Idol Chatter

In the article “The Grinch Delusion: An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas,” New York Times reporter Randy Kennedy looked into what some of our most famous public intellectual-atheists are doing (or not doing) this holiday season. The article explores what both Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”; “Letter to a Christian Nation”) and Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) have to say about question of how atheists celebrate this holiday–and both thinkers were rather funny (and celebratory) on the matter.

The skinny on Sam Harris:

The self-described “full-time infidel” (as he claimed with humor) does have a fully decorated Christmas tree in his living room–though not without some good atheistic resistance. Kennedy reports that it was really not his idea but a result “of a lost tug of war with [his] wife,” who likes Christmas trappings and insisted on buying it. But Harris said that his reluctance “was good-natured all the while.” Harris also added, “It seems to to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas–giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it–all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world…. in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”

As for Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins had similar feelings as Harris about the separation of Church and Christmas: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.” (Insert deadpan tone here.)

All around, everyone seems to like going to all the parties, according to Kennedy. A humbug would simply miss out. Whether or not Dawkins also has a tree is left unmentioned in the article. But the article does have this to say about Harris’ tree: “He wanted to assure his nonbelieving friends that it was a miniature: ‘This is a tree that even an atheist would be comfortable with.'”

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