Atheism Remains a Minority & Why They’re [Always] Piggybacking on Christmas.

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It’s pretty much the normal thing for larger atheist organisations like The American Atheists to do: piggyback on Christmas, or really on the back of any Christian holiday, to get publicity and exposure. In truth, although they make a noise on the internet, a minority of people care about atheism in general especially in America. This would explain why a maximum 10 000 people who turned out at a Reason Rally in 2012 looks good to them to the extent of being dubbed “the biggest gathering” of non-religious people in American history (1); also note that the numbers have decreased to 5000 as of 2016 as I’ve reviewed here. I am sure that we can all put such numbers into perspective for ourselves; for me I’ve seen more high schoolers pitch up for a weekly sports match at the school grounds, for example, than the number of atheists who pitch up for the “biggest” atheist annual event as of 2016. Or compare 10 000 atheists to the 6 000 000 attendees in Manila who gathered around the Pope when he visited, or the 30 000 000 Hindus gathered during the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, or the 50 000 fans seated at a professional German football match on a weekly basis.

In truth I understand that atheists having some representation at these events makes them proud of their progress but their numbers are tiny when all is considered. But that’s not to take away the organisers efforts or any progress they have made. So, like some of them so commonly do, atheists should not hypoberlize or exaggerate their numbers. Personally speaking I have no quarrel with atheist wanting to evangelize the unevangelized and host their own gatherings and events. That is their right. But at least have some humility which, having considered what atheist bloggers and writers say, seems to be missing.

This, I believe, is one component in a bigger picture that goes a long way in explaining why atheists hop on the Christmas bandwagon. Apart from a book or three that have indeed sold very well, they simply have nothing worth writing home about in the context of publicity. Consider a review I did of a documentary featuring Dawkins and Krauss, two of the biggest names within contemporary new atheism, that grossed no more than a tiny $14 400! I am not saying that atheists don’t do good or that none of them are at least known, rather what I am saying is that most people know little more about them than that they don’t believe in God. One, like myself for instance, really has to be interested in the subject to be familiar with Dawkins’ opinions or anything atheists really put out nowadays on their websites or blogs. It’s much like apologetics; many Christians haven’t heard of it or, if they have, know next to nothing about it.

But also consider the 39% of the religiously unaffiliated Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 (unaffiliated number sits at 23% of American adults). The unaffiliated are essentially made up from atheists, agnostics, and others who say they don’t have a religion. This is a statistic that The American Atheists have been championing in their promotion efforts. But a good portion of that 39% are not atheists. In fact, as the Pew Research has found it has become quite common to say that one is “spiritual but not religious” (3). In fact, as the article suggests, Americans may be getting less religious but feelings of spirituality are on the rise. And as I’ve argued before the unattractive nature of atheism is one of five reasons many people who do reject organised religion do not adopt atheism. Another research article from Pew also found that although the unaffiliated are becoming more secular they are not “uniformly nonreligious. Most of them say they believe in God, and about a third say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives” (4). However, again as provided by Pew in 2014, atheists make up 3.1% of the total American population (5). Another survey in 2014 by the General Social Survey found that 21% of Americans had no religion with 3% of them being atheist and 5% being agnostic (6). So, if we go on this research, atheists make up a smaller percentage of the unaffiliated. So to what extent The American Atheists can champion the 39% statistic can be questioned.

But lets perhaps consider The American Atheists most recent attempt to release billboard ad campaigns in which they use President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan to encourage young people to skip church (2). Apparently this is something big (which by atheist standards isn’t actually big) because it’s said to be a “nationwide” campaign to celebrate an “atheist Christmas” and tackle the stigma that non-believers face in America. That, to their credit, is a good and much needed effort because atheists do face stigma in America which is, to an extent but clearly not the sole reason, due to things people like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens do and say that is obviously nasty to many people from a diverse range of beliefs not shared by atheists. But stigmas aside the first billboard is expected to be displayed “nationwide” throughout December in these cities six cities: Colorado Springs, Lynchburg, Augusta, Shreveport, and Georgetown. So how “nationwide” five out of 20 000 American cities, towns, and villages is is for the reader to decide though I’d contend that that isn’t exactly nationwide.

I am not saying that The American Atheists piggybacking on the popularity of Christmas is a bad tactic, far from it actually. I think it can be effective if well strategised in getting the public attention they want. It’s unfortunate for them, however, that they have to jump on the popularity of a festive holiday that has absolutely nothing to do with atheism.

Have a merry Christmas all!

References.

1. Winston, K. 2012. Atheists Rally On National Mall; The ‘Reason Rally’ Largest Gathering Of Nonbelievers (PHOTOS). Available.

2. Christian Post. 2016. American Atheists: ‘Make Christmas Great Again’ by skipping church. Available.

3. Masci, D. 2016. Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise. Available.

4. Lipka, M. 2015. Religious ‘nones’ are not only growing, they’re becoming more secular. Available.

5. Pew Research Centre. 2015. America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Available.

6. Hout, M. & Smith, T. 2015. Fewer Americans Affiliate with Organized Religions, Belief and Practice Unchanged. Available.

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17 responses to “Atheism Remains a Minority & Why They’re [Always] Piggybacking on Christmas.

  1. Re: ” It’s unfortunate for them, however, that they have to jump on the popularity of a festive holiday that has absolutely nothing to do with atheism.” …. You’re no doubt aware of the fact that Christians invented Christmas to align with pagan holidays that had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity – subsuming many of the pagan traditions in the process.

    • I am aware though I don’t care too much about it. Rather, independent of origins, it has come to stand in as a Christian holiday. So, pagan or not, atheists have to jump on a holiday that has come to represent Christian beliefs.

    • Of course it cant actually be said that Christmas has ‘absolutely nothing’ to do with Christianity in the same way it can be said of atheism

      • You’ve both missed the point. Saturnalia had nothing to do with Christianity, until Christians jumped on it, and co-opted it for their own purposes.

        • Richard, I understand what you’re saying but I think you’ve misunderstood my point. It’s what the holiday has come to present, namely Christian beliefs whether the foundation of Christmas (that Jesus was born on the 25th) is biblically based or not. At this moment it is a “Christian” holiday and it is that of which atheists are piggybacking on.

          • Not sure why I have to keep repeating this, but before the early Christian church started piggybacking on Saturnalia, it was a “Pagan” holiday. There’s really no significant difference between the two cases, other than that the Christians re-named the holiday (but kept most of the Pagan traditions). Their motivation, of course, was to make Christianity more palatable to the Pagans. So they put their label on it, but it was still a Pagan celebration – and therefore it’s arguable that it STILL is today, since nearly all of the traditions came from Paganism.

            So let’s all put the “Saturn” back in Saturnalia, shall we?

            • Not sure why everyone has to keep repeating this, but the pagan symbolic reasons are absent from Christmas. The reasons it is celebrated are now quite different although some of the traditions are kept the reasons for them are different with many traditions now that had nothing to do with paganism. In order for atheists to be able to celebrate Saturnalia they would have to be willing to worship the pagan gods which kinda of goes against the definition of being an atheist.

              So let’s all put the “Christ” back in Christmas, shall we?

              • Pagan symbols absent from Christmas???? Yeah, I guess that’s true if you ignore the choice of the festival aligned with the Winter Solstice, the Christmas Tree and other evergreens brought into the home, the Yule log, and the giving of gifts.

                Why is it so different for atheists to turn Christmas into an an atheist festival, than for Christians to turn a pagan festival into a Christian one? The answer is that there’s no difference. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

            • Pagans don’t a have monopoly on the winter solstice or festive greenery, but I do agree that Christians intended to displace pagans practices as atheist would like to also to do Christianity. It may be accurate to say atheist are piggybacking, because they have don’t have much to displace Christianity with or have no intention of doing so. Also in Christianity we have numerous feast days, celebration and prayers for every hour of the day, so ideally we want to displace a lot more than one or two days in the year.

            • I can see why you are getting confused so easily you are not taking the time to read very carefully.

              The pagan symbolic reasons are no longer recognized, and there are Christian symbolisms for each thing. Giving of gifts was not a pagan tradition period that was implemented well afterwards.The three holes for candles in the Yule log representing the trinity. The Christmas tree came back well a while after the pagan celebrations. Lights on the Christmas tree representing light of Christ, ornaments taking what used to be apples symbolizing mans fall, and the tree staying green representing eternal life.

              The difference is that Christians moved a celebration to coincide with the date, atheists do not have a real celebration to move to the date. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the empty pit.

              • I’m not confused, and I did read carefully. But that’s a nice try on dismissing my comments.

                a) What does it matter whether the Pagan symbols are still recognized today? The point is, they WERE recognized and commonly used when Christianity co-opted the traditions.

                b) The fact that the symbols evolved long after they were adopted by Christians is also irrelevant. The original point is that Christians co-opted the holiday and many of the pagan traditions (as they were defined at the time).

                c) You’re simply wrong when you claim that the giving of gifts was not a Pagan tradition. It WAS a tradition of Saturnalia. And it WAS initially adopted by Christians of that era – though it fell out of favor for quite a while, to return later during the Victorian era.

                d) And why can’t we atheists celebrate whatever and whenever we want??? Who are you to declare what others can choose for “real” celebrations? Christmas didn’t exist as a celebration until it was invented in 336 CE. Until then, it wasn’t a “real celebration”.

            • My point on the confusion was that you were arguing against points that I was not making, such as that pagan traditions are not still used in some capacity, when my point had been that the reasons behind the traditions were no longer present. In case my confusion remark was needlessly offense, I apologize for and retract it.

              The article was not arguing against atheists celebrating Christmas, but rather discussing atheists using it to promote atheism. Going back through the article it does seem like it could be rather vague on that point if you are not already on the same page as the author. You are welcome to celebrate Christmas.

  2. It’s normal for larger atheist organisations to piggyback on Christmas, or on the back of any Christian holiday? Really? If by “normal” you mean what I do — standard, typical, or usual behavior — then I’d appreciate a few more examples. As it is, you have provided only one in over 950 words.

    Truthfully, I see Christians piggybacking on atheism every Christmas – every time they loudly protest the war that we apparently wage against it.

    I celebrate Christmas. Sometimes, I even attend Christmas services with my Christian friends. I know several atheists who do. Is that what you mean by piggybacking?

    • Its not a once of kind of thing, Chas. Atheists organizations do it every year at every Christmas. Not to mention Easter too.

      Regarding going to services with you Christian friends: No, that’s not piggybacking for you’re not using that time to promote atheism based on the popularity of the event/service you’re attending. Simply put you’re attending an event/service which is open for all, including atheists.

  3. I agree with a lot of what you said about atheism being a minority. In addition to being a very unpopular opinion, given the bigger picture of American psychographics, I believe that it is an extremely misunderstood position. Since atheism is the simple statement of a lack of belief in a god, the rest of the beliefs and opinions that different atheists might hold can vary greatly. My blog, theclosetatheist39.wordpress,com, gives my perspective in an attempt to paint a realistic picture of what atheism can look like on a day to day basis.

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