December 22, 2012

To be, or not to be, a #GnuAtheist #Grinch

I have been thinking more and more about Tom Flynn of the Center for Inquiry and his Gnu Atheist Grinch post.

In a nutshell, Flynn says atheists should not celebrate Christmas, no way, no how, not even in its secularized form in modern America. 

Flynn could see this as a great way to write about science, as I did, from astronomy and celestial mechanics down to human evolutionary biology, as well as celebrating someone who was some sort of humanist.

But, nooo ... we get another Gnu Atheist proving himself to be a village idiot atheist.

The man sounds like a Gnu Atheist Scrooge! And, it got me wondering just what else he might want to forgo because it has a religious connotation.

So, Tom, will you refuse to eat kosher food, simply because it's been killed in a certain style for religious reasons? Will you stop eating Easter eggs, because of their Christian background which in turn came from pagan fertility thoughts? Likewise, will you stop eating the chocolate Easter bunny?

Do you refuse to say Gesundheit because it derives from superstition? 

Even worse? He's so pedantic to dislike the current calendar because of its pagan-god names for days and months. No, really:
As I’ve written elsewhere, I got kind of psyched for the French Republican calendar when Madalyn O’Hair tried to bring it back in American Atheist magazine some years ago. (Happy first of Ventose, by the way.) But it would be seriously deficient for adoption today. For one thing, it has the same problem as a calendar that the Winter Solstice has as a holiday: it’s not applicable to today’s global society. The month names are tied to the climate in the northern temperate zones. For example, the current month, Ventose, means “snowy.” One of the summer months is Fructidor, which means “fruitful.” Good luck getting the folks in Rio to embrace that!
Wow. (He got his Revolutionary French months screwed up, but later corrected that.) Anyway, even the godless Communists, in their Russky incarnation, still kept religious names for days of the week when they made a new calendar.

More seriously, and tying to ideas I often go into in more depth at my other blog, will you stop listening not only to "Silent Night," but also the "Messiah," or Mozart's "Requiem"? What about Alfred Schnittke's "Requiem," written by an apparent unbeliever in the Soviet Union?

The first time I heard "Messiah" live was when I was either a junior or senior in high school, and it was also my intro to a major symphonic group, as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, under principal guest conductor Raymond Leppard, was playing it.

Well, I think the night before the performance I went to, he was interviewed on St. Louis' classical radio station. And the announcer asked him a question along the lines of, "How can/do you, a secularist, perform this piece?"

And Leppard said something about "the human spirit."

And, in hindsight (which I certainly didn't have at the time) that epitomizes the secular humanist vs. the stereotypical Gnu Atheist.

At the time, I didn't get it.

The son of a minister who had just gone back to seminary for his doctorate of theology, in the main conservative denomination within Lutheranism, I just didn't get it.

It took a bit after I made my journey to atheism more than a decade later, in fact, to get it. While I wasn't a GnuAtheist type, nonetheless, I couldn't see how one could appreciate the "human spirit" of a clearly religious work, from a secularist angle.

But, even before reading the likes of a Scott Atran or a Pascal Boyer on the evolutionary biology of religious belief, eventually my atheist thinking matured and I did "get it."

So, whether it's "Messiah," Bach's "Magnificat," or a requiem, either by Mozart, Schnittke or Brahms, I can appreciate the human spirit which dealt with serious matters of life and death through magnificent musical works, or also works of art.

And, to the degree I feel these creators had the wrong answers, I can nonetheless sympathize with their drive, even empathize, and also feel a bit ... pensive? poignant? about that all.

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