An Agnostic (non)War on Christmas

If you don’t pay attention to manufactured hype and are one of the few people that wonder what the War on Christmas is then read A Short History of the War on Christmas. I’ll wait. Now that you’re up to speed then let me give you my view on Happy Holidays, Holiday Trees, and this whole nonsense surrounding secular and religious observations of Christmas. This holiday should peacefully coexist on a common day that’s positive for anyone interested in any aspect of Christmas. However, some people are trying to pick a fight over the true meaning of Christmas and I’m just not taking the bait.

I was raised Christian (lax Catholic really) and am now an atheistic agnostic regarding religious beliefs. I think I can clearly see both sides of this supposed war and wonder why it’s even an issue. The “reason for the season” is as complex as the American public and it goes back to Yule, Noel, and the origins for Christ’s Mass outside this country. Christians adopted various pagan rituals and practices along the way including choosing Dec 25th as the day to celebrate the unknown birth date of Jesus. There’s nothing biblical or sacred about the American public celebration of Christmas this time of year. It wasn’t a holiday created by God or Jesus and was instead developed by their followers. The term Christmas didn’t even appear until about a thousand years after Jesus may have lived in the Middle East.

Things like Santa Claus and stockings over the fireplace have become an American tradition for Dec 25th but they aren’t related to Christ’s Mass. Santa Claus was pushed into more widespread popularity by Coca-Cola in the 1930s and isn’t a character in the nativity scene. Many secular aspects of Christmas are firmly rooted in American consumerism instead of Christian tradition. It’s these secular aspects of Christmas that I still embrace as an unbeliever. I grew up with them in an American family and I continue the gift giving distraction that brightens a dreary winter for human beings. It’s just a human family holiday for me. The only things I’ve had to drop from the family traditions of my parents are the display of little nativity figures, going to mass on Christmas Eve, and saying a prayer before the family meal. Otherwise, my house and the houses of Christians in my family operate the same on Dec 25th.

Go ahead and have a Merry Christmas because it’s both a religious and secular day regardless of the origin of the term. Tuesday’s etymology is from Tiwes or Tiwaz as an ancient Germanic god of war but unbelievers don’t demand the name of that day to change. Why should anyone care that there’s a secular holiday on Dec 25th called Christmas when it’s about as religious as calling a day of the week Tuesday? Sure, there’s also a religious holiday on Dec 25th called Christmas but I don’t celebrate that one. Santa Claus is front and center on my Christmas. I’d much rather see a jolly fat guy in a red suit instead of a tortured man nailed to a cross regardless of who you think that tortured person really was or why he had to endure that death. I don’t believe in it and I don’t have to for my enjoyment of Christmas.

I put up a Christmas Tree because it isn’t a biblical or religious thing. It’s just pretty and the evergreen is a nice symbol of life during the dormant winter. It isn’t really a Holiday Tree because there isn’t a Wikipedia page for Holiday Tree. There’s some sarcasm there but really the tree is only related to Dec 25th so it should just be called a Christmas Tree or Yule Tree if you want to keep to the original terminology.

I’ll say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas since both are just fine with me. There are several holidays around this time of year including New Year’s Day. I hope all of your holidays are happy when I say Happy Holidays. I also say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year individually if I feel like it. I’m only wishing you a Merry Secular Christmas when I say it. You really shouldn’t mind my intent because if you wish me a Merry Religious Christ’s Mass then I’m just going to have a Merry Secular Christmas anyway. We each celebrate Dec 25th in our own unique ways so we can think different things when we hear those words. We all mean well wishes towards each other when we say it, right? That’s the true reason for the season.

Being different and holding to our own traditions should continue to be a shared American tradition. Nobody should try to define Christmas as one exact religious (or secular) holiday dictated by the government (or church). Your secular or religious views of Christmas are right for you and everyone else so just get over yourselves, stop the silly war talk, and have a Merry Christmas everyone!!! What would Santa do? 😉

A Criticism of Agnostic Theism

I use the agnostic label to describe my viewpoint concerning the possibility of intelligent creators. I sometimes clarify my viewpoint as an agnostic atheist when communicating with picky people that insist agnosticism is only descriptive of knowledge and doesn’t say anything about beliefs in gods. Agnostics are logically de facto weak atheists lacking theistic beliefs. I say this only if you must insist religious beliefs are worthy of consideration even though they aren’t “justifiable true beliefs” under the common definition of knowledge. Faith isn’t a sufficient justification for belief. The world’s religions aren’t worthy of consideration as faith based claims of knowledge, therefore theistic beliefs aren’t compatible with the agnostic acknowledgement that we lack such knowledge.

I continue to agree with the logic of the historical agnostics when they first invented and promoted the term. You can use the Library link at the top of the page to read some of their writings. Agnostics see knowledge as the standard for evaluating supernatural claims and believe we “lack knowledge” concerning such things as definable gods. The agnostic term means without knowledge, so an agnostic that believes in gods using faith has dismissed the primary reason for defining agnosticism in the first place. Theism is belief based on faith so it really has nothing to do with agnosticism or being an agnostic.

You may then wonder what the agnostic response is to agnostic theism as it’s presented on some websites. Austin Cline over at about.com writes about a myth that agnostic theism doesn’t exist by boiling down a criticism of the term to “no religious faiths allow a person to believe without knowing for sure.” This is a false premise unless religions are gnostic and claim to have justified true beliefs. I haven’t encountered such religions and have only experienced promoters of faith as proof of their beliefs. They may make some knowledge claims about their god but when they’re put through scientific scrutiny they fall back on faith as their justification. Religious belief claims don’t often try to live up to the standards of human knowledge except in circular logic like the Bible proving that the God in the Bible exists.

The about.com article argues that agnostic theism is valid but doesn’t present a good argument for these words to make sense together other than to refute a poorly crafted myth. Admittedly agnostic theism can be claimed just as much as as any combination of terms such as a left-handed man where being left-handed has nothing to do with gender. I could claim to be an atheist Christian if I want to twist logic and insist on a non-belief view of Christians as a tribal label passively accepted from our parents.

The same is true for claiming to be agnostic Christian or agnostic theist in the more general sense. They only work if I insist Christianity and theism aren’t making knowledge claims with their religion or beliefs. They would have to strictly be about their beliefs and not knowledge… but beliefs in what? Religions and theism consists of beliefs in supernatural claims that may or may not be justifiable as truth. These beliefs are weak knowledge claims even if they’re not claimed to be verifiable knowledge statements.

Being a theist is making an unverifiable statement about knowledge and being an agnostic takes a negative position regarding that knowledge. Agnostic theism would be a twisted logic way to say a person fully acknowledges their religion is completely unjustified but they choose to believe in it anyway. Theism already says this simply by using belief instead of knowledge.

Agnosticism doesn’t describe or qualify a belief in supernatural knowledge claims. On the contrary, agnosticism is as contradictory to those claims as the atheist position of lacking theistic beliefs. When presented with new god knowledge/belief claims, agnosticism and atheism come to the same conclusion of falsehood using two different default positions. Agnosticism starts from a default position that we don’t know about such things without verifiable evidence using common standards of knowledge. Atheism starts from the position that we don’t believe based on faith alone, without verifiable evidence, just cause, or whatever it is we generally establish disbelief. I’m actually not sure what atheism uses as a default standard for disbelief. Atheism only means lacking belief so I don’t see it as a useful starting position for why we should disbelieve and that’s why I’m primarily agnostic in my response to god claims.