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.
I don't understand any of this. I'm a Christian, You're an athiest, buddy is a muslim, so what?
As an Atheist I find the extreme approach taken by some other Atheists insulting. I believe what I believe and if someone believes something else that is OK. The problem is that it always seems that the extremists in either camp end up getting the most press and work the hardest to insult or belittle the other "side". I enjoy Christmas and the holiday festivities that go along with it. If someone wishes to express their Christian views by celebrating the holiday who am I to judge. I am an Atheist, but I do not support this David Silverman and the American Atheists group he represents. Provocation and insults are a sign of immaturity and insecurity, and this applies to everyone, whether religious or not.
Read the Bible. It is 100 percent accurate in every facet. Good Christians will reap the sword of the Lord Jesus when He returns. The hair in my kitchen sink did not come from my head. It makes me smile to know that people will be tortured in hell for eternity.
Just like Christian, and Muslim extremism, every group has one. I appreciate what you have just expressed
Just like that person that just commented. a true Christian does not delight in anyone's agony or despair. I hope that is someone mocking some Christians instead of a true believer.
I agree. It seems the extremists get all the attention whether it's this subject, guns, politics, etc. Even your post seems to have brought out an extremist in HeavenSent's comment.
Silverman and AA probably are a bit angry. No one here probably knows about it, but AA formed and existed in the time when atheists were seen as exceptionally evil without the rights of other human beings or American citizens. They experienced mass groups of christians calling for the deaths of all atheists and laws that would prohibit atheists from enjoying the normal rights of every person. They lived through years of being told that they should not be allowed to buy or sell or own businesses or employ others or collect benefits or vote or own property.
AA and Silverman were told they should be killed and subjected to eternal torture of the worst kind, and now we criticize a snippy adjective on a poster?
If you are actively trying to recruit people to atheism, you are part of a religion. Let everyone believe whatever they want, and celebrate whatever holidays they want to, however they want to. Stop trying to force your atheist beliefs on everyone else. Oh wait, sounds familiar.
I feel sorry for the stupid poor soul who actually feels or even believes that God doesnt exist or to try to explain how Christmas should not exist because of (Christ) in christmas !! Please pick up a bible and let this anger for nothing fade away and out of your hearts and souls.
please get off your knees and stop being such a subservient gash
No sorry I don't need to read a stupid book that people will use to manipulate me and take my money (off course!) for the rest of my life.
Pay no attention to the small minded fools that got their brain fried. You believing something doesn't make it true. My camel-toe has been listed as a historical landmark. It's obsessive compulsion to grab at any straw to give a reason not to learn or understand.
@sam stone ... Il l be prayng for you !!! sounds like you really need God more then anything. God Bless you Sam oh and dont forget God loves you and is praying for you. Thank you for your lovely comment:-) I find no discomfort in your cheap wisdom. Merry Christmas Smile God Loves you !
Follix: No sorry I don't need to read a stupid book that people will use to manipulate me and take my money (off course!) for the rest of my life.
You're right, 'God Is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything' and the 'God Delusion' were pretty stupid books that manipulated gullible atheists incapable of critical thinking, and robbed them of their hard-earned cash.
If you don't think atheism isn't an organized religion, then you haven't been paying attention.
I bet you are well known for being on your knees. Congrats, jeebus is anxious for your silky mouth loving
"I feel sorry for the stupid poor soul who actually feels or even believes that God doesnt exist "
You start off by calling those who disagree with you stupid and you don't care for my words? B1TCH......fvcking diseased gash.....go service your local pastor....help him c-o-m-e in the name of the lord "oh jeeebus, oh g-g-g-god!"
Where I live most people are atheist or at least agnostic... Religion is not very important and churches are empty since 40 years.
We still celebrate Christmas tho, it just doesn't have any serious religious signification...
So how long have you been in the pen?
I see nothing but ignorant people, live as you want to live and leave the rest alone! Pathetic! Believe what you want, i'm not your judge don't be everyone else!
I agree with you 150%!
Beats me why atheists care what Christians do, or Christians care about atheists. Celebrate or don't celebrate. Whatever floats your boat. This is America, after all.
Sir, please read my little post.
"Beats me why atheists care what Christians do"
It is because Christians try to legislate their beliefs and deny others their civil rights
Silverman is nothing more and nothing less than a hate monger. He and all of his supporters should be charged with hate crimes. And I'm not even religious! Hate is hate no matter how you try to dress it up.
Hate speech is legal and that's a good thing. The whole concept of a hate crime is deeply flawed anyway.
You may not be religious but that doesn't mean that you're not a moron.
Well, fortunately for We the Sheeple, the ability to hate things has yet to be completely taken away by the government. You can hate anything you want as long as you do it in the privacy of your own home.
I live by the rule: An harm thee none, do as thou wilt.
Unfortunately, religion harms people. I have a problem with this.
Aethiest only worship their intellect and their reflection in the mirror. What they don't know is, the beauty of believing in god is their is no proof of god, therefore everyone has a picture of someone of a higher standard then they can personally attain, but need to strive for it. The striving to be better is what brings the people of that belief closer as a community. If all you believe is in humanity then what you see is nothing, but flaws, arguments and humans being humans. Hey, just cuz I believe in god does not mean I cannot say harsh things. In fact, I enjoy cussing (yes, I'm a sinner)! Even if you don't beleive in the God part, just beleiving on the way it teaches how to treat each other is worth while; and the religions I know of do it once a week to keep it alive and well. Because aethiests do not have this type of respect for each other we get this statement from them like “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.” So to get non-believers to listen they have to be rude because they haven't been taught manners because they haven't been taught to socialize like in a weekly religious gathering.
Anyone who prefers a live and let live position clearly does not live in the South. Atheists are considered animals and stay in the closet. Atheism is the new Gay. We all need to come out loud and proud and send a message to theses bronze age knuckle daggers that there is an alternate reality other than there own.
I feel sorry for atheists and their silly little cute ideas...
And atheists feel sorry for your silly little cute ideas, too.
Damn it Akira, I'm going to have to clean mounds of poop out of their cages if you keep feeding them.
It's not cool, it's just rational. In an Universe containing over 200 billions galaxies, it's just stupid to claim to know the truth.
I didn't read far enough down...
Don't worry about us. We're all good.
JM: Still on your knees, begging for salvation?
Silly little ideas? What, like Relativity and Quantum Physics and every other scientific thought of the last century? Those silly little ideas? Those ideas without which you wouldn't have an internet or a PC or cell phone with which to post your nonsense? Ironic, isn't it?
And I feel sorry for theists and atheists alike for their absolute certainty that either God exists or he doesn't. Or even that God is a "he".
I didn't read far enough down..."......Well, get off your face to the "WE" god. At least stay on your knees.
@JM–don't feel sorry for Atheist because what you feel is irrelevant the argument you are refusing to acknowledge is we want you to live your life as we do without trying to mandate your views. You would never hear from us if we didn't have to listen to your dribble.
I find it odd two jews are speaking for Atheist that said Silverman's has a better message than Epstein's I do not want to compromise when all we hear is what the christians try and shove down our throats. If they want to stop hearing from me they need to stop advertising and trying to enforce their values on me and trying to claim we atheist have no values given we do not buy their inane believe in a plastic jesus on a dash board. All right-wing-nut-jobs all try to know better for adults although it is usually them that get caught in what they so strongly defend. Go back to your churches where you live off me the tax payer and stop trying to dictate morality because you do not have the market on that.
Billboards like these are cramming atheism down our throats... I guess thats different, right?
There are gargantuan differences between religious, cultural and ethnic Jews.
@JM–The bill boards are in response to what has been done to Atheist for all of time. @Rational Libertarian–what I knew would get a reaction is saying something about jews. I do not care about any religion that's the point. I am not against any religion worshiping any inanimate object they chose just stop trying to convert people. I would no more change my mind as if I was being bombarded by tele-marketers switching me to AT&T if you stay in your buildings and do all the mumbo jumbo you went no one will care but when I have to tell you your trespassing on my property you have invaded my space and you will get what you deserve ridicule and distain.
JM: How are they cramming an idea down your throat?
"Rational Libertarian sayz,
There are gargantuan differences between religious, cultural and ethnic Jews.".................. None of it means a hill of beans if they are lost sheep, and stay lost.
Got news for you, people who believe, pay taxes also, so you haven't exactly cornered the market on that.
@JBCAL You KNOW what we mean. Massive lavish churches, gogues, mosques etc foist their crushing load on infrastructure directly onto the backs of struggling individual American homeowners. Pay your property taxes and Fire/EmT and other assessments as the commercial businesses you are. And stop crying "we're charity" when less than 3% of your annual revenue goes to non-marketing aid to non-members. Fakirs.
You don't like Christmas then don't celebrate it. You want to celebrate something else, then do it. I, however, love Christmas and it's meaning to me and I will never say I am on a winter break I will continue to say I am on Christmas break. I don't care if someone likes that or not. They can get over themselves.
Yeah, I call it Christmas - but then I call today Thursday (Thor's day) too...
Every week (52 times per year) in English-speaking places we have:
Tuesday = Tiu's day (Norse god)
Wednesday = Woden's day (Norse god)
Thursday = Thor's day (Norse god)
Friday = Frigga's day (Norse goddess)
Saturday = Saturn's day (Roman god)
And every year:
January = in honor of Janus (Roman god)
February = Roman purification rite, februa
March = in honor of Mars (Roman god)
April = in honor of Aphrodite (Greek goddess)
May = in honor of Maia (Roman goddess)
Eventually (it'll be a while, though), "Christmas" will be just another one of those romantic anachronisms.
The land of misfits. Broken toys. "Professors" from G.I.
The pagan winter solstice celebration was the reason for the season not Jesus Christ. The Christians stole it from the pagans.
Evidence or are you just making a surface comparisson without any research?
surely you're not serious?
Sadly, yes he is serious....and quit calling him "Shirley".
An Airplane joke was inevitable.
You atheists will have your own personal worms that feed off of you and is never quenched for all eternity. I keep the flea and tick shampoo in the shower. Stay on the wrong side of the gulf until you are blotted out for eternity.
You people honestly believe that Christians stole the holiday? Utter nonsense. Atheists still readily celebrate it, and I wish my Atheist and Pagan friends the do celebrate it, a VERY MERRY WINTER SOLSTICE! It still exists. Christians simply didn't have a date that they celebrated the birth of their Savior, and were attempting to convert many Pagans into Christianity, so they joined the ranks and went with December 25th. Relax. Regardless of what you celebrate, let's try to be a bit compassionate to ALL circles of humanity. Otherwise, how are you truly reaching out to them?
I couldn't resist....just like HeavenSpunk couldn't resist another "loving Christian" message to the heretics.
Read between the lines Cheese, that's fake HS. Either that or real HS has gotten worse.
I don't have a problem with Christians doing what you describe if they are honest about like you are. I have a problem when they claim exclusive domain over it.
That is the same relishment I have seen HS express about looking forward to her god punishing others many, many times. I don't think it is a Poe.
Oh, come on, guys!
I haven't even been here that long and I know the diff...
"Flea and tick shampoo in the shower?"
I find it extremely funny that there are christians on here that dont know that christmas was a holiday stolen from the pagans. If you guys seriously dont know that, and arent just trying to cover up for your religion, please do yourself a favor and do some research on saturnalia, winter solstice and yule. SUPRISE!!!!!
darteboard sayz, "....The Christians stole it....."........Nah, some fake pope did it. Probably kweer, you know how they are.
Winter Solstice occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December... Jesus' Birthday is celebrated on the 25th. Duh... NOT THE SAME DAY. (and yeah I know... either to you he wasn't born or it was in the spring)...but how are Christians stealing the pagan's celebration? And what difference does it make? V-E day was on my grandpa's birthday but we just call it grandpa's birthday. Make it what you want and leave others alone. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
You could be right Akira but I have seen that same lameness often.
First, there is no real evidence that I have ever heard of that specifies what day Jesus was born on. Second, the early Chatholic church often took pagan holidays and used them for Christian holidays. This served to allow the masses to believe in what they used to and to have a party while "converting" them to Christianity. What we see as Christmas didn't really come about until the last two to three hundred years. Third, the pagans this holiday was stolen from wasn't atheistic, but polytheistic in nature (greco-roman culture).
Conclusion: The holiday was stolen from pagans, although it is now something completely different from whatused to be celebrated. As well, an atheist can not argue it was stolen from them, as they are not the represented group from which the holiday was initially stolen.
You said, "I find it extremely funny that there are christians on here that dont know that christmas was a holiday stolen from the pagans."
For quite a few, it is that simple. They are completely fucking clueless about reality. To them, their religion is true, no matter what anyone else says. They are completely oblivious to anything else. Anyone who disagrees with them (not just us nasty atheists, but also their fellow deluded with a slightly differing interpretation) is obviously wrong.
These people wouldn't be swayed by getting drenched in a rainstorm as evidence that water is wet, if there religion told them otherwise.
People like The Life of 3.14 (as an aside, shouldn't that really be The Life of 3, as it says in the bible?) aren't likely going to be convinced of the insanity of their irrational beliefs. Let's just hope we can knock some sense in the next generation.
The Life of 3.14, please begin by reading "The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold" by Acharya S if you want to research the subject. Or you could go to jesusneverexisted.com or watch Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist film.
If not, then just read the BuyBull and nothing else.
I'm thinking that the 3.14 reference is to John 3:14: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted."
Just in case you were wondering.
@The Eternal Satyr
It may very well be. It reminded me of, and I though it might have been a play on, the movie title "Life of Pi", currently playing in theaters. Maybe it's both.
atheists don't have holy-days. Though Towel Day and Talk like a Pirate day are gathering momentum.
I made a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) list once. I should have saved it.
I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film."
“Everyone is entltled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Pat Moynihan
The true problem with Christians is they believe their opinions about Jesus are fact. The rest of us just enjoy the winter holiday knowing there is no Santa, no Jesus, no elves, no ghouls or goblins on Halloween, no easter bunny, no magic, no inborn sin, no heII, no Vallhalla. None of those things are required for us to enjoy spending time with our family and friends.
There could be elves, ghouls and goblins on other planets.
As an atheist, you can't be upset at one religious group stealing a holy day from another religious group. Can you?
When they act like it originates from them and to apply any other meaning to the season is the equivalent to blasphemy and a personal attack....then yes...yes we can.
What about your ghoulish mother-in-law? That don't count, huh?
Amen, Truth! Amen!
since chrstians ripped of 'christmas' from pagans, should they have a say?
Oh no...it was the pagans that ripped off the Christians.
I didn't realize Germanic pagans could travel forward in time Lifey.
SH!T. I just forgot to follow my own advice. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS PLEASE!!
he likes to rewrite history when it doesn't suit him.
There really is no difference between extreme religious people and extreme atheists. Both are not content to merely express their own opinions but are obsessed with forcing everyone to accept their version as truth. Thankfully, most people are happy to live and let live. I celebrate Christmas (I love the teachings of Jesus, but I'm not a fan of organized religion), but I am perfectly okay if other people choose not to. I'm not offended if someone wishes me "merry Christmas" or "happy holidays" or "happy hanukkah" or "happy solstice". As long as you are polite, that is good enough for me. Yes, I realize that many atheists think I am dumb or naive to believe in God. That is okay. I'm following my own path and you don't have to approve. I'm also happy to let you follow yours. No pressure from me. Can't we just all focus on our own morality for a change and stop worrying about someone else's? Maybe we should all try a little humility and not be such arrogant a holes about this issue.
huge difference, actually. the religious are in a cult. they are told lies and lead their life by those lies. they believe in an imaginary sky-fairy. being in a cult is not healthy. cults teach you to turn your brains off. atheists want our brothers and sisters to leave the cult and lead a healthier life. if your brother or sister joined a cult, wouldn't you do everything you could to get them out? christianity is a cult like all religion. we are actually trying to help. even the vicious comments. would you have a problem with telling someone that believed in the easter bunny that the bunny wasn't real and they should lead their life by what an imaginary bunny rabbit says?
Your point is doing exactly what Christians do and you helped prove Scars point.
actually BOOTY you are using the same arguments that proselytizers use–that we believe you are doing something bad so we have to save you from yourself. Well, if you don't want them to do it, you shouldn't do it either. What business is it of your what people believe? It's a two way street.
Could everybody please make an effort not to rise to the bait from now on regarding trolling? They feed off attention.
Yeah, trolls are just copy cats, tryin' to be like the MOST HIGH............"Mar 1:17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."
Good for them. Atheists are a breath of fresh air vs. the closed minded, retrograde, willfully ignorant right-wing "Christians."
The war on Christmas is far from a breath of fresh air. It's becoming increasingly tiresome. There are far more important battles for secularsm to be fought.
That should be secularism. It's best not to give the trolls typo fodder.
yes the 'war on Christmas' is tiresome. It feeds into Fox News' manufactured narrative.
They blow it out of proportion but it isn't manufactured. Silverman and his American Atheists cohorts are proof of this.
Anybody who thinks this world and life sprang up on accident out of nothing is the definition of a closed minded, retrograde, willfully ignorant person.
In reply to JM: I am an atheist and I do not believe that "life just sprang up out of nowhere". It took millions of years of evolution to get to where we are today:that is a fact, not a theory. It is much more inplausible, in my opinion, that a god just sprung up (out of a mustard seed according to the bible). If there is a god, what god created him?, and you can keep going back!
Furthermore, the facts of our evolution and this universe's evolution is much more awe-inspiring and beautiful then the bible's version of what happened.
You let me know when they find life somewhere besides our planet and maybe I'll consider your theory. I can promise you that will never happen. Life is way too complex to happen accidentally.
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.