December 19, 2018

The Atheist Grinch

The Grinch

I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Dr. Seuss classics is limited. How the Grinch Stole Christmas and others were read to me as a child, but I cannot pretend to remember all of the details of the story. Unless I am mistaken, though, the problem with the Grinch was not that he didn't care for Christmas. Wasn't the problem that he sought to ruin it for others by plotting to steal their presents so that the holiday wouldn't even happen? Wasn't his goal to take Christmas away from others who enjoyed it?

Assuming I am remembering this correctly, I find it curious how the meaning of "Grinch" has turned into something very different. Speaking as someone who has been on the receiving end of this insult many times, it now seems to be used for anyone who does not enjoy Christmas or does not celebrate it. I have no problem at all with others enjoying the holiday. In fact, I am glad they enjoy the holiday. But because I do not, I prefer to skip it. Somehow, that makes me a Grinch.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a case of the meaning of words evolving over time. That's possible, but I've always been suspicious that it reflects something else. I suspect that some of those calling me a Grinch are saying that my choice to skip Christmas is somehow aimed at trying to ruin their holiday. I think this may be the case because some of those who have called me a Grinch have said as much. I could understand this if they were family or close friends with whom I might otherwise be celebrating, but I have heard this from casual acquaintances and even strangers. I'm not sure why what I decide to do with my Christmas affects them in any way.

The notion that some random person I don't know well or have never met could be impacted by the fact that I don't celebrate Christmas reminds me of something many atheists have encountered. It reminds me of the Christian or other religious believer who seems to be affected by my atheism even though it has nothing to do with them. There are religious believers who seem genuinely troubled by the existence of atheists, almost as if the fact that we are out there disrupts their lives in some way. That's what some of this Grinch stuff reminds me of.

I have had conversations too many times over the years in which someone repeatedly insists that I should celebrate Christmas even after I've told them that I stopped celebrating Christmas decades ago because I realized that I did not enjoy it. "You should enjoy it," they insist. What does that even mean? I do not enjoy it, and that's why I don't celebrate it. It doesn't make sense to me to celebrate something I don't particularly like. The more of these conversations I've had, the more they remind me of similar conversations with religious believers about how I should attend their preferred church even though I don't believe in their gods or that I should believe in their gods even though I've explained that I cannot.

For someone like me who does not care for Christmas, this time of year sometimes feels like a van filled with Southern Baptists has parked in front of my house, an experience I have endured far too often here in Mississippi. The difference is that this van stays put for an entire month, and its passengers will not take no for an answer. No matter what I do, they keep knocking. Fortunately, I have learned to deal with this fairly well as the years have passed. It does not bother me as much as it used to, mostly because I have learned how to escape from it for a while when it gets to be too much.

What does get old is the whole Grinch thing and the implication that something is seriously wrong with me for having no interest in celebrating Christmas. I'm already told that something is seriously wrong with me because I do not go along with the popular Christian delusion, and hearing the same sort of thing about Christmas every year gets tiresome. I suppose there is often a price to be paid for one's unwillingness to conform with whatever is popular.