An Atheist Christmas Address … that is Actually Good!

Now I’m no atheist. I think atheism is very “retro,” very 1950s and 60s, back in the hey day of logical positivism, but it is not a serious intellectual option for me. Even the new atheists tend to be cranky, snide, and hate-filled old men who do for the good of humanity what Hannibal Lecter does for vegetarianism. Also, I don’t like the Greens Political party, not because I don’t agree with some of their policies on treatment of refugees and environmental management, but because it is blatantly obvious to me that a great deal of them would like to throw me and my family to the lions at Toronga Zoo – they really do hate Christians – or at best they might reluctantly allow me to exist in their socialist utopia as long as I promise to live underground where I’m never seen or heard. So, it is all the more striking when I say that I’ve come across a half decent Christmas address by an Atheist Green’s Politician named Dr. Russell Norman,  a member of the New Zealand Parliament.

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Pretty good for an atheist, a Green’s politician, and a New Zealander (HT: Sean du Toit).

Just wish I could him give a quick 1 hour lesson on history and the Gospels.

Here’s the first par of the speech:

The context: the Christmas story

We’re about to break for Christmas, a time for family, sleeping in, barbeques, trips to the beach, and spending time with our mates and family.

Our Christmas holiday has its roots firmly in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It’s based on a pretty amazing story about the birth of Jesus Christ — “God in the flesh” as many Christians believe.

The story of the incarnation of God in a baby born in a stable is remarkable even to me, an atheist, because it’s a story about the distant God of the heavens coming down to live amongst us on earth.

It’s a story about that god decreeing that tyranny on earth and utopia in the afterlife is not acceptable and that freedom and equality must characterise life here on earth as well as the afterlife in heaven. It’s a story of the birth of new hope.

The Christmas story tells us that a saviour of humanity came not as some great warrior or prince but wrapped instead in swaddling cloth — a baby born amongst farm animals, and in absolute poverty.

You know the rest. The shepherds in the field saw a bright star and followed it. Three wise men turned up with expensive-sounding gifts.

The baby grew up a carpenter in ancient Palestine, stirred up a lot of trouble later as a young man, and was executed by crucifixion, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as legend has it, sometime around 30AD.

But the story doesn’t end there. After his death, the new hope that sprang from the stable in Bethlehem started to gather steam. Religious and political elites were threatened by the wild growth of a new religious sect committed to living out here on Earth the values of their God, once worshiped from afar.

The early Christians shared their resources and lived with greater equality amongst themselves than had earlier been known.

They believed that the world on earth could be a better place for ordinary people. Countless Christians were martyred for their faith, such was the threat that they posed to the ruling political and religious elites.

By 112AD, even the farmers cursed Christ’s influence; Christian beliefs on idolatry were causing a slump in agricultural markets as people challenged the need to buy animals for ritual sacrifice to Roman emperors or gods.

Two thousand years later the story of the brief life of Jesus Christ still resonates.

This is why Christmas is still such an enduring part of our culture. Christmas was the start of some unlikely trouble and the start of new hope.

How the story touches me

I’m not a Christian, and there is not historical certainty about the records in the Christian Bible. But what I admire about the Christmas story is that it speaks to values I share, including some that make me feel a little uneasy speaking from this place of privilege and power. I think you’ll agree we’re pretty far away from a Palestinian stable.

But like all parents, perhaps particularly those newly acquainted with the role, the story of change arriving in the form of a baby has resonance in my life.

And whether we’re parents, grandparents, aunties, or friends, in our children we find our own awe at the beauty of our planet; they show us what it is to be truly open minded, and in their ferocious capacity to learn and grow and change we see that things could truly change and be better.

This Christmas we wish for all our babies to have their unquestioning need for love generously met; we wish that all our children are treated with patience and understanding, trust and commitment. And we wish that all our parents have the time, support and resources necessary to give our children the best start in life.

And for us here in Parliament, I wish that we have the intelligence and compassion to choose to make things better for those who depend on us to make the right calls.

  • JC

    if only emotional rhetoric could be divorced from politics, then actual intelligent decision making which benefited the people as a whole might actually take place.

  • JKC

    Hi Mike,
    Appreciate your blog.
    A bit of background:
    Russel is actually an Aussie, like you.
    This speech is not simply a Christmas message, but a speech in the NZ Parliament in the “Address in Reply” debate made by party leaders in response to the new Government’s legislative agenda set out as the new Parliament opened. A speech like this is unprecedented as far as my knowledge goes in 35 years of politics in New Zealand, i.e. with such explicit referencing of Jesus and his agenda.
    The NZ Greens are now the 3rd largest party in the NZ Parliament.
    Russel’s chief political advisor is a very thoughtful and able follower of Jesus (he may well be behind this speech), and indeed in New Zealand, Christians are not hated among the Greens. I’ve known several who have served/currently serve as staff.
    JKC

  • http://theocentrist.wordpress.com/ PB

    Wow. That really is an impressive speech about Christianity, coming from an atheist. I liked it. One reminder I take from this is that atheists are not all the same. Unfortunately, it just so happens most of the atheists I come across are fairly negative people, but people like this show how you can’t broad-brush a belief-system.


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