Christmas is the closest thing to a universal holiday. I don’t mean that in a religious sense, not, at least, in the Christian meaning of the holiday. Instead, I’m referring to the idea that there is a creator who didn’t just create this world we inhabit. He (hereinafter “It,” because gender identity is just plain silly if the subject is God) then hung around, saw what was problematic about Its creation, and decided to offer a single individual to all of us to serve as a messenger and a guide to Its utopian plan.
Now that’s a mouthful, so let me translate. What Christmas represents – irrespective of any particular religious creed – is the idea that there is a plan, a plan that, if accepted, can bring about worldwide peace and goodwill and that this plan is divinely inspired and that all it takes for it to become reality is acceptance of it and adherence to it.
Okay, that’s slightly less of a mouthful. Let me say it this way. The reason we all feel good towards each other (and about ourselves) at this time of the year is that we are beckoned to look beyond ourselves, beyond what we perceive to be our own not-so-great, hardly ideal, sometimes even downright miserable, existence and see a path to something more hopeful, more positive, more inspirational.
As an agnostic, I see much to appreciate in the essence message of Christmas. I see the willingness it provides to be a little friendlier, a little more charitable, a little less selfish, a little less greedy. I see a path to a humanist’s utopia, where everyone cares for everyone else, where personal needs are always contained when the needs of others are more paramount, and where everyone is content and happy without regard for what might have been attained but with concern for what others need to attain.
I also ponder, as I assume It must also ponder, why that utopia is continually made unattainable by the less friendly, less charitable, more selfish, more greedy side of the human condition. Of course that kind of thinking is part of what makes me an agnostic. If It was capable of creating everything, why didn’t It have the foresight to create a less imperfect version of homo sapiens? And while It was at it, why couldn’t It also have created a less hostile environment for us two-legged types to carry on the activities It must have envisioned we’d be carrying on all along.
I know. This is where I start to sound just a tad cynical. Most of us agnostics are that way. Some of you call us grumpy (that’s the charitable word you use). Others just write us off as being lost (or damned) souls. I cop to being grumpy a lot of the time.
It started when I first learned about the reality of death. I was eight years old, and my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was dying of cancer. I was often sent to sit with her when my grandfather and my parents were busy with other activities. I would sit on the floor by her bed while she explained to me that she was dying, and I would pray to the God I fervently believed heard my prayers that He would cure her.
But my grandmother did die, just as she had told me she would. I recall the shock of her cold lips when I kissed her corpse goodbye that morning before they came and took her body away.
I got grumpier when I learned about racial prejudice. Jackie Robinson was my favorite ballplayer. He was just more exciting than all the others. I loved to hear about his exploits as he led my favorite team, the Dodgers, to the pennant. And then I heard an adult (a father of one of my friends) curse him and call him a nasty word. I asked my parents what that word meant that night, and they explained what bigotry was.
I remember feeling less good about the world, when I learned about that.
I got grumpier still when I learned about war. My uncle, after whom I’m named, had been killed in the war (the Second World War). I learned about why wars were fought and how my country was always in the right in those wars, because we were a God-loving country and only fought when there was evil to be defeated.
And then I learned about Viet Nam, and I didn’t believe that about my country anymore, or that wars were ever a good thing, or that I could ever be truly content to live in a world where wars were commonplace.
I learned, too, about poverty, and childhood diseases that rob young people of the joy of life, and about cruel things done to others just because they look different or have different beliefs, and about the harsh treatment of animals, and despoiling the environment, and so many other things that made me sad.
And, over time, apart from getting real grumpy, I began to question the God that It represents, and I began to wonder how It could tolerate such gross imperfection in the world It had created. Agnosticism, you see, isn’t born of hatred; it comes from confusion.
I see the world as it is and wonder why it must be that way. I contemplate the wonder of creation, how perfectly so much of the universe seems to work, right on down to the perfection of time, and Earth’s place in the universe, and the exactitude of so much that seems to have been planned carefully and precisely to work exactly as it does. And yet, the species of which I am a part is as perversely imperfect as that creation is ideally perfect. And none of that makes any sense.
And so, even as an agnostic, every year I see Christmas as that time when all the yearning for that better, more perfect reality comes together in one holiday. And for that one day or that one time of the year I’m a little less grumpy, because like everyone else, I want to believe in a better world, one where it can feel like Christmas, not just on December 25, but on every day of every year.
Merry Christmas, everyone.