department store.
(By the way, I found it interesting that according to a recent AP-AOL poll, 91 percent of whites in the US believed in Santa when they were kids, whereas only 72 percent of minorities did. Also, while 47 percent thought the Santa thing distracts from the religious message of Christmas, a puzzling (to me, anyway) 36 percent thought he enhances the religious nature of the holiday. I guess naughty-or-nice translates well into punishment/reward.)
On a more personal note, I have so far resisted embracing Christianity, although I was raised a Christian, because I simply cannot accept the "package deal." Specifically, I cannot accept that the message of Christ’s birth (and death) – events that were supposed to deliver the human race – includes a provision for eternal torment for the masses who do not accept Jesus as the One Way to salvation. And most Christians do believe this, even if they dance around it when asked, as Joel Osteen so gently and smilingly did when being grilled by Barbara Walters for her "Where is Heaven?"20/20 special.
If we are to take this belief literally, the Hellbound souls include, besides me and all of the other agnostics I know, The Rev, who is a Buddhist, as well as my Jewish friends, my Hindu and Muslim friends, my Pagan buddies, my atheist friends. No matter how ethically we try to live our lives, we are doomed in the end. That is, of course, unless we all decide to accept the Christianity package deal.
And my dogs and cats, since they lack a soul, don’t even have a chance at an afterlife.
I am well aware of the existence of nondenominational Christian paths that don’t hold to the hellfire-and-brimstone p.o.v. There are, for example, the "New Thought" churches, but the ones I’ve explored have turned out to be a little too New-Age/New-Wage for me (think The Secret and What The Bleep Do We Know?).
Yeah, I know, there’s just no pleasing me.
There are times I wish I could just glide between the world of belief and the world of disbelief at will. Some would say they’re all part of the same world anyway, and in a sense they are. And I know that many people comfortably embrace both faith and science. I also know it is possible to live a moral life without believing in God at all. But on a practical level, you can’t really flit between belief and disbelief in the way I’m talking about without ending up terribly disoriented at worst, and, at best, being considered a royal flake.
And so I remain on the fence, perhaps deluding myself that the view is clearer from "up here." What I know is that despite the best and worst efforts of the faithful, there will always be cynics and doubters – and I think we should listen to them, especially the funny ones. I also know that despite the noblest efforts of those who promote critical thinking, we will probably always inhabit a planet that is both demon-haunted and kissed by angels. Who am I to say whether these beings are "real," or simply the products of our worst fears and deepest hopes? (Of course, many Law of Attraction believers wouldn’t even make that distinction.) I think that for now, the best I can do is try to keep my mind and heart open, and, as always, my crap detector at the ready.
Well, The Rev’s turkey is beginning to smell, if you’ll pardon the word, heavenly, and I have some cleaning left to do in this zoo before the gang arrives. The garland in the living room is looking a bit more chewed, and one of the cats is projectile vomiting, so I’m thinking maybe it would be a good idea just to remove the Christmas frou-frou from that room altogether. So I'll sign off now, hoping this day is wonderful for you. And I promise to get back to being a smart-ass after Christmas.