The Atheist’s Christmas

Francesco, visipix.com

Why would an Atheist want to go to church?” a friend asks, after my mention of the Unitarian/Universalist congregations that include them.

Her question is a good one. It not only points to the Christian-centric view, it also provides a rich opportunity for exploration.

“I think all humans have an essential need to gather in community and deepen into that which is most important,” I say.

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, and I’m not sure of my accuracy either when it comes to what Atheists need or believe. I imagine they’re like the rest of us–some of this, some of that, and everything in between.

I’ve been listening to The Portable Atheist this holiday, mainly because I couldn’t find anything else seasonal at the library, and I’d rather listen to something about “not” believing than something completely unrelated to the question of the sacred at this time of year.

The truth is I’m not so worried about whether there is a God, and what his name is, and whether she’s benevolent or exacting or both. I just love being immersed in Spirit and for me Spirit comes alive with attention–whether it’s questions or ritual or worship or meditation.

The Portable Atheist makes a valid point, however, about the suffering propelled throughout time by religion. You don’t even need to look back into history for that. It’s happening right now, all around the world. That said, society’s ills can’t all be blamed on religion, just as all good acts can’t be ascribed to those of faith. And yet there is some alarming discrimination going on for those who are (openly) Atheist.

Years ago, I closely followed the story of a teacher at the local high school who was driven out of town because  he was an atheist. I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but if you read the collection of letters to the editor in our small town paper, you’d recognize the witch hunt too.

In my mind, it isn’t religion or atheism that is the root of the problem, it is fear. Whenever we’re afraid, we make the other–an “other”–and then all manner of horrid things are possible. (Think Holocaust.)

This brings me back to the UU’s. A few years ago, I was hired as the interim Director of Religious Education at our local Unitarian Universalist church–where surprisingly it didn’t matter that I had no religion.

I was fascinated by this organization. It found a way to bring together Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Pagans, Wiccans, Agnostics and even Atheists–and people like me who love exploring them all, but never settled down with a one. It was no simple task and I’m not sure the results were ever completely satisfying for any one group, but the effort is valiant and inspiring.

What’s particularly challenging is Christmastime, when the UU’s typically have a pageant–often Christian, sometimes Pagan, and sometimes something else altogether. No matter what, the service represents all faiths–in attendance, readings, music and spirit.

I had a similar experience at the Meetinghouse Church in our town last night on the final Sunday of advent. It was a service of scripture and carols; and it was led by long-time members of the church; but also by newcomers–some of whom are Unitarians or Catholic or dare I say, Agnostic. Most inspiring was the chorus–led by the Jewish community leader, accompanied by a professor of Buddhism, seated in front of the ex-wife of a leading yoga guru.

“I found those kind of services bland,” my friend says, and she makes a valid point. There does seem to be something missing when we try to accommodate everyone. It takes the flavor away. But maybe it’s time for a new flavor. Maybe we just haven’t gotten the recipe right.

Christianity has had over two thousand years to develop its flavor, while Judaism has had even longer. Maybe equality and diversity are just finding their spice. Maybe our taste buds need to adapt too.

Try hugging an Atheist this Christmas–tell them how much you appreciate the good they do, the humanity they uphold, and the reverence and awe they give to nature.

Kelly Salasin, December 19, 2011

From the Unitarian Universalist website:

Atheists are people who do not believe in a god, while Agnostics are people who think that we cannot know whether a god exists. Both groups are welcome in Unitarian Universalism. Today, a significant proportion of Unitarian Universalists do not believe in any type of god. Our congregations are theologically diverse places where people with many different understandings of the sacred can be in religious community together.

More information about Atheism and Agnosticism from a Unitarian Universalist perspective is available from the following UU World articles. UU World magazine is published in behalf of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) congregations to help its readers build their faith and act on it more effectively in their personal lives, their congregations, their communities, and the world.

Another non-theistic tradition is Humanism, which focuses on human potential and emphasizes personal responsibility for ethical behavior.

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