Marta is one of my Christian friends who comments a lot around here and always seems to sympathize with my secular values quite a bit. She raises a good question that I’d love to see you readers address:
I wonder about your thoughts on atheism/secularism and holiday cards? Recently I tried to find some cards that were suitable for atheist friends and were not just coopting Christian symbols and heritage in a way that was inappropriate. As an atheist, do you believe it is appropriate to send holiday cards to atheists (both to fellow atheists and those who claim a religious connection to the holidays of the season)? And if so, what would an appropriate atheist holiday card look like? It might make an interesting post, if you were so inclined.
As I said in reply to her, I really dislike getting stuff with religious messages personally. The messages don’t resonate with me, they put me off, they remind me of beliefs and traditions I really don’t like, they remind me of a conflict and barrier I have with my friend or family member, and they strike me as pushy. Even if the friend or family member doesn’t mean it as a way of insisting I accept their interpretation of the holiday’s value and meaning, it always feels like that’s what they’re doing sending out religious cards indiscriminately. I honestly feel like they’re telling me “This is about Jesus, you know, and screw you for not accepting that.” Especially as an ex-Christian, getting things from Christian friends from my Christian days with religious messages always strike me as a way of denying the legitimacy of my apostasy. They feel like messages which say, “you may claim not to believe, but we’re going to remind you we still believe and we’re just waiting for you to come back and will not honor your disbelief in the meantime.” I really do take such messages as thoughtless and passive aggressive. I know I’m probably an exception among atheists at large, but I doubt I’m that much of an exception among other self-conscious atheists and apostates. I also will note that religious people who met me as an atheist seem to be far better at avoiding ever inappropriately trying to rope me into accepting their religious categories like that. But, then again, most of the religious people who have met and befriended me since I became an atheist are academics, so they’re atypical to begin with.
I think there are plenty of universal, irreligious secular images. The Christmas tree is fine, the presents are fine, the snow is fine, the candles, wreathes, all cartoony stuff about snow people and Santa Claus, etc. are fine. There is so much seasonal iconography that makes no reference to mangers or blessings, which I would be delighted to see coupled with an inclusive message.