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.
Better idea: retards should quit war on atheists.
Better yet: If we, as atheists, wish to set an example of what our society should navigate toward, we should be nice (that's the end game, right?) and stop using the word "retard". Demeaning those who disagree with you is very theist of you.
Atheists tend toward being weak of mind and spirit. They are easily led, and brainwashed. Their negativity stems from their inherent Christophobia and insecurity.
What a load of hooey. Project much?
Your typical believer is difficult to housebreak, but with patience it can be done. It may continue to "mark" territory in your house, but that's the nature of the breed.
Your post made me laugh. So it is non-religious people who are easily led and brainwashed? Really?
Try still having a religion once you realize it's illogical, it's not easy and it's a challenge to stay out of the main stream thought process. I like to glue my religion(s) together with a little duct tape...and I keep an eraser handy.
Theists tend toward being weak of mind and spirit. They are easily led, and brainwashed. Their negativity stems from their inherent Athiophobia and insecurity. Ta-Da!
Weak minded? May I remind you, only sheep need a shepherd...
And an occasional fleecing.
Really? Are you aware that studies have found most atheists know much more about religion than most Christians. I was raised a Christian, but after much study and soul searching, I realized that I can not rationally accept it. It seems like the perfect con to me. Pray and you get the results you want, it's a miracle! Pray and it doesn't come out the way you want then it's God's will and we can't know his plan. Really, you can buy that? I guess that's blind faith.
I couldn't tell you what's in the bible, but the atheists make it sound interesting.
FYI........Blind Faith were an English blues rock band that comprised Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech.
I heard them on tour with Yvonne Elliman doing vocals for them years ago. It's one concert I remember vividly.
Art is a fraud. He is atheist sabotaging the reputation of theists.
A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.
the exchange of the opposing groups ,between the theist and atheist is becoming more interesting,This CNN blog because of its neutral stand on the arguments is conforming to Gods will of someday resulting to a synthesis of faith.God is always with us.Its not an interfaith struggle in favor of anyone,but the unity of all.This process will take generations,but at least with the internet we are starting it.
Except for this .... There is no god so your plan fails
Aren't the atheist "haters?" I thought that was a bad thing in this PC day and age.
I will pray for all atheist. If one will change his or her mind about religion now or in 20 years it will have been worth it.
We have hopes for you too, Jaimie. Chin up. We'll get you over this god thing in good time.
I will pray for all Christians. If one realizes that to gain respect for their choice of faith they must respect others for their choice of faith in the next 20 years it will have been worth it.
Pray in yer left hand and make stinky in yer right and and see which one fills up first.
Pray for yourself before you pray for others. That's what Jesus would ask of you, as he asked of the Pharisees.
Oh the poor Christmas crowd. You do realize that its a holiday for many people not just Christians, right? Including Atheists. Grow Up.
Thomas Paine wasn't an atheist. He was an Enlightenment Deist. He believed in Gawd – but he rejected all religion. That's really what matters. Ol' Tom would have become an atheist if he had lived long enuff to read Darwin. He was heading in the right direction. He was a bodacious dood, was Tom Paine.
I am an atheist but i do not agree with the American Atheists campaign. I can enjoy the manager scene, Christmas trees and Santa! I love the joy of the season, family, giving and goodwill. I love Santa and he's make believe so why care about the manager scene. People can believe whatever they want no matter how illogical I find them.
I mostly agree, but I hate it when managers make a scene.
I am an Atheist and I completel agree. You can believe in Bigfoot and worship him for all I care. Just don't make public laws based on your belief and I will have no problems with you or your faith.
I can't really put myself solidly in the agnostic or atheist camp because I just don't care but I will say I enjoy the Christmas season. I haven't been to church since I was last punished by my dad (He used Church as a punishment. If we were bad he'd drop us off at Church on Sunday and read the paper in his car to make sure we didn't sneak out.) but may I love all the Christmas movies, the trees, and everything that comes with Christmas. I'm not going to go off on people that like to tie it in with Christianity even though I think it has completely diverged from its original roots as long as you don't try to turn it into law.
Your dad cracks me up. That is a great idea!
Oh it was an awesome punishment. At first my brother and I thought he was joking because he hated church. Well we were terrible the one weekend and boy if he didn't roll us out of bed at 6:30AM on Sunday morning and frog march us into church. We had to sit through both services and the one time we snuck out and he came early saw us coming back. Well after that he brought the sunday paper and just sat in his car no matter what the weather and would sit and read his paper to make sure we didn't sneak out ever again. I will say we respected and feared him after that punishment was introduced. I think we only were forced to church maybe 40 times or so in the 18 years he had us. I'll admit a lot of those times were during our teens years when we were testing our limits.
Anyone can insult jesus and the christian religion ( Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you; Luke 6:27-29 ) but no one dares to insult muslims and/or their prophet. This is despite that as of 2010, over 1.6 billion or about 23.4% of the world population are Muslims and their number is increasing exponentially with average 4 kids per couple (even higher in sone regions like the middle east and north africa). Some predict that they are going to dominate the world before 2030. Its also estimated (based on several research papers) that more than 73% of Muslims are very religious and follow their Quran teachings strictly and word per word (which I had to memorize as a child). These teachings recommend beheadings of "the non-believers" and ethiests in more than 46 verses. I want to tell Mr Silverman, all atheists, and actually, the entire world, enjoy your last years of freedom and enjoy the fact that you still have your head on top of your shoulder. What a stupid and ignorant West!
If you are a Christian, then you are insulting Christianity yourself with that very ignorant rant.
I am not a christian, but you are obviously a stupid person. The above was not a rant. I was citing actual numbers from actual demographic studies and research done by universities (I do not think you have been to one of those). Please keep busy trying to find out if Santa was black or white.
So "anyone can insult jesus and the christian religion but no one dares to insult muslims and/or their prophet" was a statistical claim and not just a rant? I am sorry, but I don't see how. Maybe you can enlighten me since I am so very stupid?
Here is one example for you: The Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Google it stupid. I have thousands of examples. Its not a rant stupid. Dare you stupid.
Yes the muslims are out to get us! Oh nos! Hmm where did I hear that before...Oh yeah! The Russians were out to get us with communism. If I remember correctly we were screaming about how the US was soon to be the last bastion of capitalism with the communists encroaching upon us from all sides...well we see how that turned out. Glad you found something else to replace your irrational fears.
irrational fear, hummm. Well why don't you travel outside your cave /hide out n the US and go to any country in the middle east, north africa, or southeast asia and tell them that you are an etheist and lets see what happens to you. Actually, I well take that back. Why don't you can go to France were 1 of every 5 is now Muslim (it was 1 in every 30 in the 1950's) or maybe to some neighbourhoods in London and tell them you are an ethiest. Stupid and uneducated.
Anyone who blindly follows a religion that requires its followers to kill non-believers is beyond stupid. It's your choice to remain stupid. I'll choose Reason, thank you. Enjoy your hatred.
Your brand of insanity is only growing in numbers because of birth rates in third world countries. Eventually, these populations will become educated, birth rates will drop and your market share will drop too. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about the west. You should be very, VERY, concerned about what happens when muslim women see the light and set the men straight. You're a member of a dying religious cult and you don't even know it.
The Earth's axial tilt is the reason for the season.
...or any season for that matter.
The December 25th celebration of the birth of the new born Sun (son), the Winter Solstice, has been celebrated for thousands of years before the creation of the Jesus character. In fact Jesus Christ is the 17th Sun God character in recorded history to be the personification of the Sun, the current Solar Messiah of our age. The point is that "Christmas" should be called what it is, The Winter Solstice. It is not a "Christian" holiday. It is a Pagan celebration, a celebration of the 3 day death and resurrection of the Sun which after December 25th begins to appear higher on the horizon bringing more sunlight and thus life back to the earth. On Easter it is the Vernal Equinox where the Sun is officially resurrected as the days are officially longer than the night, light has overcome darkness. I do however feel that it is good that a large segment of the population remains ignorant, for it is these people who gladly fight our wars, consume $7 lattes, change my oil, etc..these are the 80% of the 80/20 rule and they are needed to keep the 20% or 1% rich, comfortable and in power. It is surprising though that in this modern information age people are still so ignorant as to believe that Jesus is a real person. As long as Americans remain obsessed with Sports and mindless entertainment they will never figure out what it really going on. It's brilliant, bloody brilliant.
“The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally payed to the sun.” – Thomas Paine
Tom Paine – Hurrah! Love the man.
December 25th is not always the winter solstice. The date changes every year.
And not all Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Some do it a week into January. Some do it at a different time of year. Some don't celebrate it at all. It certainly is not celebrated on that date because the Bible says to do it.
That doesn't sound right, AE. I don't think the solstice is ever later than the 22nd of December.
Solstice is never on December 25.
Yea, you are right. December 25th date probably wasn't used for thousands of years to celebrate the winter solstice, then right?
People like you are so hopeless. The irony just floors me. So "educated", yet so stupid.
An agnostic is an atheist. A-theist means you don't have a theistic belief. If you are agnostic then you don't have a theistic belief. You are an atheist, you just don't know what the word means.
Wrong. To be an Atheist means that you do not believe in a higher power. To be an Agnostic means that you just don't choose to worship a higher power. You can be an Agnostic Atheist if you don't believe and you don't worship. If you do believe in a higher power but choose not to worship it, then you are an Agnostic Theist.
an agnostic looks for proof of a deity, and an atheist says there is not deity even if someone claims it and any proof is false. Thats the difference. The agnostic is not sure, the atheist is. You cannot be an agnostic atheist, becuase you cannot be neutral and non neutral at the same time.
Not quite correct. An agnostic atheist does not believe in a higher power but acknowledges that the existence of one is unprovable either way. An atheist simply sees no evidence to even consider the existence of one. Semantics, but still an important distinction.
Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. In other words, if you do not believe that a diety exists, then you are an Atheist. If you believe that at least one deity exists, then you are a Theist.
look up the word 'retarded'.
Reality makes me feel bad – give me a fantasy that make me feel good.
Except for the fact that the vast majority of non-religious people have nothing to do with "American Atheists". They are a small fringe group. To say that their opinions mark a "war on Christianity" is the same thing as saying that all Christians hate our military because the Westboro Church represents all Christians.
" I have faith means I don't want to know the truth."
"Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light."
Science flies you to the moon,
Faith flies you into buildings killing thousands.
"I yam what I yam" ~ Popeye
Lucky for Helen Keller that there was a scientific institute that could help her.
I think she, like most Christians, didn't see conflict between her faith in God and science.
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart."
"Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings."
Peter Boghossian: Faith is pretending to know things you don't.
There are three in one God, none want sin, all with the intelligence and power of God:
1. God the Father, creator of the universe, he sent the Son of God:
2. Jesus Christ of Nazareth, when demanded to prove who he is, he wouldn't, and they beat him to death, him dying on the cross.
3. Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to help the apostles and followers as the word of God spread.
Jesus is at the right hand of God and he proved how kind, loving, and wonderful he is, as he said in the verse:
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Where will you ever find someone like that, other than Jesus? Where? He is the best there ever was, is, or will be.
I was abducted by aliens.
That has about as much truth behind it as everything you just said.
Make 2014 a year to look beyond magic and mysticism.
Believe what you want to believe. Just don't expect me to believe it just because you do.
Why join the crowd just to be a crowd pleaser and risk your own soul to eternal death?
When logic and reason fail, resort to fear.
Gotta get'um well they are young. If you don't instill fear into children they won't grow up with a fear of the unknown and then they will actually question things because they're not afraid of a God that they may somehow displease.
I'm hosting a bible burning on christmas day. Going to start a new christmas tradition.
I do the same thing with a Turkey on Thanksgiving....just put a little sauce on it it'll be fine.
nom nom nom nom!
If your name is correct, I am the opposite. I am a gnostic Atheist. I do not believe in a higher power and yet I go to church occasionally and even pray regularily. True, when I pray it is more of a meditation than a communication with something I don't believe in, but it is prayer nonetheless. I also celebrate religious holidays with my family.
So will you start a tradition of Koran burning for a Muslim holiday? Seems only fair unless you are a pansy. Don't believe in religion, fine by me. Terrible things have been done in all their names. But at least treat all of them equally.
The Koran is on the list as well as the Book of Mormon.
Christmas was a Christian cooption of the pagan Saturnalia. Would it then be
I thought it was Mithra? Maybe Santa Claus? Truth is, today's Christians realize there are other theories out there. But, those other theories don't change their lives, make them happier, or comfort them. Christ does.
I'm happy to see the billboard(s) and see David Silverman on television. I am his target audience and I'm glad to know I'm not alone.
Why? As an atheist, I think it`s a joke. Do i have need to prove it to everyone no. Stop giving the rest of us bad names
We should pray for all Atheists.
I like atheists.
You should worry about yourself.
Why? Do you think we need more? 😉
Yes – pray for more of them. It is time for the human race to evolve beyond the believe in magic and mystics.
People keep telling me that they are praying for me to find Jesus. Hasn't happen. That is proof that prayer doesn't work and god doesn't exist.
Most likely the most honest people are agnostics, people who take neither leap.
Are you agnostic about Thor?
Why not, he could be right next to the teapot on Saturn. I'd never know it.
I was wondering if the real reason he was agnostic was because there are so many Christians, that were Christianity an obsolete religion, would he still be ambivalent? I just can't see him being agnostic about Quetzlcoatl unless he had been raised in Aztec pre-Columbian Mexico. But you never know. Maybe he's just hedging his bets.
Thank you D. I can point to no one, I can touch no one, I can see no one, but I keep hoping I'm wrong...and that there is someone. I never know what I don't know but I'm sure it's a lot.