This guide is intended for secular people who are having questions or problems balancing their secular life with their non-secular families or traditions. This also includes a list of secular holidays and celebrations during each season.
Tis The Season
Holidays are a time of joy and celebration, but for people with secular beliefs, they can be a particularly awkward time of year. As an important part of social life, they reinforce communal bonds, allow traditions to be upheld and reinvented, and remind us of what’s important in life. The rituals people engage in, such as exchanging a gift on Christmas Eve, or helping to prepare the Passover meal, sustain and strengthen the deep emotional bonds between our loved ones. Regardless of your ethnic heritage and cultural background, holidays are a source of meaning that reminds us who we are and where we come from. Therein lies a dilemma for those who don’t adhere to a faith tradition. All around us are celebrations in the making – centered around beliefs that we don’t share. What’s a nonbeliever to do? Many of us struggle with how to react to and participate in holiday celebrations.
Holiday stress and anxiety are largely due to:
- Forced participation in religious rituals
- Fear that sharing secular beliefs will upset others
- Worry that negative reactions from others will
- elicit painful emotions in themselves
The purpose of this booklet is to help you approach the holidays from a secular perspective. Instead of hiding your secular beliefs, we’ve provided information on how to reconcile conflicting feelings about the holidays, including tips for talking about nonbelief during the holidays.
Is Every Day an Atheist Holiday?
Penn Jillette famously claims that every day is an atheist holiday. The word “holiday” means “holy day”. The word “holy” is typically tied to religion, but can also refer to the sacred. A “holy day” is one worthy of devotion. This is why holidays are regarded as times set aside for celebration.
How is every day an atheist holiday? Depending on your particular secular worldview, you likely don’t believe in an afterlife. For most of us, life is sacred because our time here is limited and there are no second chances. Each day can be seen as a “holy day” because it brings a new opportunity to celebrate life with joy, express your love to friends and family, and enact values that can make the world a better place.
Managing Holiday Stress
The holidays can be stressful for everyone to some extent. For those who actively participate in holiday celebrations, shopping preparations and family events can be overwhelming. Many people feel out-of-sync with the hustle and bustle of the season. Those who do not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah may feel excluded or imposed upon.
A person who has recently suffered a loss, trauma, or illness may find it difficult to carry on the usual traditions. Even the most well-intentioned reunions can induce tensions, fights, and miscommunications. Whatever your situation, there are many proactive choices you can make to deal with holiday stress and blues. Here are some strategies:
Acknowledge Intense Feelings
Give yourself permission to feel depressed, angry, sad or lonely. Cope with these feelings through talking, exercising, and writing. Avoid situations that stress or upset you.
If you feel obligated to attend a gathering where you feel uncomfortable, plan to stay a short time. While those around you may be overindulging in food or drink, you can make conscious choices about whether or how much to consume.
Try not to isolate yourself completely. To avoid loneliness, plan to be with friends or volunteer in your community to help those less fortunate than yourself. If you’re far from your loved ones, use the phone. Start traditions of your own that feel comfortable to you.
Don’t Overlook Your Own Needs
Have fun. Expose yourself to humor. Give at a level that feels comfortable to you (in terms of time, money and energy). Prioritize your time; don’t overwhelm yourself with too much to do. Even though this is a time of “giving to others,” give yourself plenty of self-care and attention, including rest and quiet time.
Fidelity vs. Faith, or Nonbelievers at the Holidays
Some atheists just don’t do Christmas. People, after all, vary in their tastes. For some, it just isn’t their thing. Maybe they were Christian once and now feel weird about the holiday. Maybe they have family-induced issues that turn them off from the holiday. Fact is, though, that most atheists and other nonbelievers continue to celebrate the holiday, often with great gusto. And some Christians choose to get mad, because after all Jesus is the Reason for the Season, and the secularization of Christmas has led to consumerism and selfishness and gay marriage and who knows what other horrors.
Jesus isn’t the Reason for the Season, and never was. As we nonbelievers like to point out, over and over, our words falling on largely deaf ears, Christmas is way older than the particular body of myths that adhered to the Man from Judea. To rework a line from Bono, Christians stole Christmas from the pagans, and we’re stealing it back.
Comte-Sponville makes, in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, a distinction between Faith and Fidelity. Faith is a blind, unreasoned acceptance of something as being true. Fidelity is a adherence to a tradition or set of traditions – think of it as membership in a culture. You agree to certain principles, values, you name it. You have fidelity towards them. It isn’t faith because adherence to them can be a reasoned thing.
For many people, they hear “atheist” and they don’t just hear a rejection of faith, they hear a rejection of fidelity to the culture as a whole. The two are conflated, and in most cultures, have long been so in popular thinking. To question God was to question the King. Heck, in ancient cultures they often made it more direct, and made the King a god! But faith and fidelity don’t have to go hand in hand. Fidelity can exist without faith and vise versa.
Why do so many atheists celebrate Christmas with such gusto and cheer? Or for that matter, celebrate other holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving in the United States? Because we may not have faith, but we do have fidelity. We like our culture. We grew up in it, we’re attached to it. Celebrating Christmas is one of the ways that we celebrate that fact. Christmas is part of who we are – the carols, the food, the pretty lights and the Christmas trees. So we celebrate and have fun. We may have thrown out the baby Jesus (except for the carols, many of us love those), but we haven’t thrown out the bath water.
To Celebrate or Not To Celebrate?
Family expectations to engage in religious practices can cause a great deal of anxiety. Straying from tradition may seem difficult, especially when family expectations are high.
Regardless of religious or secular beliefs, for most people the holidays involve some understanding that we should be celebrating something very special.
Traditions are an important part of the human experience. Perhaps that’s why so many “nones” keep to their traditions when the holidays come around. Of the 20% of people who are religiously unaffiliated:
Amplifying the holiday’s cultural elements will allow you to focus on meaning without affirming religious beliefs. For example, if you’re asked to pray and don’t feel comfortable declining, give thanks from your heart with your own secular interpretation, like this grace by humanist writer Nicolas Walter.
For what we are about to receive let us be truly thankful
…to those who planted the crops
…to those who cultivated the fields
…to those who gathered the harvest.
For what we are about to receive
let us be truly thankful
to those who prepared it, and those who served it.
In this festivity let us remember too
those who have no festivity
those who cannot share this plenty
those whose lives are more affected than our own
by war, oppression, and exploitation
those who are hungry, sick and cold
In sharing this meal
let us be truly thankful
for the good things we have
for the warm hospitality
and for this good company
Coping with Religious Family over the Holidays
At this time of year it’s hard to avoid reconciling religious differences you have with your family. Holiday times can be very uncomfortable if you are a “reclaimer” (reclaiming your life after being religious) from a religious household where other family members are still devout. Here are a few guidelines that might be helpful.
Keep a journal. This can help you sort through jumbled thoughts and emotions, stay on track with how you are trying to handle things, take care of yourself, and learn.
Plan ahead. It helps a great deal to approach the holidays with a high level of consciousness. What do you expect it might be like? What experiences have you had so far with your family? Sometimes reclaimers simply avoid going home in order to avoid conflict. At times this is the only healthy course of action.
Decide how open you will be. Holiday time puts pressure on your relationships, and could raise the question of how much you want to share.
Opening Up at the Holidays
If you decide to open up during a holiday visit, remember that the holidays can be very stressful. Here are a few tips for opening up:
- Choose a supportive person to open up to
- Take extra caution with deciding on the timing
- Give family/friends some time to process your news
- Have resources for family members to read so that they can see how others have worked through this issue
It’s important to remember that being secular is nothing to feel ashamed of, nor are you responsible for other people’s feelings about it. Although some secular people may choose not to attend family holiday functions, most of us want to spend holidays with loved ones, ideally without discord due to our secular beliefs. Here are four tips to prepare for yourself for the festivities.
Set Realistic Expectations. If you think about your family’s patterns of behavior, you can probably predict how your visit will go. Setting realistic expectations means that you think about what your ideal visit would look like, and then compare that idea to the likely reality, based on previous experiences. You can alter your own behavior but remember that you can’t control others’ behavior.
Develop Boundaries. All healthy relationships have boundaries. The boundaries may be looser for families member, meaning we’re willing to tolerate more from them, but there is a limit. Before your visit, determine what you are willing to tolerate (e.g., going to midnight mass), what is unacceptable (e.g., intentional derogatory remarks about your secular beliefs), and what actions you will take if necessary (e.g., end the visit prematurely).
Communication. Communicate with your family as early and as clearly as possible, especially if you are planning not to attend or cutting your visit short. Be upfront about your concerns, expectations, and boundaries, and ask them about their expectations for you during the visit.
Self Care and Support. Taking care of yourself prior to the visit will help you maintain emotional control during your visit. Work on mindfulness strategies, reach out to support networks, and make plans for secular celebrations either before or after your visit. If possible, make sure you have at least one person who you can call during your visit for support.
During the Visit
Talking about matters of faith and our secular beliefs with loved ones requires sensitivity, honesty and straightforwardness. Below are tips for managing your interactions and conversations during holiday family gatherings.
Additional Suggestions for Navigating the Holidays
- Bring a friend
- Take time for yourself
- Politely disengage
- Accept difference
- Practice patience, compassion, and gratitude
- Know when to end the conversation
Maintain your values. Regardless of what is happening, do what you want to do because that is what you have decided. Reclaim your holiday. Remember why you decided to make the visit. Do what brings you and others joy and meaning.
Find common ground. Instead of focusing on your ideological differences, amplify the areas of commonality. For example, if you and your dad like football, spend time watching and talking about the game on Thanksgiving. If you and your mom usually do the cooking, start compiling recipes to try out and share before your visit.
Embrace the true meaning of the holidays. The holidays are great opportunities for us to show others that it’s possible to have a deep, meaningful, ethical life without religion. The values embraced by most people during the winter holiday season – peace, joy, the importance of family, charity, and goodwill towards humankind – are enacted all year long by secularists who desire to make the world a better place.
Celebrating the Holidays, Secular Style
People all over the world celebrate in different ways and for different reasons. You don’t have to celebrate the holidays for the same reasons as your religious family members. Living openly actually gives you more personal freedom in choosing what to celebrate and how to do so.
9/15: Int’l Day of Democracy
9/19: Talk Like a Pirate Day
9/21: Autumn Equinox
9/21: Int’l Day of Peace
9/23: Banned Book Week
9/30: Int’l Blasphemy Rights Day
October is Freethought Month
10/11: National Coming Out Day
10/12: Freethought Day
10/15: Nietzsche’s Birthday
10/23: Mole Day
11/9: Carl Sagan Day
11/21: Voltaire’s Birthday
11/24: Evolution Day
3/8: International Women’s Day
3/14: Pi Day
3/16: Freedom of Information Day
3/16-3/22: Sunshine Week
3/21: Spring Equinox
4/1: April Fool’s Day
4/12: Cosmonaut’s Day
4/22: Earth Day
1st Thursday in May:
National Day of Reason
5/25: Geek Pride Day
12/10: Int’l Human Rights Day
12/21: Winter Solstice
12/23: HumanLight Celebration
January is New Year Reality Revival
1/16: Religious Freedom Day
1/29: Thomas Paine Day
2/12: Darwin Day
June is LGBT Pride Month
6/5: World Environment Day
6/6: Atheist Pride Day
6/21: World Humanist Day
6/21: Summer Solstice
7/1: Chevalier de la Barre
7/4: Indivisible Day
7/11: Ingersoll Day
Many people intermix traditional family holidays with newer secular celebrations from which new traditions and rituals arise. In the end, you will have to decide what is right for you.
Arias, Oscar. The Easter Bunny Isn’t Real…and Neither is Jesus: The Pagan Origins of Easter and the Invention of Jesus. Mental Milk Press. www.mentalmilk.com
Harvie, Robin and Stephanie Meyers. The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. HarperCollins.
Jillette, Penn. Everyday is an Atheist Holiday. Penguin Group.
@HappiestAtheist. “Atheist Holiday Survival Guide.” http://happiestatheist.blogspot.com/2012/12/holidaysurvival-guide.html
Blag Hag. “Atheist Holiday Traditions.” http://www.blaghag.com/2009/12/atheist-holidaytraditions.html
Alternet. “Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays.” http://www.alternet.org/story/144685/7_reasons_for_atheists_to_celebrate_the_holidays
American Humanist Association. “HumanLight: A Holiday for Humanists.” http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2011-12-humanlight-a-holiday-for-humanists
American Humanist Association. “How to Celebrate HumanLight.” http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2012-12-how-to-celebrate-humanlight-a-december-holiday-for-h
CNN. Holidays, minus God. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/atheist.holidays.irpt
NPR. HumanLight: December’s Secular Holiday.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98627236
Slate. “No Reason for the Season: The Joy of Celebrating a Godless Christmas.” http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2008/12/no_reason_for_the_season.html
There’s now a Ten Commandments monument outside the Somersworth City Hall in New Hampshire. Two City Council members warned that this may be an illegal promotion of Christianity, but they […]
If you didn’t feel small before, you will after this…
This video is self-explanatory, but when I first watched it a question came immediately to mind: how come the superfluity of stars that serve no obvious purpose if you think this is all God’s creation? Since we can’t see most of these by eye, why did God make them in the first place? Or are they providing light for God-created species living on other planets?
Be sure to enlarge the video.
Do we know enough to know that paranormal forces such as ESP, or supernatural agents like God, cannot exist? In his September 2016 ‘Skeptic’ column for Scientific American, Michael Shermer reminds us why we mustn’t be tempted to inject paranormal and supernatural forces to explain hitherto unsolved mysteries.
I always appreciate the opinion of Jerry Coyne, as his books and views are among the most “rational” out there. Being a fan of “The Big Bang Theory” show and having intellectual respect for Mayim Bialik, I found this blog interesting and insightful enough to re-blog for you. I vehemently agree with Coyne on this one… smart people should NOT believe in religion or God.
What do you think?
-The Reasonable Ranter
If you’re my age, you might remember Mayim Bialik as the star of the 1990s television show “Blossom.” Now, I’m told, she plays the role of a neuroscientist on another t.v. show I haven’t watched, “The Big Bang Theory.” But she really is trained in neuroscience: she got her Ph.D. in that field from UCLA, though she doesn’t currently do research or have an academic career. She continues to act, write books, and run her website Grok Nation.
Bialik is clearly a smart, high-achieving woman, but she’s also an accommodationist (she’s a “neo-Orthodox” Jew). In this short video, she explains how she reconciles her penchant for science with her faith:
Putting aside the question about whether someone with a Ph.D. who doesn’t do science is really a “scientist” (I no longer call myself a scientist, but an ex-scientist who sings with the choir invisible), this is still problematic—as all accommodationism is. For…
View original post 513 more words
Sam Harris is one of my heroes. His lucid, calm and (dare I say) rational approach to topics of morality and religion are inspirational. I highly recommend ANY of his books, but my favourites are “The End of Faith” and “The Moral Landscape”… “Free Will” and “Lying” and “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” get honourable mentions too, lol.
I came across this video made from a speech of Harris’ that I liked very much, so here it is… Enjoy!
Goodreads | Darren Hancock (Canada)’s review of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World
You are probably an atheist.
Before you object to this statement, read on to realize how, and why this is not a bad thing.
According to militant activist David Silverman, president of American Atheists and author of the new book “Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World”, the word atheist unjustly gets a bad rap. When you apply the true etymology of the word “a-theist”, like “a-symptomatic” (without symptoms), “a-typical” (without type), “a-moral” (without moral quality), “atheist” simply means without a belief in a God or gods. Silverman clearly draws the line; the terms agnostic, humanist, or freethinker are all nebulous and confusing (“secular” being one of the most unclear in intended meaning). If you absolutely believe there is a God, you are a THEIST. If you use “God” as a term denoting the beauty and awe of Nature, or are following a set of religious traditions thinking there is no actual “man in the sky” observing and judging you, believing Heaven and Hell and the resurrection and the holy text are metaphors for moral guidance… YOU are an atheist. ONLY if you absolutely believe in the true and real existence of a God or gods are you NOT an atheist. Silverman says embracing the word atheist and spreading it’s true meaning is an important positive step in removing the stigma associated with the term, and utilizing what he calls “firebrand atheism” to assertively inoculate believers from religious dogma.
Similar to Peter Boghossian’s approach (author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists”), Silverman councels targeting the beliefs themselves, NOT the people who hold the beliefs. That’s where the similarity ends, as Boghossian’s “Socratic method” is left in the dust in favor of more aggressive attacks on the pillars of the beliefs religious people hold. When Silverman describes the atrocities committed in the name of religion and reveals that the atheists quest for EQUALITY is perceived as militant – the faithful are offended when they are not regarded as “privileged” because of their faith, or when their belief is even questioned – and how religions are tax exempt, it begins to look more and more like a big scam.
The book is eye-opening, informative, and once the veil of perceived sacrilege about questioning faith is lifted, seeing the man behind the curtain will make the reader think about religion and the belief in a higher power with more scrutiny and scepticism; a healthy approach to any activity that affects how we behave and live our lives.
“I’d rather have questions I can’t answer than answers I can’t question” -Richard Feynman
One of the most quoted lines in Richard Dawkins‘ The God Delusion is the passage that opens up Chapter 2:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Dawkins point was that, despite all those qualities, a lot of people had become immune to God’s awfulness, preferring to worship a loving, caring deity instead. But critics were no doubt furious that he had blasphemed God in such a way.
Who knew that Dawkins was being too kind in his assessment?
Dan Barker, the co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former Christian preacher himself, says that the God of the Bible is much, much worse than Dawkins gave Him credit for. And in his new book, Barker explains why that is.
It’s called, appropriately, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction(Sterling, 2016):
The book goes into detail for each quality Dawkins listed, quoting chapter and verse from the Bible to justify the description. And then it continues, rattling off even more unpleasant traits for God that Dawkins left out.
In the excerpt below, Barker explains why God is indeed “jealous and proud of it”:
Richard Dawkins could not have found a better way to begin his list.
If we were forced to reduce the entire Old Testament to a single word, what would it be? It would not be “love.” There is not enough love there to fill a communion cup. It would not be “law.” Most biblical edicts are dictatorial commands with a divine purpose aimed at something other than the common good.
The one word that sums up the scenario between Genesis and Malachi is “jealousy.” Almost every page, every story, every act, every psalm, every prophecy, every command, every threat in those 39 ancient books points back to the possessiveness of one particular god who wanted to own and control his chosen lover by demanding total devotion. “Love me! I am better than the others! Don’t look at them — look at me!”
You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.
That’s the Old Testament in a nutshell. Jealousy.
Jealousy is insecurity. It is the fear that someone you love will not love you back, a dread that they will choose someone else. It is possessive and controlling, based on an assumed right of ownership. Strong jealousy arises from a desperate need to be validated by the devotion of another, even if (or especially if) that “love” is forced. It is shaky vanity. It is the terror of losing the property that bolsters your sense of self-worth.
Jealousy is rooted in biology. We instinctively choose a mate primarily because of our “selfish genes” that evolved to be copied into future generations. In many primitive cultures, this translated into patriarchy, sexist control of access to females, harems, polygamy (for males only), submissive wives, ordinances permitting wives to be beaten and constrained, and females legally treated as property (see Chapter 9, Misogynistic). Notice that the Ten Commandments are sexist. They are directed at males, ending with the prohibition of coveting what your neighbor owns, which includes his wife: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). Why don’t the Commandments prohibit a woman from coveting her neighbor’s husband? It’s because wives were property, husbands were not.
It is obvious that the Old Testament writers were projecting their biological feelings of sexual insecurity onto their culturally derived deity, a male god. “For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he shows no restraint when he takes revenge” (Proverbs 6:34). God’s chosen sweetheart, Israel, is often characterized as a wife or lover gone astray: “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord… they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them” (Judges 2:11,17 KJV). “But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore” (Ezekiel 16:15). As we will see later, in the eyes of the macho deity, “evil” and “wickedness” are rarely denunciations of harmful actions; they are most often synonyms for “jilting God.” If she doesn’t love me, she must be a bad woman.
In case there is any doubt that God was proud of his jealousy, look at the name he calls himself in the actual Ten Commandments in Exodus 34, the ones engraved on stone:
For you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice.
Notice the word “prostitute.” That’s like calling a wife or girlfriend a “slut” because she talks to another man. “I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy” (Ezekiel 16:38), bellows the nervous, abusive husband who admits his very name is Jealous.
“God” is just a generic label, not a name. Any god can use it. Calling a god “God” is like calling a person “Person.” Why don’t we call the Israelite god by his real name, the actual name he proudly chose for himself? Let’s call the God of the Old Testament “The Lord Jealous.”
The Lord Jealous clearly has issues with sexual insecurity and self-respect, not to mention anger management.
Reprinted with permission from GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction© 2016 by Dan Barker, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Essays identify old ideas that may be stalling scientific progress. Brain plasticity, godlessness, Malthusian notions – all should go according to the responses to John Brockman’s latest question.<br><br>“Science advances by a series of funerals,” writes Brockman, founder of the online discussion forum Edge.org. Sometimes, he says, old ideas have to be put to bed before new ones can flourish. With that in mind, he asked researchers, journalists and other science enthusiasts to weigh in on which established theories need to go. From the replies, Brockman compiled This Idea Must Die, a fascinating smorgasbord of 175 short essays about every field and facet of research.
Many of the responses offer tweaks to theories to better fit new discoveries. A psychologist points out that sadness and other “negative” emotions are not inherently bad, that they can help sharpen analytical thinking and enhance memory. Other essays call for more radical changes. Laboratory mice make lousy stand-ins for people when developing new drugs, argues an oncologist. It’s time to stop using them as furry human surrogates, she says. And a number of physicists would be happy to toss out string theory for good. “What we’ve learned is that this is an empty idea,” one physicist writes. “It predicts nothing about anything.”<br><br>Some of the essays tackle broader subjects, suggesting ways scientists can improve how they design experiments, crunch numbers and publish papers. Other writers lament poor communication between scientists and the general public, especially when misconceptions allow old theories to linger in the media long after they’ve been debunked. Take, for example, the notion of nature versus nurture — it still crops up in politics and the press, even though biologists have long known that genetics and environment are inextricably intertwined. <br><br>A few of the arguments are bound to be controversial. For example, a journalist asserts that the information gleaned from massive particle accelerators isn’t worth their equally massive price tags. And while Brockman’s question inspired some thought-provoking responses, the short essays can provide only a brief overview of complex problems. Readers will want to do some research of their own before deciding which, if any, of these ideas really requires a funeral.