By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist–
Atheists and humanists are using bus, city and highway billboards to proclaim the myth of Christmas. Religious folks are having their annual conniption about the so-called disrespect. Others complain retailers use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Step back and look at the big picture. People are the same all over the world regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or level of faith. They get caught up in the mundane, the meaningless, or the small stuff.
Personally, I like seeing atheists and humanists make their case during Christmastime. They’re right. Christmas is a myth. Mary did not give birth to Jesus in December. Accepting December 25 as the birth of Jesus had more to do with converting pagans. Jesus is likely to have been born in late spring or early summer.
Atheists and humanists challenge people of faith to explore spirituality. I’m called to move beyond personal and spiritual comfort zones. Ultimately, I’m reminded genuine faith isn’t threatened or determined by a billboard. Nor do I think the Maker of the Cosmos cares who says what on a billboard.
I wonder, however, if atheists and humanists sometimes protest too much. Certainly, I understand the discrimination shown to them by society for being non-believers. Yet, the reaction, as evidenced by billboards, seems a bit over the top. As the writer Dostoevsky noted, “There are no atheists, just restless souls.” Similarly, Christians who froth at the mouth in outrage over the billboards also prompt me to ask, why? What does personal faith, if it’s solid and genuine have to do with a billboard? Nothing.
A lot of time, money and energy will be used in this heated debate. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter! Here’s something that does – the Ali Forney Center, AFC, in New York City. The Center is a shelter and transitional housing for LGBTQ homeless youth. Hurricane Sandy destroyed its drop-in center in New York’s Chelsea area.
According to Carl Siciliano, AFC’s Executive Director, “Our worst fears were realized; everything was destroyed and the space is uninhabitable. The water level went four feet high, destroying our phones, computers, refrigerator, food and supplies.”
He also noted the lost space “was dedicated to our most vulnerable kids, the thousands stranded on the streets without shelter, and was a place where they received food, showers, clothing, medical care, HIV testing and treatment, and mental health and substance abuse services. Basically a lifeline for LGBT kids whose lives are in danger. We are currently scrambling for a plan to provide care to these desperate kids while we prepare to ultimately move into a larger space.”
“For the past seven years it has been a place of refuge to thousands of kids reeling from being thrown away by their parents for being LGBT,” according to Siciliano. “For many of these kids coming to our drop-in center provided their first encounter with a loving and affirming LGBT community.”
It’s always fun to receive a gift to unwrap regardless of the occasion. This year, however, consider going to AliForneyCenter.org to add something extra special to a gift stocking, like a small card noting your donation.
Every day we empower someone to make us angry, frustrated, or feel bad. We often, as the expression goes, sweat the small stuff, forgetting what really matters. Rather than get upset by billboards or right-wing religious activists, re-focus energy on giving a gift in someone’s name that will make a difference. Please donate to AliForneyCenter.org.
*Paul is an author, attorney, and a seminary trained, ordained priest in greater Albany, NY. He recently authored “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis – Learn to Live and Work Ethically,” and is founder of www.CorporateChaplaincy.biz.”