Penn Jillette: Let's Take the Christ Out of Christmas
Atheist author and magician Penn Jillette asks why we can't use the word "holidays" instead of "Christmas" to be more inclusive.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
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Here's a little bit of context to catch you up on this year's "War on Christmas."
Christmas may be a federal holiday, but that does not impose religion on you, Bill O'Reilly told Atheists for America President David Silverman. That is because Christianity is not a religion, but a philosophy, O'Reilly said. Jon Stewart had some fun with this one: "You just handed that atheist another thing he can't f**king believe," Stewart said.
What is the difference between religion and philosophy?
"I like a lot of Jesus' philosophy -- love your neighbor, a little cheek-turning, stone not-casting," Stewart said. "But while I can get an A in his philosophy class, I don't get to go to the after party."
In the video below, atheist author and magician Penn Jillette says he wants everyone to be invited to the party -- the party being an American holiday "that really includes all Americans." Everyone can celebrate the winter solstice. Everyone can celebrate the holidays. So Jillette asks why we don't just call it that -- the "holidays" instead of "Christmas" -- and make it more inclusive?
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
Jillette insists he is "more in favor of freedom of religion than anyone I’ve ever met," and as a libertarian his aim is not to get in the way of someone else practicing their beliefs. "I think you’re fine putting up your trees," he says. "I think you’re fine talking about Santa Claus and you’re fine talking about Jesus Christ." However, as an atheist Jillette does, in fact, have his own beef with Christmas, and he's not exactly shy about sharing it. In fact, Jillette finds the holidays of all the world religions to be lacking in joy.
In his new book, Every Day is an Atheist Holiday! he writes:
The thing about religious holidays is that they aren't about how good and happy life is. Far from it. Religious holidays are about how bad life was, or how good the way distant future or even the afterlife is going to be. The "Joy to the World" is going to come at the end times.
In fact, Christmas carols, which "flood the ears of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, and atheists alike for about a quarter of the year," are a case in point. The lyrics are joyless, or as Jillette puts it, "full of North Korea shit." To cite a few examples, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is all "in this world of sin" up in your face, Jillette writes. "Silent Night" is full of "quaking shepherds reminded that heaven is far away and it's just the dawn of redeeming grace."
Where's the joy?
To offer an alternative, Jillette borrows an idea from Lewis Carroll -- the idea of the unbirthday. "If we celebrated those we'd have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays," Jillette writes, noting that atheists have "had the corner on un-holidays." To Jillette, life is holy, and every day deserves to be celebrated. "We're not going for the promise of life after death; we're celebrating life before death."
For an atheist, that means "a day that we're alive." For Jillette, that means celebrating the best things in life: "sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes."
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