Those who believe there is a "war on Christmas" have new ammunition in their arsenal. After all, could a book called The Atheist's Guide to Christmas be anything but an attempt to secularize a religious observance? And to top it off, this is a trans-Atlantic attack. Approximately three-quarters of the 42 contributors are British.
Of course, perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. To say Americans disdain atheists is an understatement. Studies have shown that atheists are "less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups." Add to that the increasing secularization of the U.K. and Europe and there may be good reason the book arrives from foreign shores.
Editors Robin Harvie and Stephanie Meyers break the essays into six broad categories dealing with Christmas and its celebration around the world. (As Harvie and Meyers point out, it only makes sense to have 42 contributors because 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.) The writers range from astronomer Phil Plait to science writer Simon Singh and Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon to iconoclasts like Paul Krassner and satirists like Neal Pollack. And, of course, what compilation of writings by atheists would be complete without Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who has become one of the leaders of the so called new atheist movement? Some of the contributors were involved in, and many refer to, the Atheist Bus Campaign, which bought ads on London and other buses that said, "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." In fact, those buses are the starting point for Dawkins' tongue-in-cheek "The Great Bus Mystery."
The range of the essays is also quite broad, from the philosophical to the arts to personal experiences. Many take a humorous approach, such as Jennifer McCreight's suggestions in "Gifts for the Godless" or Nick Doody's overview of the science of "Christmastology." Moreover, while most of the pieces leave no doubt the authors don't believe in God or the Christmas of the Bible, these aren't essays aimed at converting (so to speak) believers or claiming theists are idiots. For example, while Adam Rutherford explains why he thinks most scientists are atheists, he observes that there are many good scientists who are religious, and while he doesn't understand their viewpoint, he doesn't condemn them. Other contributors recognize some value in Christmas celebrations.
British singer/comedian Mitch Benn explains that rather than rejecting Christmas, it's fine for an atheist to celebrate it, even if that may seem a contradiction. "What it all comes down to is a question: what is Christmas?," he writes. "And the answer — for all of us, believer or otherwise — is that Christmas is whatever you want it to be." Likewise, he doesn't believe the word Christmas is exclusive territory. "It's fine. Go ahead. Say it," he says. "Christmas. There. That wasn't so bad, was it? Christmas. It's easy. Christmas."