Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Atheist group makes holiday season its own
By David Schulte World Staff Writer 12/21/2005

To members of The Humanist Association of Tulsa, God, the second coming of Jesus Christ and angels with wings are myths similar to Santa Claus, green elves and flying reindeer.

The group has 30 members, who are predominantly atheists or agnostic, said Dan Nerren of Sand Springs, the organization's president.

Although they do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, humanists are tolerant of those who do, because the season of giving and good will toward others is consistent with their own belief that people need to make the world a more peaceful and better place.

Because humanists do not believe an eternal life awaits people when they die, humanity must make the most of life on earth, and the best way to do that is by finding harmony living with others, said Tulsa's Randy Bradley, vice president of the organization.

"The fact that there is no magic man in the sky does not reduce your capacity for joy or for love," he said. "Life is as precious, and probably more so for the humanists, because we realize that all the evidence points that this is all there is, and we ought to treat each other as best as we can, because there is no pie in the sky afterwards."

For the humanists, the holiday rituals of exchanging gifts and having formal dinners are ways to enjoy the fellowship of others.

They also have found their own special day in December to plan such events: the Winter Solstice, which begins Dec. 21. This year, the group held its annual Winter Solstice gathering on Dec. 18.

Long before Christians celebrated Christ's birth, ancient civilizations celebrated seasons, because they represented a change in the cycle of life, Bradley said. To celebrate the winter season, many humanists' families decorate a tree and place gifts underneath it.

"The party was there before they moved Jesus' birthday to December," Bradley said.
When humanists hear Christmas greetings from others, "They just let it roll off their back," Nerren said.

Although many of the humanists have adapted the holiday season to fit within their secular beliefs, Tulsa's Bea McCartney is one member who no longer follows the traditions of the holiday. With the exception of buying a few small gifts for her grandchildren, she no longer exchanges gifts with others, because she is "very anti-materialistic."

"It's just a waste of time and money," she said of the Christmas season.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Christmas season is that it has become too commercialized, Bradley said.

"As for people getting together and being kind to one another, we're all for that," he said.

McCartney views the story of Jesus Christ like any story in the Bible: She believes it was something that was passed down from one generation to another and greatly exaggerated before it was written.

"There is nothing in it divinely inspired," she said. "It's partly myth, partly legend."

McCartney respects others' right to celebrate Christmas and worship God, but she is offended when Christians or people of other faiths thrust their religious views on her, she said.

Although most humanists find it easy to blend in with those who worship God, Bradley does not hesitate to share his views on religion when he attends holiday parties.

When it comes to God, Bradley is completely "out of the closet."

"I go to company Christmas parties, and ultimately, at some point, we will probably discuss religion," he said. "I try not to be hostile, but I try to be honest."

Bradley said he bases his atheist views on a lack of scientific evidence of God's existence.
He and Nerren also believe recent world events support their views.

They point to the thousands of innocent humans who have died within the past two years because of hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes as evidence that God does not exist. A loving, omnipotent God would not let these disasters occur, they said.

"If there is a God, he is delinquent," Nerren said.

Tulsa's Marilyn Clark, a humanist, said most people's belief in God is a longing for something that is kind and good in the world.

Because humanists do not believe in an eternal life in heaven, they feel that their bond with others is perhaps greater than most people's.

If the only possible paradise that can exist is on earth, it is important that people treat each other with love and respect each day, and just not during the holiday season, they said.

"In the end, everyone is going to die, and we realize that," Bradley said. "Life is short and sweet, so we are going to be kind, good and just -- this is the only chance that we're going to get."

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