How the Godless and Believers Celebrate Christmas Together

By Keith Kloor
Dec 24, 2012 8:42 PMNov 19, 2019 8:50 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

My mother-in-law is is one of the kindest, most open-minded persons I know. A retired elementary school teacher who taught for four decades in a gritty urban district, she radiates intelligence and goodness. She stands with science on all the hot-button issues of our day, such as evolution. Now in her early 80s, she is also politically progressive and culturally and ethnically tolerant. I admire her deeply. The fact that my mother-in-law is a devout Christian does not diminish any of the above. As an atheist, I obviously don't share her faith in God, but I don't hold it against her, or think less of her. Why should I, especially since she doesn't hold my lack of belief against me? I know my mother-in-law is disappointed that her daughter (my wife) did not have a church wedding and that her two grandsons are not baptized. But she has never made an issue out of this with her daughter or me. Because she is so respectful of the views of others, that's another reason why I respect her deeply. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how important my mother-in-law's religious faith is to her. I've never once tried to disabuse her of this faith, much less belittle it. Yes, I know that religion has been a force for intolerance, superstition, and unspeakable violence throughout the history of humanity. I get that part. But there is also no denying that religion, for all its terrible downsides, plays an essential, meaningful role in people's lives. I am someone who believes that science and religion can co-exist, because individuals like my mother-in-law demonstrate that it can. I know this makes me an "accomodationist" in the eyes of some atheists. So be it. My perspective on religion and faith is the same as Jim Al-Khalili, the physicist and incoming President of the British Humanist Association, who said this in a recent interview:

I am a cuddly atheist. Someone who doesn't feel the need to tell you that what you believe in is stupid. Take my mother, I will tell her: 'I'm happy for you, because I know your religious faith fills a hole in your life.' I can see how important it is to her to have this faith. What right do I have to destroy it? I'd like to see her one day say: 'You know, I don't think God exists,' but I'm not going to be arguing and pushing that she is wrong. I am against creationism being taught in schools because there is empirical evidence that it is a silly notion, but I don't put religious faith in that bracket. I have no evidence to prove there is no God. The burden of proof is on them, yes, but I don't force it upon them to prove it. If they want to have a religious faith that is up to them. I won't dictate to them. "I'm not going to have a debate with someone whose religious faith is very important to them and expect them to say: 'Ah, of course, you're right. There is no God.' It's not going to happen. If people turn away from religion it is because they see there is no need in their worldview for a supernatural being guiding how they live their lives.

Over the next two days I'll be in the company of my mother-in-law and those in my wife's family who participate in the Christmas holiday. It'll be a joyous time for the Godless and the believers among us, not least because we love and accept each other.


Image: Wikimedia Commons


1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.