By Eric Jayne
The passing of Halloween brings another cause for celebration: The annual War on Christmas. In our own unique way, the Minnesota Atheists has participated in the War on Christmas for several years and I think we’ll have plenty to keep us busy for the 2014 war.
Our objective in the War on Christmas is not to destroy the holiday but to embrace the fun parts, which are rooted in non-biblical traditions (gifts, lights, and pine trees). We're also challenging a popluar assumption that a select religious belief(s) and tradition(s) should be given preferential treatment in public schools and courthouses. Our last objective is to dismantle the preconceived notion that religious belief is a fundamental component to charitable giving..
A recent letter to the editor in the Star Tribune suggested that the “secularization of our culture is removing a religious motivation for giving” (Readers Write, Oct. 19, 2014). The letter writer cited a John Stossel report from a 2006 ABC News - 20/20 episode that concluded “religious people are more likely to give to charity” including “explicitly nonreligious” charities. As a side note, I’m struggling to understand exactly what an explicitly nonreligious charity looks like other than one that’s committed to the cause of secularization—such as Minnesota Atheists. I’ve worked in the social service industry for several years and I’ve yet to come across an agency that would go out of its way to be seen as nonreligious.
To demonstrate his point, Stossel tracked the donations made to two different Salvation Army Red Kettle buckets: one near a Macy’s in San Francisco, CA and one near a Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls, SD. The red kettle bucket in the more secularist and liberal San Francisco rendered only half of what was collected in the less affluent (but more religious) Sioux Falls.
I don’t think Stossel’s test demonstrated what he intended. Instead, I think it indicates that secularists, which are more abundant in San Francisco, are selective about their charitable giving. As I’m sure is true with any categorical social group, secularists don’t want to donate to organizations whose values contradict their own. With bible-based proselyting and opposing views on LGBT equality, the Salvation Army contradicts liberal secularist values in significant ways.
For this reason I feel no guilt when passing by Salvation Army bell ringers without tossing my pocket change in their bucket. That doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly though. I try to keep in mind that the bell ringers have good intentions so I pull my stocking cap over my ears (those bells are irritating!) and quietly smile as I walk by.
Most freethinkers accept the Darwinian explanation that we are social primates who developed altruistic tendencies through natural selection. Cooperation proved to be helpful with sustaining survival so genetic traits for cooperation were passed down leaving us to generally feel compelled to be nice and helpful. Minnesota Atheists recognizes the importance of social outlets and community philanthropy so we are planning our War on Christmas accordingly.
First, we are joining the annual Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving morning at the Mall of America. The event is a fund raiser (and awareness builder) for hunger relief programs in the Twin Cities area. Our team name is Minnesota Atheists – Volunteers Beyond Belief and the money we raise goes to the Keystone food shelves which serves half of St. Paul and all of Roseville. There is a $25 Hunger Fighter entrance fee which goes toward the team’s fund raising goal. If you’d like to walk with us for free that is fine too. Just simply sign up as a Junior Hunger Fighter. We’ll be walking with thousands of other local Hunger Fighters with some media presence so it’s a great opportunity to help fight hunger and raise awareness not only for hunger relief but for godless charitable giving. The event ends at 10am so there will be plenty of time left for family, feasting, football, and shopping. Visit WalkToEndHunger.org and find our team under the Keystone Community Services logo on the homepage.
Next, we will continue our tradition of collecting toys, clothes, and games for holiday gift programs on Saturday, December 13. We will meet at the Green Mill restaurant on the corner of Hamline and Grand Ave. in St. Paul at noon. We’ll order lunch and drinks off the Green Mill menu then begin bagging the donated gifts into specially designed bags with tags that read “Happy Holidays from Minnesota Atheists.” Join us and RSVP on the "Atheist War on Christmas" Meetup event page.
Finally, our monthly meal preparations at the Family Place shelter will land on November 15 and December 20. Caroline Brunner, Bernadette Chlebeck, Phil Cunliffe, Alyssa Ehni, and Mahad Muhammad have done a tremendous and commendable job in maintaining this important and rewarding Minnesota Atheists event. Visit the Minnesota Atheists Meetup page to RSVP for this popular event. Spots are limited to 12.
I hope you’ll sign up for the War on Christmas and consider joining one of these fun, familial, and rewarding events. I can’t think of many things more genuinely jolly than celebrating the holidays withfreethinking friends while supporting secular charities that help individuals and families meet their basic needs.