The Christmas euphemism wars

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasThose poor, poor Christians. Only three out of every four people in this country are Christian, so it’s easy to imagine how lonely and ostracized they must feel! Especially around Christmastime, when Christmas decorations adorn every store and shopping plaza, Christmas carols play on the radio incessantly, the President lights an enormous National Christmas Tree, and nativity displays pop up in front of town halls across the country. So, it’s understandable that Christians feel really persecuted by mainstream American society at this time of year. [/sarcasm]

This whole “Grinch Alert” garbage has got me thinking about euphemisms for “Merry Christmas.” People occasionally say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in order to sound more inclusive. Christians are pissed off at this, taking it as evidence of an increasingly secular society — so does that mean it’s an atheist victory?

My answer is an emphatic no. First, Christians shouldn’t be upset about hearing “Merry Christmas” euphemisms. They’re hardly euphemistic at all, and certainly don’t represent a turning of American culture away from the dominating force of Christianity.

Let’s take a look at Happy Holidays first. Honestly, as a kid, I thought that “Happy holidays” was a shorthand way of saying “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Two holidays, Christmas and New Year’s — thus, “holidays” plural. Maybe the phrase refers broadly to all the celebrations of “the holiday season” — and I’ll talk about this more later. But perhaps most people who say it intend to be inclusive of Christmas and Chanukah. When shops use it in their promotions, it’s because there are two gift-giving holidays that happen in December, and they want to attract customers who celebrate either (or both) of them. It’s not a failure to recognize Christmas; it’s a recognition that there is another holiday in the month of December, in addition to Christmas. (I realize facts do offend Christians from time to time, but they really shouldn’t. Jews exist. It’s nothing personal.) When individuals wish you “Happy holidays,” ask yourself: do they know what religion you are? In almost every situation, “Happy holidays” could be translated to “Merry Christmas, unless you’re Jewish, in which case Happy Chanukah I guess, if it hasn’t already passed.” The baseline assumption is still that you are celebrating some religious holiday at this time of year. Hardly an atheist victory.

The other popular euphemism-that-wasn’t is Season’s Greetings. Now, that sounds nice and secular. It’s just some festive wintertime salutations! Nothing religious about that! Except… we don’t send autumn greetings, summer greetings, or spring greetings. Why would we send special winter greetings? Well, because the “season” being referred to here isn’t the winter season, it’s the Christmas season. Also known as the holiday season, effectively synonymous when you take into account that 75% of the US population is Christian, and the other December holiday of Chanukah is celebrated by less than 2%. Also, while Chanukah is fun, celebrations of it don’t spread from November through early January the way that Christmas does. There’s no “Chanukah season.” Whether or not you say “Christmas” in your greetings, it’s immediately apparent that that’s what you’re referring to.

So I just don’t get why Christians get all worked up about people using another phrase that obviously still means “Merry Christmas.” Guys, you haven’t lost anything. English is a rich language with many different ways of expressing closely related ideas. We’re using them. That’s all.

And by the same token, atheists shouldn’t be wasting their energy trying to promote these sayings. One possibility is that the case at hand concerns a private entity like a business or an individual, who gets to decide how to communicate with others as best serves their own interests — and in this situation, they have every right to say “Merry Christmas” if they want to. You don’t have to shop in a store decked out for a holiday you don’t celebrate if that makes you uncomfortable, but if a store owner decides that’s the best way to maximize profits, so be it. The other possibility is that you’re dealing with a governmental entity. In this case, saying “Happy Holidays” is still an endorsement of religion — seriously, best case, it’s an endorsement of two religions instead of just one. Not a win for secularism by any stretch of the imagination. And to the extent that “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are effectively the same thing as “Merry Christmas,” you’re just encouraging people to pretend not to endorse Christianity while still obviously endorsing Christianity. That’s one tiny step forward, and quite a few big steps back.

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48 Comments

  1. Ubi Dubium

     /  December 21, 2010 at 9:21 am

    We Pastafarians have actually appropriated “Happy Holiday” for ourselves. (If the xians can claim the Solstice, then they should not have any legitimate objection to this.) The Season of Holiday is one of the four seasons of the Pastafarian calendar (Spring, Hot, October and Holiday). It lasts from just after Halloween until at least mid-January-ish. Maybe longer, if you are inclined. It’s celebrated by eating too much, drinking too much, decorating your house, goofing off, and giving gifts if you feel like it.

    So anytime I hear someone say “Happy Holiday” I smile at their unknowing acknowledgement of the greatness of His Noodliness!

    Or, I’ll just wish you “Happy Monkey!”

  2. From the linked Christian Post article:

    “I am not willing to wave the white flag of surrender and give the country over to the atheists,” [pastor Jeffress] said to applause from his congregation.

    Curses!

    We atheists were this close to total victory until Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas set up a website to tattle on businesses that didn’t promote Christmas-as-such. So much for our beautiful dreams of conquest….

  3. I’m am not opposed to the un-Christmasing as much as I am at the reason for it. For the most part, it is not to be more inclusive as much as it is to not “offend” anyone. If acknowledgment of a Christian holiday is offensive to a person, that person is a bigot. To say Christianity is offensive is a biggoted view. Just as if I said Judaism/Passover is offensive, I’d be a bigot.

    So its the fear of having some activist atheist get in their face and write letters to the corperate office which causes the un-Christmasing of the holiday season. I say activist because I doubt most atheists or people of other religious belief are actually offended at “merry Christmas”, just the ones trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

    However! I do remember a time when a large number of Christians and Christian organizations complained at the commercialization of Christmas. They cause a big to-do about the way retailers were so frivolously using Christmas to bring up their sales, trying to appeal to Christian shoppers and whatnot. You cannot have it both ways, you cannot complain it is too commercial and exploitive, but then also complain when retailers remove it.

  4. Sorry, just a quick note I forgot to include. I do not believe for a second that the activists I mentioned are as traumatized by the horror of being wished a merry Christmas as they pretend to be in the hate letters they send in. It’s dishonest, and quite frankly, if you are horrified by someone wishing you Merry Christmas you are too emotionally unstable to be out in public without a chaperone.

  5. Aristarchus

     /  December 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    John, to make a little more sense of this for you – the acknowledging of Christianity is not offensive. No Jew (or anyone else) is going to be offended by the fact that you put Christmas lights up or whatever. I’m an atheist, but I come from a Jewish family, and I remember someone I was in the car with being wished a “happy Easter” by the guy taking our money at a toll both and him being mildly annoyed. What’s offensive is the presumption from perfect strangers who know nothing about you that you must be Christian. Obviously the person was trying to be polite and it’s understandable, etc., but the idea that it’s so “standard” to be Christian that people treat you as if you’re Christian without a second thought can be bothersome.

    That said, I agree with NFQ. We can debate what situations “merry Christmas” is ok in (I also agree here – mall yes, courthouse no), but there’s no situation where “merry Christmas” would be awful, but “happy holidays” is totally fine.

  6. Here’s the thing, people wishing you “Merry Christmas” really arent assuming youre a Christian. They are passing along good cheers. Do you think everyone who says “how ya doin?” wants a run down of your health and mental state? They are being friendly, offering a greeting entirely appropriate for the time of year. You seem like the activist type I was referring to. I suggest not looking for offense where there is none intended.

  7. Aristarchus

     /  December 22, 2010 at 7:12 am

    The fact that you consider “Merry Christmas” to be a generic wishing of good cheer is pretty telling… Jews don’t go around wishing everyone “L’shanah tova” on Rosh Hashana – that just gets said to other people they know are Jewish. Have you ever been wished a good Ramadan? Saying “Merry Christmas” is wishing someone a good Christmas. My point is, people aren’t offended by the fact that lots of people around them are celebrating Christmas. They’re offended when many of the people who celebrating have no respect for the fact that they aren’t.

  8. For starters Judaism is not an evangelistic religion, and for the most part I don’t know many muslims who evangelize in the same way Christians do. Secondly, the vast majority of atheists celebrate Christmas, it is not and exclusively Christian greeting.

    Seriously, stop being so sensitive, you’re just too easily offended. Here’s the difference between us, if I was wished a happy hannuka or ramadan if I was in Israel or Saudi Arabia, i wouldn’t be complaining about it. Its just not offensive, it wouldn’t even occur to me to think “ya know just because I’m in Israel/Saudi Arabia not everyone is Jewish or muslim”

    Relax.

  9. Aristarchus

     /  December 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Wow….

    It’s ok for Christians because Christianity is an evangelistic religion? Why is that relevant? The only reason I can think of for why you might think it is relevant is that you consider saying “merry Christmas” to be evangelizing… except that at that point you’re basically conceding the argument. Evangelizing to people who don’t want to be evangelized to is rude.

  10. Way to twist what I said. You complained that Jews and Muslims don’t spread their own holiday greetings, and I explained why that isn’t unusual due to their general nonevangelistic nature. I never said wishing merry Christmas was an instance of evangelism, you did. Take a read back where I make the point that merry christmas is a general well wishing for the holiday which is most associated with this time of year by the vast majority of americans. Nice try though.

  11. Aristarchus

     /  December 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Jews and Muslims don’t spread their own holiday greetings because they’re not evangelistic, but spreading a Christmas holiday greeting isn’t evangelizing? Do you even read what you write before you post it?

  12. John: Aristarchus isn’t twisting what you said. In fact, you repeated it again in your most recent comment. You’ve argued that saying “Merry Christmas” isn’t an imposition of Christianity on others, it’s just a friendly generic greeting. When Aristarchus pointed out that no other religion uses its holidays as supposedly generic greetings to nonmembers of their religious group, you explained that by saying that those religions aren’t as evangelical as Christianity. Yet you continue to insist that saying “Merry Christmas” does not promote Christianity. Do you see?

    I’m not sure you’re entirely right about the other religions being less evangelical — Judaism, sure, and mainstream Islam in the US, but Islam is huge worldwide and they definitely try to win converts — but this is beside the point.

    It seems to me that the basic problem here is that you don’t realize that you’re coming from a position of privilege. You think of Christianity as the default — telling someone to have a pleasant Christian holiday is just a general message of good cheer, practically everybody celebrates Christmas, etc. — and that’s what’s insulting. Other religious beliefs aren’t seen as “normal,” so if I were to wish you “Eid Mubarak” that would be promoting Islam, but I could wish you a “Merry Christmas” and just be a regular person saying hello. It’s like when Band-Aids come in “flesh” color or beige/peach dresses (even when worn by black women) are described as the color “nude,” meaning white-person-skin color — that shows white privilege over people of color, because whiteness is seen as the default. No one instance of this is going to make someone cry themselves to sleep or anything, but lots of statements like yours build up over time to teach atheists (and non-Christians in general) that they don’t belong and are unwelcome or at least not “normal” like Christians are. This article provides a good overview of how Christian privilege affects many aspects of society, and you might also check out this list of 40 examples of Christian privilege.

  13. Trikepilot

     /  December 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Your last comment NFQ really hit home. I love the analogy with nude color being white nude not any other skin color. I will use that from now on to help illuminate the position of privilege that the majority – Christians – impose on the rest of us.

    You do know that Christians have the right to impose their religion upon us don’t you. Just ask any of them, they will tell you that we are a Christian nation.

    Just don’t ask them for proof.

  14. As far as the Christian nation concept I provide a tremendous amount of documentation in my article Finders Keepers Here: http://truthinreligionandpolitics.com/2010/09/02/finders-keepers/

    And so did the US Congress with H. Res 888 here : http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.RES.888:

    I see why you are claiming I am contradicting myself, but the point I am making is Christmas is a religious holiday celebrated by people who do not adhere to the religion it is for. That is not true of Judaism or Islam. It is not surprising to not hear holiday greetings because neither religion is particularly evangelistic, if approached by people sure Jews and Muslims will talk about their religion, but will not activly seek out to convert the way Christians do. The idea that merry Christmas was an form of evangelism or implication that everyone is Christian was not introduced by me, I was responding to what I considered an overreaching attempt to be offended.

    American culture today has integrated Christmas into the culture enough that merry Christmas is not necessarily a greeting which the greeter implies the greetee is Christian.

  15. I see the link I provided is not working for the Library of Congress site, but it is however working from the link in the comment section in the article Finders Keepers. I have no idea why.

  16. Aristarchus

     /  December 23, 2010 at 1:03 am

    I don’t know why I’m even continuing to answer you, but….

    Your research skills are severely lacking. The US Congress is pretty powerful, but not so powerful that they can issue a resolution “stating” something about history and it automatically becomes fact. This isn’t 1984… but I figured I’d give you the benefit of the doubt and actually follow the links to H.RES.888. (Btw, the reason the link here doesn’t work is that the colon isn’t part of the link and needs to be added.) My immediate question was when this dated from, since an early resolution passed by people who fought in the revolution might have actually meant they believed the US was founded on Christianity, while a resolution from last year would just show that random religious conservatives like to make up their own history. So I looked for the date it was passed… and kept looking… and clicked on the big “Bill Summary and Status” link at the top of the page…

    And guess what? It wasn’t passed. It was introduced one time in 2007. It was promptly referred to a committee which…. did nothing. At all. Ever. Not only did it not pass – it never was supported by enough people to force a vote. The official supporters (listed on the site) make up about 20% of the House. So yeah, it’s a stupid place to go for history, but since you seem to think its opinion is relevant, you should know that the US House of Representatives thought this resolution was complete crap.

    The other documentation you provide in your blog post isn’t any better. Yes, in the early days the states often had official religions, religious tests for office, etc. None of the Bill of Rights applied to states – they were free to violate free speech, ban all guns, use cruel and unusual punishment, quarter troops in your home, or do anything else they wanted. (These rights protections were all applied to the states in the 14th amendment.) That doesn’t mean that free speech wasn’t important to the founding fathers, or that it’s not actually an important American principle.

    None of this, though, is at all relevant to the issue in question. We’re not talking about constitutionality or legal questions of any kind. We’re talking about what is rude. The constitution does not dictate proper manners. Neither do the founding fathers.

    In fact, from the very beginning, I haven’t argued that saying “Merry Christmas” is actually that bad. Many Jews/Muslims/atheists don’t really mind it – they know that it is well-intended and appreciate the attempt at kindness more than they mind the poor execution. If your point was just that acting on statistical likelihood in a country that’s majority-Christian is forgivable, you would have actually had a legitimate point. You didn’t make that point. Instead you are claiming that a) “merry Christmas” is not a Christian greeting and b) that it would not be rude to wish your friend who you knew to be Jewish a merry Christmas. These are idiotic ideas. Being a nice tolerant person isn’t as easy as following a strict set of rules. Some things, including holiday greetings, are gray areas. What is necessary is that you have an appreciation for where other people are coming from and appreciate why some things might offend them. You have shown yourself entirely incapable of this sort of logical thought. You can go on arguing as long as you want that your religion has special status and that doing something you’d find offensive coming from other religions isn’t offensive because your religion is special. Everyone else, though, is going to continue thinking that you’re a bigot.

  17. I know the resolution was not passed, it is more of a chronicle of historical facts about the religious nature of the country, and I make the point of differentiation between states rights vs the federal government. The point that the founding was secular is what is being challenged.

    Its obvious that you will continue to find offense where none is intended, and I will not change your mind about beoule who are well intended, so have a great day.

  18. John:

    The point that the founding was secular is what is being challenged.

    Oy gevalt, what a meshuggeneh.

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    – Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams and unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate, 1797

    Wandering onto an American atheist blog and arguing that the United States is not a secular nation strikes me as a notably stupid pursuit.

  19. NFQ, re John:

    It seems to me that the basic problem here is that you don’t realize that you’re coming from a position of privilege.

    Quoted for truth.

    I think the vast majority of controversies that come up between atheists and believers (and also between various factions of atheists) boil down to the “basic problem” of religious privilege. And, as usual when privilege of any kind is at issue, a huge proportion of people are totally blind to that privilege’s very existence.

    I think basically every outspoken atheist should talk about privilege more. Maybe a lot more.

  20. I addressed the flawed reasoning in citing the treaty of Tripoli. Atheists seem to go to great lengths to ignore and revise history. Its amazing how all the documentation doesn’t count.

  21. Oh, you sure did:

    Additionally, This Treaty is written in the context of the Federal Government, and as such in this historical and legal way, to declare this country is not in any way a Christian nation is correct.

    That’s called you conceding the point.

    Your amusing essay aims to dispel the supposedly “widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists.” Which indicates that you are simply clueless about both the secular founding of this nation and your opponents’ actual arguments about that founding.

    The United States is secular in a very much “historical and legal way.” That’s what actually matters.

  22. Too funny, can’t say I’m surprised though.

  23. I guess I’ll elaborate what I think is funny and of no surprise. The prevalence of “secular foundationilists” to quote mine and cut the quotes at their convenience. The very next sentence serves to expose this trait in you, the entire passage reads:

    “Reading the Article in its full text reveals that America was intending to differentiate itself from other nations which held an inherent hatred toward Muslims. It assured the Muslims that the United States was not a Christian nation like the nations of previous centuries which sought out war with the Muslim nations, and would not provoke a religious war against them. Additionally, This Treaty is written in the context of the Federal Government, and as such in this historical and legal way, to declare this country is not in any way a Christian nation is correct. In that the Federal Government was not Christian in the same way Muslim governments are Muslim.”

    It is very telling to your integrity to see where you cut off the quote. Niiice.

  24. It is very telling to your integrity to see where you cut off the quote.

    Surely you jest. Your entire explanation for the supposed irrelevance of the Treaty of Tripoli is a bizarre ratification of everything your opponents actually argue.

    You’re unhappy that I omitted the (grammatically hobbled) sentence “In that the Federal Government was not Christian in the same way Muslim governments are Muslim”? I did that for brevity, buddy—not because it presents actual problems for those of us who actually understand the history.

    The federal (not capitalized) government (also not capitalized) is indeed “not Christian” in precisely that way, which is why we call it secular. That happens to be precisely our point. The “notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists,” meanwhile, is laughable nonsense advocated by no one, rendering your entire proud essay a straw-man joke.

    You simply don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.

  25. You should use google with search terms such as “founding fathers religion”, founding fathers atheists” and variants. I dont know who told you there is no push for people to believe it, but I have heard it too many times to count.

  26. Aristarchus

     /  December 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    John, please post a link to one person actually arguing that that the founding fathers were “mainly atheists, agnostics, and Deists.”

  27. John:

    You should use google with search terms such as “founding fathers religion”…

    Good idea!

    And hey—look what comes in at #3 on that result list: a page called “Our Founding Fathers Were NOT Christians“! Well, these must be those dirty lying atheists you’re talking about! Let’s see what scummy libels this person has launched against the Founders:

    None of the Founding Fathers were atheists.

    Whoops. There goes your claim, up in smoke again.

    Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans….

    Yes, there were Christian men among the Founders.

    Gee, that sounds all accurate and stuff. (You can read further to see the author’s reconciliation of that last statement with his/her title, for whatever it’s worth.)

    But Aristarchus is obviously right. Like so many other god-soaked folk, you’re trying to pull the fast one of reversing the standard of proof. It is you who have made the extraordinary declaration that “[i]t is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists.” It is you who have asserted that you have “heard it too many times to count.” It is thus incumbent upon you to provide evidence of this supposedly widespread idea.

    One should note a few things off the top, of course. First, citations to people stating that some of the Founders were Deists is insufficient, largely because that notion is obviously correct and not disputed by any serious observer. You can’t actually believe that none of the Founders were Deists.

    Second, your reference to agnosticism is one of those things that sets off huge alarm bells that you simply have no idea what you’re talking about. Those of us who deal with these issues with some frequency are aware that the very concept of agnosticism was not even invented until Thomas Henry Huxley made the word up in 1869. At that point, as I hope you’re aware, all of the Founding Fathers had been dead for at least thirty years. So when you take it as a serious question whether there were agnostic Founders, you make about as much sense as someone who tries to debate whether there were astronaut Founders. The upshot is that you look extremely clueless.

    The nub of your strawman assertion, then, is atheism—which certainly did exist as a concept in 1776 and 1787. Echoing Aristarchus‘ challenge, then, I request that you produce evidence that there exists a “widely believed notion that” there were atheist Founders.

    Widely believed notions being what they are, that implies rather a lot of evidence. I don’t think you can do it. (I’ve looked through the first twenty entries on that Google search string you suggested, and they yield you zilch.)

    Go.

  28. Yeah, I’ll get on that for you within the next few days. But you are not seriously going to suggest that because the term agnosticism was not coined until after the founding era that someone could hold beliefs which would be described by the term?

    Perhaps I can get materials from my American History classes frm college. I think you should be a little more charitable with my words. Do you really think what I mean by “mainly atheists, agnostics, and deists” means they were all atheists? You talk about strawman arguments! The phrase is a collective.

    Most secular foundationalists will assert a variety of claims, such as nearly all deists, or just quote from the 3 or 4 atheist founders and 1 or 2 deists, and leave the reader with the impression that those select few represent the entire group, so its an intentional misleading. If you are asking me to find a verbatim quote from a source saying “Mainly atheists…” then you are being difficult for the sake of saving your argument.

  29. Aristarchus

     /  December 24, 2010 at 9:28 am

    The reason I am asking you this, John, is that I believe you are strawmanning the other side of the debate. You are refuting an obviously idiotic argument that no one is making. When people argue that the US was not founded on religious principles and that the government was intended to be entirely secular, they are not claiming that the people founding it weren’t Christians. They are claiming that those people saw religion and government as fundamentally separate activities. (They also claim that several particularly notable people – Thomas Jefferson, for example – weren’t really Christian, but that’s far from “most”.)

    You claimed not only that the other side of the debate was arguing that they were “mainly atheists, agnostics, and deists” – you also claimed that you had heard this argument “too many times to count” and that you could quickly find instances of it with google. If that was true, you should have been able to find several instances in the time it took you to write the above comment. I’ll still be impressed if you find anyone at all making the argument, but the internet is big, and somewhere there might be some stupid blog post saying something of the sort. But really, the fact that you have to go back to your college textbooks (though I’m pretty sure you won’t find the argument there either) in your search to try to find what it is you’re arguing against makes it pretty clear to me that you aren’t actually listening to the arguments from the other side. You can’t refute arguments if you don’t first listen to them and understand them.

    Have a good Christmas. When you come back I look forward to seeing what you’ve found.

  30. John:

    But you are not seriously going to suggest that because the term agnosticism was not coined until after the founding era that someone could hold beliefs which would be described by the term?

    Described now, yes. But not then, obviously; and I defy you to find anyone in the Eighteenth Century openly declaring or defending beliefs that actually are agnostic. (This will, of course, require you to understand what agnosticism is.)

    I think you should be a little more charitable with my words.

    And I think you should work more than “a little” on your reading comprehension.

    Do you really think what I mean by “mainly atheists, agnostics, and deists” means they were all atheists?

    No, of course not—and that’s why no one on this thread has given the slightest hint that we think “what you mean[t]” was that “they were all atheists.” Here’s what I actually said:

    Echoing Aristarchus‘ challenge, then, I request that you produce evidence that there exists a “widely believed notion that” there were atheist Founders.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Now, if you had read that carefully, you might have noticed that it nowhere references anything about the Founders all being atheists. The phrase “there were atheist Founders” means something entirely different than that—and yet you somehow missed it. One starts to understand how you come up with such silly misunderstandings of your opponents.

    You talk about strawman arguments!

    We certainly do—because you keep creating them. As I’ve just shown.

    Most secular foundationalists will assert a variety of claims, such as nearly all deists, or just quote from the 3 or 4 atheist founders….

    My goodness: you are now asserting that there are “3 or 4 atheist [F]ounders”! Pray tell, who were those guys? Some of us (such as yours truly) have this notion that there were no atheist Founders. You really do have some bizarre ideas.

    (One notes that your sentence does nothing to separate yourself from the “3 or 4 atheist[s]” claim. Possibly this is another example of poor writing on your part—perhaps you meant “…just quote from the 3 or 4 founders that they allege were atheists….”—but, oddly, you didn’t.)

    If you are asking me to find a verbatim quote from a source saying “Mainly atheists…”

    Well, given the absurd claims that you have been waving around here—such as “[i]t is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists” and “I have heard it too many times to count”—I don’t see why that should be “difficult” at all. If you really have encountered it countless times, why is it so tough to point us to several of them? One obvious possible answer to that question that suggests itself is that your claims are, and always have been, muddle-headed nonsense.

    I’ll settle for, say, citations of eight different people declaring a belief that there were atheist Founders. (You yourself, up there, do not count.) And, since you seem to be holding on to this notion of agnostic Founders as well, I’ll take eight declarations of that, too.

    As I said: go.

  31. grizzlybaker

     /  January 2, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Just read all this in one go, and I have to ask the question:

    John, do you understand what is meant when we say that this country is “secular?”

    What we do know is that the Founders were writing this while heavily influenced by the Enlightenment. What this meant was that they saw the religious intrusion in government as inimical to individual liberty, an easy position to take if one were to so much as glance at Europe at the time, and established by hundreds of writings on the subject from that time period.

    You seem to have forgot in your essay a pretty significant quote where Jefferson elaborates on the meaning of the Establishment Clause, which a legitimate research paper would refer to as “lying” because you are ignoring the full scope of information we have on the subject in order to assert your opinion:

    //Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, *that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions,* I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. –President Thomas Jefferson//

    The asterisked part is pretty significant alone: government has no say in matters of belief. It’s a government’s job to use if monopoly on force to restrict actions alone.

    A “wall of separation between Church and State.” This is how the SCotUS has interpreted it. Which, as you may recall, is one of three branches of our government, and I guess which you disagree with. Surely generations of Constitutional scholars are wrong, and you alone are right?

    So unless you mean that “Christian nation” refers to “lots of Christians,” sure, it’s misleading (one might say “deceiving”) but that would be accurate. But as you are using it, and even refer to in your essay, it’s specifically misleading when contrasted to “Muslim nation.” Our Constitution is explicitly secular. No sharia law (or its equally-ugly Christian equivalent) here.

    (BTW: How do I use formatted quotes?)

  32. grizzlybaker: You can format quotations by surrounding the quoted text with < blockquote > in front and < / blockquote > at the end. (Remove the spaces to make it work. If I hadn’t done so, you’d be seeing just the words “in front and” in a box with two grey quotation marks next to it.)

  33. Aristarchus

     /  January 6, 2011 at 9:56 am

    *crickets chirping*

    Couldn’t even find one source John?

  34. Nah, I put it off til after Christmas and forgot. Il find you a site which suggests the founders were mainly athiests and deists, its not really that hard.

  35. Great!

    But your sudden narrowing of the issue to “a site” won’t wash; the ‘net is simply far too big for that to mean anything.

    As I explained weeks ago, I expect to see you quote-and-link to at least eight different people, not including you, declaring a belief that there were atheist Founders—and eight further people declaring that there were agnostic ones. (Nice try leaving the latter out.) If it really is, as you claim, “a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists”—so widely believed that you “have heard it too many times to count,” then that handful of cites should be very easy for you to find. By the same token, in light of those eye-opening claims of yours, digging up just one relevant cite would be an insult to your intelligence and ours.

    And again, it would be a waste of your time to find people asserting that several Founders were Deists. That happens to be fact; if it is “widely believed,” then we should all be pleased.

  36. Just to keep an eye on this—we’re now at three weeks since Aristarchus challenged John to

    post a link to one person actually arguing that that the founding fathers were “mainly atheists, agnostics, and Deists.”

    I then chimed in, requesting

    that you [John] produce evidence that there exists a “widely believed notion that” there were atheist Founders.

    A day later, which is to say twenty days ago, John accepted, promising to

    get on that for you within the next few days.

    But thirteen days after that (a full two weeks after the initial challenges from the two of us), Aristarchus heard some crickets chirping:

    Couldn’t even find one source John?

    But self-evidently that wasn’t the case, as John quickly attested:

    Nah, I put it off til after Christmas and forgot. Il find you a site which suggests the founders were mainly athiests and deists, its not really that hard.

    …But now we’re a week after that, and though I’m reasonably certain that Christmas has not come again within the past seven days, those crickets continue chirping. One really must wonder what’s taking John so long to find any of those ubiquitous ignorants claiming that there were atheist and agnostic Founders. How perplexing.

  37. freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html

    borndigital.com/founders.htm

    associatedcontent.com/article/340364/how_our_founding_fathers_were_actually.html

    Is 3 enough, or do you need more? Just we are all clear, you knew as well as I did there are plenty of people who claim the Founders were not Christians. I don’t generally “hop to” when someone like you assigns me a task. I have plenty to do and answering every request is not high on my priority especially when google is so easy to use.

  38. put an html at the end of the last one, it got cut off.

  39. Aristarchus

     /  January 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Yay, you found some. That third one doesn’t count – it argues that “many” were Deists, not most. That is in fact true, and you rightly never bothered refuting that claim in the first place.

    The other two do make the claim, though it’s entirely about Deists, not atheists or agnostics. The articles themselves don’t really argue for the founders broadly defined being Deists – just a handful of the most notable. But yes, their introductions contain overly broad claims. But really, stop a second and look at the websites you found. One was last updated in 2000. Both look like they were designed by a 5th grader in geocities. (Really, go to the home page of borndigital.com and tell me you think that that is even a remotely respectable site.)

    It’s true that some random idiots make the point you were refuting. It is not, however, the point that is being made by the leaders of the movement you are arguing against, nor by any of its mainstream members. The argument is not that the founders weren’t Christian, but that they weren’t all Christian, and that they agreed that religion was not a valid basis for government. Refuting random crackpots and pretending you’re arguing with the other side doesn’t convince people – it just makes you look like you don’t even understand the discussion.

  40. Oh, this is rich.

    Is 3 enough, or do you need more?

    Three would be a start. It just so happens, though, that (as we’ll see) none of the three web pages you’ve named provides the slightest support for what you claimed. You have provided zero actual references for your assertion, not three.

    Let’s recall the actual proposition you are supposedly defending:

    It is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists.

    – “Finders Keepers

    (Reading that essay again provides more opportunities for laughter. You follow the above sentence up with “So widely believed that the idea is taught in most major universities.” “Most major universities”?!? That’s screamingly funny. Your bizarre misconceptions are a sight to behold.)

    Anyway, confronted with the evident absurdity of the above-quoted claim, you doubled down by declaring, on this thread on December 23, that you “have heard [the above notion] too many times to count.”

    We didn’t buy it, so now you offer three little URLs as evidence. Here we go:

    freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html

    Are you serious? I cited that page—upthread, on December 23! (I.e., three weeks ago….) I already pointed out, as you can read for yourself upthread, that that essay makes the following shocking assertion about the Founding Fathers and atheists:

    None of the Founding Fathers were atheists.

    One might also note (though you conveniently didn’t) that that essay never even mentions agnosticism. As a result, it provides no support for your assertion that “[i]t is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists.” In fact, it directly denies the existence of atheist Founders and says nothing about agnostic ones. So you get nothing; it shows nothing that supports you.

    Next!

    borndigital.com/founders.htm

    An interesting article indeed—but how odd: author Steven Morris never mentions atheism or agnosticism. Never says a single word about them. Never contends that a single Founding Father was an atheist or agnostic. Instead, Morris asserts that “The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments.” Which is a vastly different claim than the one you have asserted is a “widely believed notion.” How you could possibly have garbled Morris’s actual thesis into “the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists” is beyond me; if that’s your source material, you simply failed to comprehend it at all.

    So you’re 0 for 2. Last try:

    associatedcontent.com/article/340364/how_our_founding_fathers_were_actually.html

    Ouch: strike three, grab some bench. Once again, not the slightest mention of agnosticism. (None of your three sites mention agnosticism. Ever.) The only mention of atheism is the (false) assertion that “it as [sic] arguable among some as to whether [Thomas] Paine was a Deist or an Atheist.” (Paine was very clear, indeed adamant, that he was a deist and not an atheist.) But that’s the strongest evidence you’ve got—an inaccurate assertion that Thomas Paine was arguably an atheist. (“Among some.”)

    That’s it! That’s your claimed basis for asserting that “It is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists. So widely believed that the idea is taught in most major universities.”

    You’ve simply failed. None of those essays support your assertions. None of them mention agnosticism at all. None of them assert that a Founder was an atheist; indeed, your very first cite specifically denies the existence of atheist Founders outright!

    The obvious conclusion is that you are mistaken. No one—or at least no one of any prominence, seeing as how you couldn’t find them, given three weeks!—actually asserts that the Founding Fathers of the United States were “mainly” atheists, agnostics, and any other group. You’re simply wrong, and it might behoove you to admit that.

    Just we are all clear, you knew as well as I did there are plenty of people who claim the Founders were not Christians.

    What does that have to do with anything? You made a specific assertion that linked atheism and agnosticism, not Christianity, to a supposedly “widespread notion” about the Founders. Having had your falsehood resoundingly refuted, you now try to pretend that this discussion was about something completely different? Nice try, but it won’t work. What you wrote is what you wrote, and pretending that it’s something else doesn’t make it so.

    Hey, look, you’re trying to do it again:

    I don’t generally “hop to” when someone like you assigns me a task.

    Who said you did? We were merely reminding you what you had declared you were going to do: you said you’d “get on that for [us] within the next few days”… and then you did nothing for two weeks. When that discrepancy was pointed out, you cited Christmas and forgetfulness (rather than “I don’t generally ‘hop to’”), said you’d “find [us] a site which suggests the founders were mainly athiests and deists”… and then did nothing for a week. (And still haven’t found a single site asserting that there were any atheist Founders.)

    I realize it isn’t enjoyable to have your own falsehoods and broken promises pushed back in your face, but then I’d suggest you try a little harder to avoid making them.

  41. I think you’re bending over too far backward, Aristarchus.

    The other two do make the claim, though it’s entirely about Deists, not atheists or agnostics.

    Right—and it seems to me (as I’m sure you picked up from my previous comment) that that fails to substantiate John’s assertion. Those authors aren’t really making “the claim”—John’s claim—at all.

    If John had asserted that “It is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Martians, Morlocks, and Deists,” substantiating just the deist part doesn’t substantiate the assertion as a whole. Don’t you think?

    I’ve never seen anyone contend that a Founding Father was an agnostic, and I’ve never seen anyone with any history credentials contend that a Founding Father was an atheist. If such people really are as rare on the ground as it seems to me they are, then I’d say John’s proposition is falsified, and the (indisputable) deism of several Founders doesn’t change that.

    (“It is a widely believed notion that the Founding Fathers of America were mainly Martians, Morlocks, Hooloovoos, Salaxalans, Mulefa, Klingons, Minbari, Sontarans, Mûmakil, Ewoks, Goa’uld, Flobberworms, Lunataks… and Deists.” At some point a statement of that form becomes simply false, doesn’t it?)

  42. Aristarchus

     /  January 14, 2011 at 9:57 am

    @Rieux

    I think the distinction is in technical vs. perceived meaning. Technically “it is widely believed that people fall in one of 3 groups” would be true even if everyone believed they only fell in two of those. It would be misleading, since the implication is obviously that the third group is necessary for the truth of the statement, but it’s not technically a lie. I guess my real point is here is that you’re right that he’s being misleading, but I don’t think it’s worth discussing that level of complexity. It’s less clear. I think some probably were agnostics by our modern definition, even though they didn’t identify that at the time, and clearly people argue that one or two of them were atheists, even though it’s unclear. I think the bigger point is that even the claim that the founding fathers were “mostly Deists” isn’t actually argued for seriously by anyone remotely intelligent (unless they’re counting “founding fathers” as meaning only a group of the 10 most notable people).

    The real point I’m trying to make is that every remotely serious scholar believes that the majority of people involved in the founding of the country were Christians. That’s what John is arguing for in his piece, and he’s arguing as if it’s refuting something when it isn’t.

  43. As someone raised christian, in a Catholic household and extended family, I’ve got to say that I have thought the whole “Christmas wars” thing was stupid since I first heard about it in the news years ago.

    Not once growing up was there a problem with using various sayings that recognize it’s a special time of year in general, rather than mentioning Christmas in particular. And, honestly, it is; I celebrate Christmas as a time to recognize the birth of Jesus (even if, as my priest pointed out this year, the placement of the celebration has an interesting history of its own), but our culture has made that whole surrounding time one for family and friends and hope (there’s nothing religious about having a “Cookies and Cocktails” party with my friends, but for some reason it would feel entirely different at a different time of year).

    Every time I hear about someone getting all puffed up over the issue, I really have to question their priorities.

  44. Mike, I appreciate your no-need-to-fight-over-Christmas approach, but apropos of your reference to the “interesting history” of “the placement of the celebration,” this:

    our culture has made that whole surrounding time one for family and friends and hope

    …isn’t really accurate. At least if by “our culture” you mean anything within the past several centuries.

    As it appears you and your priest recognize, the weeks surrounding the December solstice have been a time “for family and friends and hope” (and drinking, exchanging gifts, decorating conifers, etc.) for much more than two thousand years, in certain portions of the planet—including the ancestral homelands of several of us depressingly-pale folks. The actual relation between the millennia-old solstice celebration and the birth-of-Christ holiday is that the Church decided to appropriate the former for its own purposes, inserting the latter where it never had been before. So it’s the Christ angle, not the “family and friends and hope” content, that’s the recent addition.

    …Which doesn’t imply all that much, really, except that the pose of primacy that Christians invariably adopt regarding December holidays (e.g., the “reason for the season” crack) is unwarranted and infuriating. Your gesture in that direction (“our culture has made that whole surrounding time one for…”) was very mild by American Christian standards, but the implied hierarchy is still there.

    There’s certainly nothing wrong with Christians celebrating the Nativity on December 25th—or at least nothing that isn’t also wrong with religion more broadly, and freedom of religion is something most atheists value very highly. But your theology-related celebration is no more true, real, legitimate, ancient, traditional, foundational, “in the spirit of the holiday,” etc., than are the secular celebrations that many atheists engage in around the same time. I wish that were more consistently recognized.

  45. I see what you mean, and it’s a good point.

    Honestly, I was thinking far more recent history when I made that particular comment, basically saying that whatever the original intent the season is not currently (or historically, if you’d like) just about the day/reasons of Christmas itself.

    I guess I meant that the period isn’t exclusively about religious observation, the changing of the seasons, the role the weather plays in agriculture/social interaction, commercial exploitation, or any of those things even if they have all (at some time or another) played a part in shaping what it is.

    And, if we want to get really fun, even in the same society the “it” in the last part of that previous sentence is subtly different from group to group. Which is great.

    I was just focusing on the fact that so many people seem to get their noses out of joint re: the Nativity being supposedly downplayed and so spoke somewhat less precisely than I intended. No worries. :)

  46. Actually, I want to take a moment and specifically recognize (because I kind of skipped over it) that I did use the language in a way that implied a hierarchy (as you point out) and, while it was mostly because I was skimming a bit onto what I felt was my main point, it is something I’m glad you pointed out in such a polite way. It’s good to keep in mind.

  47. I think we’re in agreement, then, Mike. Thanks. (As I said, the passage from your comment I highlighted was very mild. I can certainly believe that it was the result of “skimming a bit.”)

    And it’s about time that someone noticed how freakin’ polite I am!

  48. Liam O'Neill

     /  December 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    The test is really how active the atheist activists become around Ramadan or Chanukah compared to Christmas. Or perhaps they ought to be called achristists as their beef is almost entirely aimed at the Christian God. Kinda makes you think there must be something to it doesn’t it.

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