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A Skeptic Christmas

by Ryan Johnson, Dec 23 2008

It’s a very weird time of year for the non-religious skeptic.  Everyone is going to church, talk of Jesus and God abound and the holiday discussion is centered around whether we should say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas.

I didn’t grow up in a very religious home.  My parents allowed me to make my own decision about religion.  I went to bible school a few times when I was a child during summer.  I even attended a Christian private school from pre-school to 1st grade.  My only recollection of that experience is that the staff was scary and that I had to memorize verses every week.  How that relates to a good education, I still have no idea.  My parents, thankfully, figured this out quickly and put me into public school, where I really learned a lot and could grow up to be a well-rounded, healthy person.

Religion is such a sensitive subject, I even thought twice about whether I wanted to write anything on the net that talks about religion, and my views of it. I know there are friends that I have that are very religious, that may read this.  Generally, I just avoid that subject with them, because most of the time, I have no desire to discuss or quarrel with them on my religious views. My friendship is more important that one aspect of their lives not aligning with mine.

I worry that if I do not share their religious sentiment, that they will think less of me, or they won’t patronize my business. But it’s time to set those feelings aside.  I am a good, moral person… More than a lot of Christians that I know, actually. I don’t get to hide behind religion or sins.  I have to be a good person because I want to be, and that the way I feel a moral citizen should act. I don’t worry what God might think, but rather what would my Mom and Dad think. That’s got more real-life implications. 

For some reason, however, Christmas brings out the need for those so inclined religiously to really reach out to everyone and make sure that they are saved, or that we  all know the “real reason for the season”  (To get the retail businesses into the black for the year right??)

I don’t mind the pageantry of Christmas. I love the holiday, and I have no problem with churches extending their arms to find new sheep for their flock.  As long as my views are respected and the fact that I don’t attend church regularly doesn’t make me a lesser person in their eyes, I’m perfectly fine.  To me the symbolism of religion in Christmas is very much like the symbolism of Santa Claus. They’re both icons representing nice stories that, during this time of year, many people like to feel a part of so that they can push the stress and fear of the rest of the year aside for a moment and feel like there’s something bigger, and more important to think about.

To me Christmas isn’t real until I go over to my parents house and see all the decorations that adorn every corner of the place. Everything is sparkling, and colorful, and then, I feel the magic of the holiday. Who knew that such strong emotions could be stored in 35 boxes in their attic most the year.

When Christmas Eve comes, many of my relatives come there and we all sit around the table talking about our year, what’s going on and have a great time and good food. We miss our departed relatives, and talk about holidays past.  There’s no prayer, no discussion about a story from centuries ago, just family, sharing a meal, good conversation, the emotions and love that can be found just as much at our house as the pastor’s house down the street.

Merry Christmas everyone.

22 Responses to “A Skeptic Christmas”

  1. Andres says:

    Great post. I too feel the same way. It can feel a tad strange being a skeptic during a very religious holiday, but for the most part, I go along with it and dont fuss too much. To me, Christmas is not about a particular religious story, but about a time of year in which families come together to celebrate and enjoy each other’s presence. In such a fractured and divided world, we truly need more of this in our lives.

    Its sad for me to see fellow unbelievers go out of their way to make a case for unbelief in a time like this, as the folks at the Freedom from Religion Foundation have done with the sign in Washington DC.
    I looked at that sign and immediately thought: “These folks aren’t representing me”. I dont particularly care much about Nativity displays in public spaces. I realize that this country has a strong Christian heritage and I have no desire to completely abolish any mention of Christianity in the public square. As long as the signs arent as offensive as those by the Westboro Baptist Church (The God Hates Fags people), then I’m fine with it.
    Instead of using Christmas to unite people, the folks at the Freedom from Religion foundation have hurt our image and have opened up a can of worms that will only further serve to divide.

    I’m not one of those politically correct folks who feels that he has to say “Merry X-Mas or Happy Holidays”. As an unbeliever, I still say Merry Christmas. It simply baffles me how politically correct everything around this holiday has become.

    Skeptics like us can celebrate Christmas as a Holiday, instead of a Holy-Day, and simply move on.

    Merry Christmas to you and everyone at the Skeptiblogs. :)

  2. Julian says:

    I hate the holidays. Never been my thing and I hate how everyone thinks it has to do with atheism or whatever. I really just can’t stand holidays. Same way I can’t stand the beach.

    But you guys really should try to enjoy yourselves! Good cheer, peace on Earth and all that good stuff.

    Happy Holidays.

  3. A lifelong atheist, I too have zero problem with public Christmas displays and expressions, even on public turf. My choice is to make Christmas about children (hardly surprising given I have nine of the little bastards)and to avoid getting sucked into the commercial crassness that abounds.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

  4. franko says:

    Funny thing . . . I live in Canada and in a so-called multi-cultural society where everything is tolerated except the evil Christian religion [and yes, I am one of those conservative Christian types -- I just appreciate honest dialogue, as opposed to many of my more close-minded brethern]. Too bad, Ryan, that you feel your religious/Christian friends would think less of you for not holding their beliefs — then again, it happens in the Christian community itself, doesn’t it?

    There seem to be two Christmases in our society, really: the religious one and the secular one –and you are right — “the reason for the season” is indeed to get the retail businesses into the black for the year [good luck this year!].

    Merry Christmas, and enjoy your family time!

  5. Shahar Lubin says:

    I’m an atheist jew. I enjoy my religion as a cultural heritage.

    Personally I find the “happy holidays” to be misdirected PC. It’s a one time a year get out of jail card for people who want to think of themselves as pluralists but don’t want to do any work.

    Chanukkah is a minor holiday on the jewish calendar. Hell it’s not even a “holy day”. Enjoy your christmas! If you want to be open to other people and their religion, wish me a happy holiday on one that is actually important to me, not just close enough to yours that you can remember it. Wish me happy new year in september(I had many christian get angry at me, or at least give a “I’m not jewish” when i wished them happy new at the beginning of my year), wish me happy passover in march. Do the research, know thy neighbor. Where’s the token holiday decoration in Boarders for passover?

    The problem with all the christian holiday display is that they make others feel alien in comparison. We’re the other american, the hyphened americans. I love the multi culturism of our nation. The myriad ethnicities and histories. Let’s really celebrate it. A “happy holidays” instead of “merry christmas” doesn’t cut it.

  6. Ian Mason says:

    Tom Lehrer said it best, so I won’t. What the heck, there’s always been a solstice festival of some sort the last 5,000 years, no matter what you call it, so let’s just enjoy et “chacun a son gout” – if I’ve spelled that right.
    Peace love and understanding to all.

  7. baryogenesis says:

    I was raised in an American R.C. family, but the most memorable part of christmas was traveling to both pairs of grandparents on christmas eve to party and exchange gifts with cousins (which were taken home and not opened til morning). My current families (since I now reside in Canada) are not religious, but we still enjoy the sharing, and the food and drink. I don’t bother with a tree but it’s nice to visit families who do. It has become more of a Solstice celebration with the usual attempt at exchanging good feelings and to be mainly a display, a pageant put on for children to enjoy; the coloured lights do brighten up a generally gray time of year.
    Not everyone handles this time of year well. I have friends who experience tensions and depression brought on by inharmonious family relations and financial pressures.
    I was in a bookstore cash lineup today and some baby jesus christmas carol came on over the store speakers. The late teen girl in front of me sang along for a few bars and then said to her mother “Simple lyrics for simple minds.” I smiled.

  8. John Draeger says:

    Andres (1): FFRF sticks up for the establishment clause of the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The organization welcomes agnostics & atheists, but also deists. The establishment clause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court that no gov’t agency should promote one religion, or religion over non-religion. FFRF opposes the use of taxpayer dollars for promoting religion. If a public agency is allowed to put up a Christian symbol, then any other religious symbols must also be allowed by law–even a plate of spaghetti and meatballs to represent the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Pastafarianism. Some people are more tolerant of religion being sold/preached to them than others. I’m in favor of respecting those who do not want any religion pushed at them. But U.S. law protects the freedom of citizens to practice any religion on private property, and we should be tolerant of those who don’t accept a completely naturalistic view of themselves and the universe. I don’t like the “hardens hearts” wording on the FFRF sign (religion is good when it produces good and bad when it produces bad), but since other religious statements/symbols are allowed there, FFRF has every right to put up something representing the non-theistic point of view.

    Enjoy the holidays and let’s all try to be compassionate.

  9. Andres says:

    John, I fully acknowledge that the FFRF has every right to put up something representing the non-theistic point of view. Flying Spaghetti Advocates, God Hates Fags advocates, White Supremacy advocates, all have the right to put something up. That is the unfortunate price of having such beautiful freedoms.
    I’m glad the FFRF folks are going out and fighting for their rights as well. My only problem is the wording. My question is more along the lines of ‘why do you feel it important to include the words religion enslaves’ in your display? Why not a simple ‘Happy Winter Solstice’ message. The fact that they decided to include those words only served to futher politicize their message, which then created all the insanity around it. If the Christians had put up a ‘For the wages of sin is death’ sign right next to their nativity scene, then I personally would have felt like a counter message should have been put up. However, a simple nativity scene is hardly threatening or offensive.
    Instead of trying to unite, the FFRF folks have only furthered devided this nation. They’ve created this artificial devide of ‘us and them’, where us represents the rational minded intellectuals, and the ‘them’ represents the enslaved and hardened individuals.
    This is simply not what we need, specially in a time like Christmas, which at one point served to unite people, no matter what their differences.
    Its unfortunate, but eh, such is life.

  10. Resume says:

    Happy Holiday That Some People Co-opted from My Pagan Ancestors!

  11. Kelly says:

    Christmas Eve is magical. Not because of some two-thousand-year-old fairy tale… But because of the twinkling holiday lights, stars and snow crystals. Because of the happiness of gathering with people we love. Because of crackling fireplaces, long snowshoe walks and mulled wine. Christmas Eve is childhood wonder and delight in the magic of what’s real. Who needs any biblical Imaginary Friends to make it more special :)

  12. Well, I happen to belong to the Leafarian Sect of the Flying Spaghetti Monster religion. We broke off from those numbnuts who believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster has meat balls. Any idiot knows better and those who believe thus are going to hell, Hell, HELL.

  13. Andres says:

    He has meatballs. (-_-)

  14. LUFTRITTER says:

    Well as an atheist I don’t have any trouble with the celebration of a pagan holiday taken by cristianity wich originally was in honour of an astronomical event (you know I mean the solstice). There is enough holiday for everyone.

    Merry Newtonmas!

  15. Cambias says:

    Putting up an offensively anti-religious statement next to a Nativity scene at Christmas time is not the work of atheists, agnostics, or deists. The word for those people is “assholes.”

  16. John Draeger says:

    Cambias: Doesn’t help to use to use offensive language against offensive language. Try something more civilized like Equus asinus vents next time.

    Devil’s Advocate: I like the way you’re thinking! Check out the latest holiday photos of FSM lights, cookies, etc. at
    Caution: Meatball sect is heavily represented.

  17. John, just thought the FSM analogy/parody ought to be taken to the next step – sectarian conflict!

  18. Christianity is not a belief and adherence to a set of rules and beliefs – it is a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    God’s Word – the Bible – is the most well documented book ever written. Its prophecies have been 100% accurate, geological digs have always found evidences which have proven the accuracy of Scripture, secular historians in biblical times have reported history the same way as found in scriptures, and on and on. People have labored to disprove the Bible for over 2,000 years with no success. The Bible referred to the circle of the earth 400 years before man realized the earth was not flat.
    Where Christianity has been dominate as a religion, freedom has always followed. Our Declaration of Independence, our U.S. Constitution, the English common law that we inherited as a nation were ALL steeped in and flowed from Biblical principles and law.
    The enduring principles found in scripture, i.e., do not murder, do not steal, do not covet your neighbors property, do not bear false witness, etc. are all fixed standards that have had their roots in scripture for thousands of years.
    Atheism and secular humanism on the other hand, is rooted in accidents that have happened over billions of years, survival of the fittest, natural selection, etc. There is no basis for freedom here only dominance by the most powerful. Corruption is no factor when there are no absolutes, no rights or wrongs, you simply do it if it feels good to you and to hell with the weak or someone else’s property. That is the foundation of atheism which rests on Darwinism – which is rapidly crumbling under the weight of new scientific findings in micro-biology, dating methods, and the need for directed energy and intelligence in order to assemble complex structures like the single cell.
    The Christian religion has had more positive influence on civilizations than anything else – and that is a fact!

  19. One wonders which flavor Kool-Ade defender eagles prefer….

  20. Shahar Lubin says:

    OK. I counted seventeen logical fallacies in the first three sentences.

  21. Jim Brock says:

    Well…I have two comments.
    1. We would all be better off to simply respect the views of others without making it a point of argument. I was reared as a RC and found a lot of solace and encouragement to live a good life. As an educated person (retired lawyer) I find it not rational to believe the Bible is the literal (or even actual) word of God. The Deists may have believed in a Creator, and from their standpoint it made sense to include freedom of religion in the Constitution. The beginning can be called creation by God or the big bang or whatever; pick your own name for the beginning (if there was one; as I understand the current thinking of cosmologists it is possible that there is a continuing input of energy into the universe, thus the accelarating rate of expansion). So…let people believe what gives them comfort so long as they give me the same right. And do not hit me with a fatwah every whip-stich.

    2. The Supreme Court has, indeed, “interpreted” the first amendment to forbid any connection of the government with religion. It may be good policy, but the legal analysis stinks. What the first amendment actually prohibits is “an establishment of religion.” Nuff said.

  22. Shahar Lubin says:


    if the government make a connection with religion it establishes one. Meaning it support it and shows it to be the official one. Yeah, you can say, call him allah/jehovah/jesus or just god it’s all the same thing, but what about wicas/voodoos/hindus and even satan worshippers and pirate costumed FSMs.
    What connections are you thinking on? Putting holiday markers on public buildings, what about my holidays(hannukah is mostly a response to jewish kids in america wanting gifts, it’s a very minor festival on the jewish calendar). Financially supporting churches, which religions/denominations/sects count. And so forth.
    Freedom of religion means the government doesn’t get their hand into it. Your right to worship your choice deity is my right not to not worship any.