The news this morning out of Santa Monica, my old stomping grounds during graduate school, is that a judge has ruled that there will be no holiday displays in Palisades Park. The tradition of erecting nativity scenes there goes back to 1953, but, in very recent years, that tradition came to be mired in controversy.
The controversy began in 2009, when an atheist erected a display in the park among the Christmas exhibits. Then, in 2010, atheists won most of the lottery-awarded locations and dominated the park. So, in 2011, a judge suspended the tradition, and, just now, a judge has ruled against it again.
I understand the legal issues. A secular state cannot privilege one religion over another. It cannot give preference to Catholics over Protestants, or to Christians over non-Christians, nor even to theists over non-theists. So, once Satanists and militant atheists and every tiny wacked-out cult begin to demand equal representation in the public square, it’s probably easiest just to bar them all.
But I do still have a very fundamental objection to the behavior of the atheists in this case, apart from the substance of their atheism itself: The nativity scenes were all pretty harmless and innocent expressions of joy and belief. The atheist displays that I’ve seen from Palisades Park, by contrast, weren’t celebrations of the joy of living as the transient foam of the latest evolutionary wave in a random, purposeless universe, expressions of happiness at knowing that everything we care about will soon die and rot, or whatever it is in which atheists choose to rejoice, but very deliberate fingers in the eyes of believing theists at the happiest season of our broadly Christian culture. They represent, in my view, a deeply graceless and very unattractive attitude that’s all too common in contemporary militant atheism. Some of the atheists with whom I’ve conversed are indignant that they’re known only for what they reject, and not for what they affirm. The placards in Santa Monica should help them understand why that is so.
Posted from Chicago, Illinois.