A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to appear on to the Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss a new Christmas-themed billboard put up by American Atheists. I’ve expanded on my thoughts about this issue in a new piece for CNN Belief:

The “War on Christmas:”  what —or who—is it good for?

In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.

This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word “Christ” is crossed out, just in case their message wasn’t clear enough.

The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone. [Click here to continue reading.]

Here is the video of my Fox News interview, along with five of the main points that I argued:

1. Christians celebrating Christmas is not the most pressing issue that atheists face in the United States. That issue is likely the widespread distrust of atheists. This billboard probably doesn’t contribute to the destigmatization of atheists, or to combating how atheists are broadly excluded—in fact, it may exacerbate these issues.

2. If the purpose of the billboard is truly to let nontheists know that they are not alone, then the billboard would be more effective saying “Not everybody needs Christ in Christmas” or “Don’t celebrate Christmas? You’re not alone.”

3. The separation of church and state matters. The government should not endorse or privilege one religion over any others. If there are going to be publicly funded religious displays at all—a topic that is and should be debated—then there need to be displays for all religious and nonreligious expressions.

4. Christians benefit from a level of religious privilege in the United States—and that must be taken into consideration when unpacking these issues.

5. I would like to see much more of the “yes” of atheism and Humanism in the public square. We have important contributions to make in the public discourse on religion and ethics, and I hope to see atheists articulating those just as often—if not much more often—as we do our disagreements.

Since the interview aired, there has been a fair amount of ongoing discussion about it. Here is a piece from the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, and another from skeptic activist Brian Crisan.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

7 Comments

  1. You held up your end very well.

    I was going to say something snarky about Fox, but caught myself in time!

    Could Fox to have Julian Baggini on? That would be cool.

    Best wishes

  2. Daniel Berry, NYC

    I’m a faithfully practicing Anglican Christian, and I’m almost totally indifferent on this issue for myself. However, living in NYC as I do, I can’t but be aware that some people feel a certain resentment about how “Christmas” is rammed down their throats. I don’t really care what people call the season because it has virtually nothing to do with my own observances and feelings about the thing.

    Having said that, I don’t like the idea that “if somebody has a “Christian” display, then all religions “ought to be represented” in public displays. I’ve got nothing against public displays of any religion (I personally find it moving when I see a taxi driver stop, get out of his taxi, spread his prayer rug on the curbside and bow to say his prayers.) Compulsion of any type in these affairs is abhorrent. If people want to put up displays, by all means, do so. If privately owned stores in midtown want to put up displays at this season, I don’t care a flip whether the decorations say “Merry Christmas,” Happy Holidays,” or “Blow it Out Your Saddlebag.” I just don’t care.

    As an aside, I’ll say that I would definitely like to see Gospel-based values form a greater part of our public discourse, whether it’s footnoted as such or not. But I find that many of the media figures braying the loudest about the so-called “War on Christmas” seem consistently to come down on the side of political figures who favor gutting government programs that seem to me to represent those Gospel values I was referring to–especially those represented in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

    • What’s wrong with a little inclusiveness in our public displays of religious recognition?

      For many who aren’t Christian, the singularity of displays from Christianity in public spaces gives the impression that they will not be taken seriously.

      Much of that is borne out by petty actions of local officials who try to use displays of Christianity in public spaces as if they are “marking their territory” like dogs. You get people who claim freedom of religion only applies to Christians. (see link below)
      http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147504696

      It gets really silly when people start looking for cheap excuses not to include mention of a given faith (like Oklahoma is doing for Hindus and Satanists) or just employ sectarian bigotry (like attempts to block building of mosques).

      If we are going to use public space to acknowledge religious ideas, it needs to be either inclusive or it isn’t done at all. Everybody can use their own land for this sort of thing. No need to bother the government with it.

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