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.
No that is incorrect, their are way more Muslims. I know you don't want to believe that, but it's true .
Not in America. Sorry.
I didn't say in America, I said in the world!
But fundamentalist American Christians think they're above the rest of the world, so it's irrelevant that they're a minority on the world scale. Anyone who is not an American Christian is a sub-species to them.
That is incorrect. Islam is the fastest growing religion, but Christianity still has the most members world wide.
And no, you didn't state a location.
The most reliable studies on the matter show there to be about 2.1 billion Christians and about 1.5 billion Muslims. You can google it if you don't believe me. And the next category is secular/atheist/agnostic/nonreligious at 1.1 billion. We seculars are a much larger group than most people imagine, though few will label themselves atheists due to social pressures. That last group is also 20% on America, and growing faster than any other religion.
What have we here? Another atheist mambo jumbo in the Belief Blog! Well one more opportunity for me to remind you all my frenemies atheists, that atheism is absolute and Total stupidity.
Boring troll is boring.
So Bob, what are your thoughts on "petty insults and use of derogatory terms" here?
Does the God you purport to represent appreciate you associating him with judgment and intolerance? Just curious...
There is no "War on Christmas." It's a phony theme invented by Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin for purely commercial purposes. I'm a Christian and I don't like militant atheists any better than I like Faux News, but a war on Christmas has never existed.
Neither does it have any relevance at all to the practice of one's faith.
No. It doesn't.
If your faith is strong, you're not threatened.
I don't like militant anything.
Just wait till the GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET the Legal Enforcement Branch of atheism gets hold of you. If you make one single tiny little typing mistake. They will club you over and over and pick you with toothpicks over and over till you die. Then you will know what war from atheists is. 😀 BTW I agree with you! O'Reilly is an idolater and Palin is an embarra-ssment to all brunettes.
Salero! It's time for your thorazine!
Now that there's funny.
Salero, Nietzsche called that Slave Morality, where a resentful person dislikes the abilities of others and reacts by inverting the standards so that bad (in your case, illiteracy) is actually good and good (the ability to write correctly) is somehow bad.
"Palin is an embarra-ssment to all brunettes"
Salero–you surprise me. You actually said something that makes sense. I never thought I would agree with you on anything.
If you're a "stupid atheist who doesn't believe in anything", that would make you a very rare individual.
In fact, I've never met anyone like you.
Sometimes ridicule is the best medicine. Christians are freaking retards.
American Atheists are like the Fox News of the non-believers.
Avoid them like you would avoid an internet atheist.
Your bigotry is showing.
I dislike annoying atheists. Ridicule and calling Christians retards is stupid. Ignorant. Not helpful.
It is like you are just proving you are worst than what you profess to hate.
Are you really offended by my critique and not his petty insults and use of derogatory terms?
Michael's statement is the most bigotted thing I've seen posted on here. And you ignore it?
Bob, you are doing EXACTLY what you hate, using ridicule and name-calling. You are what you despise.
Oh, I didn't impress a troll. oh no.
You could not have proven my point any better. Thanks.
agreed. But we are "militant atheists" for making such statements. I have nothing against the religious, but I do hate stupidity and therein lies the problem. Most religions are stupid or at least have some very stupid tenets to them and often outright lies.
It sure will be nice to see religions and god fearing wane in the coming years! 🙂
HAPPY HOLIDAYS ALL!! 🙂
I am a theist, although not militant, and would submit to you that you enjoy many perks in life that are a by product of the Christian faith, Christmas being just one.
Enjoy your stolen holiday, deceiver.
Now that wasn't very nice.
That is lame. You don't steal a holiday.
You assimilate it.
Resistance is futile.
A non issue really. Not are prime directive.
I agree it is a non-issue....up to the point that someone claims an excusive right to the season....the season belongs to everyone.
My word Cheese, we've actually found a point of agreement, and you didn't even try to manipulate the meaning of my words ( that last phrase was a joke, kind of).
But I think that is the issue devin, certain people (not you) like Bill O'Reilly and others wantt to plant the Christian Flag and claim ownership of the season.
Obviously I'm a theological conservative. Politically conservative also, apart from environmental issues. All this to say, while I embrace conservatism I find individuals like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to be little more than pompous ar s e s.
I know, not very Christian of me. Truth is truth.
I am an atheist, a fairly militant one. I think the words "under God" should be stricken from the pledge, especially since they weren't there originally. I object to religious functions in public schools and generally think there is far too much Christian influence in politics.
But I LOVE Christmas. It's a time for family and friends to gather together. People tend to be happy, kind to each other, generous to a fault. I gladly exchange "Merry Christmas" greetings with everyone I see and have no problem with nativity scenes or carols. It's a holiday for everyone. Why can't we all just enjoy the season without fighting about what it means?
A name is just a name and Christmas means different things to different people. Just as it should be.
I don't think any of that makes you a militant atheist, more of a reasonable one. I had those opinions back when I though i was a christian.
I like christmas too. Merry Christmas.
I agree with you totally..
There is no 'war on christmas'. But Ill tell you what.. Decent people should not have to be bombarded with Christian sicko nonsense constantly around the holidays. Its insulting. Christmas is no longer about some undead zombie quasi-deity coming back to life. Its about presents and christmas trees and colored lights. Its about being good to each other and spending time with loved ones – regardless of what you believe. Its 2013: if you insisit on believing weird religious crap in spite of the vast amount of science and common sense that surrounds you, then *keep it at home* – where it belongs. This is a *secular* country. Christians would be up in arms if they had to be bombarded with Islamic chants for 30 days of the year. Why should everyone else have to put up with this undead zombie crap?!?
Shut up your Anti-Christian bigot..... Only 0.8% muslims in USA
Do you realize the irony of your calling someone else a bigot when you're all over the board with your anti-semitism?
I'm not a Muslim , but their are more Muslims in the world then any other religion.
No, Christianity still has the lead. There are a few Muslim websites that make that claim, but they somehow found more muslims in some countries than there were people.
Enough mumbo jumbo about gods and living after you die, what an ego-driven delusion of Man.
You write something like that, yet classify yourself as a "decent person"? Please. I don't practice religion myself, though my stances on various topics tends to get me the "shut your mouth, bible thumper!" label, but it is pretty clear that people are just so thin-skinned that they perceive any image, ad, nativity scene, crucifix as "insulting". Just about everyone stays clear of "fundies", as some call them, and you and I both know that when it comes to our acquaintances that happen to be religious, most of them just keep it to themselves. That, or they wish you nothing but goodness.
You act as if all of the religious stuff you cried about in your post is intended to harm you, or cause you ill will. Grow up, and sack up.
I always thought "Happy Holidays" was more to cover "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" all in one. I have never understood why anyone correlates "Happy Holidays" with hatered of Christmas.....it is just absurd.
I'm pretty sure that's where it started, and of course it respects people of other religions and perspectives. All of which is apparently abhorrent to a lot of Christians.
Don't listen to Fox News or American Atheists, and you'll find most people don't care.
I've always said it to incorporate Happy Hanukkah as well.
This is exactly what Happy Holidays used to mean...along with throwing in Hannukah.
Pretty innocuous, if you ask me.
Pretty sure Christians are already doing a great job destroying it. Isn't it supposed to be about Jesus? Look at Christmas now... rabid consumerism, Santa Clause, etc... lol
Ever heard of St. Nick?
Why? Are you going to blame Jews for him, as well?
yes, blame Christians and not corporations for commercializing Christmas
well thought out there, buddy
Hallmark Cards, Coca-Cola and the Saturday Evening Post stole Christmas from Pagans and sold it to Christians and atheists.
When did atheists become so teeth-gratingly annoying?
Surely non-believers in God weren't always the colossal pains in the collective backside that they are today?
Surely there was a time when you could say to someone "I am an atheist" without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, "Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?"
Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I'm put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I'm a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes.
Violation of the Ninth Commandment: you bore false witness.
Violation of "Do unto others"
Violation of "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"`
Violation of "Judge not lest thou be judged"
Oh, and there was such a time where the reaction was different. Christians imprisoned, tortured or killed atheists if they said that.
I'm atheist. But I'd rather claim being a Catholic (which I used to be) to avoid being put in the same category as the annoying atheists. They are just as bad as the right-wing Christians.
So your original post applies to you?
by definition, a hypocrite is someone who compromises the values which they espouse
so thank you for your redundant tirade, it was super educational and not at all a closed loop of hate
Some spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the believers.
It says more about them than the believers.
You could start using the moniker "I'm an Xtheist"
That way you take the non-belief out of who you are like some try to take Christ out of Christmas
Wow Brendan. Nice broad brush judgement of a bunch of people you don't know.
When did Christians become such hypocrites? You're just upset because more and more people are becoming atheist and challenging you ignorant Christians!!
And the Christian church should stop claiming it as a Christian holiday. They stole it from pagans and claimed it was the birth of Christ... Therefore lying to their followers and others to gain converts... Your church lied to you to gain your allegiance...brilliant. No atheists shouldn't stop. You can be Christian all you want, who cares. But people should know the truth and just know your church lied to get you there. The amount of people out there that actually believe it has anything to do with Christ is amazing and very sad. Truth is important. If there was a Christ he was born in the fall. It was unnecessary for the church to lie and it's sad so many accept the lie
Almost everyone “knows” Christmas derived from Mithraism, or Saturnalia, or Yule, or whatever. And they stole it from the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, Pagans, Germans, Celts, etc. Yea, that is the ticket!
I can't believe they stole from so many different cultures. Some of them they didn't even have contact with. That is some big time crime.
Christmas just didn't appear fully formed. Traditions have been added on ever since Emperor Constantine declared the 25th to be Christ's birthday way back in 336. A lot of traditions were added on as christians encountered other cultures and found it easier to convert them if they included some of the pagan traditions.
Yea, most recognize that. Pagans winter holiday certainly didn't look very much like a middle class American Christmas.
And the pagans borrowed from other cultures, too. They didn't steal or hijack.
So you're now saying "never mind" to your original statement?
um, so you are saying anyone outside the Roman Catholic Church isn't a Christian? I know they believe that, but I didn't know xtheists believed that...
What? No they don't, please don't spout nonsense. No Catholic thinks Protestants aren't Christian.
Can you post a link on your theory that Christians stole the holiday from pagans?
Most admit they share certain traditions, which had to do more with their Norther European heritage.
Ever been t a Hawaii Christmas? They use aspects of their culture, not ours.
This Wikipedia article has many good links to specific reference materials detailing the morphing of Sol Invictus into Jesus under the Roman Emperors turned Pope. The Protostent Christians, in their ignorance of this co-opting of pagan traditions, simply accetped the dogma of the birth of their god and ran with it.
The Philocalian calendar of AD 354 gives a festival of "Natalis Invicti" on 25 December. There is limited evidence that this festival was celebrated before the mid-4th century.[
And then it goes on to say that not all agree with the theory. Somebody posed that idea way after the fact.
You're kind of missing the point. Do I think Jesus was born on Dec. 25? No. Does it work as well as any date to get together with family and friends? Yes.
The point is the spirit behind the holiday, not the date.
I do like the part where he tells the kids that a manger is a place where you feed your enemas. Pat's enunciation leaves a little to be desired.
If he had a hard time keeping my attention, I can only imagine what those kids were thinking.
"In other words: American Atheists and Fox News – alongside conservatives like Sarah Palin – seem to have discovered a mutually beneficial relationship."
Yep! Fox News and American Atheists, put them in the same category.
Then you'd have to get rid of the white supremacist, christian supremacist Megyn Kelly.
The American Atheists are the ones hoping to get on her talk show, or whatever she does. I've never seen her on tv.
Bob the funky creation museum !
Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck thanks creationist for ‘standing up’ to the atheists
By David Edwards
Monday, December 16, 2013 9:48 EST
The president of a Kentucky creationist museum told Fox News on Monday that Christmas was a “time to take on the atheists” who used their free speech rights to doubt the existence of God.
Yea, I'll let the righ-wingers and interent atheists watch all the Fox News they want. Keep watching and talking about Fox News.
Dang source for above post.
"Atheists should quit the war on Christmas."
Pundits should stop using the term "war" when they mean gentle ideological disagreement. It desensitizes consumers to the horrors of the *actual* wars going on in the world.
They have discovered that a "war" on an abstraction, like drugs or Christmas, never ends, so they are always able to do what they want. And it villifies whoever you want to villify by calling it a war. It's a political fraud to keep people afraid and angry and doing what the leaders want.
"gentle disagreement"? that's putting it mildly.
My son is atheist, I am not...he doesn't believe, I do. I'm not trying to make him change and he isn't trying to make me change. I am not hurting anyone by believing. How is this hurting the atheist?
It's not. At least not from what you've said in this post. Maybe if I knew everything you've said to your son, I might come to a different conclusion.
If what you said was accurate, that's fine. That's how it ought to be. Well done.
I hope he is not like the internet atheists. You, know, like the ones that are more annoying than religious fanatics.
Oh come on. There's nothing more disturbing than the internet religious extremists. They post scripture as if it somehow is a relevant argument to those who don't believe in the bible. Some atheists may be a bit rude, but at least they're always up for a rational discussion.
Rational discussion-–that's quite a broad positive brush you are painting with...
Most try to come across like their god Chris Hitchens-and he was a very angry hateful person.
No,as a neutral observer, they are both annoying. I see atheists post scripture all the time. And they often seek out Christians so they can be offended.
Trust me. Most people say internet atheists are just as bad as right-wing fundie Xtians.
Christopher Hitchens was a walking logical fallacy. He had some good intentions, but man, his use of logic was a big FAIL.
The only time I've seen an atheist post scripture, it was to point out the fact that the bible is self-contradicting, illogical and can be interpreted to pretty much support or dispute any stance you can come up with. No atheist posts scripture as if those words are actually legitimate proof of anything.
is it even possible to be more annoying than religious zealots?
Bob, how can you ignore posts by people like lol?? and say atheists are the problem? There are a lot of Christian-written hate posts on these blogs. Are you blind to the transgressions of the people you agree with but overly sensitive to the ones you don't? And your posts are exactly what you despise, so you have a bit of a hypocrisy issue. And the two posts before you look pretty darn respectful to me. YOU are the one who dragged this down.
I have no idea what lol? is all about. I don't understand what his/her point it. I don't engage in conversation or bother to read his/her stuff.
But yea, we have plenty of people criticizing the religious on here. I think some of the atheists need to look at their behavior and actions Internet atheists have earned their bad reputation.
Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself: "Mankind." Basically, it's made up of two separate words, mank and ind. What do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.
Maybe we should be using the term "humankind".
That wouldn't work either-we descended from apes, remember?–therefore, how about humanimalkind?
I think another purpose of this billboard to let nonbelievers understand that they are not alone during the Christmas season when before many may have been a bit depressed. This particular message may be abrupt to some but the repression of nonbeliever messages has been more than repressed and more to be silenced in the past. Some ostracism towards them continues. In the more distant past views that contradicted the Catholic Church for centuries was met with harsh criticism, torture, imprisonment and even death. So let them express their view and enjoy your Christmas or Holiday Season or whatever.
Uh, no one is suggesting they can't express their view-say you don't believe in Christ, but don't attempt to change the whole meaning by interrupting those who do and stating they are silly or ignorant.
If atheists were at war with christmas they would be going after Santa .Without Santa, Christmas is just another tired out religious day when parents force their children to go to church. Without The Easter Bunny, easter is just another tired out religious day when parents force their children to go to church. Kill off Santa and what's left? Borrrrring - just ask any kid.
But I really like lying to my kids!
you sound like a christian
Every tongue shall bow, every knee shall confess that Santa is real! Really!
like putting cheese on vegetables.