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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as soon as other peoples religious views no longer effect my everyday life i will stop hating on religion, but i don't see that happening. Atheists really don't effect other people unless those people are looking for a debate, Religions seep into our everyday life and effect people who just want to live their life not be told what they are doing wrong
"effect" = noun
"affect" = verb
Re: Affect vs. effect
Your rule of thumb is close, but not universal.
- You can effect a change
- You can have a flat affect (physical manifestation)
p.s. Cpt., you are correct about the usage in that particular post, however.
Yes, but I did not want to get that deep with someone who is making an honest mistake.
Using "effect" as a verb implies complete responsibility for the change "effected." To "affect" an outcome is to have some small (or unidentified contributing amount) to the change that occurred. "To "effect" a change is to be the designing agent or sole contributer to that change.
I could be somewhat of a grammar Nazi, but I'm just not interested in taking on that role.
"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."
Now, if we can just get those in the majority to be less afraid of the change ...
Atheists celebrate religious diversity? Your post is a load of hogwash.
Jack, are you a troll? Your mindless attacks make you sound like a troll.
Of course there's a war on Christmas, and on Christ, and on his Holy Church! The only thing funny about it is that Christians seem surprised. Wake up people! You were promised a war. Fight on Christian soldier. Viva Cristo Rey!
Based on what exactly?
Christians have a history of waging war on people who don't follow their faith. I'm just glad to live in a time where you aren't allowed to use guns or swords. I'm also happy to live in a country where our right to free speech is guaranteed. While I don't particularly care for this sign, I'm glad that atheists have the same rights as christians to put up signs that may offend (christians have been doing it for years).
It's sad that christians consider anything that questions their faith to be "War". They must be very insecure if they consider a sign to be a threat.
The Atheists are right on this one. Nowhere in the Bible is there mention of Christmas, or the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Early Christians did not celebrate it. Christmas is deeply rooted in Pagan tradition and Greek mythology. People like to say that by incorporating Pagan traditions, and Greek mythology into Biblical teachings, more people are "Christian". This too is unscriptural. The fact that these traditions and teachings did not go away, shows that the exact opposite happened. so called Christians are have turned away from Bible teachings. Satan doesn't care how you worship him as long as you don't worship God.
There is no credible historical proof that Jesus ever existed.
But I'm fine with Christmas and so are most people.
There's no war on Christmas.
Mid-winter was a time of celebration for many ancient cultures. Whatever you want to call it, it's just a great time to celebrate.
There are many credible historians that make mention of Christ based on eye witness accounts. Thousands of people claimed to have seen and heard Jesus. The question is, was he the Son of God? Don't distort history simply because you don't believe in God. Jesus was a real man, and there are credible historical facts to prove it.
Actually, the only "eyewitness accounts" we have of seeing him during his lifetime were those written down in the Gospels. Fragments of the earliest of the four Gospels was written at least 70 years after the events it portrays.
...and at the time, if you survived your youth, you MIGHT live to be 50 or 60.
Even the authors of the gospels never met Jesus.
No, there are stories of eyewitness accounts appearing many decades after Jesus supposedly died, and accounts of Christians made by outside historians. It's just possible to argue that even Jesus never actually existed, but even amongst respected scholars there are none who would argue that the Gospels are reliable sources of historical evidence, and that the life of Jesus isn't religious propaganda aimed at converting people.
No, there are STORIES of eyewitness accounts appearing many decades after Jesus supposedly died, and accounts of CHRISTIANS made by outside historians. Amongst respected scholars there are none who would argue that the Gospels are reliable sources of historical evidence, and that the life of Jesus isn't religious propaganda aimed at converting people.
Sorry for double post.
Anyone who makes any statement about religion – for or against – is simply wasting his time. Move on with your life, get your nose back in joint, and have a great holiday season.
Well, there goes the entire missionary profession. 🙂
As an agnostic I realize I can't prove there is no god and believers can't prove there is. On this topic..as for anything else–if you don't like something that does not place you in harm, ignore it. Don't push your crap on others. If it so bothers you, don't look at it, don't listen to it and just go on with life and you won't be so upset. Plus–separation of church and state, if the government practiced it, no one in any religion would be offended.
I'm an atheist, because I don't believe in any gods, but I'm also agnostic about it because I can't "know" for certain that no gods exist. If you don't actually believe in any gods, then you're also an atheist agnostic, right?
I'm getting really tired of atheists trying to push their religion on everyone. We have the right to believe as much as they have the right not to believe. I have never seen anyone tell an atheist that they have to believe in god.
Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a $exual position.
In other words.....it isn't.
That's not true, Bob. I've read four articles already that atheism has applied to be an official religion.
"Atheism" has applied?
Tell me, what color are Atheism's eyes? Is he, or she tall?
No, you read articles about people trying to make atheism a religion, but I doubt you will grasp the difference.
I've had to listen to street preachers, have had church flyers left in my door frame, and have been visited by uninvited church members wishing to share their "good news". I have seen sign after sign that claim that I will burn in hell for my non-belief. None of these things were things that I asked for. I think you can survive a sign or two, Ed.
"I have never seen anyone tell an atheist that they have to believe in god." – not only is this a blatant lie, its the #1 complaint by all atheists. When we say we dont believe in god, most of the time, its followed up with a 15 min conversation on why I should believe in god. Your statement is not so distant from reality, but part of being a christian is spreading gods word. You statement is just Plain FALSE!
I have not seen many Christians not happily explain to all, willing or not to listen, that only a faith in Jesus and God will save them from eternal torment in Hell. Maybe you don't live in the Bible Belt?
Apparently you don't know any atheist. For the longest time people kept the atheism to themselves because people would go out of there way to let us know that we are going to hell, and we need to change. Religion has been shoved down peoples throats for thousands of years. Atheist are just getting started.
I personally don't push any of my views on anyone. I don't even consider myself atheist. Just free from religion, god/satan.
What war on Christmas?
Why are Christians such mindless drama queens?
The writer says “In other words: American Atheists and Fox News – alongside conservatives like Sarah Palin – seem to have discovered a mutually beneficial relationship.¨ One interview a trend does not make, not even a relationship. You're reading too much into it, Chris Stedman.
As an atheist, I eschew confrontation, but I believe that bringing up a topic in a sincere, although controversial, manner (i.e. billboards) makes a good point. Of course that there is no war on Christmas. A neighbor just greeted me with Merry Christmas and I responded with a Happy Holidays. Was there a hint of an argument in our exchange? None.
Take American Atheists (the organization) out of the equation and who else is there to do some PR? AA is just using billboards in the same aggressive fashion that many Christian denominations have been doing for decades. So, who should be surprised?
Does anyone remember the "Don't Believe in God? ... You are not alone." billboard? That one was called an attack on faith too, so I doubt that anything any atheist puts up will ever go unchallenged as some kind of "attack", but I agree that AA is intentionally poking at the dragon with these.
We wish you a Happy Solstice,
We wish you a Happy Solstice,
We wish you a Happy Solstice
and longer days to come.
Bright sunshine we bring
to you and your kin.
Bright sunshine for the Solstice
and longer days to come.
I loathe winter (and I don't even live in frigid, blizzard territory).
The real war on Christmas is waged by those pushing the commercialization of this Holiday. Front and center is "'Santa Clause". He's the guy that teaches kids to ask for whatever they want and they'll get it. I don't think that is Christ's message.
Very nicely said. I have friends who are atheists and not only find the billboard mentioned in this article offensive because it does not represent their viewpoint (most of them respect other beliefs, they just want to be allowed to practice what they want without being harassed and told every other day they're going to H***), but they would agree with you that the over-commercializing of Christmas is counter-culture to what the overall idea of Christmas is about, and that is showing love and charity to one another.
Christmas is a time of giving and gathering where family is most important. I am a quiet atheist. I have no cause to raise. I leave religious people alone in hopes that they will do the same with me. It's worked well for over fifty years.
Christ's message -- worship me or I will burn your flesh in a lake of fire for all eternity
That's not it at all.
But, faith in Santa is the training wheels version of faith in Christ. Getting your kids to trust that this invisible person is keeping track of all your naughty behavior has been used to prime the slightly more adult faith in God for a very long time. Of course, now it's becoming a liability as kids are wising up earlier and earlier, and that child-like trust just isn't getting as firm a hold as it use to. Thus, I see many more atheists in your future.
And yet......the so-called "War on Christmas" stems from.......store nto suing the word "Christmas" in their advertising...
Ohhh the irony......
darn keyboard, "stores not using"
When I was a kid, Santa did not bring the big presents. Elves are not independently wealthy. The poem says, “…he filled all the stockings…” He left me crayons, pencils, a pencil sharpener, and my first jackknife. I knew that everything else came from my parents.
I agree, and well stated. Regarding the billboard in Times Square, it would be nice if organizations who disagree with this message, and have the money to combine, created their own message and rented a billboard in Times Square. To the effect of, "Christ loves and accepts us all. Regardless of our beliefs, choices, and whether or not we not we believe in him or need Christ in Christmas."
The bible says Jesus was born in the spring and not in December.
The early church only said he was born in December because people didn't want to give up their 'pagan" winter solstice celebrations.
Christians should fix this heresy and move the celebration of Jesus birth to June.
I think it's funny that the person you worship as Jesus Christ, would have never heard that name in his lifetime.
As an atheist, I completely disagree. Leave the celebration of Christmas in December. It falls nicely between other holidays and is a good tradition for gathering with friends and family. What difference does it really make when it is celebrated to you anyways?
Heresy? Christianity adopted many so-called heresies. What will one spot do to the leopard?
Jesus definitely was not born in December since shepherds do not keep watch over their flocks by night during the winter months. Actually Jesus was probably born in the fall around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. And he was most likely conceived at Hanukkah (since He is the Light of the world).
The atheist billboard is an annoying piece of idiocy. If you don't believe in God, I don't, then simply go your merry way in life. People should be free to to believe in whatever mythology they choose, as long as it doesn't become or influence public policy. You can't reason with the religious, if you could they would have left their religions long ago. But why be so militant?
I suspect it's because the religious faithful vote. They do affect policy.
Yes. Christians vote. That's how we get our voices out there. We do it through the legal system instead of bullying. If laws pass that reflect the Christian faith then that's because the majority of people that voted are Christians. It was done legally. Where's the problem with that?
You sure enjoy bearing false witness. You are completely ok with laws based on a supposive "christian" majority, but when the coin is flipped and laws that do not serve christianity as wrong, and an attack on you. You are pathetic.
You might be following the law but your rationale for what you get passed is often based on unsupported religious bullsh!t. Despite the growing number of non-believers, it is political suicide for anyone to stand up and say "But your making laws based on mythology!". Christians have a special but declining place in the USA – enjoy it while it lasts.
Not only do they vote, they buy political influence and affect public policy, especially in the areas of women's personal health and education.
Accusations aren't truth. What examples and proof do you have that any Christian organization has ever bought a politician? Atheist groups, however, HAVE been in the news for this within the last five years.
Please site your references, Jack.
What? People with strong Christian values aren't giving large donations to PACS that fund the campaigns of the republicans that are pushing all the anti-abortion legislation going on now? Who else would fight abortion rights that hard and dirty?
How much money did the Mormon church spend to pass Prop 8 in California?
because their opposition is militant. For every atheist billboard, there are thousands of christian billboards with even more vapid nonsensical messages. Atheists are only trying to show the world that christians can't bully them into being invisible as they have in the past.
I think it's backlash and polarization by people who don't understand how to live and let live.
They should 100% Not Stop The War on X-Mas !!!
Religion, all of it, 100% of it, celebrates all of our differences at a time in mankind's history when we all need to be celebrating each others similarities !!!
By "they", I hope you mean this fringe group and not atheists in general. Otherwise, it would be like saying "I hope that Chistians stop the war on veterans.". Just as the Westboro Church does not represent Christians, the "American Atheists" do not represent atheists. Neither group was elected for anything.
hmmm, tell that to the LGTB community and see how hard they laugh.
Nobody seems to care about the total capitalistic commercialization of Christmas. That doesn't offend your precious religious beliefs but a single billboard is enough to make your head explode and scream religious persecution? Nobody has the right priorities in this country.
You can watch a tank run over a school bus on a program intended for children and no one even notices, but if you flash a bre.ast at the superbowl more laws get passed to keep it from ever happening again.
There is no war on Christmas! Just stop this insane narrative already. Its morons like this that drive this stupid story. Just stop it.
I did not realize that there is an "atheist organization" of any kind. Atheism is not something that needs a "church" or any other structured organization. To the contrary, it is anathema to such a thing, so anybody calling themselves atheists.org may well be just a self promoter out to make a buck. Atheism is an individual thing that does not require gathering in a group. It has no "worship" cause. It is merely the belief that no god exists.
As an atheist I have no "was on Christmas", though I wish all christians would get more into the true spirit of their holiday rather than the spirit of the retail christmas season. And, if christians are going to celebrate Jesus' birthday, then I wish they would do it on or about March 6, which was the actual date of his birth in about 7 B.C. December 25, was historically the celebration of Sol Invictus, the winter solstice, of pagan ritual when they celebrated the end of longer winter days and the coming spring of new life.
Jesus' birthday celebration was on December 25, so the christians of that day could celebrate without attracting attention to themselves since they were heavily persecuted in those days. They did not stand out when celebrating during Sol Invictus because everybody was celebrating. But, Jesus' birthday was definitely NOT December 25!
Since when does historical accuracy matter to Christians? They do whatever suits their particular wants, not because it's factual.
Wes I agree with what you've said. I am an Atheist too and I don't think the billboard in Times Square was a good idea at all. It was far too abrasive. But where I disagree, to some small extent, is that Atheists don't need to be organized; we do. Just as Feminists and Gay people have united themselves to be heard, so should we Atheists. We need to be spending our energy and our money toward changing people's minds and letting those closet Atheists out there that they are not alone and should come out and say what they really think. If people around the world do not accomplish this, it is likely that the end of the human race will be the coincidence of Messianic religion and apocalyptic weaponry, and we are almost at that point already.
Winter holiday festivities have been around long before Christians and they'll be here long after. It hardly matters what we term the holiday, only that we're not stupid enough to believe the legends we tell the children.