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Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion
December 20th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – The Christmas season is revealing a growing rift among American atheists when it comes to the question of how to deal with religion.

Some atheist activists are trying to seize the holidays as a time to build bridges with faith groups, while other active unbelievers increasingly see Christmas as a central front in the war on religious faith. With the dramatic growth of the nonreligious in the last few decades, more atheist leaders are emerging as spokespeople for atheism, but the Christmas rift speaks to growing disagreement over how atheists should treat religion.

On the religion-bashing side, there’s David Silverman, president of the group American Atheists, which raised one of its provocative trademark billboards in New York’s Times Square last week. “Keep the MERRY!” it says. “Dump the MYTH!”
The sign features a picture of a jolly Santa Clause and another of Jesus dying on the cross – a not-so-subtle attack on Christianity.

“Christianity stole Christmas in the first place and they don’t own the season, they don’t own the Christmas season,” Silverman said, pointing to pagan winter solstice celebrations that predated Jesus Christ. “When they say keep Christ in Christmas, they are actually saying put Christ back in Christmas.”

The New York billboard, which will be up until early January and is costing the group at least $25,000, is the latest in a long line of provocative American Atheists signs, which attacked then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s religion during this year’s presidential campaign.

It’s not the only way Silverman is using Christmas to attack Christianity. In a recent TV interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, he said the American Atheist office be open on Christmas Day and called for an end to Christmas as a federal holiday.

O’Reilly, in turn, called Silverman a fascist.

Despite Silverman’s knack for making headlines, however, other prominent atheists are putting a softer face on the movement, including during Christmastime.

“I just think the whole war on Christmas story is bizarre” said Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, who has emerged as another spokesman for the burgeoning atheist movement. “I think that any atheist or humanist that is participating in that story needs to find better things to do with their time.”

From his point of view, atheism and religion can happily coexist, including at the holidays.

At the chaplaincy, Epstein has reached out to local religious groups, packaging holiday meals and breaking bread with believers to discuss their similarities and differences.

Sponsored by the Humanist Community at Harvard, evangelical Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, along with a number of atheists, were among those represented at a recent meal packaging event for hungry kids in the Boston area. Around 250 people participated and over $10,000 was raised – including donations from local Lutheran and Methodist churches.
Epstein calls this sort of inter-religious dialogue “healthy.”

“We as a community need to be about the positive and we have so much positive to offer,” he said. “I think that we really can provide a positive alternative to religious holidays that are not meaningful because of their religious content.”
Silverman, for his part, is more than comfortable being negative when it comes to religion.

“We should look at the results - people are listening to us because we are shouting,” he said. “They don’t hear you unless you shout. … Sometimes you have to put political correctness aside. We need to get louder. I believe we are seeing the fruits of that volume.”

As proof, American Atheists points to the way their donations skyrocket after every billboard campaign. “We get donations and memberships because we are taking the stand that we do,” said Silverman, who would not give specific numbers on fundraising. “The donations are flowing in right now. People are loving it specifically because of the billboard.”

Epstein would rather see more emphasis on volunteerism, though he acknowledges that some atheists are drawn to Silverman’s vocal model. Both men said they appeal to different parts of the atheist movement.

“We are GOP and Dem, man and women, black and white – the only thing that holds us together is atheism,” Silverman said. “A movement like ours needs all sides. It needs people who are working to be conciliatory and it needs people who are willing to raise their voices.”

Religious “nones” – a combination of atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated, have been growing their ranks in recent years. According to a Pew Research study released this year, the fastest growing "religious" group in America is made up of people with no religion at all as one in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion.

The survey found that the unaffiliated are growing even faster among younger Americans. According to the poll, 34% of “younger millennials” - those born between 1990 and 1994 - are religiously unaffiliated.

Though not monolithic, younger atheists, according to Jesse Galef, communications director of the Secular Student Alliance, are more prone to celebrate a secular version of Christmas than to ignore the holiday.

“I am very much in favor of celebrating the secular Christmas,” Galef said. “It is a celebration of the spirit of giving and I think religious divisiveness goes against that effort.”

Other atheists celebrate Festivus, a December 23 holiday meant for atheists looking to celebrate during the winter without participating in a Christian holiday. The holiday, which entered into popular culture through the television show “Seinfeld” in 1997, has gained popularity in recent years.

At the Secular Student Alliance office in Columbus, Ohio, the staff will play Secret Sagan, a nod to the famed scientist, instead of Secret Santa. And instead of Christmas decorations, they put up a Winter Solstice Tree with ornaments from the movie “When the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“We celebrate the holiday season, just not the religious holiday,” Galef said.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Christmas

soundoff (4,367 Responses)
  1. Colin

    There is clearly a great deal of mythology and legend surrounding Jesus' birth. This was not uncommon at the time.

    Before Jesus, Horus was a mythological figure from Egypt who was said to be born on December 25 to a virgin. A star in the East heralded his arrival and three kings came to worship the baby. At age 12, Horus was a prodigal child teacher and at age 30 he was baptized and began his ministry. He had 12 disciples, travelled about performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water and was known by terms such as “as the good shepherd.” After he died, he was buried, but three days later he rose from the dead.

    Likewise, before Jesus, Attis of Phrygia was said to be born of the virgin Nana on December 25, was crucified to save mankind and rose from the dead after three days, as did the Indian god, Krishna. So, for that matter, did Dionysus of Greece (who also appears before the authorities on charges of claiming divinity) and Mithra of Persia, who was also born on December 25 and had 12 disciples. Other figures from the Mediterranean who died and were resurrected include Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Tammuz, Asclepius and Orpheus.

    It is important to keep the religious atmosphere that pervaded the ancient Mediterranean in context when evaluating any claims about Jesus' birth and life. It is not as though Jesus dropped like a bombshell into a religious vacuum. His life and those of the later authors who docu.mented Jesus’ life (a generation or two after the fact) all took place in a rich environment of mysticism and mythology.

    Of course they were heavily influenced by the religion of their times, just like you and I are.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Mike from CT

      But it was, death and resurrection was not something supported by Jewish views.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Horus, again... 1 was not born of virgin 2 Jesus was not born on Dec 25th

      Unfortunately because of filters I can not post the whole argument but please see thedevineevidence website at the COMmon domain. Horus is number 5.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Attis is 8

      All it takes is a little critical thinking is all.

      Now the intellectual question which only you can answer is why do you not believe the historical account of Jesus, especially seeing the results of a huge cultural shift in the area at the time of the 1st century?

      December 20, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Smithsonian

      "why do you not believe the historical account of Jesus,"

      The stories found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1-12, such as the flood story, the record is quite different: the time period under consideration is much more ancient. The factual bases of the stories are hidden from our view archaeologically. The stories remain a part of folk traditions and were included in the Bible to illustrate and explain theological ideas such as: Where did humans come from? If humans were created by God (who is perfect and good), how did evil among them come to be? If we are all related as children of God, why do we speak different languages? It must be remembered that the Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history; instead they constantly refer us to other sources for full historical details, sources such as "The Annals of the Kings of Judah" (or Israel).

      It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical document.

      December 20, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Mike from CT

      "The factual bases of the stories are hidden from our view archaeologically."

      Well the "clumpmation" of fossil deposits point to a global flood, so the above is not exactly true

      "The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history;"
      Again not true

      Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
      (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)

      In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
      (Luke 3:1-2 ESV)

      "It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical.."
      Let's break this one down. I can not prove to you that the Bible is the word of God correct

      But we can check for historical accuracy, internal consistency and archaeological evidence of events of the bible (more with Acts and the letters)

      So I asked why do you reject the historical account of Jesus, I was referring to the four Gospels and to a lesser extent the letters of John and Peter

      You pointed to Genesis. You are correct I was not there in the Garden or pre-flood so I can not confirm the events.
      But just like we have sources we consider reliable. I consider Jesus to be reliable when reading the Gospels. One of Jesus' claims is that He was there and references the OT often. So I believe the OT because Jesus believed the OT writings and I trust Jesus.

      Hope that helps.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Mike

      The Jesus story is not a historical account. It is a story, with absolutely no contemporary extrabiblical references to corroborate anything that happened. As to your cultural shift comment, that is completely and utterly irrelevant to the truth of the claim.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Smithsonian

      "But just like we have sources we consider reliable. I consider Jesus to be reliable when reading the Gospels. One of Jesus' claims is that He was there and references the OT often. So I believe the OT because Jesus believed the OT writings and I trust Jesus.

      Hope that helps."

      Try selling that to the world's largest research complex because they have proven you wrong.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "no contemporary extrabiblical references to corroborate anything that happened"

      What is an extrabiblical reference? Something outside of the bible? Well all the books that now are the collection of the bible are all outside the bible. Taking a story and put it in Reader's digest does not change the content of the story.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "Try selling that to the world's largest research complex because they have proven you wrong."

      Can you provide a source or explanation as to what they claim and why they are correct?

      December 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Mike

      So like every other bible believer I've brought that up to, you have nothing, and need to degenrate to giving a complete non-answer and avoiding the question. How useless.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Smithsonian

      "Can you provide a source or explanation as to what they claim "

      That was a direct quote from their report, but you can keep trying to make excuses but you don't have the qualifications like the world's largest research complex.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      "The Jesus story is not a historical account."

      Incorrect. The "Bible" is not a sigular source but multiple. Four accounts of his life and many citing the existence of Jesus in the Pauline letters.

      So by ignoring the books of the New Testament, you are incorrect.

      That would be like ignoring the writings of Plato and saying Socrates never existed.

      December 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @The Life of

      Four conflicting accounts of which only two mention his birth, and can't agree even on when he was born.
      The Pauline letters are not even pretending to be contemporary, and only 7 are agreed upon as actually being written by Paul. Did you forget to read that word contemporary? Don't know what it means? Oh wait, that's right, ignoring certain parts of determining historical accuracy makes it much easier to defend the assertions of "Jesus existed".

      December 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      @hawaiiguest- "Four conflicting accounts of which only two mention his birth, and can't agree even on when he was born."

      The topic isn't about the details you brought up. It's about the existence of the historical Jesus. All four agree he did.

      "The Pauline letters are not even pretending to be contemporary,"

      They don't need to be. It supports the existence of the person Jesus just decades before. It supports that a movement began due to the first believers of a real historical person. Unless you think it makes more sense that a small group of people just decided one day to create a whole new breakaway faith from Judaism without a central figure to look upon.

      "Oh wait, that's right, ignoring certain parts of determining historical accuracy makes it much easier to defend the assertions of "Jesus existed"."

      Got to love the ad hominem type of fallacies. Trying to do left handed insults are not required and should be beneath you I would think.

      December 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @hawaiiguest

      Let's please try again, what was your question that I avoided? Can you clearly label it as a question?

      December 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "That was a direct quote from their report"

      Who is the THEIR you are referencing?

      December 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @guest

      Four conflicting accounts of which only two mention his birth, and can't agree even on when he was born.

      Can you please explain your comment? While the different genealogies are accounted for, I want to make sure I understand what you are referencing.

      December 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "The Pauline letters are not even pretending to be contemporary,"

      When Paul ask his readers not to believe him but ask people who are still alive that fulfills the basic requirement of being contemporary

      December 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @The Life of

      When you have conflicting details on time of birth, place, actions, personality, then that is not an agreement on the actual person, because which Jesus are you saying existed? The one from Mark? Matthew? Luke? John? Please, the only thing these guys agreed on completely is the name and the biological mother and father, that's all.

      @Mike

      Extrabiblical corroboration is what you avoided.

      What you both aren't addressing is that the earliest scraps with a few words we have of any of the new testament is dated at the earliest 60-70 CE. And that's only scraps. The current bible is not taken from originals, and has been translated over and over and over. It is not reliable, and has no corroboration outside itself.

      December 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • craniumthedumb

      @Mike

      Go look up the beliefs of the Pharasees. They were one of the main social-political groups at the time and did believe in resurrection.

      December 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      hawaiiguest- "When you have conflicting details on time of birth, place, actions, personality, then that is not an agreement on the actual person,"

      Except that a man named Jesus who was a teacher and the religion of Christianity was founded upon did exist.

      December 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      What if there was only one copy of a historical writing about a person and that writing was done by a disciple....would you say that person exists in a historical perspective?

      December 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @The Life of

      Try responding to my entire comment instead of cherrypicking like you probably do with your bible.

      December 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • mama k

      I would love one of the theists here to tell us what we historically know with all certainty about the origins of the four gospels. To put any kind of weight to such writings, we should certainly know quite a bit about them. But it seems beyond the specific story, we don't know much.

      December 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      mama k- "I would love one of the theists here to tell us what we historically know with all certainty about the origins of the four gospels."

      Set in the 1st century AD. Written in Aramaic and Greek which corresponds with the regions including Jerusalem, Jericho and the Galilee area.
      One websiite I thought looked interesting: http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/online/itb/html/earliestScriptures.htm

      There is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 which goes back to around 125AD.

      December 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @Hawaii,
      all the books that now are the collection of the bible are all outside the bible. Taking a story and put it in Reader's digest does not change the content of the story.

      There is no such thing as an "extra" biblical otherwise it would be compiled in the bible.

      @craniumthedumb
      Look up the Sadducee. Also what the Pharisees believed in was not bodily resurrection but "the resurrection" when israel is restored.

      @mama k
      I know that that all four were written within the first century. That the earliest manuscript we have is a fragment of the Gospel of John in the John Rylands University dated no later than 150 by anyone. We have Clement, St Irenaeus quoting the scriptures as early as 150. You have internal consistency and no contradictory writings by any of the people named in the gospel (specifically Alexander and Rufus).
      And that is all I know, some one who studies history may have more for you.

      Now do you know how much we know about Plato and Aristotle's writings, or anything from Caesar?

      December 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • craniumthedumb

      @Mike

      I don't know why you want me to look up the Saducee, they are a different group than the Pharasees. Further, every resource I have ever seen makes reference to the Pharasees believing in the resurrection of the dead. Many make reference to it being a core tenent of ancient Judaism. Both links below are in agreement with what I have read elsewhere.

      Wikipedia.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharisees

      Here is another link from an education website that states the same thing.

      http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialSciences/ppecorino/PHIL_of_RELIGION_TEXT/CHAPTER_7_SOULS/Resurrection.htm

      December 21, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Wow I am more interested in how you posted links, I usually get blocked doing that. Do you surround them in a tag or something?

      Anyway from Wiki
      A fourth point of conflict, specifically religious, involved different interpretations of the Torah and how to apply it to current Jewish life, with the Sadducees recognizing only the Written Torah and rejecting doctrines such as the Oral Torah and the Resurrection of the Dead.

      So you see the Sadducees were also part of the ruling parties

      When we read the gospels we see.
      The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,
      (Matthew 22:23 ESV)

      Now following the link of "Resurrection of the dead" wiki agrees with the early point of not bodily resurrection but "national resurrection

      Resurrection passages prior to Daniel are primarily taken as dealing with national resurrection as in Isaiah's (26:19) "Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise."

      December 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      Version 2: When we examine Isis as Horus' mother, we are told Isis was not a virgin, but the widow of Osiris. Isis practices magic to raise
      Osiris from the dead so she can bear a son that would avenge his death. Isis then becomes pregnant from the sperm of her deceased
      husband. Again, no virgin birth occurs:

      "[Isis] made to rise up the helpless members [penis] of him whose heart was at rest, she drew from him his essence [sperm], and she made
      therefrom an heir [Horus]." Source and Source

      December 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Mike

      There is such a thing. We have writings and court cases from Rome of that time. We know how they lived, how they traded, and their system of government, all from writings and archaeology. And none of that even references this supposed incredibly controversial person doing all kinds of miracles and creating a scourge to beat people out of a temple with. Really? So your amazing refutation of a lack of extra-biblical confirmation of any Jesus claim in the bible is "oh if there was then it would be in the bible" because apparently people don't make copies of things right?

      December 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • The Life of 3.14

      @hawaiiguest- so basically put, you are going to ignore all the independant books that make up the NT and say somethign isn't historically real because there are not enough sources outside the NT?

      Hey..if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?

      December 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @The Life of

      1) Authorship is still disputed
      2) No originals
      3) No confirming evidence outside the early christians
      4) No full books until 325 CE

      December 21, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      hawaiiguest

      1) Authorship is still disputed– only by those who don't want to admit it has been settled
      2) No originals - where are the original roman doc.uments, especially of Plato and Aristole
      3) No confirming evidence outside the early christians - except pliny the younger tacitus josephus. The rest became christians after seeing the evidence... examples: Luke and John, Peter, Matthew
      4) No full books until 325 CE - first book 45 (1 cor) last Rev (90-100)... and no the bible was not put together by the council of Nicea. They only approved what was already compiled. That is why you have St Ireneaus saying there are only 4 gospels in about 150-180 AD

      December 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • mama k

      Mike from CT: [ "1) Authorship is still disputed– only by those who don't want to admit it has been settled
      2) No originals – where are the original roman doc.uments, especially of Plato and Aristole" ]

      Huh? Exactly who are the authors, then?
      You are excusing yourself from anwering point #2 by showing how possibly invalid other ancient doc.uments are?? Two wrongs make a right?

      December 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      So your amazing refutation of the disputed authorship of the gospels amounts to "nuh uh you don't want to admit it has nyah nyah". Really?

      And where are the amazing claims of godhood about aristotle and plato? I don't really care if they actually existed or not, but there are a large amount of contemporary documents about them, and things that may have been written by them.

      Pliny the younger was asking how to deal with christians and what they believed.
      Tacitus was by no means contmporary (his annals were written in 116 CE), and merely gives an account of the execution of Jesus, and how his followers were crazy morons.
      Josephus (also not a contemporary since not only was he born 25 years after the death of Jesus), he didn't write the antiquities until 93-94 CE. of his entire antiquities, there are two passages that mention Jesus, 1 merely says his brother was James, and people called him christ (which says nothing about works, resurrection, miracles, teachings), and the other is recognized as most likely a forgery, even by biblical scholars.

      Oh yes I fogot, if someone writes something about it, then it must be true.

      December 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      2) With the exception of Hebrews we know who the authors are.

      Gospel ACCORDING to Matthew - I capitalized the word according because it is always overlooked. Matthew did not name it Matthew. "Hey I am going to name a book after myself". No, people much closer to the event than you and I said hey this is the good news that Matthew recorded.
      Same with Mark, Luke and John.

      Acts we know was written by Luke because he references it as his second book.

      Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Phillippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy Ti.tus Philemon, author by Paul. Note I did not say written by Paul because he is every honest in the letters that he did not write them. That is put pen to paper except to sign them. But he did di.ctate them

      Like wise the letters of Peter and John were named after where they came from. Peter and John did not name them.

      December 24, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Its the bible so it must be true

      I read all these books containing stories about some guy named Zeus. Must mean its real. Just like throwing a staff and turning it into a snake... hey, how come that kinda stuff doesn't happen now-a-days, but seemed to be common place some 2000 years ago?

      I think the bible is an amazing tool, but I'm not so sure that all of it's accounts are true just because you want them to be.

      December 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  2. Believe in Facts

    If you have children you better get your facts together and not tell any lies or it will come back and bite hard !

    December 20, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Reader

      What facts are you referring to?

      December 20, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Why? There should be a bit of magic in a child's life.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Myths

      @reader
      The courts have ruled that you can;t teach creationism or ID in PUBLIC Schools is a clue...

      December 20, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Reader

      Most scientists will tell you theories are not facts... this is the idea of realism and anti-realism in scientific philosophy.

      December 20, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Reader

      Don't conflate the word "theory" in the general usage which means speculation or guess with "scientific theory" which means body of knowledge or model of reality which is comprised of facts and data. The 2 are not similar at all.
      In science theory is the highest level acheivable. A scientist first proposes a hypothesis then subjects it to rigorous examination, testing and peer review before it becomes established as an accepted theory.
      Gravity is a theory...Cell theory is the basis for biomedical research...The Theory of Evolution is based on no less than 5 Laws, innumerable facts and data as well as cross-disciplinary verification.
      There are some exceptions like String Theory or Multiverse Theory which are only based on esoteric mathematics and are not much more than speculation. The Big Bang Theory is based on both observational data and esoteric mathematics which allows for unknowns like Dark Matter, Dark Energy and leave open large areas for falsification.

      December 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Mike from CT

      "In science theory is the highest level acheivable.[sic]"

      I would like to hear more about this and how you came to this conclusion.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Probably by referring to actual science. Theories are the bedrock of modern science. They are also ALWAYS subject to falsification (I.e., being DISproven) and are therefore ever really "proven." Many have stood the test of time so well that they are considered to be solid, but new information is always possible.

      December 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Really??

      uncle benny
      Science starts with theory. I ends when theories are proven. Much of the time, theories will have to be adjusted and altered according to experiment and observation.BUT...
      Some of the time theory becomes fact...provable scientific fact, such as that we can use silicon and germanium in such a way that we can create electrical switches from these elements and we can use this to create computers. It was theory, now is fact. Most technology and advances in science come about due to continuos experimentation, but some of the time we can claim fatc over theory. The Big Bang is no longer a theory for example, it has been proven as fact.

      December 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. Apple Bush

    Biblical literalists hold that we are God’s favorites. We live at the universe’s center on a planet God made and maintains for us to use. Earth’s resources are here for us to exploit. God protects us and promised he would not destroy Earth again until the end of days.

    Under that scenario, we have little reason to safeguard our existence.

    40% of the electorate are biblical literalists. Do you see the problem?

    December 20, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Saraswati

      This Gallup survey has the literalists at 30%...is there another?

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/148427/say-bible-literally.aspx

      December 20, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Scientific American Jan 2013 > "...over 40% believe literally in the book of Genesis."

      December 20, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Saraswati

      Tanenbaum's article? I don't see any citation there. Do you know where he got that number?

      December 20, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Yes, first paragraph. I don't know where he got it.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Saraswati

      I wonder if he got that number at the Creation museum he describes visiting...they would be likely to inflate the number.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  4. Tomdog

    So what if there are differences? Atheists aren't bound by any official dogma, so an individual can deal with christmas in any way they see fit.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Saraswati

      Well put.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  5. Rational Libertarian

    Silverman is an idiot. Christmas is the most joyous time of the year. Nobody is going to get behind American Atheists if they're going to advocate ridiculous ideas like trying to end December 25 as a federal holiday.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  6. Santa wish

    I remember when I was a kid and someone "told me" about Santa. I was crushed, devastated...even if I was still going to get presents it just wasn't the same. When I found out later that there really was a historical St. Nicholas who was born on December 6th...I felt a little better about it. I still love St. Nicholas. I still donate to children's charities with gifts of toys in his honor. If human consciousness survives the evaporation of brain tissue then perhaps the "spirit" of St. Nicholas is alive and well and knows I care about who he was, and what he did while he was here.

    December 20, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Santa wish

      Hopefully that's enough said to cover the other image on the billboard.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Apple Bush Jr.

      Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

      December 20, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Jamie

      The name for Santa Claus/St. Nicholas comes from that historical figure, but much of Santa lore comes from Odin. Odin was a Norse god depicted as a large, jolly, bearded guy who rode his eight-legged horse through the sky during the winter solstice. Children would leave their shoes on the hearth for Odin to leave gifts in, and they'd also leave carrots or other treats for his horse.

      December 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  7. Kay

    Atheist activists are the atheist equivalent of Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson. They don't speak for the majority of atheists, most people really don't care what they have to say, and they are no more deserving of the attention than Huckabee and Robertson. Advertising atheism is not the same as defending against real infringement of human rights. Enough with the sensationalist journalism pretending there's some giant Christian vs atheist fight, when reality is the majority of sane people on both sides really couldn't care less what the other side does.

    December 20, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Saraswati

      Ture...this kind of story is however what sells advertising on a site like this.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      And yet it's perfectly ok for the opposite to be true. There is a huge double standard going on here. Just down the street at the first church nearest my house is a big billboard that says "Put Christ back in Christmas". Yet nearly every house with decorations has secular themed reindeer, elves, lights or Santa. Barely one in ten has something like a nativity scene. I celebrate a secular Christmas...not Christ-mass...and have no issue with adopting the traditional label for the holiday. So yes I took Christ out of Christmas...so what...We all took Thor out of Thursday.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Flounder

      "We all took Thor out of Thursday." -good one, Steve. I think that progress does not need to mean wiping out history, but rather learning from it and moving (hopefully) forward, having learned some lessons.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Kay

      No, AtheistSteve. Idiots who post Keep the Christ in Christmas billboards are just as stupid and just as ignored. They might scream louder, that doesn't mean intelligent people pay them any more attention. It's not a double standard, it's two groups of loud, obnoxious people with opposing philosophies, attempting to speak for the general public, and both failing miserably.

      December 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • justagirlsd

      "most people"??? how do you know what "most people" think?

      December 20, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  8. justa gurl

    I hope people realize that David Silverman does not represent the views of all atheists... I really think sometimes when he opens his mouth he does more harm than he does good.

    December 20, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Saraswati

      Probably most of the time. That kind of gratuitous conflict does nothing for anyone except a few alienated 18 year olds that need a sense of community. These are just another version of the same folks picked up by the radical Islamic movements in Pakistan.

      What self identifying "Atheists" don't realize is that they are in constant conflict over what their position means. On the one hand they are saying "we're not a religion" but on the other hand they want to be recognized on the same footing. The problem is that a religion is about more than just a belief – it's a sociological, not just conceptiual category. It's about the ontology, certainly, but it's also about value, actions for society and traditions. Being an "atheist" has none of these sociolological components – it's simply a negative description and this is a big deal when talking to religious folk. I don't believe in any gods, but having someone tell me early iin conversation that they are an "atheist" is a huge tip off that this is someone I won't gain from conversing with. In all fairness, as a freshman in college I may have done the same, but then I also did a lot of stupid things back then...most of us grow out of it.

      In most context no one gives a cr@p is you're an atheist. They want to know what you DO believe, what actions you do take. The problem is most of the loud juvenile screamers don't stand for anything. It's all too easy for a few actual adults to make a movement off of this stuff, at the expense of real growth in rational thinking.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  9. The Truth

    Facts work best for children, not myths!

    December 20, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  10. laststonecarver

    It may be that atheists just want it to be an inclusive celebration holiday. I see no problem in that.
    The atheists as well as muslims, jewish folks, kwanzists, and whoever can celebrate getting together and having a good time. I guess it would just need a more inclusive name for that time, like Life Day. Folks whoever they are, can get together and could celebrate being alive, in their own special way.

    December 20, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Saraswati

      Sure you can change the name...doesn't really bother me. But if Christians can celebrate "Easter" without being offended by the goddesses historical influence, I don't see why "Christmas" is so bothersome. As I've mentioned before, most of our days of the week are named for gods...no big deal.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  11. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Silverman is a showman and a bit of a self-aggrandizing prick. Fortunately atheism wins on its own merits

    December 20, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      So he's not a true representative of your faith?

      December 20, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Murderface

      Atheism is not a faith. Nice try troll.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • biobraine

      Until there is any scientific evidence of any gods, no "faith" is necessary. When the evidence that at least one god exists, then I will believe at least one god exists. I have no problem with that.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Skwisgaar Skwigelf

      Its is funnies hows the Christians don't likes the Festivus for the rest uvs us, lol's!

      December 20, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Reader

      Faith – something that is believed especially with strong conviction

      Atheism is a faith... nice try troll

      December 20, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • sam stone

      "Atheism is a faith... nice try troll"

      Atheism is a faith like not collecting stamps is a hobby....nice try troll

      December 20, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Atheism is a faith like not collecting stamps is a hobby....nice try troll

      What?

      Atheism has a world view and it believes the world view is correct. It can not empirically prove it but it holds a strong conviction TO defending that belief. Your analogy is poor.
      ----------

      I try to very lovingly point out some of their own hypocrisy because the reality is if you're an atheist, you have a ton of faith. You have a belief system, a grid, a doctrine. Most often what happens is the accusation comes on the Christian that we are arrogant and closed-minded. I just want to put reality on the table. So I'm arrogant for putting my trust in thousands of years of history and thought, and you're not arrogant for being uppermost in your own intellect? I'm the arrogant one because I look at history and teaching across every continent in the world and say, "I'm going to get underneath that," but you're not arrogant for saying what I believe rooted in nothing but my understanding today is supreme? I'm the arrogant one?
      ----------–
      Here's what I'll tell you. I don't believe in any way that our faith is a blind faith, and I find nowhere in Scripture that God has asked us to detach our minds from how he reveals himself to be. But here's also where I press on you. Don't pretend like you're not living in a grid of faith right now. Well, no. My reality is defined by science. Science has a great deal of faith involved in it. Now if you want to talk about boiling water, no. But if you want to talk about why we're here, where we came from, it's… The word in science for faith is theory. That's faith in science: theory. "We can't prove it, but we think this is how it works." That's faith, so let's just… We can be friends. Let's just not pretend that I'm a man of faith and you're not

      December 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Huebert

      Mike form CT

      When you say faith what do you mean?

      December 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      confidence or trust in a person or thing:
      belief that is not based on something not empirically proven

      December 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Bob

      "Atheism has a world view and it believes the world view is correct. It can not empirically prove it but it holds a strong conviction TO defending that belief. Your analogy is poor."

      In order for atheism to be based on ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ it would have to positively assert something. In fact, atheism does no such thing. Atheism is, simply, a lack of theistic belief, or, in simpler terms, an atheist does not believe in the existence of God.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "Atheism is, simply, a lack of theistic belief"

      no, That is agnosticism,

      Atheism - A-theism says there is not a God and their possibly can not be a God.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      Example: When you come look at the evidence for a god, any god, through order and design or any other 23 evidences presented you don't become an Atheist who has now fill the "lack of.." but you stop being Atheist and become theist.

      See Anthony Flew

      December 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Bob

      ""Atheism is, simply, a lack of theistic belief"

      no, That is agnosticism, "

      It would helped if you finished reading the post. LOL! Typical.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Huebert

      Mike

      If someone believes something that is supported by empirical evidence, but not technically proven, would you consider that to be faith?

      December 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • mama k

      Mike CT – you are using the more narrow definition. It's my understanding that most atheists reject the traditional beliefs in gods including the Abrahamic god; but do not necessarily assert or try to prove that there cannot be any deities. It's also my understanding that most agnostics don't really refute the possibility of anything, but just want someone to "show them the money" so to speak. So I think there is overlap between the two.

      December 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @H
      "empirical evidence, but not technically proven," can you give an example ?

      When I point to empirical data, I mean for example it does not take faith to believe in gravity.
      It does take faith in evolution because that is not a repeatable experiment in relation to human existence.

      December 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Huebert

      Mike

      How about star formation? We can not make stars in a laboratory, and where have never seen a single star go completely from dust to ignition. However we have seen the various stages of formation exemplified in various stars. From this myriad of data points scientist constructed a theory of star formation. Would say that this is a faith based belief?

      December 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Mike from CT
      "Atheism is, simply, a lack of theistic belief"

      no, That is agnosticism,

      No,it's not. The agnostic position is that we CANNOT know of the existence of god(s), it is beyond our ability to know through reason or any other means. Some agnostics choose to believe anyway, some don't. Atheism denies that god(s) exist, but there are degrees of that – hard atheists absolutely deny it, soft atheists are willing to be convinced otherwise but so far have not been.

      December 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @Huebert

      Star formation is a good one. Or even black holes, these theories do and have change over time. So yes, it is a faith base belief in that "we can not prove this but given the evidence we have to date this is our position that we will hold as truth"

      December 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  12. Shannon

    If you do not believe in any dieties there should be a group for that. If you don't want to believe in Christ there should be a group for that too. What is being called "atheism" looks like anti-christian sentiment alone. If you don't like someone elses "thing" than I say move on and get your own "thing". As to the holidays enjoy them as you see fit but don't put up "anti Christian" propaganda on Christmas, and dont put up anti-Muslim propaganda on Ramadan....(if of course you must be phobic about someone's religion at least try and miss a major holiday with your disgruntled rant).

    December 20, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Atheism is the 'group' for not believing in any deities.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • sam stone

      "What is being called "atheism" looks like anti-christian sentiment alone"

      It's not. It is a denial of ALL gods

      December 20, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  13. Scophi

    I am also an atheist and I have no problem with faith, religion, or spirituality. It's not for me, but I recognize that I am in the minority and that I live in a spiritual/religion country. Live and let live, I say.

    I think people are either misreading or slanting this study. Just because people claim to be unaffiliated doesn't mean they are not spiritual...or even religious. I know folks who haven't decided on a particular church, denomination, or religion....but they most definitely believe in God. Someone who is changing from Presbyterian to Methodist might put down unaffiliated. A lot of it has to do with how the survey was worded.

    My guess is that most of the "unaffiliated" group are actually just as religious as the next person, they are simply refusing to identify with a "particular" denomination at the moment. My guess is that the number of true atheists is no higher now than it's ever been before.

    (Is it just me, or does CNN use the smallest fonts in the world. I had to zoom this page up almost 200% to be able to read these comments. IN a world where screen resolutions are 1366 and higher on average, fonts below 14px are no longer acceptable. Hey...CNN! Increase your font size. We want to actually read your content!!!!)

    December 20, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  14. Reality

    Summarizing in the 21st century with some added information:

    Christmas, the embellished story of the birth of a simple, preacher man named Jesus.

    As per most contemporary NT exegetes, his parents were Mary and Joseph although some say Jesus was a mamzer, the result of a pre-marital relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier.

    http:// http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at least the one we are familiar with and there were no pretty wingie thingies singing/talking from on high, no slaughter of the innocents by Herod, no visiting wise men and no escape to Egypt.

    "Mark's gospel, the most historical of the four gospels, does not even mention the event.

    And from Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 269-272, "The historical yield of the Lukan infancy narrative in respect to the birth of Jesus is virtually nil.

    Matt 1:18-25: , pp. 123-124, "The fathering of Jesus from the Holy Spirit and his birth from the virgin Mary are unhistorical". Ludemann gives a very detailed analysis to support his conclusions. One part being the lack of attestations to these events and the late time strata of said story.

    "Lüdemann [pp. 261-63) discounts Luke's account as a legend deriving from Jewish Hellenistic circles that were concerned to hold together the procreation of the Spirit, the authentic sonship of the Messiah and the virginal conception. "

    Professor Bruce Chilton

    "In [Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography] (2000), Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a mamzer; someone whose irregular birth circu-mstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the community. He argues for the natural pa-ternity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous conception. In his subsequent reconstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-ident-ity, his concept of God and his spiritual quest.

    Professor John Dominic Crossan

    "In [Historical Jesus] (p. 371) Crossan treats this cluster, like 007 Of Davids Lineage, as an example of the interplay of prophecy and history in the development of the Jesus traditions.

    "In [Birth of Christianity] (pp. 26-29) Crossan uses Luke's account of Jesus' conception and birth to explore ethical issues concerning the public interpretation of the past. He notes the tendency of Christian scholars to disregard "pagan" birth legends while investing great effort in the defence of biblical birth narratives. He concludes:

    I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus. "

    "The following ancient parallels to Jesus' miraculous conception should be noted:

    Birth of Moses (Exod 2:1-10)
    Birth of Plato (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.45) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 507]
    Birth of Alexander the Great (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 2.1-3.5) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 502f]
    Birth of Apollonius (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, I.4) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 505]"

    And some final words from Thomas Jefferson, not a contemporary NT scholar, but indeed a very learned man:

    "And the day will come,
    when the mystical generation of Jesus,
    by the Supreme Being as His Father,
    in the womb of a virgin,
    will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva

    Conclusion: Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Crossan: "My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they were told symbolically and we are dumb enough to take them literally."

      December 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      I'll try again. Reality what makes Crossan more qualified to write about the historical Jesus 2000 years removed then Matthew, John, and Peter who live side by side with him? Or Luke who compiled the reports of the people still alive at the time?

      December 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  15. shadowram

    I am an Atheist, I am not against faith, as for some people it gives great comfort. I am against religion. Religion is a mechanism for control. It is full is lies, myths, and misrepresentations. The higher up on the food chain you go, the less likely church leaders are going to follow their own religion. A very small example, the vast majority of priest and preachers are living in nice houses, drive a nice car and are not really giving anything up for their religion. If they were to really follow the teaching of Jesus for instance, they would have no possessions, live in the church and rely on the congregation to feed them. That is sacrificing in the name of Christ. Instead seems serving Christ is a career.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  16. dilberth

    Perhaps, the reason that some of our kids are troubled and confused is because some parents tell their children that they are born with something wrong with them, in a state of sin, no less. After they find out that original sin is a myth and a lie, they rebel. They don't trust their parents and teachers. It has to stop. They cannot maintain the preservation of a myth any longer. Parents must tell their children that the Jesus story is a myth.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  17. Agnostic observer

    And one more holiday gift for you Christians if CNN lets me post it...

    Every Christian
    In New York liked Christmas a lot
    But Silverman from American Atheists
    Did not.

    The man hated Christians, and Christ in the season.
    Now, please don't ask why, No one quite knows the reason.
    It could be, perhaps that his shoes were too tight.
    It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
    But I think that most likely the reason of all
    May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

    Happy Holidays guys..and for what it's worth I'm sorry.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  18. Agnostic observer

    I've said it before I'll say it again. Not believing in the existance of god or gods is not the same thing as atheism. This is why I call myself an agnostic. That's just messed up.

    Christians I'm going to donate to a church today because of this add.

    December 20, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • biobraine

      "Not believing in the existance of god or gods is not the same thing as atheism. "

      How are they different?

      December 20, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Larry

      Great article.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I've said it before and I'll say it again:
      The prefix "A" = lack of
      "Theism" = belief in gods.
      A + Theism = lack of belief in gods

      December 20, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      bio it's the distinction between not having enough information to be certain and making a definitive decision. AN agnostic is saying "I have no knowledge". An atheists says "There is no knowledge"

      December 20, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      It is natural to disbelieve when knowledge and evidence don't support an outrageous claim.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • BU2B

      AO: for every one of these types of ads, there is probably 100 other ads saying "Jesus is the reason for the season" or something of that sort.
      Bill, I don't see how we can make it any more clear than what Doc said. Lack of belief in gods, simple as that.

      December 20, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • IslandAtheist

      That's the logical way to celebrate it.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Knowledge is a subset of belief. Atheism/theism speaks to belief whereas agnosticism/gnosticism speaks to knowledge. The 2 terms are not mutually exclusive. I'm an atheist because I don't believe but also agnostic because I lack the knowledge.

      December 20, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Bill,

      "An atheists says "There is no knowledge"

      This statement is inaccurate. An atheist says "I don't believe in God." They may be agnostic about it and claim that they cannot know for certain that that God does not exist, or they may claim definitively that there is no God.

      December 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  19. Mr Chihuahua

    fist lol!

    December 20, 2012 at 6:16 am |
    • Apple Bush

      TMI

      December 20, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  20. Religious independant

    Hmmm now that's interesting. Two speculative beings yet one is okay and the other is not for some reason.

    December 20, 2012 at 6:14 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.