Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why, As An Atheist, I Celebrate Christmas

I began this post with the opposite idea. Instead, I began by writing:

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas

I'm an atheist. For many, that would be a good enough reason, and this post could just stop here. However, increasingly more non-religious and non-Christian-yet-still-believing people celebrate this holiday. For example,Richard Dawkins, "the world's most famous atheist", celebrates Christmas as well.. 

and stopped there. And then I started thinking. 

Several weeks ago, I was complaining that I didn't understand why some atheists celebrate Christmas. Even if you take away the part that involves Christ, God, Christianity, you still fall back on paganism and some sort of religious celebration, and we all know that atheists don't believe in deities. So they shouldn't be celebrating a holiday that is rightfully that of theists', right? Well, others could do what they wanted, but I wasn't going to go back on my principles. 

Except that I really do like giving people gifts and receiving them. Except that I do enjoy spending those days with loved ones. Except that I do appreciate the days in which no school or work is necessary (in most cases) and lie around the house catching up on reading, writing, and internet surfing. Except that I would really like to do this ecause it's extremely adorable. And except, of course, that I do love stuffing my face with food and enjoying a mug (or several) of rum-infused eggnog. And the catch is, that I enjoy doing all of these activities around this time of year. 

Unfortunately for me, these activities that I accept and enjoy doing to the point where it would take a large chunk of happiness out of me if I couldn't participate in them, though not necessarily religious on the most part, are cultural traditions of this holiday that extend a long way back. It wouldn't be fair to say that I don't celebrate at this time of year and then continue to take advantage of society's good nature. 

So, I have to admit that I really do celebrate this holiday and plan on doing so in the future as well. Why? Well, why not? 

As Christina Stephens says and as this article shows, Christmas is  steeped in different cultural, religious, and secular traditions and meanings--Norse, Roman, early Christian, etc. Various people have taken from these rituals whatever they have liked to the extent that they have even dubbed it originally theirs. For example, the Christmas tree that is a hallmark of the season is not Christian, though so many believers have one in their homes--it's pagan. Big feasts, kissing under the mistletoe, and exchanging gifts are also pagan customs and while, as an atheist, I do engage in some of these activities, I don't feel much guilt for doing so. I participate in many of the above actions at other times of the year as well, and simply because I give someone a gift on the 25th of December doesn't automatically make me a hypocrite. The fact that I'm participating in these actions right now give them a certain significance--a feeling of community, for example, that would not necessarily be present otherwise. I feel no need to apologize for engaging in a public holiday in which love, food, and rest are causes of celebration. Christmas is a melting pot that has been stirred too many times for there to be a squabble over whose holiday it truly belongs to. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

ἘΫ́ΦΈΡΕΙΝ et algos de la fustigazione

The mind and body are incredible instruments. They can withstand inconceivable amounts of stress and keep on working. They can break irreparably at the slightest touch. They can be changed and stretched, contorted and poked and prodded and still function and function quite well at that. But too much pressure and they can crack and break apart. Tweaked correctly, they can grant its owner unparalleled delights. Squeezed excessively, they can shatter him permanently. Fragile, yet so resilient. Pliable, yet so resistant. The mind and body are truly incredible instruments. 

Pain. One of the many stresses that us humans put on these parts of ourselves. Physical, mental, or emotional, pain forces our minds and bodies to scream out and tell us that there is something deeply wrong going on. Though many of us would love to live in a world without it, it is one of those unfortunate necessities we must handle. Pain allows us to realise that we are hurt, that we must take care of ourselves or else something worse will happen. Pain is important. We would not survive long without it. 

But sometimes, one can feel so much of it in a certain way that it becomes pleasure. No, not pleasure. More, much more than that. In a certain way, at a certain pace, pain ceases to be unpleasant. Your body adjusts to the shock of the impact and anticipates the next wave of sensation. The shorter the pauses, the stronger the stimulation, the more intensely you crave. Crave what? There is a height that needs to be reached. There is an object that must be attained. It becomes imperative that you get there. Where?

You realise that you are grinning. You are trying to keep the corners of your mouth from expanding any further, trying to keep your teeth from opening because you know that whatever force that's building within you must come out and when it does, it will be explosive. It is a struggle between not enough and too much; nerves and receptors being drowned in overwhelming stimulus; body shutting down short of a breath's sharp, swift inhale. 

And in the next second, the whirlpool of energy bursts from your body and leaps out of your throat and is born into the air as laughter. Waves upon waves of pure ecstasy and euphoria induced by one's own endorphins course through you and you remember that the only other time you felt like this, you were also under the influence of chemicals, but of a different kind. You are high. There is no controlling the laughter that bubbles out of you, a feeling of utter joy flowing, simply unable to be experienced in the normal circumstances of daily life. 


There's no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation--a state of bliss...*

Learning to Fly by Pink Floyd