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A couple of months ago, my friends and I played laser tag for my partner’s birthday. It was a tremendous amount of fun, and I got my ass handed to me in so many ways by SO MANY LITTLE KIDS.

The thing about playing laser tag as an adult is that you and your group are quite likely going to be the only adults playing. There were so many kids playing in the same game as us, and one of them was really good. His code name was TEBOW. This was back when Tebow-mania was in full swing, and this kid… man. He came in first place the first two games we played, and he dropped to one knee and Tebowed after each one. It was annoying, sure, but it’s whatever – he’s doing what he wants to do.

The third game came around, and it started as usual – except that this time, it wasn’t TEBOW that kept showing up on our guns whenever we got tagged. It was a new user – SUPERMAN. When the session was over, we looked up at the scoreboard, and SUPERMAN had blown everyone away. A total blowout. As for TEBOW? He was sixth. Everyone ganged up on him this time and it showed. As the game master came up and started calling people up to get their score sheets, you could tell everyone was waiting for SUPERMAN to go up there so we could see what they looked like. When the GM called SUPERMAN, it was a tough-looking Latina girl who came up and got her scorecard. She looked tough and confident, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to end up as an Army sniper.

We had all been beaten by a girl. TEBOW and his buddies seemed a bit put out, I think, but my friends and I were ecstatic. And it made me giggle a bit inside – all of TEBOW’s religious rituals and his previous wins meant absolutely nothing when faced with a girl who had a good head on her shoulders and a little confidence.

It’s silly, but that game gave me hope for the future :)

Although there was one slightly unsettling thing… I looked up at the Wall of Fame before we left. Every SINGLE entry on the Wall of Fame was a church of some kind. I really hope they’re not using Laser Tag as some kind of weird God Warrior training or something.

On second thought, I hope they are. Because then we can bring in a squad of girls and put the church groups in their place!

A section of the lights on our tree is out. I tracked down the first unlit bulb in the chain, but replacing it didn’t help, so it would appear that there is an electrical fault and I’m not about to do electrical work on my vacation.

A festive Christmas tree with a band of non-working lights

Our poor little tree, but isn't it pretty?

I am an atheist, and I have a Christmas tree. A hardcore, militant, New Atheist-style atheist, and I have a Christmas tree. We would have had a menorah this year, but we couldn’t quite find one that we liked. (We are both a quarter Jewish, and one of our roommates is a secular Jew, though he is also a nonbeliever as well.) Our tree, of course, doubles as a Yule bush, although the solstice has already come and gone as pagan holidays are wont to do. I have celebrated Kwanzaa with my stepmother’s family in years past, but it has never particularly felt like my holiday and I don’t think they celebrate it anymore. I have never celebrated Ramadan or Divali or Tet, and now doesn’t particularly seem like the time to start.

So (secular) Christmas and (secular) Hanukkah it is for us, plus all of the underlying pagan undertones that both entail. I suppose we celebrate Christmas because it was our dominant celebration growing up, and it is still the de facto standard celebration for most Americans. We celebrate Hanukkah to honor our Jewish heritage as much as we celebrate it to provide at least some kind of counterpoint to the relentless onslaught of Jesus and his minions. (Fun story: my partner manages the background music and on-hold music at his office, and his office manager told him to go wild on the music selection. He included a wide variety of Christmas music as well as a (very) few Hannukah songs. He’s gotten multiple complaints from customers about the Hannukah selections.)

So our tree has rainbow lights and two garlands – one red and green, one blue and white. We have at least one ornament hanging from every branch, properly distributed to make the tree perfect. Our tree topper in past years has been a Domokun nestled in the top branches, but we couldn’t find him after the move so we now have a light-up rainbow star. In short, our tree is perfect and beautiful and we love it. Under the tree are various presents; some in red and green wrapping, some in blue and white wrapping, and some in neon-colored shiny boxes that look like Chinese takeout containers because they are pretty. The presents are filled with candy and gelt to weigh them down.

We have pizza in the oven tonight. Tomorrow night, we will celebrate in true secular Jewish fashion by having dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We’re watching Love Actually now, which is one of my favorite Christmas movies. After that, we’re watching Team America: World Police in remembrance of Kim Jong-Il. And after that, we’re watching A Christmas Story, which actually is my favorite Christmas movie. At some point, we will go to bed, exhausted and tired, and give our cats some wet food and some milk (a rare treat) and tell them Santa Paws told us they were very nice kitties this year. And then in the morning, everyone in the apartment will open presents (including one super special one that’s going to prompt another post tomorrow!) and celebrate a year well-spent. We are nominally celebrating a religious holiday, but we’re doing so using a different religion’s symbols and a whole bunch of other entirely non-religious symbols. It warms my heart to see the proliferation of completely non-religious trees, from Cthulhu trees to Flying Spaghetti Monster trees to a particularly inspired Australian tree, all of which warm the cockles of my heart.

Which I suppose brings me to my point. The “War on Christmas” is total bullshit, because Christmas is without question the dominant holiday during this time of the year, and that’s not changing any time soon. But the very dominance that Christians want to protect is also a double-edged sword: Christmas is such a big part of the nation’s collective consciousness that everyone — even non-Christians — can celebrate the parts they want to and add in new parts whenever they feel like it. And the best part is that as our culture moves further and further away from widespread superstitious belief, and as Christmas eventually does lose its death-grip on the American psyche, the biddies and blowhards who refuse to keep up will continue to be more and more marginalized while the rest of us will continue to do whatever the hell makes us happy. And that will be a very Merry Christmas indeed.

EDITED TO ADD: I was just cruising Reddit and came across this: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35kjhj/ :)

When I posted yesterday about the passing of Christopher Hitchens, I was still in a little bit of shock and pretty sad. Now that I’ve had some time to think and reflect (as well as read what some of the rest of the Internet has had to say), I have some thoughts.

I first of all want to address some of the hagiography being done of Christopher Hitchens. While most of us who posted about him mentioned that we might have had some disagreements with what he said, it’s worthwhile to go into some specifics, I think. Alex Pareene at Salon did a really decent piece titled “When Hitch was wrong“, and he makes a pretty excellent point:

The late Christopher Hitchens had the professional contrarian’s fixation on attacking sacred cows, and rather soon after his cancer diagnosis, he became one himself. I think he would’ve been disgusted to see too much worshipful treacle being written about him upon his untimely death, so let’s remember that in addition to being a zingy writer and masterful debater, he was also a bellicose warmongering misogynist.

Upon the death of the unlamented Earl Butz, Hitchens excoriated editors who published sanitized obituaries of a man remembered solely for a vulgar racist remark made in public. Hitchens leaves a rather more varied legacy, but it’s just as important not to whitewash his role in recent history.

This is absolutely true. While his writings about atheism and the importance of challenging one’s deeply-held beliefs have made the world a slightly better place, his cheerleading of the war in Iraq and general right-wing interventionist policies are, in my view, absolutely unconscionable. I do take exception to Pareene’s characterization of Hitch as a misogynist, however; Pareene points to a few examples of satire to back up his case, but I think the cited examples are more “Hitch poking the ant’s nest” rather than evidence of any particular dislike of women.

And now for something completely different. I was a little flabbergasted yesterday when I saw so many of my fellow atheist bloggers jumping on the “Twitter is censoring #GodIsNotGreat” bandwagon. I don’t know if this is just because of my background in computer programming, but it seems pretty obvious to me that Twitter doesn’t pick its trending topics. If something is currently a popular topic, it appears on the list. That’s it. Nobody has to sift through the tweets currently being tweeted and decide which are more important and which are less so. The idea that anyone at Twitter is sitting there, letting a topic appear on the trending list, and then suddenly getting cold feet and pulling it, is (again, to me) ludicrous at its core. I’m not going to name any names on this one, but I do think the incident points to a failure of critical thinking.

UPDATED TO ADD: PZ Myers said much the same regarding the dark side of Hitchens. Glenn Greenwald expands the argument further, talking about the general hagiography that surrounds the deaths of all public figures, and pointed also to a Hitchens essay I had not read, in which he basically makes the argument that it doesn’t matter that the war on terror will never end. Hitchens was a complex figure, and as I said previously, I admire a great many things about him even where I do not agree with his arguments. I think Hitchens was a gifted orator and writer, I think his arguments in defense of atheism will still be discussed in glowing terms many years from now, but I also think his unabashed embrace of neo-conservative foreign policy is a massive dark spot on his legacy.

I don’t have any real love for the winter holiday season. I find it mostly pointless and full of ostentatious displays of holiday “cheer” that are cheerless for anyone who doesn’t believe. I, however, am a minority in my household. Every December 1st brings the inevitable cavalcade of Christmas music (and Hanukkah music as well – my partner and I are both a quarter Jewish). We have a tree (and you’d better believe it is festive – we have ornaments of every color and two garlands wrapping around the tree in alternate spirals for extra flair). This season, Matt wants to get a menorah, and I’m going to help him pick it out. My attitude toward the holidays, in other words, is one of bemused indifference with occasional sparks of enjoyment.

I’m lucky that I don’t live in a city that has a pointlessly partisan, government-sponsored Christmas display, but we all know they exist in far too many places. We do, however, have a plethora of private displays, most of which are extremely Christmas-focused. Before we moved out of the suburbs into the city of Atlanta proper, we would pile into my car every year and drive up to Lake Lanier to take in their Magical Nights of Lights. This is basically a guided in-car tour through the Lake Lanier Islands where every available surface has been covered with Christmas kitsch. There’s lots of Santa and toys, lots of trees and holly and reindeer, lots of Jesus and angels, and a single lonely menorah that always made us giggle. All in all, it’s a pretty typical holiday display.

This is our first holiday season living in town, so naturally we decided to take in a local attraction rather than driving an hour to see the same crap we always do. We decided to go to “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights” at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. We were not disappointed, and by the end of the evening, I realized that I had witnessed quite possibly the best, most inclusive holiday display ever made. There was absolutely no religious imagery of any kind, and what’s even more remarkable is the number of other gay and lesbian couples we saw walking around, intermingling with urban couples and families without a single negative remark. For the first time in my life, I went to a public holiday activity and felt no religious pressure, and was able to hold hands and show affection to my partner without shame or fear of reprisal. Kudos to the Atlanta Botanical Garden for putting on an event that will be a holiday tradition for years to come. For anyone in the Atlanta area, this is really a great activity and I highly recommend it. Some pictures, below the jump:

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Christopher Hitchens in better times. Image borrowed from NPR story.

NPR reports that Christopher Hitchens has died. It’s hard to put into words how much I admired Hitch. His voice was witty and strong in a way that was equal parts Winston Churchill and Noël Coward. I disagreed with many of his views regarding Islam and national defense, but I always respected his commitment to reason. He was unapologetic about both his vices and his virtues.

And now he is gone. All that remains of him now are his writings, his speeches… those thoughts he had the time to communicate to others. His family has their memories of him and any possessions he may have left behind. No more. I find no comfort in these facts, except that I can be certain they are true.

The next time I raise a glass, I think I’ll do so in the memory of one of the great ones. He left us far too soon.