As everyone from South Park to Adam Sandler has told us (in song, no less), it's hard to be a Jew on Christmas. Some deal with the most-hyped of Christian holidays by creating their own customs of going to the movies or a Chinese restaurant. Others appropriate Christmas traditions by decorating Hanukkah bushes and exchanging gifts. But what of the irreligious? Must atheists simply try to ignore the holiday hullabaloo entirely?
No, says Nancy Fay, one of the founders of the Church of Freethought. According to her, people get a lot of good out of religious activities. "It's nice to have that kind of community and be with like thinkers," she says, and nonbelievers shouldn't let a little thing like God keep them away from church.
Fay's a recovering Catholic who lost her faith because the clergy couldn't answer her questions, and she got tired of the fact that women "weren't allowed on the altar unless they were cleaning the floors." Many atheists come from Christian backgrounds, she says, and the Church of Freethought gives them a way to keep the traditions "without the superstition." Fay herself celebrates Christmas, "because we enjoy it and it's fun." Other Freethinkers will be hosting solstice parties.
Modeled on a similar group in Dallas, Fay's congregation has grown in a mere year and a half to a regular attendance of 30 to 35 people at their monthly Sunday services. Instead of giving lessons on scripture, rotating speakers address such topics as anthropology and astronomy. This month a geologist (who has just been selected as a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) spoke on the history of Christmas. The Freethinkers also host a Sunday school where children perform science experiments rather than recite Bible stories.
Like many members, Fay has no problem with religion (past services discussed the basic tenets of other faiths such as Islam), provided their followers allow her to practice her faith -- or lack thereof -- in peace. This church allows her to do just that.