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.
"lalala" all i have to say to you is get a life...im not going to waste my time saying anymore than that. yes hawaiiguest....and you are the perfect example of one of those ignorant people. just in case people were curious.
wow you really were not trolling.... wow
Let's hope that your jeebus calls you home for the holiday. Oh I forgot you don't get to come back. Goodness gracious! XD
Unreal. To think that some people can be so ignorant that they still think that even if Jesus existed, that December 25th was his birthday, and Christmas just popped into existence solely for that.
An people wonder why America is failing in education standards.
These atheist seem to be little more than cowards and like a schoolyard bully, they pick on the kid(Christians) who won't fight back (and they do it in secret). Show some back bone...post some stuff on Mohammed and not anonymously. Pick on a kid(radical Muslims) who might fight back or are you scared of the guys with AK's and suicide bombers.
Merry Bleeping Christmas
Islam is not the main religion in this country and it is not destroying our government.
You're not exactly familiar with American Atheists, are you? There have already been billboards referring to Islam and Judaism as myths. They were shown in this very Belief Blog.
If you're going to be angry about something, at least get your facts straight first.
Not to worry. Islam grows quite well in the prisons. The atheists won't be so smug when they get out.
Are you going to send atheist to prison or something?
Then we will just group them together with the rest of the Abrahamic sheep and put both Mohammad and Jesus at the bottom of that board.
Atheists want sales year round instead of getting trampled at the Big Box stores. I like the thrift stores, but the donations are way down because of some kind of stupid environmental law for electronics.
Christmas is manifestly secular now. I, as an atheist, enjoy celebrating Christmas with Santa and Rudolph and Frosty and the presents. I just leave out all the rest of that stuff that people made up.
I wish everyone would stop it, you will find out the answer when you die. I find nothing wrong with either belief, I have my own belief. I hope I go to heaven when I die... some hope they sit in the ground.... some hope they will get 9 virgins.... who cares...... Its amazing how upset people get.....
When one watches their political system get destroyed and others suffer because of a group of people's belief that is the line.
Who would want virgins? Give me three Las Vegas dirty girls.
Yes I agree.... all you Atheist librals are really screwing things up....... leave all us awesome people alone...... and above all other things Jesus had an amazing beard, so..... Jesus stumps ur challenge solely based off of facial hair, let alone tuning water into wine....YOU LOSE.....what can you do?... die and turn into a bush or worm food....that sucks
@2357 You are disgusting.
Seems to me like the problem of extemism isn't limited to just those of faith. On one hand we have Christians who decry anything that doesn't conform to their beleifs; on the other Atheists who insist that Christianity be done away with forever.
I'd say "can't we all just get along?" but we've seen what happens to those people (Christ, Lennon, Ghandi, MLK, etc.)
But which came first? Would the cries of one group be heard if another wasnt screaming so loud to begin with?
However the atheists choose to celebrate – that's fine, just allow me the same. You say Christians "stole" Christmas. Christians did merge with the Pagans during the Solstice – I've heard this argument for years. Celebrate it however you like, just don't call it Christmas. That's what gets me. "Christmas" is a compound word originating in the term "Christ's Mass". If you don't believe in Christ – call it Santafest, Winter Solstice – whatever you like, but Christmas BELONGS to Christians!
To bad for you – it's still christmas without religious meaning to me.
Do you really, really actually believe that christmas is in jeopardy?
yes, Festivus for the rest of us.
But Bill O'Reilly says that's just part of the 'war on Christmas' doesn't he?
Thank you Lori! Live and let live! I'm personally an atheist (not an anti-theist), but I think that the season is great! Merry Christmas to you!
But Christians also hate it when we say, "Happy Holidays."
Would you religious folks please have a meeting and collectively decide which planks you're going to include in your platform of manufactured anger? Thanks in advance.
The fact that aethiests have a problem with a holiday that calls for Joy, Love and forgiveness says it all about that, enough said. Let them pull as many tantrums as they want, the fact is christianity is not going anywhere and it is the faith with the majority of the world's population. So, get used to it.
Actually, that's not true. Islam is the largest religion in the world.
On a kind of funny note, when I first saw the picture of the billboard, I thought it was telling people to drop the myth of Santa Clause
See, I got the "e" this time.
Follower:person who believes or has great interest:
addict, adherent, admirer, advocate, apostle, attendant, backer, believer, bootlicker, buff, client, cohort, companion, convert, copycat, devotee, disciple, fan, fancier, freak*, habitué, hanger-on, helper, imitator, lackey, member, minion, parasite, participant, partisan, patron, promoter, proselyte, protégé, pupil, representative, satellite, sectary, servant, sidekick, stooge, supporter, sycophant, toady, vassal, votary, worshiper, zealot...sheep, lemmings
You're worth a response if you speak 1/5 of the languages I speak
NatR, glad you can speak them, now maybe you can learn to write them.
The population of the world at present is a bit over 7 billion.
There are approximately 2.1 billion Christians, which is around 33 per cent. That is not the 'majority'.
Over 2,000 years now and still 2/3rds of the world does not believe the Jesus legend. It took probably less than 50 years for the theory of gravity to be accepted world-wide... and it is the same for any other proven ideas, eg., mathematics, the telephone, radio, engines, penicillin, etc., etc., etc.
Atheists don't have a problem with christmas per se – we have a problem with the underlying unfounded delusional beliefs.
John 3:16-19 For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be judged; but whoever does not believe is judged already, because that person does not believe in the Name of God's only Son.
And the judgement is this: though the light has come into the world people have preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.
... quoting a text written by a bunch of guys a couple thousand years ago isn't indicative to proof or correctness. They also thought the world was flat. Were you making a point?
I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses and I can sympathize with atheists in that schools shove Christmas and every other pseudo-Christian holiday on my kids.
Amen! But I also feel sorry for the atheists for the veil has not been lifted from their eyes.
Atheist are getting sympathy form a J W. This is a new moment for me.
The truth is in the Holy Bible, not in your magazines filled with lies and mistakes...Read the Bible.
The sympathy is self-serving.
That ok, because most atheists think you're the one with the wool over your eyes, and the facts support their position much better.
@stopabortion Who said we were looking for truth in magazines? Just because your bible isn't credible doesn't mean that we all reject it as having no value. And regardless of religious persuasion, only a real chucklehead would look for the truth in a magazine.
You know....this has got to be the most ignorant thing ive ever seen! Christmas was the day jesus was born. Thats the whole reason the holiday started to begin with. if you dont believe in the birthday boy you have no business celebrating his birthday. Thats like going to a birthday party just for the cake....just plain disgusting behavior.
Are you serious? You're not serious are you? Oh that's just too funny!
"Christmas was the day jesus was born"..... america is doomed
Megan, you need to talk to the Pope.
Do a little research and you will find that Jesus most definitely was not born on Dec 25 and that these traditions were pagan rituals that the church gave Christian names to in order to make the newly conquered converts easier to control.
You can't be that naive, can you? Most theologians agrees that Jesus was likely born during the late spring or early summer months. The Church CHOSE to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, mostly in order to co-opt the pagan winter solstice celebrations and ease the conversion of pagans into Christianity. You might notice that other major Christian holidays also coincide with pagan celebrations during the year. I'm fine with celebrating Jesus' birth at Christmas, but please at least be an informed Christian.
Megan – you need to google this. Seriously. The winter festival pre-dates Christianity by several thousand years. Even the "died and rose again 3 days later" is from an older religion. Christianity and its stories were mostly re-used materials, because if you want to get people to believe stuff, you have to give them elements that they more or less already accept.
The only people who know the exact date of the Saviour's birth has been dead for centuries. I suggest you look up Christmas and see just who established December 25th as the day to celebrate His birth. Also His birth should be celebrated everyday, because if He wasn't born there would be no hope for salvation. And just as important is that instead of one day, how about trying to live His teachings everyday as best as one can. This holiday although is meant to be a time of joy and reflection has become nothing more than a supremely obscene commercial event. If one wants to really celebrate the Saviour's birth, again we should all, if we believe, try to live our lives as He taught us the best we can.
How do 7 yr olds get to have CNN accounts?
Why do Atheists always complain about Christian "shoving" religion down their throats. I've never read any stories where Christians are forcing Atheists to do anything. It's usually the other way around.
Jesus wasn't a myth, more than enough evidence of his existence, in and outside of the Bible. I'm a Christian and I celebrate the season of Christmas and at the same time know that Jesus wasn't born on Christmas. But it's still a great time of rememberance and getting together with family etc.
If you want to celebrate it, then celebrate the Holiday. But don't force ME to adhere to YOUR belief system, like you swear Christians do to you. That's hypocritical don't ya think?
Umm do you even live in this country or watch anything political?
My kids are forced to say 'under god' every morning...you can't run for office without spouting god every five minutes... religious people assume you are a believer...at work you can get in trouble if you 'admit' you laugh at religion...and even this weeks tragedy has been nothing but offering of pointless 'prayers', claims to 'gods will' and other religious lunacy...
You have no idea. Its a bit like a white guy saying what are black people upset about? or a man saying women have it easy...
Takes understanding far beyond the ability of most religious mindsets....
I guess you don't consider legislating abortion, birth control, gay marriage and the Terry Schiavo fiasco forcing...
Of course D. doesn't get it, because it's his religion getting pushed everywhere. If it were Islam, or Judaism, or Hinduism, then he'd probable be on the frontlines.
Actually CJ, children who do not wish to say Under God in the Pledge do not have to.
How about the repeated attempts to for the teaching of creationism in school? That's shoving religion down our throats. How about the ban on stem cell research? that's jamming your religion down our throats. How about abortion laws, and bans on gay marriage?
How about incessant christmas songs in every freaking store, with some warbly country singer shovelling the jesus sap? Want to list all the atheists holiday songs? Want to tell us the reaction people like you would have if we did have one playing?
If you hear John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" in a store, it almost certainly will be instrumental or somene doing a cover with the phrase "war is over" taken out – peace being too controversial to offend the delicate ears of Christians.
Other shoving? "The War On Christmas" was invented by republicans to get the yokels all worked up. "America is a Christian nation" – total lie.
Wonder why they aren't fighting against Islam or Judaism. Why Christians?
Oh that's only theoretically true. If a child does not say it, they are harassed by the loving Christian bullies,a nd often the teachers.
Definitely seen that.
Okay hero boy, name all the jewish and Islamic creation myths that people are forcing school districts to teach? Name all the Jewish and Islamic organizations that have lead the firght against gay rights. Are those Jews killing abortion workers?
Ever heard of the war on Ramadan, or the War on Yom Kippur? Of course not.
We will of course spend the most time stomping the biggest, most offensive fire.
@Stan Smith, American Dad and American Hero, Son of Steve
Wonder why they aren't fighting against Islam or Judaism. Why Christians?
A clueless t-w-a-t like yourself who doesn't even use google to find the sites of atheist muslims and various other atheists fighting their own cause and their own previous religion eludes you. So why do you even have an internet connection?
So now you're getting just a thumbnail taste of what non-Christians feel and been going through for over 200 years.
There is no evidence of the existence of Jesus in any other reference other than the Bible, which is not considered credible by any other than the religious. None. Zero. There is evidence that events referred to in the bible did occur, however, sort of like mixing modern news into a story.
What is an "atheist Muslim"? An atheist being someone who doesn't believe in God, doesn't that mean you are a Muslim who doesn't believe in God? That makes no sense. Are you an atheist Christian? Or perhaps you mean an objectionist. You simply object against the status quo religions because that is what they are?
TO 'CJ is full of BS' who I assume is a teenager:
That's the point; its not 'force' legally, but socially? conformity? peer pressure? power relations? askance looks?
You move to Iraq with your big cross, jesus mantra and 80s hairdo, and you'll get the point. You'll know how subtle pressure is then...
Then you'll know what its like being a non believer in this theocracy of ours...
It's a simple reference.. of those muslims that aren't muslims any longer. So when you need to clarify to stupid people to differentiate where they came from – I made up the terminology. XD
Christmas is greed and pushy salespeople and commercial manipulation and the hell of overcrowded malls. And it isn't the atheists who did that.
There would be no "war on Christmas" if people would simply RESPECT each other's views! Why can't we simply "agree to disagree" and leave it at that? I know it is old and cliched, but it works for me. I would never presume to tell others how to celebrate their holidays; therefore, I expect the same. Celebrate your way & enjoy...never mind what others are doing.
We would if we did not live in a republic where theocrats are trying to change objective laws.
"Celebrate your way & enjoy...never mind what others are doing." – wow – if all xians would just do this.. i suppose they'd get slightly less flack.
doubtful it will ever happen though. xians often scream when someone challenges their bronze-aged bigotry... but they're the first up on the soap box when it comes to restricting equality for others they disagree with – like gays and their right to marry.
the hypocrisy is amazing
seasons greetings!!!... there's no gods.
tolerance of religious idiocy has to end... and it will.
"End tolerance"? That's your seasons greetings?
Is there somehting wring with ending tolerance, if it is tolerance for something bad? Like when christians had tolerance for slavery?
End tolerance of naziism.
End tolerance of child-molestation
End tolerance of drunk driving.
Only a fool thinks tolerance applies to everything.
Bill Deacon – you seem confused.. you've misquoted me and misunderstood.
tolerance of religious idiocy has to end. not 'tolerance has to end'
tolerance of religious idiocy – you know – that thing that's been retarding the progress of man – and has impoverished humanity for centuries???
catching on now, champ???
cha cha cha
SO Anvil you say we should be less tolerable for people not believing what you do or don't? Yeah your not crazy or anything...
CJ is full of BS: "SO Anvil you say we should be less tolerable for people not believing what you do or don't? "
no princess – what i wrote was "tolerance of religious idiocy has to end"
why do so many people have such poor reading comprehension on these forums???
what happened to you that makes it impossible for you to understand simple sentences with relatively easy words?
CJ is full of BS – are you positing that religious idiocy is a good thing???
what exactly are you asking here???
as for "crazy" – those who believe in imaginary men in the sky are delusional... and while religious delusion may not currently be listed in dsm iv as a mental illness – we can only hope it will change soon...
it'll be great to have legislation limiting the hate, bigotry, and ignorance which is being propagated by religious zealots.
Peoples opinion are a dime a dozen, nothing at the end. No hope for eternity.
I can't imagine living a life that will go black at death. I can't imagine enjoying that life. Whether there is or isn't God, we all want guidance and comfort that goes beyond ourselves. Where is the good in bashing a good religion, any religion. My Bible says God is Love. If you don't believe in God you don't believe in Love. He manifests through our human hands, the same hands that can destroy. Look for good, please, and stop trying to bring sadness and emptiness into lives. What a sad poster to put up. Someday we will all die and know at that time if religion has truth. There are no athiests in fox holes or on CNN when crisis occurs, haven't you noticed?
You were dead for billions of years before your birth, you can deal with the billions (at least) of years after your death.
There are no atheists in foxholes, as they are usually filled with religious nuts righting others like them.
" If you don't believe in God you don't believe in Love". That is pretty arrogant of you. You really believe you have a special line to mystical being. I'm an Atheist and I love my family.
I was with you until you said that if you don't believe in god than you don't believe in love. But in general, as long as people are trying to make the world a better place, I'd say live and let live. (Note that does not include trying to legislate religious beliefs...)
Please, beg the question a little more.
janis posits: "If you don't believe in God you don't believe in Love".
i feel so very sad for people whose lives have no meaning without their delusional constructs of imaginary men in the sky.
how empty their lives must be... how sad.
so very sad.
"I can't imagine living a life that will go black at death."
You are living that life right now. But don't worry so much about death, after all you were dead for 13.7 billion years before you were born.
Martin Acevedo, you are ain idiot
There are atheists in foxholes, my father was one of them, it's a sick lie to deny the service and bravery of soldiers just because they don't share your religious beliefs. Atheists fight and die for this country. To attack their beliefs and their integrity just because you cannot conceive of someone not believing in your god is wrong.
susan – you got that right... the old "There are no athiests (sic) in fox holes" – just doesn't work.
having been in a foxhole... in some of the sickest messes ever to exist – i can assure you – if anything – it only served to more strongly reinforce my anti-theism.
Anyway, about Winter Solstice, yes Christmas replaced it, so what? It is still CHRISTmas. If you don't like it, don't celebrate it, but good luck trying to hijack something while calling it the same thing, you are only helping respect the Holiday. By the way, thank you for the Happy Holidays wishes, by saying that you are acknowledging that these days are Holy. Thank you.
Thanks for admiting Thor is real every time you say Thursday!
Not to shatter your American myopathy, but all over the world christmas is celebrated without belief that Jesus existed or that he is the savior of all mankind. I happen to live in one of those countries and we're roughly half the population of the US.
Your assertion has already been disproven in a previous post.
Atheists think believing the lies of satan will make them collectively mini-gods. Carnal beings, you are putzes, cough, fools. My camel-toe has a seperate zip code now. Stop believing in the man-made lies of the talmud or burn with your father, satan, who is the devil.
Well .. I am the devil.
So it's okay. XD
Sacred days and places do not save your soul, but only the love of God as expressed through the atoning blood of his son Yeshua the Messiah. Ban the Romish holiday and burn every nativity doll on earth, and I wouldn't even bat an eye. There is absolutely no redeeming value in the adoration of the virgin or "baby Jesus". It"s all mere pagan pollution in the gospel of Yeshua.
Don't burn the little baby Jesus, he has soft hair and smells like fishes.
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.