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.
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Happy baby Santa's birthday everyone!
How can you have a war when only one side is fighting. There is NO war on christmas or christians except in their own minds. Are they being kept from celebrating christmas, are they kept for worshiping? NO it is silly and a waste of space.
I was hoping for an excuse to overturn cars, set up barricades and toss petrol bombs. For Jesus, of course.
imagine if our founding fathers hadn't put the stomp on religions. It would be like the middle east in the USA today, except with christians. And we'd have active muslim/christian wars every day
Turn off your tv.
Most Christians don't believe there is a war on Christmas.
Christians should quit the war on Atheists
they are rather pushy. But don't forget,, a christian believes something is wrong only when others do what they do
Maybe everyone should learn the difference between a activists and non-activists half the complaints are from people who purposely stir trouble half of u couldn't pick out a normal christian or atheist.
All I want is for the children victims of clergy abuse cover ups to get justice in the court of law.
This goes good with Jewish theology, regarding Prophet Jesus.
SO now the Jews got it wrong about Prophet Jesus
The Christians got it wrong
and the Atheist got it wrong
I sure am glad I am a Muslim!
Glad to be a Muslim/ Good for you – you get your own myths and fairy tales to believe. Just like a couple of kids fighting over who would win in a fight – superman or batman.
Isn't believing in nothing believing in something?
Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?
Because if you park on a parkway your car will get towed.
Because they get kinda mad when I drive on the sidewalk and park on the poodle?
It's not that I believe in a higher power so much as I am still interested in proving myself wrong.
Desperately seeking victim status...
Theists and Atheists : BOTH positions are Faith-Based ! ! !
Someone may by faith accept an idea and believe. Generally people don't fail to believe because of faith.
you must think belief is a bad thing or you wouldn't throw it at others. BTW; I do believe atheist lack faith but look for facts. More so, an atheist will grow with knowledge accepting change with new discoveries. The religious hang on primitive mans tales. Now tell us which group evolves?
Mere unsubstantiable "Belief" is the currency of the charlatan - Be it religion or politics - or anything else ! !
Diamonds and coal are both forms of carbon!
Wrong. There is a marked lack of faith in those of us who exclaim "prove it" in the face of religion.
NO, no - NEITHER side can "PROVE" anything - Thus each has "faith" (small letter "f") that their position is the correct one ! !
True. All human beings use faith in their life. We are creatures of faith. Blame God or evolution, but it is totally our nature to use faith in our daily life.
There's that fallacy of equivocation again. Christians just love that one.
There was a recent study that agnostics and atheists were mor efamiliar with religioud beliefs than believers.
I think it's kinda funny how Christians scream and yell and throw temper tantrums about the war on THEIR holiday, and insist that Jesus is the reason for the season, and blah, blah, blah. Apparently they have no clue Christmas didn't exist until they hijacked it from the pagans. All the seasonal traditions were being practiced by pagans, and the early church knew the pagans would not convert if it meant giving up their celebration. So, Christians went about lying to pagans about the "real" meaning of the holiday, and all it's symbolism. When you hear a Christian saying "Keep Christ in Christmas", what they really mean is "We stole it fair and square!"
Most Christians don't think there is a war on Christmas. Cable news seems to like the subject.
I'm an atheist. Don't get the battle against Christmas. It's a fun tradition even if you ignore the religious connotations. Too many people these days whining/complaining about too many things. Get over it. Enjoy life.
Seriously. You nailed it.
Just as much as I hate when Christians try to convert me to religion, I don't think it's Atheists place to do the same. Live and let live.
Live and let live. Yes!
I agree. I mean we don't protest them worshiping nothing, do we?
No, we burn them at the stake. Those were the good old days. Good times, good times.
Those who think belief in God (aka religion) clearly are challenged in the skill of counting And besides, who can really know what goes on inside people's heads?.
Hope you choke on it, Christurds!
Just like your typical atheist: nasty, mean, bitter. They have nothing and they don't want others to have anything either. Never seen a comment by an atheist that didn't sound like the rants of a mean drunk.
I love you. Signed, an atheist. There you go, your first of many I hope!
Get off the cross – we need the wood.
Art is an atheist plant here posing as a theist in order to make theists look bad.
BE NICE, ART.
You do that all on your own.
The War on Christmas is a joke perpetuated by Fox News, and those who are willing to bait them (like me).
I enjoy spending time with my family, so when the opportunity presents itself, I do. I don't hate Christmas, or the people who celebrate the religious aspect, I'm just glad for the time off work. Wassail, a warm fire, family, friends, that's what I want. Happy Holidays.
Definitely a media manufactured phenomenon.
In my church we gather in remembrance of Jesus Christ and remind ourselves that material things and money are not what is important. That is what Christmas is for me.
I teach Sunday School. We definitely teach that many of our customs and traditions we use to celebrate at Christmas are not Biblical. It comes from our cultural heritage. They are important to many of our families, some have been passed down for thousands of years. And we learn about other Christians that don't celebrate Christmas like us. And that some people of other religions use holiday trees and lights.
It is ok.
There is no war on Christmas.
Capitalism is a bigger threat to the religious aspect of Christmas than Atheism.
I do not believe in a higher being, I guess that makes me atheist. This group doesn't speak for me though, I let others practice what they want – until it is pushed on to me, or I am told I am somehow, weak minded. Happy holidays!
Dump religions... Throw out the atheists creed... Bring back the elders' Paganism and all its most glory... ..
And what, precisely, is the atheist's creed?
La-La's been burning his spliffs again, so don't expect anything rational.
The atheist's creed, you ask?! It is thus:
"ALL OUT WAR ON CHRISTMAS" ;^)
Christians may think in terms of war, but it's enough that they just keep their beliefs in their yards.
There is no 'War on Christmas'. It's a hoax to rile up people. That's all it is. That's why people like Cal Thomas have dismissed it.
AA is more reliable than Santa, it's a tradition now like the big tree in Time Square.