Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
Behavioural Limits

People in society have different ways of viewing the world. This may cause them to behave in ways different from the majority, but there is is no real problem with that. Others just think they are eccentric or strange, giggle and pass on, if they notice at all. As I repeatedly state, people should be permitted to live their lives however they want, provided that doing so does not interfere with someone else doing the same.

There are those, however, who consider that their desire to do certain things, or their desire to live a certain lifestyle, is more important than the right of others to live as they might wish, and seek to impose their wishes on others against their will. When the people involved are of approximately equal stature and status this just leads to disputes, often quite loud, and the matter is satisfactorily resolved one way or another.

The problem arises when one person has considerably more authority or power than the other, and is able to enforce the imposition. Sometimes, of course, this is necessary and in employment the employer is generally accepted as having the right to specify what work is to be done, how it is to be done, and the environment in which it is done. Even here, though, there are limits at what can be imposed. Employers do not have the authority to compel employees to do anything which violates their religious tenets, for instance.

It is not always in religious arenas that these problems arise, and atheists may be as subject to this type of pressure as anyone else. In the past, for instance, when a religious focus in society was more widespread than it is now, atheists often did not talk about their lack of belief because of the criticism and condemnation that they received if they did so.

In a similar vein, every year around Christmas time articles appear condemning the non-religious, usually identified pejoratively as the “politically correct”, for trying to stop Christmas displays, even though the letters appear to come almost exclusively from religiously motivated people complaining about something that has happened more in their imagination than in the market place. This is surely quite clear from the saturation Christmas advertising that dominates the media during December each year. This advertising is undeniably more secular in nature than religious, and perhaps this is the real problem for those who complain. Perhaps they would like the religious focus restored even though most people obviously would not agree with them. I say obviously, since businesses tend to provide what sells and makes a profit for them. If religious overtones were to increase sales, then that is what the businesses would focus on. Since they do not focus on the religious aspect, except perhaps for a passing nod, then it must be clear that the general public either prefers, or is quite happy with, a secular celebration rather than a religious one, at least in public life.

I must admit that it has always confused me as to why some people, and by no means all, resist when wished a “Happy Holiday” because no mention is made of Christmas. I would seem to me that wishing someone any kind of happy event is a sign of goodwill, and is that not what Christmas is supposed to embody, “Goodwill to all men”? Surely, any wish for us to enjoy the holiday period, no matter what that holiday is, is something positive and shoyld be accepted with grace and thanks.

In most cases, atheists do not care if Christmas celebrations are the focus. Many, in fact, are quite happy to participate in a secular, non-religious, recognition of Christmas, or other mid-winter festival, as a yearly cultural event based on the very ancient mid-winter celebration which is focused on food, when communities traditionally slaughtered excess animals so as to ensure there would be enough feed for those animals which remained alive. The excess meat, of course, had to be eaten, so the end of December became a food festival for very practical reasons derived from the requirements of farming. Religious overtones were added to these celebrations later, but assumed the most important position for a time. With the reduction in religious commitment that we are now experiencing, the original basis for the mid-winter festival is reasserting itself, and it is this reassertion of a secular underpinning to Christmas which causes religiously committed people to decry the removal of Christianity from the celebration.

The whole situation is rather pointless. Everyone has the right to live how they want, including Christians who want to celebrate a religious Christmas. On the other hand, the state is required to be neutral with regard to its citizens‘ religious committments and should not be promoting any particular religious celebration anywhere under its control and should restrict itself to non-religious, secular celebrations. These can be quite Christmas oriented in nature and many people would not notice the difference, or may even prefer the secular approach. In other words, Jingle Bells not Mary‘s Boy Child.

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