Regular readers of this blog would know by now that I think the concepts of religion and god are one of mankind's worst inventions. That said, there are a good few things to take from religion when it is not abused.
Take, for example, Christmas - or as I prefer to call it, Xmess. There are a good few reasons why I think it's a mess.
If you look at it from the believers point of view, you'd have to be a truly fundamentalist Christian not to admit that this holiday doesn't really have much to do with Jesus' true date of birth and much more to do with the old winter solace.
Next, it is obvious that people develop way too high expectations out of it, looking at it as a period of time that is pure fun and nothing else, when in fact nothing really is; people are delirious if they think this way, yet most of the Western world is taught to think this way. And the higher the expectations, the bigger the disappointments and the bigger the tensions that rise out of the occasion; Xmess may be the happiest time of the year for many, but it is also a very tense time of the year because it is a culmination of high hopes, and those stresses probably cause more damage than the good and fun holiday could ever hope to cure.
The last bad thing about Xmess is the emphasis put on the gifts concept. It's consumerism with the pedal on the metal, people all over the world get spoiled with stuff they don't need and don't want, others spend money they don't have, and overall waste is the rule of the day.
However, with all the criticism I have for it, Xmess is also a time when families get together and spend some quality time together. I find it sad that families need a religious excuse to get together, but it's a case of the end justifying the means here; if Xmess is what it takes to get families together, than until a proper alternative is found I'm happy with it.
As far as Judaism is concerned, the holiday I would "take home with me" so to speak is the holiday that's actually taking place today: Yom Kippur (day of atonement). It's not really a holiday to the believers, but more of a holly day: it's the day when god is supposed to go over each person's deeds over the last year and determine his/her fate according to the balance sheet of good vs. bad.
The idea of an accountant like god has its merits. In an uncivilized society where people did whatever is good for themselves even if it hurts others, such an idea would have worked really well to tame the people into a subordinate pack of sheep that can be ruled. However, one cannot escape the conclusion that if people need this made up referee up in the sky in order to make them behave nicely to one another then the people are truly fucked up. Sadly, all evidence points at them being truly fucked up.
However, Yom Kippur is also a holiday that comes at the end of a week or so where one is supposed to go through all the people one has let down in any way during the previous year and apologize for one's wrong doings. And that, my friends, is a great concept.
I find blogging nice because it helps me think of things in a constructive way. I take special delight in writing movie reviews because they enable me to think of a film in a structured manner (use this opportunity to have a look at R-Views, please). The same applies to this asking for forgiveness: through the soul searching that is the thinking up all the things you did wrong over the last year you can learn a lot about yourself, regardless of your religious beliefs.
Better yet, if you actually get to talk to the people you hurt - most of the time that would be your closest friends and family members, but it could also be bitter enemies - you might do something to help your relationships sail along and relieve some unnecessary tensions. Our world suffers a lot because of poor communication between people; some sincere apologies could do wonders to help things in this department.
As for me, I cannot say that I asked anyone's forgiveness this year. I didn't get to it, although I cannot say that I do it regularly each year anyway; I just think that if there is a reason for me to ask for some particular guy's forgiveness, I shouldn't wait till Yom Kippur to do it. I also think that to one extent or another I hurt anyone I have been in touch with, so going around asking for forgiveness would be a very long process stuck in an eternal loop since I'm likely to offend while asking for forgiveness. However, as I said, giving this a thought is beneficial on its own.
I will therefore use this opportunity to ask for your forgiveness. I apologize for the things I did or the things I didn't which might have hurt you.
I know it's not the same as being more specific about it and directing it to specific people due to specific causes, but hey - the humility factor in it, the acknowledgement that at the bottom line I'm just another asshole that treads over others from time to time - makes me feel better.