The “War on Christmas” has come and gone for 2013, and this year, more than others left me with a sour taste towards a select few Atheists. I found myself engaged in several heated discussions concerning the difference between standing up for our rights and alienating ourselves. The alienation goes beyond just offending believers, that is a bit expected and I know that those sending the angry messages don’t particularly care… but what they should care about is that when we act like “Westboro Atheists” (Thanks Robert Price!)  we draw a line between the nonbelievers and the extremists. Some will say that it is a difference between Atheists and Anti-theists… but I know firsthand that this is false. Some say that those who will not fight are weak, but this is false as well. It is the ones who choose their battles wisely, who avoid dogmatic and angry actions, that truly help the Atheist movement. We want all nonbelievers to stand strong together, but I can see why having to associate with overwhelming negativity would make people want to remain silent… and it is not only the believers who are at fault.
I will be the first to admit that separation of church and state is an incredibly important battle. Teaching creationism in schools, a crucifix on the courthouse lawn… these are examples of things that should not be tolerated. However, just because something has a religious undertone. it is not necessarily off limits. Example. In one of my local groups there was a dispute over a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” banner being displayed in the center of a small town. The question of whether this was legal lit a fire and it was even taken to FFRF for legality review. Well, just as I thought, they explained that “Merry Christmas” is deemed permissible by the court system, when being used in a secular fashion. Most of those in the discussion found this reasonable, but some still went on the offensive. Arguments that government employees shouldn’t be wasting tax payers money to hang religious propaganda and blah blah blah. I made a point to remind them that, the government of the United States of America, recognizes Christmas as a national holiday and until that changes they are free to do as they please as long as it falls within the bounds of secular cultural phenomenon. I suggested that instead of beating up the banner, they may want to confront the primary issue, but this was dismissed, as I think we all know Christmas will continue to be recognized by the government for many years to come.
I do understand why my fellow Atheists are passionate about social issues, but I don’t believe enough thought is put in to what stigma they might draw. When you tell a moderate Atheist that they need to come out and be proud, you need to understand that extreme anti-theist behavior may not be something that they are proud to associate themselves with. For instance, I saw an article in the Huffington Post titled “Atheist Threaten To Sue Town For Putting Up Nativity Scene, But Not Festivus Pole”  In the article we learn about Chaz Stevens, the Atheist who created the beer can festivus pole to counter a nativity scene in the Florida capital. Attached was a YouTube video (which has since been made private) which showed the nativity scene in question, and included profanity, mocking of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus and then to top it off, he literally spits on the display. To me, this is humiliating. This is everything that I do not wish to be associated with. We wonder why people stereotype us as the “angry Atheists” but the answer is clear. Instead of getting press for taking the high road, we are shown as a bunch of immature, uneducated, heartless fools. Taking a bunch of trash and saying “This is what represents our group” makes us look like just that, trash. Maybe instead we can take the Winter Solstice back and find a way to display our humanist values. Whether it is through a physical representation or simply actions that spread throughout the Atheist communities, there has to be something out there that can show what we stand for in a positive way.
I firmly believe that the way we portray ourselves to the public will be what makes others decide they want to come out. If we show that we are a group, strong in our convictions yet respectful of those who may not agree, we will surely progress faster than if we fall victim to becoming just another dogmatic institution. Instead of attacking believers over “Who needs Christ during Christmas”  let’s keep reminding them that we can be “Good without God”. Focusing energy towards the benefits of being openly Atheist, showing the closeted that we do more than fight, this is what will help us move forward.
- Robert M Price “Westboro Atheists” http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/zblog/?p=625
- Huffington Post “Atheist Threaten To Sue Town For Putting Up Nativity Scene, But Not Festivus Pole” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/23/florida-festivus-pole_n_4492674.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
- Chris Stedman “Why Atheists should quit the war on Christmas” http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/21/why-atheists-should-quit-the-war-on-christmas/