is it right for atheists to celebrate Christmas?

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Initial post: 19 Sep 2009 18:45:39 BDT
Oliver_York says:
I take the view that in any case Christians pretty much hijacked a Pagan midwinter festival and it is more about having a nice time with friends and family than it is about believing stuff about Jesus. Sp personally I have no problem with it.

Actually I even agree with Richard Dawkins when he said he likes singing carols - I do too. It's a nice nostalgic thing, and they have good tunes, you don't have to actually believe everything they say.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2009 14:19:56 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Sep 2009 14:20:30 BDT
But for Christians it IS about the birth of Jesus - it's NOT about spending time with family, giving presents & eating lots of food...

It's pretty well accepted that we don't have the exact date of Jesus' birth, but Christmas day is the time that has been chosen to celebrate it (because years ago that was their best guess of when it was). As an atheist, what are you actually celebrating at 'Christ-mas'? The word itself shows that it is centred around Christ. So maybe it could be some kind of winter break from work where everyone buys & gives presents, but I don't think an atheist could actually say that they were celebrating Christmas, because they don't believe in why would they celebrate it? Hope that makes's just my opinion anyway.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2009 18:41:31 BDT
Ms. F. Watts says:
But as a Christian, I'm sure you are prepared to forgive us atheists for wanting to join in all the fun. And I agree with Mr Rowland about the fact that there has always been a mid-winter celebration and call it Christmas, Yule or Winter Solstice, we all have a right to celebrate at that time of year if we choose to.

Posted on 23 Sep 2009 19:16:53 BDT
E. Jump says:
I don't mind if atheists want to celebrate Christmas. Don't mind at all. I do mind if they start trying to say it isn't about Christ. I know it was put in at the time of a pagan festival, and I'm sure there are pagan celebrations at the same time of year still, but Christmas - the carol singing, present giving, peace on earth festival - is a Christian festival. Join in by all means, believe or don't believe as you like, but don't ridicule it - have some respect, as I do for other faiths' festivals, and for those who choose to actively not believe. I rather liked the atheist bus poster actually - 'There's probably no God, now go and enjoy your life' was surprisingly positive and less certain than most of my atheist friends are. And kind of equal to a lot of believers who would be unable to say more than 'There probably is a God, now go and enjoy your life'. So I guess most of us kind of meet in the middle! And I also quite like the idea of 'de-baptism' - it surprised a lot of my friends that baptism mattered enough to need to 'lose' it. Most of them thought along the lines of 'if I don't believe it, and it isn't real, then it is irrelevant whether they poured water on me'. Now they seem to be saying 'if you need to be de-baptised, it is obviously real and can make a difference'. Interestingly, none of them wanted to lose it when they actually thought about it.

Posted on 23 Sep 2009 21:37:17 BDT
Oliver_York says:
Well in the UK we have Christian religion pushed on us if we like it or not (it is a rule that state schools should have broadly Christian assemblies, for example and RE GCSE, when I did it, was solely about Christianity and assumed you believed it). And Christmas is part of the cultural backgound for pretty much everyone, whether one still belives the associated stories or not - it is THE big annual family occasion. So I don't see we should have to jettison it completely just because of having become atheist later on through having thought through the things we were told as kids. Anyway many people who call themselves Christians these days do not believe literallly in matters like the virgin birth anyway, so you might ask what they are celebrating? In any case I don't get upset about the fact the days and months are named after deities I don't believe it - and Christians don't seem to mind that their most important festival of the year (Easter) is named after a Celtic goddess or that they have obvioulsy grafted their own veneer onto preexisting celebrations of renewed life. Nor do they boycott chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies and so on that have little to do with Christianity. And many elements of Christmas, like gift giving, bringing greenery into the home, feasting etc. also had their paralells in what Pagans used to do around the winter solstice time. It's about light and warmth and hope of renewal at the dark time of year. No wonder the Christians decided it was a good time to celebrate Jesus' birth - as opposed to the Roman sun god Sol Invictus (The Unconquered Sun) whose birth was previously celebrated then...

Posted on 24 Sep 2009 01:20:58 BDT
E. Jump says:
Assembly in schools - yes, there is a ruling about the amount of Christian input, but there is also the right to withdraw from assembly for both staff and pupils. RE lessons were like that when I was at school, but I went to a church school, so fair play I guess. My sons did GCSEs about 6 years ago, did RE lessons about all faiths, and their GCSE was mainly ethics. I agree with you that Christmas is a cultural thing now as well as religious, which is why I said before that I have no problem with atheists celebrating it, and actually many of my friends of other faiths celebrate it too. I have Jewish friends for example, who always provide the Christmas dinner, as they know I will be in church at Christmas and they will have more time to cook. Equally, I celebrate Channukah with them (even though it means eight nights of presents!!). I do know that they all make the offer at work they will work Christmas Day to free the day up for those who wish to go to church and so on, and have done so when needed. I don't think being a Christian rises or falls on the issue of the Virgin Birth! Most of us are not so daft that we don't know the origins of the dates we now use for our festivals, in a similar way to the use of ancient holy ground to build churches. I think it is partly convenience, and partly the recognition of the holy or sacred at some very basic level. Chocolate eggs - well, I'd be hard pushed to find chocolate in the Bible (though it would be wonderful if I could) but the egg has significance. Bunnies? I'm on your side! Your comments about the timing of Christmas are obviously realistic and valid, and who knows when exactly Jesus was born. Personally, I find the question irrelevant. It's not the cosy Christmas story I'm celebrating, so much as the God I find active in my life. Even on the days when I'm in the 'There probably is a God' crowd! I have to say, I have a lot of time for atheists. It is a clearly thought out position of faith - obviously the opposite end of the spectrum to my beliefs, but faith is faith, and I will support atheistic faith, just as I would support any other faith. Agnostics however....!? Make your minds up, guys!!!

Posted on 25 Sep 2009 13:13:26 BDT
avodaith says:
E.Jump: Why do Agnostics have to make up their mind about something that is essentially unknowable? What makes you think that faith without evidence is a reasonable position?

As an agnostic I can see a number of ways that something which people can choose to call 'God' might exist. I can also accept that its existence is not a logical necessity. I cannot however reconcile anything that I would want to worship with the notion that it would want to be worshipped, so I don't follow any of the major faiths, especially since the 'doing it just in case' argument seems hypocritical at best. I do follow the teachings of all the faiths where their morality makes sense, and indeed in most religious texts there is a core of logic that persists because if there wasn't then their religion would have died out, ironically enough, by natural evolution. Those morals also equate to those of secular humanists. I don't believe exclusively in anything except logic itself. Everything else is a balance of probability, from the existence of Moscow (I've never been there, though I have been assured it exists) to the existence of my right hand. I believe in God rather less than I believe in Moscow, but I don't even believe in my right hand 100%.

2+2=4. That I am sure of. Most other things are faith and it helps us to play the game of life to act as though they are real. How far you choose to play the game is up to you, but please don't act like it's the only sensible position.

The "Matrix" and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Sep 2009 22:10:22 BDT
Aristoteles says:
Romans celebrated Saturnalia hundreds of years before St Paul invented the concept of Jesus. And that was 300 years before the pagan emperor Constantine put together a compilation of ancient writings, choosing some and discarding others, to create the 'holy book' of his new state religion-to-be (had he persisted in his original intent, all 'Christians' would still be worshipping the Sun).

As the Stonehenge shows, winter solistice was celebrated at least some thousands of years before that. It is from those origins that the christmas tree derives.

I agree with others that Saturnalia is a nostalgic fest, and that it provides a nice interruption during the darkest time of the year. But let us not spoil it by infusing it with superstitious dogma invented by an antique salesman (who, by a strange coincidence, just happened to live then a Divus Fili, or Augustus, ruled the World).

Posted on 25 Sep 2009 22:37:28 BDT
Sean says:
There is a very good documentary available on google video called: The Origins of Christmas - (45:10). I would like to think that E.Jump would watch the program. He'll find that: carol singing, present giving, peace on earth/goodwill to all men all have their origins in the pagan festivals. He'll also probably learn that carol singing and Christmas was once banned in the UK for being un-Christian.

Posted on 27 Sep 2009 09:48:39 BDT
E. Jump says:
Why do you all keep assuming I'm a man? I'm not. Not that it matters!

I know it all has its origins in pagan festivals - I said that earlier. I also know it was banned because the powers that be felt it was not in keeping with their concept of Christianity. I also know that the chances of Jesus being born on December 25th, with ox and ass stood by are close to nil. But none of that affects (for me) the faith I hold, because it is all trimmings. I'm not going to go into why I believe what I do, cos I've tried, and everythings sounds a bit like I'm trying to convert the masses, and I'm not! But I'm actually as sceptical as the next person (and I know that 2+2 can equal 4, but it can also equal many other things depending on how you do the maths!) and I've found enough reality (not hope or probability) to make me find it impossible not believe - and I tried. Very hard!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Sep 2009 11:59:33 BDT
G. Duffy says:
The thing about baptism is... the church counts you in its numbers. This adds to its political power, which is real. That's why I went to the trouble of getting my name struck from the baptismal reister with a little help from

Christians complain about the secularisation of Christmas, so I think we can agree it is no longer solely or even mainly a religious festival. It is a holiday for everyone. The fact that Christ is in the name is as relevant as the mince in mince pies. There's no meat in it.

Posted on 27 Sep 2009 13:02:07 BDT
Oliver_York says:
haha, that's a good way of putting it

Posted on 27 Sep 2009 19:27:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Sep 2009 19:29:25 BDT
S. J. Payne says:
"Even on the days when I'm in the 'There probably is a God' crowd! I have to say, I have a lot of time for atheists. It is a clearly thought out position of faith - obviously the opposite end of the spectrum to my beliefs, but faith is faith, and I will support atheistic faith, just as I would support any other faith."
No, wrong. Sorry, but wrong - simple as. Atheism isn't a faith - it's the absence of a faith. It's a lack, a not-being-there of something. Forgive me for trotting out the old cliche, but if it's true and it does the job ... calling atheism a faith is like saying bald is a hair colour, or not collecting stamps is a hobby.

"Agnostics however....!? Make your minds up, guys!!!"
Atheism and agnosticism aren't mutually exclusive, and the fact that this old canard continues to be peddled shows just how much the concept of agnosticism has been debased to mean something like "undecided, half-and-half fence-sitter" when the literal meaning is an absence of knowledge. Belief and knowledge are two entirely different things (much as all too many religionists try to conflate them). Indeed, most thoughtful non-believers will happily say that they're agnostic atheists - agnostic because they have no knowledge of any gods (just like ... well, everybody, really) and atheists because they have no belief in them. Everybody is agnostic, in not having knowledge of any gods: the separation is between agnostic theists who believe in a god or gods and agnostic atheists, who don't.

Posted on 27 Sep 2009 20:46:08 BDT
Oliver_York says:
I agree with that. Pretty clear explanation of the terms

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Sep 2009 10:11:20 BDT
D. Woodcock says:
"The word itself shows that it is centred around Christ"

The etymology of word holiday is from holy-day. Does that mean that atheists can never take holidays and as soon as you're work out there's no God you have to cancel your 2 weeks in Skegness? (the thought of which is what probably made you realise there was no God in the first place).

Posted on 30 Sep 2009 12:36:56 BDT
Anderida says:
I am an atheist. I celebrate Christmas because it's one time in the year when being nice to one's fellow travellers on this peculiar planet is pretty much obligatory.

And I don't want to change the name 'Christmas' just because I believe Jesus was a nice guy into passive resistance against his Roman occupiers and not the son of a non-existent god. 'Christmas' is the traditional word for this celebration. Not the 'original' name but it's part of my heritage and I don't want it changed to something perceived to be more 'PC'.

So I will continue to celebrate Christmas, enjoy singing carols (except for the words) and putting up decorations and trees. I will even send cards - although this year they will be 'Seasons Greetings' from a pagan website. :)

If it's not too early, I wish a healthy, fun-filled Christmas to all!

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Sep 2009 13:04:12 BDT
Many cultures around the world have a mid-winter celebration, to the point that Americans refer to "the holiday season" rather than Christmas. When it's cold, dark, and miserable, celebrating the good things in life like human fellowship seems a damned fine idea to me. As for Christmas, per se, the Christians hijacked the earlier "pagan" festivals, so a better question would be why they celebrate it? (And Jehovah's Witnesses don't.)

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Oct 2009 11:08:13 BDT
avodaith says:
No, 2+2 always equals 4. There is no other way of doing the maths. That's because 4 is simply the name we give to the product of 2+2. I could as easily say that 4=4. A thing is always itself. That is a fairly basic foundation of logic, and as true whether we are a brain in a jar, products of God, or butterflies dreaming we're people. A table is always a table, a triangle always has three sides, cubes always have six faces. The only way you can possible get it not to equal four is if you make the numbers mean something else, in which case you are just assigning different values. The inherent truth does not change merely because you wish to be awkward and play fast and loose with English.

Posted on 2 Oct 2009 03:09:42 BDT
SarahJay says:
is it right for atheists to celebrate Christmas?

try & stop me!

Besides, all the shops are shut and there's Dr Who on telly - what else am I gonna do but sit home and pig out on choccies?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Oct 2009 12:30:05 BDT
V. Melia says:
> No, 2+2 always equals 4.

No, not in base 3 I'm afraid.

Posted on 3 Oct 2009 20:29:28 BDT
HP Sauce says:
No, atheists deserve to suffer in silence for being heretics.

Of course it's right for atheists, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists etc. to celebrate Christmas, just like we can celebrate Chinese New Year even if we're not Chinese. To not do so would be against the very spirit (sorry) of Christianity, which is inclusive, not isolationist (despite how some branches of Christianity behave towards non believers).

So have fun, socialise and kiss under the mistletoe. I will be the one wearing a Mistletoe hat.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Oct 2009 15:56:10 BDT
S. J. Payne says:
As long as you don't hang it from your belt, wear what you like ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Oct 2009 17:30:36 BDT
Aristoteles says:
>>I'm not going to go into why I believe what I do, cos I've tried, and everythings sounds a
>>bit like I'm trying to convert the masses, and I'm not! But I'm actually as sceptical as the
>>next person (and I know that 2+2 can equal 4, but it can also equal many other things
>>depending on how you do the maths!) and I've found enough reality (not hope or probability)
>>to make me find it impossible not believe - and I tried. Very hard!

E.Jump, I think you accurately describe the symptoms of a psychological process that leads people do develop why psychologists call an 'illusion of external agency'. See, for example, Gilbert, Brown, Pinel & Wilson. 2000. The Illusion of External Agency. J of Personality and Social Psychology, 79:5, 690-700.

In short, humans have a very strong built-in tendency to assume a cause for any effect that they see. We are constructed to believe that things just do not happen by accident. Everything needs to have a cause. In their innovative experiment, Gilbert et al show how another human trait, our tendency to try and make the best of situations that we end up in, causes us to believe that some 'benevolent agent' must be guiding our destiny.

Say you break your leg and end up in a hospital. Unpleasant event, no doubt. Say you meet someone there you would not have met otherwise. Because of your tendency to explain events to yourself in the best possible light, you may soon reason that it was actually a good thing that you broke your leg, because otherwise you would not have met this person. This is an example of humans' post-hoc attempts to explain events to themselves in a positive light.

The problem is that most of us are not aware that we have this tendency to represent random events in a positive light to ourselves. What follows, then, is a seemingly impossible succession of positive events. Certainly, we think, all these positive events must have a cause, since everything has a cause. It is from this process that the notion of a 'god', or of a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient, yet invisible external agent is born.

You find it impossible not to believe. This, again, is a deeply human condition. What would happen if you were suddenly to remove the 'Cause' that creates order in your world? Your world would descend into chaos! To ask someone not to believe in a 'god' is tantamount to asking them to remove order, and therefore, safety, from their worlds: not an easy thing to do. It is for this reason why people so desperately cling to their 'faith', even in the absence of evidence, or indeed, in the face of evidence to the contrary. This rejection of evidence, or refusal to acknowledge glaring logical inconsistencies or the absence of any supporting evidence, is a deeply human and understandable reaction, and the main reason why it is so difficult to eradicate religious superstition.

If you go and download the World Values Survey dataset (you can actually download the raw data!), you will find a question on whether or not the respondent believes in a 'god'. It is fascinating to correlate this response against some other attitudes. Consistent with what was said above, religious people (people believing in a 'god') report that they feel more in control of their lives. Apparently the same people also tend to think that it is ok to beat your wife...

Conclusion. Unlike Richard Dawkins, I do not necessarily think that 'god' is a delusion. It is an illusion, although many religious beliefs clearly are delusional.

Posted on 5 Oct 2009 18:11:34 BDT
avodaith says:
V. Melia says:
> No, 2+2 always equals 4.

No, not in base 3 I'm afraid.

A. Watts Williams says:
The only way you can possible get it not to equal four is if you make the numbers mean something else, in which case you are just assigning different values. The inherent truth does not change merely because you wish to be awkward and play fast and loose with English.

Please read properly before replying. Applying different bases is ascribing different names to them. It does not change the inherent truth.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Oct 2009 10:30:03 BDT
R. Howard says:
I know that Christmas originally was (and to many, still is) about the Christ's birth, but even Christians know (and many complain about) the event in many ways has morphed into something else. To some it is about Jesus' birth, to others it is a time to be with families, to some it is about giving and exchanging tokens of affection, but each of these interpretations is reasonably well adopted by the public at large to describe Christmas. The idea that because the word Christmas comes from 'Christ-mas' means that it should describe only the celebration related to Jesus' birth makes no more sense than to suggest that you can't hoover the floor with a Dyson ... Language evolves, the word Christmas is used just as much (probably far more) to describe the season as it is to relate to Jesus' Birth.
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Initial post:  19 Sep 2009
Latest post:  14 Jan 2010

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The Atheist's Guide to Christmas
The Atheist's Guide to Christmas by Various (Hardcover - 1 Oct 2009)
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