I have to admit to being off the holidays this year. For 12 years, we didn’t decorate or indulge in the seasonal hoopla much because we owned a toy store — and that was enough holly red and green, and Davidian blue for anybody. But I always loved the music — both listening and singing the traditional and festive.
This year, that’s not so true. The holiday has gone a bit sour for me. And when I mentioned it to my family — it turns out I’m not alone in this. And if that’s true — it possibly extends beyond our front door and out into the general population.
We’ve been unpacking boxes from our relocation — and giving what’s left of the toys I’d had squirreled away in boxes to the local Elks and Firefighters to be distributed throughout the county. That part feels good. I love giving toys away. I was really poor a few holiday seasons when my son was small, and I know the empty feeling of not being able to give your kids the toys/clothes/things they dream of. Being on the sharing end of things like holiday toys and tips in cafes is part of the pleasure of being older and more settled.
And I (obviously) enjoy all the cooking and party foods.
I love driving home in the dark (since the sun sets here before 4:30pm) and getting to see all the pretty lights and decorations.
But it’s very difficult for me to separate my general dissatisfaction with organized religion from my still unfailing belief that there is intention and an organizing principle at work in the Universe as a system. I hesitate to even talk about god or GOD or God — because the word is so universally loaded. “God” has fallen victim to idiots and jackasses and isolationists. “God” appears to be the domain of gossips and haters and warmongers. The moneylenders, torturers, and liars are running the asylums, temples, banks, holy relics and churches. So many of those who professes to know god, fight to prove they have a direct line to that god — and to judge, kill, ostracize, badger, protest, condemn, and punish in the name of that god.
And don’t even get me started on how people have neutered their gods into limp and ineffectual simpletons who somehow need their followers to play dumb, and to do violence to protect a deity. Any “god” that requires intentional ignorance, meanness, and violence is not a god at all — just an excuse for that religion to be criminal, and unkind. The Westboro Baptists and Talibans of this world have managed to make GOD into a vain despot and an unkind lay-about slave-owner.
I grew up surrounded by people who lied to me. Not all of them were malicious liars — who set out to trick. Not all of them were actual idiots, who were too stupid to parse evidence and honestly look for truth. Most were “if my eyes are closed, you can’t see me”–kinds of liars. They lied to themselves and their children — with good intentions — and tried to turn the lies into reality with some kind of “if you pretend long enough, it makes it real” strategy. However, it turns out, a head-in-the-sand life is not worth living. Trust me on this. –at least I hope you have to trust me and that you didn’t grow up in the same way.
So — let me say outright, I do not believe in any god that needs me to kill off, separate myself from, or judge the value of any other human being or group of humans. I am not a judge. I will leave that burden to Graves Level 4 people who have studied law and chosen it as a calling — and I will always remember that they are as susceptible to error as I am –and as everyone else is. I do not, however, cede that role to anyone who has not studied law, passed the bar or its equivalent, or been given all the responsibilities of judgement. Including those who claim a calling to some kind of priesthood or clergy — of any religion. I do not recognize them as judges of moral law, or representatives of any deity. Much less as representatives and mouthpieces for the Universe.
I know a lot of this has to do with Graves levels. There’s no question. I am (we are) living in a world that is shifting and changing. Fairness is important to us. Much more than it was when I was a child. Understanding and compassion are big ideas — and they’ve replaced simple tolerance as the societal goal. Tolerance is the old world and the old reality. It is loaded with Graves Level 3, 4 and 5 concepts.
Honoring, caring for, and respecting equally are more difficult — not because they are hard to do — but because it means letting go of a lot of ugly stuff first. To truly get beyond tolerance and embrace equality, you really do have to stop believing you are so exceptional that you deserve more and better (and thus relegate the less and the not-so-good to those who are less exceptional.) Less deserving. Less good. Less able. Less qualified. Less intelligent. Less — just less.
It’s true — there are people who have more and less intelligence. More and less sense of humor. More and less memory. More and fewer genetic advantages. All true. The lie is that having more or less — anything — makes a person more or less valuable in an absolute sense. We all know the stories of savants who have observable deficiencies in some areas — but great abundances in others. We also know that there are those among us with observable advantages. But to misinterpret those advantages as value in human terms is — foolishness.
If you give up that basic assumption that you are better — tolerance disappears. It has to. We don’t tolerate people who are like us. We only tolerate those who are less. Once we stop playing at life as though it was a competition we could win or lose — we stop seeing the world as a place divide between us and them. It has to be a world where everyone wins and everyone plays together. Otherwise, we all lose the most important parts of ourselves.
It’s difficult to separate the foolishness (and history) of man-made religions from those positive behaviors we can all aim for.
I think Charles Dickens wrote it all down for us — and we’re just now catching up. Old Scrooge found his holiday spirit — and it was a spirit of kindness, generosity, and compassion. It had nothing to do with cherry-picking a select group to be recipients of that kindness and generosity, and shrugging off everyone else.
I really do love the emotions and impulses of the season. Generosity. Sharing. Concern for those less fortunate. And the understanding that it really is just a difference of fortune — the fortune of birth, or health, or catastrophic events — that separates us. I love that part of the holiday season. The idea that to “keep Christmas (or, ___insert your holiday name here___)” you have to make sure everybody gets a good meal, everybody gets some little tangerine or hand full of walnuts, and everybody is greeted with a smile and an outstretched hand.
Those are good things to hold on to.
And to claim that much larger holiday spirit is where Dickens got it right. His appeal to “keep Christmas” has very little to do with religion — and everything to do with being a good person. We should make that the aim, and the “reason for the season.”