- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
While browsing through the social media I came across an article that really grabbed my attention. The title of the article was, An Atheist Christmas – a story about a growing phenomenon among some agnostics, atheists and humanists who gather together at this time of year to celebrate the spirit of what Christmas is all about
The article told the story of one particular “Atheist-Humanist” Christmas celebration that took place recently in New York City. Around 150 folks (mostly young) all of them self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics met together in a mid-town banquet room. They spent an evening enjoying each other’s company, listening to poetry and some uplifting music, they even sang a few Christmas carols (explaining that singing carols about Jesus doesn’t mean they are Christian believers).
During this Atheist Christmas the leader of the group got up and gave a “sermon” of sorts, explaining the importance of being open to an encounter with “transcendence” at this time of year and he urged his fellows to use this time to be particularly intentional in showing kindness to others and extending charity to those in need.
I found this article to be uplifting and even heartwarming but my warmed heart was quickly chilled by a comment about this story left by a supposed “Christian believer” who angrily denounced this Atheist Christmas claiming that celebrations like this are sacrilegious and insulting. The rant went on to claim: How can you celebrate Christmas without Christ? If these atheists really want to celebrate Christmas they should come to church where they can find the answers to their questions.
My first response was that I know plenty of Christians who come to church (or are dragged to church) on Christmas who “grit their teeth” and barely put up with a church service because they are expected to be there – hardly a time to find answers to life’s questions; whereas this group of so-called “atheists” gather together, enjoy fellowship, find a deeper peace, encounter transcendence and are motivated to go out and live a life of charity. As I see it, the Atheist Christmas may have been a Christmas without Christ, but it was most certainly Christmas in the spirit of Christ.
On Christmas we remember the birthday of the one who welcomed everyone to the table of life - no one was ever left to stand outside of his circle of belonging. Public sinners and good religious people, rich and poor, sick and healthy all ate together with Jesus at the same table. He welcomed fellow Jews and with the same embrace he invited foreigners and “pagans” to walk alongside him on the journey of life.
When I consider that story of the Atheist Christmas I can’t help but imagine that Christ would be the very first person to sit among those “atheist” folks at that New York mid-town banquet hall celebrating Christmas together.
I am reminded of a line from the Islamic poet, Rumi:
Move beyond any attachment to names.
Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened
because of some disagreement about names.
It’s such unnecessary foolishness because just beyond the arguing
there is a long table of companionship set and waiting for us all to sit down
Christmas is a time for all people of goodwill to move beyond the names they have put upon themselves and others. It’s a season for Christians and Buddhists, Muslims and Jews, atheists, agnostics and humanists to put aside the names and sit at the table together.
Christmas is a festival of love, a time set aside for all of us to sit together and be at peace with one another. Maybe the “sermon” given at the Atheist Christmas said it best: This is a time for all of us to be open to the experience of transcendence. It is a time for tender fellowship, a time for showing kindness and time to go the extra mile in reaching out to others in charity.
You certainly don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas – everyone is welcome to the feast!