So I am back in NYC and settling into the Winter session course I am teaching…I am also mastering Assassin’s Creed on the Play Station3 🙂
I hope that everyone had an exceptional New Years…I started the new year with some good news. I found out that I will be going to the Towards a Science of Consciousness meeting in Tucson to present HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs (which is a re-worked version of the first half of my paper Consciousness, (Higher-Order) Thoughts, and What it’s Like…you can see the virtual presentation from this summer’s Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in Vegas HERE). I am very exited to do this as I have had lots of great feedback and discussions about my argument with David Rosenthal and Rocco Gennaro and I think the argument is stronger than ever…
Before I left for vacation I was having a very interesting discussion about Christmas and whether or not it is a Christian holiday (and whether or not, even if it is, atheists and agnostics ought to celebrate it). Let me re-cap what I think my argument was supposed to be.
1. The argument from etymology– The word ‘Christmas’ means ‘The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ’ in English. There is no definition of the word in any dictionary which lists it as a secular holiday
This indicates that ‘Christmas’ designates a Christian holiday. Now, there have been two sorts of response to this argument.
R1. The actual holiday is a pagan holiday that the Christians took over and renamed, so whatever you call it, Christmas is not a Christian Holiday at all, but just the disguised pagan holiday
This doesn’t seem right to me. It is true that rituals of Christmas are taken over from pagen religions, but this was a common strategy that the Church employed to boost its numbers. The locals are less reluctant to convert when the new religion has familiar attriibutes but none the less the Church (in around 300 CE) created a new holiday to commerate the birth of Jesus Christ and they decided to call it Christmas (originally Christ’s Mass). The practices that we have today derive from that Chriatian tradition, not the earlier pagan one. The fact that the celebration occurs on a day that no one actually believes marks the actual annevesery of Jesus’ birth does not matter. We do not celebrate President’s day on Washington’s actual birthday, but it is a celebration of his birth even still…Nothing similar has happened that would make Christmas a non-religious holiday…This leads us to the second response that was made,
R2. That may be the meaning of the word, in some external sense, but what matters is what the person intends to be celebrating (the internal meaning of the holiday). So, if I celebrate Christmas in a completely secular way, not intending to be performing any religious rituals, or to be giving thanks for the incarnation of God in the flesh, then I am not celebrating a religious holiday.
But is this right? Suppose that I decided to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday (April 20th, I *think*)? Suppose that when challenged I replied that I was not intending to commemorate the mass murdering individual that was the Fuhrer of Germany, but rather the artistic vegetarian that Hitler was in his youth. It is important, I might continue, that we remember not to squander our talents. Hitler was a powerful persuasive personality and if only he had used his powers for good instead of evil the world might have been a very different place. So it is important to remember his birth.
Or again, suppose that I chose to celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s birthday? Suppose I gave the same sort of justification as above. It seems to me that whatever I intend to be doing, I am celebrating the birth of these hateful and wicked men.
Now, this response might be taken to mean that there is a separate holiday that is a secular celebration of family and helping the disadvantaged that just so happens to be celebrated on the same day as the Christian holiday (sort of like 4/20 a ‘stoner’ holiday is celebrated (accidentally I hope) on the same day as Hitler’s birthday). I don’t think that this is actually the case now (though maybe we are in the transition period and in the future ‘Christmas’ will be ambiguous in English as between a Christian and a secular holiday). At anyrate, I am sympathetic to this idea (this was the idea behind my ‘Family Day’ or, as I prefer now ‘Giftmas’ 🙂 but I think we ought to femphasize, and help formalize this process with the coining of a new name and specifically dedicating it to secular celebration.
Doing some research about this I discovered that the issue has been taken to court by some atheists. They argued that the fact that we get Christmas day off amounts to state endorsement of Christianity and so violates the seperation of church and state. Here is a nice little article on the case from About.com. The judge rules against the claim and denies that there is a violation of the seperation between church and state. The reason is not becaus ethe judge finds that Christmas is not a religious holiday but because the day off serves a “valid secular purpose’. Having Christmas day off de facto serves the purpose of bringing families togeher and that is a secular purpose of the holiday. I think this is right, but that doesn’t mean that the holiday is itself a secular one, unless someone declares it to be so…