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Atheists: A Little Tolerance, Please
December 8, 2015
by William P. Meyers

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Christmas Can Be Secularized Through Toleration

The Founding Fathers of the United States seem to have included many atheists, agnostics, and deists (people who believe in a God that doesn't matter). It is also a historical fact that in the late 1700's there was a Christian religious revival, and that since that time a majority of Americans have been at least nominally Christian. Officially the national government has always been secular, as enshrined in the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exorcise thereof." And "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office of public Trust under the United States."

At times in America it was dangerous to say you were an atheist, especially if you were both a communist and an atheist. So atheists kept a low profile.

For decades now the separation of Church and State has become a battleground. Christians forget the historical fact that they were the ones who originally asked for the separation because they feared the doctrines of either the Church of England (now Episcopal) or the Roman Catholic Church would be imposed on them.

Atheists have led the struggle to keep Church and State separated. That is fine, but some atheists have become as intolerant as their Christian opponents.

I believe we can benefit, now, from showing a little tolerance. I believe that building up a culture of tolerance, including among religious sects, is something that atheists should help with, not fight against.

I believe our message of the priority of reason and fact-based culture over "revealed" religious tradition is winning. I believe that being nice to Christians (within reason) and people in other cults encourages dialog that leads to reason and fact-based beliefs.

So: I don't have a problem calling a Christmas Tree as Christmas Tree. I am not going to deny that Christmas Day is Christmas Day. I personally don't celebrate Christmas, I deny the divinity of Christ (and Isis and Zeus and all the other gods), but I'll take any holiday I can get. Sure, in my ideal world we would secularize Christmas by moving it to the Winter Solstice, but that is not a priority for me.

Let's start with the naming of decorated trees traditionally put up during the month of December. Most atheists, Jews, and other non-Christians want them to be called Holiday Trees or maybe Yule trees.

I can see the argument that official government holiday trees should be for everyone, not just Christians. But it is hard to get around the fact that they are associated with an official government holiday, Christmas Day.

But Christmas long ago came to have a meaning going far beyond the (probably not accurate) birthday of Jesus Christ, who certainly was not God, but was a historic figure and therefore must have had some birthday. Judging from the New Testament, he did not make a point of celebrating his birthday when he was alive. The holiday could be cancelled on religious grounds; the Puritans did not celebrate it.

Many Americans celebrate a non-Christian Christmas. Gifts and family and alcoholism and all that food.

We atheist are supposed to be the reasonable ones. We are the leaders in tolerance. So let the Christians have their Christmas and Christmas Trees.

Let's use the opportunity to talk about what is important: good will towards all people. Including immigrants, homosexuals, foreigners, and people of other faiths than our own. The ability of the Earth to renew itself (the evergreen trees being a symbol of that before being appropriated for Christmas), which is being rapidly lost.

The atheist brand has been tarnished over the centuries in a number of ways, most notably by scientific inventions gone awry, from atomic bombs to insecticides that are killing off bees. Joseph Stalin's mass murders did not help our image either.

If you want to attract people to atheism, the brand should have a positive aura. Fight for the environment, fight for justice, fight for truth. But be kind to those who have not seen the light of reason yet. Our brand should be a showcase of tolerance. We should not fight all the time just because we have gotten used to having to fight for our rights.

I'm going to celebrate Christmas as an atheist. I don't admire Jesus the way I admire Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. But to the extent he is symbol of the idea of tolerance (as when he stopped stonings) and substituting love for humans over the cruel laws of the Old Testament, Jesus is okay. If he were alive today, he'd probably be an atheist.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

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