Russell and Duenes

Secular Christmas or Sacred Christmas: Isn’t It all Just About Good Feelings?

with 5 comments

If Christmas is simply a matter of “holiday cheer,” of feeling good and thinking good thoughts, of decorated trees and flying reindeer and snowmen, of getting together with friends and family, and perhaps some generalized religious sentiment, then does it really matter whether a man named Jesus, who was both divine and human, actually entered our world as a historical fact, to rescue sinful man from his rebellion against God? Many think not, but it may do us good to keep in mind at Christmas that there will be a different trajectory to the lives of those who truly believe that Jesus came to us as an infant, than to those who think it’s mostly about Santa and secularism. C.S. Lewis brings home these different trajectories in his little essay, Man or Rabbit?

If Christianity should happen to be true, then it is quite impossible that those who know this truth and those who don’t should be equally well equipped for leading a good life. Knowledge of the facts must make a difference to one’s actions. Suppose you found a man on the point of starvation and wanted to do the right thing. If you had no knowledge of medical science, you would probably give him a large solid meal; and as a result your man would die. That is what comes of working in the dark. In the same way a Christian and a non-Christian may both wish to do good to their fellow men. The one believes that men are going to live forever, that they were created by God and so built that they can find their true and lasting happiness only by being united to God, that they have gone badly off the rails, and that obedient faith in Christ is the only way back. The other believes that men are an accidental result of the blind workings of matter, that they started as mere animals and have more or less steadily improved, that they are going to live for about seventy years, that their happiness is fully attainable by good social services and political organisations, and that everything else (e.g., vivisection, birth-control, the judicial system, education) is to be judged to be “good” or “bad” simply in so far as it helps or hinders that kind of “happiness”.

The difference between the two couldn’t be more stark.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

5 Responses

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  1. Of course, it’s a false dichotomy. In this life, all people are unhappy, though some are less unhappy than others. So “happiness is fully attainable” is a ridiculous statement. It is not fully obtainable in this material, mundane life. There is no evidence (besides the absurd claim that the Bible provides “proof” (a mostly nonsensical word) of Heaven and Hell and similar absurdities that there is a “place” where people can be Happy. I doubt that most of the people who profess to believe this really do, but they say they believe it (I suspect) because 1) they want to spare their children for as long as possible from the existential dilemma; 2) they tell themselves it “might” be true, maybe appealing to the very flawed argument popularly known as “Pascal’s wager.” (It’s been extensively deconstructed, so I won’t repeat it here.)

    So here’s the interesting question, I think.

    One person, such as I (or Christopher Hitchens, much smarter than I) says something like, “I have a deep aversion to believing nonsense. I will criticize and reject it, probably to the end of my life, as I know I am dying (if I die slowly).

    Another person, perhaps an evangelical Christian, will keep telling himself or herself, “I will keep believing this, even though there is no empirical evidence for it, but I will keep grasping at the absurdly thin arguments that claim to be “empirical evidence” and realizing that I might end up in “Hell” instead of Heaven, because no one can really tell if He or She is really saved.”

    So the interesting question: is how does one compare, judge, or evaluate: which of these strategies is better? Historically, most people have chosen the “belief” strategy, but slowly it seems to be losing its appeal.

    The interesting sub-question is: as religious belief is probably a human invention, and probably one that is evolving to a kinder, gentler, more inclusive, and kinder type of human belief and behavior, how can this “unitarianism” (with a small “u”) provide as much or more consolation for the existential dilemma as the traditional rather brutal and nasty “fundamentalist” styles of religious belief (such as evangelical Christianity).

    I will add that you may actually be one of those people who “really” believe what you profess, as I can’t read what is really in your mind/heart/soul. But I have my doubts.


    December 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    • Modesty – As I’ve commented about your comments before: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.” Let me wager that you protest so strongly against anyone “really believing what they profess to believe,” because such true belief, mine included, is and will be an everlasting sign that makes you twitch and tremble. We are a testament to the reality of Christ, and so are the millions upon millions of other Christians who maintain their faith in the midst of the worst persecution the world has ever known (you really ought to read about the treatment Christians receive in places like China, Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, India, Sudan, and many other places; but that would only add to your discomfort and serve to puncture further the highly guarded veneer you’ve constructed). We remind you, though you suppress it and attempt to deny and distract yourself, that you KNOW God is there, and that he will judge you (and me) for the life you’ve lived.

      Though you know God is there, you do not honor him as God, nor are you thankful to him. But I believe, as surely as I believe in Christ, that your strenuous and bald assertions that most Christians don’t really believe what they profess, is something you do in an attempt to further suppress what you know to be true. Further, and for the umpteenth time, your previous comment is full of borrowed Christian capital. Talking about “absurdities” and “ridiculous statements” and “nonsense” is nothing more than gibberish in a universe where there is no God. For something to be absurd, there must be a fixed standard for what constitutes the non-absurd; for something to be “nonsense” there must be a fixed standard for what constitutes “sense,” and on and on it goes. Stop suspending your fixed standards from your invisible sky hook. The reason why you make such absurd statements, given your atheism, is that, as you KNOW, God exists, and you are happy to live in the world He created and to use his capital to make your arguments. It sure would be nice if you gave him the credit.


      russell and duenes

      December 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm

  2. Merry Christmas, russell, duenes, and modesty too! No arguing on this finest of days.

    Samson J.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:08 am

  3. One of the things that I find grimly amusing about Christians is the attachment to what I call the “Heads we win, tails you lose,” style of argument. If something wonderful and miraculous happens, it’s evidence that God is acting in our lives and helping us out. If something awful happens, it’s God’s mysterious will. No matter what happens, you know it’s the hand of God.

    Here’s a random example of good news [obviously the work of God]. A man in Dunkirk, NY, after being blind for many years (first one eye, then both) gets his sight back. Is the skilled work of a surgeon? It’s a miracle. It’s the work of God. (I guess the surgeon’s knowledge and skill is just incidental, or guided by the Hand of God, or some such.)

    Here’s a specific example of bad news. Not very far from where I live, on Christmas Day, a tree fell on a car going to a Christmas Party. A nine-year-old girl was killed. Her father was seriously injured. (I have been told that he may have a broken back.)

    This is a very small example of the afflictions and tragedies that human beings experience. I do some volunteer work for a local church, although I do not attend their services. (We cut and split wood and donate it to people in need for heating.) After our weekly work session we were sitting around chatting about this tragedy. One of the participants (himself a retired minister) offered to take wood to the family affected by the tragedy. Though even he muttered a bit about not knowing what to say to them and not feeling much admiration if this is the way God works. But I am sure if this happens to someone you know, you will cheerfully tell them this is God’s will and He is a God of love.

    I am amused by your assurance that you know what I think and believe: Though you know God is there, you do not honor him as God, nor are you thankful to him. But I believe, as surely as I believe in Christ, that your strenuous and bald assertions that most Christians don’t really believe what they profess, is something you do in an attempt to further suppress what you know to be true. .

    I don’t really KNOW what you think and believe and don’t claim to. But I certainly have my doubts that you are as assured and certain as you claim to be. Well, even if for reasons I find unconvincing, I don’t disdain Christian’s willingness to provide help to people afflicted by so-called “Acts of God.” Though believe it or not, occasionally a non-believer does a good deed as well.


    December 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    • I don’t have this knowledge because I can read your mind, but simply because I can read, and what I read is this: “People…suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” That’s why God has said, and that’s why I know it’s true in your case. I take the Scriptures as the ultimate authority on matters of reality, for God has spoken. What is your ultimate authority for matters of reality?


      russell and duenes

      December 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm

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