Christmas and Other Questions
By Bruce R. Baird
DECEMBER 8, 1997: Like most parents, my wife and I hope that, as they are growing up, our children will make their own choices about how to see the world.
Even if that weren't our desire, there isn't much beyond being living examples that we can do about their eventual beliefs, anyway they will believe and live according to whatever moral precepts they choose. So, without trying to unduly prejudice their opinions, how do I explain Christmas to them when I don't believe in "God"?
Christmas in America has multiple meanings: A welcome respite from work, a time of good feeling and fellowship among friends and family, and an orgy of material consumption and gluttony. It is also, for much of the population, one of the few times each year that they publicly celebrate their belief and faith in a supreme being.
Like everyone else, I look forward to the relief from office drudgery, relish the warm companionship of loved ones and, complaining all the way as we all do, do my share of shopping, eating and drinking.
But I lost any faith in a divine and caring creator about the same time I lost faith in Santa Claus.
Santa was without any of the numerous faults and inconsistencies I found in God. At least in theory, Santa rewarded only good children. And while the jolly old elf may not have been supposed to give presents to bad children, at least he never mutilated nor maimed them, nor did anyone acting allegedly in his behalf.
On the other hand, based on the evidence that I saw, and still see, daily, God is rather capricious in rewarding the bad along with the good and downright vicious in meting out punishments, often to the innocent. If that weren't enough, people claiming to speak on this Earth for one or another version of God (sometimes literally with only an iota of difference in conception) treated each other even more horribly.
No one has ever answered my childishly simple question: How can an omniscient and omnipotent God avoid the blame for everything bad while claiming credit for everything good? And how can God be "God" without being omniscient and omnipotent?
So how do I answer Cole, not quite three-years-old, when he asks what the Christmas carols are about? For this year I will keep it simple, hoping that he pays more attention to "Jingle Bells," Hot Wheels and candy than to "O Come All Ye Faithful," Mary and frankincense. I will tell him, only if he specifically asks, that many people believe everything and everyone was created by some larger power and that this is the time of year for celebrating that creation and giving thanks. I will try to avoid the whole issue of the birth of Jesus Christ, since I can't figure out how a deity can have a human child (not even mentioning the whole "virgin birth" issue and avoiding the crucifixion question altogether).
I might get away with these tactics this year, but I will have to revisit this issue every holiday season. But even if my wife and I get it right and Cole makes his own wise choices about religion, we still have to worry about not screwing it up for his little brother. The odds on getting it right twice aren't good.
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