Ruining Everything: A Cautionary Tale

This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.

Someone recently sent me a list of “Science Carols” as a secular alternative to Christmas music. Here’s one to the tune of “Jingle Bells”:

A comet hits the earth, it’s made of methane ice,
it makes a giant force, now isn’t that so nice?
So, what made it come here? What made it hit the earth?
The answer’s very clear, my friend, it fills you up with mirth!!

GRAV-I-TY, GRAV-I-TY, keeps us on the ground.
An apple fell on Newton, he said, “What goes up comes down.”
GRAV-I-TY, GRAV-I-TY, mass time nine point eight.
Remember, travel very fast if earth you must escape.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

The impulse to find meaningful secular ways to celebrate traditionally religious holidays is a noble one. But please, not like this.

I will admit it: I freaking love Christmas. I especially love Christmas carols. And, probably weirdest of all, I especially especially love the really super pious churchy carols.

What’s more, I like them how they are. I am mildly disgusted with this abuse of “Jingle Bells,” but if you mess with “O Holy Night,” I will cut you.

This is not how we secularize holidays. This is not how we build sustainable Humanistic traditions. This is how we make everybody sad.

This upsets me almost as much as when Cee Lo Green decided it would be a good idea to change the line “and no religion too” to “and all religion’s true” in John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Really, Cee Lo? Everybody knows atheists are already lacking for good songs, and you had to go and break our best one?

I don’t understand why we should need to believe in the literal truth of every claim in a song in order to enjoy it. Narrative, verse, and music are potent media for conveying ideas and feelings about the human condition. These stories can be equally powerful whether they are fact or fiction. I have been just as affected by Arcadia and The Unbearable Lightness of Being as I have been by Stiff and Walden. You don’t need to be a wizard to enjoy Harry Potter. Or, as a former member of the Harvard Secular Society once said in an NPR Weekend Edition story, “You can listen to ‘My Sharona’ without believing in the existence of Sharona.”

The Christmas story speaks to some very strong, universal human impulses. We want a morally pure and infallible leder. We want to be saved from ourselves. We want a way to let go of guilt and erase past mistakes. We want to be found when we feel lost. We want guidance as clear and hopeful as a star. We want to live in communities of love and compassion and brotherhood. We like cute little babies. So why can’t we just enjoy it for what it is: a powerful story?

Instead of messing with the near-perfection that is Christmas, let’s enjoy it as it is and focus on coming up with our own equally awesome holidays, traditions, and stories from scratch. We have a pretty good start with Darwin Day, but we have a long way to go!

…Can I go back to enjoying my Jesus songs now?

Chelsea Link is the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard.

One comment on “Ruining Everything: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Pingback: Accidental Traditions | The Humanist Community Project

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