December 24, 2010
In a newly released Christmas guide, atheists recount stories of traditional Christmas celebrations despite secular leaders’ belief that non-believers should steer clear of the Dec. 25th holiday.
The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas features 42 celebrity freethinkers in the United States and Europe who open up and discuss a topic seldom associated to their ilk – celebrating Christmas.
The book, a compilation of several essays and short stories, reveals that atheists maintain traditions and fond memories linked to the holiday commonly associated with Christian beliefs.
Simon Le Bon, front man of pop band Duran Duran, states, “I love Christmas. I always have.”
Le Bon attended a Christian school as child and once considered himself a Christian. Although he’s now an atheist, he continues to celebrate Christmas in traditional ways, Le Bon shares.
“Despite having lost my faith, I still celebrate Christmas and I love church music. I go to church to listen to the music,” he wrote.
Jenny Colgan, an atheist and bestselling author in the Chic Lit genre, shares, “I’ve always been enthralled by Christmas.” Colgan, who was raised Catholic, describes attending mass with her children on Christmas.
“I take the boys to Christmas morning mass – where my mother is playing the organ – but they don’t know when to sit or stand or what to do, and I am unaccountably nostalgic for a life I never wanted,” she describes.
Robin Harvie, the book’s co-editor, explained that the book is not a “theological tract” but rather “a bit of fun to show how atheists and agnostics can take part [in Christmas] and enjoy themselves too.”
This seems to run contradictory to assertions by atheist group leaders who claim non-believers are closeted by the celebration of Christmas and recommend nonparticipation.
American Atheists President David Silverman has asserted that Christmas is forced on freethinkers, and they in turn, “Go along to get along.”
However, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas underscores statistics that show many enjoy and celebrate Christmas despite religious and, or in this case non-religious, affiliations.
According to a Monday poll by Christian group LifeWay Research, over half of all atheists celebrate Christmas. Nearly 90 percent of all agnostics and 62 percent of individuals claiming other religions also choose to observe Christmas.
Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanists, expressed his displeasure in the numbers in The Washington Post’s On Faith column.
“I'm intensely conscious of how many of my fellow atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers keep the Christian holiday in some form,” Flynn wrote. “I think they're all shooting themselves in the foot.”
He also asserted that celebrating the holiday will make non-believers disappear in the shadows. Non-Christians should “steer clear” of Christmas, he urged.
Yet atheists such as U.K. standup comic Ed Byrne admit, “I’ve always been a big Christmas mush, enjoying the sentimentality of the season.”
Perhaps the draw of Christmas to so many non-believers lies in its cultural roots. Spirituality blogger Frank Lockwood describes Christmas as a “smorgasbord” of Christianity, paganism and consumerism. Lockwood says the holiday is fueled by a belief in Jesus as well as beliefs in Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.
So it is no surprise then that some atheists in the book celebrate Christmas much like Christians: decorating a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, caroling and attending church.
LifeWay Research Director Ed Stetzer acknowledged that Christmas has become a cultural holiday. “People participate in holidays or activities all the time without knowing [why],” he stated in an email. He conceded that the celebration of Christmas in modern times has nothing to do with faith.
The book’s featured atheists make it absolutely clear that they do not espouse religious beliefs. Despite frequenting church for church music, Le Bon clarifies, “I’m liberal; I’m just not religious.”
Colgan also describes how she tells her children, and how she herself believes, that Christ’s birth is simply a story people tell to justify winter celebration, no different from the pagan holiday Winter Solstice or the Persian god Mithras.
Also, many atheists do not celebrate Christmas in any form. In the book, BBC journalist Simon Singh describes his logic for celebrating the Big Bang theory on Christmas.
Still, Stetzer believes more people consider Christ this time of year, leaving an opening for Christians to share their faith. “Christians should be intentional about sharing Christ at Christmas,” declared Stetzer.
He insisted that Christians should also share the Christ message to staunch atheists who are rebelling against Christianity, not persuaded or simply do not have the faith to believe.
“As long as there is a fallen world, there will be atheists and Christians who take the message of Jesus to them,” Stetzer said.