What is Sacred?

It’s Christmas time! You all know what that means? Yup! It’s the “War on Christmas”! You know, “Put the Christ back in Christmas”, and all that jazz. There has been a great hullabaloo all over the news (well on Faux News) and the interwebs about this so-called war. It seems that some Christians are offended that others dare to not hold their little baby Jesus sacred. That somehow saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is an affront.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, there are three common meanings for the word “sacred”:

  • worthy of religious worship : very holy
  • relating to religion
  • highly valued and important : deserving great respect

Christmas being sacred is obviously an example of the first two definitions, and when we hear the word “sacred” I’m sure that is what most of us think of. These definitions apply equally as well to the Bible, communion wafers, churches, and even whole cities (I’m thinking Mecca or Jerusalem).

It is the third definition that I’m concerning myself with here because it can be applied to secular things, like the American flag for instance, or a battle field, perhaps.

These things become sacred because we imbue them with importance and reverence because of what they represent to us. The flag, freedom. The battle field, where freedom was fought for. We say they are deserving of respect because people died for them. They symbolize the ultimate sacrifice.

Really, though, when you think about it carefully, most people who fought battles didn’t really fight and die for a flag or freedom. The flag is just a symbol and freedom just an idea. Deep down, below the layers of symbolism, is what they were really fighting for: people. They fought for the freedom of themselves and their loved ones. The died to protect and perpetuate the lives, both present and future, of people who meant something to them.

Many of the secular symbols and ideas that we hold sacred ultimately boil down to people, real, living, breathing people. Life is what is sacred.

Compare this, then, to the first two examples of sacred things. What does a holy book represent? What does the idea of a god represent? Something amorphous, something intangible. A god doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t, if it is any worthwhile kind of god) need anyone to fight for it because one of the aspects of most gods is that it is immortal, and usually, all powerful. Ah, but what we are really fighting for, say the believers, is our souls. It is our place in heaven.

There are so many counter-arguments to this that I can use, but the simplest and most obvious is this: Our life, the lives of our children, family, friends, neighbors, are real. They are here, now. They are the only lives that we are certain that we have, and for most of us, their value is beyond measure. These real, palpable lives are certainly worth fighting, and if need be, dying for.

“Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” are both just greetings and acknowledgment of a time of celebration. The sacredness of Christmas, or any holiday, is a fallacy, an argument from misplaced authority, from ignorance, from absurdity.

Death is like a black hole. Once something has crossed over the event horizon it is crushed into oblivion, never to return again. The irreversibility of death makes life the most sacred thing there is.

Featured image by  Puddin n Tang


Jay is a dad, husband, and pet lover. He has a degree in Theater Arts and works as a Unix systems administrator, mainly because he has a degree in Theater Arts. He used to be a single dad, but now he is married to the perfect woman. He has two teenagers, a daughter, and a step-son. He also has an adult son. He shares his home with his wife, kids, an Australian Shepherd, and a bevy of adorable chihuahuas. He is a skeptic and humanist and tries to contribute to spreading rationality by writing about skeptical topics. You can find samples of his writing on his personal blog at Freethinking For Dummies, the JREF blog, and in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

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