Dear Christians: Thanks for Christmas, Love Atheists

Christian friends, the season is upon us. Not, as some of you seem to think, just your season either. Our season. All of us.

The fact is, any thriving society needs community holidays and social rituals. And Christmas is simply one of the finest ever conceived: a holiday that boasts its own distinct cultural spirit. If you think that non-believers can’t appreciate it, you’re quite wrong. Why would we need disown it, or turn up our nose at it? It’s as much ours as yours in its modern character and conception. We don’t even need to take the Christ out of Christmas: we can recognize its roots even as we enjoy its modern fruits, finding spiritual meaning in stories without having to believe in the supernatural pretensions. Mythology can be meaningful too, after all.

And really, countless nominally Christian households will today proceed to celebrate it with barely more than a passing thought or a few mumbled words about Christ. The day will instead be filled with Santa’s leavings, families reconnecting, banter, smiles, and even religious songs belted out without any recognition or interest in their lyrics. In short, what will dominate this season is the power of human community and collective celebration. Not theology. The rituals of human creativity and expression will rule. Not any singular sacred story.

Thus, as we all know that the Christian Christmas seems to have started life as a pagan celebration (and as a recent archeological find suggests, one that early Christians may have designed to help entice pagans into the fold), we should then find it only fitting that secular society is slowly converting the holiday yet again to serve its ends. Our culture has consumed and processed Christmas, giving it new life and new purpose. Birthing new myths that are as powerful and memorable as the original, from Santa to the Gift of the Magi to Scrooge to mistletoe makeouts.

If the more devout among you find all of this garish and objectionable, you’re not without precedent. Some early American Christians even banned the holiday, disdaining the boisterous reveling and the cultural ties to hated political enemies. Perhaps they felt things slipping out of their control, even then. But it’s too late now.

Perhaps still regretting these changes, many folks bemoan them by proxy, targeting the crass commercialization of the holiday. But when you come right down to it, even commercialization has its place: the unlovely but undeniable lifeblood of modern American culture. It’s easy to paint buying and selling as vacuous, but this picture is careless and shallow: many of the most beloved Christmas ideas, stories, and specials were born out of marketing schemes.

Further, while material goods are surely no substitute for sentiment, they are, you must admit, still a powerful medium for it. Gifts, whatever their intrinsic value, are also a telling check on relationships (how well does your spouse really know you these days?), an excuse to meditate on the lives and needs of others, and of course the evocative of ever enjoyable shared suspense and release of consumption. In a world where everything you want or need is a credit card swipe away, it’s, if anything, a welcome break from this classic consumerism to trust in the judgement of others to supply your hearts desire, or to ferret out the very thing you never knew you wanted. In a world where few think of the needy in any case, the glut of goodies can even be an engine of guilt and subsequent charity. Christmas, in short, has humanized conventional consumerism more than consumption has corrupted Christmas back.

No doubt there are plenty of other complaints against a modern Christmas. But all have failed to change its course overmuch, failed to keep an increasingly skeptical age from making the holiday its own: making it safe and sacred for families, rather than for sectarian agendas.

So Merry Christmas, dear Christian friends. And a happy new holiday to all, ever changing. You’ve given us a wonderful gift, and for that many of us non-believers are truly grateful. We’ll keep it, I think.

Update: Just in time for my observations about Christians who can’t seem to stomach or understand atheists and holidays, Dinesh D’Souza continues his slide from interesting conservative critic to foaming fruitcake with his latest ignorance-filled rant. Ilya Somin points out how D’Souza’s hatred has made him painfully sloppy and incoherent. Randy Balko is having none of his caricature of libertarians. What a whiny little Grinch!

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23 Responses to Dear Christians: Thanks for Christmas, Love Atheists

  1. arthurvandelay says:

    I don’t so much “celebrate” Christmas as I participate in it, just as I do with New Years, birthdays, and other cultural festivities. The notion that Christmas is exclusively for Christians might hold water if a Christian would deign to show us where the package deal of exchanging of gifts, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and public holidays appear in any of the many Christian bibles and holy books.

  2. […] The Bad Idea Blog thanks Christians for today: So Merry Christmas, dear Christian friends. And a happy new holiday to all, ever changing. You’ve given us a wonderful gift, and for that many of us non-believers are truly grateful. We’ll keep it, I think. […]

  3. […] and Thanks for Christmas, from the atheists […]

  4. Kat says:

    Great post, and happy holidays to you! Even when we called ourselves believers Christmas had very little to do with Christ…

  5. Strange, to have found this site on, of all days, Christmas Night! If this was a site promoting Christianity, and if I was a Christian seeking a Christian site, I’d be praising God for leading me to it. At least that is how the Christian mind works, does it not? So, having no unseen “force” to thank, I’ll just think myself mighty lucky. Mary from Meander With Me. WordPress blogsite.

  6. bobcu says:

    I suggest, since the word christmas is offensive to some people (holocaust survivors, etc), why not call this holiday what it really is, santa claus day. Both christ and santa claus are myths, but at least nobody has ever been murdered for santa.

  7. Bad says:

    I’m not sure why Holocaust survivors would be offended by the word Christmas, or why unintended offense is anything other than a confusion to be dispelled.

  8. Mister Oshcosh says:

    I agree. If anything I’m more offended over the word Holocaust than I am at the word Christmas.

  9. chautona says:

    Merry Christmas! As a Christian, may I say it is refrehing to read about someone who is not who is not only NOT offended by the existence of the day and the religious overtones of it, but also can actually appreciate the beauty in it as well.

  10. Yashodhara says:

    I would not disagree with you on this if it was not for the fact that very few people (mainly EU/US citizens) recognioze how “globalized Christmas is and how shoved-down-the-other-cultures’-throats this festival has been. RIght now, as we speak a Buddhist nation like Thailand has tremendous Xmas celebrations, a Socialist nation like Vietnam has lit up Hanoi streets in lights and a secular nation of India has very public xmas celebrations. All these countries, true, have small but finite Christian population. But, the overall objective is very clear: there is more and more pressur eto have such celebrations to get in line with a globalized economy. Globalized, in this case, taken to mean western/Christian. Otherwise, why does US not have mass Id celebrations? Just offering a point to ponder. I, a Hindu, brought up Catholic, living in a Buddhist nation, did have Chriustmas pudding. But-if local media was not so full of these recipes, I might as well have been doing something else. Please take this in the right spirirt and don’t flame me on this!

  11. Bad says:

    chautona: I think there is a often some confusion about the nature of the offenses surrounding Christmas. What generally offends non-Christians is the way in which Christians a) attempt to use the powers of the government to endorse and specially privilege their own observance and b) the general irritation at the assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas, that it is the most important holiday, etc. I think most people are happy to have others observing holidays as long they aren’t presumptuous about it. Being presumptuous isn’t part of the Christmas spirit, so I don’t think it’s ultimately a problem for Christmas itself, but many culture warriors on the right have made it a temporary problem in our culture at least.

    And that has led to the situation where the most offended people of all around the holidays these days seem to be Christmas folk: offended that there are other holidays (to the point of violence, in one recent case I blogged about), offended when other people say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas, and so on.

  12. PhillyChief says:

    What seems to annoy christians is that we celebrate but not accept or even acknowledge their silly beliefs about christmas. To me, it’s like if some Mexican at the bar on Cinco de Mayo got pissed at us Gringoes for celebrating but not toasting Mexican independence or if you happened to be celebrating a birthday or anniversary that day and he yelled, “NO! It’s Cinco de Mayo, damn it!” It’s all very silly when they push their “reason for the season” when the season was the reason they concocted their baby god’s birthday party should be Dec 25th in the first place.

  13. cowgalutah says:

    great post! Ya know I don’t think I heard a single person mention Christ all day. It was all about Santa and what not.

  14. Santa is a mythical possibly real person who had saved some children from being abused or murdered. But the real story was and always will be about Jesus Christ. This is the prelude to the Easter Celebration and the Passion of Christ of course! Real Christians, PHILLYCHIEF do not care if you celebrate Christmas or not. Real Christians do not care if you are a Christian or not. I know…because I am a Christian. Real Christians are not supposed to be judges unless they want to be judged themselves. Please stop listening to those people who always want to misrepresent the real reason for becoming a Christian in the First place. Real Christians have acknowleged their sinful nature, and also know that they cannot make themselves perfect without God’s help. So how can people who need God’s help to live day by day and love their fellow man have time to HATE, AND BE ANNOYED WITH NON-BELIEVERS!? So-Called Left wing, or right wing extremists and midroad
    liberal Christains all began on the same path….the path of unbelief! As Jesus had said of the so-called Harlot in the New Testament—“HE WITHOUT SIN—CAST THE FIRST STONE!” oF COURSE NOBODY TOSSED A ROCK OR EVEN A PEBBLE…BECAUSE ALL THOSE WHO HAD IT IN FOR THE HARLOT WERE GUILTY OF SIN THEMSELVES! So my dear friend PhillyChief—do not ever let yourself feel pressure from a so-called Christian—because a true believer is there to love people into the kingdom of God….not hate people, or dispise people, or judge people….JUDGEMENT BELONGS TO GOD ALMIGHTY…NOT THE BELIEVER…OUR JOB IS TO CARE for people, and help people. —even people we do not “like” or understand. If you do not worship, or celebrate the way I do —that is fine with me. My job is to pray without ceasing and to represent total compassion, love and understanding to the world. God will do the rest. God is beyond my scope of understanding and breth of my dreams. He has galaxies, universes, stars, moons and oceans, and creatures we have yet to see. How can I one human be the judge of another? Unless it is in a court of law? Celebrate as you wish! —Send all of the judemental Christians to me….I will open the scriptures for those believers who have SEEMED TO HAVE OVER LOOKED THE BIG FOUR (4) LETTER WORD CALLED LOVE!—-ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS, MERRY CHRISTMAS!—-OH, and one more thing. For those Christains who are so judgemental about holidays—why are the Christians on the Greek and Roman Calendar? Jesus is Jewish…so all of us Christians should be following the Jewish or Hebrew Calendar….We should also be attending “Church” on Saturday—(this is if you truly want to be authentic as a true follower of Yeshua-Jesus!) I will leave that topic for another time. Merry Christmas for those who chose to celebrate….and for those who do not….God bless you and may you have peace, and health in the coming New Year—-sincerely,

    RIVEROFLIFELISAJOY

  15. jimmycracka says:

    I could sit here and preach the gospel of salvation through the blood of Christ and then a moment later, tell you I’m an atheist. Anyone, can tell you there a Christian, then sucker punch you and take your wallet. Because of a few assholes like that in History, true Christianity comes under attack. “Christians did this” and “Christians did that”. I hear it all. If they punished the left handed, started wars based on politics or brought on inquisitions etc, they weren’t following the bible. They weren’t true Christians. Agreed, even among “Christians”, Christmas has become nothing short of a spending competition. And yes it originally is a pagan holiday and true bible believing Christians acknowledge we don’t know the date Christ was born. How true also that when I dare attempt to talk about Christ Himself around Christmas with “Christians”, they look at me as if I’m a weirdo and move quick to change the subject. Even in the south where everyone’s a Baptist, I find it to be more of a lingo than a religion. There are not many true Christians left today. I myself do not claim to be a perfect Christian. I do love the Lord, I do believe every crossed T and dotted I in the King James Version but look (before anyone gets to attack me), in the beginning of my response, I said “asshole”. Ooh, ahh!!! If you don’t believe in God, fine, but why do so many atheists feel they have to so militantly attack Christianity. For something so “imaginative” it almost seems the attacks and ridicule on Christianity are fear based. I mean, since the 60’s and the counter culture (fucking hippies! oops….bad Christian bad!) this society has incrementally turned militantly secular. I mean if somebody sneezes and you say “God bless you” in a public school your getting sued by the ACLU. Whats the problem? Some don’t believe in God but some, like the author of this post, make it their badge of honor. A focal point. A near obsession. If you want to attack Christians go ahead but use real Christians to attack. But then you may be quite limited for content. If some jackass goes and molests kids while shouting “atheist here” I’m not going to blame atheists. Yes I know what your thinking! Catholics, done much evil in this world, the inquisitions and the recent child molestations, being two of the biggest examples, ARE NOT CHRISTIANS! Catholicism is paganism with idolatry that they portray as Christian. For more on that go to my blog. Anyways, theres so much more in this world that needs our attention. Gee, so sorry if my God makes you that uncomfortable but I think there is so many better things you could do with your time than these Christian bashing campaigns………………..Jimmy

  16. oceallaigh says:

    It was not just “early Americans” that banned the celebration of Christmas. At the time the Plymouth and Boston colonies were getting on their feet, the Puritans, and their leader, Oliver Cromwell, were in charge in England, and from around 1640 to 1660, Christmas celebrations were banned there too. Mass Bay Colony only (I infer) formally banned Christmas upon getting pressure to celebrate it from the English King and his Court (= colonial governors) – who was restored in (around) 1660. There was no law before then, because none was needed, just about everyone in authority on both sides of the Atlantic was on the same page.

    I weary of all the proclaiming and tussling. To me, the struggle is all about the human social need to define “in” and “out” groups. Any religion or creed, I argue, serves to define the rules both for ingroup membership and for acceptable treatment of the outgroup(s). Broader-minded ingroups tend to be as inclusive as possible, and show forbearance to outgroups. Such ingroups usually have ample ingroup resources, and are not directly competing for resources with any outgroup. Where two ingroups are competing for limiting resources, ingroup boundaries contract, and forbearance to the outgroup(s) diminishes – to the point of genocide in extreme cases.

    Thus, I argue, it is disingenuous (to say no more) to identify any one ingroup as (for example) “true” Christians based on their behavior towards outgroups. Because that behavior is dependent on the circumstances in which that ingroup finds itself. Rather than “slings and arrows”, it would be far better to identify the resource(s) over which the ingroups are battling, and attempt to find a way to distribute those resources equably. When possible … it is a small planet, and (the claims of neocons notwithstanding) there is not enough to go around.

  17. RT1 says:

    You summed up your view in the first few lines. It is a cultural thing. It is also, for some, a religious thing. My view is that it is also a personal thing. It is an annual reference point; you can always look back over Christmas Days of the past – and that means you can know happy ones and sad ones. You can understand yourself better through it — think of Dickens’s Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”.

    Yes, Christmas has myriad meanings, but in the last analysis, it has an individual meaning.

  18. PhillyChief says:

    If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read “real christian” or “true christian”, I could retire. Add to that a dollar for ever variant I’ve heard or read of what a real or true christian is, and I could retire in comfort. ;)

    Until all of you knuckleheads put your heads together and decide on a clear definition, I’m going to assume anyone wearing a cross, who has a fish on their car, quotes scripture to me or identifies themselves as christian as a christian. Period.

  19. doubtingthomas426 says:

    LOVE your post. I hope you’ll check out my site http://doubtingthomas426.wordpress.com/ as I think you’ll find it right up your alley. I’ve categorized all my posts on the left. Take a few minutes to read through a few. Leave a comment if you like. I’m going to check out some of your other posts now. Take Care.

  20. jimmycracka says:

    “REAL” I mean………….”REAL CHRISTIANS” are the ones that live by the bible as its written NOT INTERPRETED.. The ones that reach the masses by being caring, thoughtful, giving and helpful. The bible says , and I’m paraphrasing “Even the demons believe in The Lord” So anyone can believe in Jesus. But it is our duty as Christians to live like Jesus to the best of our ability. A real Christian is anyone that believes the bible as its written loves The Lord and tries to live up to His standards He set forth in His word. Like I said, I’m no model Christian and I’m a sinner like the rest but I am a real Christian and as much as I don’t like being called knucklehead I would put my life on the line to save yours. If Christianity is such a falsehood, such a lie, fairytale. Such a joke……….than why people like you guys devote so much time and energy to attacking it. I mean, c’mon! The body of Christ is made up of imperfect human beings so of course there’s going to be plenty of fodder for the blunt of your jokes and attacks. The fact you that you guys dedicate so much time attacking Christianity, well, it doesn’t take a psychotherapist to see its fear based. What are you so afraid of. A hard pill for you to swallow but, you don’t know everything. In fact its safe to say you don’t know 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of everything! Is it possible that in the other 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of what you don’t know, Jesus exists? Seek and ye shall find. Try, just try for once in your life to find Him and I promise, He WILL show His face to you, and I promise it will be the greatest day of your life!!!!

  21. Bad says:

    “REAL” I mean………….”REAL CHRISTIANS” are the ones that live by the bible as its written NOT INTERPRETED.

    So, I suppose then you are ruling out all Catholics, who happen to be far far more numerous than people of your particular sect? Does that really make sense to you?

    The problem is that as much as you claim that you aren’t interpreting the Bible, you’re clearly wrong. Your particular theological school of interpretation is, in fact, barely even a century old!

    he fact you that you guys dedicate so much time attacking Christianity, well, it doesn’t take a psychotherapist to see its fear based. What are you so afraid of.

    I’m afraid not. Certainly not in my case: I’ve had mostly pretty positive experiences with religious beliefs. I just don’t believe, and I’m not the sort to hold off on criticizing a claim that someone makes publicly, especially not when it’s tied to all sorts of policies that affect others. We non-believers will zealously defend the right of folks to practice religion: and practice it openly and loudly if they please. But if you do choose to make it public, then you cannot complain that there is criticism.

    A hard pill for you to swallow but, you don’t know everything. In fact its safe to say you don’t know 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of everything! Is it possible that in the other 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of what you don’t know, Jesus exists?

    Anything’s possible. But you have it quite backwards. It is not out of a belief that I know everything that I do not believe in this particular thing (Christian beliefs). It is, in fact, because I am humble enough not to jump to conclusions without evidence that I cannot honestly claim to believe something when I don’t have a good reason to really think it is true. In a very real sense, I would see that behavior in myself as lying.

    Seek and ye shall find. Try, just try for once in your life to find Him and I promise, He WILL show His face to you, and I promise it will be the greatest day of your life!!!!

    On the surface, this claim might seem compelling to you. But if you think about it, what you are ultimately saying here is that if I try really really hard to believe something… I’ll eventually succeed and really believe it. Well, yes, that’s probably true. But it doesn’t really prove anything, and certainly doesn’t prove that the belief was justified in the first place.

  22. Fred says:

    God, you atheists are angry, closed-minded, bigoted folk!

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