Saturday, December 21, 2013

Who Needs Christ in Christmas?

This is the question of a sign in Times Square, sponsored by American Atheists. President David Silverman has appeared on several news shows to defend the sign. He maintains that the idea behind the sign is not an attack on Christianity, that he is improving Christmas, and that nobody believes in Jesus anyway and Christians all hate going to church so they should do something else on December 25.

I find myself more disturbed as a human being than a Christian by Mr Silverman's attitude, and his sign. After all, Christianity has been under attack since it started. Our saviour, Jesus Christ, the son of God, was nailed to a cross. You can't get much more rejection than that. And while Christianity, like every other religion in the world, has been guilty of oppression and persecution, I suspect that most Christians are like most Muslims, or Jews, or pagans, or members of any other faith system. I believe that most of us just want to live our lives in accordance with our beliefs and we don't want to hurt anybody.

I now believe this is true of atheists, despite the sign. I admit I had fallen into the error of thinking that all atheists were hateful people who only wanted to attack people of faith. Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the woman who had prayer banned in schools, founded American Atheists, and I thought she was a typical example of an atheist. But then I saw that sign on the news, and I heard David Silverman defending it in such hurtful terms, and I began to wonder-can all atheists really be this obnoxious? So I went looking.

I went to the American Atheist website, and a few other atheist websites, and I looked for some blog posts, and what I found was that a number of atheists are not happy with the sign either. One atheist put it very well-a statement of belief should not be depending on a negative. In other words, you wouldn't expect to see a sign that said Happy Hanukkah-Jesus is not the Messiah. Hanukkah, like Christmas, like Ramadan, is about affirming a personal belief system. You don't affirm yourself by attacking someone else. So I was pleased to see that so many atheists feel that the sign is a bad idea, that it is indeed an attack on Christmas and on Christians, and that their viewpoint would be better served by expressing it in a positive way, without leaning on attacking another belief system.

I am reminded of Isaac Asimov, atheist, humanist, and creator of the Zeroth Law. He started out with Three Laws of Robotics. 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. Later, he added a fourth law that took precedence over the others-that a robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. This was the Zeroth Law. And it's easy to see, with these laws, that while every major religion has some version of the Golden Rule, this is not a religious or even a spiritual rule. This is a basic rule of decency and humanity that can even apply to robots. I also like Rabbi Hillel's thinking, that what you don't want done to you, don't do to others. It's not a complete blueprint for harmonious living, but it is a good place to start.

So to answer the question of the sign in Times Square, Christians need Christ in Christmas. Jews need menorahs, Muslims need Mecca, pagans and Wiccans and Buddhists and Hindus and even atheists all need what affirms their basic belief systems. For a sign to say that not everybody needs Christ in Christmas would be acceptable. Some people don't believe in Jesus, they want nothing to do with Him, and Christmas is a pervasive Christian holiday that must leave every non-Christian feeling a little left out. I get that, and a sign that reminds people they can have fun at Christmas even if they are not Christians might not be a bad idea. A sign that arrogantly asserts that no person anywhere who professes the Christian faith needs Christ is completely unacceptable. It's unacceptable as an attack on Christianity and Christians. But even more, it's unacceptable as a violation of the Golden Rule. I don't think Mr Silverman has treated others as he would like to be treated, I think he has done something to others that he would not want done to himself, and I believe he has given atheists another boost in negative perception by the public. In any case, I am a Christian who needs Jesus. I love Him, I have accepted Him as my saviour, and my dearest hope is to be with Him one day in Paradise. I am not alone in this feeling, yet even if I were, my one spark of faith would outshine the sign in Times Square and negate its message that nobody needs Christ in Christmas.