The War on Xmas Will Not Be Televised ... at Least Not Much

December 19, 2008

So far 2009’s “helladay” season bids fair to teach us the same lesson as the 2008 season did. The “War on Christmas” is a rhetorical construct that right-wing bloviators can flog and pundits can wring their hands about, but only so long as there isn’t too much real news. Both the ‘08 and ‘09 seasons have featured commanding news story arcs. Last year all eyes were on the presidential campaign, and now the reigning story is of course the not-so-graudal dissolution of the world economy. And news stories about seasonal strife have been few and hard to come by.

The #1 story has been Freedom from Religion Foundation’s placard in the Washington state capitol building, which lauds the Winter Solstice and makes some sharp-elbowed comments about the underpromoted fact that Christianity is not true. Most coverage has focused on the physical safety of the placard as it’s turned around, purloined from the rotunda, found in a ditch, and so forth and so on. Quite a few pundits have noted the most surprising element in the story: Washington’s governor is solidly determined that the atheist placard should hold its place among the various symbols of religious faiths on display, a tip of the hat to the very large number of Washingtoners who tell pollsters they have no religion. But one deliciously ironic subtext hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Why are any of these symbols of faith or reason on display? It turns out that a few years ago, some religious conservatives sued the state over its refusal to let them install a nativity scene. Their court victory was delectably two-edged. When the rotunda was opened to their creche, that made the location automatically an “open forum,” fair game for members of other religions to put up symbols of their faiths ... and for nonreligious people to promote what they cleave to instead of faith.

 

Comments:

#1 Ben Radford (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 11:19am

Tom “Anti-Claus” Flynn asks, Why are any of these symbols of faith or reason on display?

Very good point, and one that the media seems to have missed. Of course, having the atheist placard on display along with the other will suggest to some folks that atheism is somehow a religion…

#2 Jim Baldwin (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 12:38pm

The reason the media, and the culture at large, miss this is that there’s an almost universal disregard for the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Everyone focuses on free exercise and forgets establishment. Most of the political problems we have with religion are traceable to this.

The State of Washington deciding which displays can go up, the IRS deciding which churches are legitimate, having clergy give speeches at the Inauguration, these are all violations of the establishment clause.

The Oregonian started one of their stories on this with “First there was an atheist sign,” as if that were the beginning of the problem. The “normal” displays were not a problem, and the atheists were snottily ridiculing the Free Exercise rights of the “normal” religions. But this is not a free exercise issue, it’s an establishment issue. *First* there was a violation of the establishment clause.

#3 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 12:56pm

Obama has opened up the *exact* same can of worms as Washington State has, by inviting Rick Warren to the Inaugural.

#4 John de Waal (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 1:31pm

I agree that Christianity is not true, but Christians do not agree. Their believe is that Christianity is god and necessary for world peace, in spite of what it says in their bible, the utterances of their leaders, the behavior of their politicians, the wars fought in their behalf, their lies and their underhandedness. But telling Christians that they are wrong causes them to close up and shut us out. They do not take us seriously.
The “fight” by some atheists to get a placard placed near the Christian nativity scene, because they noted that the court’s decision left this opening, is both childish and a Pyrrhic victory, in my opinion.

#5 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 2:34pm

I disagree that the placement of the placard was a Pyrrhic victory. It was repeatedly vandalized and torn down, and those events were widely reported. It showed the general public that a) many Christians are intolerant bigots and b) atheists are a persecuted minority.

I also disagree that the atheists were being childish in this situation. In fact, your own description of Christian behavior shows that it is *they* who are childish. Like any 2-year-old, they are going to throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. That’s no reason to keep tiptoeing around them and let them keep getting a free ride in society, in the press, in the law, etc.

While this particular victory was not Pyrrhic in my view, there will be *many* Pyrrhic victories along the road to a fully secular society, just as there are in any social justice movement. A Pyrrhic victory still advances the cause, and some essential strategic victories can *only* be achieved at excessive cost. That’s no reason not to achieve them. The Civil War was a Pyrrhic victory for the United States, but it still had to be fought, and it still advanced the cause.

#6 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 2:42pm

I also don’t care if the Christians take me seriously or listen to me or any of that junk. They will take me seriously when they have to start paying taxes. The point is not to convince them, it is to *win*. I want my full secular civil rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. I’m not going to ask them for that, I’m going to *take* it.

#7 Jeff P on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 4:13pm

There’s an interesting discussion going on at Americans United web site regarding the last-ditch efforts of the Bush administration to enact the “protections” given a health care worker to avoid doing things that might offend his/her sense of “morality.”

http://blog.au.org/2008/12/19/medical-emergency-bush-issues-healthcare-worker-regulations-sought-by-religious-right/

In some ways I see this as a similar issue—it’s a two-edged sword that only causes more problems than it’s worth.  But I applaud those people brave enough to take advantage then of the “opportunity” to demonstrate the freedom to express these new protections, the “public square” is learning that maybe it CAN be played on both sides of the equation.

#8 Teamonger on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 10:30am

I happen to think the FFRF placard is in poor taste, and unsuitable for its purpose as a holiday display. Imo, much better would be a large collage of historical pictures, including Voltaire, Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, Ingersoll, Rand, etc., with a caption, “For the Winter Solstice, we honor the great freethinkers of history”.

Such a display might get people to think, rather than provoke anti-secular emotional reactions. It would also give less ammunition to blowhards like O’Reilly.
t

#9 r strle (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 12:43pm

“I want my full secular civil rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. I’m not going to ask them for that, I’m going to *take* it.”

Clabber Grr, I would like full secular civil rights as guaranteed by the Constitution for you, me and every U.S. citizen.  The problem seems to be how to achieve this goal.

It is for this reason that I would be most interested in your strategy for “taking” and not asking.  I agree that asking is useless so how do you propose taking?

#10 Teamonger on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 10:11am

Well I say, let them have their holiday displays as long as any group (religious or secular) has the opportunity.  Equal access should, in theory, ensure that government is not establishing a religion.  In general, we are better off pursuing quiet education. The “benefits” of appearing as secular grinches are dubious at best.

#11 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 10:21am

Yeah, Rosa Parks, what a troublemaker. She made her people look bad. Everyone would have been a lot better off if she’d just stayed in her place.

#12 Teamonger on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 11:31am

Hmm, I don’t think your analogy works, Clabber.  If we get a holiday display, that means we get to ride the bus like everyone else

#13 Jim Baldwi (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 11:39am

Teamonger:

According to your logic, gay people should just get back in the closet because the power structure is childish and petulant and might be upset by them.

I, for one, don’t buy it.

#14 Jim Baldwi (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 11:45am

“Hmm, I don’t think your analogy works, Clabber.  If we get a holiday display, that means we get to ride the bus like everyone else”

Except that even people who are supposedly on our own side are saying we shouldn’t have done it. We can have the *right* to our opinion as long as we don’t actually express it. Hence the Rosa Parks analogy. Just don’t scare the white people. Just stay in your place. Let them have all the actual rights and we’ll have the abstract theoretical ones.

#15 Teamonger on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 12:06pm

The point of my original post: holiday displays ought to be a place to exhibit positiveness.  This is a time of year to cut back on the polarization.  Just my opinion.
t

#16 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 1:33pm

Ben says:

“Of course, having the atheist placard on display along with the other will suggest to some folks that atheism is somehow a religion…”

Theists also think of secular humanism as a religion.  The only way to solve the problem of theists labeling non-belief as belief is for secularists to stop speaking and writing that they believe things and continuously point out in clear language that in anything is unnecessary to understanding anything about the universe.

My suggestions?  I conclude form the evidence or the evidence supports the conclusion.

If atheists stop telling theists that they believe they are wrong but say instead that there is no credible evidence to support god or religions of any kind perhaps the theists will come to see that atheism and secularism are not beliefs.

#17 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 2:48pm

“The point of my original post: holiday displays ought to be a place to exhibit positiveness.”

Churches already get enormous government subsidies for everything they do. Why do they need another one? If they want to put a display on their own property, fine. Or rather, it *would* be fine if they weren’t already subsidized by the taxpayers.

The Pope just chose the Christmas season to announce his agreement with the “God Hates Fags” people. This is not a “positive” message, and the violation of the establishment clause that assists him in its propagation is not positive, either.

I don’t understand how a seasonal moratorium on decency is “positive”. Rather the opposite.

#18 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 2:58pm

oops I “believe” left out a very important word!!

Here is the new improved version.

Theists also think of secular humanism as a religion.  The only way to solve the problem of theists labeling non-belief as belief is for secularists to stop speaking and writing that they believe things and continuously point out in clear language that believing in anything is unnecessary to an understanding of anything about the universe.
My suggestions?  I conclude from the evidence or the evidence supports the conclusion.
If atheists stop telling theists that they believe they (the theists) are wrong but say instead that there is no credible evidence to support god or religion(s) of any kind perhaps the theists will come to see that atheism and secularism are not beliefs but positions or conclusions drawn from a logical analysis of credible evidence drawn from the universe.

#19 Lisa Rosati (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 8:19am

Different religions do not agree on many key points and if you are a thinking person, you cannot help but wonder why this is so. Atheism, agnosticism etc, offer solid alternatives to dubious- if time honored- traditions, The addition of the Freedom from Religion’s display in DC offers everyone another compare- contrast factor amid various religious symbols and proclamations. It is refreshing to see this, particularly to those of us who would rather gargle with peanut butter than go to church.

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