Here’s the latest:

More than 500 people from throughout Western Washington turned out Sunday at the Capitol steps to protest a sign a group of atheists erected as part of the holiday display inside the building.

The protest — organized late last week by a Federal Way man who said he was offended by the sign installed by Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation — drew Christian pastors, at least one state legislator and a handful of counter-protesters.

The rally was accompanied by a wide array of religious expression, including some religious banners, one or two anti-religious banners from members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, speakers on bullhorns calling for sinners to repent, and one sign proclaiming that God loves everyone, including atheists.

Need I point out that the solution is obvious? Simply let the Capitol be a religion-free zone. End of problem.

This is the part I don’t understand. Why is it so important to so many folks that the government display the symbols of their religion? You can put all the nativity scenes you want in front of your homes and churches and private schools and private businesses. About ninety-eight percent of the town you can decorate to your heart’s content. Why must you have the other two percent?

I can only think of one reason. Placing religious displays on government grounds is meant to convey that certain religions are acceptable and certain ones are not.

Typically I get lectured at this point about how I am overreacting, that it’s no big deal, and that I should just go along to get along. The thing is, though, that there are plenty of people on the other side who think it is a very big deal indeed. They are the ones who are not content with, say, placing a nativity scene on the front lawn of every church within walking distance of the Capitol (I’m guessing there are quite a few). That would be entirely uncontroversial, and it would let them get the word out about Christmas very effectively. This is not good enough, it would seem.

So if all these folks on the other side just can’t abide the idea of the government not displaying their symbols then I’m entitled to think there is something more going on than just a desire to place a decoration in the Capitol rotunda. If they are not willing to shrug their shoulders and let it go, then neither am I.

There is a parallel here to the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. By any objective standard that is as insulting and as unconstitutional as it gets. The phrase was inserted into the Pledge at the urging of President Eisenhower, who gave this rationale for doing so:

These words ["under God"] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.

Sure looks like a government endorsement of religion to me! And even leaving that aside, the idea of indoctrinating little kids with the idea that belief in God is just part and parcel of being a good citizen is something that ought to be offensive to anyone with a conscience.

Anytime an atheist notes these perfectly obvious points, however, he gets the lecture. It’s no big deal. No one takes the Pledge seriously. It’s just ceremonial deism. Of course if it were really no big deal the country would not grind to a halt when a Court declares the phrase unconstitutional. The other side plainly thinks it’s a big deal, and somehow I don’t think ceremonial deism is what is getting them all worked up.

At a more practical level, when it comes to religious displays on government grounds it’s either all or nothing. Either you let the Satan worshippers, Scientiologists, Animists, and Snake Handlers have their displays, or you call the whole thing off. No one wants that, of course. Christian displays are de rigueur since most parts of the country are majority Christian. Jewish displays are okay, because Judaism is at least kind of like Christianity. But once you start straying from the acceptable religions people become a lot less tolerant.

And kindly spare me the nonsense about the protests and hand-wringing being the result of some intemperate words on the atheist display. You could make the most milquetoast atheist sign in the world and the reaction would be no different. You would still have the vast majority of people shrugging their shoulders at it, and a vocal minority of religious opportunists wasting everyone’s time.

Comments

  1. #1 steve s
    December 8, 2008

    one or two anti-religious banners from members of the Revolutionary Communist Party

    thanks for reminding me that there are idiots on the atheist side too.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 8, 2008

    Actually, my opinion of the Communists ticked up a bit when I read that!

  3. #3 Sarahmarie
    December 8, 2008

    This flap raises an intriguing question in my mind: if an American Buddhist group placed a tasteful sign listing the 4 Noble Truths and the steps of the Noble 8-fold path to enlightenment near a Nativity scene, would Christians protest?

  4. #4 cwfong
    December 8, 2008

    How about a sign that says Jesus Christ never existed and if he did the jews would have killed him. Would that be an intemperance you could still live with?

  5. #5 Cody
    December 8, 2008

    The governor and secretary of state have said a number of times that any display, religious or non-religious, would be allowed up. I hear some folks are even planning on putting up a Festivus pole.

    So at least the government in this case is willing to go all or nothing. Enough so that the vocal minority is accusing the governor of being a Grinch. Classy.

  6. #6 Leni
    December 9, 2008

    Sarahmarie wrote:

    …if an American Buddhist group placed a tasteful sign listing the 4 Noble Truths and the steps of the Noble 8-fold path to enlightenment near a Nativity scene, would Christians protest?

    Some of them would, especially if Bill O’Reilly told them to.

    Jason wrote:

    Christian displays are de rigueur since most parts of the country are majority Christian. Jewish displays are okay, because Judaism is at least kind of like Christianity. But once you start straying from the acceptable religions people become a lot less tolerant.

    I’m reminded of this silly statement from some clergy members in Massachusetts after the ACLU filed suit over a creche and the town had the display diluted with secular symbols:

    According to the Herald News, signatories of the letter warned: “In our region there are a variety of groups, witches, Devil Worshippers and representatives of many other religious beliefs. We fear that the creche and the menorah would be compromised even more should other groups seek to have their symbols included.”

  7. #7 AlexS
    December 9, 2008

    The irony is that this display was made possible by a legal decision in a 2007 lawsuit by the Alliance Defense Fund. See the Americans United blog for more: http://blog.au.org/2008/12/08/fallacious-factor-foxs-oreilly-religious-right-blame-wrong-party-for-christmas-conflict/

  8. #8 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    December 9, 2008

    thanks for reminding me that there are idiots on the atheist side too.

    So in your delusional world, where you refuse to define ‘God’ and decline to test your beliefs with evidence, Communists must be ‘idiots’ and ‘atheists’, because the choose to exercise their constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression, freedom of speech and the freedom of thought as well?

    Methinks you still haven’t gotten over the fact that the commies and hippies beat you in a war fair and square way back in 1968. That’s how out of touch you appear to be.

  9. #9 Science Avenger
    December 9, 2008

    Never trust anyone who says, in effect, “It’s no big deal, so you must let me have my way.”

  10. #10 cwfong
    December 9, 2008

    The bulk of you people sound like you just graduated from the Madalyn Murray O’Hair school of obnoxious propagandizing. Instead of presenting a rational alternative to soporific mythology, you offer echoes of her same old spite driven rhetoric. So much for the apparent benefits of critical thinking as the (supposedly) more evolved state of the art.

  11. #11 Chris
    December 9, 2008

    I am sure that everyone of us have used the phrase “that’s not fair”! Probably more as kids than adults but no doubt as adults we have used this. When an injustice is committed whether it be something as big as murder or as something trivial as someone taking our seat on a public bus, there is something that cries out within us “where is the justice”. No matter how one tries to suppress the knowledge of God in creation, the same God made us in His own image; bearing the image of the Creator has many different aspects to it, but one is the desire for justice. The late C.S. Lewis, a brilliant scholar and a defender of the faith that is so bitterly under attack, presents a brilliant argument for this cry for justice in Mere Christianity. He calls is the moral argument that proves the existence of God. He says so rightly, we always appeal to a standard. When an injustice is committed we will say that’s unjust or that is unfair. So we are appealing to a standard of fairness.
    Who set up this standard of fairness?? No doubt the evolutionist will say oh well just like we evolved from goo to you via the zoo, morality likewise evolved. Yet what does God’s Word say?? The Bible says in Hebrews 8:10 I will write my laws on their hearts. I have heard stories of missionaries going into villages in the most remote, unreached, areas in Africa who did not know there were 10 commandments, much less what they were; the missionaries asked what are the laws in this village? The response was do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, etc. How in the world did these natives who have never heard the Bible, quote the 1o commandments of God?? Again because God has written it upon their hearts.
    As far as the morality evolving issue, there is never a time in human history as far as I know that morality has not existed. We see pictures (which by the way are artists inventions and not accurate) of cave men as savages, who live by the law of the land. Yet this is not what we see ever since the beginning we see law, now of course there are lawbreakers, in fact the Bible says there is no human that ever lived without sinning (Romans 3:23). Yet law has always exited so how could it have evolved?? Evolution says we are getting better, is that what we see in our society?? Not at all we see man getting worse, we see people committing more crimes than ever. Yet what does the word of God say, even men will grow from bad to worse, the Bible says lawlessness will increase. Exactly what we see in society!! Coincidence??

    http://www.icr.org/love-of-God/

  12. #12 AlexS
    December 9, 2008

    You’re wrong, Chris. The moral law argument fails because if it were true, the god who gave us the moral law can’t be the same as the biblical one (i.e. what did Abraham’s moral sense say when he was ordered by Yahweh to kill Isaac?). You may claim that we don’t know anything compared to God, but you can defend absolutely any faith claim with this pseudo-argument.

    And by the way, lawlessness is declining on the grand scale. Secularized societies like Scandinavian countries are the most peaceful societies. Coincidence??

  13. #13 David
    December 9, 2008

    Chris wrote “law has always existed so how can it have evolved”. The Old Testament justifies racism, sexism, genocide, polygamy and slavery. I would say there has been some evolution since then.
    He also wrote “How in the world did these natives who have never heard the Bible, quote the 10 commandments of God?” Because the commandments quoted are rules which make for a stable society. Societies without some such rules have disappeared as a result of (guess what) natural selection. Did they also quote the prohibition of graven images? I doubt it.

  14. #14 Brenda Tucker
    December 9, 2008

    Hi Jason,

    I’m hoping you read a comment of mine on another post you did dated, Nov 10. I also have taken the time to speak to a group (online) called CFI – Center for Inquiry which is largely skeptical and exists to debunk others, so to speak, so I am not opposed to finding and speaking to people who believe in ways that I don’t.

    Having viewed the sign, I can say that it begins to promote some good quality by standing behind the concept of “reason.” Then the purpose of the sign strays into questionable endeavors as it accuses religions of being very hurtful and that is where I find it to be in need of restatement.

    “At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” (sign statement)

    I’m trying to envision what an atheist program (on television) would be like. Would it promote goodness and truth, honor and glory, etc.? It is hard for me to gather around something that doesn’t have a positive approach to solving day-to-day problems. If there is no religion, there would be no a-theist as the stand simply appears to be against something rather than for something.

    Each group that presents at the Capitol display needs to show some promise of actually accomplishing some good. I don’t know why the atheists wouldn’t just continue in their positive vein or end with their herald to reason. Sometimes I think the atheists are a voice for non-action which was so brought to its pinnacle by Zen Buddhists. Couldn’t we somehow just clump all atheists in the category of Zen Buddhists where no-thing is allowed to exist. They are the extreme side of religion and sit facing a wall for hours and hours. (However, they are against reason also so that wouldn’t work.)

    Anyway, I think we need to show that there will be positive results before we display and not just be an attack on one group (or many as the case may be). I’d watch an atheist program if they promoted goodness and truth.

  15. #15 Science Avenger
    December 9, 2008

    CWFong, if you wish to be persuasive, try making a criticism of the actual arguments made, instead of an ad hominem that is so generic it could be cut-n-pasted to just about any discussion. The only post here that even remotely resembles your description is by the ass who said “if jesus had existed the jews would have killed him”. Pull up a mirror and argue with him, the rest of us are on a completely different page.

  16. #16 Brenda Tucker
    December 9, 2008

    Hey for some reason that Nov 10th blog post falls on your November list under a Nov 9th date. Anyway here is the link http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2008/11/another_round_on_evolution_and.php

  17. #17 Brenda Tucker
    December 9, 2008

    Under the scheme of 7 races that I propose, it is likely that people without religion might be grouped in a category of 4th subrace. At that time, according to this evolutionary theory, there was no girasas kingdom playing a role in life on earth. Humans existed by themselves, and believe me, at times, it is a pleasant thought.

    This theory would encourage people to be true to themselves. If they are 4th subrace, then we want them to have a voice and share their vision with us, because it is authentic. However, the problems that result from two very different kingdoms existing in one body are very real to some of us and we want attempts at understanding why we live the way we do, because ultimately we think that some tasks are more difficult than others, right?

  18. #18 FastLane
    December 9, 2008

    And Brenda Tucker brings the wooo.

    When I first saw the sign, I thought the last entance was a bit much. However, seeing the reaction of the xianists and wannabe theocrats, I think it is born out by the (over)reaction of the crazies who are protesting.

    There was also a comment in one of the stories that one of the local churches added yet another sign making nasty comments about atheism, but I haven’t found anything that says exactly what those comments are.

  19. #19 Brenda Tucker
    December 9, 2008

    People in churches don’t know about this theory yet, but when they hear it, they may be forced to make some adjustments in their practices too. I’m sure they didn’t know they were inviting another kingdom to take the earth away from humans – except for the fact that there is a prominent traitor present in their teachings. It’s hard to be true to your school.

  20. #20 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    December 9, 2008

    nstead of presenting a rational alternative to soporific mythology, you offer echoes of her same old spite driven rhetoric.

    Actually, most of us are familiar with science already.

    Ever heard of it? Have you ever tried googling it?

    I guess you missed the title of this blog.

  21. #21 Greg Esres
    December 9, 2008

    Placing religious displays on government grounds is meant to convey that certain religions are acceptable and certain ones are not.

    Perhaps this is a religious version of the mounting behavior that some animals display?

  22. #22 Blake Stacey
    December 9, 2008

    This is a bad sign, a foreshadowing of terrible arguments to come:

    The late C.S. Lewis, a brilliant scholar and a defender of the faith that is so bitterly under attack, presents a brilliant argument for this cry for justice in Mere Christianity.

    And this is an indication that the writer doesn’t know much about evolution:

    Evolution says we are getting better, is that what we see in our society??

    1. Social change is not biological evolution.

    2. Biological evolution does not have a target or a goal. It is not a linear progression along some Great Chain of Being.

    3. Actually, if you go by most any reasonable metric for quality of life — you know, the ability to live a long and full existence with good food and medical care, access to the artistic treasures of the world, living free from oppression and prejudice — I’d rather be in a modern industrialized democracy than any of the other civilizations which humankind has built. Yes, it’s obvious we have plenty of problems left to lick, but at least parts of this world have gotten better than anywhere has ever been before.

  23. #23 cwfong
    December 9, 2008

    Science Avenger: I posted the statement that “jews would have killed him” as an example of what I could see as intemperate signage Jason might finally deem objectionable. But you, as usual, were too dumb to understand that.

    But not as dumb as The Thomas Lee Elfritz poster with no idea who Madalyn Murray O’Hair was. Oh wait, it seems you don’t know that either. Yet you are a perfect example of those who have proudly followed in her muddy and muddled footsteps.

  24. #24 Brent Rasmussen
    December 9, 2008

    [@Chris] “Evolution says we are getting better…”

    Evolution “says” nothing of the sort. Why don’t you explain to us exactly what you think evolution is? Because you sound like you don’t have a clue.

  25. #25 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 9, 2008

    Fastlane -

    That’s exactly how I see things. If I had been designing the sign I would have toned it down a bit. But that’s not the story here. It’s analogous to the P.Z. Myers cracker scandal. I think PZ overdid it, but the real story was the insane overreaction of certain Catholic groups, and the events in Florida that started the whole thing.

    Brenda Tucker -

    I did read your post. I’m afraid I find your theory a bit hard to follow, and I don’t think it’s really relevant to the present post.

  26. #26 Jim Ramsey
    December 9, 2008

    I always love the way Christians are all lumped together. This despite the fact that Catholics and Protestants have been killing each other in large numbers for centuries — Ireland?, Germany?, France?, England?

    I guarantee that inserting a few “and the Blessed Virgin Mary” ‘s into an otherwise Protestant Christmas display, would not go over well.

    Of course, that might be just fine with O’Reilly.

  27. #27 tomh
    December 9, 2008

    FastLane wrote: … that one of the local churches added yet another sign making nasty comments about atheism, but I haven’t found anything that says exactly what those comments are.

    It’s one of those pleasant Bible quotes,

    The fool says in his heart “There is no God”

  28. #28 FastLane
    December 9, 2008

    Ah, thanks, TomH.

    Someone needs to add the followup line to that:

    “The wise man says it out load.”

    Cheers.

  29. #29 FastLane
    December 9, 2008

    Err..that should say ‘loud’

    I gotta sign up for a typing class one of these days…. =P

  30. #30 tomh
    December 9, 2008

    The wise man says it out loud

    I like that!

  31. #31 bezoar
    December 10, 2008

    AND while they’re railing against each other I’m opening presents, Pfffffffft!

  32. #32 mk
    December 11, 2008

    Hey Jason,

    Sorry I’m a little late to this but wanted to share my “What’s the big deal?” story.

    Brother-in-law tells me he doesn’t see why people would be bothered by a “nonsectarian” prayer at his council meetings. (and to me that always seemed an oxymoronic term… but whatever) Completely oblivious to the obvious response, “Really? Tell me why it’s a ‘nonsectatrian’ prayer. Why not a Christian or Jewish or Islamic prayer?”

    Much sputtering and waving of the hand at this point, of course. Irony completely lost on him. The notion that we shouldn’t be exclusive (by having a specific religious prayer) doesn’t extend to the citizens of his township who are not religious. They don’t matter. Only religious folk matter, and even then it’s clear only Monotheists (Christians and Jews mostly, of course) matter! We don’t want to offend our friends of a minority religion, but people without religion? Screw them!

    Nice, huh?

  33. #33 jo5ef
    December 14, 2008

    Its certainly become an exercise in territorial pissing, as seems to be the case with a lot of this sort of thing. I think Brenda had a point before she started with the crazy. The most effective religious messages are inspiring, humanist messages can be too. I don’t mind the sign, but I think the message could be fined tuned further.

  34. #34 Russell Blackford
    December 20, 2008

    Thanks, Brenda. It’s all clear to me now. Dang that pesky girasas kingdom stuffing everything up for us humans and our various sub-races. If only they’d left us alone, everything would be okay and we could all get along. I fail to understand why the other commenters here don’t “get” this. Perhaps some of them could identify which bits require more explanation.

  35. #35 llewelly
    December 22, 2008

    Typically I get lectured at this point about how I am overreacting, that it’s no big deal, and that I should just go along to get along.

    I thought it was ‘co-operate to operate’.