Have a Very Dawkins Christmas

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The atheist you love to hate surprised some Brits by arguing, rather passionately, in favor of public Christmas celebrations.

On Have Your Say, [Conservative Party MP Mark] Pritchard told Prof. Dawkins there was an "increasing feeling" that "many of the main Christian festivals are being sidelined and marginalised, sometimes by stealth, sometimes openly".

This, he argued, would allow groups such as the British National Party, to utilise Christian imagery for their own ends.

Prof Dawkins, who has frequently spoken out against creationism and religious fundamentalism, replied: "I'm not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions.

"This is historically a Christian country. I'm a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.

"So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I'm not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

"If there's any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists."

The BBC has some background about Pritchard's quest, and it sounds more or less like the counter-"War on Christmas" that kicks off on Fox News' prime time blog every year after Thanksgiving. I think this puts the lie to the Romneyite attack on atheists weakening America by objecting to nativity scenes in front of public buildings. The UK (where I lived from 1998-2000) has a very public, pervasive Christmas tradition, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of those "societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer." The ultra-commercialization and public perception of Christmas (complete with Dr. Who specials! Make sure to check out the Adventure Calender) has chugged right along with the decline of British Christianity.

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  1. Well, it looks like our work here is done. But Michael Newdow, you watch your atheist ass.

  2. Why must I kneel in prayer to enjoy Xmas? It would seem an atheist could enjoy Xmas without religion the same way a Xtian could enjoy Saturday without making a sacrifice to Saturn.

  3. I agree, the commercialization of christmas was one of the great triumphs of western civilization. A great unifying celebration of peace and goodwill. Unfortunately the christians have gotten all huffy about it and managed to drive everyone else out. The competing feast days, hanukkah, kwanzaa, festivus, etc. make for division and don’t promote good will. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I don’t think America gets into the Christmas spirit like it did in decades past. I myself have taken to saying “Joyous Solstice” as my holiday mantra.

  4. I don’t know about England, but I went to a mall recently – here in secularist Massachusetts, where we only kneel in prayer to Mao – and there was Christmas paraphenalia all over the place.

    I haven’t the foggiest idea what the whiners are complaining about, and can only conclude that they’re just bashing atheists, Jews, and liberals to show that they can.

  5. As we celebrate another Yuletide season, it’s hard not to notice that Christmas in America simply doesn’t feel the same anymore. Although an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and those who don’t celebrate it overwhelmingly accept and respect our nation’s Christmas traditions, a certain shared public sentiment slowly has disappeared. The Christmas spirit, marked by a wonderful feeling of goodwill among men, is in danger of being lost in the ongoing war against religion.

    Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few. The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation, a nation that is legally and culturally biased against Christianity. –Ron Paul “The War on Religion”

  6. “War on Christmas”

    The right wing finds a way to inject war into anything and everything they think about.

    Instead of worrying about the content of shop window displays, perhaps they should start worrying about how they have given war for Christmas to thousands of military families over the past six years (body armor sold separately).

  7. Those who are offended by religious holiday celebrations, and those who decry the war on religion, are all equally douchebags.

  8. “Joyous Solstice”

    Yes. Definitely stealing that!

  9. Hi Edward/Grinch,

    Libertarians do not worship Ron Paul. Pointing out one thing he said (over and over and over and over again) that many or most libertarians would disagree with does not somehow discredit him as a great libertarian candidate. He actually has a few other positions, most of which I agree with.

  10. Dammit, I knew that Dawkins was a lily-livered, fair-weather poser. Revoke his Atheist card!

  11. “Joyous Solstice”

    Yes. Definitely stealing that!

    Me too.

  12. Fair enough, mike.

    I haven’t seen or heard anyone telling me not to put out Christmas decoration or say “Merry Christmas” ever.

    On the other hand, I get innundated with emails, newspapers stories, and letters to the editor directing me not to say “Happy Holidays” every single year.

  13. I agree, the commercialization of Christmas was one of the great triumphs of western civilization.

    Definitely! I’ve heard people complain that Christmas is the only religious holiday that’s also a federal holiday, and that it’s unfair. But as an atheist, as far as I’m concerned that just opens Christmas up to everyone. My mother used to read lots of books on old pagan religions and how early Christianity basically came in and replaced all of their holidays like the winter solstice with others like Christmas.

    Well, if you try to force your holidays on everyone, don’t be surprised when they take them.

    But I’ve yet to see an atheist complain and call for a ban.

  14. Ron Paul, of all people, should be the first to draw a distinction between the government putting up a creche on the town common vs. the government letting private citizens do so.

  15. “Those who are offended by religious holiday celebrations, and those who decry the war on religion, are all equally douchebags.”

    I agree with your conclusion wholeheartedly. But douche bags? Dag, dude. That’s pretty harsh!

  16. I haven’t seen or heard anyone telling me not to put out Christmas decoration or say “Merry Christmas” ever.

    On the other hand, I get innundated with emails, newspapers stories, and letters to the editor directing me not to say “Happy Holidays” every single year.

    Excellent point. The only evidence of Anti-Christmas sentiment I see is when I am told “Happy Holidays” when I buy something at a store instead of Merry Christmas. OMG, how horrible is that?

  17. There’s something of a war on Christmas. I was talking to the maintenance man at my church once. It wa shis job to erect the life-size Nativity scene. Every year, the baby Jesus was stolen. Tired of replacing the infant, he bolted the crib to the ground and put a 2 foot long steel bolt through Our Lord to secure him to the cement below.

    That very night, Baby Jesus was kidnapped again. I don’t know whether to blame atheists or the makers of the cordless Sawzall.

  18. And since when is “Happy Holidays” anti-Christmas, anyway?

    I remember the angelic voices singing “Happy Holidays” just before Dean Martin broke into “White Christmas” on a record my parents used to play when I was a kid.

    It’s a sick mind that thinks that extending good wishes to groups A, B, and C is an expression of contempt for group A.

  19. Yes. Definitely stealing that!

    Steal away. I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any ancient Romans around to complain.

    I do agree with Dawkins here and I’m intrigued by the notion of being a “Cultural Christian”. Just the other day I was talking with someone here at work and I mentioned that I sometimes have a Calvinistic attitude towards work. She replied “I didn’t know you were a Calvinist. Where is your church?” I have to admit that I was flummoxed by her reply as I wasn’t thinking about it that way.

  20. Abdul,

    The offenders may have recently read Vonnegut’s Slapstick where the major religion of the country is the “Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped”. They believe that the second coming has already occurred, but that the forces of evil kidnapped him and are keeping him in hiding.

    Great book.

  21. I dunno. For me, Christmas has always simply represented the excuse for my Catholic/Unitarian/Atheist extended family to get together and get drunk, until there was this one incident during the 2000 Election debacle, and now as a result we get together to not drink.

    But for everyone else, there is this orgiastic ecstasy of buying toys of all sorts and for all age groups on poorly financed credit which gets more outlandish every year (even, it seems, when real income goes down and the economy sucks), which can’t be healthy.

    And can someone explain to me why American Jews care so damn much about Hannukah when the rest of the civilized Jewish world couldn’t give a damn about it? I mean, is there something about the combination of Maccabeus’s badassedness and crass anti-intellectualism that appeals to Americans? It sure can’t just be the dreidel, can it?

  22. It’s a sick mind that thinks that extending good wishes to groups A, B, and C is an expression of contempt for group A.

    It’s always surprising to me that the group that’s in the majority in this country can have such a fragile psyche. I guess that’s what life sans hardship will do to you.

  23. Japan adopted Christmas as an entirely secular holiday (there are very few Christians there). They put up trees, decorations, give gifts, etc. The gift giving is mainly for children, for adults there’s apparently a kind of Valentine’s Day thing going on.

    And this is just hilarious: “Most Japanese naturally have a weak understanding of Christmas’s religious roots and customs. I remember one Japanese pastor being asked if it’s Santa’s birthday.”

  24. And can someone explain to me why American Jews care so damn much about Hannukah when the rest of the civilized Jewish world couldn’t give a damn about it?

    It’s all about being included. Christmas in the US is such a huge deal that hannukah got big for jews so that they didn’t feel left out. My wife’s family used to get a “hannukah tree” when she and her sisters were young. Now they have dinner for hannukah but save the big celebrations for the high holidays.

  25. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought “Happy Holidays” was anti-Christmas, but that it was the MOST anti-Christmas thing I’ve noticed. Thus meaning that I haven’t noticed anything really anti-Christmas.

  26. and not by my definition of anti-Christmas, but by others

  27. Now, Purim. That’s a religious celebration I can really get behind.

  28. I have a long standing boycott of Fox News. Are they still pushing this War on Christmas thing?

    BTW, I have a twelve point plan to end the War On Christmas, and I beat Joe Biden to the punch.

  29. Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Haunukkah, a Kwazy Kwanza, and a Solemn and Dignified Ramadan.

  30. “Joyous Solstice”

    Yes. Definitely stealing that!

    Me too.

    Cool! Because if three of us do it they may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said fifty people a day walking around wishing people a Joyous Solstice. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

    And that’s what it is, the Joyous Solstice Anti-divisive peace and good will Movement, and
    all you got to do to join is wish everyone a Joyous solstice when it come around each winter.

  31. BakedPenguin,

    In a college marketing class we studied how KFC convinced the Japanese that the most traditional American Christmas dinner was a bucket of extra-crispy with sides. According to the article we read, you have to get on a waiting list if you want to spend Christmas Eve with the Colonel.

    In our house Christmas is pretty much a secular deal. We kept the pagan feasting, gifting, trees, fires and ditched all the Jebus stuff.

    However, when I was a kid my grandmother used to bake a birthday cake for baby Jesus. We’d have to sing Happy Birthday before opening presents at her house. She was a little nutty.

  32. The celebration of Christmas used to be an abomination to religious folks. The thought of a helpless, un-saviorlike Jesus was outside of their comprehension. The war on Christmas isn’t about Christianity (as Dawkins’ position highlights), it’s about red-blooded, war-prone, ‘Merka.

  33. “War on Christmas”

    Yeah, I was there. Waist deep in snow on Christmas Eve in fog so thick you couldn’t see anything… until that horrible red freakin’ nose appeared and we got swarmed by a bunch of damn dirty elves.

    I still remember the horrible laugh of that fat bastard even as the napalm fell…

  34. Given that the American Christmas is almost entirely shorn of religious references, I think it’s more accurate to describe the “War on Christmas” as a low-level skirmish between those who cherish Anglo-Saxon culture and those who don’t.

  35. “War on Christmas” deniers (“what the whiners are complaining about?”) sound an awful lot like global warming deniers. OMGFAUXNEWS!

  36. It’s always surprising to me that the group that’s in the majority in this country can have such a fragile psyche. I guess that’s what life sans hardship will do to you.

    The Christians had their most honest days when there was a real fear they could be eaten by lions. Tomorrow.

    Seriously, the only group in America that is more absurd than Atheists about being persecuted has to be Christians. I’m an Atheist, and I get tired of people bitching about the imposition of some meaningless text on our money or moments of silence in schools, but PLEASE! You can’t be a persecuted group if you:

    a. Are in the VAST Majority
    b. Hold all political and economic power
    c. Are free to pray as you damn well please

    and

    d. Are firmly and well-nigh irrevocably integrated into every secular and cultural tradition in existence in the culture

    All of which Christians are. “Happy Holidays” isn’t persecution. It’s politeness.

  37. Here in Massachusetts, they had a fight a few years ago about whether the Town of Lexington should be paying to put a nativity scene on the town common.

    One of the arguments often made was, “Lexington Common, where the Minutemen gathered! What would the Minutemen say if they found out we couldn’t have a nativity scene for Christmas?”

    The desired answer was, they would be aghast at the hostility of the government towards Christianity.

    The correct answer was, they would be aghast at such a blatant display of papist idolatry, and smash it to bits with the butts of their muskets.

  38. For some reason the comments here reminded me of this, with which I very much agree:

    C.S. Lewis on What Christmas Means to Me

    Sorry about the link, its much better than the one I found with the awful background image that hurt my brain.

  39. The modern day Minutemen would stage a PR blitz by setting up a citizens’ watch on the MA border waiting for the illegal immigrant Wise Men to try to cross, and then implode in an orgy of bickering over finances and personal power plays.

  40. joe,

    The question I have is: Why did MA let all those Catholics move in anyway?

  41. And can someone explain to me why American Jews care so damn much about Hannukah when the rest of the civilized Jewish world couldn’t give a damn about it?

    Are enough of American Jews descended from Holocaust refugees that it could have developed as a reaction to that, a pride/fuck-the-anti-Semites thing?

  42. Matt J – Ha! Well, it’s close to a turkey, anyway. It’s too bad for KFC that US culture is not currently well liked in the Middle East. Everywhere I went in London, there were KFC knockoff restaurants with “Halal” signs in the windows. I’m thinking they could clean up in Muslim lands. But they probably shouldn’t try to convince the Muslims that a bucket of extra crispy is a traditional Ramadan dinner.

    I found out about Japanese Christmas watching Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal. One of the characters got some Christmas gifts for his daughter. It took me a while to realize Buddhist/Shinto Japan would have no real reason to celebrate Christmas.

  43. The Minutemen would sing “Jesus & Tequila.”

  44. This holiday thread has been approved by the Federal Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in accordance with guidelines set by Executive Order 13453.

  45. You may possibly be aware that I am an atheist. That said, I love Xmas. I continue family traditions and have even adoopted a Xmas tradition from a secular (GASP!) organization, the United States Marine Corps. Toys for Tots, every year. The box is at the mall folks. You’re already there, overspending in the commercial orgy known as the American Christmas. $20 – $50 to place a new, unwrapped toy for the children of those less fortunate really isn’t that much of a hardship is it? That’s Toys for Tots, guys and gals. Please donate today.

  46. The box is at the mall folks. You’re already there, overspending in the commercial orgy known as the American Christmas.

    No, Im not. I personally only participate in Christmas #1 and #2 from the link I posted above. When it comes to #3, Im scroogerific.

  47. And the Nativity scene in the town square thingee, no rational person, secure in their own beliefs, gets upset about it. On the other hand, The 10 commandments prominently displayed at the courthouse, Grrrr!

  48. A Doctor Who Christmas special?

    Well, I gotta admit that the time-travelling features of the Tardis would certainly make it easier to get all those presents delivered similtaneously.

  49. I am a happily-lapsed Catholic agnostic, but people have a point when they take issue with “Xmas,” “Jebus,” etc. If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas and you are an atheist/agnostic, simply tell them you don’t celebrate it, but appreciate the good will this time of year, or let it pass. If they get up in arms when you let them know your feelings, then they aren’t being particularly Christian to begin with, and ignore them.

  50. elem, purim rocks. so does pesach. drink!

    if hannukah came at any other time of year, it would rank in importance and attention by american jews right below simkhas torah and just ahead of shemini atzeret.

  51. “If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas and you are an atheist/agnostic, simply tell them you don’t celebrate it, but appreciate the good will this time of year, or let it pass.”

    Or simply say, “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

  52. Michael,

    “X-Mas” goes back to the Greek churches in the first and second century. X is the symbol for the Greek letter chi, the first letter in the spelling of Christ. It was commonly used as a symbol of Jesus, along with the fish.

  53. Edna —

    LOL. Yeah. “Cursed by Morde…oh crap, I’m already drunk. Damn it!”

    I personally find it funny (in a ‘ironic’, not ‘ha ha’ sort of way) that Hannukah is a celebration of an incident of religious fundamentalism (complete with bloodshed!) that denigrated Greek thought and culture (esp. Aristotle) and established a corrupt priesthood that would give way ultimately to the Rabbinical authorities profoundly influenced by those very same Greek modes of thought, esp. in the manner and content of the Talmudic commentaries.

    Someone got the last laugh, and it sure as hell wasn’t the Maccabees.

    IIRC, Newsweek had a surprisingly informative/insightful article on this very issue a few weeks back (and Hitchens over at Slate had an equally erudite, if completely insulting and arrogantly dismissive, article on the same topic.)

    Hey, Hannukah is a gift giving holiday and Americans are a material-grubbing people; next to that, how could Torah readings compete? Christians gave up Christ for Christmas a long time ago in exchange for some really neat toys…

  54. The ultra-commercialization and public perception of Christmas (complete with Dr. Who specials! … ) has chugged right along with the decline of British Christianity.

    Rassilon bless us, every one.

  55. Personally, I like the Japanese approach to Christmas, when Col. Sanders brings KFC to all of the good little boys and girls.

  56. This militant agnostic has no problem wishing people a Merry Christmas. It’s a seasonal greeting after all, not a recitation of some religious creed. Nor do I have a problem with the nativity scene on the courthouse lawn less than a block from where I sit. Although I was surprised to see it when I moved here, I simply can’t imagine a reason to be upset by it.

    IOW, people on both sides really ought to just calm the hell down.

  57. My brain doesn’t even know how to process this image:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/images/dwm390.jpg

  58. And can someone explain to me why American Jews care so damn much about Hannukah when the rest of the civilized Jewish world couldn’t give a damn about it?

    Probably because we wanted a gift-giving celebration too. My great-grandparents were from all over eastern Europe. I don’t think my grandparents got gifts for Hannukah. It’s also about assimilation. Jewish kids get to have the same fun as christian kids at the same time of the year.

    Now, Purim. That’s a religious celebration I can really get behind.

    Amen. If only for the Hamantashen.

    P.S. Merry Christmas!

  59. My brain doesn’t even know how to process this image:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/images/dwm390.jpg

    Let’s see… um, it’s a hot, blonde, Aussie pop star draped on an extraterrestrial phallic symbol.

  60. I hate Christmas.

  61. John I:

    I don’t hate Christmas.

    I just hate carols in the malls and stores decorating for Chistmas before Halloween.

  62. I love Christmas–both the tacky commercial aspects and all the rest and I’m pretty much an atheist.

  63. “Your very possession of religious faith is harmful, and your beliefs a sign of foolish self-delusion! But I don’t hate Christmas…”

    What a putz.

  64. I don’t hate Christmas.

    I just hate carols in the malls and stores decorating for Chistmas before Halloween.

    What he said. Let me celebrate Halloween in peace.

  65. I start Christmas with a little Bailey’s in my morning coffee, and go from there.

    Merry? Oh hell yeah.

  66. Personally, I like the Japanese approach to Christmas, when Col. Sanders brings KFC to all of the good little boys and girls.

    Do the bad ones get Popeye’s?

  67. “”” The 10 commandments prominently displayed at the courthouse, Grrrr!””””

    As if the people in the courthouse actually obey them.

  68. Japan celebrates Christmas? They’re the last people I’d expect to be “multi-cultural”.

  69. “And that’s what it is, the Joyous Solstice Anti-divisive peace and good will Movement, and
    all you got to do to join is wish everyone a Joyous solstice when it come around each winter.”

    And when it comes around in the summer too!

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