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 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT