Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Xmas, Dear Atheists!

Merry Xmas is the explicit seasonal wish of a group calling itself “American Atheists.” Posting an ad at Times Square with the message “Who needs Christ during Christmas,” the electronic billboard message proceeds to X out the word “Christ” and encourages readers to “celebrate the true meaning of Xmas.” Fair enough! Merry Xmas, dear atheists! Apparently, you do not realize that the X in Xmas is not the English letter X. Rather, it is--as any self-respecting fraternity brother or sorority sister knows--the Greek letter X (pronounced: Chi). The letter X (Chi) is the first letter of the Greek word CHRISTOS, which is transliterated: Christ. Xmas, therefore, is but an abbreviation for CHRISTMAS. The billboard asks the rhetorical question, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A rhetorical question is one that requires no answer because the answer is so obvious. Apparently, however, the American Atheists do not trust readers enough to figure out the “correct” answer on their own, so the billboard supplies the answer: “nobody.” What seems like a more obvious answer, however, is that ATHEISTS need “Christ” during Christmas—just as they need “God” (Greek: THEOS) in order to be true A-THEOS-ISTS (atheists). Kenneth Burke calls it “the paradox of substance.” The paradox is that in order to be a true protagonist, you NEED to have an antagonist.
In order to be truly “Eve,” she needed a “Serpent” to tempt her. In order to be a true “Florida State Seminole,” one needs a “Florida Gator” to oppose (just as a “Purdue Boilermaker” needs an “Indiana Hoosier,” an “Ohio State Buckeye” needs a “Michigan Wolverine,” the “New York Yankees” need the “Boston Red Sox,” and for the longest time, “the United States of America” needed “the Soviet Union”). The nature of Drama is such that we must always look for the “what is vs. what” factor in all dramas. Snow White needs a Wicked Queen. Cinderella needs a Wicked Stepmother. Hansel and Gretel need the witch. All of Disney’s heroes need Disney’s villains to make the stories go.
What would an atheist be without a THEOS? Without a real opponent, an atheist would be just an “A.” So the true question is WHY do atheists choose God and Christ as their opponents? Kenneth Burke speculates in Attitudes Toward History (p. 52-53): “Atheism (and, in keeping, a categorical denial of immortality) is a statement of faith that necessarily cannot be substantiated by a ‘weighing of all the evidence.’ When you find a man who is exceptionally eager to deny the possibility of immortality (as though he ‘could not rest’ without a constant ‘secular prayer’ to the effect that death is absolute) you may legitimately grow quizzical of his intensity. Why such zest? Might it not come from a fear of punishment after death? For it is obvious that, if the possibility were either death or heaven, there would be no incentive for a man to become engrossed in the denial of immortality. He would let the matter slide, content to await his sojourn in paradise when it came, and to go about his business in the interim. If, on the other hand, the possibility of immortality contained for him the likelihood of his taking up permanent residence in hell, he would have ‘good emotional reasons’ for wanting to ‘pray’ immortality out of existence. Hence, when we see a man who goes out of his way to amass evidence that ‘proves’ mortality, we should take his engrossment as a somewhat unwieldy and roundabout way of cancelling guiltiness. The man . . . who says ‘absolutely not’ is driven by .. . the fear of immortality (which could only derive from a latent fear of hell that stimulated him thus indirectly to ‘legislate’ the possibility out of existence).”
Burke’s speculation seems to find some corroboration in a recent social scientific study conducted in Finland. The article, published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (February 19, 2013), asked subjects to dare God to perform terrible acts (such as “I dare God to paralyze ______”) against themselves, their parents, friends, and children. The majority of subjects were self-described atheists. When asked to read aloud these dares while hooked up to a skin-conductance meter, which measures the amount of sweat produced, the atheists tested produced the same levels of stress as did the believers. Is there a latent fear of God and Christ that motivates atheists to choose them as their enemy? Oh, well! Merry Xmas, dear atheists!

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