December 21st, 2013
10:22 AM ET
Why atheists should quit the 'War on Christmas’
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) - The “War on Christmas:” what — or who—is it good for?
In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.
This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word "Christ" is crossed out, just in case their message wasn't clear enough.
The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone.
In a recent Fox News appearance, American Atheists President Dave Silverman said, “The point that we’re trying to make is that there’s a whole bunch of people out there for whom religion is the worst part of Christmas, but they go to church anyways, and we’re here to tell them they don’t have to.”
While that intention is important and admirable, very few people—atheist or theist—seem to interpret the message as welcoming to anyone. Many of the responses I’ve seen have been vitriolic and disturbingly anti-atheist.
Which raises the question: If the goal truly is to reach isolated atheists, why does the advertisement read as a dig at Christians? A better billboard for American Atheists’s stated aim might read: “Don’t celebrate Christmas? You’re not alone.”
As atheists become more visible in our society, the entire “War on Christmas” back-and-forth feels ugly and unnecessary. Worse still, it seems to do little more than offer ammunition to those claiming atheists are just mean-spirited grinches. Bill O’Reilly—one of the major “War on Christmas” soldiers—made that clear when he and I discussed the “War on Christmas” a couple of weeks ago.
Let’s not kid ourselves: There is no war on Christmas.
We live in a culture that privileges stories of conflict, so it’s understandable that this narrative would gain traction—with or without billboards. Much of this narrative is a manifestation of religious fears about our increasingly secular society, and it reflects widespread anxieties about atheists and religious differences. But it doesn’t reflect reality.
Rather, as religious diversity in the U.S. has become more recognizable, Americans have largely broadened their approach to this time of year. According to new data from the Public Religion Research Institute, the percentage of Americans who prefer the inclusive “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” has now exceeded the percentage that prefers “Merry Christmas.”
It’s not that Christmas is under attack; instead, our society is becoming better at embracing its religious diversity and challenging the notion that a single majority religion should dominate public expressions of belief.
So why does the “War on Christmas” narrative persist?
Based on how much play they give it each December, the “War on Christmas” narrative seems to be good for Fox News ratings. And American Atheists has openly admitted that it is good for their pocketbooks, as their talk show appearances bring in a swell of donations.
Consider this from a recent profile of Silverman:
“Silverman’s notorious anti-Christmas billboards and subsequent TV appearances have breathed new life into American Atheists and are often followed by an uptick in subscribers and donations. ... According to Silverman, the primary objective of the billboards is to get invitations to talk shows.”
In other words: American Atheists and Fox News - alongside conservatives like Sarah Palin - seem to have discovered a mutually beneficial relationship.
But does this relationship benefit atheists more broadly? Does it accurately represent the sentiments of nontheists in this country? Does it improve atheist-theist relations?
Does it lessen the widespread stigma and distrust that exists between atheists and theists, which enables atheist marginalization across the U.S.? Does it invite Christians to think critically about religious privilege?
Many atheists, myself included, suspect that there are more effective approaches to tackling these important issues.
To start, atheists can build positive relationships with believers to humanize our communities and educate one another about our differences. That’s something that billboards, for all of their flash and fundraising capabilities, likely won’t accomplish.
Atheists face real marginalization in the U.S., and it should be robustly challenged.
But we also have good tidings and great joy to offer—important contributions to the public square that are currently being drowned out by attention-grabbing billboards claiming “nobody” needs Christ in Christmas.
In the spirit of generosity, compassion, and kindness so often associated with this time of year, let’s ditch the billboards and build relationships of goodwill.
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, Coordinator of Humanist Life for the Yale Humanist Community, and author of "Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious." You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDStedman.
The views expressed in this column belong to Stedman.
About this blog
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.
The difference between the Regilious and the Atheists
The Religious are blindly obedient to unproven folklore. Brainwashed. Weak thinkers
The Atheists are independent thinkers. They have researched and questioned.
The Religious remain blind and threatened when challenged
The Atheist are enlightened and secure in themselves
thats not really balanced, in fact its incredibly one sided. shows an extreme lack of understanding of the christian faith and the people who choose to believe it. I also say this as an atheist myself. people like you and you unadulterated egocentric rantings such as this are the ones giving us a bad name. Just as these idiots with the billboards. WE live in a country with religious freedom. Let them practice what they want and we will do the same. Thats really all that needs to be said.
Most people project themselves onto others. As a christian, I do appreciate your open-mindedness to the fact that people are going to be different and believe differently. Never have understood why many religious people and atheist dont seem to understand that we can disagree respectfully and even be friends. This so call war is stupid. It isnt really about religion or lack of....its about trying to control others. Both sides are guilty of the same crime.
Atheists are enlightened and secure in themselves? Independent thinkers? Ha! They seem to be dragging around the same old "war on something" mentality advocated by many "long-in-the-tooth" Republicans and "I-wish-I-was-a-liberal", middle-of-the road Democrats.
If they were secure they wouldn't need to make big statements with billboards like this one. Atheists are basically people trying to deal with their own powerlessness by resorting to a particular belief system. In other words, no different than anybody else – except that they are about 70% male.
If atheists are so "secure in themselves" as you boast, then why should it matter if Christians celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus? Why should having a cross displayed anywhere bother an atheist? Why do many atheists claim that going to the museum in New York City honoring the events and people of 911 say they get headaches, get nausious, rashes, etc. when they pass by the two steel beams left over from one of the twin towers, that form a cross. Why should it matter how many churches there are? Why does it matter to you what Christians believe? What they teach? What they preach from the pulpits? If atheists are so secure, then nothing religious, from any religion should affect them at all.
If an atheist finds religion offensive to themselves, why? And how? Ignore what is there. Don't look. Don't read. Don't listen. It's pretty simple don't you think? Shouldn't those who believe be allowed to believe, to have holidays that are exclusively theirs? Do atheists protest loudly when Islamic holidays come up like Ramadan? In fact if atheists did wage a war of words or legal fights against Islam, it could get ugly for atheists. Jihad would be waged back against atheists and they would be labeled by most as pure haters and be charged with a hate crime minimally, unless Islam declared a Jihad back at them which might be really bad. That's why atheists don't attact muslims or Islam. They are afraid of them and rightfully so.
It's easy to pick on Christians, cause we don't "fight" back except in legal courts and a war of words. We are easy targets. I don't see atheists complaining about their holidays. I don't see atheists protesting Hanukkah. I don't see them upset at pagan holidays. It seems all their efforts are in confronting an enemy that doesn't consider atheists as an enemy. Atheists aren't enemies of Christianity. We pray for atheists. We show love to atheists. We endeavor to preach the Gospel to atheists so they can have a relationship with Christ, but we don't target them specifically like atheists solely target Christians. Do we defend the Gospel, the Bible, Jesus, God? Yes. No different than you defending your unbelief which is your right. No one forces you to believe. You have the freedom to believe or reject God. But make no mistake, atheists are waging a war against Christianity and Christians.
If atheists don't believe, they believe that no one else should believe or have the right to believe. Why do atheists, if indeed, they are truly "secure in themselves" feel they have to specifically attack Christians? For that is what you are doing as I said, because you attack no other religion other than Christianity from what I have observed in my 67 years upon this planet. I have never seen news headlines or seen anything on any news network where atheists have gone up against any other religion other than Christianity. Care to elaborate intellectually all all that I have mentioned and asked? Please feel free.
No Demod – atheists believe there is no God......non stamp collectors do not believe that there are no stamps....nice try though! Good luck in your future.....
Atheists do not believe in ANY gods. There is a difference.
Look up atheist in the OED. It refers to either a disbelief in god OR simply a lack of belief in gods. It covers any non-belief in gods.
gay atheist do not believe in doing 69.
Fucktard christians are brain dead.
You know this how, Donald?
Oddly enough, I've met more gay priests than gay atheists in my life.
How is this for a libertarian view, and my personal favorite analogy." I meet a small lizard that told me, he was a brontosaur on his mother's side. I did not laugh. Thereby bring a little good feelings into the world." (Apologies as I can not remember the exact wording, and author.) So long as you do not try to force me to conform to your dogma, theology, belief, etc. I will be quite happy to allow some happiness into the world, where it often in short supply.
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”
Letter to John Adams, from Monticello, April 11, 1823.
Would atheists ever pay money to cross out the name of the "FSM god"? No, they wouldn't.
They went after the Christ, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, because they know people need him to be saved from their sins.
You are having real trouble getting your head around the "don't believe in Jesus" thing, aren't you.
Dumbass religious freaks can't even apply the logic of why we created the FSM.
No, it's because they do not believe he's real.
Christmas actually comes from the celebration of the sun. It has been altered over the years to become the Son. It is the winter solstice where the sun appears to die for three days (stays at its lowest point in the sky) and is then born again. This is usually Dec 21st-24th. That's why December 25th is considered the birth of the sun. It is the first day in the cycle of longer days. Obviously it slightly varies depending on your location, but Dec 25th is generally the beginning of longer days and shorter nights. That's why it has been a celebrated for thousands of years. The sun is the light of the world, the provider of all things necessary to survive. Christians use the holiday for Jesus now, but it originated from sun worship, which is far more logical.
The date of Christmas was not based on the winter solstice; in fact, the date of Jesus' conception at the Annunciation on March 25 was celebrated first, then his birth calculated to 9 months after that. Also, the celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25 actually predates the Roman festival of Sol Invictus.
Actually, it comes from before Rome. It dates back to ancient Egypt.
Just so you know, you got that backwards. "Christmas" is not a Christian holiday. As you say Christmas as we now celebrate it, on December 25th, is the Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice, (as opposed to a celebration of Christ's birth).
The defining difference between Christianity and Paganism (Sun Worship) is that one worships a God, while the other worships an inanimate object. One worships the Creator, the other worships the Creation.
But you are right about one thing. The modern religion being pushed on us is a sick ancient Pagan Sun worship religion, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the teachings of Christ. This is the fault of the Vatican, which practices Pagan Sun worship, not Christianity.
Sun Worship is also known as Luciferianism, (Lucifer who is known as the Light Bringer, or the Morning Star).
The difference is that the sun is a proven object. It provides energy to the earth and allows for crops to flourish. This is why the ancients worshiped it. They understood it's life giving power. It's logical, unlike the biblical god that people require faith to believe in as there is no direct impact or evidence that god even exists. The ancient agricultural farmers knew the solar cycles very well, and celebrated when the days became longer, as it is a sign that the weather will get warmer and the crops will blossom.
Christ was illiterate and homeless and a drunk (his people were thirsty and he gave them wine....which dehydrates the body). He has nothing to teach me.
In looking over the posts on this story, some interesting trends emerge:
Quite a few atheists like and celebrate Christmas as a family holiday.
Most seem to dislike the signs.
Most do not feel American Atheists/Silverman or the author of the article speak for them.
None advocated punishment or violence on Christians.
As for Christians, there were a number who did advocate things like wanting atheists prosecuted or saying he (one poster) would run them over with his car.
A significant number seemed quite happy that Jesus was going to torture atheists forever.
Most showed an astounding and defamatory misunderstanding of what atheists are and believe.
I can't wait until some group starts lobbying to keep the patriotism out of the 4th of July.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all!
Being proud of a nation that you are in; has nothing in common with this religious holiday season.
You are ALL wrong, Christmas was invented by retailers.
As an Atheist, I don't care about the nativity scenes, or "Under God" in the Pledge, or "In God We Trust". I have better things to do with my time (like posting on pointless opinion blogs).
The war has been going on since the 60s and it was started by Christians not atheists. When I was growing up in the 60s it was common to call it The Yuletide and refer to things like the Yule Log. These are pagan symbols. When Christians woke up to the fact people were celebrating the holiday with pagan symbols most of them got phased out. They are now demanding it be made official that the holiday is strictly about the birth of Christ and even throw a fit if some one says the holiday season instead of evoking the name of Christ. First off it was a pagan holiday and Christ was likely born in the spring so it was the Christians that latched onto an ancient pagan holiday not the other way around. Also there's a mighty important Jewish holiday that happens around this time so Happy Holidays is more inclusive given there are several things celebrated around this time of year not the least of which is New Years. No one is stopping Christians from celebrating Christ's birth but they have to stop demanding everyone celebrate their way. It's like Easter being converted into a Christian holiday. What exactly does rabbits and eggs have to do with Christ? The rabbit was originally a March Hare and the egg represented fertility. It was about all the young animals being born in the spring not the ressurrection of Jesus. They are welcome to also celebrate that but they shouldn't be allowed to destroy the true meaning of the original holiday! May 1st, May Day as it was known, apparently didn't fit with any Christian holiday so it got phased out since it was pure pagan. It was the old planting festival. What was the harm in that holiday?
I was with you for a while, but you lost me when you started talking about Easter. Easter is a Christian holiday. It's also not a federal holiday. Ever wonder why Easter occurs when it does? Because it follows Jewish Passover. It's thought that it was merged with German pagan traditions in the 15th century when they became Roman Catholic therefore merging the bunny with Easter. But Easter itself is a Christian holiday.
Ever heard of or read "The Farmers' Almanac..?
Atheist Dine on Tube Stakes!!
Not only is this absurd, but you even got your insult wrong. The phrase is "tube steak".
We won't mention that "atheist" should be plural, and that his grasp of capitalization ruless is pretty unimpressive.
Do we really need to start bickering over semantics with the steaks being so high?
Hey Atheists, you all have a holiday celebration.. Please check on a date.. April 1st Fool's day
"In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparation for Easter and Passover holidays and decided to contact the local ACLU about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews with all their holidays while the atheists had no holiday to celebrate.
The ACLU jumped on the opportunity to once again pick up the cause of the godless and assigned their sharpest attorneys to the case. The case was brought before a wise judge who after listening to the long, passionate presentation of the ACLU lawyers, promptly banged his gavel and declared, "Case dismissed!"
The lead ACLU lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling and said, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? Surely the Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. And the Jews — why in addition to Passover they have Yom Kippur and Hanukkah . . . and yet my client and all other atheists have no such holiday!"
The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said "Obviously your client is too confused to know about, or for that matter, even celebrate the atheists' holiday!"
The ACLU lawyer pompously said: "We are aware of no such holiday for atheists. Just when might that be, Your Honor?"
The judge said, "Well, it comes every year on exactly the same date — April 1st!"
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
— Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1
HOORAY FOR THIS JUDGE"
Do you think Westboro Baptist is representative of ALL Christians?
Because I would be glad to post some of their exploits to make an extrapolation that one group represents all.
So a book that tells you what to believe says that you are a fool if you don't believe what it tells you to believe... And you think we're the fools?
Joey, while you are dumping quotes on us from your Christian book of horrors, let's take a look at some of the other horrid material that is in your bible:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”
1 Timothy 2:11
"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.
45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.
Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.
And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.
So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
Well to be completely correct, the majority of those things apply only to Jews. Yes, the Bible is primarily a Christian book, but the majority of your quotes were from the Torah as well and those regulations were to the Jews. Jesus was talking about animal sacrifice being performed by the Jews, not Christians.
The science is that there are two bibles so to speak and Christians use both. Check out history in both the new and the old testament.
Why are you trying to attack what I chose to or not to believe? What do you care what I believe or not? I don'
t care what you believe, tell you what to believe, how to believe it or anything else. So why are you trying to push your beliefs on other people? What's your point in calling atheists "fools"? Do you think it will bring people toward your faith or further from it? The answer – it will turn people off and away from your religion. Religion and spirituality is a very personal thing – each person needs to choose their own path.
I DONT THINK THEY ARE ATHEISTS I THINK THEY ARE SATANS FOLLOWERS
Posting in all caps is stupid and rude.
funny.... you think atheists are a followers of a metaphoric "evil" character from a book, simply becasue they don't believe in your metaphoric "good" character from a book.
The lengths that believers will go to.
Your post only shows your ignorance of atheism.
Perhaps X-tian Fundies should quit their whining and seek psychotherapy for their martyr complex, as well as their magical, irrational thinking.
Ssssshhhh! You'll make the sky wizard angry! Are trying to get yourself smote?!
We can do better, we can all find a group that we can cling to and make life for some other group painful. Choosing to be heard above the majority is a great start to being recognized as a special person. let's all find something to beech about and join with others to create a super cranky existence for our friends and neighbors. Why be difficult when together we can be impossible?
How do you war against something you say you don't believe in?
There isn't. Fox made this up to whip its base into a frenzy.
you burn it at the stake.
That has been an approach by Christians, historically. Is that what you are referring to?
Simply put, simple mindedness becomes the playing fields of social differentials...
It is a war to make you re-think your stupidity. Not that you idiots can even take notice of it.
My 2 cents, for what it's worth: People don't know how to believe in things anymore, be they atheist, christian, muslim, jewish, hindu, baha'i, etc. They aren't followers of their religion, they're fans of their religion in the same way one is a fan of a sports team. They take this thing they believe in and they wrap it around their ego until it becomes a part of their ident-ity. So that any perceived attack or denial of their belief becomes a personal attack on them. In the process they completely forget their reasons for believing in it in the first place and fly directly in the face of its teachings.
Mike, you shouldn't lump atheists in with believer groups. Atheism is in essence a lack of belief. As has been well said before, atheism is no more a belief or religion, than not collecting stamps is a hobby.
I'm atheist, you don't have to tell me that. Tell it to all the atheists out there who treat it as a religion.
And if that's all you took away from the post then just move along, you've failed.
Looking up the thread at you making the mistake, I'd give you the fail whale on this thread, Mike. A BIG whale at that. Congrats, stupid.
Since it apparently needs clarification, my intent was not to include atheism as a religious group, but to speak to the vast number of atheists that treat it as such.
I don't believe that gods exists. That's all. It really isn't any deeper than that. I'm still a decent human being. I work, I pay my bills and my taxes and if someone or thing is truly in need, I'll do my best to help them. I'm not entirely certain how that makes me a terrible person, deserving to suffer for all eternity, but that's what christians say is in store for me. So why should I defer to their beliefs again?
If you don't believe in Christianity why does it matter to you what they say is going to happen to you? Nobody said anything about deferring. But if everybody would remove their beliefs from their ego and simply practice what they preach the world would be a better place.
It's kind of a rule Mike, complain to Jesus not the bride.
Rom 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
I don't even know what that means. Care to translate to a more modern parlance?
I'm an atheist and I disagree with that particular sign. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. There are definitely ways to celebrate a non-religious xmas, but there are certainly more tactful ways of saying it. For those christians who claim to be offended – well, welcome to the party. Many of you have been offending the rest of us for a LONG time. And when we tell you you're being offensive, many of you get mad, rude, loud and obnoxious about it. Then you wonder why we're so angry...