December 27, 2004

Wake the Heathens

"Ring the bell, Fred. Wake the heathens! Ring the bell!"

I liked minister Ken more the more I heard him preach. At first I was intimidated because he's quite a big man, wide and tall, in the same way that I'm not. Also, we were in his church, and he's a minister. I figured a real minister could see through me and know immediately that a hypocrite had entered his church on Christmas Eve.

But of course minister Ken is one of those religious people who actually takes the word of God to heart and has more interest in being kind to people than in judging them, like so many "religious" people focused on "moral values" who have risen to political power. So I came to realize quickly that neither he, nor any other member of the Buckingham Congregation, had judged me for attending Christmas Eve service while not believing in God. Plus, my parents are members of the church and my father a Deacon, so perhaps they assumed I actually do believe in God.

I don't know why, exactly, I like to attend Christmas Eve service. I certainly would never attend a mass, or even a congregational church service on any day other than Christmas Eve or perhaps Easter. The origins of our holidays are important to me, even if I don't embrace the true meanings of those origins. That is, when I truly search my heart, I can not find it within me to believe that a baby was born of a virgin in a cow stall, announced by angels with trumpets and wings, and that that baby became the Savior of all God's People. I have a difficult time believing in the infinity of a monotheistic deity that Controls all Things and Created Everything with a particular order, or that the human species happens to be foremost among His mind and that our Plight is his Main Concern.

I find it much easier to believe in an infinity of chance that everything just happened to come together in a certain way to create you, me, the Earth, the Internet (with a little help from Al Gore), and Blogger. I find it easy to believe that there is something larger than ourselves that we simply can't perceive or understand. But I just can't come to grips with the idea of God, or the idea that God decided to have a son during the Roman empire specifically for the purpose of having him suffer for everyone else's sins.

Maybe I was raised with too much Star Trek, which often took mythical figures and caricatured them by turning them into minor superhero type figures who had tricked Earthlings into believing in their divinity. Perhaps I was a product of the first really internationalized generation, exposed to so many different religious ideas that I find it impossible to believe that any one of them could be the "true" religion. Or maybe I've read too much medieval history to accept that the Christian church is really anything more than a corporation created for the express purpose of weilding political power amid all-powerful monarchies.

Whatever the origin of my beliefs, I still enjoy Christmas Eve service, which ends around midnight, particularly in the church of my father, in the neighborhood in which I came of age, surrounded by New England calendar photo-ops and comfortable wealth and self-righteousness. This year was a little different but still just as enjoyable.

As the congregation sang Silent Night to close the service, and the minister disappeared into the back to be at the door to wish us all merry Christmas on our way out, all these thoughts filled me, along with the intended inspiration of bearing goodwill to all mankind, everywhere in the world. I could not tell which around me believed every word said and sung about God and angels, but it did not matter in that moment.

Then, after Silent Night ended and the pianist and violinist struck up the farewell tune, minister Ken's voice came to us in the back of the room from just behind, telling my father to ring the church bell and announce that Christmas had come. "Ring the bell, Fred. Wake the heathens! Ring the bell!"

I had to like Ken at that point. He was only doing his job, waking the heathens. Though I don't share his beliefs about Truth, I still think it's important to ring the church bells at midnight on Christmas Eve, if only to remind us heathens that Christmas is not really about Santa Claus and Mattel and Gameboy and AA batteries. It is important to remember every holiday's origins and to realize what society has done to co-opt that holiday, to re-shape it and repurpose it. In that examination of the intent of the holiday, we can all come to terms with what the holiday means for each of us, heathen and Enlightened, and why we celebrate or eschew it.

I hope your Christmas was merry.


Ch@ndy said...

PJD - Definitely worth reading. I appreciate your honesty....Though, I would be surprised by anything less than honest from you.

Anonymous said...

i am a heathen and i am awake... good job at awakening me

Anonymous said...

sorry but i disagree with ch@ndy. i disappreciate your honesty....Though I wouldn't be surprised by anything less than honest from you. NOT WORTH READING. jk it's april fools where I'm from. We have April Fools on 4/20 #blazeit

Anonymous said...

*laughing in italian*