“What are you talking about? You can’t celebrate with us, you don’t believe in anything! You get up, live through your meaningless day, and eat babies for dessert at night. Go away! You are not welcome here.”
Some of those words have actually been said to me when I was younger, and even now, if someone brings up the topic (I never, ever do anymore); the standard “well, you have to believe in something, where do you get your morals?” phrase comes out, without fail. To be fair, no one has accused me of the “babies for dessert” thing. That’s more a pop culture trope applied to non-believers that never seems to go away.
Imagine, if you will, a table. It’s got the usual four legs… No, let’s make that eight, we want room for lots of people. These people will be opinionated, so we’ll construct it with nice thick slats of well-worn maple, strong enough to withstand lots of hand-slapping, knife-stabbing arguments that span centuries of overthrown soup bowls of bubbling broth. The strong, carved legs of this table should be marked with scratches and nicks, and perhaps one of them might be cracked just a bit from a temper that went from a simmer to a rolling boil. The leg will have to be replaced eventually, and the original table will have to embrace the evolution of its environment. It will have to change, as a result of the stories contained within its very molecules of soup, blood, and the tree it originally was.
My job in writing this article is to connect pop culture with atheism, an objective that pleases me no end, because of my love and affinity for both. It is also terribly difficult because, you see, openly atheist characters in pop culture are fairly rare. More often it is suggested at best, and treated as an affliction at worst.
Atheism is by no means alone; in this day and age the words “faith” and “religion” strike as much apprehension in people as “atheism” used to (and still does, in many places), but for this piece the focus is on atheism. So let’s get back to that table, shall we?
Rocks, probably the very first tables, were great but probably pretty bumpy. Nothing beats the character of an old wooden table, cracks and all. Along with theater (Homo Sapiens first HBO), tales of heroics, demonics, and really big fish have been shared and embellished upon for millennia, usually accompanied by food. Nothing like a fine meal and good ale or wine to help tell a good story, no? And that, in my opinion, is the framework for pop culture.
Whether we like it or not, pop culture is relatable and handed down to the next generation in many forms, ranging from what some would call the idiotic to possibly even iconoclastic. It’s important in its own way.
As I’ve said before pop culture has been, for decades now, the default playground for ideas considered “outside the box”. And because pop culture is aimed at the masses it has its good and bad points. The bad could be, as an example, stories that depict gratuitous violence in a positive or acceptable light.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas, you ask? Why the worm-ridden table? Why, celebrations, of course! I shall forgo my spiel about how every meal is a celebration, and how food brings everyone together, bla bla bla, and focus instead on a midnight dreary, when the snow (or rain, fog, night, what-have-you) falls like a heavy book, and in through the door walks Wonder Woman, Captain America, Monet St. Croix, Spiderman, Harry Potter, The Thing, Doctor Who, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and… Neil Peart.
Hey, drummers are cool.
All these people and characters represent different views on life, and in MY little world, that table would tell the tale of how all these perspectives come together to celebrate what all of them have in common if they were all real people. That table would bear the signs of spilt blood, anger, attack, and revenge. It would show signs of repair — that cracked leg being replaced with another even stronger leg, beautifully carved with care to support the other five legs. Perhaps last year there was a new addition to the table, a slice of a fallen Bristlecone Pine tree, polished with care and mounted as a Lazy Susan to dispense spice and condiments to any who wish.
In the world of this article, these characters and people could celebrate Christmas under any name without hesitation. Because underneath the robes, jeans, dresses, or spandex, every single human being on this planet was born naked and will die naked. Every single ideology came after. Human beings are human beings first, and worshipers second, if that is where life takes them.
Before Christmas, Hanukkah, Festival of Ridván, Yul, this list goes on (and of course not every culture has a version of Christmas, but you get my drift), people still had reasons to celebrate. It’s (supposed to be) fun, memorable.
At your next celebration, remember that Sheldon Cooper still loves his devout Christian mom, and equally, she loves her atheist son — they accept each other on some kind of common ground. Remember that every crowd will have their jerks and idiots. Remember that most people just want to be accepted. And that atheists still love you even if they don’t pray. That atheist in the corner will not steal the last brownie from Junior as he runs by. We do have morals, too.
The Christmas tree lights, the beautiful Hanukkah candles, the camaraderie that most celebrations bring out of people… those are just some of the important things. Watching the Doctor Who special every year. Watching all the TV specials of Asterix. The original versions of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Watching Uncle Fred be an idiot after just one beer, and dreading Aunt Martha’s Christmas Cake that could seriously stop a Star Destroyer in its tracks.
C’mon. Go have a Mid-Winter Glogg with your friendly neighborhood atheist today (drink enough of that stuff and you won’t remember it anyway).
This atheist fangirl wants to wish all you nerds and nerdettes a Merry Christmas because that’s what I grew up with. Please take the wish in the flavor of your choice, with the best of intentions. Sitting at that big old table surrounded by those who just care, I love the Christmas lights, the festivities, and seeing people I haven’t seen all year (even those I’m kind of glad I don’t see all year). If we can all come together as human beings first — for any celebration — the future looks wonderful indeed.
With thoughtful attention from everyone, that table should continue to tell tales for a very long time to come. So, from my non-believing, loving heart to yours, Live Long and Prosper.