I grew up in a very Jesus-centric household where every Christmas we read from the Bible and complained that Christmas was becoming too commercialized. Over those 27 holiday seasons I developed the knee-jerk reaction to rail against the secularization of the birth of our Lord. Over the last year my faith in religion as a whole has died and I enter my first holiday season as an atheist. This has generated some strange new emotions for me.
I spent an hour this morning wandering the Wal-Mart waiting for the bank to open so I could deposit my Christmas bonus. In my wanderings I couldn't help but feel an odd sense of the surreal at the strange juxtaposition of sounds wafting through this bastion of commercialism. The Christmas carols over the intercom mixed with the ads from the myriad televisions strategically placed throughout the store, all jarringly interrupted at random intervals with loud and often un-intelligible announcements over the PA system. The experience went something like, "Have your self a merry lit...Always low pri...WILL MARY SMITH PLEASE COME TO CUSTOMER SERVICE, YOUR MRHH MEH HUMPH IS MATING...from now on your troubles will be far aw...come see the next generation in shaving from Gille...ATTENTION WAL-MART SHOPPERS, WE HAVE A SPECIAL ON PENNZOIL IN OUR AUTOMOTIVE SECTION..." Because nothing says "Birth of Jesus" like a case of discount 5w-30.
I stopped at McDonald's and washed down a $3.00 heart attack with coffee and orange juice, allowing myself to take in fully the experience of holiday discount shopping. In years past I would have been in church at this time, fighting a boredom induced coma while listening to someone tell the story of the Christ child with their "new" and "interesting" perspective. By new I mean the same old story with slightly different colored paint. By interesting I mean somewhere between watching said paint dry and Chinese water torture. Now here I was dining in the Shrine of Gluttony located within the Cathedral of Lower Prices. Such irony is not lost on me.
As the time came for the bank to open I went and deposited the funds I would soon be donating to the Perpetuate Christian Mythology to Promote Economic Growth Fund, or PCMPEGF, and walked out into an unusually brisk wind. There was the bell ringer, standing there ringing his little bell and singing a very off-key rendition of jingle bells. His nose was red from the biting cold wind and few people even took the time to glance his way but he seemed genuinely happy.
I pulled the two wrinkled dollars I had in my pocket left over from the night of drinking and debauchery we had after the company Christmas party and slipped it in his little red can. The words "Merry Christmas" rolled off my tongue in reply to this jolly old man's "God bless you".
It was at that moment that I realized, whether you believe the man Jesus was Son of God or just the wise son of a carpenter, his words of peace and love still have meaning. This old man had found joy in standing out in the cold ringing a bell to raise money for those less fortunate than him. I can't help but think that it was this that Christ was talking about, that selfless love of your fellow man, regardless of his race, creed, opinion, or religion. It is in that selfless, blind love that lies the secret to peace on earth. If you do nothing else this holiday season between fighting crowds, dealing with family and wrapping gifts, take a moment and give to one of the myriad charities out there trying to make life on this big spinning rock of ours better. It may not get you off the naughty list but at least it will help when you go to Santa hoping to appeal that lump of coal he left. Not to mention the tax-deductibility of said donation come IRS time... Merry Christmas, from your favorite atheist. Have a safe and happy holiday.