Tom Flynn and Ron Lindsay discuss holiday celebrations for humanists

December 16, 2008




















  CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay discusses humanist approaches to Christmas with the new Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, Tom Flynn  



#1 George on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 11:58am

Should I, as an atheist, not go to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, so that some Christians don’t say, “Look another Christian appreciating art”?

BTW, Ronald Lindsay is a very funny man.

#2 molly (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 12:06pm

“Happy Just Another Day!”


#3 dougsmith on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 12:35pm

OK, but what about the original sabbath? Why celebrate weekends, then?

#4 darshia (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 2:31pm


Dear Free Thinkers,

Christian Rights Fantasy? What the neighbors think?  Props, Drama and Wit, Oh, My!

What a great intro to your blog.

Darshia Loo

#5 Greg Peterson (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 3:47pm

I guess my attitude can be best summed by what I wrote to an atheist friend in an email yesterday about Christmas:

I love the spirit of giving, the music, the lights and decorations.  Hell, I even love Baby Jesus.  Setting the mythical birth of a prince of peace in the dead of winter is perhaps, after turning wolves into dogs and weeds into vegetables, among humanity’s greatest accomplishments.

#6 Roger (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 3:51pm

Former catholic, now an atheist. And I love Christmas. It’s a great time of year and usually a happy one, except when someone gets trampled to death by people full of the holiday spirit.

#7 Juliana Marie (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 3:57pm

Happy to see the blog, and the video is great. Happy just another day to you all!!

#8 wayne (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 3:58pm

Thanks for making my non-Christmas a more humorous and more enjoyable one!!

#9 Carole (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 3:59pm

As simply a celebration of the Feast of the Saturnalia it is sometimes bothersome that Christianity went and ruined it. It’s also impossible to find commercially available seasonal greeting cards with the message of the celebration of Saturnalia, so I make my own. I never understood any mythology and the older I get, the crabbier it makes me. I’m almost 70.

#10 Dan Kanouse (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:00pm

Funny and yet informative dialogue.  Since I live in Florida in our Condo in the winter we don’t have any neighbors who look in to see if we have tree and decorations.  No we do not have a Christmas tree, yuk!  I think the Blog is a great idea and I am going to direct it to my neighbor who lives on the first floor of a two story condo.  He is a fundamentalist minister in the Presbiterian tradition and I regulary engage him in dialogue about his religion and debate since I was once a traditional christian until I went to college and found out by studying religion- christian school, that most of the stuff about the christian as well a other religions were just so much mythology.  Happy non Christmas!

#11 Steve LOWE (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:03pm

I am just glad I never learned German so I can listen to all that great Bach music and not know what those words mean !

Hats are BACK !  Ho ho.. hoooo.

#12 Doug Stewart (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:09pm

My atheism is so strong it would make Dawkins wince, but I say about Christmas just what my toddler daughter says about Santa. “If you don’t believe, you’re just a stinky-butt-poopy-head”.

Let’s not loose the PR battle to the religious.

#13 Greg Peterson (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:11pm

Christmas trees are great.  As a kid I used to help out on tree farm, pruning and caring for the trees, getting them ready for Christmas.  The smell of them…I love that smell.  I love the Christmas foods, and much of the music (I realize that’s just nostalgia, though—most of it isn’t especially good).  I love lights and decorations, and any excuse for a party.  And if I’m not mistaken, my Christian friends and neighbors might be more impressed at my human ability to take human joy in a holiday than they would be of a principled but dour critique.  Rationalism need not be the death knell of poetry and ritual, much less joy and beauty.  Most people would rather be wrong and know it than right and miserable.  I’ll put my hard-won rationalism up against anyone’s, and I doubt you’ll find many people more critical of Christian theism.  But Christmas?  Isolated from the poison of the rest of the Bible and celebrated as a very human expression of hope that coincides with the return of the sun’s light, and not only is it not objectionable, it is a work of human genius.

#14 Michael (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:17pm

I think there is a fundamental human and societal need for coordinated downtime, family visits, and celebrations. Christmas, and to a lesser extent, Thanksgiving holidays, now serve that purpose in America. 

I agree that Yuletide also has religious roots, but I think that between Thanksgiving and Christmas we are still celebrating the idea of renewal that was the core idea on the Nordic celebrations. 

Yes, I plan to celebrate the winter solstice and I look forward to that communal exuberance brought about by fire and drink and feasting.  Yule reminds us to feel awe that we live frailly on a small planet circling and powered by sun.

I’d like there to be a day that celebrates rationality, though.  However, it would be not be as cathartic as Yuletide.

#15 nmtucson (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:21pm

(Sorry for the cross post. I didn’t notice I had ended up back on the front page after I registered.)

When my son was young, we had Christmas, albeit toned down and with as limited expectations as possible. We had a lot of family to contend with, not to mention the pressures of school pals.

Once he got to the “age of reason” (around 10?), we started to phase it out, in favor of more emphasis on family birthdays. After all, as atheists, we valued the birthday of our OWN son far more than the birthday of the mythical son of a mythical god.

I come down firmly on Tom Flynn’s side in this discussion: as secular humanists and atheists, we can have the most positive effect on the perceptions of others by acting as consistently as possible in concert with our beliefs. In this case, that means seeing NO “reason for the season” and thus marking no season. I tend to observe the lighting of houses anthropologically—a pretty custom, too bad they don’t do it at other times of the year—and sociologically—damn, they spend an awful lot on crappy imported doodads and consume an awful lot of electricity for a pretty lame reason. Most of them seem to revere consumption more than redemption.

I suggest we eschew both as much as possible! Let’s celebrate each other throughout the year and forget about god-myths of all types.

#16 Seven Star Hand on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:29pm

Dear Inquirers,

By the way, I was born in August and my name never was Jesus or Christ. Notice the approaching date? These continuing lies are gall and wormwood to me.

The only way to finally stop them is to stop the flow of money to the liars, as I promised back in July, just before Hurricane Dolly…

Peace and Wisdom…

#17 Madison (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 4:44pm

To all the folks at CFI who set this up: Thank you!

I enjoyed the exchange betweem Tom Flynn and Ron Lindsay. I expected it to be lively, informative, and somewhat humorous. It was all of that.

At this point in time, I also find the Christmas season to be a “low key”  opportunity to educate some of my friends about its pagan antecedents…at least, those who are open to listening. 

Thank you, Tom and Ron. Good show! Obviously, it could hardly be more timely.



#18 Arthur Michael Ambrosino (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 5:16pm

I thank CFI, I’ll try to participate as much as I can.

I wish I had the heart to discourage my people from celibrating Xmas but let’s not forget,  most of us will have to wait another few thousand years before this ‘Learned Concept’ expires…...

Might as well enjoy yourself and keep bringing up the disgrace, only so much as we don’t upset our friends and loved ones about the truth…...

#19 Rachel (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 5:34pm

What to say of the holiday season…

I concur in that as non-theists, it’d be hypocritical of us to celebrate Christmas, and that it’s mainly a holiday of decor and good will.

I agree, though, that the holiday season can be celebrated, but as a different holiday. Afterall, December the 25th derives as a pagan holiday, as well as one spanning all cultures and creeds, which commemorates peace and good will, the winter solstice, Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday, and/or jaucont cheer. Therefore, is there anything inherently wrong in decking the halls for the sake of astronomical anomoly, giving for the sake of sheer charity, or singing for the sake of the birth of one of our first physicists? Rejoice, fellow non-believers, for charity, reason, and our live-giving moon.

#20 RevEl on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 5:42pm

What is so exciting about spending an entire month having sappy X-mas carols jammed down your throat everywhere you go, as if you were the lone resident of Chernobyl?  What is so enjoyable about watching just about everyone around you acting like complete buffoons as they race off to buy the lowest priced X-Box in town?  What is so enjoyable about watching a nation of intellectual zombies genuflect before their imaginary deity?

For a person with more just than a dozen living brain cells, this has got to be the most torturous period of the entire year.
  ~Rev. El Mundo

#21 Mark W Brandt (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 5:51pm

For me it’s not Christmas.  It’s an end of the year celebration.  I celebrate it as the “Whew, I made it through another year” holiday.  It also helps to take a breather before another year of toil begins, and since I’ve been BUSHwhacked or amBUSHed by the economic meltdown so that retirement is an impossibility, the end of the year hiatus in the normal hectic schedule is welcome.

#22 dojoro (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 7:25pm

We celebrate the idea of ONE PERSON in a world community born in innocence with a loving mother and father who is served-in-turn and in time by all the others so born. We set up and organize over 100 tin toys collected for over 100 years in a grand circle with that innocent baby at the center…. all manner of figures…. grandmother, business lady, business man, santa claus-on-skiis, ice skaters, skiers, trains, oil car, lumber car, caboose, policeman, Native American, cowboy, chickens, cows, horses, goats, lambs, a tiger, an alligator, buffaloes, dogs of various breeds, cars, emergency vehicles, trucks, boats, and war ships. Quite a cherished and annual exercise in democracy!

#23 Karen D. (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 7:43pm

To follow on Mr. Flynn’s concern that your Christian neighbors will see you celebrating the holiday and assume you’re a Christian, my suggestion is to make it clear you’re an atheist.  That should completely deflate them.  In the best case scenario, they’ll go back to their own festively decorated homes and ask themselves, “How much of this is really Christian?  How many other people celebrate Christmas who aren’t Christian?”
For parent, another good reason for celebrating Christmas is that you don’t want your kids to think that only Christians have fun like this.  If children long to celebrate a denied Christmas, they’re more likely to rebel and become Christians.  Subconsciously for the presents and Santa cookies, but they’ll wrap it up in Jesus, etc.  This may be the same theory under which Jews started giving their kids lavish Hanukkah presents. 
I can celebrate Kwanzaa, that doesn’t make me black.  Christmas is harmless and largely devoid of the worship of God.  Winter Solstice is dreary.  Sitting out Christmas is unlikely to advance the cause of secular humanists.  This blog, however, is likely to advance that cause.  Good luck.

#24 JHorn (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 8:04pm

It seems clear to me that xmas is already becoming more secular, and the best we can do is continue pushing it along. And anything that upsets Bill O’Reilly so much can only be a good thing.

My ex-Jewish wife and my ex-catholic self have celebrated Hannukristmaqwanzakaa now for ten years. We base it on the non-arbitrary aspects of the season, such as the fact that the days begin getting longer and we’re more than halfway through our hemisphere’s annual “down” phase. We utilize the elements of each holiday that we consider worthwhile based on our own experience, such as 8 days of presents, a tree, lights, and peace on earth and good will toward men (which need not be limited to this time, but why expunge it?). Hannukah itself is, to us, more a story about freedom of conscience. It’s fine to know where it came from, but no need to treat it as holy.

All of it is just a continuation of family tradition, which itself is, I think, an important part of being human. And while we’re at it, all of the major holidays have equally non-arbitrary roots, so why not “own” those in a secular way? Those xtian neighbors of mine that know we celebrate both are, believe me, not under the impression that we are acting xtian - they are concerned about the state of their religion.

That’s a good thing.

#25 Monica Ackerman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 8:19pm

As a recovering Catholic i love xmas because it falls at the same time as winter solstice and saturnalia and the various festivals of lights and i can celebrate all of that without giving homage to some christ child which, as i keep explaining to all my believing friends could have never been born in December anyway because shepherds do not tend flocks in the dead of winter and lambs are never born until spring and the star of Bethlehem was probably a comet which is scientifically unable to stop over a manger or a cave or a building, just ask any astronomer. Do I need to go on? Probably not. Thanks for the blog. Happy New Year. That, at least is untainted by religious fervor and has been the main focus for celebration by the Scots who do not pay xmas as much attention as the rest of Western society. BTW: Do you know why the Romans never conquered Scotland? They didn’t want it.
Monica Ackerman, Atheist, SF Bay Area

#26 Bill Ameen (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 8:25pm

Thanks, guys, a good video to start the blog with. Obviously the Christmas dilemma can’t be settled in 7 minutes of video, but I think this horrible economic meltdown may tone the spending down a notch. The endless music in my office is driving me nuts but it’s worth it for the day of peace I get on Dec. 25. My favorite Christmas film is the recent movie “Joyeux Noel” about the Christmas truce of 1914 and my favorite Christmas song is “Happy Xmas, the War is Over”. THAT’s what it should be about. But isn’t it paradoxical that the Germans, who celebrate Christmas more fervently than anyone else, invented “Silent Night” and Zyklon B within 125 years of each other?

#27 Diana (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 8:27pm

I love the idea of a blog, but for those of us still on dialup, may I request you post a transcript of any videos you have so we can participate as well?

#28 Yanguetza on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 8:59pm

Life is once and short. Enjoy it as it pleases you with those you love as they please you.

If others make mistaken assumptions, the problem is theirs, not yours.

Living life on others’ terms—self-politicized, self-important, self-martyring—is existential defeat.

#29 Monica Ackerman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:11pm

I just thought of one more xmas related thought: when I immigrated from my native Austria (Catholic country!) and moved to New York in October of 1962, I discovered with amazement that christmas Day was a National Holiday! What’s up with that? I had already heard that America was a secular country which was proud of a wall of separation between church and state so how did this religious holiday sneak into the national calendar I wondered? No one knew and after a while I stopped asking. I was still Catholic then and just accepted the day off. And Good Friday. But now I’m incensed. Let’s stop this nonsense. Let’s all go to work on December 25. That’ll show them!

#30 nmtucson (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:25pm

@Monica Ackerman, who said “Let’s all go to work on December 25. That’ll show ‘em.”:

Actually, I used to do that when I worked in a big office. The best day of the year to be at work: no phones, no interruptions, no tremulous users with crashed computers. I could reboot network servers, unplug printers, etc etc. Ho ho ho, that’s what I said.

Once we became empty nesters, my husband and I took to running away during the “holiday” season. Not that it’s all that easy to escape completely. Even little motels in little towns on the coast have trees and santas and lights. But at least we don’t have to worry about what the neighbors were thinking (although we did come back to our dark, undecorated house one year to find that neighbor kids had thrown a bunch of christmas tree bulbs against our front door. Guess they didn’t understand religious freedom.)

#31 (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:41pm

Christ’s visit to this little piece of space dust we call Earth.

Jesus was sent by his father, God the Creator of the universe, to come down to earth and offer his guidance to its people.

He did this even knowing exactly what would happen to his earthly body.  He knew that this tiny planet was completely infested with corrupt assholes called people. He came anyway. With 99 trillion other planets to visit he couldn’t stay too long although being God that probably wasn’t too big a deal.

During his brief stay he became the greatest magician who ever lived.  He cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed hundreds of people with a few loaves of bread, caught hundreds of fish in his net, rose from the dead and even accended up through the clouds to heaven - he was the greatest showman who ever lived. He also started a church.  The only trouble with that was his church was run by these asshole people. There were many, many mistakes along the way but his followers stumbled along through the centuries carrying his message - which was the whole point of his journey to Earth.  He offered his guidance in parables and one simple golden rule: “Respect others the way you would like to be respected and love God the Creator of the universe with your whole heart and soul”.  And then he was gone!

What would it be like if he hadn’t made the journey?  There would be no Christmas - the world would be in a deep economic depression. The millions of people who spend there life making toys and presents would be out of work. The joyous holiday celebration of his birth would not occur. The magnificant churches that celebrate his life would not have been built, the atrocities of the middle ages would not have occured even though this evil was directly opposite to what he taught.  All the stories and songs inspired by his visit would not have been written.  Did his guidance make any difference to the assholes who now inhabit the Earth? - to me it did!  Do you think that the people on Earth will exist any longer because of his brief visit, before they blow the whole thing up??  Merry Christmas Everyone and God help us!

#32 Starman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:42pm

Speaking only for myself, as an atheist I only focused on the “getting” part of Christmas.  The only reason I gave gifts was to secure the reciprocation of the receiver, or perhaps to accommodate perceived expectations.  But that never was all that satisfying in the deeper sense of the word.  It is indeed ironic that when one gives freely without thought of the potential reciprocation one somehow enjoys the “season” more.  I never would have thought that fighting the crowds in search of the perfect gift, or spending money on someone else without first considering whether they would likely respond in kind would be so inwardly satisfying.  It’s almost as if we were designed in such a way that giving increases our self-esteem.  Interesting. 

So perhaps it might be a worthy enterprise, call it a test, for humanists to set aside just one Christmas and try to make others happy while giving no thought at all to self.  In fact, to make the test truly worthy send gifts to those who could not possibly repay you.  I think some surprises might be in store.  It’s possibly that it might result in a sudden realization of the difference between happiness and satisfaction.  Self-gratification tends to bring happiness for the moment, but it never seems to last.  Whereas a mother spending an entire day slaving over a hot stove while preparing a Christmas dinner for her family may not be described as happy, she is likely very, very satisfied.

If you wish to engage in the aforementioned test I will willingly volunteer to be your non-reciprocal test case, the potential emotional damage to me notwithstanding.  Please, send your gifts to me even though I will not respond in kind, and see if you don’t feel better about yourself.

#33 Sentu Tikadar (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:49pm

Nice blog.
Can I write to this blog of ” free thinkers ” from Malaysia where I am working now but I am basically from India ?

Happy Christmas to all.


#34 Pete Freeman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 9:58pm

What is Christmas? A time of the year when resources are scarce and families come together to share the bounty they have saved from the warmer days.
Any idea why Catholics have a Midnight Mass on Christmas eve?  Because the Pagan holiday that Christmas is based on was a Lunar holiday.  On the Solstice, the moon conquered the sun, killing it at midnight.  Three days later,at midnight, the Sun (Son) rose from the dead. Sound familiar?

#35 Wayne Whitmore (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 10:04pm

Go Ron.  You have the right idea.  My family has been celebrating christmas as a secular holiday for many years.  I read a quotation of Ayn Rand’s in Impact (ARI’s monthly newsletter) regarding her thoughts about Christmas in an interview, which may mirror yours and do mine regarding Christmas:

  “A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning.  The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.
  “The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way.  One says: ‘Merry Christmas” - not ‘Weep and Repent.’  And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance. . .
  “The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized.  The gift-buying is good for business and good for the country’s economy; but, more importantly in this context, it stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure.  And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us.  One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”
  Let’s all celebrate “Christmas” (it’s a fun holiday!) and who knows, maybe at some point in the future it will go back to being the secular holiday that it originally was!

Wayne Whitmore

#36 Monica Ackerman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 10:30pm

For those people who insist on insisting that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die for our sins I pose the following questions: why then are there still sins and sinners in this world? and why is there misery and poverty and torture and death? why are 8 million children dying of hunger every day? why the Holocaust? why Iraq? why 9/11? Does God not love the world any more? Some people think they have all the answers and the rest of us are somehow deficient. That their religion is the only true path to salvation. Well, nobody knows. I sure don’t. I’ll be as surprised as the next person if when I die, I arrive at some pearly gate and St. Peter says we don’t take atheists here but you’ve been a good person so we’ll make an exception.

#37 Fat Man on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 10:56pm

Christmas is an opportunity for non-believers.  Tom Flynn goes part of the way down this road in the video when he suggests that secular humanists should be seen to boycott (my word) Christmas.  The opportunity that Atheists should make good use of is the public’s raised awareness during this period through the whole Christmas publicity process - music, singing, bells, clothing, celebrations, colors, trees, decorations, presents, santa: 

Write letters and op-ed articles to local papers about the pagan roots of Christmas.  Your Christian friends will invite you to parties - discuss the takeover of pagan holidays by Christians and the place of the celebration of the winter solstice at the party, talk about the Horus/Isis virgin birth and how Christians usurped it for themselves; take presents to the party: e.g., copies of “The God Delusion” by Dawkins, or “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Harris, or “The Jesus Puzzle” by Earl Doherty, or “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman.  For the kids take little stick-on Darwin fish, or earrings for the girls of the American Atheist symbol or for older kids, coffee mugs with symbols from the American Humanist Society on them, or copies of Jon Smith’s little book, “God Speaks - The Flying Spaghetti Monster in His Own Words”.  There is a lot you can do - get active.

Challenge local town councils on the placement of nativity scenes and Christmas Trees on public land and demand that your sign should go up with them saying something like “Non-believers wish you a merry Winter Solstice and Pagan festival”.  Involve your branch of the ACLU.  Stand with your non-believer friends, dressed in red and green, on the public square, or go “caroling” and sing the Monty Python songs like the “Sperm Song”, “Monty Python’s Christmas Song”, “Its Christmas in Heaven,” and “All Things Dull and Ugly”:

All Things Dull and Ugly
(To the tune of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’)

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom,
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid,
Who made the spiky urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did.

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.


The point is, Xmas time gives non-believers such a wonderful
opportunity to be heard and seen, and time to counter the nonsense of religious belief.  Instead of sitting on your arse and ignoring it (Tom Flynn) or sitting on your arse and joining in (Ron Lindsay), use it and abuse it, and then drink many Vodka Martinis and do it all over again.

#38 Monica Ackerman (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 11:23pm

I actually agree with Tom Flynn in lots of ways but to boycott xmas altogether would be a lot more difficult than to just dispell the myths about it by explaining away the miracles and laying out the biblical so-called truths as fairy tales. A previous blogger called Jesus a magician. So be it. Better a magician than the son of god who could perform miracles, right? Magic can be explained, magicians can be exposed. Biblical stories can all be explained with modern science, like the plague of locust which is a very common ocurrence in certain areas after a long drought, etc. etc. Today, I opened the eyes of a very devout Catholic woman by asking her if she ever heard of lambs being born in December. She honestly had never thought about it and went home to tell her entire family. Good start, right?

#39 Ross Strain (Guest) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 11:39pm

One last test as I learn how to participate in this.  Sorry.

#40 David Layton (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 1:34am

As an atheist father of small children, I find it very hard to dispense with christmas entirely. My children are surrounded by “christmas” in all its commercialized glory. My younger son, 2 years 9 months, sees a tree with lights and calls it “christmas,” or sees the inflated Santa on the neighbor’s lawn and calls it “christmas.” My older son, almost 6 years, seems not to care much about it one way or another except that school is out and he gets presents.

Whatever christmas was, whatever its origins, that is not what it is now. I dislike calling it christmas, but unfortunately the word surrounds me. When the children get older, I will explain to them why I do not like the term “christmas.” I like that my children have attached to the secular senses of the day. Call it a celebration day rather than a holi-day. I think it is a fine thing to have lights and colorful characters such as jolly elves appropriated from pagan myths of Father Winter, now dressed in coca-cola label red. I think it is a fine thing to celebrate being alive. So, I do not see myself dispensing with this day. I wiil continue to send “season’s greetings.”

#41 denrus (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 6:09am

As a professional (I feed myself by this job) musician, I’m engaged for all kinds of celebrations in December: church cantatas, private parties, symphonic concerts, all part of the religious person’s reaction to the season. I’m also a free thinker. I guess I could be kind of a slut. But, it’s my living. I enjoy the work and the people I work with for these occasions, many of whom are also free thinkers. I walk away from the engagements feeling that I provided a service (like the plumbers, painters, electricians) and I have no reliegious resurrection in my feelings: I’m still a free thinker.
I remember playing a symphony gig that featured a lot of music from tv/film: Star Trek, Superman…The music’s great, but the story is myth, entertainment. I don’t believe for a moment that Superman existed.
I’m inspired by the Mozart and Durufle Requiems, but the in the same way that I’m inspired by a Robert Bates painting or Melville’s Moby Dick: for the the creative presentation of them, not that they caused me to be “spiritually revived” because they don’t.
I like the winter’s season for it’s bringing people together, certainly not for the “worship” aspect and even less for the commercialism. If I were the grand high poobah of the world, I’d certainly create a time for socially bringing us together and celebrating the contribution of nature.

#42 Kathy Ryan (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 6:54am

My immediate family celebrates Christmas in a secular way.  My parents are religious but our respectful of my beliefs while not suppressing their own.  The winter holiday is an opportunity to remind us all that we can celebrate together without conflict.  (I realize and I am grateful that we are lucky in this regard and that holidays are a source of stress for many families.) It’s alway a time to participate as a family in the many volunteer opportunities that arise.

The “Santa Claus” myth is a natural, fun and magical way for kids to develop their rational mind.  It has been wonderful over the years to watch my children, now 10 and 11, enjoy the holiday but also gradually ask questions that reflect their growing reasoning and thinking skills.  A lot of this happens on their own—“Mommy, there must be more than one Santa because there is no way one Santa can visit every house on one night,” and “He must come in the front door because the chimney is too small.”  This Christmas, they still believe! but I can see the illusions falling away gradually.  As they are older now, this year has been an opportunity for me to introduce difficult questions, like “Why do you think Santa does not bring gifts to poor children?” and “Why do you think Santa does not make sick children well for Christmas?”  I can almost see the gears in their heads turning as they ponder the implications of questions like this.

As they think these questions through, it is a microcosm of questions they will addressing in the years ahead. 

My hope is that they will soon shed the illusion of Santa, but the happy ending is that the idea behind Santa and taking the time to celebrate with family and friends will stay on. Let the atheists and freethinkers set an example by always being the first to the party and the last to leave!

#43 Dean Schramm (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 8:04am

Cease fire, guys; you can have your cake and eat it too. Just address the holiday with accuracy. Name it as it should be named.

Merry Christmyth everyone!

Now, what do we do about Easter?

#44 Bogoslowsky (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 8:14am

I think we should celebrate ... something!
And it would nice to have a reflection on the year passed.
Some sorts of summary of things that happened.
I think these three days are perfect time to sit down and reflect.
And then ... party hard with a heart full of hope for all good things to come.

#45 Fat Man on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 8:25am

I’ve always thought that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Elves, the Tooth Fairy etc. are the first lies that parents tell their children.  They are the easy ones (after all the characters are delightful, the children’s responses are exciting) and when the kids swallow them, more lies can follow, more easily.

If you have young kids whose excitement is still stimulated by these tall tales, think about the disappointment they are going to (and do) feel when one of the older kids at school laughs at them and tells them it is all tripe, or old Uncle John says, “Hey did you get my present under the tree? It was me, not Santa, you know?”  The Stalk bringing babies, eggs laid by a bunny, Jesus in the manger, the hereafter - all part of the same dishonesty.

But don’t let me spoil it for you; its just the same old, same old…...

#46 heinleinfan (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:01am

I was discussing X-mas with my girlfriend who is from Colombia and I discovered that they are taught that baby Jesus is the one that brings gifts and not Santa Claus.  This tradition is the reverse of the 3 kings bringing Jesus gifts.  Because he received gifts he is now giving them back.  As an atheist and freethinker, I find it very hard to see the positive aspects of this holiday.  I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year, at this time and I am always moved and inspired by the message, but when I think about the damage that is done to others that are not able to separate fiction and fantasy from reality it makes me less likely to support these holidays.  I end up enjoying and participating in X-mas but reluctantly.

#47 Nigel (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:01am

As a longtime atheist with children I have realized that there was no getting away from Christmas in so far as it encompasses family and gift giving.  The nature of my extended family is of people with diverse interests.  A plus for me is that I do not reside near to my extended family, hence the influences on my kids are mostly from us, their parents, and their peers who are from differing backgrounds (we live in Canada).

Birthdays and Christmas has become our family’s traditional way of showing our regard for and to each other each year.  This in my view is acceptable for atheists and free thinkers.  It is part of being a social being.  While it may be used by people who are religious it does not detract from its usefulness as a method of social expression.  After all it is positive and should be regarded as universal standard.

The argument that says that Christmas should not be recognized because it provides fuel to religious people is in fact wrong. I know many families who are not Christian but who enjoy expressing their love and regard for others by giving gifts at Christmas time.  Each year I receive gifts from both Hindu and Muslim co-workers. They do not in fact celebrate Christmas.

The fact that there may be good morals and principles that religious people have adopted does not make it wrong.  After all we all learn from each other.

I therefore have no problem in atheists and free thinkers adopting religious holidays to further our own ends.  After all as a previous writer has said kids can be guided through the learning process as they start to question what is happening around them. Many of our kids start by watching cartoons and other magical shows on TV.  They also learn about Santa.  They will move on as they learn more about the world they live. What they should retain is their belief in themselves as social beings.

While I have always had a problem with the commercialization of many holidays, I believe that there is a greater good being done in bringing people together and their expressing this in the form of gift giving.

#48 Bill Pelton (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:19am

We have always celebrated Christmas as a wonderful secular holiday of feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and exchanging cards with friends around the world in many different cultures - Japanese, Chinese etc.  But the cards are always secular with words like “Seasons Greetings”.

To those secular humanists who object to the celebration of Christmas, I would say “Lighten up, and enjoy yourselves.  It is a wonderful holiday”.


#49 Greg Peterson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:21am

By far and away the best comment:


Life is once and short. Enjoy it as it pleases you with those you love as they please you.

If others make mistaken assumptions, the problem is theirs, not yours.

Living life on others’ terms—self-politicized, self-important, self-martyring—is existential defeat.

Are we rationalists without discernment?  We must throw out the herb that makes glad because it tastes bitter and has some side effects?  We can’t distill the good things that human-invented religions have produced over our history and rescue them from their superstitious origins, and appropriate them for our continued use?  This binary, blinkered, Manichean approach to all things religious I find depressing.  As others have asked, Do we really have to hate all sacred music because the composer had a mistaken metaphysic?  All religious art and architecture?  Every cheerful gathering motivated by some superstitious rite?

I recommend Phil Zuckerman’s recent book, “Society Without God,” about the most secular nations on earth, in Scandinavia.  In those places, people do go to church for special occasions, and enjoy the rituals and celebrations for the way they bring friends and family together.  Zuckerman says that’s why he title his book “Society WIthout GOD” rather than “Society Without RELIGION.”  Few people in those cultures take theism seriously, and they are among the most successful cultures on the planet by several key measures.  They did not need to shed every last vestige of religious symbolism or ritual to accomplish this feat.  With education and societal safety nets reducing religion’s attractiveness, its negative elements simply shrunk away like a tumor, leaving only the benign tissue behind.  I think we can learn from this model.

#50 Starman (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 11:11am

Monica Ackerman asked,
“For those people who insist on insisting that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die for our sins I pose the following questions.”  Included are her questions and my humble attempt at answers:

1. why then are there still sins and sinners in this world?  There are still sins in the world because people keep “missing the mark” (the literal definition of sin).  Since those people are still in the world, sinners are still in the world.  This life is a temporary testing ground of sorts and so, having been given the freedom of choice, some make bad choices and perpetuate “sinning”.  This will end one day.

2. why is there misery and poverty and torture and death? Again, poor choices, and also people sinning.  When leaders (even many Christian leaders) are self-centered (missing the mark) and mistakenly feel they answer to no one but themselves they typically inflict suffering, poverty, torture and death (sptd) on others.  Those enduring the sptd unfortunately do so for the short period of life here on Earth (short compared to eternity).  But the clock never stops, and a thousand years, a million years, a billion years will one day come.  At some point those who suffered during their relatively short time on Earth (compared to eternity) will suffer no more and will enjoy an eternity of unspeakable joy.  Those who caused the sptd will suffer appropriate punishment, and then be terminated for eternity.  And yes, I did mean terminated, not cast into a fiery furnace for eternity.
Additionally, much of our suffering comes from poor choices not related to bad leaders.  If I build my house in the mouth of a volcano do I really have a reason to complain when it erupts?  We prevent loggers from clearing brush (kindling) from forests and then when fires rage we blame God.  We get drunk (a choice) and then drive while intoxicated and kill innocent people.  We pollute and suffer the consequences of our actions in the form of a host of diseases.  This all falls under the heading of missing the mark.

3. why are 8 million children dying of hunger every day?  Lots of reasons.  People who worship the earth or cows, or anything other than God often create this type of suffering.  Don’t drill for water in the earth because the earth is God.  Don’t eat the cows walking all around you because they are God.  Then you have national leaders who horde all the country’s wealth and give nothing back to the people.  You will find, by contrast, a most generous multitude of Christians feeding the hungery regularly.  When disasters happen Christians are usually the first to respond.  Not much media coverage however.  Too bad.
4. why the Holocaust?  Sin.  People “missing the mark” acting in diametric opposition to the teachings of Jesus.  Hitler actually meant well.  He felt that natural selection and Darwinism could improve the quality of humans if he helped it along by ridding the gene pool of the infirm, the weak, the poor, etc.  Unfortunately he left little room for the concept of intrinsic value in all people regardless of their lot in life.

5. why Iraq?  We were told they had weapons of mass destruction and everyone seemed to believe it.  And Saddam did kill some 300,000 of his own people with what had to be weapons of mass destruction by definition.  It must have seemed like a viable threat at the time.  Others disagree.

6. why 9/11? The terrorists have told us why they did this.  They said they hate it when we send our culture into Muslim countries (via tv, movies, radio, etc) with the resultant negative impact on their societies.  They hate abortions, homosexuality, pornography, disrespect of elders, anti-religious sentiments, etc.  They view our cultural Left as supporting all of this.  They view our cultural Right as being weak and not addressing it here.  And they hate Bush for actually sending this culture overseas.  Plus they hate our relationship with Israel.  So they said 911 was payback under their eye-for-an-eye policy.

7. Does God not love the world any more?  He does still love the people of the world.  That is precisely why he came in human form to suffer just like we do.  He can relate, and he can reward, and he can and will administer justice in due time.  We may suffer for a season, but ultimately the good will win out.  We often see two different people suffer the same negative circumstance.  One will allow it to defeat them and will live the balance of their life in dispair, the other will praise God, remain faithful to Him, and even use the negative event in a positive way by helping others who face the same thing. 

Then again, I could be wrong…

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.