Skip to main content

Have yourself a merry atheist Christmas!

By Penn Jillette, Special to CNN
December 13, 2012 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT