Former minister: ‘We atheists love this time of year like everyone else’

REUTERS People view a display showing the nativity scene in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif. in this Dec. 12, … Continued

REUTERS

People view a display showing the nativity scene in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif. in this Dec. 12, 2011 photo.

Charles C. Haynes, in his “Christmas wars” column, acknowledges that atheists have achieved a victory in the battle to keep religious symbols from dominating certain public property during December. He astutely outlines the reasoning of the courts and municipalities that are opting for fairness and inclusivity for all Americans. But then, like a sore loser, he calls on nonbelievers to “stay home for the holidays. Let Christian groups set up Nativity scenes in public spaces unanswered in December — and save the atheist messages for another time of year.”

Haynes complains that the “in-your-face tactics” of people like Damon Vix, who organized the nonreligious displays in Santa Monica, Calif. (including a Winter Solstice banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation) have become “counterproductive and needlessly divisive.”

Counterproductive of what? Isn’t diversity — with freedom and justice for all — what America is all about? And if there is divisiveness, who is to blame? Does December belong only to Christians?

Haynes is certainly aware that this season of the year has been celebrated for millennia before the Christian Church usurped it for their own agenda. No respectable scholar thinks Jesus was born in December, if he was born at all. Many other pagan sun gods and resurrected “saviors” had been purportedly born on Dec. 25 long before a sect of messianic Jews came up with their own version of the story. The Romans celebrated the Saturnalia during December, leading up to the New Year, the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on Dec. 25, which was the date in the Julian calendar of the winter solstice, the actual new year.

The real “reason for the season” is the natural astronomical holiday. We all like to honor the shortest day of the year with lights, food, gifts, fun, music, and family gatherings, as it signals the return of the sun for another year. While everything in the upper northern hemisphere is dark and colorless, the evergreen signifies hope for a returning spring. None of this is supernatural. It has nothing to do with the birth of a god.

In America, Christians are welcome to celebrate whatever they want. We are happy to share the season with them. They just can’t use the government to privilege their party over everyone else’s.

I understand how Haynes might feel that nonreligious displays during December “ridicule” the precious beliefs of Christians, but what is wrong with ridicule? What is wrong with protest, in this great country that cherishes the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion? Protestantism, for example, is based on protest — it’s right there in the word itself. The Puritans (who eschewed Christmas) based their entire flight to the new world on their ridicule of the Roman Catholic faith. And Catholics have had their inquisitions and holy wars. Religion, at its core, is fiercely divisive, criticizing and ridiculing all other faiths and nonfaiths.

To us nonbelievers, the nativity scene is a ridicule of human nature. We are all damned sinners who need to be “saved” by bowing down to the baby in the manger who grew up to become a king and dictator who threatens us with eternal torment if we do not submit like slaves to his authority. A popular Christmas carol claims that Jesus came “to save us all from Satan’s power while we were gone astray.” Believers might see a cute baby in a manger, but most nonbelievers see a reprehensible put-down of humanity.

We are not sinners or slaves. We live in a proudly rebellious country that fought a divisive Revolutionary War to get rid of kings and lords, establishing a nation that disestablishes religion.

Nobody should have to stay home for the holidays. We atheists love this time of year like everyone else, and we actually know what we are celebrating: the rebirth of the sun, not the birth of the son. Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property, but in the American public square, there is room at the inn for all of us.

Dan Barker, a former minister, is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and author of “Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America’s Leading Atheists.”

Related content from On Faith:

* In Christmas wars, it’s all or nothing

* Why we need to help young atheists

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  • edbyronadams

    Dan Barker, a former minister

    I’m sympathetic to your lost faith. Christianity is at odds with many ideas observable from the natural world. Your lost faith should not be a basis for the ridicule of the faith of others.

    While your at it perhaps you could offer a motivation for why we should not act as our emotions impel us to act. Invoking sweet reason is nice but it is a weak antidote to tribal rage or venal self interest.

  • Ed–words

    As Dan Barker’s wife likes to say, “Christians don’t own Christmas.”

  • mpace77

    Well said Dan Barker!

  • persiflage

    Humans seem to have a deep and abiding love of mythology and the symbolism therein. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell both believed that humans have long expressed the mystery of our being by way of a mythical medium that actually reflects a conversation with ourselves.

    I’ve been infatuated with British Isles legends and fantasies from childhood – the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were a natural manifestation of this long tradition, and these were a great discovery back in the 1960s when they first emerged in American pop culure. Clearly a tale that made a lasting impression!

    On the other hand, none of it is real……unless the human imagination can be said to be a universe of it’s own making. On that there could be much discussion. I’m still quite fond of the Christmas holidays, although it remains pure mythos at every level. The traditions of our childhood are not easily given over to a lasting cynicism, even after we’ve made the transition from believing to understanding.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    “We are happy to share the season with them.” (Barker)

    That’s just it. You are most definitely NOT happy. In a season when even non-christians are capable of finding good cheer at least in the holiday of gift giving, your side comes across like, bitter old scrooges. You say there is room for everyone but your side come tromping through the manger like the Grinch, swinging you elbows left and right all the while demanding that everyone thank you for it.

    “To us nonbelievers, the nativity scene is a ridicule of human nature…most nonbelievers see a reprehensible put-down of humanity.” (Barker)

    Look around you. The purely secular wars of the 20 century created more death and suffering than all of the religious wars of the last 2000 years. THAT is the ridicule of human nature. That is what sin looks like. You say the baby Jesus makes you uncomfortable? What about the actual deeds of humanity?!?

  • Catken1

    ” You say there is room for everyone but your side come tromping through the manger like the Grinch, swinging you elbows left and right all the while demanding that everyone thank you for it. ”

    Oh, poor dear. Is someone having the gall not to tell you how great your religion is, and how wonderful your holiday is? Tromping on other people’s holidays, feelings, and public space is a CHRISTIAN prerogative, and how DARE anyone else say ANYTHING negative about that?

    “The purely secular wars of the 20 century created more death and suffering than all of the religious wars of the last 2000 years”

    Only because we now have more destructive technology and a higher population. The Crusades would have killed more had they had the capacity, and so would the Inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War, and all of the other religious conflicts down the ages (to say nothing of religious justification for heretic-burning, slavery, etc

  • Catken1

    ” Your lost faith should not be a basis for the ridicule of the faith of others. ”

    And your faith should not be a basis for telling other people they deserve to burn in agony forever and ever for having a different belief system, but that never stopped you, either. While you tell atheists they DESERVE eternal torture, and keep kissing the rear of the Daddy who burns your siblings, you have no business complaining about a person who merely quietly says, “you’re wrong.”

    “While your at it perhaps you could offer a motivation for why we should not act as our emotions impel us to act. ”

    Because we all have to live in this world, and turning it into a hellhole of violence isn’t good for anyone?

  • Catken1

    And no one is overturning your mangers except the authority figures who have decided that they can’t possibly tolerate atheists’ speech, and can’t exclude them without shutting down access to public areas for everyone. That is on them, not on the atheists – just as it would be your child’s teacher’s fault, and not your child’s, if they shut down a gingerbread-house-making party because your child put a cross on their house, and the teacher didn’t want to see a symbol of Christianity in their classroom.

    Anyway, you still have full freedom to celebrate on your own time. Why not do so, and not whine because not everyone is clapping and cheering and telling you how lovely your holiday is and how special you are?

  • Secular1

    Are you guys that paranoid and insecure? What do people of other faiths do, with their festivals and other events to commemorate their fairy tales. They do it on their own time and space. Why can’t the christians be happy with that. There is enough of your fairy tale celebrations for x’tian fairy tales due to teh fact that most of the Americans are x’tian. Why do you people, actually of your ilk, whine so much about public endorsement of your fairy tales? Stop this silly stuff man.

  • itsthedax

    So your religion, the promise of a reward and fear of punishment, is the only reason you have for treating your fellow man decently?

    That doesn’t make you moral, it just that means that you’re a psychopath.

    You might find this hard to believe, but other people actually have a moral compass, a sense of fairness and empathy, to use as a guide. It has nothing to do with religion.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    “”Christians can do whatever they like in their churches and private property, but in the American public square, there is room at the inn for all of us.” (Barker)

    What a marvelous example of leftist doublespeak. There is room for EVERYONE in the PUBLIC AQUARE (but Christians should stay at home).

    “We atheists…actually know what we are celebrating: the rebirth of the sun, not the birth of the son.” (Barker)

    An arrogant statement on several levels. First, there is Mr. Barker’s insinuation that Christians are unaware of the history of the holiday. This may be true for the person who only shows up in church on Christmas and Easter but not for the Christian who studies the text and history of their faith on a regular basis. Then, there is his presumption that we Christians can not celebrate the Birth of Christ on ANY day we choose (or every day for that matter).

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I wonder when these brave new aggressive atheists will be brave enough to pull these stunts during, say, Ramadan?

  • itsthedax

    Probably whenever a muslim mosque demands the right to use taxpayer-funded resources for a religious display.

  • gibsonpolk

    I hadn’t checked out the On Faith Atheist discussions in a long time. They had become endlessly repetitive and the more engaging contributors seemed to have moved on.

    Just glancing through, I notice some familiar names (mostly religious) churning out the same tired pro-faith idiocy. These true believers will never engage any idea that could challenge their bronze-age world view (such is the nature of faith). Which kind of makes one wonder what exactly is the point of these conversations. Atheists have better things to do.

  • itsthedax

    PS: Ramadan is a month of fasting, abstinence and repentance. There aren’t any celebrations during that period. Perhaps you should study other religions a little before posting about them.

  • ThomasBaum

    Dan Barker

    You wrote, “To us nonbelievers, the nativity scene is a ridicule of human nature.”

    Is this what all nonbelievers, believe?

    You also wrote, ” Believers might see a cute baby in a manger, but most nonbelievers see a reprehensible put-down of humanity”

    “Cure baby in a manger” as you put it or no cute baby in a manger, man’s inhumanity to man seems to be one of the constants in the history of man.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    So what? I’m sure you all could come up with some novel way to cause a disturbance.

  • edbyronadams

    Always with the assumptions.

    Not a Christian.

    As far as rewards and punishments, you get the effect of every cause you make.

  • itsthedax

    If you can ind any Ramadan displays, please let us know. Here’s a hint: there aren’t any.

    And Ireally don’t think you’ll find anyone objecting to muslims staying home from dusk till dawn, fasting and abstaining from sex. Thats’ what they do during Ramadan.

    PS: I’m not an atheist.

  • itsthedax

    Then what was the point in your response to Mr. Barker?

  • BenW40222

    Religion and science was the same thing until churches started murdering and imprisoning scientist. Just saying…

  • AgentFoxMulder

    First, your church/state argument is meaningless in the face of established Supreme Court rulings and because of the fact that Christians AND atheists ALREADY HAVE equal rights in that regard. You are creating a problem where there is none. Otherwise, why not just go to court.

    Second, new atheists have a message problem. Namely, you speak with forked tongue. You go after Nativity scenes (like Herod’s henchmen in search of newborns) mocking Christian theology. You don’t believe in God and you find Christian theology offensive. That is the message of, and reason for, your protests as clearly indicated by your side’s words and actions.

    Yet when I call you out for your inconsistency in not protesting other religions (the adherents of which may be less patient with your message) you claim it is all about Separation of Church and State. And since they stay home you don’t feel the need to object to them.

    What an insipid cop-out.

  • itsthedax

    Please google “strawman fallacy”. I never made any of those claims. You may have wished that I said them, so you could post a rant about it, but I didn’t.

    My post was about your rant about some hypothetical atheist non-reaction to Ramadan. You were wrong. Cope with it.

  • ThomasBaum

    itsthedax

    You wrote, “And Ireally don’t think you’ll find anyone objecting to muslims staying home from dusk till dawn, fasting and abstaining from sex. Thats’ what they do during Ramadan.”

    I may have it wrong but isn’t the “abstaining” from dawn to dusk not dusk till dawn?

  • itsthedax

    No, it’s just bad comma placement on my part.

  • SimonTemplar

    “Carlie Brown, only you can take a joyful holiday like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Of all the Carlie Browns of the world, you’re the Carlie Browniest.”
    Linus, from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.

    The atheists are like Charlie Brown. And the “new” atheists are the Charlie Browniest of them all.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    itsthedax, it really isn’t all about you. When I used the words you and your I was referring to your side of the debate. That is, the atheists in the article which started this whole discussion and whom you are defending in your comments.

    But if you want to hide behind straw men in order to avoid the points I’ve raised, feel free.

  • itsthedax

    If you can’t stand to share public with anyone who doesn’t share your religion, then you’re the one with the problem. Seek help.

  • Rongoklunk

    As Doris Lessing reminds us;;

    “We forget that we are heirs of two thousand years, more or less,of a most tyrannical regime, beside which Hitler and Stalin are babes. Not that modern tyrants have not learned from the churches.
    “About the time of the first World War the churches lost their teeth and ceased to become the major influence on our societies. Now they are amiable, often oriented towards work that is indistinguishable from social and charitable work, It is not possible for the church – as was the case till only yesterday, historically speaking, to dominate a whole society as the sole arbiter of conduct and thought.
    “But for two thousand years Europe was under a tyrant – the Christian Church – which allowed no other way of thinking, cut off all influences from outside, did not hesitate to kill, extirpate, persecute, burn and torture in the name of God.”
    From “Prisons We Choose To Live Inside” by Doris Lessing.

  • Rongoklunk

    Modern Christians are taught that the church was always compassionate, gentle, loving, and helpful to those in need. But of course this is not true.
    Throughout the ages – when Christianity ruled much of the known world, cruelty was much more common than it is today…and the church was more cruel to people than anybody else. It wrote the book on torture – which was religions way of persuading people to believe in their God. And burning people ALIVE – at the stake – is about the most agonizing way of killing a person. That doesn’t happen anymore because the church no longer has the power. Secular authorities, and secular people, have changed the rules, and religious brutality is now against the law.
    And because the church is not allowed to be brutal anymore – they’ve adopted love and compassion, and pretends it always was loving. But it’s not true. The witch hunts, the burnings, the drownings, the torturing, these are what singles Christianity out as the nastiest institution in history

  • SODDI

    Oh yeah, I LOVE Xmas.

    The time of year when a pleasant “Happy Holidays” will get you a hostile “Merry CHRISTMAS!!” snarled back at you.

    It’s amazing how much nastinessand ugliness christians can pack into those two words.

  • Hemera

    He didn’t say that Christians should stay home. He said they should stop complaining about the non-Christian (and in some cases non-religious) displays which will be in the public spaces right along side the nativity scenes, which aren’t going anywhere. He also doesn’t say that you can’t celebrate the birth of Christ on any day you feel like it. I don’t even know what you’re basing that one one.

    You really only have two good options here. You can try to respond to points that are in this piece, or you can go look for an article that actually says the things you want to complain about. But I don’t see the point in just posting your predetermined rants alongside what appear to be randomly chosen quotes from this blog post.

  • SimonTemplar

    And now we know what modern atheists are taught.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    ^This is more or less the high water mark for Christian apologetics in the 21st century.

  • julianoone

    Although Dan Barker is admirable, he has an Achilles heel: a bad habit of barking up the wrong trees and raising tempests in teapot. I’m a cheerleader for atheism, but I’m okay with Nativities, Ten Commandments, and other Judeo-Christian symbols on “public” property. It’s no different than a courthouse inexpilicably putting up a statue of Harry Potter.

  • PhillyJimi1

    SimonTemplar, the church’s history speaks for itself. Even today the open support of protecting church rather then protecting children only seems to help keep it’s shameful legeacy going strong. It is a repulsive institution.

  • SimonTemplar

    Firstly, Which church are you talking about?

    Secondly, most atheists believe the church is a human invention. This means that all of the evils of the church are of human origin. Remove the church and humanity will invent some other means to commit horrors against each other. Witness the horrors mankind has inflicted upon itself WITHOUT using religion as an excuse.

    Thirdly, your lens only allows you to see parts of history.

  • edbyronadams

    Rationality without some grounding in faith is a recipe for self destruction.

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