A Skeptical Christmas

A Skeptical Christmas December 5, 2018

If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas, let me suggest my two novels. The apologetic argument becomes something of an additional character in Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. It’s the story of a young man torn between two mentors, an atheist and his pastor, as he struggles to make the Christian case in the aftermath of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival.

A Modern Christmas Carol is a reworking of Dickens’ classic, in which a shrewdly successful televangelist receives unexpected Christmas visitors: first, his long-dead partner, and then three ghostly guides. Finally able to acknowledge the shallowness of his message and doubts he has long suppressed, he makes amends with far-reaching consequences.

Here are my Christmas-themed posts:

  • The virgin birth story is a popular one in the list of supposed fulfilled biblical prophecies. When you actually read it, however, it’s startling how many ways this claim falls apart.
  • I summarize the argument behind Rick Larson’s popular Christian attempt to find a scientific explanation for the story of the Star of Bethlehem here (and critique that argument here).
  • A very different interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem story comes from an atheist source in the Zeitgeist movie (here). I don’t think much of that one, either (critique here).
  • The War on Christmas™ seems to come sooner every year, doesn’t it? Some Christians seem to enjoy being offended, and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue is a professional at it. Literally—it’s his job. In one end-of-the-year survey, he thought he found a juicy factoid with which to attack the atheists, but it blew up in his face.
  • Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt demolished a pop song and taught an important lesson about how God doesn’t work at Christmas: “How Christianity Infantilizes Adults.”
  • A parable about two kids arguing about evidence for Santa has interesting parallels with evidence for Jesus. Be careful about dismissing the existence of Santa, because that reasoning may demand that you dismiss Jesus as well.
  • In 2013, in what was must have been a War-on-Christmas miracle, I was given a copy of Sarah Palin’s newly released Good Tidings and Great Joy to review. I had a few thoughts. Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of that book.

Until it’s legal to once again say “Merry Christmas,” I’ll have to be content with “Happy Holidays”!

We cannot know that Santa definitely doesn’t exist. 
This is technically true. 
But what’s your best guess? 
Go on. Be bold. 
— Ricky Gervais

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Image from Donnie Ray Jones, CC license
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  • epicurus

    I think this is the year I get all Bob’s books as an xmas present to myself.

  • sandy

    It still amazes me and should confound christians, that no one, not one person wrote down or recorded, in any fashion, the actual date of Jesus’ birth. We had that star, all of Jerusalem afraid and aware, shepherds, wisemen, a king and his closest men, the slaughtering of infants and yet no one in history took notice to record this incredible day, month or even year. So christians pick a fictitious date, December 25 ( the pagan holiday) to celebrate this birth and see nothing wrong with that. The same goes for the crucifixion. To me, Christmas signifies the length christians will go to delude themselves that the Jesus story is real.

    • epicurus

      And they would decry that kind of sloppiness in any other religion making historical claims.

    • Or look at the other end of his life–zombies are walking the streets and no historians bother noting it, not even the other gospel writers.

      • sandy

        Good Ole Mathew 27. Last Easter I asked a really good friend’s brother in law what he thought about Mathew 27. He just turned and walked away. He happens to be a priest in the Apostolic Church. I can no longer bring up the subject of religion any where near this family as that was the last straw for them especially after the Noah’s Ark night, a few months earlier.

        • You can’t bring up these topics because you’re on the naughty list for being combative? Or do ask questions that rock the faith boat too much?

        • sandy

          A little of both I would guess. However, by me not be allowed to bring up valid arguments or questions they are soothing their cognitive dissonance imo.

        • Yet another holiday tradition–reminding oneself of what topics are forbidden at the dinner table.

          Happy holidays!

        • Lark62

          I suppose then that they wouldn’t appreciate you asking if “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” applies to God’s prescription for happiness in Ps 137:9

          (Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.)

    • Greg G.

      They also adopted a pagan holiday for the crucifixion, the celebration of fertility, and kept the imagery such as eggs and rabbits while transliterating the name of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility.

      • sandy

        Yes Easter, also the time of year when Jesus sees his shadow or not or something like that.

    • Lark62

      To the near total lack of evidence, add the fact that by the end of the second or third century, christians controlled the record keeping and kept everything that “proved”Jesus. And they still have nada.

      That is why Lucian of Sarasota saying “those christians are so gullible they fall for every conman who comes among them” is held up as “proof of the existence of Jesus.” Seriously.

  • ThaneOfDrones
    • epicurus

      It was either grade 4 or 5 that our teacher by then just assumed everyone knew there was no Santa and casually mentioned it. I still remember the look of horror on the guy in the next row to mine. Guess mom and dad hadn’t told him yet. Oops.

      • Greg G.

        So you don’t believe in Santa Claus despite all the evidence? There is no hope for you.

        • Michael Neville

          Of course Santa Claus exists. How else could the coal in my socking on the mantlepiece be explained?

        • Greg G.

          Coal forms when dead plant matter is converted into peat, which in turn is converted into lignite, then sub-bituminous coal, after that bituminous coal, and lastly anthracite. This involves biological and geological processes. The geological processes take place over millions of years.

          How does the coal get into a stocking that is hung on a fireplace mantle? Santa Claus, obviously.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          Once upon a time, beautiful lush forests covered the earth. Then God killed them and turned them into coal.

        • Lex lata

          Without Santa Claus and his list, you atheists have no basis for objective naughtiness and niceness.

        • epicurus

          Ah, but I didn’t say I personally don’t believe. Just that parents tell their kids later that there is no Santa. But it’s just their rebellious pride filled hearts that make them not want to believe. That Santa exists is a properly basic belief – Santus Divinitatis!

        • Greg G.

          Excellent! My faith is restored!

      • Kevin K

        My younger brother declared an ongoing belief in Santa until I think the 6th grade. I don’t actually know whether he truly believed or just didn’t want the stream of presents to end.

  • Otto
    • Greg G.

      Mine also had a steer left over. That explains the BS.

  • Jim Jones

    > A very different interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem story comes from an atheist source in the Zeitgeist movie.

    They didn’t have wise gurus or flying elephants to help them find their way. They just had existing myths, mainly Greek ones.

    http://pocm.info/

  • Lex lata

    With regard to the War on Christmas, it’s fun to note that the holiday’s biggest threat in US history came from one of our earliest and most pious populations, the Puritans of New England. For a period durinng the 17th century, it was actually a crime to celebrate Christmas in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. All the frivolity, traditions, and decadence smacked of “popery.”

    • They outlawed the holiday during their rule in Britain too. At the time, drunken revelry on Christmas was common, so another mark against it for them.

    • RichardSRussell

      True. And that attitude is covered in the early chapters of 2 excellent books (either of which would make terrific stocking stuffers):
      Fantasyland, by Kurt Andersen
      Sex and the Constitution, by Geoffrey R. Stone

      • RichardSRussell

        An older one, which goes into much more detail about this particular holiday (and may be out of print) is Tom Flynn’s The Trouble with Christmas, in which he notes that virtually none of the Christmas traditions originated with Christians or have anything uniquely religious about them.

  • Kevin K

    Festivus for the rest of us!

  • Lurker111

    “the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue …”

    Er, shouldn’t that be

    “the Catholic League AKA Bill Donohue …”