Saturday, 17 December 2011

Carols, Christmas and Complaining Christians

I sang in the choir at a carol service the other week. This generated some interesting and rather infuriating responses from various people. Strangely, it wasn’t the atheists telling me that I was going over to the dark side and shouldn’t be participating in Christmas celebrations, but the Christians, who were apparently angry at the idea of an atheist in their church. Apparently the very idea of an atheist singing in a choir in a church shows that the atheist concerned is clearly only doing so in order to laugh at the Christians.

I hid my atheism from the other people in the choir. When I signed up, I did send an email to the conductor saying I would join as long as she didn’t mind that I was an outspoken atheist – she didn’t. I assumed, however, that the rest of the choir members would be participating because of their religious beliefs more than their enjoyment of singing. Imagine my surprise when, in the pub after the service, one of my fellow choristers noticed the National Secular Society badge I’d forgotten I had on my coat, which started a conversation between four of us about our atheism. Yes, that’s right, at least four out of the nine members of the choir were atheist.

"Where is she going with this?” you may ask. Well, I want to make it clear for once and for all that it is ABSOLUTELY FINE for atheists to celebrate Christmas. I know the reasons have been pointed out many times before, but I live in hope that maybe one day the people who they are aimed at (i.e. the Christians trying to tell me to stop celebrating Christmas) will actually read them.

1.      Christians don’t have a monopoly on the day. I can celebrate any day of the year that I like! It’s convenient that my family are all in one place on Christmas Day and in the mood for playing games and giving each other presents, so what’s to stop me celebrating then? Nothing. The meaning that Christians attribute to December 25 does not and should not prevent me from having a good time on that day too.

2.      Some atheists have been heard occasionally to suggest that we should celebrate a different festival instead, e.g. the winter solstice on December 22nd. The problem is, if we did so we would be more or less celebrating on our own, because everyone else would be celebrating Christmas. That would be a rubbish celebration, wouldn’t it?

3.      Christmas these days is increasingly secular anyway. The reason for the season is much more about friends and family, giving and receiving presents, eating silly amounts of food, drinking a little too much and watching old favourites on telly. And why shouldn’t it be? What exactly is wrong with enjoying giving gifts to your family?

4.      If you can’t celebrate Christmas without Christ, you aren’t allowed to have Thursdays without Thor or Fridays without Frey. Sorry, you just can’t.

5.      Christians stole the celebration and indeed most of the traditions from the pagans in the first place. The celebrations went from being about many gods to being about one... I want to celebrate it with one god fewer. And what’s more, I’m not trying to stop people from celebrating it according to their own religion (like the Christians did to the pagans), I just want the right to celebrate in my own way and for my own reasons.

There are so many more reasons but I won’t labour the point. I celebrate Christmas because I like it. I don’t believe in the virgin birth but I do believe in spending time with my family. Is that so wrong?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Craig v Law debate analysis

I have to admit, I was rather disappointed with Monday’s debate between Stephen Law and William Lane Craig on the topic “Does God exist?” Having seen some of William Lane Craig’s previous debates, I went into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster expecting it to be like hitting my head repeatedly against a brick wall and I wasn’t far wrong... a great shame because I know Stephen Law to be an intelligent, eloquent man and a great philosopher.

Craig commenced by talking about infinity and how, because we find it difficult to get our heads around, it must be a figment of our imaginations. He then used this as proof that the universe had to have had a beginning and therefore it must have been caused by a god. There are so many problems with these assertions – the mind boggles. Quite apart from anything else, Craig’s god is supposed to be infinite: if infinity is merely a figment of our imaginations, surely his god must be too! Yet the Christians who made up the vast majority of the audience (to be expected since one had to sign up to a Christian website to book tickets) appeared not to notice the massive flaws in Craig’s argument; again, I suppose, to be expected. After the kalam cosmological argument, Craig used the argument from morality (how can we have objective morality without god?) and the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus (basically “the Bible says it, so it must be true”).

Law’s opening speech was fascinating and funny – his evil god argument is fantastic, going along the lines that belief in an evil god is clearly ridiculous but exactly the same arguments can be made for the existence of an evil god as can be made for Craig’s good god. It is a shame, however, that the audience of Christians didn’t get the point at all (as became painfully obvious in the Q&A afterwards). Further difficulty came in the fact that, even with two of Craig’s usual arguments not being used on this occasion, there would not have been time for Law to refute the remaining ones in the time he had, without taking away from his central argument regarding evil god. The arguments Craig makes are easily refutable but it takes time, something which he knows his opponent doesn’t have in such a debate.

Craig dodged giving proper answers to Law’s points, yet still managed to claim victory because, although the points Law made were great, he didn’t refute the kalam cosmological argument. This left Craig free to announce that since Law was merely arguing against the Christian god rather than the very wishy-washy form of deism which the kalam argument aims to show, he had not proved that god does not exist. Against this, Law’s final statement that Craig had not managed to answer a single one of his points fell flat.

Speaking to some Christian attendees afterwards, my disappointment was compounded by being told that they pitied us for not having a better speaker, because William Lane Craig had won by miles and it clearly hadn’t been a challenge for him at all. Although I admire Stephen Law, unfortunately I had to agree with my Christian acquaintance – his logic paled into insignificance compared to Craig’s showmanship.

Having seen Stephen Law, an intelligent man who brought up some very good arguments, defeated in debate by William Lane Craig purely because Craig is more skilled at rhetoric and spin, I can easily understand why Richard Dawkins continually refuses to debate with him. If we atheists are going to show Craig’s arguments to the world at large for the frankly pathetic attempts that they are, we need people to defend our stance who are not only knowledgeable about the subject matter but well trained in oratory and debating skills.