(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)

This interview was first published on October 13, 2010

Editor’s Note: Happy Holidays from everyone at Casey Research. In today’s edition, Casey Research founder Doug Casey and International Speculator editor Louis James discuss how they celebrate Christmas.

Louis James: Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, Doug. But you’re an atheist, and you pay for your own meals, so whom do you give thanks to, if anyone?

Doug: Yes, I guess it’s getting to be that time of year. Holidays can be fun, regardless of one’s beliefs, and, for the record, neither you nor Bob Cratchit have to work Christmas Eve.

L: I probably will anyway. I celebrate the New Year, and sometimes raise a glass to Sir Isaac Newton, whose birthday was December 25, but not Christmas.

Doug: Why is that? I know you’re an atheist as well, but you also call yourself a student of the carpenter of Nazareth, so why not celebrate his birthday?

L: You’re right. I’m what you might call an Atheist Christian; I don’t believe in any gods, but I do find great value in what Jesus actually said and taught, which was to love, forgive, and let live. That’s quite different from what many modern churches teach, which is to fear and to try to control the behavior of others. Such people often have no qualms about employing the coercive machinery of the state to impose their values on others, which Jesus never did nor advocated – his slate was clean, and yet he cast no stones.

But to answer your question, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve thought Christmas, at least as practiced in most of the West, is a bad idea. It all revolves around a massive conspiracy of lies aimed at controlling children. I never wanted to control my children; I wanted to help them learn self-control. I decided long before I had any children that I would never lie to mine. That’s bad psychology. I wanted my children – whatever else they might come to think – to always regard me as a reliable source of information. And 23 years after the first was born, they all still do.

Plus, if you think about it, Santa Claus is basically God on training wheels. He’s omniscient – knows if you’ve been bad or good – and punishes or rewards you accordingly. If I believed in a god, this would seem like a bad idea to me, as children come to first discover that Santa does not know everything, and then find out the whole thing is a scam. The collapse of the Santa conspiracy sows seeds of doubt as to the supernatural – not to mention distrust of parents.

Doug: But you didn’t send your kids back to school having to confront their peers after receiving no presents…

L: Of course not. We enjoyed the holiday songs and stories; I just never told my children they were true. They were fun fantasies like Curious George or Batman. I buy trees and decorate them, but I call them New Year’s trees, and we give each other presents on New Year’s Eve.

Later, when I started making friends in former Soviet countries, I found that the Soviets had done essentially the same thing; Marx said religion was the “opium of the masses,” after all.

It was a slightly embarrassing discovery for a staunch capitalist to make, but a good joke on me. At any rate, we’re here to talk about your take on all this. Are you a Grinch?

Doug: I’ve never read that story, nor watched the cartoon all the way through, to be honest with you.

L: But you’ve heard of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss? You know what I mean by Grinch?

Doug: Yes.

L: So, are you a Grinch? What do you do when you’re visiting someone during the holidays and they bow their heads to say grace?

Doug: I listen respectfully, but then I always ask if I can say grace too. They usually say, “Well, of course!” And the grace I usually say is either to Odin, who’s a favorite myth of mine, and sometimes to Crom, who was the god of Conan the Barbarian. “Oh Crom, help us to slay our enemies, ravish their women, burn their houses and enslave their children – and if you won’t help us, then to hell with you.” That always sets the tone for an excellent dinner conversation.

L: I’ve actually been present at a nice dinner in an expensive restaurant when you did this, and it was in the predominantly Catholic country of Argentina. But, to be fair, the dinner was with old cronies of yours, who know very well how you like to stir things up. Have you ever actually done that in a group of total strangers?

Doug: Yes, I have, with entertaining results. As you know, I’m a great believer in entertainment and refuse to waste much time talking about the weather and the roads. The next subject is philosophy, and abstract, theoretical philosophy is not very entertaining, so that leaves practical philosophy: Politics and religion.

L: The two forbidden subjects. I should have known. But you know, in addition to people who wrote after our last conversation to say that you are wrong about the Tea Party, we got letters from people who said that you contradicted yourself, saying you don’t make fun of religion, and in the next breath speaking of parroting and chimpanzees. I replied that if they would look carefully at what you said, it was not the religion you were poking fun at, but at dogma, at the religious-flavored groupthink that can be so dangerous. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you criticize Jesus or his teachings. Churches are another matter entirely. Churches are human organizations, run by fallible human beings, with their own ends in mind. Churches can and should be held up for scrutiny and criticism, just like any other human institution.

Doug: I admit that many of Jesus’s words were very wise. But Paul took over as his promoter after Jesus died, and many of Paul’s ideas were very different from Jesus’s. Paulism is really an entirely different religion from Jesusism, though they’ve become conflated in modern Christianity.

L: I agree, and Jesus also brought a “new covenant” that set aside much of the Old Testament, so the frequent citations of the Old Testament as grounds for persecuting homosexuals or other religions also run counter to the teachings of Jesus, in my view. I like looking at what Jesus is reported to have actually said and done, himself – not Paul, and not Moses.

Doug: Some readers might be surprised to know that I’ve actually read the Bible and made a study of many religions. The more I learn of them all, the less I’m inclined to believe any one of them, but if we define religion as a quest for some form of spiritual reality, I certainly don’t in any way denigrate or make fun of religion. Unfortunately, that’s not how most people approach religion; for many, it’s a balm for their fears and miseries, rather than a path to enlightenment.

L: I can see that… But we digress. The topic today was holidays…so, if you don’t believe in holiness, what do you do on holy days, and why?

Doug: I’m a big fan of the winter solstice and the summer solstice. Those are important turning points for life on this planet, and worth celebrating. Presents are nice – it’s fine to give things to people you like. Even the shared traditions of society can be nice, though I have to say that the religious significance of many of these holidays has been totally lost to the commercial events they have become. In point of fact, by Christian tradition, Easter is the holiest of holidays, not Christmas, but all most people think of at that time are bunnies, chocolates, and colored eggs.

Doug Casey is a multi-millionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on The New York Times best sellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.

Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.