my reads: ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas’ edited by Ariane Sherine

Remember that ad campaign from a few years back that ran on the sides of buses in the U.K. and outraged a lot of people with this notion:

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

A whole bunch of British writers, comedians, artists, thinkers, scientists, and other heathens who weren’t outraged by that campaign — including some of those who were behind it — got together to further annoy the very very pious with The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, which helpfully features the motto “There’s probably no God” right on the cover. Or at least the British edition does. The American edition is too chickenshit to scare off people who will subsequently go on to be furious the moment they open the book.

No, honestly, this is a nice atheist book, full of pleasant memories of childhood Christmases — even some from those who were raised atheist instead of coming to it in response to a religious upbringing, and still managed to have joyful midwinter holidays — and plenty of grownup explanations of how and why atheists celebrate Christmas… and even enjoy it. Much of it is very amusing, and some of it is outrageously funny — I think my favorite of the 42 essays is “How to Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview,” by Nick Doody, one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read — and probably even anybody inclined to be furious at atheists parading their lack of faith around on buses might find it sweet and gentle and not worth making a fuss over.
There are good bits trying to find any possible scientific reality to the supposed Christmas star, and discussions of how to separate the fun stuff about Christmas out from the stuff we atheists scoff at, and a look at why so much modern Christmas pop music is so terrible and simultaneously so irresistible. There are 42 essays in all, because Douglas Adams told us that number was very very important: Simon LeBon writes about losing his faith; Richard Dawkins sends up P.G. Wodehouse with a patient Jeeves-ish debunking of things that need to be debunked; Josie Long offers tips for things to make or do for the holiday. And honestly, probably no one who has thought about his or her atheism will find any philosophies of unbelief that are shockingly new. But that’s not really the purpose of this book. It’s not intended to change any minds, but just to let those of us of this mind know that we’re not alone in rolling our eyes when our year-end partying is scolded by those who think we don’t understand what the season is really about. Except we do: it’s a two-week orgy of food, drink, and candle-lighting to keep the cold and the dark away till summer returns, and it was long before Jesus got invented.

The two weeks isn’t over, yet, either, so keep on orgying. It’s still dark and cold.

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