Christmas’s Past: Christmas at Olsobip
Christmas’s Past: Jesus Christ, God’s perfect gift to humanity

Christmas’s Past: Christmas for atheists

Phil FitzpatrickPHIL FITZPATRICK | 25 December 2016

HERVEY BAY - I WAS about eight years old when I realised that organised religion was a giant confidence trick.

The thing that made me aware of this was my mother’s plan to send me to the local Catholic school. We’d just moved out of the migrant hostel after arriving in Australia from England and I was bound to a new school.

Although my father was an atheist he was a nominal Catholic, and had succumbed to family pressure to marry in the church.

My mother, abiding by church rules, had converted from Methodism to Catholicism. That marriage and conversion carried a mandatory commitment to raise children as Catholics. Such was the power of the church in those days.

I rebelled and refused point blank to attend the Catholic school. I wanted to attend the local public school where my mates from the hostel were going.

To rebel successfully, I had to present a cogent argument to my mother. That is, I had to investigate and think about religion.

My conclusion was simple. How could anyone with reasonable intelligence believe this rubbish? It is a conclusion I have carried with me since.

That is not to say I object to anyone believing what they want, no matter how illogical and fantastic it might seem. If it helps deal with life and harms no one that’s fine by me.

I’ve developed my own theories about spirituality and often think it could reside in certain places and things. Not so much in a supernatural sense, like religion, but in a psychological sense - the sense that we might feel something in those places where those things exist.

For instance, I think that forests, deserts, the sea and trees and certain animals have an intangible spirituality.

I can therefore sympathise with the old animist religions that were prevalent in Papua New Guinea before the missionaries arrived. Indeed, those old beliefs seem not to have diminished in the face of the Christianity taught by the churches.

Apart from claims of supernatural intervention, the other thing that bothers me about religion, especially the organised kind, is its overt political nature.

I can’t for the life of me see much difference between popes, mullahs, shamans, priests, rabbis and pastors and other trumped-up appellations of rabid capitalists and mercenary politicians. To me, they all try to manipulate people for their own benefit.

To do this they have taken the teachings of naïve prophets like Jesus and Mohammed and subverted them into political systems. Men were busily doing this even while Jesus was alive before the Peter O’Neill of the time, Pontius Pilate, disposed of him.

I think people might be better off listening to the purported words of those prophets, who all seem to have been good men, rather than the words of the churches’ spin doctors. Those old historic words are still echoed by humble men and women of the church who believe in goodness above all else.

The evil that is apparent in what those religious spin doctors devised is perhaps best summed up by the photograph of that crazy Muslim police officer who recently shot the Russian ambassador in Turkey.

Or perhaps not, perhaps he was just outraged at the awful carnage that has been wreaked in Syria in religion’s name.

So this Christmas don’t celebrate the mad doctrines of the Christian churches. Celebrate the goodness of that naïve prophet called Jesus, who was, after all, just human like the rest of us.

And if you don’t want to do that, celebrate the life of that great Greek Bishop of Myra in Turkey called St Nicholas (aka Father Christmas), who used his inherited wealth to alleviate the suffering of his flock.

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Arthur Williams

One of the worst habits you can have is to read. You pick up a book, a newspaper or click onto PNG Attitude and little black marks on a white background upset your planned timetable for the shopping, lunch with Aunty Nancy or viewing what was plugged as ‘The Must Watch’ TV programme of the holiday season.

I took part in an event at what is claimed to be the world’s largest religiously based day. I went to the ‘Carols by Candlelight’ service in the chapel I first attended 77 years ago.

It was free of charge; yet with every seat occupied on a cold damp dark Welsh winter’s night some people were happy to stand at the back of the building for the almost two hours of celebrating a person who altered the world for ever over 2,000 years ago.

Don’t say that’s nonsense! Just look at the date on your bank statement or better still on the front page of the vast majority of the newspapers throughout the world no matter what language; unwittingly it reminds us daily of the birth of Jesus.

I would hazard a pretty certain guess that my packed to capacity Baptist chapel was replicated throughout the UK for every denomination or brand of Christianity that exists and indeed worldwide in every nation that allows freedom of religion too. Not bad for an almost two thousand year nativity.

Then along comes Phil with his ironically carefully timed atheistic blog. He knows its impact on his readers and especially the rebels of conformity who hate being told what to do every December. His letter gets to me and most likely to many other believers who have spent years trying to get to grips with Christ in the 20th now 21st century.

Perhaps dad should have called me Thomas as over my lifetime I have often wrestled with the Bible and its chapters full of every human foible, traits both good or bad any novellis could imagine. Oh boy! It’s all there as Cecil B De Mille knew when he produced his first Bible epic - 10 Commandments - a record breaking box office hit for many years.

When questioned about his belief he is credited with saying: ‘I studied Scripture my entire life and read the Bible during lunch in the studio.’ However he also admitted that he did not attend church services but did profess an unshakable belief in prayer.

I just read a short synopsis of his silent 1928 film ‘The Godless Girl’ that perhaps shows us something of his belief in action. By the way it is worth reading the short article about the real life heroine of that movie at www.miltontimmons.com/GodlessGirl.html.

Sadly like millions before me I too have oscillated in my Christianity since baptism in 1956 when with National Service looming I did some timely introspection and decided I should make a public profession of my faith before leaving the comfort of my aspiring middle class nest and the normality of a bank clerk’s daily grind prior to the full changeover to accounting machines in Lloyds Bank.

The options of falling into the ethos of non-believerism somehow fail to provide me with no better answers to the big questions of being a human living in the 20th or 21st centuries as liberal thinking becomes a domineering aspect in our lives which ironically find its ethos palls as its proponents become less liberal towards those not willy-nilly following their demands that we toe their party-line.

Below is an article by David Foster Wallace entitled ‘No Such Thing As Atheism’: "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

"1 If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.

"2 Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly..…

"3 Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.

"4 Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."

Excerpt from https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/september-web-only/david-foster-wallace-broke-heart-suicide.html?utm_source=ctdirect-

Finally another insight I recently came across:
"No scientific or non-theistic account of morality has answered the question of why human beings have intrinsic dignity. Indeed, some of them have explicitly rejected this idea.

"As modern horrors like eugenics and ethnic cleansing show all too clearly, it is a short distance from calculating the utility of human actions to calculating the utility of people. The doctrine of imago Dei provides a safeguard for human rights that no version of scientific morality can match."

That was from Daniel K Williams, a professor of history at the University of West Georgia in his critique 'Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (Foundational Questions in Science)'. It is written by James Davison Hunter and was published in October 2018 by Yale University Press.

Phil and others including myself might think about reading Hunter’s 2010 book: ‘To Change The World’ that Amazon’s synopsis says is "the call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In 'To Change the World', James Davison Hunter offers persuasive―and provocative―answers to these questions."

Here’s hoping 2019 will provide some answers to our concerns, worries, problems which we perhaps think are beyond us. Keep reading.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think if you make a conscious decision about your faith, or anything else for that matter, you necessarily set yourself a standard to adhere to.

In rejecting something like religion you try to be different and in some ways better. You decide that you don't need religion to be a good person and, while it is difficult, you strive to that end.

When you don't need the fear and sanctions that formal religion places on you to be a good person you tend to be successful.

That doesn't make you superior to a good person who is religious.

And, of course, in our arrogance we are sometimes not as humble as we should be.

Philip Kai Morre

Phil - I never knew that you were an atheist, but you have your own high power or spirituality to believe in.

I have found out that those who don't belong to a church seem to have high moral standard and they live authentically.

They are the real followers of Christ, often more than those attending churches.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I agree Paul. I think Christmas should be cherished as a time to get together with friends and family no matter what you believe or don't believe.

We had a quiet day with our in-laws. No gifts, just a simple meal, a few drinks and pleasant conversation.

Came home and watched the pope standing amongst the riches of the Vatican banging on about the evils of materialism.

Paul Oates

I tend to agree with many of your prognostications Phil. However we celebrate the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice, it's the thought that matters. I heard anyway that the actual birth may well have been in September and the star was actually a comet.

What is changing and dramatically, is the spirit of the celebration that was supposed to be that of giving to others. That spirituality is fast being taken over by a glut of material demands for an ever greater festival of acquiring material goods. It reminds me of an old spoof on a Christmas song that is punctuated with the sound of a cash register.

Our whole culture is now in danger of throwing off our inherited traditions of thinking about others and being supplanted by thinking about yourself.

The culture of giving is only too easy to jettison when you see how the Chinese government is now stamping out Christmas and insisting everyone celebrate how good the Communist Party is as it promotes an approved edition of traditional Chinese culture.

So we are left with the age old fundamental problem of: Where to from here?

We were having an enforced, very quiet day today when some people who found out, arrived unexpectedly and brought us some Christmas cheer. Therein lies the real spirit that should never be allowed to die.

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