Monday, December 1, 2008

Closet Atheists

“You can bet your sweet §§§ we’re not
closet atheists!”

The formal and customarily repeated act of Christmas-New Year is here with us another time. This year is no different from other years. The routine actions performed with elaborate pomp and circumstances cajole individuals to enjoy that special sensation of warmth which is so often recounted as Christmas-New Year cheer or Christmas-New Year spirit. Eggnog and rum, the scent of pine trees, lavish nourishment, gift-giving and gift-receiving, and merry music narcotise millions of people into a state of euphoria. It is, one is told, the season to be jolly; the time to forget troubles; the time to celebrate for the sake of celebrating.

This December, as I peer beyond my—more or less contented—inner self (I am happy I am not happy!), I find nothing in the unobstructed or complete view of world events to find reason to demonstrate satisfaction by refraining from ordinary business. Moreover, I do not believe that Christmas-New Year might be used as an inducement to make me deck the halls with boughs of holly or find fun riding in a one-horse open sleigh. I see the universe—as it influences me—in a state of inconsolable agitation, and the void which exists between the supposedly established institutions and the realities of the human condition, has already lead, in this century, to the deaths of countless millions of people and the disintegration of millions more personalities. Further. I know very few self-defined Christians who solemnize Christmas with reference to Christ even as an ideal type of humanity. I find it hopeless to rejoice during Christmas, Christ’s Mass, because I believe that the existence of any supreme being or ultimate reality is unknown to me and unknowable. If a supreme being exists, it is a malignantly wicked fiend provoking, difficult, and trying rather than perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness (Sidney Hook). (Listen, my dear reader, to these philosophical arguments against the existence of a supreme being elaborated by Norwood Russell Hanson in his What I Do Not Believe and Other Essays published by D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland, 1971:

Russell Hanson begins by showing that few universities help young adults to distinguish positions for which there are good grounds from other positions for which the grounds are not so good. When the theist lets his appeal collapse into faith alone, he concedes that his position rests on no rational grounds at all. An agnostic maintains himself/herself in a state of perfect doubt concerning God’s existence, a position Russell Hanson regards as unsound. The agnostic shifts logical ground. But what is it that Russell Hanson does not believe? First, can you prove that God does not exist when some “cocktail party St. George” says there is no good reason to believe that God does not exist? What are you going to say to him/her? What will you say to an agnostic? “God exists” is not a factual claim but one synthetic. One cannot specify in detail what it would be like to confirm it. Here, the agnostic remains in equipoise. “There is a God” has never been credibly established—not with anything like the universal agreement which supports claims like “there is fire, there is pain, there is suffering.” Any descriptions and accounts of natural phenomena which seem at first to require God’s existence for their explanations, turn out to be scientifically explicable via some alternative account requiring no supernatural reference whatsoever. And that is just an historical remark. Most things which once needed God’s intervention for man’s comprehension of their existence—for examples, lightning, thunder, good fortune, life and death, differences in species, the flight of birds, and the disappearance of dinosaurs—all these are now more profitably discussed in terms untainted with the supernatural. If it has been proved that God exists, it would be as irrational and benighted of one to deny the existence of God, as it would be to deny the existence of fire and of life and death. But this is not so. An atheist may offend in many ways by questioning the existence of God, but he or she is not offending logic by doing so. If looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of God, then looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of goblins, witches, flying saucers, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, et cetera. One of the genuine anomalies of our time consists in the religious enthusiast’s contention that all onus of proof rests on the non-believer to make his case! This must be the neatest trick of the millennium.) It is impossible, therefore, for me to keep something that most people, including myself, do not believe in.

I am suspicious of Christmas-New Year on a number of other grounds. Several years ago I served as a writer of obituaries for The Miami Herald. Those who write notices of a person’s death with a brief biographical sketch know that the Christmas-New Year season brings with it a concomitant rise in deaths. During the months prior to December when I wrote obituaries, the city of Miami experienced—on the average—thirty demises a day. But an appreciable surge was noticed before the Christmas-New Year “festivities.” Seventy to eighty passings away were recorded at a point in the course of the weeks immediately preceding Christmas-New Year. I asked experienced obit writers why this was so, and they speculated that the indulgence in food, wines, spirits and a high degree of loneliness caused more people to draw their last breaths.

I am not convinced that Christmas-New Year is the only time when people pamper themselves excessively with food and drinks; nor, is Christmas-New Year the only time they feel alone. But I think the sadness that comes from being alone has more to do with the aggravation of Christmas-New Year deceases than over-indulgence does.

It is unfortunate that more people are forlorn during Christmas-New Year. But it is deplorable that people are made to be convinced of their isolation. Christmas-New Year is a social event, an episode which prompts formal pressures by those members of human society who believe in the Christmas-New Year liturgy. If one does not participate in the rite, he or she is made to feel vaguely anti-social. This stress is far more evident in the differences one’s economic situation has than in, say, the religious disparities between Christianity and Jewishness. It is not the extent to which one ascribes to that religion—derived from Jesus Christ, based on the Bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies—which determines the success or failure of the Christmas-New Year regalements. It is the limit one eventually places on those economic circumstances which are left soporifically in abeyance from the time one signs the credit card slip to payment’s due date. Christmas trees, airline tickets to visit distant relatives or friends, gifts, bottles of whisky and wine, food, clothes, tinsel, candy canes, cards, party napkins and glasses constitute an ever-increasing higher investment in a progressively worsening economic era. As individuals are stripped more and more of their economic dignity or benefice, Christmas-New Year will take on even less importance. An empty pocketbook is a considerably nasty source of loneliness for most. It might even be thought of as un-Chritstian ( ! ) to suffer a dismal Christmas-New Year at the expense of others who unwrap red-ribboned Cadillac Sevilles or participate in other flaunts of luxuriance which cannot be afforded by the massive adherents of Christianity who by others’ standards are inferior in quality or value. But let’s leave economics out of this commentary. There is something to be said about someone who works hard and saves money to buy his wife a Cadillac for Christmas. Let’s not discuss economic loneliness; let’s discuss spiritual loneliness—a trying task in any society which stresses the value of economic goods over the value of intellectual and spiritual ones!

There are hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who are not going to enjoy this Christmas-New Year—with or without money. They are going to sense unhappiness even if they can afford the ecstasies of drunken revelry, partying, and the excessive licentiousness in Christmas-New Year activities—even if the view of the gloomy pile of credit card slips which stares them in the face at the end of January poses no economic burden. I have heard it time and time again: There is no more depressing day than Christmas Day and no greater hung-over day than New Year’s Day. But why depressing? Doubling of the world’s population every thirty years or so, millions of starving children, billions of dollars spent every year for the purchase of arms, the threat of nuclear annihilation? I believe so. Christmas-New Year is an agitating element that brings to the surface of one’s upper level of mental life that creepy stuff which has lain dormant for a long year. This spiritual forsaken state holds a far more tenacious grasp on souls in our Western Civilization than the sadness of being economically cut off. It hints at far greater consequences than the loss of the Christian’s connections with Christ, Christmas and Christianity. It is intimating that Western Civilization is in the grips of losing itself. Christmas-New Year serves only to remind people that they cannot enjoy themselves. The feelings of bleakness or desolation triggered by Christmas-New Year are barometric readings of the fluctuations within individuals who cannot relate to the realities of the world condition. The instrument readings are indeed dismal. Each year more and more people are becoming alienated. And each year people are pulled farther and farther away from the truths of the world which surround them. They are pulled farther and farther away from themselves. Christmas-New Year does nothing to mold one’s destiny nor lead a person compassionately down the steep slope of life through its gloomy evil, much less maintain an individual in psychological homeostasis. But it is to Christmas-New Year that millions of people swirl each year for spiritual oxygen!

I have another reason to believe something is delusory about Christmas-New Year. I sold whisky and wine for a Jacksonville, Florida liquor distributing company, and I know something about alcohol—its good and bad effects. I observed these mannerisms in the rural areas of northcentral Florida. The United States has a serious drinking problem. But I want to know why, in my territory, fifty percent of my annual liquor sales were made during the last six weeks of the sales year? I want to know if the United States’ number-one-selling prescription drug, Valium (1979), also increases dramatically in sales during Christmas-New Year. I want to know the same about heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Is Christmas-New Year such a joyous occasion because everyone is soothed to unconsciousness or unawareness? Why the need to be propelled to enjoy? There is something definitely out of proper working order in the present state of the drinking and drug-taking Christmas-New Year affairs.

I cannot resist mentioning one final facet that makes my wariness about Christmas-New Year intelligible to me. Having been the eldest in a family of four children, I was in a better position than other members of my clan to contemplate the totality of real things and events pertaining to my Christmas-New Years. My father’s frantic hope that the local drunk, who played Santa Claus for my family, would show up on time, the constant vigil to keep my younger brothers from discovering my mother’s Christmas gift hiding place (the trunk of our car), and the absolutely obnoxious hassle of waiting on long lines to pay for gifts or to have presents wrapped, are only a few of the pains I had to endure to help procure, maintain, and transport the Christmas-New Year matériel. The view of my mother—plopped out exhausted on the living room sofa—was the finishing touch which kept me from summoning any pious strength to find ways to participate in the incorporeal nuances of the Christmas-New Year festival which, I was apprised, created testimonials on behalf of the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and told me to hope for a prosperous and, believe it or not! holy New Year! (Has there ever been one world government which sought—as part of its diplomatic ploys—a holy year for its citizens? Has Henry Kissinger ever negotiated with manners characterized by perfection and transcendence commanding absolute adoration and reverence to the Lord God Almighty?)

I would like to stress two things: one, the preposterous influence of Christianity; two, the growing loss of the individual’s contact with his/her psychological environment. (Schizophrenia is, actually, Western Civilization’s number-one mental disease.) In some ways both conditions interrelate, but the second syndrome is far more pernicious, far more extensive.
Christianity’s bluff must be called before people are to arrive at their own beings. There are too many inhibiting Christian forces keeping Christians from themselves. At life’s Card Table a deceiver who many think to be the whole body of Christian believers, cheats his opponents with a bold bet on an inferior hand trying to make his fellow players withdraw their winning cards. The dauntless wager is Christmas: The only time most Christians go to church, the only time they feel obliged to do so.

Christmas is an innocuous medication given to satisfy Christian patients—whether or not Christians want to be soothed or gratified. It is medicine that is not going to cure any Christian’s ills; it is medicine one is told he/she must take. If priest and worshipper seriously opine that practice of a particular liturgy will heal the faithful ones’ ailments, comfort will follow in many instances. This phenomena is ancient. The certainty of being helped has in itself been attributed to the cause of cure or palliation in matters which call for the relaxation of tension and anxiety even when the uneasiness has resulted in actual physical damage. Psychiatrists call it the “placebo effect.” Pink sugar pills work because the patient has the conviction that they work. At Christmas time, the Christian is told to take a spiritualistic sugar pill to assuage his sacred diseases. If he believes he is ill, the attention he places on his trouble immediately sets into action flights of recourse to sources for the amelioration of the affliction. If Christianity promises alleviation, it is to Christianity that homage is paid as the individual waits for the exorcism of his evil spirits, his hurt. At best, the Christmas-New Year placebo is fleeting. In no way does it remedy the spiritual problems of twentieth-century man and woman caught up in a rapidly changing world. In fact, I argue that Christmas-New Year worsens man’s spiritual quandaries.

In conclusion, I believe that the spiritual loneliness of man is his greatest threat at this time and place in history; that spiritual loneliness results from the inability to relate to the self and Nature in a realistic manner; that spiritual loneliness is further acerbated when faith is put in time-honored solemn practices which have no basis in reality; that if man was truly happy with himself he would enjoy other observances during the year, and Christmas-New Year would not be accorded grotesquely unreal powers of rebirth; that spiritual loneliness is a human syndrome that has reached epidemic proportions and gives evidence of posing still greater menace; that the demise of spiritual loneliness can come if man and woman seek a new interpretation of their places in this universe; that spiritual loneliness is intensified by Christmas-New Year because Christmas-New Year is a false overture administered to man by authoritative church groups to help him find his place in a world he feels lost in but a world which has the possibility of enjoyment and abundant opportunities; that the celebration of Christmas-New Year is proof that man and woman’s alienation is so fierce they must take a desperate binge each year to lie to themselves that they are happy.

I call upon all “Christian” men and women to examine their lives in relation to their place in the world and Christianity’s place in that world.

* * *

Written in Caracas, Venezuela

9 November 1979

Original Title:

Christmas-New Year and Spiritual Loneliness

Revised in Calenzano, Italy

15 August 2002

Authored by:

Anthony St. John
Casella Postale 38

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