Posted at thenewsleaders.com
August Berkshire, President Minnesota Atheists, Minneapolis
Ron Scarbro claims “One of the tenets of Christianity, thankfully, is tolerance.” He then spends the rest of his column berating atheists and pagans. (Newsleaders, Sartell, Opinions, “So this is Christmas - peace and goodwill to all!” Dec. 12).
Christmas is not to be found in the Bible. Judging from the nativity story, the birth of Jesus would have occurred in the spring. (Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas.) The earliest reference to Christmas being celebrated on Dec. 25 - the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar - was in Rome in 354. In 380, the Roman emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan temples to be destroyed and forced pagans to accept Christianity.
Pagans had celebrated the winter solstice as the birth/rebirth of their sun/savior gods. It was so popular the early Christians could not stamp it out, so they co-opted it for the birth of their god. However, all the fun parts of the celebration are pagan in origin: gatherings of families and friends, feasts, gift-giving, lights, music, decorated trees and more.
In fact, the Bible states, “Learn not the way of the heathen... For the customs of the people are in vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest... They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10.2-4)
1659 to 1680 the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited
the observance of Christmas: “Whoever shall be found observing any such
day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting or
any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so
offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the
The U.S. Congress was in session on Dec. 25, 1789, and also for 64 of the next 67 years. It wasn't until 1836 that Alabama became the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday. In 1894, Christmas was included in the first group of federal holidays. Previously, Congress often met, and mail was delivered, on Christmas day.
Scarbro wonders if atheists and pagans can be “at least as tolerant as Christians?” We'll do better than that. We'll allow Christians to continue to imagine their god was born on Dec. 25, so long as they don't try to force their religion on the rest of us.
Reprinted with permission from the Star Tribune.
Motivations may vary, but we all can spread joy and goodwill at this time of year.
'Tis the season. With winter coming, some members of the religious right have begun bracing themselves for the so-called annual atheists' "war on Christmas." While we think that the government and public schools should remain neutral when it comes to religious celebrations, we have no interest in depriving anyone of whatever private celebrations they wish to conduct.
Nevertheless, in case you were wondering, here are the plans some of us have for December.
The cards we will be purchasing will not say "Merry Christmas" (or "Happy Hanukah" or "Happy Eid") but rather "Season's Greetings."
After all, the original "reason for the season" is the winter solstice, which has long been appropriated by religious people to celebrate the birth or rebirth of their sun/savior gods. Nowadays, with religion in decline, the reason for the season is becoming merely a time for festivities. What's wrong with that?
The trees that many of us will have in our homes will have colorful lights, originally symbolic of the postsolstice lengthening of days, but now just a pretty sight.
Of course, we will not have angels on top of our trees. We know this will make us unpatriotic as, in this economy, it is likely to lead the treetop-angel-making industry to seek a federal bailout.
The meals we will share will not have prayers said over them, but we will give thanks to those who provided them and to our families and friends.
The songs we sing will be secular -- "Jingle Bells," etc. But, fear not: Atheists are just as likely to sing them out of tune as religious people, though we will derive no less joy.
And jolly old Santa Claus? Well, the disappearance of milk and cookies left out for him and the appearance of wrapped presents are evidence in the minds of many that he exists. We'll relax our skeptical standards for a day and leave Santa's existence up to each person's imagination.
We wish everyone well in celebrating the season as they see fit. Let us set aside our differences and come together in the goodwill of our shared humanity. It is the Jewish-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-pagan-humanist-atheist thing to do.
August Berkshire is president of Minnesota Atheists.
Like many of you reading this, I describe myself as a flaming liberal. Yet in one area I am a conservative. I am an atheist.
Yes, atheism is a conservative position. We accept statements only so far as there is reason and/or evidence to back them up. Anything else is speculation. We make no leaps of faith. If there should some day be a compelling reason or piece of evidence for a god, then we would acknowledge it and change our views. This is also known as intellectual honesty.
An atheist possesses clarity in his or her thinking processes. We are able to identify those things for which we have evidence and separate them from other things that are merely wishful thinking.
An atheist is also consistent. We apply our skepticism equally to all supernatural claims. We do not say, "All prophets, saviors, or gods are false - except ours." We make no exceptions or special pleadings.
Another benefit of atheism is that it is contradiction-free. We don't have to try to reconcile an all-loving, all-seeing, all-powerful god with the existence of evil. We don't have to define love exactly the opposite of how we normally define it in order to make it applicable to a god. We don't have to claim a poor supernatural designer is intelligent.
Finally, an atheist possesses courage. It is natural for people to have a healthy survival instinct. However, some people have such a fear of death that they feel compelled to believe in an afterlife to alleviate those fears. It takes intellectual and emotional courage to abandon belief in an afterlife because there is no evidence for it (and compelling evidence against it). It also takes intellectual and emotional courage to abandon one's belief in a cosmic, supernatural "protector" and realize that we are alone in our solar system and must therefore help each other as best we can.
One of the arguments of Pascal's Wager is that a person loses nothing by believing in a god. I beg to differ. Accepting Pascal's Wager means saying that we are willing to abandon reason and evidence as our standards of living, and instead make a leap of faith to... where?
It's true that by converting (or deconverting) from theism to atheism a person can lose his or her divine specialness, cosmic meaning in life, and any hope of an afterlife. But you can't lose what you never really had.
The reality of atheism far outweighs the dream of religion. There is an excitement and beauty to perceiving the world as it really is, and not as a wishful thought.
© 2008 August Berkshire