Sarah Palin Has Got the ‘War on Christmas’ Thing All Wrong

This is a guest post by Luis Granados. Granados is the director of Humanist Press.

Last week was a banner one for “War on Christmas” books. First we had Sarah Palin’s Good Tidings and Great Joy, emphatically on the “put Christ back in politician-run Christmas” side. Then came John G. Rodwan Jr.’s Holidays and Other Disasters, a wistful plea for a world where Christmas and other holidays are not rammed down people’s throats. (Disclosure: Rodwan’s book was published by Humanist Press, for which I serve as director.)

Rodwan complains at length about God experts co-opting holidays, even those as non-religious as Labor Day. If he’d been able to read Palin’s book first, though, he surely would have had something insightful to say about has-been politicians trying to resurrect their own careers by forcing their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

Palin and Rodwan agree on one point, however. Neither has any use for what Palin bashes as the “secular winter holiday” version of Christmas, and what Rodwan considers as a fake veneer over an irredeemably religious event. The part of Christmas, in other words, than many people (maybe even most people?) actually like.

The difference, though, is that Rodwan doesn’t really care whether some of us enjoy a Bible-free “Jingle Bells” and eggnog gift exchange or not — but Palin does. “If I’m for Christmas,” she tells us, “it’s only because I’m for Christ… it is Christ who empowers every act of ‘goodwill toward men’ in our otherwise fallen hearts.” “Without faith,” she adds later, “I doubt we’d have the love in our hearts that compels one to give, to volunteer, to be kind and loving to our neighbors, and to aspire to live the Golden Rule.”

What an extraordinary insult — aimed straight at me! I give. I volunteer. I’m kind to neighbors. I follow the Golden Rule as well as anyone I know. Who the hell is Sarah Palin to say otherwise?

Palin quotes her Fox News boss, Roger Ailes: “What the h-ll is so offensive about putting up a plastic Jewish family on my lawn at Christmastime?” The answer, of course, is “Nothing at all. Just don’t put it up on my lawn — or our lawn, a.k.a. the public park, for which I pay the maintenance.” Palin blithely ignores the whole distinction between private religious expression, which is perfectly OK, and government religious expression, which some of us believe is not.

In Palin’s world, though, the brave handful who doggedly resist the efforts of politicians to promote their own god version using non-believers’ tax money are “Scrooges.” Here’s my ultimate contrarian view: Ebenezer Scrooge was a guy who worked hard, who resisted being harassed by politically correct God experts, who thought back over his life one night and then performed a spontaneous act of one-on-one compassion toward Tiny Tim, not filtered through a God expert bureaucracy that keeps 30 percent for “expenses” while aggrandizing its own political power.

Scrooge committed the sin of thinking for himself. So does Rodwan, when he objects to “the willingness to do, in some form or another, what others have always done because of foundationless teachings that that is what we’re all supposed to do.” He’s not against holidays — he’s against mindlessness. Take Thanksgiving. Instead of a day of being “thankful” — to whom? — Rodwan proposes reviving “Evacuation Day” (November 25), the day the last British troops pulled out of their former American colonies. The end of divine right monarchy, and the beginning of humans governing themselves. A little more sensible to celebrate than imaginary Puritans and imaginary Indians thanking an imaginary spirit, isn’t it?

One Scrooge is worth a hundred whiny politicians. So is one John Rodwan, marching to the beat of his own quirky drum.

Luis Granados is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and the director of Humanist Press. He has written the book Damned Good Company and is editor of A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-First Century.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • anniewhoo

    Great review! Why is it so incredibly difficult for some people of faith, such as Palin, to wrap their head around the idea that people can be, and most often are, good simply for goodness sake?

  • Rob P

    “Without faith,” she adds later, “I doubt we’d have the love in our hearts that compels one to give, to volunteer, to be kind and loving to our neighbors, and to aspire to live the Golden Rule.”
    Does Sarah Palin mean that she would be worse than she is now if she wasn’t a Christian?

  • Art_Vandelay

    “Without faith,” she adds later, “I doubt we’d have the love in our
    hearts that compels one to give, to volunteer, to be kind and loving to
    our neighbors, and to aspire to live the Golden Rule.”

    I don’t see this as insulting but rather just a simple person practicing some cognitive dissonance. It seems to me that without the idea that religious faith actually makes people behave better, the whole thing goes to shit. How can one that truly believes that religious faith is a moral virtue accept the idea that people without it live their lives with the same values and behave accordingly? It becomes completely unnecessary in this world and it’s only use becomes to escape death. Now that just makes you look like a terrible human being.

  • 3lemenope

    I suppose it doesn’t help that a foundational metaphysical belief in Christianity is that humans are essentially morally corrupt and broken; we come this way off the assembly line. Such a belief really makes cynicism about human nature a little *too* easy.

  • Neko

    Somebody please tell the abominable Palin that Christians (probably) appropriated the December 25 festival of the Roman pagan god Sol Invictus to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus.

  • Neko

    The idea has an ancient pedigree. St. Paul apparently believed that faith in Christ “changed” a person such that virtue would follow. Although the Corinthians did give him pause.

  • LizzyJessie

    In a word? Yes.

  • Houndentenor

    As if that were possible. #facepalm

  • Houndentenor

    Because what most theists believe in more than anything else is belief. They are terrified of life without. they have been made afraid by their religion since they were able to understand their native language. it was drummed into it and it’s probably the hardest thing for most theists to let go of when they deconvert.

  • Houndentenor

    Note the lies and strawmen arguments in this “war on Christmas” nonsense. No one is banning nativity scenes or Christmas decorations. It’s your lawn. Put up what you want. Many families enjoy driving through certain neighborhoods to look at the decorations. Many are religious. Others are secular. Some are even non-Christian (Jewish or something else). Assuming they are blindingly bright or too loud (both real problems because someone is always going to go overboard with just about anything). The problem is when the government is promoting one religion over another (or religion over no religion). That’s a problem.

    And once again I’ll tell this tale. A couple of years ago I was listening to my parents’ friends complain about how “they” were “banning nativity scenes”. No one was doing any such thing. There was an issue about the city putting up a religions display. meanwhile the church they attend had no display whatsoever. Shouldn’t the church be putting up the religious display instead of the city? That makes so much more sense. No. These folks want the city to use everyone else’s tax money to promote their religion. And if they were in a town that was majority Muslim or Jewish or something else they’d be screaming about how terrible that was louder than any atheist ever has complained about their Christian thuggery.

  • James Stevenson

    Because in the Christian sense empathy doesn’t exist, or is not important, so its a non-factor in motivating people to be selfless. The Palin quote says it all ‘without Christ in our hearts…’, Christian belief, reflected in Catholic teaching as well, basically we have to let ourselves be mindcontrolled by God to do anything decent. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of evil baby eaters incapable of doing anything just. Its kind of ingenious if you actually buy into it, as it essentially grants your world view total tribal legitimacy for the greater good.

  • Lando

    “Rodwan proposes reviving “Evacuation Day”

    Waaaay off topic, but I celebrate my own ‘evacuation day’ about 4 hours after thanksgiving dinner. Blessed be that holiday.

  • LesterBallard

    Merry Motherfucking Christmas, folks.

  • Lando

    Our family tradition started maybe 20 years ago, when I was around 10. Before we could have xmas supper (the evening one, for those heathens that use a different dinner/supper concept), we had to find, I don’t know, 30 nativity scenes around town.
    I can distinctly remember my christian parents lamenting the fact that businesses seemed to have less religious imagery every year, and god forbid a menorah on the bank.

    Even worse, every year, we had to outdo the previous count. So 30 turned to 40 turned to 60, supper wasn’t even started…the silver lining became the new tradition of Chinese food on xmas.

    I think the point I’m ineloquently making is, anything that differs from the small town, jesus-soaked memories of a religious person’s childhood are taken as some kind of insult or attack.

  • Mick

    I’ll bet all of those nativity scenes had the holy family in a stable – which is strange considering that the word “stable” is not mentioned in the New Testament stories of Jesus’ birth. It does say, however, that the wise men found Jesus in a “house”. (Matthew 2:11)

  • A3Kr0n

    I guess I can add Palin Absurdity to my list of weird things that happen around this time of year. Like bell ringers, mind-numbing-non-stop-christmas-music-on-the-radio, Houses lit up like friggin’ brothels. What’s your favorite weirdness at Christmas?

  • coffeecat

    Being thankful to whom? How about the cooks, the farmers, the hosts…

  • Itarion

    No, no. The whole point is that Mother Mary HADN’T fucked. The dubious nature of this claim aside, that’s what makes Christmas special. Virginity is the reason for the [Christmas] season.

  • John Milligan

    Again, the reason for the season is the axial tilt of the planet! :)

  • Itarion

    Fixed it!

  • UnderINK

    “Imaginary Indians”? What?


    Houses lit up like brothels? I can’t help but wonder if they* do things different in your part of the world…

    (* They = brothels, and outdoor christmas decorations..)

  • smrnda

    I think what pisses off many Christians are that their stereotypes of atheists, or believers in other religions being so bad are just not true. (Some even invent weird ideas – the devil is tempting Christians to make them look bad and leaving the heathens alone.)

    Most people are decent people because they don’t want to live in a shitty world where people are pissed and shat on. No need of any god to tell you that.

  • smrnda

    People in secular nations and nations which are not very Christian look after each other far better than the USA at times.

  • Rain

    it is Christ who empowers every act of ‘goodwill toward men’ in our otherwise fallen hearts.”

    Yeah I could just feel the good will when she was giving her hate-mongering divisive speeches during the campaign. Feel the love!

  • C Peterson

    Assuming she was real, and produced a son, it is certain beyond doubt that she fucked. The Christmas season is about a woman who lied so convincingly that she fooled her idiot of a husband, her community, and managed to avoid being stoned.

  • Pepe

    And a few billion people for the rest of humanity. It’s quite impressive, if you ask me.

  • A3Kr0n

    Maybe “houses lit up like the Vegas strip” would have been more descriptive.

    This guy lives in town:


    We suffer from that here to a lesser extent – “American style” outdoor decoration is a growing trend down here.

    The most bizarre thing to see is the fake snow spray in people’s windows, for a white Christmas effect, when the average December daytime temperature is between 20C and 30C (68F-86F).

  • Neko

    Not really. It’s a consequence of the author of the gospel of Matthew’s intent to demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 [that presaged] the arrival of the Messiah, born to a “young woman” (translated in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, as “parthenos,” which can, but does not necessarily mean, “virgin”):

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

    “Matthew” may have been drawing on pagan myths of virgin births, as well.

    The philosopher (and anti-Christian) Celsus’ charge that Jesus was the bastard of a Roman soldier was probably fabricated.

  • Stan
  • C Peterson

    Oh yeah, I agree the actual religion is likely based purely on myth. I just meant that if there really was a Mary, she sure as hell was no virgin.

  • Neko

    Right. I feel for the historical Mary (assuming she existed). She was probably an adolescent when she got married. She had at least seven children. Two of her sons, that we know of, were horrifically executed by imperial overlords.


  • Anat

    Actually Isaiah 7:14 was not about the birth of the messiah, it was using the age of a future child, already conceived, as a measure of time – the young woman (some think she was Isaiah’s wife) was pregnant and Isaiah was apparently pointing to her and saying – she’d have a boy, who would be named Immanuel, and by the time this boy would learn to reason about good and evil Assyria would conquer the kingdoms that were threatening Judah at that time – Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel.

  • Neko

    I didn’t make it clear that I was putting Matthew’s spin on Isaiah (and have edited a bit)–my bad!

  • Jeff

    I think what pisses off many Xtians is that their stereotype that humans are essentially morally corrupt and broken best fits those of faith more than those without it.

  • Jeff

    Extra up-vote for mentioning farmers….

  • Koth Kothi

    Rodwan seems equally worthwhile reading as Palin. Being thankful to “whom?” I don’t need a “god” to be thankful “to” any more than I need one to feel goodwill. Gratitude is an acknowledgement that one’s circumstance is fortunate, that by sheer circumstance one’s lot is better than it could be, and an appreciation for this circumstance. I give thanks to the synergy of all odd elements- innovation, history, climate, etc, that allow me to not have to worry about my next meal, for example. All rituals evolve over time, and while it is important to separate myth from fact, ritual is about symbolism: here harvest, bounty, survival despite the precarious nature of life.
    No, the Pilgrims did not sit down at a meal with those Natives that day, but the colony would not have survived without their assistance. And the fact they repaid this generosity with genocide is horrific, and we need to acknowledge that too. It is not a meaningless ritual to have a holiday in the fall to be grateful for the harvest, acknowledge traditions AND ALSO point out the true history of our nation’s past, the good, the bad and the ugly. Schools, at least the more progressive ones, use the opportunity to teach about many hard truths about colonial life -for the colonists and those colonized. Meaning derives from the ritual itself, and I don’t think most families are sitting around thinking of Pilgrims on Thanksgiving – if they feel fortunate, they are thinking of their family and the meaning they derive from sharing (hopefully) togetherness and all that which they do have. (or how they are going to make it through to pie without vomiting on their annoying uncle and other family drama, and this too is ritual with meaning.. how we put up with one another, at least briefly, to be a part of a community).

  • smrnda

    With all that tax exempt land on churches, what do they need tax subsidized land for to put up these thing?

  • smrnda

    I’m guessing goodwill towards women isn’t part of the Christ-empowered platform?

  • Jim T

    Fuck Sarah Palin in her stupid neck! That tired old rhetoric that she constantly spews out of her cock gobbler, makes me want to vomit.

  • Madison Blane

    Marines and roughnecks are the only two people that I’ve ever heard use these particular two expressions…my husband happens to have been both. Thank you for this laugh!

  • Madison Blane

    I have seizures, these houses would kill me!

  • Madison Blane

    And yet these same people who believe we are ‘born sinners’ will coo over their ‘perfect’ little babies. Talk about conflicting statements!

  • Bill Downey

    I like how Sarah Palin openly admits that her faith is the only thing stopping her from murder, bank robbery, kidnapping, kicking puppies and various other acts of criminal and despicable behavior. I suppose I should thank myself for not having that problem.

  • James

    I’ve always thought a better title for “A Christmas Carol” should’ve been “Scared Straight”

  • Alierias

    Well, and let’s not forget that Jesus’s brothers are mentioned repeatedly, yet Mary remained “Virgin Mary”, and my very Catholic in-laws gasped in horror when I brought that annoying little detail up last Xmas…

  • Christopher

    A self-fulfilling prophecy? Looks like the age of Prophets isn’t dead, after all, they just switched to predictions that are a lot less ‘wondrous’.