Sunday, December 20, 2009

Does a Hallowed Secularist Send Chanukah Gifts?

12/20/2009—This blog is primarily dedicated to the actual way-of-life changes that occur when a person ceases to be a member of the organized religions. The Christmas season presents an obvious issue because Christmas is completely intrusive and beautifully attractive. The whole culture gives presents. And who would not want to be part of the Hallmark family moments that are portrayed?

This same kind of question confronts minority religious believers, of course, and I don’t know how they handle it. Judaism, for example, ingeniously answered this problem years ago, at least in America, by elevating a minor holiday, Chanukah, to Christmas-like significance. Chanukah is not a holiday that anyone would know about if it were not for Christmas. Jews would not celebrate it anymore than they celebrate Purim now.

Many cultures celebrate the winter solstice. The timing of Christmas itself is probably the result of just such cultural borrowing. And many involve lights. That is partly why Christmas is so attractive.

There are two obvious choices for the hallowed secularist. One is to ignore the holidays. But that would mean weakening connections with the immense believing world. The second is to join in from a distance, for example giving gifts to believers in accordance with their beliefs. And singing their hymns.

This second path is complicated by intergenerational family ties. For a long time to come, the family of the hallowed secularist will remain at least formally religious. This will even include grown children and grandchildren. The hallowed secularist always wants the influence of religion to remain strong. It is good to be religious when you are young. You can think about the implications of belief later. So the temptation will be to join in with the religious celebrations. But at a certain point, one is then no longer forging the necessary secular path to the future.


  1. This is not a negative criticism in any way. I'd just like to point this out to you for whatever it's worth.

    I think you need to re-dedicate the blog if you want to discuss actual way-of-life changes. Off the top of my head (admittedly often wildly inaccurate), I can't think of the last post that was about concrete practices. (BTW, I still can't see your home page because of workplace filtering, but no big deal for me. This will prompt me to subscribe to the blog, so I can quickly look back at past posts)

    For instance, your Pat and Sam story that defines Hallowed Secularism has nothing to do with practice. It's completely differences in belief.

  2. Hallowed Secularism, really any kind of secularism, must be a way of life. That is one of the problems of secularism today, that it is not and does not know how to be a way of life. There have been posts about this on the blog. And the book is rather evenly divided between belief and practice. I think this is true of any belief system, that it has implications about how to live. Our religions, for example, intertwine belief and practice very well. For a short description of the role of beauty in religion, see religion dispatches, yesterday,