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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT