Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Merry Christmas to our Christian Friends

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 11, 1999

Posted to NewsTrolls, 12 December 1999.

Dorrington, California - I have been spending a relaxing holiday reading biographies of the Byzantine emperor Justinian and of the Roman Julius Caesar. To go back two millenia to the foundations of western civilization seemed appropriate. What astonishes me is not how little we know of this time, but how much.

If you had to classify me as religious, then classify me as Taoist. Yes, I know it's not very western, and not even a form of deity worship, but it's the best I can do given the faculties and reason at my disposal. Taoism, for me, at least has the virtue of being based in the senses; this is a lot better than the stories of a fatherly god and heavenly afterlife can provide.

Yes, Pasty, some point in the future I will write at length on what Taoism means to me and to modern society...

I am happy to grant Christians their celebrations, and for that matter Jews, Moslems and others of other faiths. But contra Calgold I do not wish to be wished a happy Christmas, even - nay, especially - in its post-Christian materialistic pro- nuclear family sense. For even this new sense of Christianity is a continuation of the old religion, though in the new guise in which it presents itself.

Leaving religion aside - Christmas is a very difficult time for people who, for one reason or another, do not have family. The orphaned, the estranged, the widowed and divorced - all are shunted aside in generic wishes for "you and your family".

Leaving religion aside - Christmas is a very difficult time for the poor and indigent. There is to be sure implicit in most Christmas literature the idea that you should spend money and buy gifts. Or at the very least you should travel - where else - to visit your family.

I spent many years on my own and living in poverty. For me, for those years, Christmas was a very alienating experience, one which reminded me as no propaganda campaign could that I was an outcast, a pariah, all for the sins of being poor and away from my family.

In Taoism I find a system of belief which focuses far more on cultivating one's individual worth rather than on material possessions or even on love, family or even happiness. The western religions, and the consequent irreligious western culture, focuses so much more on selfishness, focusses on the attainment of material goods, love for oneself, or everlasting life in the hereafter.

Something deep inside me rejects this. Probably the only spiritual bone I have in my body is the one which tells me that there is no salvation in selfishness, and that even to seek salvation is itself an act of selfishness.

I try every year to quietly live by my beliefs and to allow everyone else to celebrate this time of the year in their own way; I am subject annually to months of propaganda and catcalls of 'scrooge' and 'grinch' (and any propagandist worth his salt would recognize these as not so subtle objectifications of the enemy).

I don't know the answer to religious questions; to this I freely admit. But in that state of not knowing I resist the attempts of those to lead me down a path which implies belief in one, or another, alternative. I will believe only insofar as my eyes and my mind will let me; to those further articles of faith, I leave the faithful.

All this may make it sound like I am bitter. I am not. Yes, please, have a happy holiday. Eat, drink and be merry.

But remember Caesar. Remember that he believed he was the descendent of Venus, and remember that he unleashed war and horror though the entire Mediterrenean world to support his beliefe that he, above all others, should be honoured before the Gods.

Caesar's gods are now nothing more than shattered statues in Greece and Rome, and Caesar's ghost lives on only the the laugh tracks of old episodes of Coach.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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