How to be an Atheist on Christmas

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 10, 2009 in How-To

atheist's guide to christmas

This Christmas I’m flying home to Minnesota to enjoy some quality time with my family – about 35 people at two parties – and I’m the only atheist.

Most atheists I know are in the same boat. They weren’t raised atheists. They were raised religious, and then deconverted. Most or all of their relatives remain religious.

What should we do this Christmas?

Lucky for us, that hot chick who did the “There’s Probably No God” bus campaign has edited a book on that very subject. The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a collection of short, humorous and heartfelt essays by 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers, including Richard Dawkins, Charlie Brooker, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre, AC Grayling, Brian Cox, and others. (Why 42? Well, if you have to ask…)

So, you can pick that up in hardcover, audiobook, or Kindle. (The audiobook is the best, because each essay is written and performed by the essay’s author. Play the sample from Charlie Brooker on the audiobook page.)

What am I going to do this Christmas?

This is only my second Christmas as an atheist, but here’s what I’m thinking:

I’m not going to insist on calling it “Xmas,” just as I don’t insist on changing the name of “Thursday” because I don’t believe in Thor. I’m not going to complain about prayers. In fact, I’m going to avoid mentioning my atheism at all. (My family knows I’m an atheist; I sent out a mass email two years ago).

I’m going to enjoy my family. (I’m lucky; I have cool family.)

I’m going to show them how much I value them. I’m going to eat food and tell jokes and give hugs.

And I’m going to make Christmas more Christlike than most Christians do. I’ve notified my family that I will not be giving or receiving any presents. I’m skipping the High Day of Consumerism. Instead, I’m going to give money to a well-reviewed charity and help make the world a better place. Now that is a Christlike Christmas.

Atheist monkey loves Christmas.

Atheist monkey loves Christmas.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Haukur December 10, 2009 at 7:04 am

So you’re, in effect, going to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor? Sounds like a Judaslike Christmas to me :)

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Cafeeine December 10, 2009 at 7:15 am

“I’m not going to insist on calling it “Xmas,” just as I don’t insist on changing the name of “Thursday” because I don’t believe in Thor”

Is this something atheists do? I always considered “Xmas” a Christian convention, like the ‘chi ro’ christogram.

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RA December 10, 2009 at 7:55 am

I’ve always considered Christmas a perfectly good secular holiday. There’s nothing like it for a 5-year-old.

That’s one thing we’ve more or less got right in the U>S. and even the Christians prefer the secular version which is why they have to constantly remind themselves of “the real reason.” But Santa always wins in the end.

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AntiChris Hitchens December 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

Fancy that, an atheist going “Christ-like” on Christ’s birthday. You talk about brain teasers. Well good for you!

Please do join my new Facebook page! I promise many a good laughs and cheer for all the year in 2010! See you there friends!

http://www.facebook.com/people/AntiChris-Hitchens/100000524027632

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm

If you’re gonna try and be more like Christ, you’ve still got some learning to do (as do we all)

For whatever it’s worth:

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

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Kutuzov December 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Your Daddy: If you’re gonna try and be more like Christ, you’ve still got some learning to do (as do we all)For whatever it’s worth:Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.Matthew 6:1-4  

But even still, surely it’s a more honorable act if there’s no reward at all! The “carrot” of heaven still implies a reward in the afterlife. SantaGod is still watching to see if we’re naughty or nice.

Really, who cares about the motivations, so long as the poor get their help!

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John December 10, 2009 at 1:18 pm

“that hot chick”? Come on, are you linking to attractive men by “that hot stud”? At least mention her name once!

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Josh December 10, 2009 at 1:20 pm

““that hot chick”? Come on, are you linking to attractive men by “that hot stud”? At least mention her name once! ”

Word.

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Kutuzov: But even still, surely it’s a more honorable act if there’s no reward at all! The “carrot” of heaven still implies a reward in the afterlife. SantaGod is still watching to see if we’re naughty or nice.Really, who cares about the motivations, so long as the poor get their help!  (Quote)

But Luke has said he is going to make Christmas more Christlike than most Christians do. Maybe most Christians take these words of Christ seriously and that is why Luke doesn’t know of their actions. It is not more honorable because he has received his reward in full (our knowledge of his charity), which I am sure, he greatly wanted. If not, he wouldn’t have felt the need to post it via the world wide web for everyone to see. Atheists trying to be more Christlike is pretty amusing, especially in Luke’s present case here. If he believes there is no God and gave in secret, purely for the benefit of helping the less fortunate, there would be an argument for that being the most honorable method.

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Furthermore, the paradox of the Atheist is an amusement in itself. Here we have a group of people claiming to have “freedom” from religion, but yet their identity is dominated by it. Just look at Luke’s blog. He is enslaved by religion, it’s all he talks about, it is his identity, and it controls him. Surely the Atheist with common sense realizes this. Funny stuff.

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Haukur December 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Your Daddy: If not, he wouldn’t have felt the need to post it via the world wide web for everyone to see.

Gods, what a stupid argument. Luke promotes the idea of donating Christmas costs to charity because he thinks it would improve the world if more people did this. He hopes that some of his readers may think about what he’s doing and consider doing the same.

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lukeprog December 10, 2009 at 2:35 pm

John and Josh,

That’s a matter of personal writing style. You can get her name from the link I provided.

I guess I would refer to men by “that hot stud” if I was gay?

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JamesFox December 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I grew up in a non religious family with an atheist father. I became a Christian as a teenager (rejecting my non religious childhood). Thirty years later I rejected all my religious beliefs and notions of anything supernatural as a result of assessing my beliefs in a rational and skeptical manner. My wife and teenage daughter are Christians and my teenage son is an atheist like me. I have no problem with the cultural events and celebrations with family and friends associated with the holiday. These things are part of our culture and given most Christians have little understanding of their own professed theology, I never worry about them or myself being Christ like on any given day.

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Jeff H December 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Nice stuff. I’ve suggested to my family to simply purchase one present for each other and then give the rest of the money we would have spent to charity. My mom really likes the gift-giving thing, so I figured it was a good compromise. Makes the presents more meaningful anyway.

Have you decided on a charity yet? I give regularly to Action Against Hunger (the top organization mentioned on the Charity Navigator list), and it seems like a pretty good one to me.

Just remember, in the words of Jesus: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mt. 26:11) So I guess in order to have a Christlike Christmas, we should be giving our money to Jesus. If you would like to send your money to me, I can give it to him on your behalf.

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Haukur: Gods, what a stupid argument. Luke promotes the idea of donating Christmas costs to charity because he thinks it would improve the world if more people did this. He hopes that some of his readers may think about what he’s doing and consider doing the same.  (Quote)

Hi Luke! ehem…I mean Haukur. Or we may have a mind reader from the way that was worded.

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Sly December 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Your Daddy:
Hi Luke! ehem…I mean Haukur.Or we may have a mind reader from the way that was worded.  

The troll who uses a billion names has found a new one?

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Michael Thackray December 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

This whole ‘hiding good deeds’ thing I think is a terrible idea.
Don’t brag about it, agreed, but I want to hear about it when people do good things. I want to encourage them, I want to partake in it, I want it to become the norm. If I never heard about any good deeds I get depressed about life. How can I support something if it’s always hidden from me?

Luke: Thanks for sharing such a great idea. My family has everything we need so we’re cutting costs on presents and giving some stuff to Oxfam. BTW which charities are you thinking of donating to? Because I’ve started to become aware of how important it is to pick carefully.

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Haukur December 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Your Daddy: Hi Luke! ehem…I mean Haukur.

Yes, clearly Luke and I are the same person – in fact the ‘Luke’ persona is just a sockpuppet. This blog is actually not run by an atheist at all but by a pagan dude in Iceland. Can’t believe how long I’ve led you guys on.

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lukeprog December 10, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Hmmm… I should write a post about good charities, I think.

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lukeprog December 10, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Lol! Am I now being accused of coming here under the name Haukur and posing as a pagan?

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Michael Thackray: This whole ‘hiding good deeds’ thing I think is a terrible idea.Don’t brag about it, agreed, but I want to hear about it when people do good things. I want to encourage them, I want to partake in it, I want it to become the norm. If I never heard about any good deeds I get depressed about life. How can I support something if it’s always hidden from me?Luke: Thanks for sharing such a great idea. My family has everything we need so we’re cutting costs on presents and giving some stuff to Oxfam. BTW which charities are you thinking of donating to? Because I’ve started to become aware of how important it is to pick carefully.  (Quote)

You clearly misunderstand the scripture. It’s talking about your intentions. You don’t think that the people who the kind deed was done to are gonna keep silent about it do you? Nonsense.

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Your Daddy December 10, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Haukur: Yes, clearly Luke and I are the same person – in fact the ‘Luke’ persona is just a sockpuppet. This blog is actually not run by an atheist at all but by a pagan dude in Iceland. Can’t believe how long I’ve led you guys on.  (Quote)

Hauker, Luke (using a different name), whoever this is: Your argument doesn’t hold water. Any intelligent Atheist knows what Sigmund Freud said about no human action ever being made that wasn’t out of selfisness. If you can think of one, I’d love to hear it. The idea that Luke’s (your) primary goal was to inform others hoping they would give to charity is ridiculous. That argument is laughable.

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Haukur December 10, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Your Daddy: Any intelligent Atheist knows what Sigmund Freud said about no human action ever being made that wasn’t out of selfisness. If you can think of one, I’d love to hear it. The idea that Luke’s (your) primary goal was to inform others hoping they would give to charity is ridiculous. That argument is laughable.

I realize that it is Christian doctrine that humans are assholes and I realize that many atheists agree. But it’s not true and it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that Luke is a pretty decent guy.

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Michael Thackray December 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Hey Dad,

I understand Scripture, especially after living it for 21 years and going to Bible college and all, and I think it raises a good point (tooting your own horn and all that), but I think Christian Culture encourages people to be secretive about the good things they do. Whilst the intention is nice, I think people being more ‘common’ about good deeds would help good deeds become more ‘commonplace.’I am concerned with the current ‘hush’ culture.

As for your attack on Luke, it reeks of a familiar bitterness. I won’t explain why because you are incapable of change.

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Supernova December 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Michael Thackray: Hey Dad,I understand Scripture, especially after living it for 21 years and going to Bible college and all, and I think it raises a good point (tooting your own horn and all that), but I think Christian Culture encourages people to be secretive about the good things they do. Whilst the intention is nice, I think people being more ‘common’ about good deeds would help good deeds become more ‘commonplace.’I am concerned with the current ‘hush’ culture.As for your attack on Luke, it reeks of a familiar bitterness. I won’t explain why because you are incapable of change.  

It seems to me that you want it both ways. If the Christian comes out and says I don’t do drugs, lie, cheat, steal, kill and then on top that I donate money, volunteer, and etc., then the Christian isn’t following their Bibles. Matthew 6:1-4, for example.

Then on the flip-side you argue that Christians shouldn’t be too hush-hush about their good deeds and should speak out more, so you think.

I remember Tim Tebow (a college football player) and his family has an orphanage in the Philippines that he volunteers at in the summer. He also said he is still a virgin, yet he’s a famous football player who could get any girl. I remember people criticism him b/c they thought he was trying to ‘toot his own horn’ and etc.

So, you’re making Christians walk the tightrope when you say they’re suppose to do good and talk about doing good deeds, yet they can’t say too much about their good. I think many Christians do just this.

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Michael Thackray December 10, 2009 at 9:13 pm

“So, you’re making Christians walk the tightrope when you say they’re suppose to do good and talk about doing good deeds, yet they can’t say too much about their good. I think many Christians do just this.”

I agree. It is a tightrope and many do it admirably. And I guess that’s my point. I think there is a lot of admirable work done in and by the church that we should be vocal about and that they should be proud of.
That said, I also think there’s a lot of crap in their they aren’t ashamed off and hush up too.
Perhaps I should re-iterate:

Christians (and all people in my opinion) should aim to be transparent in everything.
I think I’m just against the hiding of anything.

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Edson December 11, 2009 at 4:07 am

“Christians (and all people in my opinion) should aim to be transparent in everything.
I think I’m just against the hiding of anything.”

This just goes to highlight the huge difference in the mindset of a Christian and non-christian when it comes to doing the “good deeds” or even the “bad deeds”.

Since the Christian must be fully convinced in faith that God exist and watches every detail in the life of the Christian, so there is nothing to make transparent or hiding in the face of God. And Christian good deeds are only those that are commanded by a Christian God. If something is commanded by God to be done by a man, no mattter how bizzare it looks to a man, it is good and good indeed. And I do good deeds, not to attract the attention of men, rather, to obey God.

Now, for an atheist, there is a remarkable shifting of priorities once that atheist is convinced of the non existance of God. He no longer views the standards of goodness from God’s viewpoint, but rather, what is good for him is what will fulfill his desire or what others applaud as a good deed. It is for that reason that an atheist wont be satisfied if his single good deed goes unnoticed. And it has nothing to do with anything called transparency, just a strong sense of demanding recognition, a sense that is usually found in people who cannot think of the existance of anything superior other than themselves.

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Haukur December 11, 2009 at 4:13 am

Edson: but rather, what is good for him is what will fulfill his desire or what others applaud as a good deed

Luke thinks moral facts are real and that he is morally obligated to behave in a manner that will tend to fulfill – and not thwart – the desires of as many beings as possible.

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Tom November 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

Atheists are idiots. All of you. You don’t believe in God but you will participate in Christmas. I’m sure you fucking people have no problem opening your gifts on a Holiday you do not even believe in. Also, I’m sure you people have no problem spending that money with the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” on it. Atheists are taking over this Country and we need to put a stop to it. It is people like you that let Homosexuality, Sex Changes and Abortions take place. It is YOU people that is pulling this country into the downward spiral we are in. I’ll continue to have faith in my religion, you guys just keep believing what your 80 year Science teacher keeps telling you. You people spend your whole lives bashing a God you don’t even believe in. lol pathetic

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jopiuop April 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The family prayer is the only weird bit for me. my whole family is religous (at least to the point where they would defend it). I act passively on it and just dont close my eyes -most kids dont either so I usually wind up making stupid faces with nieces and nephews.

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dfftyt April 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

tom your statement is dumb. do you believe in santa? no so do you tell every kid you meet hey santas not real or stamp it on your shirt to show your general dismay? I mean its bullshit right why put up with it

do you believe in the easter bunny? beat your kids if they colored an egg in school then or just write an angry letter making the teacher putting your kid in the hallway?

dont like peace between whities and injuns (shouldve wiped the savages out entirely?) then refuse 30 different kinds of homemade mouth orgasms tom!

Lesson to be learned – we all tolerate bullshit we dont like. If we were all as intolerant as people like you our species would be nothing but bones in the earth for wolves to dig up and chew on thousands of years ago.

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