This is the first Christmas that I am without my children. But I am not sentimental about Christmas not having really grown up with it. As a child in Iran I remember having a tree in my room and singing carols in Mrs. Hekmat and The Community schools, the former run by a wonderful Jewish woman and the latter by old American missionaries. My mother having also attended the same missionary school run by American’s in Iran had a soft spot in her heart for Christmas and indulged me in my requests for a tree. But Christmas was, in truth, an import, something taken from the westerners and enjoyed, a novelty like Lego blocks.
I am an atheist with very little tolerance for the pseudo-spirituality that has gripped the secular world of perfectly educated people. With the rise of the Christian Right in the West and Islamic Fundamentalism in the East I have indeed come to see religion more and more as a dangerous force or at least a great liability for the cultural and moral evolution of humanity. Yet this morning when I wrote an email to my thirteen-year-old daughter I found myself singing praises of Jesus. Here is why:
Jesus as a historic figure, or even a mythological one for the die-hard skeptics, is a great role model. He was a man who bore a message of love, forgiveness and peace. Jesus embraced poverty and preached honesty. He rose up to defend the poor and down-trodden in a time when violence, hypocrisy and corruption were rampant throughout the mighty Roman Empire. He believed in his message to the point of self-sacrifice. This willingness to die in order to make the world a better place this ultimate show of courage is what gives Jesus his historic and mythological stature and makes us remember him today. Had Jesus repented we would not have Christmas. No Cross, no Jesus. Many may say that we would not have the in Inquisition or the Crusades either but we cannot blame a man who by all accounts acted peacefully and preached love for the act of mal-intentioned followers many centuries later.
From Jesus we learn that love is more powerful than hate. We learn from him that in fact loving those who hate us is the best way to teach them how to stop hating. We learn from Jesus that greatness comes more from the strength and logic of ideas than wealth and power. That there is no shame in poverty only in our inability to hope and endure suffering. Jesus teaches us that true freedom comes from our ability to forgive our own shortcomings and those of other’s and to imagine a better world. I do not believe in Jesus as a prophet, I am an atheist but I can still tell my children that they can learn a lot from the basic tenants of his teachings. Here’s to Jesus!
Merry Christmas everyone!
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