Yes, boys and girls, Thanksgiving is over and you know what that means. It's time to start the War on Christmas! So let the games begin!
By Mano Singham
First off, the New York Times reports on the unveiling of a new billboard ad campaign by four different secular groups to encourage atheists and even just doubters to realize that there are a lot of unbelievers out there and that it is safe to come out and join them.
Right on cue, we have religious believers begin to whine about how atheists are being mean to believers by spreading such messages during the Christmas season. In my local paper the Plain Dealer, columnist Regina Brett gets the ball rolling, criticizing the ad campaign. To be fair to her, she tries to be even-handed, also decrying the demonization of atheists. Hers is a "Why can't we all be nice to each other during this holiday season?" kind of column.
This is fair enough but her message is confused. As with most believers, she sees statements about disbelief as aggressive while statements of belief are taken as the norm. So being nice to one another means that atheists should either shut up or use gentle humor or word things carefully so as not to cause cognitive dissonance among believers.
For example, Brett condemns as 'just mean' one billboard which has an image of Santa saying "Yes Virginia ... there is no God." She does not seem to get the humor of one imaginary entity parodying a well-known quote to assert that another imaginary entity does not exist.
She also puzzlingly says that "God is love. It says that in the Bible. But I doubt that will end up on a billboard to recruit atheists." She's right, it won't, but what's her point? Why would an atheist campaign even consider advertising that god is love when we don't believe that god exists in the first place? Religious people are the ones who, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, claim that god is love, and they put that message up all over the place.
What believers don't seem to get is that many atheists enjoy Christmas as a secular holiday (which is its actual origin), a good excuse to relax with friends and family. If religious people want to overlay the holiday with all kinds of god messages, they are welcome to do so. What we don't enjoy is being told that we have to accept the whole god package as well.
If we want to secularize the holiday and greet each other with "Seasons' Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" or even "Heathen's Greetings" or "Reason's Greetings," then religious people will just have to learn to live with it, just the way we atheists and non-Christians live with overtly religious symbolism all around us, especially during December. Many of us even say "Merry Christmas" and refer to it as the Christmas season. It really does not bother us because Christmas has, thanks to the relentless merchandizing of businesses, become a secular holiday.