©Accoutrements / Archie McPhee Yesterday morning I was listening to NPR and heard a brief story on a nascent holiday called “HumanLight.” Created eight years ago by some (secular) Humanists and celebrated between the winter solstice and Christmas, it is apparently intended to allow such folks to join in the seasonal festivities without compromising their irreligious principles:

“HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.”

-from the HumanLight website.

At first I thought it was a joke story, with the Muppets-like singalong and the sounds of children getting excited that the Milky Way was being shown again on the projector. Then I realized it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. Shortly after that, I became annoyed.

First let me disclose that I’m atheistic or agnostic. I don’t make a distinction because I’m not fervent about it. Next let me reveal that I’m supposedly Jewish, but know next to nothing about that tradition. I’m basically illiterate when it comes to religion, the meagre bulk of my knowledge restricted to what I gleaned from college art history courses and casual conversations with others (of varying levels of veracity and conviction).

Digression over. What annoyed me about the radio story was the implication that non-Humanist atheists and agnostics (A&As from here on out) are somehow lacking in ethics and morals, which is simply outrageous. Deficiency in consideration for others, appreciation of histories and traditions, and [insert-disreputable-behaviors-and-motives-here] seemed to be suggested. Preposterous, all of it.

Furthermore, the whole notion led me to the conclusion that this Humanism is completely unnecessary and only serves to make non-affiliated A&As seem even more suspicious than they are already considered to be by the general population. Humanists want to eat their cake and have it too. If A&A’s have an image problem, let them hire a consulting firm to do some PR. No need for religion lite, x-tra fat-free, or ultra low tar. There are plenty of other ways to foster community and good will.

I haven’t any intention of completely opening up the Pandora’s Box* of the validity of (especially organized) religion into a full-blown rant, though I suspect I’ve gone too far already. If so, I beg your forgiveness.

On the other-other hand, I believe the end of the year is a fine time to get together with friends and family, to do some celebrating and feasting and all that good stuff; it’s too much to squeeze into the mania of New Year’s Eve. Despite the perennial complaints of those Christians who bemoan the crass commercialism of Christmas and long for a return to an appreciation of the “true” meaning of the holiday (although I doubt that there’s a consensus on that), that horse has long ago bolted from the stable and squeezed the toothpaste from the tube. My advice is to just get over it and accept that fact that there are two Christmases, one of them being resolutely secular with occasional religious trappings. And it’s a monster. It reminds me of the Greek myth of Typhon:

In revenge for the destruction of the giants, Mother Earth lay with Tartarus, and presently in the Corycian Cave of Cilicia brought forth her youngest child, Typhon: the largest monster ever born. From the thighs downward he was nothing but coiled serpents, and his arms which, when he spread them out, reached a hundred leagues in either direction, had countless serpents’ heads instead of hands. His brutish ass-head touched the stars, his vast wings darkened the sun, fire flashed from his eyes, and flaming rocks hurtled from his mouth.

-from The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves (1955).

Okay, maybe that comparison is a bit extreme.

So after that bit of screedy indulgence, let me now confess that I like Christmas, although of course not to abhorrent excess. It’s now so incredibly popular, universal, and pervasive, making it prime material for creative interpretations and variations of its music, images, and narratives. In this context, the quaintness of the more modest and conservative “originalist” Christmas celebrations forms a welcome nook, a safe harbor providing refuge and respite from the blizzard of Christmas Writ Large (and in neon).santamingo

*”Pandora’s Box” was actually a jar, so by not opening it completely I’m leaving it ajar. Go, me!