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Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Religious Christmas Presents

By January 1, 2014

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Because Christmas is a religious holiday for so many people, it's hardly surprising that there are a lot of religious Christmas presents given on Christmas day. When it's a religious person receiving the present, everyone is happy -- but what about atheists who receive religious presents? If you're an atheist, how have you reacted to religious presents in the past? If you haven't received any, how do you think would be the best way to react?

A forum member writes:

How should I react if someone gives me a religious christmas present? I not expecting one, but I want to be prepared if it happens. Most of my family doesn't know that I'm an atheist (it's never comes up). Should I say "No, thanks, I'm not a Christian" in front of everyone (or perhaps in private), or just accept the gift? Is there another way to handle it? Most of my family aren't very religious, but a couple are.

This definitely isn't an easy situation. If you say something, even privately, you risk causing bad feelings (at a time when everyone is supposed to be getting closer to one another) and creating a confrontation that will be remembered for years. On the other hand, if you say nothing, you run the risk of getting such presents over and over, giving people the wrong impression about who you are. So what do you do? The ideal solution is probably to address such issues long before they become problems, but that also requires coming out of the closet about your atheism, or at the very least about religious skepticism, and that's a problem in itself.

Add your thoughts to the comments here or join the ongoing discussion in the forum.

December 3, 2008 at 12:50 pm
(1) mobathoome says:

Austin says: When it’s a religious person receiving the present, everyone is happy…

Don’t bet on it if the religious receiver gets a religious present from a known atheist. My mother told me that my father was allegedly offended when I gave my mother a reproduction of a classical (WASP) Jesus which I thought she would like. My father and I never did discuss this, and the possibility remains that my mother was offended and used my father as a way of expressing it.

Austin says: So what do you do?

What does a vegan do when given a steak dinner? What does a communist do when given stock in a corporation? What does a PC do when given a Mac?

When receiving a gift, it’s the thought that counts.

December 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm
(2) Geis says:

“It’s the thought that counts”, but what if the thought is wrong? If someone knows that you are an atheist yet gives you a bible for Christmas, what thought is counting there?

My father-in-law has a history of giving me crappy or useless gifts but, for the most part, it was easy enough to say “thanks” and then pass them off to someone else or the 2nd hand store. Having him donate to a religious charity in my name wasn’t too bad (it bought a goat) until the junk mail started to arrive from my being put on a list. Receiving a bible, however, was not a gift that was accepted. It went back with a simple explanation that I already had a bible and, being an atheist, wasn’t interested in having another one.

After that, he only sent cash.

December 4, 2008 at 4:09 pm
(3) Terry says:

It is the thought that counts, as long as the thought is honest and not an attempt to prostyletize.

However, I would not, could not ethically, remain silent and allow a misunderstanding of who I am. The gift should be returned, but without making light of the sentiment. A reply something like “I really appreciate the thought, but I’m an atheists. Maybe you should give this to somebody who could appreciate it more and just treat me to Starbucks or something.

December 4, 2008 at 7:16 pm
(4) Jeremy says:

For the most part I don’t mind religiously oriented gifts. I simply view them the same as any other gift that I have no use for, although some have ended up being interesting though probably not in the way intended. If it is from someone as a means to prostyletize then I simply say “thank you.” with a smile and make a mental note of who will receive a copy of “The God Delusion” or “God Is Not Great” from me next year.

December 10, 2008 at 8:31 am
(5) Adrienne says:

I received a Mothersí Bible years ago, not as a xmas gift, but as a thank you from a PTA president for working on a lengthy and involved project. This woman and I were just acquaintances, not friends. I could not accept the present, so I wrote her a nice note thanking her for the kind thoughts (even though it was presumptuous on her part) and telling her about my atheism and the reasons why I felt I had to return the gift.

Of course I had no way of knowing her reaction, but she really surprised me when she wanted to sit and talk about it over coffee. What didn’t surprise me was when she told me that I was the first atheist she had ever gotten to know. That little fact saddened me, but I was happy to be her first. :-) I hope I left her with a positive impression of atheism and of those who hold that position.

December 12, 2008 at 9:18 pm
(6) Istele says:

I occasionally receive religious gifts from my grandmother, one of the few people who I’ve really discussed my atheism with, though not for Christmas.

I think she just finds these things interesting, though, and wants to share that. I think it really depends on the intent of the person giving the gift for things like that, whether you should say anything or not.

December 24, 2008 at 3:12 am
(7) sornord says:

My wife received a picture of Herr Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) as a gift from her mother. Even she was scratching her head at that, while I simply muttered “Huh?” and shook mine…talk about idol worship!

December 30, 2009 at 9:44 am
(8) tracieh says:

This isn’t really about religious gifts, per se, but the idea of how religious people might be offended by religious icons.

When I was little, someone gave me a glow-in-the-dark rosary. To me, it was just a little beaded necklace with a cross on it. I knew some people prayed with them–in Catholic churches, but I just thought it was a cool trinket.

My mother, on the other hand, was a Fundamentalist ex-Catholic, who had a sh*t-fit over this thing when she saw me playing with it. Idol, false work of satan, and all that, I suppose. I recall I kept it for some time. To her credit she didn’t “make me” throw it away. But I do recall that it sort of just “disappeared” after awhile–and I don’t recall ever personally getting rid of it. ;-)

One of the things I enjoy about being an atheist is the freedom to not impart power to objects or ideas and rituals. I could just as soon attend a Catholic service as a Hindu feast as a Baptist tent meeting, and it wouldn’t phrase me beyond curiosity and interest. In my past, as a Christian, however, I was taught to empower objective concerns in very co-dependent ways–in ways where I was not encouraged to recognize the thing itself had no power, but that which I assigned to it; that any evil assigned to this object was evil from me, not from the object itself.

December 30, 2009 at 3:01 pm
(9) Karen says:

I was taught from a very early age that one accepts all presents graciously, assuming that the giver is simply misguided about what one might want as a gift but that her/his heart is in the right place. I was taught other things from a very early age, too, such as religion; but while I’ve been able to give up on the existence of a god, I still have trouble doing anything other than nodding my head and saying thanks to even the most inappropriate gift.

Go figure.

January 1, 2011 at 10:44 pm
(10) fuster says:

You don’t need to be a b*tch and rub your views in their faces! JUST ACCEPT THE D*MN GIFT.

January 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm
(11) Austin Cline says:

You don’t need to be a b*tch and rub your views in their faces! JUST ACCEPT THE D*MN GIFT.

So, it’s OK for the Christian to “be a b*tch and rub [their] views” in the faces of others; the others are obligated to meekly and politely accept this treatment without objection. As soon as someone dares object, though, they are entirely at fault.

Yeah, makes sense.

January 2, 2011 at 10:01 am
(12) P Smith says:

How would your wife react if you gave her one of several presents?

(1) Flowers
(2) Lingerie
(3) A sex toy

The first would always be welcome, the second only if she likes that, and the third only if your sex play involves toys or she wants one.

Now instead of your wife, ask if those gifts are appropriate for a co-worker. In that situation, even the first could be inappropriate (depending on the working relationship), never mind the second or third.

The point being, You give someone what’s welcome and appropriate based on your relationship and what you know of the other person. If a religious type doesn’t know your atheism and gives you a piece of a idolatry, that’s bad enough, but giving such garbage to a known atheist is a deliberately confrontational act, as offensive and inappropriate as giving a dildo to a secretary.

Some will try to say “It’s the thought that counts” as an excuse for such behaviour. We’re not talking about “thought”, we’re talking about thoughtlessness.


January 2, 2011 at 10:18 am
(13) person says:

Depends on who is giving the gift. If someone close to me gives the gift and knows I am atheist and just cannot accept me for that ~ then I would just smile and say it will give me great pleasure to give this when I come across the person who needs it at that time. I wouldn’t argue or debate or anything. Just like with any other gift, “thank you.” and that is it.

Most atheist have done their research about different religions so to have that knowledge and to swallow your beliefs for a moment to step back from your own ego and look as to the reason why they gave you that particular gift could mean so much more than just them pressing their beliefs onto you. Like I said, depends on who is giving the gift.

I find a use for everything or pass it to someone who will.

January 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm
(14) tracieh says:

I no more expect or would appreciate a religious gift than I would give out copies of God Delusion to religious people I know as “gifts.” Fortunately, short of my elderly grandmother when I was a child, nobody ever gave me religious gifts–and this is even growing up in a fundamentalist household. To me, this is less about people being religious and/or zealous and just about someone being a clod. Would someone give out Bibles to their Jewish friends at Xmas?

Sadly, I did have a new in-law relative sign me up for the Watchtower after I was married. I canceled the subscription and called them right away to explain they crossed a line that disrespected me. Additionally, a friend of mine married a man raised Mormon and was given a framed image of Jesus for a gift over the holidays–even though she is not religious (and neither is her husband despite his upbringing). If someone isn’t sharing your views on a subject, or if you don’t know what their views are–don’t assume. Get them something safe until you know them better. I nearly subscribed my in-law to a porn rag just so he’d understand the lesson that we can’t all expect everyone else to be as into what we might like.

October 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm
(15) Ron Johnson says:

I think that a religious gift should be something that would have a greater impact during Christmas.

November 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm
(16) tmjulia says:

I got to this article because I recently had an argument with my Mom. She basically hung up on me.

10 years ago, she and my aunt gave me a religious gift, perfectly knowing that I wouldn’t have approved of it. Moreover, I’m married to someone who’s originally of a different confession (we both are not religious). I said thank you, and put it somewhere far.

Things changed after 10 years, about 3 years ago she became fanatically religious, like praying 3 times a day and telling me not to call for weeks, because she’s busy with some rituals. She talks a lot about religion, I just listen. If it’s interesting to her, why not.

Yesterday she asked me what I did with her gift and assumed I lost it. I said I didn’t lose it, but I didn’t know where it was. She said I was supposed to be happy I got it… and-on-and-on-and-on. She keeps pushing me into the religion and gets insulted when I say no. I said stop pushing me, and then said good buy and hung up.

December 28, 2011 at 8:33 am
(17) Andrew Hall says:

I’m an out of the closet atheist. No one would give me a religious gift, and if they did I’d at the very least make a derogatory comment on the present (Oh look, a Bible! Now I have something to start the fire with.).

December 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm
(18) Sean says:

My fundamentalists neighbors, who have delivered Christmas cookies every year to us, finally broke down last summer and asked me what religion I am after dropping years of hints, religious experiences, and stories, etc. none of which I responded to. I politely and respectfully told them that I have been an atheist all my life. Now, not only do they bring me Christmas cookies, which I gladly accept because heck, who would turn down a perfect dozen of chocolate chip cookies, but religious cards, invitations to their church, christian concerts, and Wednesday night invites to their house for which I believe to be bible study sessions. Should I be even more offended? I know they are good people and they mean well, right? What if I told them I was Catholic, or Jewish?

December 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm
(19) Ron says:

I won’t say if it’s relevant or not, but the lyrics of a song come to my mind.

I don’t care if it rains or freezes
‘Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far. :D

December 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm
(20) Thomas913 says:

This is tough decision to make. For xmas this year, one of my gifts was a book called Proof of Heaven. Basically just some neurosurgeon writing about his personal experience in heaven. I’m never convinced by these sort of books. It’s really only convincing to those who already believe. But i was slightly offended since they know I don’t believe. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, complain, and be some buzz kill. So I accepted it without saying anything. What i’m probably going to do in this situation is read it and then explain to them how i’d appreciate it if they didn’t give me religious presents in the future.

December 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm
(21) chris says:

Man up and admit to being an athiest. Yes, they will feel bad about it. I feel terrible when I find out someone is an athiest. However, you are a coward if you cannot be honest about your faith or lack of faith.

December 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm
(22) Mikel says:

My Mother got me a Christian CD from someone I never heard of for Christmas. I listened to Christian music a lot growing up, so I know how to tell it’s a Christian CD, even before I open it. The CD itself doesn’t bother me, but it does irk me to think she is trying to slip me Christian messages when she knows I do not believe in that any more. And I don’t just listen to any music….I listen to things because I am interested in them. I listened to one track from the CD online, and it is OK but that is just it … OK. Nothing hooked me or made me want to hear any more.

I guess it just irritates me that she is trying to slip me little … hints. Trying to influence me. When I am making a concerted effort not to do the same thing to her.

January 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm
(23) Marvin says:

A year ago (13) person said:
“Most atheist have done their research about different religions. . .”

I think that’s true for most of the people who post here, but it may not be safe to assume everyone who uses the label has done so. There are people who grow up in homes where religion is never practiced or even discussed who are atheists to the extent that they’ve never thought of any god. But those individuals are often susceptible to myths of the supernatural because of their lack of knowledge. I think many of those who post here saying they’re former atheists probably fall into this category.

Then there individuals who sometimes post on Austin’s site claiming to be atheists who clearly know less about religion than the average Evangelical Christian. Most are probably lying for their god, of course, but surely there are some who’ve simply accepted what someone else has told them.

(21) chris says:
“I feel terrible when I find out someone is an athiest. However, you are a coward if you cannot be honest about your faith or lack of faith.”

I grew up being taught something very similar to what you’ve said here. It was my duty to speak out about my faith, especially at times and in places in which it would be awkward and make everyone present uncomfortable. It was called “putting them under conviction.” I know now, of course, it did no such thing.

I don’t mind discussing my belief, or lack if you prefer, if it comes up and the person is interested, but I no longer feel I must evangelize.

January 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm
(24) JTL says:

People: Can we PLEASE make all religion illegal in the USA?

January 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm
(25) Aakash Patel says:

There are many religious gifts like cookies, wine, bread.

January 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm
(26) Grandpa In The East says:

In response to a statement above, 23: “I donít mind discussing my belief, or lack if you prefer, if it comes up and the person is interested, but I no longer feel I must evangelize.”

I have never known nor heard of an atheist who evangelizes on the subject of atheism; and, by evangelize, I mean someone who seeks out his/her “mark” and aggressively endeavors to persuade that person to listen to his/her “very important” message.

I would very much like to hear how a person like Marvin, went about such evangelizing and what they hoped to gain. Atheists do not usually collect stars for their crown in any “Next World.”


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