Sunday, 26 December 2010

There's Probably No God: The Atheist's Guide To Christmas (edited by Ariane Sherine)

--The blurb--
"Forty-two atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers give their funny and serious tips for enjoying the Christmas season.
When the Atheist Bus Campaign was first launched, over £150,000 was raised in four days - enough to place the advert 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life' on 800 UK buses in January 2009. Now dozens of atheist writers, comedians and scientists are joining together to raise money for a very different cause. The Atheist's Guide to Christmas is a funny, thoughtful handbook all about enjoying Christmas, from 42 of the world's most entertaining atheists. It features everything from an atheist Christmas miracle to a guide to the best Christmas pop hits, and contributors include Richard Dawkins, Charlie Brooker, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre, Jenny Colgan, David Baddiel, Simon Singh, AC Grayling, Brian Cox and Richard Herring. The full book advance and all royalties will go to the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust."

--The review--
As traditional as I am when it comes to the festive season, it's always good to have a breath of fresh air when it comes to my beloved Crimbo (which I fear, on my MP3 player at least, is still stuck in the 1980s). This collection of famous names, I thought, which includes many names that I admire, such as AC Grayling and Simon Singh, would certainly provide a plethora of new points of view which would be both thought-provoking and entertaining.

As is perhaps difficult to avoid when you have forty-two people all trying to work together to write one book, this is only partly the case. While some of the entries are hilariously funny and articulate, others are unamusing (while trying to be the opposite) or just plain hackneyed. Some, one suspects, would be nothing without Ariane Sherine's editing skills. Again, like most anthologies, it is a collection to be savoured rather than raced through, and not something that one should feel compelled to read chronologically - in fact, dipping into it at random is possibly the best way to enjoy it throughout Christmas.

An interesting topic approached by some of the contributors involves how to explain Christmas to children when as parents you do not believe in the original Christmas story, and some of the resulting explanations are quite ingenious, funny, and touching enough to be used in real life. The collection is also helpful to the cause of further amplifying how one can identify culturally and even emotionally with a religion while not actually believing in its allegedly Christian roots. While the book is fun, it also touches on the serious, making it, in fact, not only a manual for an atheist Christmas but also offering a few pointers on how to manoeuvre one's way through an atheist life. Not that it is a rehashed Bible in any sense; we are presented with a platter of different viewpoints and allowed to dine from it at our leisure, whether over the course of a month or several years.

Many different forms of interpretation are also presented here, such as paganism and humanism, alongside more 'basic' varieties of atheism. As we all grow older we figure out where we fit into this and how our beliefs change, making multiple readings of this compendium not only possible but appealing as well - not only as a spiritual quest but also as part of a quest on a journey of finding the joy in life (at Christmas in particular, as well as all year round).

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