All Days Are Holy

The word “holiday” comes directly from the phrase “holy day”. This designation, in turn, is based on the curious notion that a particular event happening on a certain date forever afterward gives that date some special sacredness or magical quality. The day of Halloween, for example, was once believed to be a time when barriers between our world and the other world grew thin and restless spirits could return to haunt the land of the living, and other supernatural events are often tied to the Christmas season.

But if a holiday is really a holy day, then what does that mean for the rest of our calendar? Are other days not holy? Are we to believe that God is somehow more present or more accessible on those days than on other days?

This is just one example of the irrationality of some theists who claim to believe that God is omnipresent, yet act as if certain places, times, or objects were more imbued with his presence than others. Another well-known example is the macabre trade in “relics”, which thrived during the Middle Ages and continues to attract much attention even today: belief that the personal possessions or even the body parts of a dead saint or holy man possess some type of supernatural power. Even today, shrines containing relics of saints are major destinations of pilgrimage, and there are stores (such as this one) that sell items such as bottled water from the Jordan River or soil from supposedly sacred sites in Israel. Even the Bible endorses this bizarre belief in magic, such as in an Old Testament passage where a dead man is resurrected by coming in contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 13:21).

If I were inclined to believe in such a being as God, I would think it obvious that no day, no place, no item could be any more or less holy than any other. It surely follows from the standard theistic beliefs that if God created everything in the cosmos, then everything is equally his handiwork and imbued with his spirit. Faith, likewise, is a quality displayed by a person’s actions; it cannot somehow contaminate inanimate objects with which that person comes in contact, nor could it linger in a body after the vitality has gone. All such beliefs are extensions of the human tendency toward reification – thinking of abstract ideas and qualities as if they were material things with independent existence.

If there is any meaningful sense in which an atheist can use the word “holy”, then it must surely be true that all days are equally holy in that sense. We believe in no divinities, no relics, no elusive magical quality of sacredness. Instead we treat our holidays not as literal holy days, but as occasions to remember events of particular significance in our past that led to the state of affairs as we see it today. If our memories were perfect, we would need no holidays at all; but humans are imperfect, memories fade, and marking a particular date can serve as a good reminder of some event or achievement that deserves not to be forgotten due to the important lessons it still has to teach us.

But in the magical sense, in the moral sense, to an atheist all days are holy. On every day, there are heartbreaking sunrises and beautiful sunsets; on every day, there are people coming together to do good for each other; on every day, there are crimes, tragedies, and pains. No day is set apart, no day is sanctified, no day is any more or less spiritual or sacred than any other. Every day presents us with the same opportunities to act, whether for good or for evil, and to make choices that will influence the subsequent direction of our lives.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    from what i understand in some cultures, a holiday — therefore holy day — is a day where people are excused from work specifically in order to attend mass or whatever ritual is scheduled. just being the devil’s advocate here ;).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Yes, and that bears on my conclusion. Why should people be excused from work to attend church only on certain days? Does that day possess some supernatural significance that makes it more important to hold services on those days than it is on other days?

  • http://www.toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    absolutely not.. it’s more a social matter of people coming together to mutually acknowledge the orthodoxy of their beliefs and to celebrate it with time-consuming rituals. from a practical standpoint, you sort of have to schedule said rituals.

  • http://importreason.wordpress.com/ Simen

    But still, how can you choose such days on basis of their holiness?

    “Why should people be excused from work to attend church only on certain days?”

    Probably because nobody would care to believe in a god that demanded worship EVERY day – it would be too unpractical.

  • http://www.toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    i’m guessing that they were selected to coincide with seasonal breaks and astronomical phenomena — solstices, spring etc. people worked the fields and tended animals and social life was otherwise nil. the work was relentless and so a day off had to have a mighty good excuse. everyday worship could be confined to night prayers or a small shrine at home and social cohesion based on worship would be scheduled according to natural phenomena which people were more aware of way back then.

    our existence has changed drastically today and we can easily take a day off for a myriad of reasons.

    celebrating the anniversary of a perceived miracle or supernatural event, is superstitious behavior, of course, and actually believing that these particular holidays are more holy or supernatural or that certain objects posses magical powers are even moreso.

  • Shawn Smith

    Probably because nobody would care to believe in a god that demanded worship EVERY day – it would be too unpractical.

    Well, Simen, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Islam, with more than a billion adherents world wide, requires praying while facing Mecca five times a day, every day.

  • valhar2000

    And you can see where that got them.

    Anyway, considering the variety that there is and has been within Islam, I would not be surprised to find that daily prayer was not required back in the days when the Islamic Empire was in its heyday, and later became compulsory and more insiduous; you know, attempting to stem their decline with more prayer, instead of realizing that prayer (or religiosity) itself is bringing about that decline.

  • Korey

    Thanks to the link to Holyland Line! I’ve ordered candles to be lit for the salvation of your soul :-)

    Seriously, thank you so much for your website and all the very best for the coming year.

  • http://importreason.wordpress.com/ Simen

    “Well, Simen, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Islam, with more than a billion adherents world wide, requires praying while facing Mecca five times a day, every day. ”

    Well, I don’t know, but as valhar2000 says, it might well be that less prayer was required in the old islamic countries. But anyway, you don’t need a holiday to do that. If you pray when you wake up and before you go to sleep, that’s three times a day. Having three short breaks in a long work day doesn’t seem like so much of a problem (well, I’d never have done it, but anyway). I was thinking more about having to go to a church, or mosque or whatever holy house the particular religion has and participate in some hour-long ritual.

  • Shawn Smith

    … I would not be surprised to find that daily prayer was not required back in the days when the Islamic Empire was in its heyday, and later became compulsory and more insiduous …

    Paging Archi Medez, paging Archi Medez. Do you have any information as to whether or not this was the case? We could probably look it up ourselves, but that would be too much work for us lazy commenters, especially on New Years Eve. Thanks in advance.

  • http://www.mets.com Ceetar

    Well just as you said that holidays are for “occasions to remember events of particular significance in our past”, I’d imagine it’s the same on all Holy Days.
    These days are to remember past events, whether they are truly supernatural or not,
    it is still an important part of their history. More than the day itself being holier than any other, i think it’s the act of reflection that takes place on such a day that makes peoplefeel ‘closer to God’. Whether by memory or rememberence of a day long ago, it connects them and draws them in, just as a good story-teller draws an audience into their world.

    Relics are simply objects that have some link or trigger in a person’s mind. Picking up a deceased relatives watch for instance, often brings back memories of that person. If you believe in that stuff, you could say it’s opening a link between worlds, and if you don’t, then it’s simply trigger a certain part of the brain that had you not picked up the watch, wouldn’t have been used at that
    moment.

    Maybe Christmas, and other holidays just feel ‘Holier’ because there _are_ people out there who use the argument ‘It’s christmas, i’ll be nice today’. Maybe all this positive energy makes people feel holier. Or maybe it’s because December 22nd was Global Orgasm day.

  • Joshua

    To the Christian (I cannot speak for faiths other than my own), such ‘holy days’ do not represent a day when God is more present than on another day, as you described. Rather they tend to celebrate events, either in the life of Jesus (Easter being an obvious one), or in the life of the Church (such as saints’ days). On these days, God is as real, and as present, as he is on any other day of the year. However, Christians will relate to him in a particular on these days, such as by celebrating Easter; or by looking to the example set by the saint whose day it may be.

    ‘to an atheist all days are holy. On every day, there are heartbreaking sunrises and beautiful sunsets; on every day, there are people coming together to do good for each other; on every day, there are crimes, tragedies, and pains. No day is set apart, no day is sanctified, no day is any more or less spiritual or sacred than any other. Every day presents us with the same opportunities to act, whether for good or for evil, and to make choices that will influence the subsequent direction of our lives.’

    Not just to an atheist! I completely agree with what you have to say here. However, it seems to me that you misunderstand the spiritual meaning behind ‘holy’ days.

    Pax
    Joshua