Some folks are in a FOX-fueled frenzy already, focusing on a situation in Santa Monica, California. The City Council there has elected to not allow any religious or holiday displays in a park that has hosted a fourteen-part nativity scene for over fifty years, citing the resources necessary to maintain and secure the site (as well as environmental concerns). A religious non-profit organization has attempted to reverse the City Council’s decision but was recently dealt a blow when a Federal judge refused to block the nativity ban.
Many Christians are, of course, livid about this situation and casting the blame on the evil atheists that wish to destroy America. This very vitriolic post, “10 Reasons Atheists Can Go to Hell Over Holiday Decorations Fight,” published on The Stir by its Managing Editor, Cynthia Dermody epitomizes the typical American-Christian misunderstanding of the situation and of atheism in general.
Here are her ten reasons and my responses:
1. You aren’t going to make Christmas or Hanukkah go away. (Bah your separation of church and state argument — we know that’s what the real intention is here.) But it’s never. gonna. happen. NEVER. So deal with it.
First, a straw-man where Dermody claims that the separation of church and state argument is just a front for the “real intention” of atheists; of course this is a completely fallacious statement — most atheists are not trying to make Christmas or Hanukkah go away, we simply want to ensure that the government is adhering to the First Amendment by either a) allowing ALL religious viewpoints equal voice on government-owned property or (more preferably) b) not allowing ANY religious viewpoint to be espoused from government-owned property. On church land or your own private property? Go crazy, have a thousand nativity scenes and giant crosses and menorahs. Just not on public land.
2. You are coming off looking shallow, mean, and spiteful, like the spoiled neighborhood brat who always got pissy when everyone voted to play kickball when they really wanted to play tag. No one ever liked playing with that kid.
Ah yes, anad hominem attack on atheists. Because titling an article, even a rant, “10 Reasons Atheists Can go to Hell” is not mean, spiteful, or pissy.
3. The displays aren’t going to convince someone who isn’t religious to suddenly convert or defect from your ranks. There’s no priest hiding behind the manger with a portable baptismal font ready to christen you unawares. It doesn’t work that way. But if you did decide to join, we would forgive, forget, and accept you with open arms. We’re good like that.
Clearly Dermody doesn’t understand atheism, but this sort of ties back to the straw-man erected in her first point. This is not about some fear that atheists will lose members to the Church and the issue of the religious displays is not some us-versus-them one. Again, it’s about whether or not the government should be sponsoring religious scenes on public property. Period.
4. Many of the past nativity scenes from area churches represented historical scenes from the Bible, such as Joseph and Mary (on a donkey) riding into Bethlehem, or a scene from Herod’s court. Whether you believe Jesus was the messiah or not, many of these events are recorded history.
The veracity of the bible as a historical document is up for debate, at least from an academic point of view, so this point may be moot. Even still, assuming that some of the nativity story’s scenes are completely and wholly factual and accurate, the point has not changed; they being utilized to espouse a particular religious belief and the state should not be involved in such actions.
5. You’re just jealous we get presents and you don’t. Yeah, it sucks to be you this time of year.
You’re right, no atheist ever gets presents, and especially not a Christmas-time. Nor do we ever give presents. Or celebrate Christmas. Come December 25th we hide in our caves, reading our Dawkins and Hitchens, fearful that festive carolers may come and accidentally convert us to Christianity.
6. Your kids might actually enjoy them. Like it or not, your little atheists will probably attend school with other children who are being raised in a faith, whether it’s Jewish or Hindu or Muslim or whatever, and they are going to have questions. This is a very non-threatening way to teach them about this stuff. They need to get used to it sooner or later.
Following this argument along this lines, would you mind if I tell your kids about some of the other well-documented and “historically accurate” creation myths out there? They may rather enjoy some of the Persian stories of creation, or the Native American myths. Hell, they may even find the Quran to be a wonderful and beautiful tale.
7. You’re winning anyway! Atheism is the only “religious category” that’s actually on the rise in the United States — almost all other religions are in decline or staying the same. You know how the coach taught you not to celebrate the goal when you’re already pummelling the other team 10-1? Yeah, like that.
Ah, the poor persecuted Christian angle; yes, atheists are “winning” in that we are showing growth, on whole. But we are still one of the least-trusted minorities in this country and represent small portion of the population. Let’s spin this a different way: Christians represent the vast majority of the country, so you’re really the ones “pummelling” (sic) the other team. Religious believers have churches and temples and mosques throughout this great land and in great numbers, and religion permeates everything from our government policy to our currency. Why do you need to celebrate with displays on public land? Yellowpages.com shows over 1200 churches listed in Santa Monica — can’t one of them display your nativity scene?
8. You don’t have to walk through or drive past this portion of the park. You have the freedom to travel any which way you want so you don’t have to look at anything you don’t want to. Isn’t this country great?
Again, missing the point; it’s not that atheists are some sort of vampiric creatures that cringe at the site religious idolatry. Public land should be hosting religious messaging. You needn’t walk or drive through this portion of the park to see your nativity scene when you can easily put it on private property somewhere, no?
9. People are going to continue to put up displays in their yards. I would if I lived next door to you in Santa Monica. A big old honking one with lights and sounds. And I’d leave it up ’til Easter.
Awesome! Go for it! We fully endorse this plan. On your property, on your land, on your church’s land, put up whatever you like and all the more power to you. We actually have suggested this, on more than one occasion.
10. You are waging this war in Santa Monica, ironically. “Santa” translates to SAINT, by the way. That’s a Christian term in case you didn’t know. I guess that’s next on your list. You better get going, you’ve got a long way to go.
And New York represents a relationship with York in the UK that no longer exists; your point? Besides, we’re not “waging [a] war” we’re simply supporting the United States Constitution instead of a holy text written thousands of years ago. You should try it sometime.
Oh, and for the record, atheists did not ban the nativity scene this year, nor did atheists request that the City Council remove the display. Atheists were not involved in the lawsuit(s) around the ban, and atheists did not vandalize any of the displays in prior years. Just, you know, for the record.
Fox News takes a look at the State of the Bible 2012, a report by the American Bible Society (an organization dedicated to the spread of the Christian gospel through distribution bibles) and finds that despite still being the number one bestseller of all time The Bible’s popularity has diminished a bit in recent years with fewer Americans identifying the book as “sacred literature” or finding that it provides “everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.”
According to the article’s author Lauren Green, the ABS believes that despite the overabundance of bibles in US household the problem lies with the lack of people actually reading the book. Lamar Vest, President and CEO of ABS told Green:
“There are probably five Bibles on every shelf in American homes. Americans buy the Bibles, they debate the Bible, they love the Bible… they just don’t read the Bible.”
Of course, as many atheists will attest, actually reading the bible might actually explain why fewer people now recognize it as a text worthy of reverence; after all recent studies show that atheists and agnostics know more about the bible than the religious and many atheists attribute their abandonment of religion to closer scrutiny of religious texts.
Then again, the ABS is an organization that looks at the horrible situation in the Congo, where “45,000 people are dying each month” and declare that “Only God’s Word can bring total healing to this war-ravaged country.”
But hey, they must be pretty hip and modern — they’re on Pinterest!
Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s Editor and author of several tomes on American history, had a column in this week’s issue of the news magazine that took a look at the National Day of Prayer decision. He argues, like AU’s Rev. Barry W. Lyn, that there is a religious case and basis for the separation of church and state:
The idea of separation began, in fact, with Jesus. Once, when the crowds were with him and wanted to make him a king, he withdrew and hid. Before Pilate, Jesus was explicit: “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. Later in the New Testament, Paul argues that God shows no partiality among nations or peoples, meaning nations cannot claim blessed status, and says that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” which means the Lord God of Hosts is concerned with larger matters than whether one is an American or a Norwegian. A Christian nation, then, is a theological impossibility, and faith coerced is no faith at all, only tyranny. If God himself gave human beings free will—the choice to love him or not, to obey him or not—then no believer should try to force another to confess a faith.
Meacham also quotes from the Treaty of Tripoli, mentioned earlier here.
If you’ve ever work in web design, web development, or any service-oriented job you owe it to yourself to check out Clients From Hell. Today I stumbled on this gem at their website:
Client: ”Obviously we need the site to be deeply spiritual. The use of a cross is obvious and although perhaps over-used we would like to go with that… Also perhaps some Saints, figurines… You get the idea?”
Designer: ”Do you have any specific Saint’s in mind?”
Client: ”No, just run with it… after all we all worship the same god right?”
Designer: ”Actually no, I am atheist. Is this a problem?”
Client: ”Oh, erm, you´re one of THEM are you? Hmm that is a problem… people who abandon the word of god are in league with the Devil, and if you designed our site… well, it would make it sinful, a place of deception… No… erm, maybe you would like to discuss your hatred of God? Then perhaps I could convince you of the true path.”
Designer: ”I cannot hate something which does not exist.”
Client: ”I see. No, we need a designer who is…you know, not in league with the devil.”
So anything built by non-believers is “sinful, a place of deception”? If I had to guess, I’d think there have been a least a handful of churches and holy-places built with non-theist hands, or at least by the hands of folks that believe in some other variation of god.
Guess they really are places of deception then…
Little late in posting this to the blog, but on April 15th U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law mandating a National Day of Prayer was a violation of the US Constitution.
You can read the full ruling here, hosted at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State website.
Ironically most of the people upset by this are the same folks that argue for small government; they don’t want the government interfering in our day-to-day lives, arguing that things like universal health care represent unwarranted governmental interference in our lives.
But a federal law mandating that one day a year we set aside time to pray to a mythical being that only some members of the population believe in? A very literal endorsement of religion?
This they find fine and think the decision to rule it unconstitutional is abhorrent.
Abhorrent? Seriously? People have the right, have the freedom, to pray whenever and wherever they want. This IS in the Constitution and is one of our most important rights. The government not endorsing that prayer takes no freedom from you, takes no rights from you while simultaneously not imposing a belief system on those that disagree or do not believe.
Americans United has a create page detailing why this is good for the country; in fact, they believe that it’s essential for the country — especially if you value your right to pray and worship as you choose.
And for those who haven’t already seen it, AU’s Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn taking on Fox’s Megyn Kelly: