The much-ballyhooed “War on Christmas” has become a predictable holiday tradition, with Fox News as both director and producer of this manufactured war, presumably for better ratings. Comedians also love the war material they have to play with, so both Fox and comedians have become war profiteers
Atheists, who are usually marginalized or ignored by media, use this seasonal opportunity to join the war by supporting diversity. Christmas for some atheists is a time to promote freedom of expression on billboards and buses. Atheists put up signs that say “Be good for goodness’ sake” or “This season, celebrate reason,” and Christians protest.
Christians have been engaged in several Christmas wars: Christmas has its origins in the winter solstice festivals that most ancient civilizations observed, and Mithras, who was a Persian savior-god with a sizeable Roman following, was born on Dec. 25. By appropriating this day for the birth of Jesus, Christians felt they could more easily convert those wayward pagans. Centuries later, some early American Puritans even prohibited Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. So a good case can be made that Christians initiated the first war on Christmas.
Nowadays, verbal wars occasionally erupt over nativity scenes on government property. Nobody complains about nativity scenes on private property, but the government should not be promoting one religion over another or religion over non-religion. That’s why atheists and others who care about church-state separation oppose these displays on government property. Government neutrality toward religion is not the same as hostility toward religion. What divides us on this point is not so much our theological differences, but the degree of commitment we have to equal freedom of conscience for everyone.
Now add the Christian war on “Happy Holidays” (instead of “Merry Christmas”), which even includes boycotting stores that use the more inclusive term. This is a war against religious diversity, a war that ignores Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, and other religious and secular celebrations that coincide with the Christmas season. Could it be that many Christians lament the possibility that their dominance and privilege in America might be nearing an end?
All this warring probably makes many Christians miserable rather than joyful at this time of year. Some who proudly don the mantle of a persecuted minority even make up stories to convince themselves. That’s like saying there is a war on white, heterosexual males because previously marginalized groups have fought for and finally gained rights they’ve long deserved.
Finally there is the war by Christians and others against the consumerism that permeates the Christmas season, which seems to begin earlier every year. This is a war that even atheists, myself included, sometimes support. Unfortunately, this war seems to be over—with commercial interests the victors.
My favorite Christmas memories were during the Vietnam War. I had hoped that Christmas truces would feel so good that the killing would not resume. Sadly, we gave peace a chance only briefly, and Silent Night soon returned to bombing nights.
No, atheists didn’t manufacture the “War on Christmas,” so I would like to wish all of you a Happy Holiday, whichever and however you celebrate. There are many reasons for the season, but here’s my favorite reason for all seasons, for both theists and atheists—a reminder that the best wish of all is “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women.”
Herb Silverman is founder and president of the Secular Coalition for America and author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.”
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