Why Atheists Should Leave Christmas Cribs Alone


I'm what people call a "militant atheist" and I often engage in and discuss debates about religion and it's place in modern society. But I was really upset to see in France some atheists had lobbied against a traditional nativity crib outside their town hall.

I don't agree with the state and religion mixing but this all felt very petty and like they were 'trying to prove a point', but in doing so looking callous. I would argue that the nativity crib is (to many atheists as much as religious people) an important cultural symbol that is representative of the Christmas holiday period. It isn't helping the atheist cause to seek to censor this kind of thing, that is in no way offensive or harmful. Maybe if the crib was emblazoned with homophobic mottoes:  yes by all means rally to get rid of it, but I fail to see the harm in this particular case. I don't think any rational adult would feel oppressed by it, even if they were of other religions, so why should atheists? France is a very diverse country in terms of religious beliefs, but a survey showed that around 86% of people were in favour of keeping the traditional Christmas cribs in public spaces. 

My parents NEVER forced any beliefs on me, but I would still be so excited to go and visit the crib at Christmas time. I didn't really understand what it symbolised biblically, I just thought it was amazing and beautiful and guys, they even had real sheep in ours. It never harmed me because it wasn't a violent or blatant or oppressive display of religion, it was just an 'event' like any other, that had some sort of religious connotations but that is widely accepted and appreciated by all people, even atheists. Just as, for example, putting up a Christmas tree, giving others Christmas presents etc. You can still secularise these traditions that originated from Pagan origins and make the holidays an enjoyable, significant but non-religious occasion.

As an atheist I am aware of how much Christianity has contributed to the lives we lead today in Europe - it's residuals arts, culture and philosophy will always be part of the history and undercurrent of the western world even as the social landscape changes rapidly. The nativity crib is a a symbol of Christmas that can be taken as literally, metaphorically or even just culturally as the individuals want, and it's up to the parents of young children to decide how they explain that crib to their children.

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