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The Real War on Christmas:  response to "Merry Christma
Posted: 25 December 2006 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I disagree with Tom Flynn on what’s an appropriate response to being greeted with a "Merry Christmas."  Tom said he likes to say something like, "Sorry, I don’t celebrate that holiday."  That’s a little bit nuclear for some people.  I think just saying "Happy Holidays" has a subtler effect.  You let them know you’re not playing the game exactly like they’d like, but you also do it in a way that they can’t be disgusted at you since "Happy Holidays" is such a common greeting also during this season.
 
As far as being hypocritical - because you’re an atheist who doesn’t celebrate any holidays, I say that, well, many of us do celebrate holidays.  If you enjoy the days off on Christmas and New Year’s, you’re celebrating them.  I know I enjoy those days off.

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Posted: 25 December 2006 09:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Re: The Real War on Christmas:  response to "Merry Chri

[quote author=“JohnnyHands”]I disagree with Tom Flynn on what’s an appropriate response to being greeted with a “Merry Christmas.”  Tom said he likes to say something like, “Sorry, I don’t celebrate that holiday.”  That’s a little bit nuclear for some people.  I think just saying “Happy Holidays” has a subtler effect.  You let them know you’re not playing the game exactly like they’d like, but you also do it in a way that they can’t be disgusted at you since “Happy Holidays” is such a common greeting also during this season.

  The proper response really depends on the point you want to make.  If you want to let people know not everyone is Christian, Mr. Flynn is correct.  If you prefer to politely ignore the other person or simply don’t care to potentially start a discussion, then somethng bland like you suggestion would be more appropriate.

  Then again, if you want to seem Christian at first before you confuse people, Brightest Blessings is a nice phrase.  Few would recognize what’s become something of a standard holiday greeting for pagans, and if they ask what you mean, you can say you’re a traditionalist who’s simply going back to the Mithraic origins of Christmas.

[quote author=“JohnnyHands”]
As far as being hypocritical - because you’re an atheist who doesn’t celebrate any holidays, I say that, well, many of us do celebrate holidays.  If you enjoy the days off on Christmas and New Year’s, you’re celebrating them.  I know I enjoy those days off.

  You are incorrect.  Enjoying a day off is nothing more than enjoying a day off.  To celebrate a holiday, you have to purposefully acknowldge it.  Going to church, setting up a tree or simply exchanging presents is celebrating it.  Just kicking back and doing nothing isn’t.

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Posted: 26 December 2006 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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While I would never challenge your right to celebrate whatever holidays you choose - or not celebrate any holidays at all, I think encouraging a movement to protest the celebration of Christmas is at best silly (and probably hypocritical) and at worst damaging to the cause of secular humanism and atheism.

DJ asked: why not object to the use of January and “Thors"day? Which is an interesting point to bring up, but not the best for comparison sake. Much better is the celebration of Halloween which is more similar to Christmas both in its pervasiveness as a holiday and promotion of a religious mythology. By celebrating Halloween, am I necessarily sending a message that I believe in ghosts? And so similarly, why should my celebration of Christmas necessarily send the message that I believe in immaculate conceptions?

And in the U.S., I challenge you to avoid Halloween with any more success than you could avoid Christmas! At least during Christmas my neighbors don’t come knocking at my door foisting their children into my private space with full expectation that I should feed them!!!  I actually love Halloween for the opportunity it gives me to meet and greet my neighbors’ kids as much as for any other reason, but we should out of fairness at least acknowlege that if this intrusive activity were part of a Christian holiday, it would receive less toleration. Equally noteworthy for comparison sake are pagan religious beliefs (such as hauntings and fortune tellers) that are at least as pervasive and damaging a part of American culture as are Christian beliefs.

So I would say that unless you object and refuse to participate in the celebration of Halloween for all the same applicable and principled reasons that you note for abstaining from celebrating Christmas, that you’re being hypocritical.

Worse than hypocritical, I would argue that a movement against Christmas does damage to the secular humanist and atheist cause; by abstaining from the long-standing celebrations of our culture you isolate yourself from your larger community, risk severing existing social ties, and miss opportunities for relationship building. If your purpose for this movement is political change, then think about this: have you ever known an effective diplomat to be a party-pooper? Building relationships is the essential first step to every non-violent enactment of change. The “party-pooper”  approach simply risks atheists being labeled and perceived (or maybe just more strongly stereotyped) as overly sensitive and bitter sticks-in-the-mud.

Also consider this: as pointed out in the interview, many of the origins of the Christmas celebration are pagan in origin. Christianity successfully marginalized pagan beliefs not by fighting the traditional symbols and celebrations of those beliefs, but by embracing and absorbing the symbols: making them their own.

By fighting Christmas, you’re just giving Christians something to fight for. By celebrating Christmas, you are including the symbols of the Christmas holiday into our shared secular culture - much like Halloween.

Happy Christmas! and many, many more to come!

—Riley

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Posted: 26 December 2006 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Interesting debate!!
I never say Merry Christmas to random strangers.  If they say that to me, I say Happy New Year
Generically, I also say “Enjoy the holidays.”
I only say Merry Christmas to people I know are observant xians.
So, in the spirit :wink: of the season:
Happy New Year!!

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Posted: 26 December 2006 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree w/ Riley that making a point of rejecting Christmas is likely to irritate and provoke people without any real positive benefit to secular humanism. I personally feel that the gradual subversion of Christmas to a largley secular holiday with only a token religiosity, as has happened with Halloween, is the most effective strategy. Shared observances to break the routine of the year and provide shared cultural traditions are enjoyable and useful in many ways (personally and in terms of sustaining communities), and creating them from scratch is a lost cause. The significance of holidays often evolves as the society does, so if we succeed in making our culture more secular and humanist, the traditional observances will come along for the ride. Fundamentalist Christians sometimes refuse to celebrate Halloween despite the original subversion of its pagan antecedants by Christianity because the symbolism and ritual has become so disconnected from religious ideology for most celebrants, and I believe the same can happen with Easter, Christmas, and other holidays that Christianity has co-opted in the past, as part of the natural evolution of the culture. Celebrating the holidays in a secular spirit contributes to this without validating the Religious Right’s paranoid “War on Christmas” campaign to retard the secularisation of society.
So I have a tree, lots of lights, and I respond in kind to any “Merry Christmas” (though I use a more generic greeting if I don’t know the other person’s preferences), and I manage to avoid almost any obvious taint of Christianity (though my daughter has added the “Jesus Set” of dolls (aka Nativity scene) given us by a grandmother to the games she plays with her ponies, Barbies, dinosaurs, etc-and if that doesn’t take some of the supernatural luster off the characters in the Christmas story, nothing will).
Christmas provides a lot of opportunities to be secular in the midst, rather than outside of, the larger culture. Just as I recite gthe Pledge of Allegiance but drop out the “under God” bit or choose not to bow my head during group prayers (but don’t do anything ostentatiously disruptive either), I can enjoy the biggest holiday of the culture without feeling like I’m in the closet. So Merry Christmas! (or Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Humanlight, Solstice, or not a thing as you choose)

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Posted: 28 December 2006 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yule Free = ridiculous

I also disagree with the entire “War on Christmas” notion simply because hell, I WANT the day off of work for WHATEVER reason there possibly could be. Heck, give me the week of Hannukah and the week of Kwanzaa off too! wink

In all seriousness however, regardless of what you call the holiday, it’s more a matter of getting together with family and celebrating good will and fellowship. Call it whatever you want to avoid the Christian theme if you think that will help you cope. Flauting the holiday simply reeks of arrogance and ill will. I celebrate the holiday not for the christian theme but for all the blatant commercial retail fluff, and the fun and good times with family. When my daughter asks me why we clebrate Christmas, I’ll tell her, some people believe it’s the birth of the christ child, others believe it’s the winter solstice so it all depends on whom you ask, but WE celebrate it because Daddy gets to stay home with his little princess and open gifts and eat lots of yummy food.

Question to Tom: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? It would be hypocritical if you did. After all, to whom exactly are you supposedly giving thanks? The original meaning of Thanksgiving was to give thanks to the christian god for delivering the pilgrims to the new world. You’re not giving thanks to your Aunt Edna for cooking up a turkey. It seems to me that if you can separate the meaning of Thanksgiving from the holiday itself, then you can easily do that for Christmas.

While you’re eliminating holidays, you better stop celebrating SAINT Patrick’s Day and SAINT Valentine’s Day for the obvious nods to christianity there. What about Halloween, after all you could extrapolate that the holiday celebrates the concept of the human soul, right?

Get off your high horse. I’m an atheist, as is my family, but I put up a tree, decorate my house, tend to the fire and cuddle up with my daughter and my wife and celebrate the warmth of the universal good will that takes place around that time. If the holiday moves to June 25th, great, give me my day off and let’s put up the tree then!

Happy Festivus!

(Oh and you can count that as an airing of one of my grievances!)

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Posted: 28 December 2006 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Flynn asked me to post his response

Tom Flynn replies:

As a matter of fact I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, as I have no one to thank. (My colleague Norm Allen once suggested that since Christians believe God is all-powerful, secular humanists might substitute a “Blamegiving Day” on which folks can blame God for everything that’s gone wrong in the world in the past year.) Nor have I paid attention to Halloween or even St. Patrick’s Day in many years. But Christmas is a special case, both because of the holiday’s size and ubiquity and because of the way it serves the Christian agenda by perpetuating a false impression of Christian cultural unanimity. Bluntly, it’s worth more of our time and attention in resisting than all those other religious holidays combined.

There’s another aspect that we didn’t have time to touch on during the podcast. As a former celebrator turned boycotter, I’ve seen the holiday from both sides ... and I’ve had the opportunity to see first hand what many “go along to get along” humanists might miss. Our Christian cultural competitors think less of us precisely because so many of us go along with their holiday. They see us as hypocritical when we say that we no longer think of it as Jesus’ birthday but like the time off from work, the warm times with family, and so on. Many of us have had dead-end discussions with believers who refuse to take our viewpoint seriously, saying things like “You can’t really believe there’s no life after death, no one could live with themselves who believed that. You must be fooling yourself.” I can speak from experience: I’ve clinched quite a few conversations of this type by mentioning that by the way, I go to work on December 25. On several occasions I’ve been rewarded by hearing that this was the first time my interlocutor ever felt certain that yes, there were real atheists in the world. One acquaintance of mine became an atheist as the result of such a conversation—for years he’d exempted himself from examining the arguments for atheism because he’d taken the word of slick religious apologists that there really weren’t atheists out there—that genuine atheism was so sterile that human beings could not truly embrace it. Once that evasion vanished—and for him, it was the spectacle of yours truly rejecting Xmas on principal that did the trick—he subjected his former beliefs to inquiry and they gradually collapsed.

It’s only anecdotal evidence—but these are anecdotes I have only because I’ve watched a bunch of holiday seasons from the outside. I suspect that atheists and humanists are doing much more than many of us dream to undermine our own position when we take the “harmless, fun” step of helping ourselves to whichever pieces of the Christians’ festival that we happen to enjoy.

Secularly,

Tom Flynn

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Posted: 28 December 2006 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: Flynn asked me to post his response

[quote author=“DJ Grothe”]Tom Flynn replies:

I suspect that atheists and humanists are doing much more than many of us dream to undermine our own position when we take the “harmless, fun” step of helping ourselves to whichever pieces of the Christians’ festival that we happen to enjoy.

Secularly,

Tom Flynn

This is ironic especially since Christians helped themselves to whichever pieces of the pagan festival they happened to enjoy and weaved it into their birthday celebration for baby Jesus.

Sadly, I think you only serve to bolster your “anti-Claus curmudgeon” persona which probably does more harm to the entire cause if only on the face of things. You don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or any Saint’s days which only serves to isolate you from your fellow man during times when the point of the day is to get together and socialize. Christmas, or Christ-less if it better suits you, is a fun time for children who are allowed to engage in a fantasy world if only for a few years. Adults try to be nicer and I for one like Christmas songs. Would you begrudge me my “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer? “

I find it far more irritating to Christians (of which I was one a long time ago, the Cathoilic variety even) to willingly invoke the “Happy Holiday” greeting rather than to take them to task on their belief and your non-belief. This often comes across as a mockery to those ardent believers. Try wishing a devout Christian a Happy Festivus sometime and then challenge them to a feat of strength. smile

In any case, be isolating yourself from holidays like Christ-less and Turkey Day, I think you do more to garner pity from society in general rather than ire from the Christian right.

That said, I absolutely support your right to go Yule Free. But I want to continue to celebrate Xmas with my daughter for as long as I can before she makes up her own mind and shuffles off Santa for good. Note that there is no mention of her having to shuffle off the baby jesus mythology because that wouldn’t have ever been brought into play anyway.

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Posted: 28 December 2006 04:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Glad to get a discussion going on this topic. Personally, I applaud Tom’s intention to make clear that he is an atheist and to “raise consciousness” by refusing to celebrate holidays which he does not feel speak to him.

However I also don’t see anything wrong with an atheist (not, perhaps, one with as public a profile as Tom’s) doing precisely what DJ does so happily: make it into something of an ironic joke, have fun with the symbolism in a group that gets the joke, and otherwise use the occasion for creating happy times with friends and family.

One issue that DJ perhaps didn’t touch on directly is the simple issue of atheists not taking themselves too seriously, particularly at occasions which are traditionally joyous for so many. Nothing wrong with being true to your opinions, but it can be done in an open and inclusive way as well—the holiday exists, work is off for many, so enjoy the time however makes you comfortable. My concern is that Tom’s “No, no” approach is rhetorically weak, and may make him look like a sourpuss, even to fellow atheists.

Again, I say this as a supporter of Tom’s program. (Although not enough to necessarily do the same myself. I am more laissez-faire about such holidays, and celebrate them atheistically when convenient, not when not). I just think we should take some care with how the issue is framed.

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Posted: 29 December 2006 01:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I heard once of a pharmacist who was Jewish and made a practice of volunteering to work in a hospital on the 25th so that a Christian could have the day off.  That seemed like a great way to show that not everybody in the world is a Christian or celebrates Christmas, and at the same time to make it clear that non-Christians bear no ill will toward Christians.

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Posted: 29 December 2006 02:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“Yonts”]I heard once of a pharmacist who was Jewish and made a practice of volunteering to work in a hospital on the 25th so that a Christian could have the day off.  That seemed like a great way to show that not everybody in the world is a Christian or celebrates Christmas, and at the same time to make it clear that non-Christians bear no ill will toward Christians.

That’s a kinder way to do things, and in my opinion, a far better way to educate the general public on differing opinions of the holiday without antagonizing people with hyperbolic terminology like “the War on Christmas”.

Apparently, across the pond, most people celebrate Xmas and Thanksgiving largely as secular holidays without all the drama of religion versus celebration etc.

If they can do it, can’t we?

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Posted: 29 December 2006 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Tom Flynn,

As pervasive as you find Christmas, do you stand against US currency as well? After all, on a daily basis, you exchange pieces of currency with the words “In God We Trust” emblazoned boldly across them without so much as a second glance.

Somehow I don’t think you’re answering, “No thanks, I don’t believe in your god so I can’t accept your currency.” wink

I would think that’s a far more pervasive, and insidious Christian influence than a holiday that promotes good will towards your fellow man. smile

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Posted: 29 December 2006 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith wrote:

My concern is that Tom’s “No, no” approach is rhetorically weak, and may make him look like a sourpuss, even to fellow atheists.

I have the honor and privilege of knowing Tom Flynn.  Truthfully, when I was going to meet him for the first time, I was nervous.  Precisely because of this “sourpuss” impression.

However, you all need to know that as strong as Tom’s feelings and opinions are, he is a wonderful, warm, funny man.  We just see this day and the way most people (secular and not) celebrate it differently.  He likes to go to the office.  I like a day to sleep in and spend time with my family, as we all have the day off.

I have not, in recent years, made a secret of my secular humanism.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t pray, go to churches or synagogues, or celebrate any religious holidays.  They don’t wish me “Merry Christmas” because I’m not Christian.  It’s not the same thing as working on the 25th, but I’m “out and proud!”  It gives my religious friends something to think about.  They know a good person who is secular.  And Tom’s forthright argument against any atheist/secularist celebrating Christmas in any way has informed my “coming out.”

So, thanks, Tom.  And Happy New Year from Linda (originally from West Virginia and now from New Jersey!!)

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Posted: 29 December 2006 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“HappyHumanist”]However, you all need to know that as strong as Tom’s feelings and opinions are, he is a wonderful, warm, funny man.

He certainly comes across that way as well on PoI!

:D

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Posted: 30 December 2006 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I have been experimenting with different responses to “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”. One is “May all your days be merry (happy)”. My thought was to suggest that secular good will extends beyond any specific holiday. I am not doing so well when someone asks “How was your Christmas?”: my reply has been “Oh, I don’t do Christmas”. So far it is pretty much a conversation stopper, although when someone persisted, “Don’t you have a time of conviviality and good cheer?”, I responded “Darwin’s birthday is in February.” (It was a shot in the dark, but I checked later and found I was correct.)

Any suggestions for responses to “Merry Christmas” (or any religious holiday greeting - Valentine’s Day, Purim, Passover, and Easter are coming), gambits for a non-threatening teaching moment that one might use for consciousness raising?

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Posted: 30 December 2006 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I think any attempt to respond to “Merry Christmas” with anything that smacks of antagonism does more harm than good and ultimately makes one look like a miserable SOB regardless of how affable and good-natured they might be on every other day of the year. For that one day, that one moment, and in a span of only a few choice words, your heart is three sizes too small.

My point is that I feel a better solution is to actively take the “Christ” out of Christmas the way the “Thanks” has been taken out of Thanksgiving. Celebrate the holiday and proclaim loudly that the holiday has nothing at all to do with christ. Tell people it’s the birth of Santa Claus you’re celebrating. Tell them that Santa would take Jesus in a fist fight any day and twice on Christmas Eve. Show a child a picture of Santa and a picture of Jesus and ask them which one means “Christmas”, then sit back and laugh as you drink your egg nog.

But if you ARE going to boycott the holiday, then at least go into work for ME and get me one day ahead for the rest of the year. smile

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