Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Atheist Marching Bands Don't Belong in Christmas Parades

I know my blog is supposed to be about love, so this post may appear a bit off-topic, but, in my opinion, God and Love are synonymous, so... here goes.

I've been having an ongoing debate with a friend of mine about atheism. I admit, I feel much stronger about this since I recently lost Craig, a man of amazing faith, to ALS. Having such an intimate relationship with a dying man in his final days, I witnessed the beauty of absolute faith. I saw the comfort this faith brought both to him and to all the people around him. I have felt protective about Craig, and anyone who might dare to question his faith, while he was alive. Why would anyone want to take away the very thing that gave him so much strength? And now, after his death, I feel protective of my own heart. I don't want anyone to try and convince me there's not a God... there's not a heaven. Without those beliefs how could I begin to cope with the grief of losing people I've loved?

Today my friend sent me this article: Why Religious People are Scared of Atheists. The article talks about an atheist marching band who marched in a Christmas parade and the comments from those who were offended by that. The author fails to understand why people would be offended by peaceful and polite participation of an atheist group in this parade. Well, I'd like to offer this rebuttal...

First of all, I have to say that personally, I disagree with anyone being disrespectful to a group for what they believe. I think it's wrong for people to insult atheists, just as I think it's wrong for atheists to insult people who believe in God. I understand that both groups try to convince the other of their beliefs, and frankly, I think this only causes a bunch of anger on both sides! Though I understand why people were offended, I disagree with any who wrote insulting or derogatory things about atheists in general. Atheists, like everyone else, deserve respect, and my rebuttal here is not meant to be disrespectful.

But, here's where I think atheism is different from religion. Atheists don't talk about what they believe in... they talk about what they don't believe in. The only point I can see in declaring what you don't believe in is to tell people who do believe in it that they're wrong!

If I try to look at it through an atheists eyes, I'd guess it could be like not believing in Santa Claus. Now... I could go around saying it's OBVIOUS there's no Santa Claus. I mean... flying reindeer? going down chimneys? And how could he possibly visit all houses on a single night?

I know there are lots of kids out there who LOVE Santa Claus, even though I think it's obvious he's not real. Is it appropriate for me to go out of my way to tell kids he's not real? Would I join a "Santa's NOT Real" group, proudly declaring to the world: Get a clue! There is NO SANTA, people!!" Would we want the "Santa's NOT Real" group marching in a Christmas parade?

It doesn't matter if I am 100% sure that Santa is not real... It would be downright mean of me to try and destroy the belief for those who do believe in him. What good would it do for me to attempt to ruin their joy and happiness they get from that belief?

Now... multiply the belief in Santa by about a million, and that's how a lot of people feel about God. Sure... there are plenty of people who don't believe in Him. But what good does it do to actively tell the world you think there is no God? What good does it do to form an "atheist marching band"? A marching band, yes, but why make it an "atheist" marching band? Can't people who believe in God march and sing alongside people who don't? Is there comfort in not believing in something together?

But let's say there is comfort in finding other people who don't believe in God and, so yes, atheist groups form. Is it appropriate for them to march in a Christmas parade? I absolutely say 'no'! A group of people who's common purpose is to declare there is no God, is no more appropriate at a Christmas parade than would be a group of people who declared they didn't believe in Santa.

(By the way, if anyone who believes in Santa is reading this, then, just for the record, this whole thing was just to make a point... I believe in him, too!)


Anonymous said...

it is always odd to read people dictate what atheists should and shouldn't believe, what they should and shouldn't participate in, etc. I don't know an atheist that doesn't celebrate Christmas to some extent, so that kind of ruins your entire argument. Next thing you'll tell us, atheists aren't allowed to celebrate Easter because we're not allowed to believe in the Easter bunny?

Deirdré Straughan said...

Every culture has some big, happy holiday at which it is appropriate and fun to be with loved ones, exchange gifts, eat too much food, etc.

Whether Christians or anyone else likes it, Christmas is that holiday in this country (and others). It has become secularized and commercialized to the point that, for many, it has lost much or all of its Christian connection. Which, in the historical context, is only fair: a midwinter festival celebrating the return of the sun was common to many cultures long before Christianity took it over.

So calling something a "Christmas parade" in this country cannot be taken to denote a strictly religious event. Were all the other bands in the parade wearing crosses or playing only religious songs?

If an Atheist Marching Band showed up at a church concert or Catholic school nativity play demanding to be included, that might be a deliberate attack on Christians. I doubt that this was. It was just some non-religious people wanting to join in the fun of a community celebration of the holiday, while pointing out that not all of us subscribe to the Christian "reason" for it.

Yvette said...

Anonymous - I'm not dictating what atheists believe. However, I do not think it's appropriate for them to participate in a Christmas parade when Christmas is a Christian celebration. I would think it's inappropriate for them to participate in an Easter parade as well since that holiday is a Christian holiday.

Dierdre, even though every float in a Christmas parade is not religious, it doesn't mean that the holiday itself is not celebrated by Christians and the Christian aspect is held dear to many of them. As my post is trying to point out, just because every float doesn't have Santa in it, Santa is an important part and if it would be inappropriate to have a "We don't believe in Santa" marching band.

Certainly atheists are free to celebrate Christmas or any holiday they want, but it seems very inappropriate to me for a group that doesn't believe in God to march in a parade that is celebrating Christmas.. Not the winter solstice, not the holiday season, but Christmas.

That being said, again, I have no intention of insulting atheists... simply pointing out why it can be offensive.

Deirdré Straughan said...

The point I was trying to make is that, while Christmas means the birth of Christ to Christians, it has meaning - but different meaning - to many others. It's very heavily promoted as an occasion for friends, family, and communities to get together and demonstrate their love for each other. As such, many atheists and believers of other religions celebrate it, even if they don't celebrate the birth of Christ or even believe that any such person was ever born.

Therefore, a civic parade in the US today, even if it's called a Christmas parade, is NOT a religious occasion. Indeed, if the parade was in any way sponsored by a government authority, it would be illegal for it to be a religious and exclusive event.

There have been endless debates and legal cases over who gets to participate in whose public events, e.g. trying to keep a gay group out of the St Patrick's Day parade in NYC a few years ago, as I recall. Sometimes groups ask to be included out of deliberate provocation, sometimes they just want to participate and show that they, too, are part of the community. Yes, there are gay Irish people. Yes, there are atheists who celebrate a midwinter holiday that it's convenient to call Christmas. And they were, after all, saying "Merry Christmas" (as well as Happy Hannukah and Happy Kwanzaa) in acknowledgement of the fact that others have other reasons to celebrate.

When I wish you Happy Birthday, it's not also my birthday, nor am I claiming it is. I am simply saying that I'm glad you are here and I celebrate you on your special day. In the case of Christmas, I can also share it as a day that's special to me, even if it's special for other reasons than yours. I just don't see how that is offensive.

Yvette said...

Hi Deirdre,
Thank you for your very articulate responses and I understand and respect your viewpoint. I think you make a good case of why many people find it perfectly acceptable for atheist groups to march in a Christmas parade.

My point, however, is an explanation for why many people (including myself) do not find it acceptable.

If the occasion was one which celebrated Atheist Pride, would religious communities be invited to attend?

The group itself... an atheist marching band.. is one which limits membership to atheists. The group is being exclusive itself, so why should they participate in a parade which Christians regard to be the celebration of Christ's birth? That seems very disrespectful to me.

I'm not saying atheists shouldn't celebrate Christmas or even march in the Christmas parade. I'm saying it is disrespectful for a group that outwardly proclaims there is no God to march in a parade for an occasion which Christians honor as the birth of Christ. Their message seems to be: Christmas is NOT about Christ.

I think this serves no purpose other than to anger those who believe Christmas IS about Christ. Why is it necessary to try to take that away from Christians? Why not just have a non-demoninational marching band that welcomes any religion and march and celebrate together?

But no. That isn't what this group is about. This is a group that is in favor of NO religion and wants to take the religious aspect AWAY from the celebration.

Again, I say it's as if a group got together to say "We are a group that doesn't believe in Santa, but we want to march in the Christmas parade because even people who don't believe in Santa should be able to celebrate Christmas." It would anger people. Santa is a big part of our culture and a big part of Christmas, just as Christ's birth is. Why would there be a need to tell everyone they don't believe in Santa? Why would there be a need to insist Santa-non-believers should be able to march?: Why not just march and keep your beliefs about Santa to yourself, so you don't upset those who do believe in him!

Sure... Don't believe in Santa. Don't believe in God. Celebrate whatever holidays you want. But understand that it IS offensive to people who are wanting to celebrate their faith with a holiday that came from that faith, to have people claiming that the faith is not important...that it is NOT what the holiday is about. For many of us, it is a very important part of the holiday, and that should be understood and respected by others.

Kevin said...

This is an interesting discussion and I love the various responses and points of view. Let me add a slightly different view on how one might choose to look at this.

Looking through the Christian bible one fact appears clearly irrefutable not only from what is presented in the bible but from what we can observe in everyday live. God, for whatever odd reason, has given everyone the right to choose to believe anything.

This is a God-given right. If you happen to believe that God exists and that Hell exists and that non-believers will go to hell...then by definition we can extrapolate that "everyone has a God-given right to choose to go to hell".

I cannot possibly understand why God would do this but it is important enough for some reason that God did this and gave this right to everyone.

With this in mind, I choose to honor the right to make a different decision just as God has done. As a Christian, I believe that we do not win over people to our belief, they simply choose it. We and God (Jesus, if you prefer) may influence that choice but we cannot make their choices for them. In addition, we should not disrespect the people that make other choices without disrespecting our choice.

I also believe the Christ did not win over (i.e. influence) anyone with guilt or fear. Rather he used service, suffering, and sacrifice on THEIR behalf to show his love for them.

As Christians we should strive to find ANY opportunity to serve and love those that have made another choice. This parade was an opportunity to 'minister' to the atheists that showed up...but not by preaching or hating or criticizing their choices. Rather by loving them, involving them, welcoming them and showing them that any pain they may have wanted to direct at the Christians was not going to be returned. We are bigger then that and do not have to fear their unbelief nor be hurt by them unless we give them permission.

Yvette said...

Very interesting perspective, Kevin. I'm really enjoying this discussion, too.

I think you make a very good point. However, sadly, both Christians and atheists can be very intolerant and disrespectful, just as there are Christians and atheists who are very tolerant and respectful... So, I don't think tolerance, respect, or compassion will necessarily win anyone over to a particular religious belief.

I definitely think your final statements are wise:

"Rather by loving them, involving them, welcoming them and showing them that any pain they may have wanted to direct at the Christians was not going to be returned. We are bigger then that and do not have to fear their unbelief nor be hurt by them unless we give them permission."

I'd like to point out, though, that in this case, I don't think the atheists were directly insulting Christians... at least nothing of that was mentioned in the article I read.

I also want to be clear that I am not saying atheists are bad people who will go to hell. My issue is that I don't think it's appropriate for a group which limits its members to those who don't believe in God to be marching in a Christmas parade. If it were a group of people who just happened to be atheists, I'd have absolutely no issue with it. But it's a group which keeps Christians out. Isn't it a bit hypocritacal for them to be saying "Merry Christmas" to Christians on the sidelines?

When a strong belief system is challenged, mocked, or not respected, people get angry.

My post is an attempt to explain why we (or at least I) feel it's disrespectful for an atheist group to march in a Christmas parade. I'm not saying Christians should act on that by being disprespectful back. Just explaining why it makes people angry.. And that can escalate to violence. Why provoke that? What purpose is served?

Faith is so important for so many people. Regardless of what you do or don't believe, I would hope we could all learn to understand and respect faith, even if we have differing viewpoints.