Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas

December 24, 2011

By Christopher Hitchens

Ever since Tom Lehrer recorded his imperishable anti-Christmas ditty all those years ago, the small but growing minority who view the end of December with existential dread has had a seasonal "carol" all of its own:

Christmas time is here by golly: disapproval would be folly. Deck the halls with hunks of holly, fill the cup and don't say when. Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens, mix the punch, drag out the Dickens. Even though the prospect sickens—brother, here we go again.

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2Stoics said...

Thing is, what if a person's personal experience of Christmas is actually jolly? Even if it is the result of an imaginary friend called "Jesus..."

If there's a counter argument to be made against Hitchens' atheism, it's in direct experience. People follow religion because there is an actual experience associated with it. Science backs this up; brain patterns alter during prayer, and you can watch it happen.

Anonymous said...

Neuroscience shows that the "experience" of religion comes from chemicals that are released in our our own direction. "Feeling the spirit," or feeling a "burning in your bosom" is all a result of your own emotions, that YOU elicit, not a magic space god. Have you ever made yourself feel sad, or made yourself feel happy? You can also make yourself feel as though you are having a spiritual experience. When you get a group of people together who fervently want to believe something, the brain can do some amazing things. Your brain secretes various euphoric chemicals and you suddenly feel the presence of the holy ghost, because that's what you want to believe it is. Really, it's all a bunch of neuron firing brain reactions.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wish the Earth's orbit of the Sun took longer than 365 days (while maintaining the habitability of the planet), so we would not have to endure forced [religious] festivals like Christmas and Easter quite so often.

Imagine the extra time doing things that really matter and spending less money of presents that aren't wanted (or needed).

Anonymous said...

Self medication

Anonymous said...

Fine wit in the service of plain hatred


Christopher Hitchens was disinclined to show mercy to others, let alone ask for it. Yet the hope remains that he knows it now.

Christopher Hitchens is dead. By his own lights, he is utterly defunct, decomposing more rapidly than yesterday's newspaper. I take a different view, and do sincerely pray for a merciful judgment. In the mean time, I trust that his soul, even now, is chagrined with the extravagant evasions that marked his death.

The estimable David Frum wrote that, "If moral clarity means hating cruelty and oppression, then Christopher Hitchens was above all things a man of moral clarity."

Clarity he had. But hating cruelty? He was himself both hateful and cruel. Upon Bob Hope's death, Hitchens wrote that he was a "fool, and nearly a clown." When Ronald Reagan died, Hitchens called him a "stupid lizard," "dumb as a stump" and "an obvious phony and loon." On Mother Teresa: "The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it's a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to."

The sadness is that there is a hell for Hitch to go to. He was granted a long farewell, with the opportunity for reconsiderations and reconciliations with those he hated and those he hurt. He declined to take advantage of it. Mother Teresa is fine, and no doubt prays for her enemies, including that Hitchens would be delivered both from hell and the nihilistic oblivion, which he thought awaited him.

For many of Hitchens' fellow journalists, the virtuosity of his brilliant writing and bracing conversation earned him a pass on the hatred. But hatred it remained. His commercial genius was to harbour hatreds sufficiently vast and varied that a lucrative constituency could be found to relish all of them.

The Scriptures in which Hitchens did not believe say that love is stronger than death. Maybe he thought hatred was, too.
He desired to live that he might trash the freshly dead. It was habitual for him, most intensely manifest when he accepted an astonishingly ill-conceived invitation from ABC to provide commentary for Mother Teresa's funeral broadcast, using the occasion to heap abuse upon her as she was being laid to rest. It was a vile, vicious and typical performance. Is it truly possible that the "relish" with which he did, so redeemed it in the eyes of his literary friends?

As for his courage, I find less there than others do. He faced his final illness with real fortitude. He was fearless – and peerless – in debate. But I think it more apt to explain the idiosyncratic incoherence of his views by the gravitational pull of shifting opinions.

Professionally, only his campaign against the mendacity of the Clintons was courageous. Almost every gushing remembrance mentioned his legendary drinking and dinner-table rhetoric. That he could write better drunk than the rest of us sober is impressive in its own way, but the sheer awe of his drinking prowess is puzzling. Perhaps if I had gone drinking with him, I too would have been bewitched.

"Mercifully, too, I now can't summon the memory of how I felt during those lacerating days and nights," Hitchens wrote for the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, recalling the horrors of cancer and its treatment. Yet the lacerations inflicted by his writing do remain, and are remembered. The remedy is mercy. Hitchens was disinclined to show it, let alone ask for it. Yet the hope remains that he knows it now.

Father Raymond J. de Souza National Post, (Canada) December 20 2011.

Anonymous said...


The same brain regions light up for other experiences, such as concerts, art, or sunsets.

Also, this "experience" is the same for different religions. They can't all be true.

Having such an experience says nothing about the truth of any supernatural claims.

As Hitchens affirmed - what is more likely, that you are experiencing something supernatural that just happens to coincide with your preconceived notions of god, or are you under a misapprehension?

2Stoics said...

Your disagreements are very well put, and made like gentlemen (or ladies). Thanks for that.

I suppose that what I'm implying is that Hitchens' argument is effective against literalists, but not so much against mystics. I read somewhere (Borg?) that most religions are started by mystics and quickly co-opted by literalists.

Borg says that the reason why people go to church is the spiritual change (described above as a physical process... an idea that I am completely comfortable with) and they support the dogma because the change feels real. It's obvious to them that their religion, whatever it is, is true, because they feel a change.

The change is the thing, not the rules.

So for a pure mystic, a person who is concerned only with the experience, Hitchens' argument is not an impediment. It's not even especially relevant. And I'm a big fan of the man.

Kieran said...

Hitchens actually described Christmas as "Magical" in one of his famous rants against North Korea.

Anonymous said...

"all religions cant be true hence there is no supernatural"

so childish. Amazing that atheists actually believe they are above average intellects much less geniuses


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir