COLUMN: Season's message outweighs the religion behind it

Thursday, December 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 6:50 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do you say “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas” or something else? This is a recurring theme for the holidays.

My non-scientific social-site polls (LinkedIn and Universal Life Monastery) of about 45 people confirmed the answer I have generated over the last four years: Only 21 percent say “Merry Christmas.” In addition, 25 percent call themselves “questioning believers.” Almost 10 percent call themselves nonbelievers.

More interesting, especially this year, are the number of people who wrote saying that Christmas was the only holiday in December. Two of the e-mails coming from ordained ministers in the Universal Life Church Monastery. In my own research, I found more than a dozen December holidays for the three great Western religions alone, which should be enough to show that there's more to December than Christmas.

In my own circle, this discussion of Christmas greetings and holy days grew to include a report in the Asheville, North Carolina Citizen-Times concerning the newest City Council member and a conflict between the North Carolina Constitution and the U.S. Constitution concerning belief.

Cecil Bothwell is the author of “The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire.” He is also the newest city council member in Asheville, NC.

Mr. H.K. Edgerton, former Asheville NAACP president, and his following are talking about unseating Councilman Bothwell because of his religious beliefs, because he is an atheist.

The North Carolina Constitution’s Article VI, sect. 8, says that you are not qualified to hold public office if you “deny the being of Almighty God.” Bothwell denies the being of God.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” North Carolina’s is a religious test. The U.S. Constitution trumps the North Carolina Constitution.

The state’s governing document has a second possible problem. Article I, sect. 13, “The Declaration of Rights,” states that, “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” And if you are a nonbeliever?

Does this mean that all Buddhists, naturalists, deists, atheists, and heathens of every other stripe have no rights in North Carolina? Not really.

Unfortunately, there is still great distrust between believers and non-believers throughout the United States and the world. Even between believers of different churches, synagogues and mosques.

In 1983, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy reminded an audience at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) that “the framers (of the Constitution) gave freedom for all religion, and from any established religion, the very first place in the Bill of Rights.” That “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

This brings me to a new question. Why should atheists be afraid to declare their religions preference? Atheism is a religion, meeting the criterion set by religious philosopher and blogger Kile Jones. “Religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind.” All religions, even atheism, seek the answer to the same questions: What was before and what will be after?

My own beliefs have changed over the years, from wanting to be a rabbi when I was bar mitzvahed, to believing that mainstream religions are another form of mythology. Today I am a nonbeliever, an atheist.

This does not mean that I do not honor the beliefs, traditions, ceremonies and prayers of others. On the contrary, like many atheists and humanists, I embrace them.

Our northern pre-monotheistic European ancestors saw the sun disappearing every winter and prayed for its return. They celebrated the rebirth of the earth with evergreens, Yule logs and candles.

In Israel, southern Europe, northern Africa and Asia where great societies grew and prospered, traditions of honoring the earth’s rebirth flourished. Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and other eastern sects celebrate winter rebirthing holidays.

So back to the beginning, what is a proper greeting during this time of year?

In letters (yes, I still take quill to parchment) and e-mail, I end with “I hope this finds you well and in great spirits.”

However, no matter what we say, it is the message of the season that is most important.

Peace on earth. Good will to all. Shalom. Salam. I hope this finds you all well and in great spirits.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Read his blog at He welcomes your comments at

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C W December 21, 2009 | 5:36 a.m.

What is the requirement for membership in Universal Life Church Monastery? Lack of intellectual curiosity and avoidance of spiritual growth? What have these men been doing if they have not been studying religion? It's practically un-American to be so ignorant of other important December religious holidays given the availability of the Internet and library books -- not to mention contact with co-workers and neighbors who seek spiritual connection through different traditions. How sad that they are missing opportunities to build peaceful and fruitful bridges in their communities through sharing, communication, understanding, tolerance, and kindness between believers (including believers in the capacity of humans to do good without a deity's influence).

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Ruth Smith December 21, 2009 | 6:23 a.m.

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It takes courage to be honest when one is in the minority against what at times seems a very angry, vocal, and entrenched majority of Christians. I define myself as a believer. However, my father died an atheist. He did not smoke, drink, gamble, womanize. He never molested or beat his children, cared deeply for the underdog, worked hard all his life. I observe that religious leaders rarely use their traditions to benefit others, but instead use them to assuage personal feelings of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and guilt (usually brought from childhood), to handle real and imagined fears, and to bully others when they have the upper hand. This is the best reason to respect the U.S. Constitution on this matter -- Tolerance for other beliefs and protection of people's rights in society regardless of their beliefs. We can unite behind universally accept values -- honesty, work, kindness, physical and emotional protection of children, the elderly, the less fortunate, the gifts of land and water.

(Report Comment)
Larry Carter Center May 18, 2010 | 10:52 a.m.

MR Rossman covers much ground with an ear for diversity. Yet he errs on a factual definition of Atheism or properly regarding us Atheists. If Atheism is a religion then baldness is a hairstyle. All Atheism is freedom from religion. We have no faith. We have no creed. We Atheists demand proof of all alleged deities. Finding none and reading no rational definition of any alleged deity, we conclude so far there are no gods to be found. We reject the self serving clergy claims we should fear hell and believe. We reject the heaven bribe post mortem, we're not interested in irrational immortality fawning over an alleged deity who prevents no single childhood disease or priestly rape or deadly volcano. MR Rossman, show us Atheists some respect. We are proper nouns just as Jews, Catholics, Blacks and Hispanics are proper nouns. Our lifestyle is rooted in science, not superstitions. 843-926-1750 Larry

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