Tuesday, December 26, 2023

You Don’t Have To Be Religious To Feel The Awe Of Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all at MD …
 May 2024 bring joy to our families and chaos and confusion to those who choose to be our enemies.

WSJ Op-Ed: You Don’t Have To Be Religious To Feel The Awe Of Christmas

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed:  You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Feel the Awe of Christmas, by David DeSteno (Northeastern; Host, How God Works: The Science Behind Spirituality):

How God WorksIt’s the Christmas season, and that means I’m looking forward to going to church. On its own, that might not sound too surprising: Half of Americans plan to do the same this holiday season. But in my case, it might seem a little strange. While I still know all the prayers and when to sit and stand, from my days as an altar boy, I left my faith and churchgoing behind long ago. As a scientist, I wouldn’t be hubristic enough to claim that God doesn’t exist; that’s a question science can’t definitively answer. But neither can I find any objective evidence for God’s fingerprints in this world. So for me, church has lost its luster—except, that is, at Christmas. 

When late December rolls around, I want to go to church, even though I don’t believe in much of the creed. And if recent surveys about Americans’ holiday plans are accurate, I’m not alone. Many people who don’t set foot in a church through most of the year show up at Yuletide, including 10% of nonbelieving atheists and agnostics. Why? That’s a question to which I think I’ve finally found an answer.

The Christmas mass isn’t just an entertaining thing to do, like going to see Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular. Nor is it a simple reminder of cherished family holiday traditions. For me, and I suspect many others, going to church at Christmas offers a different kind of experience, one that’s spiritual if not religious. ...

Christmas services offer a route to transcendence for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

At times, though, I wonder whether it’s OK for me to attend Christmas services when I don’t believe in the doctrine, or even in God. Most clergy welcome all comers, though not everyone is allowed to partake in sacraments. But if God exists, what does It think?

That’s a difficult question, and I don’t profess to have the answer. Ultimately, it depends on what you think the purpose of religion is. If it’s to worship a deity, then I’m clearly failing six ways to Sunday. But if it’s to be a better person—more Christian in practice, if not belief—then I like to think God would be fine with me stopping by. After all, the reward that spiritual experiences provide isn’t a selfish one. Awe pushes us to pay goodness forward, to be more kind, generous and honest to the people around us. To embody, in essence, the Christmas spirit, whatever our theological beliefs might be.

Other op-eds by David DeSteno: