Carol-singing atheists

Meant to be Christmas shopping, but instead getting annoyed by the radio. The Jeremy Vine show is incredulous that Richard Dawkins, avowed atheist, enjoys singing Christmas carols. They interview him. He explains that singing is nice and means nothing. Vicar retaliates that singing is inherently an act of worship. Which is stupid.

Penn Jillette put it well: I’m not in your club, so I don’t have to follow your rules. Rumour has it that senior Freemasons wear special rings – junior members are not permitted such jewellery. But I’m not a Freemason, so I can do what the hell I like. Any senior Freemason objecting to my wearing their special ring is going to get laughed at. You don’t get to impose your own club rules on the rest of society. Christians think singing carols is an act of worship, and that’s fine – go ahead. But don’t tell me what I can and can’t think, thanks.

A Guardian cartoonist stood up for good sense, but briefly took a wrong turn, imho, when he started to argue historically. It’s used frequently, but I don’t much care for the argument that Christmas was a pagan tradition so it’s ok for atheists to celebrate it, or the debates over whether the Christmas tree is a traditional Christian thing. Doesn’t matter, for two reasons:

  1. The meaning of any particular tradition is entirely relative – if I like the tradition, I can appropriate it without dragging along all the historical baggage. The Guardian columnist pointed out that his favourite ink was used to stamp people in concentration camps – should he boycott it for this reason? No, that’s silly. It’s ink. Culture is a great big amalgam of unpatentable ideas from throughout history. Christmas trees look good – I like decorating my home with them. I don’t care whether some Christian came up with the idea, or what it means to religious people. I just like having a pretty tree, it’s nice! Some would raise politeness at this point – if Christians get offended by my having a tree, isn’t it polite to avoid it? No! People can declare offence at anything; bending over backwards to accommodate beliefs that make no sense never a) works b) leads to anything good.
  2. Religion appropriates nice things to attract people1. It’s a trick. A toffee-sprout. “Look, we sing nice songs, decorate our homes and all meet up once a week – these are all unequivocally nice things! Also by the way guy-came-back-from-the dead-angels-demons-witchcraft-magic-crackers-floods-smiting-gay-people-bad-also-snakes-don’t-ever-have-sex-unless-we-give-you-permission, and you only get to do all the nice things if you believe all that. This applies to everyone”. No. Get lost with your manipulative crap. I’ll take the yummy toffee, which is nothing to do with you, and leave the sprout for anyone who wants it.  This isn’t all that different from #1, actually – free-floating ideas can be netted by anyone, and nobody gets to claim copyright.

I like carols too. Don’t care that Christians consider carols an act of worship. Tell you what: if you can do that, I’m going to declare doing the vacuuming a rejection of god. From now on any Christian who hoovers the hall is a hypocrite.

  1. not necessarily maliciously, but probably just through cultural natural selection – memetic, if you will []