A Christmas Story

Razib at Gene Expression has a great post on Christmas and what it means, if anything:

Ed, Greg & PZ have commented on the strange reaction of the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary toward Richard Dawkins’ enthusiasm for Christmas traditions. So “why would an atheist want to sing Christmas carols?”

The same reason that the study and reading of literature has not been reduced to physics. We humans appreciate great stories, and we can conceive in our mind’s eye ideas which may not be true, but we enjoy the play of those ideas nonetheless. One does not have to be a Greek pagan to appreciate the beauty and power of the Iliad, and in fact for centuries pious Christians have been moved by the poems of Homer without acceding to the reality of its relgious vision. For them Homer was not about the Truth of the gods, but the Truth of human experience. We don’t need to appeal to a classical education though, anyone who reads a piece of moving fiction can be emotionally impacted, without entertaining that the narrative is real in a positivistic sense.

Today many Christians complain about a “War against Christmas,” but they might be surprised to know that until recently the soldiers in that war were avowed Christians! During the 1650s the ascendant Puritans in England waged a war against Christmas because of its associations with “Popery” and paganism. The reasoned argument was that Christmas had no Biblical foundation, that was not grounded in Truth, and that a host of practices were obviously extra-Biblical interpolations from the pagan milieu of their ancestors, residue from the age of darkness before the Savior. Politically, the practice of Christmas traditions was a sign that perhaps one was for the Cavalier cause or a recusant Catholic. In the the name of utilitarian economic efficiency these early fundamentalists also abolished most holidays and religious festivals because they had no Biblical grounding, and so were not rooted in Truth, and were a waste of time and without any utility. In may ways I think these early Protestant fundamentalists had much in common with latter day social engineers, such as the Khmer Rouge, who seemed driven by an unnatural and distorted Benthanmite conception of what drives human nature and what gives joy and fullness to our lives.

I believe in human nature. We are not a blank slate into which one can pour in prior values and assume that our lives will be shaped by these exogenous inputs through a chain of necessary propositions. We enjoy good food, music, the company of family, gossip, socialization and the broader succor of our community. These are not social constructions, they are are the core of our humanity, and any belief system or model of human action which neglects these natural impulses will lead us astray. I am not denying flexibility of the parameters, but that flexibility exhibits constraints and stress when deviated from the central tendency.

The whole post is great and hits on several ideas that have been whirring about in my brain for some time. One idea in particular that jumped out at me was his statement that, “anyone who reads a piece of moving fiction can be emotionally impacted, without entertaining that the narrative is real in a positivistic sense. This cuts to the heart of the Fundamentalist problem with other narratives, not just the Christmas Story.

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