Atheists Promote Their Holidays

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

(April 29, 2008) A New York-based institute promoting humanist studies is encouraging the idea of including secular holidays such as Darwin’s Day and Sunshine Week on the nation’s calendar.

They’re hoping to “fill the void” for people who only participate in religious holidays because they are unaware of the alternatives.

“Some religious holidays are about culture and tradition, not theology,” said Matt Cherry, executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies to the Washington Times. “Even people who go to church only on Christmas or to synagogue on the High Holidays do so out of cultural heritage, not because they believe the religious doctrines associated with it.”

The group is offering the public a handy reference guide of holidays honoring “free-thinkers” and nature. Some of these holidays include Darwin Day, Feb. 12; Thomas Paine Day, Jan. 29; and Ingersoll Day, Aug. 11, which celebrates the birthday of the 19th-century “free thinker” Robert Green Ingersoll, also known as “the Great Agnostic.”

Other holidays mirroring pagan celebrations of nature include Sunshine Week, March 16-22; the Winter Solstice, occurring around Dec. 21 (in the northern hemisphere); Human Light, Dec. 23.

Cherry claims that Darwin Day is growing in popularity. “This year, there will be almost 1,000 events for Darwin Day around the world,” he said. “I hope Hallmark would come out with a card. There are lots of photos to celebrate evolution growing in popularity.”

The group claims that 30 million Americans have no religious affiliation, implying that they may be atheist, but a recent Pew Survey found that of those Americans who call themselves unaffiliated, only 1.6 percent say there are atheists. Christians of various denominations make up the largest segment of the American population at 78 percent.

“Let’s face it, half the people who say they’re religious only show up for the holidays,” Cherry said. “By providing information about alternative celebrations we hope to encourage more people to openly identify as secular.”

William J. Murray, chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, a Washington nonprofit, told the Times that the United States already has enough “made-up” holidays.

“We’ve got Valentine’s Day, although that actually is a saint’s holiday,” he said. “We’ve got Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. If someone wants to make up a holiday, they can be my guest — as long as they are not going to impose that holiday on the vast majority of us who celebrate religious holidays.”

Murray is the son of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was once the nation’s best-known atheist. Murray became estranged from his mother when he embraced Christianity.

“There is no smaller minority in this country than atheists,” he said. “The proposition of [atheist holidays] is in itself ridiculous.”

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