Perhaps the moral to this story is, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
After years of waging the so-called "Christmas wars" -- on the side opposing religious displays in public spaces -- it seems non-believers are getting into the spirit of the season.
The American Humanist Association unveiled its holiday ads
on Monday, and they feature a bunch of smiling revelers wearing Santa caps in a pitch that looks like just about every other holiday come-on, complete with red-and-green color scheme. But the giveaway is the jolly message broadcast in capital letters:
"NO GOD?. . . NO PROBLEM!"
The slogan is followed by a more traditional Christmas sentiment, "Be good for goodness' sake," but with this kicker: "Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God."
That statement seems true enough, though there is certainly no end to the argument
between believers and non-believers as to whether you can be good without God, or whether God is in fact the reason for everything that is bad or good.
But apart from issues of trademark infringement -- matters best left to Santa's lawyers -- the latest ad campaign from the AHA raises the question of whether you can be good without Christmas, or something like it.
The AHA is billing the ad campaign as "a new kind of holiday tradition" and says the ads will run on trains and buses in Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The "Godless Holiday" pitch kicks off in Washington over the Thanksgiving weekend with banners inside 200 buses and on the outside of 20 more, and in 50 metro cars. It will then ramp up in early December, along with the rest of the holiday rush.
The ad campaign is aimed not at soliciting donations -- it does not point you to any charity, though if you like it you can join the AHA -- but rather to letting non-believers know they are not alone at the holidays. "We . . . want nontheists to know there is a community of like-minded individuals out there they can connect with," says AHA head Roy Speckhardt.
But the campaign is also in keeping with the trend of atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists and the range of unaffiliated Americans known to sociologists as the "Nones"
(a growing category of perhaps 15 percent of respondents who choose "no religion" when asked by pollsters) to hop a ride on the polar express that is the Christmas holiday.
In recent years, for example, non-believers have been demanding equal time in holiday displays
(to declare there is no reason for the season) or celebrating the solstice
(stealing a march on the pagans) or, with increasing frequency, celebrating what is known as Human Light Day
, a festival begun in 2001 that usually coincides with the solstice (Dec. 23 this year) and features special seasonal music, readings, a candle-lighting ceremony, a big family meal -- well, you get the idea.
Maybe Christians should be flattered. Or maybe they'll want to pick a fight. Or maybe it's already a lost cause.
After all, the United States Supreme Court, through a series of fragmented rulings on holiday displays on public property, has pretty much settled on one thing -- that Santa Claus (and his eight tiny reindeer, nine if you include Rudolph) counts as secular
, and that the Christmastime themes that the AHA (and every retailer since Macy's) exploit have moved so far beyond the manger scene of Christ's birth that they don't have an explicitly religious content.
Still angry? Try getting into the holiday spirit, like Speckhardt. In unveiling the "good without God" holiday ads, the AHA president avoids the usual atheistic broadsides against religious belief and offers a sentiment of goodwill toward the season:
"We understand our message may seem controversial to some, but it certainly isn't our purpose to offend anyone," Speckhardt says. "Of course, it's obvious that many people are also good with a belief in God, so I hope we can all find common ground."
So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Believe it or not.