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.
Atheists who are zealous are just as bad as their religious conterparts. Miserable scrubby people.
Seen Duck Dynasty lately?
Well, let's see–you have them outnumbered on the order of 4-to-1 (at least), so I guess they're just supposed to shut up and let you make their law codes for them. Yeah, that works great–if you're in the majority...
There's no war on Christmas except in the minds of paranoid, delusional people – i.e. christians.
Not all of us paranoid delusional people are Christians you know
Fair enough, the paranoid and delusional are everywhere.
Not all paranoid delusional people are christians, but all christians are paranoid delusional people.
the only paranoid delusional people are the Atheists, they cant stand seeing anything that has to do with Christians or they start freaking out
Have you read delusional believer Dave's rants?
You and Dave should get a room, you sound perfect for each other.
If it's NOT a war on Christmas, and really a war AGAINST Christians, then why is it that athiests ONLY protest CHRISTIAN's holidays and beliefs? We never hear about athiests protesting Hannukah or Ramadan! Athiests don't mind that the Jews believe in ONE God! They don't mind that Muslims believe in ONE God either! And I've never heard any reports that the Buddhists should get rid of all those fat bellied statues! Nope. It's just Jesus who comes under fire. How about all NON-Christians just QUIT celebrating Christmas, and go on to work that day, and get on with your lives, just like Christians do during Hannukah and Ramadan. WHY is it that anyone who doesn't HAVE a religion has taken the Christian's holiday over and worked ceaselessly to DE-Christianize it? Christmas IS about Jesus. It IS the celebration of his BIRTH! Now granted, there ARE a lot of non-practicing "Christians" in the world... those who CALL themselves Christian but don't really live the Christian life... but those who DO live the Christian life would just as soon SANTA disappear - because we know what the celebration is REALLY all about!
That's what's called a Straw Man Argument, where you invent a false position for your opponent then address the false position instead of what they actually believe and would say.
One of those fallacy thingys.
Get a grip. It's your idiot religion that keeps declaring itself majority, forces your stupid god to be mentioned on our money, pretends to be all amazing and wonderful.
You're the problem in this country. Paranoid and delusional, judging others for a lack of belief, for being different. Your evangelicals are denying science and turning out generations of hick, uneducated kids.
It's time someone put you guys in your place – lower on the food chain.
Its really funny that its what atheist are doing, trying to force there beliefs on Christians, I dont believe in religion but i do believe in GOD, and people like you give me more faith in what I believe, you highjack religion by adding fake santa just to get rid of the real only true GOD but that never worked for you fools. (2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
Of course you believe in religion. Like many other christians, you've simply formed your own, using your own interpretation of the same book.
Yet again, the majority whines about fake persecution and whips out a quote from the bible.
Your book means nothing to someone not engaged in your delusion.
Aha... now I understand... you're one of those "End Times" wackadoodles...
I'm not protesting your silly holiday. It's one group of atheists, not all of them. Sheesh. Your pretend martyrdom is pathetic.
Now see there? I didn't "judge" anyone. I didn't call any names. I didn't discredit Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or EVEN athiests! I give EVERYONE the right to believe whatever they choose. But I also would like to be allowed to follow MY beliefs without BEING judged or called "silly" or told that my values are wrong. I just pointed out some facts. And the 3 who chose to (thus far) can only resort to name calling. Great.
That was a lie. I correctly identified your post as a straw man fallacy. No name calling at all.
You were very judgmental, but can't see it. Keep basking in your fake persecution.
I never said you "judged" anyone. Did you actually read my comment? I simply said that your martyrdom mostly exists in your head.
I actually have to agree with you Melli. I believe that its the commercialism of Christmas that gets under people's skin. I know as a Jew, I definitely get annoyed with the commercialism/materialism of Christmas. I would be perfectly happy if Christmas went back to being about what it actually celebrates, and all the commercialism was gotten rid of. Christmas IS about Jesus. It is NOT a cultural holiday, it is a RELIGIOUS holiday. Why cant we just take the commercialism and fakeness out of Christmas (and Easter as well). Santa, Christmas tree, Easter bunny – all have nothing to do with what the holidays actually celebrates. The reason atheists generally don't get mad at Jews and Muslims is that WE dont shove our religion in people's faces.
Thank you Lovelyroses. Exactly. True Christians would truly love it if ALL the commercialism ceased! WE are as offended by it as anyone! I refuse to go into certain stores in the months of October and November because I can handle having Santa and Frosty shoved down my throat for 3 full months! Nor do I care to hear Holly Jolly Christmas for 3 months! I prefer Silent Night... in December.
'True' christians. By that, you mean people who think like you.
That's not judgmental at all.
And No True Scotsman rides again, Melli! Hi-ho Silver, away!
So who gets to decide who are the True Christians(tm), Melli? You?...
Get a life; a real one, not one from your fantasy world.
See? BJ - do you have anything "productive" to share? Because calling MY faith a "fantasy" doesn't do anything to solve anything. It simply is more "name calling". Ouch!
You first, 'true christian'.
To be accurate, all religious belief is a mental illness. It is more pernicious than mere fantasy.
My friend its going to happen but we must forgive those who accuse us for they dont know what they do, im not perfect so i have to just pray for them and myself
We know exactly what we're doing. You go ahead and go pray while saner heads figure out how to clean up the mess that religion has made of our political landscape and educational standards.
Right on. It is because Christianity is the only religion that threatens that you are going to go to hell if you don't believe in its deities.
For a very, very long time now, Christmas has been about consumerism in America, not about Christ. I think it's funny to hear people get all defensive about the "war on Christmas" as if there were some assault on Christ going on that is more of an assault than all the consumerism. All these so-called "Christians" are out there trampling people to get the best deals on their holiday shopping. They're not thinking about Christ.
If they were capable of actually thinking at all, they wouldn't be christians.
What denomination of Christianity teaches that:
some of our American customs and traditions surrounding Christmas (Evergreen tree, holy) are not from our Northern European roots but from a Middle Eastern tribal tradition?
Or what denomination refuses to admit this?
I always thought it was pretty common knowledge. We openly teach about it at the Sunday school I teach at. I've never met a Christian that denies this.
I don't get the people that say Christians stole, hijacked or even plagiarized customs and traditions.
What's the mystery here, AE? Let's use the term co-opted. That is what was done to various traditions to convince people that they could abandon their old gods for the new God and keep many of the things that mattered to them – festivals and such.
The new Christians kept some of their old customs and traditions. Other Christians, people of other faiths and non-believers also embraced and appreciated those winter symbols and practices.
The holiday association with the tree is Germanic in origin, holly is druidic (British Isles), so those are not tribal Middle East. Saturnalia is Roman, also not Middle East.
Your Sunday School wasn't too hot on the facts.
Those things were all usurped to turn pagan rituals into Christian ones, to end existing beliefs and replace them with Jesus obedience. Was it originally a "Christmas" tree? Nope. Do you call it by it's original name? Nope.
I think you misunderstood me.
Feel free to clarify. You did say the tree and holly were Middle Eastern traditions, which they aren't. I don't think I misunderstood that. You asked how they could be considered hijacked, and I explained it. Unless you meant to say something different that what you actually said, I just don't see the your point.
I'm Germanic in origin.
How is me celebrating Christmas with my ancestor's customs and traditions considered hijacking, theft or plagiarizing?
I, like all Christians I have ever met, understand where some of the customs and traditions started.
I didn't mean to say that the traditions were middle eastern.
I was asking which Christian denomination teaches that they are. I've never run across a Christian that says such things.
Just trying to understand why so many people are saying my customs and traditions were stolen (from myself?) or hijacked.
It's not that I misunderstood; it's that you refuse to understand. Those traditions were not Christian. They were hijacked by Christians and made part of a Christian celebration as part of an effort to terminate the pagan religions. Then the pagan religion was squelched out of existence, sometimes by violence.
And whether or not you are Germanic in descent matters not the least, because there are many other traditions you observe that are neither Germanic or Christian in origin. If Celtic tribes had created these practices for the Christian holiday would would be right. But they didn't.
No, I don't believe they were hijacked. I think people held onto their customs and practices. Just like African and Asian Christians have different customs and practices that are unique to their culture.
My pagan ancestors converted to Christianity at some point. And they held onto some of their family traditions. It wasn't a problem with their new belief system.
I should have said:
"What denomination of Christianity teaches that some of our American customs and traditions surrounding Christmas (Evergreen tree, holy) are not from our Northern European roots but from a Middle Eastern tribal tradition?"
I don't know of any denomination that teaches that all our traditions (Evergreen tree, holy) are strictly Christian traditions. Most know that they are not form Middle Eastern tribal tradition.
What denomination teaches differently?"
I'm asking what denomination or sect says they are striclty Christian traditions? Can you name any? I can't.
It's been explained to you again and again, but you refuse to accept the truth because you don't like it. Do you also deny that those cultures were forcibly converted and people hanging onto pagan ways were persecuted?
I'm asking you what Christian sect or denomination denies this???
I've learned about these things you are talking about. I can read this
and, say, yea, I learned about that in my history classes. Yes.
Why are you changing the subject? I never addressed that as I do not know what the various denominations believe on the subject, nor do I care. I addressed a specific part of what you said. Go ask someone else.
There is not denomination that teaches that Christmas traditions are strictly from Christian origins or beliefs.
Most admit that our American customs and traditions practiced at Christmas time have roots in pre-Christian practices. What some would generalize as "pagan."
That was the point of my OP. Thanks for discussing.
Use your computer to become informed while you still have the freedom to do so and you will soon stop teaching Sunday school Part 1 of the movie Zeitgeist would be a good place to start.
No, that video is not a good place to start.
The tool that everyone is using to argue with each other (the computer) can be used to learn the truth. Welcome to the information age!
That video is not very truthful.
I urge you to watch the 3 videos I posted as a beginning investigation. Then take the time to thoroughly continue to investigate on your own. I can assure you, you have been deceived if you believe Jesus is a real person that died on a cross to save you from your sins. I know it is difficult to even question it because of your current understanding, but in time, if you investigate, your eyes will be opened and you will be amazed at the game that has been played on you at your expense both figuratively and literally.
Most atheists say this video is bunk. Not reliable. Bad.
Search "zeitgeist errors"
Why are you offended that we believe in God? I am not offended that you don't believe in him!
I'm not offended. It's quaint when it's harmless.
Funny, All I've seen on television for the last month has been christmas christmas christmas. Seems like the war on christmas is about as effective as the war on drugs... except, I see barely any mention of jesus, only santa everywhere... If christians want christmas to be a real religious holiday, they should treat it like one. As it is, it's about as 'religious" of a holiday as halloween.
also, just to be clear, I'm not an atheist, I am an agnostic apatheist.
and I do celebrate christmas...
For atheists and agnostics only:
A. Do you celebrate Christmas, calling it Christmas, getting together with family, gifing gifts, eating great meals?
B. Do you celebrate some alternative to Christmas, calling it Festivus or Solstice, and is it much different?
C. Have you ever personally tried to inhibit Christians in their practice of their Christmas, or tried to get Christmas abolished in some form?
Kinda sounds like an AA meeting.
Yes to A and B no to C
The war lies on the story behind Christmas which of course is of Pagan origins that predate Christ by centuries. The true birthdate of Christ is unknown and not exactly mentioned by Matthew or Luke. Christmas has become commercial and in turn lost its true Pagan roots in connecting with the earth. Christmas therefore can be celebrated secularly as it has no true Christian roots.
isn't that something? The bible writers never told anyone of jesus birth date. That is extremely odd. As if they were all made up stories. I suppose it's more indication of fabricated stories.
telling small children they are sinners is the first step to reducing the victim to brainwashing. Telling them they will go to hell where they will get painful third degree burns with monsters that will eat them helps solidify it.
Why don't atheists "believe" in God the way people "believe" in equality. I know there is no proof of God, you know that, everybody knows that. I still choose to "believe" that you have the right to choose your occupation, your favorite foods, to speak your mind and I CHOOSE to believe those rights were given to you by "God" and not by government and I make that choice out of respect for you.
USA law is above religious god laws. We all can be thankful for that
Yes this is true. People can abuse the concept either way I suppose.
Because atheists don't believe in any gods. At all. Why is that hard to grasp? Equality is a tangible thing that affects us all.
I have a hard time grasping that concept because I do not want to see myself, or any group of us as the ultimate decision maker. I want to submit to the idea that I am not in charge of your fate. I want to acknowledge you as special and unique and not subject to the control of my "group". I want that for everyone...rights that were not given and that can not be taken away.
You can do all that without believing in the supernatural. That is the beautiful of human evolution.
I believe in those rights because they are something I want in our society. We have them because we agree on them.
Unfortunately not everyone is going to agree. I do want that too but some do not. Some want to be the ultimate authority over you.
There are reasons to fight.
I am concerned that if a group of people believes they are the ones who gave you your rights, that group will feel absolutely justified in taking them away again without considering if perhaps they shouldn't.
People DO believe in god the same way they believe in equality. Both "god" and "equality" are simply human-constructed concepts. Equality doesn't have a stand-alone existence outside of the human mind, Just like god. You can choose to believe whatever you want, including that a god gave human certain rights. There appears to be no evidence whatsoever to support that belief, but you're still free to believe it.
There will never be any proof of it but keeping the idea is my way of submitting to something larger than society.
"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."
Dave Silverman, my response to that is if they're adults, who is forcing them to go to church?? Why would YOU have to tell them they don't have to go? If it makes someone miserable to attend church, I doubt an adult with an average IQ would force themselves to go. Are you assuming all churchgoers are driving themselves with whips to go to church? I really doubt that is the case. Most people do what they enjoy or find fulfilling. Their may be a few cases of guilt-ridden churchgoers, but I'm sure they are in the minority and what they would need is a psychologist rather than YOU telling them it isn't necessary.
Yes, good points!
I'm not a theist, but I don't see a point in attacking someone else's religion. The biggest annoyance I have, though, especially about Christians is their need to convert people and pass laws favoring their Christian points of view. So, I also see a need to counter their political aspirations.
or getting away with crimes of child abuse cover ups. If the catholic church were a national day care center,, the church would have been shut down, and the popes, cardinals and bishops would be in the jails they belong in
I feel the same way about gay people.
I extend an invitation to all. Come to Times Square tomorrow, December 22nd and check out the billboard, then walk down the street to 51st and Broadway and see a free Broadway play " A Baby Changes Everything". Come early to get a seat, presented @ 10 am, 3pm and 6 pm. The church will validate your parking ticket for the 51st & 8th parking garage, and it will only cost $2. One thing that we can all agree on, is that a baby does change everything. If you do not have any kids, just ask your parents. If nothing else, you get to see a free Broadway play and enjoy a beautiful day in the city. Make sure you come and greet me. I'm Joe, the tall doorman in a blue jacket. If not able to be there in person, can also view live @ tscnyc.org at the10 am only. Come as you are!
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE AND PEACE ON EARTH!
happy baby Santa's birthday to you too
Say that to your neighbors or your boss or anyone who tells you Merry Christmas. You will sound like an imbecile and they will look at you like you smell funny.
I do.. In fact it keeps things in prospective. I say it at work too
Happy Holidays to all at FOXNEWS. Peace on earth too! Close to 80% of people in the USA are Christians. I doubt if any of the many small groups that make up the rest could possibly wage a war on Christmas. Christmas is all over the place even before Thanksgiving.
No, materialism is all over the place even before Thanksgiving.
It is not just the atheists that hate Christmas, it's also the polygamists and the LGBTQ who have twisted
the Biblical definition of marriage and "redefined" Jesus in their image to satisfy their sinful behavior.
God and his eternal word will stand against these relentless attacks.
Christmas and the birth of Jesus are the REASON for the season.
These people have brought condemnation upon themselves.
atheists 'Hate'.. why do the religious love to throw the word hate around? Sounds like a little kid who was caught lying and says 'you hate me mommy'
What a closet case! Every single post is a homophobic rant. You are so obsessed with it that you just have to be a massive closet case.
As an agnostic I am shaking for fear of the eternal fire!
Chapter and verse where Jesus said anything about gay people, old woman.
You do more to further the LGBT fight for rights and to further the atheist movement than any other person who posts here.
Look in the mirror. You are the quintessential hateful Christian. Well done. You are a stereotype. Happy?
I think the only hate here is Douglas' hate for himself. It's sad how he feels like he should be punished for his attraction to other men.
Stedman says "atheists can build positive relationships with believers to humanize our communities and educate one another about our differences."
This is such drivel!
First, most atheists I know already have positive relationships with believers! How silly to think we need his coaxing to get the concept. He doesn't seem to understand that public debate, which can sometimes get heated, does not mean our private lives consist of warring with our opponents. Yes, we can sometimes get into it with those we know & love, but for the most part we blend in just like any other folks.
Secondly: educate one another!? This is absurd; atheists are very familiar with the theist view. The education is necessary only for theists, who consistently demonstrate their lack of understanding, both willfully & unintentionally.
Stedman brings nothing new to the table; there have always been accommodationists, and his arguments are the same tired nonsense we've already heard.
But he does have the Justin Timberlake look down pretty good.
In a gesture of good will in this holiday season honoring little baby Jesus, I would like to share this saying of Grace with Christians and atheists alike:
Lets turn this around, Christianity has been forcing agnostics and atheists to put up with there destructive belief system for many years. All to the detriment of humanity.
correction activists from all walks of life are destructive detriment of humanity.