It’s beginning to look a lot like cognitive dissonance

I was raised a Christian. In my town, there was no other choice. We had three flavors of Christians: Straight Protestant (which was me, Presbyterian); High Anglican (also called Episcopalian, no crucifixes but incense and stuff); and Catholic (where God knows what went on).

I had a few Jewish friends, but I had no idea they didn’t believe in Christ. The topic never came up. I didn’t really believe either, certainly not in the whole resurrection thing, but I pretended because my mother wanted me to.

I did love Christmas. Easter was a big nothing, and Presbyterians didn’t do the Annunciation and all that craziness. But Christmas, with a green tree inside the house and presents under said tree and tinsel and large decorative stars and wreaths and mistletoe and Santa and chimneys– it was all darned jolly

And carols! They were the first music I ever heard. I loved the hush of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and the excitement of “Joy to the World.” “Silent Night” was as bit of a bore, but “We Three Kings of Orient Are” — whoosh.

It includes the line, “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed a stone cold tomb.” A vivid death-wielding carol; maybe as little Papist, but sung by a bass in a huge dark church, it brought goosebumps every time.

Cold tombs aside, I never thought about the lyrics much. Sure, come let us adore him, whatever. I am not opposed to heaven and nature singing. If that little drummer boy wants to rum-pa-pum into next week, vaya con Dios, I say.

I still celebrate Christmas every year. My in-town family comes for breakfast and presents, and we make merry. That infant in a manger is not mentioned once.

It’s not clear to me why I need to decorate the house with geegaws meant to replicate the ur-Norwegian landscape, but I do it anyway, because tradition.

But still.

The commercial aspect of Christmas has been dismaying forever. The whole Black Friday orgy of consumerism thing seems almost transcendentally dopey. And I am not immune from up-gifting, because I do want to show my love and what’s better than a BRAND NEW CAR. Or at least outerwear imprudently purchased. What does that have to do with laughs around the waffles? Not much. I’d like to stick to handmade oven mitts, but probably I’ll use Amazon instead.

Lately the church itself has been getting in my face quite a lot. I understand that all Christians are not hate-drunk bigots, but too many of them are. They are involved in campaigns to harass gay people. They stand by smugly while their co-religionists terrify women at health clinics.

Worse, they seem to be at the forefront of the stupidity movement. They don’t care for Darwinism, climate change or the Big Bang theory. They say hateful and ignorant things about Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, Mexicans — any group that is not them. Now those damn wretched terrorist Syrians want to resettle in Our Country and destroy Our Way of Life with, you know, hummus and IEDs.

I am not a Christian. I am an atheist. The things I liked about Christianity — peace of earth, treat every person as you would be treated — seem to have been lost. I used to sing a hymn called “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Seems like too many people are taking the lyrics seriously. It’s no longer a battle for the souls of men; it’s about the bodies of men, and raining destruction upon them. “Let’s carpet bomb them,” Ted Cruz says. Ted Cruz is the darling of the evangelicals. Yeah, the peace-on-earth people.

The church militant is scary. It wants to destroy the world I live in and replace it with a hypocritically pious theocracy  filled with rules about how to run your life, particularly your sex life. They’re sex-crazed, and not in a good way. And they’re taking over the middle of the country like a plague.

Hide the kids! The zombie hordes are coming.

Last night there was a knock on my door. I opened it and saw no one. Then suddenly from the sidewalk: “Oh come all you faithful…” It sounded like an order. Suppose he’s not adorable. What then?

The carolers were silhouetted against the street lights. They were bundled up against the cold. They looked menacing, rising up like warrior-ghosts. I waited out the first verse. I yelled “thanks” and began to close the door.

“Come, join us,” someone said.

Did I want march through the night, flashlights waving, forming a melodic mob, demanding that each household drop what they were doing and come and adore the Christ child? Because he’s holy? I did not.

The singing continued. I inched back into my house. When they came to “word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,” I closed the door. I want to deal with ineffable in a kindlier way, thanks so much. And go away.

But still, I am a generous blogger, and I come bearing gifts. Be of good cheer!

Jon's blog--8
Following something, probably not a star
Photography by Tracy Johnston
Marketing, tech and general wonderfulness: Michelle Mizera

55 thoughts on “It’s beginning to look a lot like cognitive dissonance

  1. Behavioral dogma aside, I do enjoy Anglican hymns.

    The Featival of Lessons and Carols…

    Hymns about the bitter cold of winter…

    I’ll embrace some of your religious trappings, but, please, you go away and get your dogma off of my lawn!


    1. I was raised Catholic, but always thought the Episcopalians had the best songs. I love hymns and carols. Favorite carol popular in the USA: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen”. In England: “The Holly and the Ivy”, sung if possible by Kings College choir at Cambridge. Favorite hymn for peace: “Turn Back O Man”. By Clifford Bax (1919). “Age after age, their tragic empires rise”. Shaped my thinking forever.

      So, I would not have told those kids to get off my lawn, and would have been tempted to join them for a block or two.


  2. I am fortunate to know some of the peace on earth, love your neighbor, do unto others people of faith who do not seek to impose their values on every living person. They operate without megaphones or media and serve the least among us. That’s where I look for the meaning of the season, but I’m pretty fond of the traditions, especially the lights.


    1. David, your best bet might be some kind of reader, like feedly. You add in the blogs/comics/whatever you want to know about when it updates, and all the new material is collected onto a single home page for you to peruse at your leisure.


  3. I’ve been a lonely atheist most of my life, unable to reconcile the dogmatic platitudes with the behaviors I see from Christians. And while I liked some of the carols (and somehow know them all, every verse), the jangle of the jingle (or is it jingo?) makes me cringe, praying (sic) for the next un-Holy Night. Still, people assume I’m Christian, as any pale, white middle-aged woman must be.

    Your blog delighted me. My hope for the future (if it’s any help) came the other night at a friend’s dinner. One of the kids asked why I don’t celebrate, and after I explained, I was waiting for the distance to develop. She stood there and nodded as if bored. “Yeah, ” she said, “me too. But I like the songs. ” Hope abides…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jon I know that you know at least two non-hate-mongering, non-triumphal, non-violent, non-exclusionist, non-stupid, non-racist, non-sexist, non-most-bad-things Christians who are embarrassed as hell by the types you’re talking about. And our numbers are legion but we don’t get as much publicity as the loud haters, and so we may be hard to find unless you hang out at soup kitchens or homeless shelters or prisons. But don’t forget about us when you say your prayers to Zeus tonight. We love you good and hard! (not in a sappy xian way)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Christians are hateful hypocrites, Muslims are terrorists, atheists are immoral, and those Unitarians just won’t make up their minds WHICH side they’re on.”
    Can’t take our reality from headlines and stereotypes, can we?
    Duuuude, It’s not about where one finds meaning, Facts don’t provide meaning, as I can well attest. I’m a Unitarian, but my Episcopal sister helps me not be too much of a jerk on the Internet.
    While I personally suspect that your cosmology is correct, I wish hers was. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cosmic overseer, a loving parent guiding us to be more thoughtful and kind, a home to return to where they wouldn’t turn us away?
    If you don’t know and love any of them damn Christians — the ones at the soup kitchens, the ones giving hitchhikers a ride, the ones staffing the homeless shelters and the overseas schools for orphans and the addiction recovery centers — it’s all too easy to dismiss them. So, turn off your FOX News, and get to know some actual people of faith. They really aren’t so scary, even if they are crazy optimistic.
    And I’m happy that you’re freed from your corporate masters and can speak your mind freely!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know some very fabulous Christians. Two of my bestest friends are retired ministers. But sometimes other emotions rise up too. I wasn’t giving a pre-emptive “this is how you should feel.” It’s like, at that moment, that’s what was true for me — and I suspect it can be true of other people too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so glad I get to continue reading your column, Jon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!


  7. You are speaking my mind. Thank you putting it into words. The winter holidays (and there are many of them) are about spending time with family and friends, and feasting on the harvest.

    Cheers to you, and thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE ­ We¹re not all maniacs I too was raised Christian and abandoned practice in my teen years. I didn¹t see the point and I knew better anyway. Later on though, a string of unexplained occurrences happened that gave me pause that there was indeed something bigger than us humans. I know some will just say it was gasŠ.but for me I began reaching back for the practices of my youthful Christian upbringing and a new non-political view of God and religion. If you ignore all the rants and rules, you end up with ³Love God², ³Love your neighbor². That¹s so hard I don¹t think I¹ll live long enough get to the rest of the popular rules enacted by religious hierarchies over past few thousand years. I like the new Pope though. He seems to be a dedicated follower of the two aforementioned commandments. Life is hard if you stop worrying about stuff and power and it can cause you to think about bigger stuff. If I try to do it too long, I really do get a headache, but I think it¹s useful and hope to eventually enter my post-consumerism phase. Anyway Jon, we¹re not all crazy gun-toting proselytizing maniacs. Keep the good words coming.

    From: Jon Carroll Prose Reply-To: Jon Carroll Prose Date: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 12:46 To: Donald McCook Subject: [New post] It¹s beginning to look a lot like cognitive dissonance joncarrollprose posted: “I was raised a Christian. In my town, there was no other choice. We had three flavors of Christians: Straight Protestant (which was me, Presbyterian); High Anglican (also called Episcopalian, no crucifixes but incense and stuff); and Catholic (where God k”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I gave up on Christianity when my Baptist Sunday school teacher told me flatly that my Presbyterian and Methodist friends were going to hell. Still, I appreciate a Christian who actually follows what the religion says – and I mean Jesus, not St. Paul. St. Anthony’s, Glide, and the Gubbio Project are good examples. Keep in mind, though, the Pareto principle – 90% of the noise is made by a very loud 10% minority. As Rachel Jack said, most real Christians are embarrassed by the yellers.

    But, as a singer, I still like the songs too. In fact, as a classical choral singer, I sing an awful lot of Catholic masses, just because that was The Church during much of the period when great choral music developed. Even Bach wrote a Mass, and he was a Lutheran! (It was a portfolio item.)


  10. Only slightly off-subject:

    Jon, I don’t know if this will reach you or not, but I want you to know that your ideas have not retired.

    Your very first column about the Untied Way really moved me and each year’s update did the same. Many years ago, I joined. Yeah, as you said, it hurts: there goes that nice dinner; there goes that production I really wanted to see; there goes…

    I wrote you some years back that my wife (not a faithful reader) read your Untied column for the first time and told me, “Look! Here’s your idea in Jon Carroll today.” Much as I would have liked to take credit for the idea, the credit was too fine to steal.

    This year, you’re not around to remind me. You don’t need to be. The Untied Way is still around, and you’re not the only member. Thank you once again for one of the finest ideas ever. I gave up being a Christian many years ago, but this is what the Christmas season should be about.*

    Steve Dimick

    *My 12th-grade Honors English teacher might not pardon that last clause, but I’m sure Winston Churchill would.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Untied Way has been my way for years! And not just at Christmas. The round-the-year practice is to keep at least five dollar bills in my purse at all times and give them in sequence to the first five people who ask for help. Not much, but it’s daily, and it’s clear that the fact that it’s a bill makes a difference to the recipients, more used to a few coins. (Of course the Christmas giving is done in the classic untied way.


  11. I was raised Christian, but in one of the more fundamentalist sects. Christmas was just a day. I sat through many a sermon about how December 25 couldn’t have been Jesus’ birthday and how we were never told to keep that day special. I am basically pagan these days but it’s sort of weird to experience a knee-jerk reaction to Christians spouting off about “keep Christ in Christmas” and have my disclaimer come from my churchy childhood instead of my other beliefs. Oh, we had the Christmas tree and ornaments and gifts and we even had a tree in our schoolroom, though it was always a hassle because in our area that usually meant a juniper tree and I was an asthmatic and sensitive to cedar pollen. Whomever was responsible for the tree had to take the extra step of spraying it down with some type of paint or something to negate the pollen. Oh well.

    Carols were forbidden, though, except for the non religious ones like Frosty, or Rudolph. We sang hymns in church, but musical instruments were not allowed and Christmas carols just didn’t fly. It was with a delicious frisson of rebelliousness that I went caroling with my high school class without my guardians’ knowledge!

    In later years I became the song director in my church and even occasionally a Sunday school teacher or minister. (All of our ministers would be considered “lay” ministers in most other sects.) As I sort of mentioned before, our singing was a capella. I very much enjoyed the music, even if not actually agreeing with the content. I read a lot, and thought free thoughts. I was never able to balance what I saw as the truth about things in general and what was being taught in church. I went along, though, for a long time for my family until my marriage broke up and I was essentially unfellowshipped because of divorce. That was actually a relief!

    I only knew I did not have all the answers and to claim that anyone did, or the bible did, was just unbelievable!


  12. Ah. This is more like it. I share your ambivalence about the holiday causal tradition. And the distaste of those who feel entitled to display, 1000x larger than reality and most likely completely misleading, images of carnage in an effort to guilt women out of taking care of themselves.

    The holiday mini-angst is easily resolved. The whole Christ thing is just a convenient corporate takeover of the earlier Druidic monopoly on the length of the day and the arrangement of stones. Which no doubt started even eaarlier by someone saying “By jove it’s been crappy weather recently, let’s have a party and cheer things up a bit, shall we?”

    Which means we have pretty much just come full circle. And how bad is that sentiment? A cheerful party seems like a fairly good response to most anything.

    It’s good you have launched this Blog. It will keep you out of trouble and stave off depression. For you and for me.


  13. I’m pretty much surrounded by immediate family who practice the Christian religion. Most of them do a pretty good job of spreading the love and hope that are the dues structure for the gig, but there are a few that just fell off the pulpit into angry old white guy meme. They seem to have interpreted their holy book in a away that justifies that stance. Me? I gave that stuff up a long time ago after I realized that my paternal grandparents attended different protestant churches, one Free Methodist and the other Presbyterian. I would alternate accompanying one or the other until I finally figured out that the guy standing up in front of the Presbyterian crowd was talking bad about my Grandma, and the guy at the Free Methodist was talking bad about my Grandpa. Doesn’t take a kid long to figure out that’s not a good place to be.


  14. Joke heard on the radio (!!) today: Homeless-appearing man approaches woman and asks for $1.00. Woman replies “$1.00!! I’ll give you 76 cents because that’s what women make compared to men!”. And Happy Holidays to all, especially Jon, Tracy, family and friends…


  15. I see a few of my co-relgionists have already responded, so I’ll just say “Amen!” Here’s something to think about: Jesus (and before him, Rabbi Hillel) taught that the whole law was “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” Now if you think about that, you realize that those are the ONLY practices you can do reliably without making assumptions about things you aren’t equipped to think about, like Heaven and Hell and how many angels can dance, etc etc. All those notions that inspire burning at the stake, beheading, suicide bombing, and wars. Every one is unknowable, untestable, essentially a matter of agreed-upon opinion. Those “Christians” you object to are objectionable precisely because they haven’t figured this out yet. They are an embarrassment to some of us others because they apparently weren’t listening when the man said “judge not…” (And by the way, on a lighter note, remember when a “mixed marriage” was between a Protestant and a Catholic? We’ve moved a short ways…)


  16. So glad to see you back. Know ye that finding the true Christ is the hardest (and most worthwhile) thing you can do and the the noisy distractions are many. In the meanwhile keep on writing and take joy in hot coco, family and friends


  17. Great to have your blog to read. We don’t agree on everything but as long as there are cats occasionally all is well. Can one subscribe or am i automatically enrolled. And have a happy new year.


  18. We’re still, uh, working on the subscription matter. We will have it solved…well, as soon as we figure it out. (This is not the royal “we,” there’s a fabulous woman named Michelle Mizera who’s helping me.


  19. Glad to be able to keep reading you! And happy to volunteer to be your copy editor – error spotted!


  20. Me, too. Raised as a . . . nothing (we knew we were Jewish, but that was the extent of it). But we always sat around the piano and sang Christmas carols. Yeah, even the religious ones.

    Now we’re going through a period when saying “Merry Christmas!” to a stranger is considered, in some quarters, poor form, the seasonal sources of carols seem to have become far and few between. I spent about 15 minutes a few days ago searching online just to find the kind of traditional carols I grew up with.


  21. I sent the below to your old sfgate email and it was returned. Sorry to hog so much space on your comments but I’m presuming they are moderated and you can delete this before your blog followers can see it, if you don’t want them to.

    Dear Mr. Carroll,

    I am a belated fan of your writing. Although I live in St. Louis, I am subscribing to SFGate so I can read all 8,700 of your columns. Below is how I found you. Bull Tongue Review, where this review will appear, is purposefully not online, and only available in print. If you’d like me to send you a copy when it’s published, I would be glad to.

    Thank you!
    Suzy Rust

    PS. If you know of any Rags hoarders who want to sell their old copies, please inform! Or — maybe Chronicle Books could reprint the tout ensemble? It’s the best.

    Rags, October 1970
    by Suzy Rust

    World renowned archivist Phil X. Milstein sent me an old newsprint fashion magazine from 1970 called Rags. For review or to enable my gaucho pants fixation?

    How about both? The cover of this October issue is black with a stark red typeface laid out like Art Deco lines of coke. The words themselves? “Fashion Fascism. The Politics of the Midi. McCulhan on the Mini.” Meanwhile Bibaesque poppie girls goosestep around the perimeter of the page like a dreadfully serious army about to impose guacho pants on the entire universe.

    Would this alarmist reaction to the demise of the mini have been muted by a crystal ball that saw the midi’s take-down by the maxi a couple years later? Or the emergence of hot pants? The theme song of the 1970s will always feature a refrain of “Mini-Midi-Maxi” in my own personal nostalgia soundtrack. ( With a falsetto “Hot Pants” followed by a basso profundo “Pantsuit” finale.)

    A quick peek at the Rags masthead made question marks dance on my scalp — 45 years ago is a long time. Research gave me some of the story.

    The magazine covered “street” fashion, including the dirty hippie “peasant look,” a revolutionary notion in a mainstream dominated by frilly Tricia Nixon Chic. Only 13 issues were published, from mid-1970 to mid-1971. Baron Wolman, publisher, was the first photographer of Rolling Stone magazine. (All those early covers of Mick, Janis, Jimi, and Jerry, the ones that really got the stone rolling, were shot by him.) When he left that publication in 1970, he started Rags with Mary Peacock — who went on to co-found Ms. with Gloria Steinem and then edit InStyle — and Jon Carroll, who went on to work at the San Francisco Chronicle, writing almost 9,000 columns before retiring in November of 2015.

    Aside from a feature about the GTOs, which will be reviewed here in BTR at a later date, the best piece in the magazine was written by Carroll and features a reference to famed boho stylist Linda Sampson — who now runs an empty etsy shop called AuntyBedlam. In this short blurb, Jon Carroll makes a great case for using rat fur in couture. He writes: “The fashion industry could justify its existence (another first) by publicizing a $1 bounty on rats. Wouldn’t it be comfortable if junkies had only to kill rats and cart them down to Revillon to support their habit? Thus, people who are heavily into radical chic could explain that their new $4000 rat coat has redeeming social value. It would kind of be like buying brooms from the blind.”

    Well, you can see why Jon Carroll has had such a long and illustrious career as a writer. He’s funny and inventive, like this whole old groovy rag Rags. Thanks, Phil, now I am going to be trolling eBay for the other 12 issues.


  22. Welcome to the wonderful world of retirement blogging, Jon!

    I enjoyed your How to Be Old: A User’s Guide. Us elder curmudgeon must stick together to keep the present firmly grounded in the past.

    Thanks for your good words.

    Michael A. Lewis
    Enjoying Santa Cruz @ 66


  23. Jon, I recall the Sunday morning when I was twelve and my father awoke me at 6 am and asked if I wanted to go to church or go fishing… He said he felt I was at an age where I could make the decision. I chose fishing, or course.

    A few months later, some church ladies showed up on the Redondo Beach pier on Sunday morning and admonished my father for having me out fishing on a Sunday morning. He replied, “Ladies, I don’t come preach at your church, so please don’t come and preach at mine… Plus, you’re scaring the fish.” He got a round of applause from the other fishermen. They never showed up again to our church of the fishing reel.

    I loved this column.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I am pleased that this more-private forum allows you to give full rein to your inner curmudgeon, without fear or favor.


Comments are closed.