December 05, 2010
The American Humanist Association has begun a campaign to publicize their associations and point of view this holiday season much to the consternation of some believers who are organizing a counter-campaign. BACKGROUND INFO.
One of the actions in the broader campaign now engaged are the placards soon to be on public transportation in Fort Worth Texas, extolling the humanist view relative to the Christmas season. This has been countered with an announced boycott of public transportation by Christian groups from a wide range of denominations.
None of the ads from the humanist groups are being placed anywhere an ad for a religious group can't be placed. This is a market issue, not a "state/religion" one. In that public transportation sells ads in the marketplace it is not a government sponsorship of one opinion or the other, it is a sponsorship of the party paying money to have the advertising done.
I have a deeply nuanced set of opinions about this kind of thing that I have struggled with a long time and through the various points of view I have held and do hold presently about religion, God, humanism, freedom, rights, group intentions and all that those ideas and concepts define.
To begin with it must be said that the viewpoints I'm going to express on the ads and the campaigns are informed by this set of personal opinions...
1. I consider myself a Christian, though I'm certain there are people who would not grant me that title.
2. I don't consider the Bible meant to be taken as a literal thing. For me it is a book assembled by humans that went through a process of addition and subtraction after much consideration by humans, who are not infallible. I also consider this to be the case for all works considered "holy books" such as the Qu'ran et al. I do not believe they are given to man by God. I believe they are given to man by men who thought about God a lot for a real long time.
3. I believe there was a Jesus. I don't know what his nature was. Is he God himself or a prophet or a very interesting guy who shook some things up back in the day, I can't say. I want to believe he was real and special but I haven't decided what I think his nature was. He's a good guy, at the very least, and a good example for us to follow. I have no problem calling myself a Christian to the degree I understand what he was up to in the stories that have been passed down - that were written by men.
4. I sometimes have a hard time figuring out why, if a person professes to be a Christian, they feel it's okay to participate in things I would have a hard time picturing Jesus involved in. But if I'm to be honest I know that those folks feel the same way about me for other things, so that's kind of moot.
5. I believe the dialog between religionist and humanist is probably the most important dialog being held anywhere, and it's a shame when it devolves into something below the level of dialog at any time.
6. I look on the Christmas season as a time where both spiritual and secular traditions merge to form a cultural event. Since understanding the works of Joseph Campbell (quite possibly the largest influence on my personal life philosophy than any one else) I very much appreciate the value of tradition, ceremony, cultural events, and even ritual as being valuable to humans. I also understand that they can be perverted to fit the views of humans. But I view that as the humans' fault, not the fault of the traditions, ceremony, etc. themselves.
7. I also feel that way about religion. Though many humanists will decry religion as an institution as being a root cause of suffering and difficulties and oppression etc., I have always rejected that notion as not only self-serving but incomplete, as a thought. The only thing equally absurd to me than a humanist giving the "religion is the basis of all problems" screed is the religionist giving the "religion is the answer to all problems" screed. They are both equally mistaken because they have stopped their thought process a couple steps too early. My point being that a good idea of any kind can be screwed up by humans. Extrapolate at will.
8. I hear Christians who complain about humanists using "our season" to publicize themselves and I can't fathom what their reasoning is. They don't have some kind of proprietary right to a time on a calendar and they don't have a right to make a call for someone else. The humanists rightfully point out that this is the perfect time to present their case because of the general cultural activity. It does attract attention to their cause. The only thing I find disingenuous on the part of the humanists is that I don't see similar campaigns during Ramadan for the same reason. The Qu'ran, if their humanism is more than an affectation, is also not a "holy" book and Islam is not without some of the same faults as Christianity or any other man-made coda. I could take the humanist more seriously if they were as equally vocal. Surely there are people from the so-called "Muslim world" who are also atheists and might appreciate the freedom.
So tying all these viewpoints of mine into what I feel about the back-and-forth that always seems to take place this time of year between all the opposing forces in our society I can only say that, when the girl in the video linked above says "it's hurtful" to Christians I want to point out that the law provides for expression, not whether or not you feel butthurt.
And I have no problem with people who'd rather say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I don't have a problem with folks who "want to put Christ back in Christmas," and I don't have a problem with humanist ads during the season. People have a right to boycott whatever they want, to buy ads wherever it is allowed, and believe as their conscience dictates.
But I still think we need to get out of each other's faces while at the same time not being so all "offended" by what this or the other group thinks.
I know the humanist concern is to what degree religionists influence things they have to live with, and vice versa. But that's what dialog, the Constitution, and private conscience are for. Sometimes I think the rest of it is all a big show for the audience. On both sides.
So Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Or Nothing In Particular. As you see fit.