Atheist Divide Over Christmas is Trivial

atheist christmasThe mainstream news media in the U.S. really seems to love conflict and is not above attempting to amplify trivial disagreements to sell their conflict narrative. For the latest example, we turn to Dan Merica's post on CNN's Belief Blog, "Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion."

I realize that you and I can read Merica's post and recognize that the conflict it tries to create is little more than a a difference in preferred tactics. What worries me is that we are not his intended audience. When I try to imagine the opinion the average reader might form after reading this article, I have to imagine him or her coming away with an erroneous view of the atheist community.

To be sure, we have our share of disagreements and divides in the atheist community. There's no denying that. But the disagreement to which Merica refers, particularly as it pertains to Christmas, is about as trivial as they come. Worse still, Mercia alleges that Christmas reveals "a growing rift among American atheists when it comes to the question of how to deal with religion." This simply isn't true.

Of all the disagreements our community has seen, the one involving whether to be more aggressive/mocking vs. friendly/understanding toward religion has to be the oldest. I have seen absolutely no evidence to support Merica's claim that this disagreement is growing. If anything, it appears far less relevant than it was a few years ago.

Friendly vs. Aggressive Atheism

A few years ago when the media began using the misleading "new atheism" label, there was quite a bit of discussion about the manner in which atheists interacted with the religious. Should we be more friendly or should we be more aggressive? The problem with this sort of false dichotomy was that almost nobody was arguing that only one approach should be used at all times. Most of us recognized that both approaches are valuable.

Contrary to what Merica suggests, whatever conflict there might have once been between those scolding atheists for not being nice enough and those criticizing atheists for being overly passive seems to have passed. This simply isn't something we are arguing about much these days. We need the aggressive activists, and we need the friendly bridge-builders. We need everybody!

Christmas Wars

Merica likely feels some sort of pressure to write about Christmas this time of year, but he is making connections that simply aren't there.
Some atheist activists are trying to seize the holidays as a time to build bridges with faith groups, while other active unbelievers increasingly see Christmas as a central front in the war on religious faith.
Really? Who is trying to use Christmas to build connections that isn't already trying to build connections? Yes, there are people like Greg Epstein or Chris Steadman who are interested in interfaith work, but their efforts hardly revolve around Christmas. They do what they do year-round.

And where is the evidence that atheists are "increasingly" participating in any sort of "war" on religion or Christmas? The only "war on Christmas" is the one manufactured by socially conservative Christian groups and promoted by Fox "News" to raise money from the easily manipulated. Merica tries to cast David Silverman as some sort of Christmas warrior, but to do so would require ignoring the bulk of Silverman's efforts the rest of the year. He's the president of American Atheists - this is the sort of thing he does. Christmas is merely one more opportunity to promote atheism and criticize religion.