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Christmas At The Salvation Army


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Going to the Salvation Army with my Dad this year at Christmas felt even stranger than last year.


Last year I was ex-christian and had been for several years. But I still had a pantheist concept of God. But this year I was atheist and experienced an even greater level of strangeness and feeling out of place.


As a pantheist ex-christian I could still make things work for me symbolically. The Bible readings about the Christmas story still worked for me on some mythical, symbolic level - and many of the Christmas carols too. During the Sermon part I might have my own private tut-tuttings over things I disagreed with, but I could console myself with the idea that I understood this religion and God thing better than they did - and more to the point it was all still relevant to me, even if negatively.


But this year - as an atheist - I experienced a whole other level of strange.


The symbolising of things to force them into my own level of understanding didn't really work very well anymore. Oddly enough, it was the carols that I found easiest to symbolise. God is code for the Universe, Jesus is code for human consciousness and learning from our mistakes, sin is code for those mistakes, angels are code for those moments of learning truth, shepherds are code for Israel, wise men are code for the East. The carols worked fairly well when treated in this way. I actually got something out of them.


But the Bible readings seemed dead and useless. Nonsense and bullshit, the result of a clumsy fusion of messianic hope and Mithraic mysticism - I couldn't get anything worthwhile out of it at all. And the Sermon just seemed a total waste of time.


Plus we were treated to some cheesy, embarrassing 'drama'. The kind that tries to tell the Christmas story in a new and novel way, that tries to use comedy (the cheesiest of comedy) to somehow make some kind of point. It half seems as if they are making fun of the story, as if the only way to connect with the audience is to create cheap laughs. I don't even know what the spiritual point of it all was. It was just a load of cheesy, painfully trying to be funny but failing to, crappy nonsense. I remember thinking - "either treat the Christmas story seriously or ruthlessly make fun of it - but watering it down for entertainment while still holding to its premises in such a naive and literal way is just totally pointless and insulting to me as a human being". It's almost like they're saying "look, we know that many of you don't really get much significance from all this heavy religious stuff anyway but just come to the meetings for all the external aspects of religion, so we'll exploit the biblical story for purposes of cheap entertainment so that you don't feel you've sacrificed your sense of humour in order to be a christian. And we'll pretend that we're doing it to get some message across, when really it's just a legitimate way for christians to get their laughs."


I felt for the first time just how hard I was straining to make it all relevant to me somehow. In the end I concluded that it just isn't relevant, even symbolically.


"What am I doing here?" I thought. "None of this matters to me or seems relevant to me at all. Why are these people wasting so much time on this bullshit?"


It was quite a shock actually to find that I couldn't really get anything out of it at all. When I was still some form of theist, even if i wasn't christian anymore - I still could get something out of religious services. Even if I was privately shaking my head and disagreeing with some things, even if at certain times I refused to sing some of the words of songs because I didn't agree with the theology of them - i would still find things that I could relate to or that i could put into my own understandings and interpretations so that I could relate to them.


But this time it all seemed like a hopeless waste of time. I didn't get anything out of it at all. They all seemed like a bunch of deluded people, wasting their life and their contentment on a whole lot of pointless nonsense. I felt there was no point in me being there. I felt there was no point in them being there. It felt like some surreal journey into another world or another time - one that I just didn't understand at all. I couldn't make sense of anything that was happening. I felt totally disconnected from it all.


And it all seemed like a tragic waste of human emotion, human energy, human thought and words, a waste of human lives even. WHY do they waste their time and energy on this? WHY do they humiliate themselves by spouting all this nonsense?


I felt like I was a fraud and an imposter even being there.


Maybe it would have been better in a different kind of church. A church with more ritual and mystery to it (Catholic perhaps) - and maybe I could have got more out of it. Maybe then I could have sunk myself into mystery and symbolism kind of mode and appreciated it all on a level of the human spirit yearning for and reaching out towards the cosmos. Maybe and maybe not.


But I don't ever want to go back to the Salvation Army again. It means nothing to me now. In fact, I don't want to bother with any form of protestant christianity any more, not even at Christmas. Perhaps candles and incense - a bit of mystery and ritual could allow me to suspend my disbelief. But the bare protestant form of service. I can't bear it anymore - not even at Christmas.


The religious side of Christmas no longer has any meaning for me :(

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I'm sorry to hear that your experience was bad. Hope you have a better new year.

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EB, thanks for sharing. It seems you have made an important transition in your deconversion, in your journey away from religion. I'm thinking over my own journey to see if I can find similarities. It was approximately a year ago that I concluded that there probably is no god. It was just a quiet, intellectual conclusion due to many years of seeking, just the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place. No fanfare, no great aha moment of insight. Just a gradual realization that yeah, there probably is no god and that probably makes me an atheist but so what. My family had been treating me like the evil atheist for months already because I made a few mistakes and leaked information best kept confidential.


So anyway, atheist or not, I liked Christmas music. Or so I thought. I really wanted to attend a Christmas Eve service for the music. Since I don't drive, the easiest one to attend was with my landlady so I went with her and her daughter. There was quite a crowd and the singing was good but somehow I found it empty.


In March my mother passed away. I attended her funeral at the church of my childhood with my sisters. It was meaningful for me to know that things were being done according to her religion. I had been to many and many a funeral in that church but my mother had been my spiritual teacher and mentor from early childhood well into adulthood. It was important for me to see the literal fulfillment of the "final rites" of her religion because I knew how she felt and believed more intimately than anybody else whose funeral I had ever attended. From a religious studies perspective this was important.


After the funeral I felt a desire to attend the modern Mennonite church I had been attending four years earlier so I arranged with a friend to attend. I wanted to go for the music and fellowship. It was great, though I did feel kind of like a fraud when people expressed joy that I had "come back." I knew they meant "back to God." Also, there was the problem with the words of the songs. When you don't think there is even a pantheist kind of god there is just nothing to which to ascribe the feelings the songs are designed to evoke. (Hey! isn't that evidence that we don't worship ourselves? The Christians accuse us of worshiping ourselves; they say it is impossible not to worship something. I am thinking if we worshipped ourselves we would ascribe those feelings to ourselves that we normally as Christians directed to God. And since we find no one and nothing to whom or what to direct or ascribe those feelings I guess we're not worshipping ourselves at all. That's pretty strong evidence in my opinion.)


After several weeks I didn't feel like going anymore and I haven't been back. I don't know what was going on with me but that was the last I attended a church service. This is not saying I will never darken a church doorway; I just haven't been to a service since then. I did attend a fund-raiser supper with an atheist friend because he didn't want to go alone and another friend paid for my portion. The whole friend thing had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with one man's craving for a cultural dish that is not easy to come by. She couldn't get off work early enough to go with him so she asked me if I was willing to go. Sure, if he was comfortable going, so was I.


Now we come to this Christmas. I did not go to church. But I have been playing christmas music a LOT. Religious and secular. I attended a Winter Solstice Event with the Ontario Freethinker/Humanist Association. I found them on the internet in June because I felt a need for community of live like-minded people (as opposed to internet contacts). I would strongly encourage any exChristian to look up a local group of Freethinkers or humanists or skeptics or whatever exists in your area.


If you don't know where to start you can always start with my sig but there's lots of other ways. Google is your friend.

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