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!
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.