Columnists

Duncan Cameron
Celebrating our common humanity and the return of light on Christmas Day

| December 25, 2012
Photo: Odd Bod/Flickr

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Even if you do not worship Jesus Christ, consider yourselves a Christian, or observe Protestant or Catholic rituals, Christmas still stands out as a holiday feature of the calendar. And, amidst the misery in the world, there is still much to celebrate on this December 25, whatever your religious affiliation, or status.

We have our common humanity. This is a not just a wish, or an ideal; it has a new basis in recent science. Studies of genetic make-up reveal that every human being resembles every other human being to an astonishing degree. The human genome is the same in 99.9 per cent of humans.

Seeing so much similarity in the make-up of our chromosomes, does not guarantee greater understanding between warring factions of humanity, obviously. Even sharing the same vital organs, flesh and bone structure has not put an end to popular misconceptions, such as ... what divides us is more important than what makes us human. But scientific accounts of how life begins, how it is sustained, why human communities thrive or fail, and what may lie ahead, allows understanding to be shared.

The tale of human creation is every bit as compelling and absorbing, as the Nativity story. Parents looking for a challenge can think up how to replace "the Night before Christmas" with the biological tale culminating in the wonder of childbirth.

Religions typically explain the cycle of life and offer an account of death. Prior to Christianity, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus cautioned us not to fear death. So long as we are here, it is not here, he said. And when death occurs, we are no longer here. This stands in sharp contrast to the Christian threat of eternal damnation for unrepentant sinners and promise of heaven for the faithful.

Harvard scholar Stephen Greenblatt in his work, The Swerve, gives a remarkable account of how the Epicurean legacy -- especially its transmission through the ancient Roman poet Lucretius -- provided inspiration for the Enlightenment, and an alternative to the oppression of the established Church, which threatened to deny eternal life to non-observers. Greenblatt posits that without the dutiful research of a monk, the Ancient texts (and wisdom) from Epicurius and Lucretius would not have survived.

In the Aboriginal worldview, the Earth itself is divine: it replenishes life. Understanding humans as only one part of the larger natural world, rather than as the dominant species with a mandate to impose its own agenda, is something all can reflect upon. Canadian governments routinely ignore the relationship of Indigenous Peoples to the land. In this holiday season we can learn and join #idlenomore actions.

On Victoria Island, on the Ottawa river, close to Parliament, Chief Theresa Spence (follow on Twitter @ChiefTheresa) is undertaking a hunger strike: fasting to celebrate life, and protest injustice. The Canadian government denies her a hearing. This is not a time to remain silent when we can speak on her behalf to the prime minister by clicking here.

R. Buckminster Fuller, the American scientist and inventor, saw us living on what he called Space Ship Earth. Hurtling through space, the planet rotates on its axis, turning night into day, and orbits around the sun, producing the seasons. With an external power source -- the sun in all its majesty -- the planet earth carries its own water, its own atmosphere, and these need to be conserved and cared for, along with its animals, vegetables, and minerals, if we are to survive and thrive.

As it becomes more commonplace that the way we produce goods and services, and extract resources, is destroying our environment, the celebration of what we have to lose becomes more important.

The solstice holidays, of many origins, honour the miracle of the return of light. After the shortening of the day, comes the lengthening of the day. After dark comes light. With light comes hope. It is the time to celebrate the arrival of the newborn, and remember what was, and who were lost.

Christmas is the time of gifts. As children there are those gifts we look forward to receiving, and those we learn to appreciate giving. Giving is about sharing. Gifts are more than an exchange. When we trade gifts we do not enter a commercial transaction where "buyer beware" prevails. Rather it is for the bearers of gifts to make themselves aware of the potential for transmitting ideas and ideals, along with giving joy, through the act of sharing.

Happiness and joy are what makes the Christmas holiday "too good to leave to the goyim." Epicurus believed we should seek to be happy. That may not be all there is to life, but making it an important part of the lives of others is something to at least consider on this calendar holiday.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Odd Bod/Flickr