At the end of my book Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I offer Christians some practical tips for building bridges of hospitality with those from the atheist community. Among the suggestions, I propose a rather obvious one: get to know some atheists and take the time to learn their views.
In the spirit of that suggestion, and with the holiday season soon to be upon us, I thought this would be a great time to sit down for a conversation with an atheist who really loves Christmas. Rick Marazzani is the author of The Atheist Christmas Coloring Book which he describes as “a fun and creative way to share the joy with skeptics of all ages.” You can download the book for free at http://atheistchristmas.org/ or you can purchase a copy at Amazon.
RR: Rick, thanks for joining us for this discussion. Let’s start with a rather obvious question: what prompted you to invest a significant amount of time and effort in producing an atheist Christmas coloring book?
RM: Thanks Randal, I appreciate the invitation to chat. My family are freethinkers, and we are raising our kids as cradle atheists. No ghosts, or demons, gods, or angels except in fairy tales. But we love the spirit of Christmas. The sharing and joy and celebration are real and warm regardless of belief. Christmas seems bigger than one birth two millennia ago. It is celebrated around the world, in almost every culture, regardless of religion. It really unites people, where most religiosity divides. I wanted to explore this seeming contradiction: atheism and Christmas.
It was important for me to put it in rational and approachable terms. For myself, for my kids, and for others. A coloring book was the perfect medium.
Also the notion of a coloring book about atheism, and the mash up of atheists Christmas, jars people’s expectations. It is a power hook to get engage folks in the deep topic using a whimsical device. But at the end of the day it is cute and fun.
RR: Before we dive further into Christmas, I’d like to ask you about your commitment to raising your kids as “cradle atheists.” Personally, I respect that decision: as a general principle, it seems to me that parents have an obligation to raise their children to hold beliefs that they consider true and important. And that is as true of atheist parents as Christian ones.
That said, I often hear atheists express the position that it is wrong for Christians and other people of religious conviction to raise their children to hold their beliefs. Richard Dawkins, in particular, has been insistent on this point, even going to the point of suggesting that it constitutes a sort of abuse.
So what are your views? Do you agree with me that Christian parents have an obligation to inculcate beliefs that they hold to be true and important in their children? Or do you agree with Dawkins?
RM: To be clear, we are not imposing our beliefs on our kids. We do not believe. They were born atheists, as every baby is. We taught them to see the world as it is, using reason and logic to guide them. Their world is not haunted. If one of my kids wanted to believe in Bigfoot or Zeus or Ken Ham’s God, they would do so logically. Which is why they have not, and likely will not.
Teaching a child to deny reality is a dangerous foundation to build their lives. Religious parents should share their culture and traditions with their children. This is a reason we celebrate Christmas as a family in our home, it is a cultural festival. But imposing fear of the fantastic and mythological into a child’s reality could be at least manipulative and at most psychological torture.
Our family is good, and does good, based on objective moral principles. Do unto others, Non-aggression, and all that. The Golden Rule was not invented by Jesus.
RR: Okay, well I certainly don’t teach my child to deny reality. Rather, as I said, I teach my child reality as I understand it, as I assume, do you. I also teach my child to be aware of the fallibility borne of one’s perspective and individual biases, for these are cognitive limitations that beset us all. I can also assure you that there is no manipulative psychological torture in our household.
Now as regards Christmas, one thing I suspect many folks will be wondering is precisely what it means for you to celebrate this holiday. Obviously, for Christians Christmas is the celebration of the incarnate Son of God born to redeem creation. What would you view as the center of Christmas celebration?
RM: I am glad your kids are not afraid of hellfire for not doing chores! Many people grow up living in fear of supernatural punishment for not eating their peas, or for masturbating, or being gay.
Regarding Christmas: Family is the center of the holiday for us. Christmas is not a dreary holiday, even though it occurs on the darkest night of the year. It is a celebration of life and hope with people you love. There has always been a Winter festival of some sort in Western Culture, dating back to prehistory. The thing most winter holidays have in common, from the ancient Winter Solstice holidays to most versions of the Christmas celebration, are celebrating peace, love, and joy. This is usually around family and friends and the return of the light after Solstice. I wish people Merry Christmas to share the same sentiments as a Christian: peace, love, joy.
RR: Well, that’s definitely the message that comes through the Atheist Christmas Coloring Book. It’s very well done: the rhymes are clever, and the illustrations are professional quality. And for parents who want to inculcate a naturalistic worldview in their children which is disparaging of religious perspectives (e.g. “A season for Love, Joy and Goodwill, Celebrate them without religion to shill.”), this is the book.
I was surprised, however, to find Bigfoot included. I was hoping, instead, for the Abominable Snow Monster of the North that was immortalized in the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. But then, I suspect that might constitute copyright infringement!
Speaking of which, growing up, that Christmas classic was one of my seasonal favorites. And that brings me to my final question. To get us in the seasonal spirit, could you could share your favorite Christmas memory?
RM: Thinking back through my process, I am sure I’d have weighed Yeti and Sasquatch as options. Indeed Sasquatch is funnier, but Bigfoot is more universal. The illustrator, Claire Viskova, is from Europe so she likely had the Abominable Snowman in mind. She definitely nailed the page for Krampus.
We had lots of family that lived around us in the Bay Area. Half of the family were of the Christmas Eve celebrating moiety, and our half did Christmas Day. I was told it was a regional Italian thing when you celebrated. So we’d go to the Christmas Eve cousins on the 24th and have dinner and then they would open ALL their presents. Since we were Day-ers, me and my brother would only get to open one present, which would always be matching pajamas.
We’d go home and sleep (in matching pajamas) anticipating the morning. Then our house would have a big breakfast and open presents. The Eve cousins would wake up to stockings filled with oranges and toothbrushes, while we were starting our day of celebration.
RR: Nice! In fine German fashion, our family always opened gifts Christmas Eve and then my brother and I would stay up until 2 or 3 am playing with our new stuff like Atari video games and Hot wheels racing tracks. As a bonus, in the morning we’d get stockings stuffed with goodies like Lifesavers books and Uno playing cards. Good memories.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your project, Rick. Merry Christmas to you!
RM: Merry Christmas, Randal! May the Holiday Spirit warm the season for all: atheists, Christians, other religions. Peace, love, and joy.