Skip to main content

Have yourself a merry atheist Christmas!

By Penn Jillette, Special to CNN
updated 9:31 AM EST, Thu December 13, 2012
Participants take off in the 4th annual Michendorf Santa Run on December 9 in Michendorf, Germany.
Participants take off in the 4th annual Michendorf Santa Run on December 9 in Michendorf, Germany.
HIDE CAPTION
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
Signs of the season
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fox News' Bill O'Reilly says left-wing loons are waging war on Christmas, ruining it for kids
  • Penn Jillette says the Monkees were his entry drug to real, hardcore rock 'n' roll
  • Jillette: Could The Monkees be a strategy? "Happy Holidays" as entry to "pure Christmas"?
  • Meanwhile, he says, can't we just call it "the honest disagreement about Christmas?"

Editor's note: Penn Jillette, a writer, television host and frequent guest on a wide range of shows, is half of the Emmy Award-winning magic act duo Penn & Teller. He's the author of "God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales" and "Every Day is an Atheist Holiday."

(CNN) -- I wrote a book called "Every Day is an Atheist Holiday." Recently I got up at the non-Vegas magical hour of 6 a.m. to do radio interviews all over the country to let people know about it. I did some interviews with atheist and skeptic podcasts, but the 6 a.m. talks were usually morning radio. And morning radio has a lot of theists.

My book had just come out that day so even jocks who wanted to read it hadn't had the time to do more than skim. Many of the DJs saw the words "holiday" and "atheist" and asked me how I felt about "The War on Christmas."

Fox News is usually credited with spreading the panic about this war on Christmas. Bill O'Reilly talks about atheists and left-wing loons ruining Christmas for children.

Fox\'s Bill O\'Reilly warns of a war on Christmas. Penn Jillette suggests we call it \
Fox's Bill O'Reilly warns of a war on Christmas. Penn Jillette suggests we call it "an honest disagreement on Christmas"

He also says that Christianity is a philosophy, which might have seemed like a sleek move on live TV, but ... I'm thinking he's noticed by now Jon Stewart is biting him in the butt.

O'Reilly finds evidence for the war in atheist groups opposing Nativity scenes on government property and their discomfort with public school students having to opt out when their classes go to a church to see a Charlie Brown Christmas play. Bill is also ticked off by businesses urging their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." He doesn't want the holidays turned secular. He wants his Christmas pure. Pure as the Christian philosophy. But he could learn strategy to win the war on Christmas from the Monkees and their '60s TV show. They're on a reunion tour (sadly without Davy Jones, but miraculously with Mike Nesmith.)

Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette

I flew across the country to Philly to see them on stage. I had promised my 12-year-old self that I would see them live and I wanted to keep that promise. I owe the Monkees a lot. The Monkees got me started on crazy-ass rock 'n' roll and probably got me started doing my crazy Vegas magic show.

The Monkees were on TV. They appealed to the broadest audience possible. The Monkees were sanitized. My mom and dad would watch the Monkees with me, and other than their stupid haircuts, Mom and Dad weren't bothered much by the Pre-fab Four.

Opinion: What's really behind 'war on Christmas'

Mom and Dad bought me Monkees records. I read Monkees interviews and through them, learned about a guy named Jimi Hendrix who was their opening act in cities I couldn't get to. I saw Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention on the Monkees TV show and in their movie, "Head," and soon I'd moved from the innocuous to full blown dangerous rock 'n' roll. Things that are for everyone sometimes suck us into things that aren't for everyone.

Stewart: Don't blame media for my height
Would you think this is a fire truck?
Dugong snacks on lettuce Christmas tree
Santa delivers Dad for Christmas
National Christmas Tree lights up D.C.

Think about it, Bill. Many people wanted to keep rock 'n' roll pure. Hardcore fans scoffed at the Monkees. They wanted to ensure electric guitars were only for rebels, but the Monkees got the feeling and beat out there to the children.

And some of us, after feeling the beat and digging the feeling, kept going all the way, far out. The Monkees were an entry to rock 'n' roll as rebellious as it could get.

"Happy Holidays" could do the same thing.

If Christian philosophers get together and include all Americans in their holiday, if they don't exclude any children, if they can start with everyone loving the season, maybe the reason for it will sneak in -- like Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" riding the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville."

Maybe the sanitized tiding of comfort and joy will lead people all the way to Christianity. There are many ways to proselytize. You could let the crucified Jesus ride in on Santa's sleigh. Maybe Christians can slalom down that slippery slope.

That might be too manipulative and cynical for Bill O'Reilly. He might not want his Christianity philosophy to ride in on anything. Bill might prefer that one becomes a Christian first and then celebrates the season after earning it.

I can see that point of view. That's a noble point of view: that Christianity and atheism should compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas. Maybe I should have started with Hendrix and Zappa or not gotten into rock 'n' roll at all. That is the high road and I can respect that. But, wanting all children to enjoy the holiday season, with no child left out of the fun, doesn't seem like a position that's deserving of the term "war."

How about we spend some time this holiday season wishing that more of our wars will be waged like the atheist war on Christmas? The wars in the Middle East, waged mostly by members of the Abrahamic religions, kill a lot of people. The war on Christmas has killed no one.

The war on drugs kills many innocent bystanders and wastes a lot of money putting citizens in expensive prisons. American atheists are accused of a war that injures no one and saves all of us money and seems to promote real American values.

Let's either fight all wars like that or use a different term. Couldn't we at least call it "The honest disagreement about the Christmas philosophy?"

We're too busy singing, to put anybody down.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Penn Jillette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT