The holidays are a traditional time to spread a message of good cheer by reuniting with family and friends. To many atheist and agnostic humanists, this time of year transcends religion and deities, which is why it is enjoyed not just by the most faithful, but by all who appreciate goodwill and community.
It's in this context of kindness that we endeavor to put aside disagreements we may have had with family and friends in order to celebrate our limited time together. Of course, slights don't go away forever, but at the end of the day our differences are less important than our common human bond. Fortunately most of us do our best during the holidays to emphasize that shared experience.
But unfortunately, these empathetic feelings are not always front and center during the rest of the calendar year. In towns all across America, individuals are called out by their very neighbors for their lack of belief, and are excluded from their community because of their nontheism. Stories of discrimination against atheists are increasingly commonplace in the media, as atheists are frequently and wrongly charged with being amoral troublemakers who seek to destroy the foundations of America.
This type of prejudice runs counter to the generosity that is supposed to be the hallmark of the holidays. That's why the American Humanist Association recently announced the launch of a holiday advertisement campaign aimed to raise awareness of discrimination against nonbelievers in America. The campaign consists of billboards and full-page newspaper ads that contain the message, "Bias Against Atheists is Naughty, Not Nice," and features Santa Claus making up his "naughty" list. The ads are placed in cities across the United States where atheists have experienced discrimination due to their lack of belief in a traditional god.
Some will probably be offended by this ad campaign and misread it as an attack on religion instead of a friendly defense of mutual respect. The point of this campaign isn't to offend, but to remind those guilty of discrimination that hatred and prejudice are never justified, even when someone disagrees with beliefs sincerely held.
Rather than part of a mythical "war on Christmas" annually touted by the conservative Christians, this campaign intends to extend the compassion and unity that characterizes the holiday season to the rest of the year. Imagine if we were all able to treat our neighbors with the same kind of patience and love that we show once a year. It shouldn't matter who you are and what you believe; what is important is that our shared humanity allows for us to relate to each other even if we come from different backgrounds.
When intolerance rules the day we are divided by our differences instead of uniting in the strength of our diversity. Atheists and agnostics, evangelicals and religious progressives should take advantage of this annual opportunity to be welcoming to all, whether or not they agree or disagree with us on every issue. So enjoy this holiday season and be merry. But when the guests leave and we begin the new year, be sure to keep up the holiday spirit by placing humanity over sect or creed. Goodwill is just as important year-round as it is between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
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