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
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Everyone is seeking their 15 minutes of fame!
This is not the view of 90+% of non-theists. That group is just cashing in on the religious outcry along with the foxnews and friends. Most atheists don't give a damn what you call it and see it as a make believe fun time, and that their would be no reason to fight that. It's just a jolly time that has no religious meaning to us. All that ticks us off is having the actual religion force fed to young people and being talked down to or pitied like a criminal or moral-less beast.
The people who have it out for Christmas are the followers of other religions.
Agreed. This author is trying to conflate one tiny little subsect of an already small group, so I say we should tar him as being in Al Qaeda.
"Why does the advertisement read as a dig at Christians?" Because American Christians are thin-skinned and have no sense of perspective. There are countries in the world where being found out to be Christian can at best lead to harassment by the state. In the U.S., we hear Xtians talk about being so oppressed. Which they say in nice suits from very large buildings (churches the size of malls, 5 star hotels, etc.) they flew to in private jets. Christians make up something like 98% of all elected officials in this country, state, local, and federal. You people do NOT get to claim oppression just because you don't get your why 100% of the time. Calling American Christians petulant children would be an understatement. Montana Max from the old Tiny Toons cartoons had more perspective and humility.
Organized atheism is not that different from organized religion. The whole and only point of atheism is the individual development outside the dogma. Replacing one dogma with another isn't the answer. And those PR stunts with anti-Christ billboards is no better than PR stunts coming from Westboro Baptists.
Extremeists suck no matter what. But, one side is still a majority in this country and the other is still prohibited by law in several states from being able to hold elected office.
When there's a severe power balance, your comparison doesn't really hold up.
"The whole and only point of atheism is the individual development outside the dogma."
You are making the exact same error you criticize. There is not "point" of atheism. It is just a lack of belief in gods. Many Buddhists are atheists. Anything you believe about individuality or dogma is outside of what atheism is.
(The war on the Christmas myth is not new)
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.
"All men are created equal... ...well, except for my slaves. I don't know what to do with the children conceived after I surprise f()cked so many slave girls."
So much for fact checking.
Is that supposed to reverse the first post? It didn't work.
Um...as long as he stuck to the rules THE BIBLE gives about owning slaves, he must have been ok, right?
fact check just got owned
A. I'm not Christian or Jewish or Muslim
B. Jefferson cut that part out of his Bible.
He owned slaves while saying all men are created equal. Probably one of the biggest hypocrites in American history.
Maybe change your name from 'fact check' to the more accurate 'passive aggressive non-point'?
Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite about slaves, but claiming he was one of the biggest hypocrites in American history just shows a lack of FACT CHECKING again. He was an extremely intelligent man with an insatiable quest for knowledge. He was very honest about his religious beliefs.
Atheist is somehow a religion, religion is ones belief on something. Atheist don't believe on what believers believe with. Therefore, atheists have complete trust and are confident,, or in short have their own faith that people who praise higher beings are not real.
It's crazy, huh......
You can choose to ignore on something you don't believe in. What's wrong with these people? Why are atheists forcing their faith (that higher beings don't exist), when NO one is forcing them to celebrate CHRISTmas?
NO atheists are calling for signs supporting atheism in schools, for instance.
It's Christians who are trying to force their beliefs on others.
Do you know any atheists?
Saying that the atheists have a religion is akin to telling a bald person that they have hair.
Have you tried shopping lately? That abhorrent music everywhere, most of it having nothing to do with Christ, just plain awful. I'd rather listen liturgies than to this nonsense.
That's funny...Xmas decorations and sales start going up earlier every year, the music is on every radio station, there are parades and sales and tv specials. People trying to escape Xmas would have to hide in their homes on a media blackout to get away. But then the carolers show up and...
In Northern Europe it's called Jul and is based on Pagan tradition occurring on Dec 25th. Established waaaay before Christianity was formed. There is no "Christ" in much of the world's celebration this time of year. "Christ"mas is a red-neck, bible-beating American invention.
Are you sure Jul was celebrated on December 25th?
Atheism – the new most annoying religion (and it IS a religion).
Yule is today, isn't it? I know the Celtic/Druid celebration is today I am not familiar with the Norse traditions as I was not raised by Northern Europeans. However, I have seen Thor and I deduce from Thor that the Norse were not Atheists.
I was raised Catholic and I thought modern Christmas was invented by Charles Dickens not the religious right. Other historically Christianish nations have different traditions and to be honest, I have a feeling mine differ from those of the Evangelical.
Atheism is not in itself a religion. Many Buddhists are atheists, for instance, and Buddhism, nit atheism, is their religion. A Buddhist is generally also an a-santaclauist, but that is also not a religion, just a lack of Santa belief. A religion is a system of beliefs, and be definition atheism contains either no beliefs or a single belief regarding gods. A true religion also contains an ethical of lifestyle component, else it is just a belief system in the same way string theory or idealism are.
That said, many use the term "atheism" to describe a set of larger beliefs they have that include some va.gue materialism and other ideas. These are usually confused teenagers who are desperately struggling for a replacement for the religion they have left behind. Within a few years these kids generally figuree out the difference.
Atheism is a religion?
Only if theism is a religion....which it is not.
why don't you go fact check it, fact check? Lazy.
the solstice was on the 25th 2k yrs ago because earth wobbles in space over time
science might be too hard for you tho
Can you post a reference that says Jul was celebrated on December 25th? I couldnt find one. Thanks, why being a jerk. I asked a simple question.
You're not simply asking questions – you're challenging and baiting people in the guise of being cute about it. Stop being a dick and then pretending you're not.
I'm a Christian and I prefer "Happy Holidays". Since my fellow "Christian" counterparts shove our faith down others' throats, anti-theists should have the privilege like everyone else, to exercise their freedom of speech. We should all be tolerant all each others' beliefs, no matter how absurd it may be to us. My fellow counterparts and atheists alike also need to stop making a big fuss about everything that is unnecessary to waste time on. I'm tired of seeing my counterparts in particular condemning atheists for putting out their opinions on beliefs when they themselves shove down our faith in others throats.
If one does not want to convert, let them do as they want. If you keep doing it, you give us a bad name!
If there is a "war on Christmas", then there are also Christian "wars on gays and pro-choice supporters".
But they are proud of their "crusade" against gays and abortion.
Funny how asking for equality seems like war to them, whereas everyone else is supposed to accept their kneejerk need to control everyone's lives as perfectly rational.
THE writer: wiki
"Chris Stedman (born April 9, 1987) is an American writer and interfaith activist who serves as the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University........................"
First off if he's a harvard man he outta know the Christians claim one faith so there can't be any interfaith unless it's amongst Christians and Jesus already said that would be a tough deal, anyway. It should actually be called intrafaith and he's got a fake job earnin' fake money from the poor students. No wonder the Big O is confused.
Why does a man making an honest living threaten you so much?
Why do you hate people that may have a different worldview than you?
Christ is the reason for Christmas! If you atheists want to cross out Christ, then it is no longer Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the magnificent nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ+
Merry Christmas and God bless all+
Actually it was originally a Pagan holiday. Christians just kinda co-opted it for their benefit. Without Christianity we'd just be celebrating the Winter Solstice. You could probably argue both ways if we'd still develop or not develop a Christmas equivalent without Christians taking over the Pagan's holiday.
Being atheist, I couldn't agree with you more. Just as I don't want Christians or any other religion stuff their beliefs down my throat, I don't know why atheists have to push their beliefs; as well as anti-Christmas sentiment. Give it a rest-permanently. If anything else, the Christmas season is largely a joyous celebration for all, and should be held in a positive light whether for religious or any other reasons. God bless you (so to speak!).
Bruehaha! I couldn't agree more!
While I read the image and this story I couldn't help by say hey, I may not need Christ in Christmas, you may not either, but, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” is false! Christians need Christ in Christmas, Christians are as much somebody as atheists or any other faith system. In that context I see it as a Christian bashing campaign.
I just wish it would stop and let people enjoy the holiday as they see fit! Jewish followers do not celebrate Christmas, but they don't put out anti-Christ in Christmas campaigns!
God Bless all, Blessed Be, or just enjoy life and allow others to do the same!!!
You're an atheists...so what...Live and let live...To each his own....
Yeah, Joe, but let's see if the other side will live up to their side of the deal...
There is no war on Christmas. This is a Christian fantasy.
Suze, plenty of Crischinz(tm) love them some fake martyrdom...
I'm an atheist, and don't believe in a higher being whether a Moslem, Christian, or a Jewish "god". However, I like the holiday season and I enjoy people being nice to each other, and tell those whom I know are Christians "Merry Christmas". Just because I don't believe in a higher being it doesn't mean others shouldn't either.
I'm an athiest, but I love Christmas. Christmas is a Christian rip-off (truth – not trying to be rude) of Winter Solstice/ Yule/Candlemas – the re-birth of the Pagan God Pan, the horned, God with Goat's feet) via the Goddess. Yes, Christians demonized Pan in an effort to sway Pagans. Pan was a beneficent God of the harvest. There is absolutely no description of the Devil in the Bible, yet we all know he has horns, cloven feet and a tail – Pan.
The Yule log, candles, pine trees, pine wreathes, holly and holly berries, etc. are all Pagan. Fine – Chirstians had to do something to get Pagans to warm up to their religion, so they made up a day for the birth of Christ which was formerly Pan's.
I say "Merry Christmas", as I was raised Luthern. Happy Holidays seems manufactured to me. Christians need to recognize the roots of all of their holidays are Pagan (as only one example Easter is Ostara, a Pagan fertility festival)... They can't cry "foul" when they have "fouled" so many.
I don't agree with athiests that want to demolish religion. I have no belief, but hey, let people have their fun, as long as they don't try to ram it down the throats of others and as long as they don't try to demonize others..
Do you know any Christian denominations that deny these things?
I thought it was pretty common knowledge in Christian circles. For me, my ancestors held onto some of their traditions and practices regarding winter holidays. And other people appreciate and embrace them today.
I don't mean to say most Christians would say it is a "rip off". Or that we hijacked or stole it.
But most understand there are traditions rooted in pre-Christian practices. And it isn't a problem.
I think that is actually the problem. There is a disturbing amount of Christians that don't actually know where their religion comes from. They kinda just assume that Christianity was always there and there was nothing before it or that anything was co-opted from other religions/pagan practices. I've run into more than a few that I've had to educate them on where their religion came from sadly when they have tried to convert me in the past. Oddly enough down on the NJ boardwalk. Don't know why they were trying to convert people on the boardwalk but hey at least it is a nice place to do your work.
I learned a long time ago not all Christians celebrate Christmas like Americans. And some of our American traditions are borrowed from other cultures. And not all cultures celebrate Christmas but have a different winter holiday.
Isn't that where hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey?
"Do you know any Christian denominations that deny these things?"
I know many, many christians that are ignorant of these things. No I am not saying they are stupid.
Right. But generally, I've noticed, most recognize that these are American traditions that we are practicing. And that many of our beliefs and practices are rooted from pre-Christian times.
And that is ok. We didn't steal or hijack these traditions. We passed them down from family to family.
I agree with yoe AE that christions didn't steal it....it was more of an assimilation and it was strategic.
Atheist here, too, and love Christmas as well.
Your peaceful opinions and perspectives are yours and are welcome comments section . I have nor reply to them.
Your comments on origins of the two big Christian holidays are only half true, however. Yes, a lot of the ways that the holidays are expressed have absorbed aspects of diverse culture, but the origin and heart of the holidays themselves are distinctly Christian. Without a known date for Jesus' birth, Christmas absorbed a Pagan festivity day but only because the beliefs about Christ's birth were already firmly entrenched. Certain traits of Santa have diverse origins, but Santa exists as a direct result of Saint Nicholas. As for Easter, it's always been associated with Jewish Passover, not any Pagan festival.
It wouldn't have been hard to figure out when his birth was, given that it is known when tax time in Ancient Rome was, and given that that was the time of year that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. Scholars have estimated that his birth was in August.
Clement of Alexandria believed that Jesus Christ was born in the flesh on the 25th of April or May of 1 or 2 BC.
I think a few sects do argue the actual birth was probably in the Spring or early summer due to the sheep grazing or something akin to that. Then it was just as said above pushed to December 25th to convince the pagans that Christianity is cool and you should totally convert like right now.
Due to the sheep lambing. Sheep lamb in the Spring. Shepherds are really only needed to watch their flocks at night during lambing. So, it makes sense that Christ was born in the Spring.
Christmas was celebrated January 6th in Germany in many other countries. In fact some celebrate the 12 days of Christmas until January 6th.
Christmas is not a rip-off of "pagan" traditions.
First – 'Pagan' is a Latin word that basically means farmer or non-urban dweller. It came to mean non-Christian during the period of the early Christian emperors of Rome when it became fashionable and urbane to follow the new religion. Pagan is simply a word that means 'those folks who are unsophisticated and rustic and who don't believe what we city dwellers believe (which at that time was Christianity). So "pagan" is not a religion, belief system, or anything else.
Second – Christmas is Christmas. You are using the word Christmas to mean the celebration of Christmas. How people celebrate something changes over time. And honestly, even whether they celebrate something changes over time. In the early Christian era no one celebrated birthdays because no one knew what day they were born. Most folks only cared abut seasons and left calendars to priests and scribes. But later people did start celebrating the birth of Christ (Christmas). After all, it was described in the Bible, why not celebrate it? The only problem was when to celebrate it. And, as you alluded to, in deciding which day of the year to celebrate, it was convenient, in evangelical terms, to celebrate it on a day when people were already celebrating in one form or another. But the choice of day and the choice of how to celebrate the day don't negate the fact of what it is that we celebrate. If we chose to celebrate Christmas on July 4th with fireworks it would still be a celebration of the birth of Christ. It wouldn't be a "rip-off" of Independence day.
People all over the world celebrate Christmas (the birth of Christ) in different ways. Some celebrate it on different days. But they are all celebrating Christ's birth. They aren't celebrating the day of Christ's birth. They aren't celebrating the season of Christ's birth. They are celebrating that Christ was born. Period.
You raise some good points. I'd at least like to argue that without the Christian's putting it on the day that Pagans were already celebrating that Christmas may not be quite what it is today. I think there is also a lot to say about the fact that the Romans generally didn't care what your religion was as long as you paid taxes and swore loyalty to the emperor. Their original beef was the fact that the Christian's wouldn't swear the emperor above their god like everyone else did so it became a battle of the wills. Clearly the Christians ended up winning that in the end once it got adopted as the state religion for a while there. I would argue also that Paganism is a view of religion at least as it is nowadays. Perhaps like you said back in the Roman times it was like that but I would still argue it was a religion if not a traditional one at least a loose one since they tended to believe in multiple gods and nature. Anyway I think in the end I think a few different arguments could be made based on the information we have now but in the end all we really have to go on is history and how we interpret how things were set up in the past.
In general, pagan means heathen or infidel.
" as long as they don't try to ram it down the throats of others and as long as they don't try to demonize others.."
WOW how utterly naive ....this is EXACTLY the business they are in .....
That guy should quit the war on his ear lobe.
Very nice post! (almost had soda come out of my nose...well done)
The atheists didn't start the war on Christmas, the war on Christmas started when we decided to use the birth of Christ to buy and sell things. He wanted us to celebrate Good Friday, but we chose Black Friday.
I find it interesting that so many Christians suddenly become anti-capitalists this time of year. A lot have said the same thing in this story.
I wonder if they actually don't shop for presents, or if they are just paying lip service to a cliché as they continue to spend away.
Apparently I have finished my thesis and am in my post-thesis stage now. Darn these fmuble fengners!
Christians should stop their war on intelligence and progress right after their give their Pagans back their decorated tree, bunny and all the other things their deary cult stole to make themselves seem less hateful and barbaric.
My mom needs to give our tree to pagans?
So Christians should stop celebrating the Birth of Christ and the death and resurrection of Christ and start celebrating the spirit elves that live in evergreen trees and keep them green all year? Is that about it?
Roger this. PG reporting from N.C. Fighting is heavy. Removed red light bulb from Rudolph lawn ornament. Also threw water balloon at church van. Over.
Well done PG. Search out carrollers and ask them to sing Village People songs instead. Report progress. Over.
You're not implying that there's anything wrong with the Village People are you?
The Villiage People rule! They have partnered with the A-Team to root out unharmonious carollers.
@EyeSpy – the mental image has killed me.
If you can't get a good round-up of people that know Village People, a good substi-tute would be a boom-box with some Barry Manilow pre-loaded and ready to go.
Umm...no Bill, that would only cause a mass suicide... 🙂
PG reporting from N.C. Succeeded in infiltrating carolers. Formed conga line and sang Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot. Hot.” Over
Excellent work, agent Ponyboy. The War On Christmas is almost won. Now for the most heinous part of our sneaky underhanded nefarious plot: Go to the mall, find the Santa surrounded by hordes of children, pull off his beard and loudly cry "HE'S A FRAUD! THERE IS NO SANTA! YOUR PARENTS ARE LYING TO YOU!!!"
I'm afraid it's a suicide mission. Expect to be ripped apart by furious psychotic soccer moms for revealing their foul lie. We have nice Purple Heart and small grave prepared for what's left of you. Over.
Roger this. PG reporting from N.C. Punched out two elves. May day!. Repeat. May day! Mall security in close pursuit. Send back-up. Over.
We're sending jesus in to help you out. He seems a little disoriented (still recovering from trying to float thru rock) and keeps muttering "Ya gotta believe!" but he should be able to distract your pursuers for a while.m Good luck!