The Sort-Of Atheist Who Loved O Holy Night

For a guy who doubted God’s existence, my father could be remarkably spiritual

Nicole Chardenet
Dec 28, 2020 · 5 min read
Nativity scene
Nativity scene
Public domain image from Pikist

don’t think God exists,” my late father used to say, “but I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

The Carl Sagan Defense, as I like to think of the way the also-late astrophysicist expressed his spiritual beliefs.

Both men illustrate the unspoken truth that you don’t have to be religious — or even believe in divine beings — to be spiritual. Don’t tell me Carl Sagan wasn’t spiritual, not the way he described the universe and captured the imaginations of billyyyuuns with all he’d discovered.

I have a Canadian friend who’s as hardcore atheist as they come, but he’s described his vacations in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, photographing moose and other wildlife, as the closest thing to a ‘spiritual experience’ as he can describe.

I’m not sure anyone can truly call themselves non-spiritual. There may be some. I think first of psychopaths but they’re only the most obvious candidates. Maybe one can truly be non-spiritual without being the sort of person your ex-girlfriend writes social platform articles about.

My father died a week before Christmas nine years ago. He loved the holiday including going to church with the family that evening. It was his one big day a year. Mine too, after I became a Pagan. Mom used to joke that Dad and I were the ‘family heathen’, but she said it lovingly.

She and Dad agreed before they married on how to raise the children. Dad isn’t religious, doesn’t go to church, and he’s not a bad person. You don’t have to go to church to be a good person.

My brother and I, on the other hand, had to go because Mom Said So. Actually, she gave other reasons that I don’t remember but that’s pretty much how my brother and I interpreted it. She said when we were older we could decide whether to continue.

We both chose not, years later. My bro’ one day went back and stayed; I joined Dad, now in spirit, as the Remaining Family Heathen to remind God, in case He got busy and forgot, that it’s Christmas. “Holy Mother of Me, hi Nicole! Is it Christmas already? Geez, how time gets away from Me! Seems like it was just Easter yesterday. That’s just how it is when You’re eternal, I guess!”

Candelight ceremony in church
Candelight ceremony in church
Public domain image from Pxhere

won’t be in church with my family this year since I can’t cross the border. I doubt they’ll be in church either. My Sister-In-Law-Da-Healthcare Worker probably said no even if others said they wanted to go. Even if their church allowed a service. I’m not sure it did since Lutherans were never the blindingly insane Jesus-will-protect-me brand of Christians.

I learned before Dad died that O Holy Night was his favorite Christmas carol. Mine too!

Out of all the carols in the world, he selected the one that reeks of Christian belief, joy and hope embodied in an infant mankind Saviour. I can’t even sing it without tearing up because it’s so beautiful, and I don’t even believe in the literal story anymore. Dad, I’m sure, never did.

He didn’t grow up religious. My French grandparents turned their backs on Catholicism. My grandmother called priests les bigots, which means ‘the sanctimonious ones’.

I don’t know what my grandfather called them, but I’m quite certain it wasn’t nearly as polite, as the reason he left Catholicism had something to do with being an altar boy. We don’t know the full story.

Dad had long interest in Christianity. Maybe it was being married to a Christian woman who wasn’t une bigote.

He loved watching documentaries and Biblical stories on the History Channel. After I became a Pagan, I developed an interest in learning about all religions, especially my birth religion, since independent investigation teaches you a lot you never learn in church. Dad’s interest was primarily Christianity, and he’d say to me, “Hey, there’s a good show on the historical Jesus tonight! You wanna watch it?” or “Nicole, come here, you’ve gotta see this! It’s a show about the disciples and what happened to them later!”

Maybe it was a father-daughter bonding ploy. But I don’t think that was entirely it. Dad would be watching these before I got home, or before I entered the room. Mom would be in the bedroom, watching some hellbound secular heathen thing like Golden Girls.

Mom used to say she didn’t think Dad was as agnostic as he claimed. I agreed. I think he got something out of those TV shows. The Christians will likely never get me back, but I have a kinder view of them after years of living in the evangelical-infested U.S. soured me mightily. Those shows taught me truths I never learned in Sunday School.

When Dad died and the pastor asked, “What music do you want at the funeral?” I said, “We have to play O Holy Night. It was Dad’s favorite.” And in keeping with the season since he’d be buried a few days before Christmas.

We did. I couldn’t sing it at all.

Every time I hear it, I think of my father.

“Don’t get messed up, God, just because Dad and I are here. It’s not Christmas Eve yet! Talk to you again in a few days.”

Picture of me as a baby with my parents for the family Christmas Card.
Picture of me as a baby with my parents for the family Christmas Card.
Christmas 1963. Merry Christmas, Dad! You squishy old sorta-atheist-kinda-agnostic, you.

When I’m not getting messed up listening to O Holy Night with my Dad (in spirit) at Christmas, I help women reclaim their power at my website Grow Some Labia.

Interfaith Now

Stories about faith, spirituality, and religion.

Nicole Chardenet

Written by

Self-help centrist in the Murky Middle. Egalitarian & feminism critic. Visit me and reclaim your power on Grow Some Labia! www.nicolechardenet.com

Interfaith Now

Stories about faith, spirituality, and religion to bridge gaps, expand perspectives, and unify humanity.

Nicole Chardenet

Written by

Self-help centrist in the Murky Middle. Egalitarian & feminism critic. Visit me and reclaim your power on Grow Some Labia! www.nicolechardenet.com

Interfaith Now

Stories about faith, spirituality, and religion to bridge gaps, expand perspectives, and unify humanity.

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