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An Agnostic Christmas

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Posted January 13th 2014 at 11:39 AM by Mahray

I'm an agnostic. I'm not proud of it any more than I'm ashamed of it. It's just my own personal belief structure. Doesn't affect the way I live my life for the most part, while I have a personal moral and ethical framework it isn't directly related to my spirituality and beliefs.

I would also like to point out that these are my beliefs, and they may not apply to anyone else. That doesn't stop me talking about them, of course, but I'd like everyone to consider these in the context of their own thoughts and beliefs, and maybe take something useful away.

Let's start with talking about my spiritual history. I was baptised an Anglican, and more or less raised in something resembling an Anglican tradition. Didn't spend much time in church - mainly at Easter and Christmas. I grew up with access to the bible and related texts, but I didn't really take much notice. I think I may have even started reading the bible a few times, but that was about it.

My sister is a different matter entirely. I still find it vastly amusing that I'm the only person in the world who gets to call her the Reverend sister, since she's now a Deacon in the Anglican faith (I debated for a while with myself about faith or tradition, eventually came down on the side of faith - I'm sure I'll be told if I got it wrong). It's not my place to talk about her beliefs though, although I will say that I enjoy talking to her about beliefs.

So what do I mean when I say I'm an agnostic? Unlike Richard Dawkins, who I would call an evangelical atheist (regardless of what he says himself) I don't feel compelled normally to discuss my beliefs or lack of them. Simply put, I hold to the belief that the existence (or otherwise) of a Divine is unknowable, in the most exact terms. I think (or believe?) that there is no way of proving that a Divine either does or does not exist. In the absence of proof, individuals are free to believe what and how they wish, as a matter of faith. Does this exclude the existence of 'miracles'? No. A miracle is by definition "not explicable by natural or scientific laws" (with thanks to the Oracle of Google). As such miracles, if they exist, are outside of the realm of proof and into the realm of faith.

My, I guess what you would call belief structure, doesn't exclude the existence of a Divine, nor does it require or postulate one. In that sense, a truly agnostic position. It does allow for acceptance of beliefs that do not conflict with my own moral and ethical code (not that I've spent much time codifying it). The, once again shortened version - if it doesn't cause harm to others or yourself, believe what you want to believe. It might be true, it might be false - but if there is no harm then why would I want to interfere? Would I even have the right to interfere is a topic for a different post.

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism... taken to reasonable lengths are all great. My only real issue is with the extremes, which you will probably find in any religion. If there is a Divine, how could anyone believe that They would not want to accept people as they are, or as they were created? How could someone truly believe that (for example) "god hates fags"? To me that is not an acceptable belief, because it harms many. In any case it is not that I disapprove of these beliefs because I am agnostic, I disapprove of these beliefs because they're a steaming pile of ...

Moving on. I sometimes wonder what it would feel like to have that true faith. Not just the rituals and the songs (Anglicans do seem to have some pretty good hymns). But to actually believe. I don't feel a lack in my life, but sometimes I do wonder. It's not that I believe in science or technology. That's a matter of science, not of faith. They are completely separate. It is possible to understand science and technology as well as have faith, or to have one or the other. (On that note, I also cannot support a literal interpretation of the bible as in Creationism or Intelligent Design. It just doesn't make sense based on the evidence. Provide me with convincing evidence otherwise, and I'll change my mind.) So I don't have a strong belief in anything, not in terms of faith in a higher power or the like. It may be to my detriment - I'm sure that there are advantages to faith. For me, for whatever reason, I do not have this form of faith.

Now to the title of this post. An Agnostic Christmas.

Christmas is a time of great celebration of faith for many. For some, a giant commercial con job perpetrated on 'the masses' (wake up Sheeple!). Others see it as a chance to get presents, or to catch up with family. Originally of course, it was a Christian feast, and for those who do believe it is a time of celebration of the birth of Christ. For me, I respect the traditions and the beliefs of those who do believe. I will attend church services, sing along, even pray (although I often wonder if my prayer is of any use).

Does it matter to me, personally, that Christmas is at its heart a religious festival? Not at all. I choose to see it as a time for family and friends, a time to bring together loved ones and provide all with joy. That's also the reason that I buy presents for some people (but not everyone I know, my bank balance is already in enough trouble). It's not part of the giant commercial conspiracy, it's about trying to make my people happy (and I can sort out the bills later, much later).

I also love singing Christmas carols, more so than hymns. I don't care where they've come from, I like the music, the mood, the lyrics, and the sense of community that you get. When everyone is singing from the same hymnbook (rimshot) it really does give that sense of belonging. I don't mean to say you can only get that sense from a religious organisation or event. Far from it, you can find the same sense of belonging in any good organisation. I've experienced it at work, in some online games and forums, through the SES. It's a sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself, which is very rewarding.

It would be tempting, perhaps, to claim that this sense of belonging is what drives faith, and that because I am able to find it in other places I do not need faith. This, however, would simply be wrong. I have seen people with faith. For many, it is an intensely personal experience, one that cannot be simply explained by any one mechanism. It also strikes me as being too simple, too much an easy way out to explain something that is complex beyond understanding or possibility of quantification.

So what does Christmas mean for me, as an agnostic? It simply means good times with family and friends. It is the end of another year of highs and lows, and allows time to reflect, to consider without regret or recrimination. It's a chance to hear some cheesy but still good music (and I must admit a chance to hear Kamahl singing Christmas songs is pretty special). I don't believe in the religious ceremonies or stories, nor do I mind if other people do. If the Bible is literal truth or guidance for how to live our lives, if Jesus is the literal son of God or a man who did his best in difficult times, or did not ever exist - why should it change the happiness that I can get out of this festival?

I do not try to impose my thoughts or beliefs on others, I try my best to accept people and their beliefs, and in the middle, somehow, we all seem to get along fairly well. I really don't think that my agnostic Christmas is that different to a Christian Christmas, or Christmas for anyone else.

Agree with me? Disagree with me? Want to pick on any of my points (or grammar)? Feel free! I encourage reasoned discussion, on the condition that you discuss my thoughts, not my character. Save that for others.
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