How Not to Fight the War on Christmas

Lately, there have been some encouraging signs that believers of conscience are more willing to stand up to the religious right than they once were. But this effort, though well-intentioned, is not the right way to do it.

It’s time for a ceasefire in the Christmas culture wars.

…We invite Messrs. O’Reilly, Gibson and Donohue to join us in a new campaign of civility and conscience that restores our focus on the common good during this holy season.

This letter, signed by a number of liberal clergy, calls on the religious right’s most prominent bloviators to stop using Christmas as an excuse to bash nonbelievers and assert their supremacy, and instead join in an effort to promote social justice.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment. What I object to is the limp, conciliatory tone which, rather than calling out these loudmouthed bigots for their misdeeds, essentially just asks them politely to stop and implies that all will be forgiven if they do. This is the same weak, tepid attitude of conflict-avoidance and appeasement that allowed religious moderates to be shunted into the background in the first place by the marching culture warriors of the Christian right.

If we’re ever to defeat the religious right, it’s not enough to issue meek proclamations asking them to please be nicer. It should be more than obvious that stirring up anger and hate against the designated enemy is these people’s stock in trade. It’s been an enormously successful and profitable strategy for them, and as long as it continues to work, there’s no reason for them to abandon it. No, if we’re going to win, we have to take the fight to them; we must show that we can neither be pushed around nor intimidated into silence, and that we will not concede control over the public square.

In this respect, this brilliant gambit by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia is just the kind of thing we need more of. When the Chester County courthouse erected a nativity scene on the lawn, thus creating a limited public forum for similar messages, the FSGP seized the opportunity to erect a “tree of knowledge” decorated with laminated copies of books by Richard Dawkins, Thomas Paine, Christopher Hitchens, and other outspoken freethinkers past and present. (It also has copies of the Bible and the Qur’an, under the theory – which I agree with – that nonbelievers should read those books.) I’m proud to say that I’ve met Margaret Downey, the passionate and dedicated president of the FSGP and soon to be president of the larger Atheist Alliance International.

Predictably, this monument to freethought has been vandalized several times by arrogant religious bigots who appear to be under the delusion that they have sole ownership of America. One woman at the scene, quoted in the linked article, warns that “God will take his hand off America” and “we will suffer violence and sickness and death” if atheists are given equal rights. In my opinion, it says all we need to know about these people’s mindsets that they fantasize a god who punishes disapproved speech with indiscriminate terror and destruction.

Reactions like this are to be expected when atheists finally step up to assert our long-denied place in the public discourse. But vandalism and harassment will not stop us, and as much as militant believers would like to exert control over society and its speech, they’ll soon learn that they have no choice but to live with us. The more we speak out, the more the religious right will learn that it can’t have everything its own way. They can only seem powerful and respectable when they go unchallenged. A determined opposition, pointing out their untruths and fallacies at every turn, will do more to diminish their power than any number of wishy-washy statements from theologians.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.skepchick.com writerdd

    Amen.

  • Kevin Morgan

    And you will know them by their acts (or something like that). It’s just amazing how these “good Christians” think they are following in the ways of Jesus when they vandalize property they don’t approve of and are not held accountable. We know what would happen if someone threw a tomato on the baby Jesus in his manger. There’d be stories all over the TV and newspapers about “this horrible desecration of a sacred symbol of Christianity” and calls for the apprehension and punishment of such evil-doers.

    Just like the phone calls to atheist talk shows, or letters to people working for separation of church and state. Hate filled diatribes loaded with obscene language and threats of violence.

    Yeah, Christians are the peace loving ones…

    Happy solstice everyone!

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Good post. It’s firm, yet stated reasonably and civilly. Atheists must continue to be firm, and of course civil, in our discourse with believers.

  • Eric

    Thank you Ebon.

    As someone who knows first hand now how bigoted and mean spirited the other side can be when we assert our rights, I say it truly is time to be brave and speak out. Take the fight to them and let them know that threats, harrassment and intimidation WILL NOT COWER ME.

    And in the words of my father…”when was the last time your heard about an atheist mother loading her kids into the back of a car and driving them into a lake because god told her to…”

    Time to let them know we are here and are no longer afraid of their theeats.

    Eric

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Absolutely. We should not give an inch. The “militant atheism” we are being accused of is actually far more polite than what your average Evangelical preacher spews out on an average Sunday.

    We deserve a place at the table and we are in the process of successfully securing it. The horrified shrillness of the religious right about giving atheists barely equal time to speak is a testament to their fear and abject weakness in the realm of ideas.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Imagine me standing in front of the Tree of Knowledge, and proclaiming to all of you…

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  • Hypatia

    Spanish Inquisitor, my reaction would depend on your tone. If it was said it a pleasant happy way then I’d happily echo back “Merry Christmas”, recognizing that it’s a nice time of year and a good cultural holiday no matter what you believe.
    However, if you barked it as a hostile imperative claiming the season as belonging to your religion and yours alone? I’d probably roll my eyes and walk on, or maybe just wish you a joyous yuletide and reason’s greetings.

  • Tomas S

    Ebonmuse,

    All in all, I appreciate and agree with your essay, but let me take exception with one part. There is nothing wrong with the “open letter to Christmas culture warriors.” It’s almost as if you forget that these liberal clergy members are speaking to fellow believers. What can we expect other than them to try to catch more flies with honey?

    When dealing with an angry customer (especially one with a genuine grievance), it’s most effective to match the energy of the customer, but not the anger. I can see that this is what the “liberal clergy” is doing here. We cannot expect them to join in and march with the atheists.

    I’m with you, though, that while you can catch more flies with honey, they taste better with vinegar. We atheists can take the kind of fight-fire-with-fire tack which the liberal clergy cannot.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Hypatia.

    Consider me firmly in the first camp. Espcially if I try to get you to read one of the books. :)

  • http://www.atheistalliance.org Carol

    Regarding your comment about “soon to be president of AAI” Margaret Downey.

    Please be advised that Margaret HAS been president of Atheist Alliance International for well over a year.

    Carol
    Secretary, AAI

  • dhagrow

    This seemed appropriate. Merry X-mas.
    http://xkcd.com/357/

  • velkyn

    “One woman at the scene, quoted in the linked article, warns that “God will take his hand off America” and “we will suffer violence and sickness and death” if atheists are given equal rights.”

    Just the same biggoted crap that was spewed when people of color asked to be considered equal and when women asked to be considered equal. I’m so tired of this. I’m on the verge of simply not caring anymore.

  • DamienSansBlog

    On the other hand…

    What exactly are we asking for from religious moderates? Granted, statements like this are overdue, and it would be a terrible betrayal if this is the only such statment they make.

    But at what point are we willing to say, “They’ve finally come to their senses!” What action can the religious center make that will be enough?

  • OMGF

    One thing I would ask of them is that they stand up and acknowledge that we (non-Xians) have rights, and stop allowing the extremists such free reign to put up displays of the 10 commandments in court houses, attack evolution in the schools, etc.

  • MissCherryPi

    One thing I would ask of them is that they stand up and acknowledge that we (non-Xians) have rights, and stop allowing the extremists such free reign to put up displays of the 10 commandments in court houses, attack evolution in the schools, etc.

    *cough*BarryLynn*cough*

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Speaking for myself, I’d like to see two things happen:

    1. A widespread recognition that holding religious faith is not necessarily a guarantee that the holder is a moral or trustworthy person, and conversely, a recognition that nonbelievers can be good and ethical people as well. (This would be reflected in, for example, the polls of how many Americans would consider voting for an atheist for president – that percentage is dismally low at the moment.)

    2. A recognition that private, inherently unverifiable religious faith cannot serve as the basis for public policies that affect all citizens. This would be reflected in increased support for separation of church and state, also something that can be tracked in polls (this poll from 2005 finds that 40% of Americans say “religious leaders should try to sway policy makers” – a substantially higher percentage than in most other Western nations).

  • Tomas S

    Are we asking what we want moderate believers to do which is “enough” or are we asking what we want moderate clergy to do?

    Ebon — it sounds like you want the clergy to come out and say “we are irrelevant”. Do we believe that this can happen?

  • OMGF

    *cough*BarryLynn*cough*

    The exception to the rule, and a good exception to have at that.

    Ebon — it sounds like you want the clergy to come out and say “we are irrelevant”. Do we believe that this can happen?

    This does not necessarily follow from what Ebon said. I see no reason why the clergy would be irrelevant by acknowledging that non-religious people can be moral or that religious people are not moral simply due to belief in god. (I assume you meant number 1, since number 2 seemed to fit even less.)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I would like to see Christians fight for freedom of conscience outside their own backyard. Who knows how many thousands of Chinese are in labor camps for thought crimes, and these virtuous Christians are . . . silent. Hmph. They’re more like cats than geese; they only sound off when their own toes are stepped-upon.

  • Marty

    I think the limp, conciliatory tone is the liberal religious believers’ attempt to be christ-like– you know, forgiving their enemies, loving their neighbors, inheriting the Earth and all. Imagine, actually acting as they believe their deity demands? They’re not quite up to driving the money changers out of the temple. The blowhards will run all over them and tell them that they’re going to hell. And if authority figures say that, who are the meek to question?

  • Tomas S

    OMGF: This does not necessarily follow from what Ebon said.

    Well, considering that Ebon actually answered a slightly different question than what Damien asked … or rather, than what I think Damien should have asked … I’m forced to agree with you.

    When Damien asked about “religious moderates”, was he talking about all moderate believers (the rabble) or about the clergy — which was the original topic under discussion? Ebon, in his answer, uses words like “widespread”, and “poll” which suggests “all believers”. I’d like to know what Ebon (and Atheists in general) expect moderate clergy to do.

    (I assume you meant number 1, since number 2 seemed to fit even less.)

    No, I meant number 2. Denominational clergy have dedicated their lives to “private, inherently unverifiable religious faith” and spend their time encouraging their flock to follow God in all things. It is not realistic to expect them to tell their flocks not to consider God while determining their stand on any given issue, or deciding to whom to give their vote.

    What is more, this wasn’t even the question at hand in the oriinal letter. The point of the original letter is that there are more important things to worry about than whether people say “happy holidays.” I, an atheist, am one of the few people at my work who actually say “merry Christmas.” Does this mean that the Culture Warriors have won? Absolutly not – since my seasonal greeting has the form of Christyness but denies the power thereof. The liberal clergy is right here. What matters is how we put Christ’s teachings into action. “Merry Christmas, buy a plasma TV” is not a Christian message. “Happy Holidays, would you like my cloak” might be.

    So, if we’re going to criticize the “liberal clergy”‘s stand on “Happy Holidays”, it’s reasonable to ask what we expect them to do. My take is that it doesn’t matter and we should go forward with what we atheists find to be right on this topic.

  • OMGF

    When Damien asked about “religious moderates”, was he talking about all moderate believers (the rabble) or about the clergy — which was the original topic under discussion? Ebon, in his answer, uses words like “widespread”, and “poll” which suggests “all believers”. I’d like to know what Ebon (and Atheists in general) expect moderate clergy to do.

    Does it matter whether he meant all believers or simply the clergy? Further, if the clergy started preaching this, wouldn’t it be reflected in the polls?

    No, I meant number 2. Denominational clergy have dedicated their lives to “private, inherently unverifiable religious faith” and spend their time encouraging their flock to follow God in all things. It is not realistic to expect them to tell their flocks not to consider God while determining their stand on any given issue, or deciding to whom to give their vote.

    So, you are saying that clergy all go out and violate their tax-free status by telling people how to vote? I know you don’t actually mean that, but look at what you are saying. There’s no reason that churches can’t go out and say that (based on number one) there should be separation of church and state, that churches have no business inserting themselves into politics, and that elected officials should not be shoving their church doctrine down the throat of others.

    My take is that it doesn’t matter and we should go forward with what we atheists find to be right on this topic.

    From the standpoint of what we do, you are right. We should do what we think is right and move forward. It does matter, however, what the moderate theists do. So long as they are against us and with the extremists, we have a much harder hill to climb. If they don’t wish to be associated with the extreme elements, they have to realize that they can’t keep taking such a conciliatory stance on everything and letting the extremists run rough-shod over them. Further, they have to realize that simply being on god’s team, isn’t always the right stance to take and that principle should trump simply standing by the guy who screams “god” the loudest.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    To clarify, my advice was for both lay believers and the clergy. I think it applies equally well to both groups.

    Ebon — it sounds like you want the clergy to come out and say “we are irrelevant”. Do we believe that this can happen?

    I’m not asking anyone to concede that they are irrelevant, only that their personal beliefs about God cannot be used as a justification in formulating public policy for people who believe differently. There are plenty of things which religious groups advocate that can be justified purely on secular grounds without appealing to God’s will – feeding the poor, promoting peace over violence, caring for the environment, and so on. By all means, go out and vote for those things.

    What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for religious groups to support the imposition of policies that can only be justified by appealing to God’s will – e.g., “We should outlaw gay marriage because God says it’s a sin and he’ll punish us if we don’t,” or, “We should put ‘In God We Trust’ on the money because that way God will give our nation his divine protection.” That sort of reasoning should never be brought into the public domain, no matter how it may guide a believer’s own actions in their private life. Policies that affect all people have to be justified based on facts that all people have a chance to examine.

    There have been plenty of clergy and believers through history who recognized why this kind of separation was important. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that this recognition become more widespread.

  • Tomas S

    Ebon, for my part, you haven’t really answered the question — which was what do we want the moderate/libral clergy to do, not what we want them not to do. I question whether anybody who says the things you put in quotes in your last comment can even be considered “moderate”.

    I think your essay would have been better if you’d called it “How TO fight the war on Christmas” and skipped the first four paragraphs.

  • OMGF

    Tomas,
    We are simply not reading the same blog. I’m seriously thinking that you are a sock puppet. How can you possible assert that Ebon has not stated what he would like from the clergy when he specifically did that? It boggles the mind.

  • Tomas S

    I’m seriously thinking that you are a sock puppet.

    “Tomas S” is indeed a somewhat false name. My real name is Thomas. I’m not using my real name because we’re still involved with Scouts, and I don’t want to stir up trouble for myself. I’ve used the name “Tomas S” on at least one other blog.

    Ebon, presumably, has access to my e-mail address which shows what the “S” stands for. He could also google that word and find that I have a fairly broad and long history of posting in various places under my real name which can be looked up in the white pages. (Ebon, feel free to call for a chat sometime.)

    As to whether Ebon answered “the question” or not, that’s between me and Ebon. I do not believe that you are a sock pupet, but I have concluded that I am incapable of expressing myself in a way that you will not misunderstand. I regret this, but I’m forced to accept it. I rejoice that this effect I seem to have on people on this board seems limited so far to you. I hope that some day you and I can meet in some medium (e.g. face to face) that is not prone to such problems.

  • KShep

    From Ebon’s last post:

    I’m not asking anyone to concede that they are irrelevant, only that their personal beliefs about God cannot be used as a justification in formulating public policy for people who believe differently. There are plenty of things which religious groups advocate that can be justified purely on secular grounds without appealing to God’s will – feeding the poor, promoting peace over violence, caring for the environment, and so on. By all means, go out and vote for those things.

    That sounds to me like an answer—something he wants the clergy to do is stop using their beliefs to formulate public policy.

    I guess I’m not sure if that is what you’re looking for, but it seems like an answer to me.

  • OMGF

    As to whether Ebon answered “the question” or not, that’s between me and Ebon.

    Sorry, but this is a public board, and when you make bad arguments, you’ll get called on them.

    …I have concluded that I am incapable of expressing myself in a way that you will not misunderstand.

    What a load of BS. I understand quite well what you are saying, and I’m arguing against it quite well. Once you realize that you’ve been refuted, you simply cry out that you’re being misunderstood and then never get around to explaining it any better or defending your position. Face it, you’re wrong on this point. Ebon certainly did answer the question and your repeated claims that he didn’t are part of a larger pattern that’s been quite evident since you got here. Your bizarre claims that you can’t back up that atheists say X and Y are good examples of this. You attack atheists for making bad arguments, but you can’t back up that it actually happens, and when it is pointed out you cry misrepresentation and then back away while trying to make me and others who have pointed it out look like we are wrong and you are right through implication.

    I stand unconvinced that you are not a sock puppet, and I am wholly convinced that you can’t back up your arguments.

  • Tomas S

    Kshep:That sounds to me like an answer—something he wants the clergy to do is stop using their beliefs to formulate public policy.

    Yes, it does sound like an answer — but it isn’t really an answer. Let me explain why I say this.

    We’re talking about a letter from moderate clergy (Ebon says “liberal”) which condemns extremists who want do to things like boycott stores which don’t use the word “Christmas.” My question is – what do we want moderate (or liberal) Christians to do about this which would be considered “enough” or “the right way to do it”? His answer skips right off the topic and goes somewhere else.

    Second, we need to be clear in what we mean by moderate (or liberal) vs extreme. For my part, Christians who boycott stores for saying “Happy Holidays” or who want to dictate policy exclusivly by religion (such as teaching Creationism in public schools) cannot be considered “moderate.” So, when the question is what we want the moderates to do, the answer shouldn’t include them stopping things which by definition they are not doing. Perhaps Ebon is using different definitions. In that case, I do not understand his answer.

    Third, we all give our vote based on our beliefs. He believes Bush is a liar. She believes war is never justified. This one believes capital punishment deters crime. That one believes that lowering income tax raises productivity. I may disagree with what others believe, but I am never suprised when I see people acting on them.

    To OMGF, I will not be baited or bullied into further replies. I am done playing with you here. I respect your right to agree or disagree with me and even to comment on what I say. If anybody other than you would like a clarification on anything you may have asked me, they may ask and I will reply. I am sure you are a fine person, but given the history of our exchanges, I don’t see how any reply I could make to you could be productive for either of us.

  • Dutch

    The constitution never says anything about “a wall of separation,” but it does say the government.

    Here is what it says – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .”

    But, I agree with this article, keep religion out of public places for it looks like the government is condoning a certain religion. Historically, this has not happened as the founding fathers were Christians(while keeping slaves)hmmm. Christianity was what ruled the land in an indirect way. I believe The constitution could very well be the best document ever written by man. The word “God” was/is everywhere to be seen. How could they do that? Because the government, unlike England with its Church of England, did not establish a religion, and that is how it should be. Today is different because mankind is so “enlightened” and scientific progress has brought into doubt the veracity of The Bible. Today we want a “wall of separation” to continue the progress of man.

    I wonder though, could the constitution have been written by an atheist(s)? I have no idea, but somehow I doubt it.

    I wish Christians would just stop. Take The Ten Comandments out of the court house, remove crosses from public venues etc. What does it matter, the battle has always been in man. These external things are not even desired or needed. Give unto Caesar what is Caeser’s.

    To any Christians here, if you need crosses, statues, tablets, etc. for your faith, your faith is weak indeed. I am a Christian, and you may poo on The Bible or flush it down the toilet – no problem. I have my evidence and substance of my faith. So please allow atheists to remove any symbolism from the public square, where is your faith? Above all, forgive them and do no harm, and if you are thinking harm, then let them among you who is without fault, cast the first stone.

    JMHO, Dutch

  • Tomas S

    Dutch, for the record, it’s not a bygone conclusion that the Founding Fathers were Christian. I’ll let you look into that as your abilities and inclination permit. A Google search on – were the founding fathers Christians (without quotation marks) – might be a reasonable first step.

  • lpetrich

    I keep on wondering why the “liberal” and “moderate” Xians aren’t howling “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” about the fundies.

    And there aren’t ANY references to “God” in the US Constitution. Look at its Preamble:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    It’s a nice, simple statement of the social-contract theory of government, and it’s far from saying “We’re only following God’s orders.”

  • OMGF

    Yes, it does sound like an answer — but it isn’t really an answer. Let me explain why I say this.

    We’re talking about a letter from moderate clergy (Ebon says “liberal”) which condemns extremists who want do to things like boycott stores which don’t use the word “Christmas.” My question is – what do we want moderate (or liberal) Christians to do about this which would be considered “enough” or “the right way to do it”? His answer skips right off the topic and goes somewhere else.

    Perhaps if you read the OP, it might make sense, since he gives a somewhat answer there. He calls for the moderate clergy to be less wishy-washy and step forward and actually do something to curtail the hateful extremists. One way would be to stand with the Philadelphia atheists and their tree of knowledge. Of course, this will probably still be unsatisfactory for you, since everything will unless we say exactly what you want us to say.

    To OMGF, I will not be baited or bullied into further replies. I am done playing with you here. I respect your right to agree or disagree with me and even to comment on what I say. If anybody other than you would like a clarification on anything you may have asked me, they may ask and I will reply.

    Are you not talking to me? Oh, so sad for me. I will continue to point out your bad arguments, and you can do what you will with it. I especially like the part about how you refuse to clarify anything you say to me though. It’s not like you’ve been willing to do that in the past, even when I’ve asked, so why start now? It’s much easier to complain that I’m misrepresenting you than to actually stick up for your arguments.

  • OMGF

    The word “God” was/is everywhere to be seen.

    Not just in the preamble, but nowhere does the word “god” appear in the U.S. Constitution.

    I wonder though, could the constitution have been written by an atheist(s)? I have no idea, but somehow I doubt it.

    Please tell us why you would believe that an atheist could not write the Constitution. Do you think Madison was a Xian?

    To any Christians here, if you need crosses, statues, tablets, etc. for your faith, your faith is weak indeed. I am a Christian, and you may poo on The Bible or flush it down the toilet – no problem. I have my evidence and substance of my faith. So please allow atheists to remove any symbolism from the public square, where is your faith?

    Thank you for the sentiment. You are correct. If you really believe, what does it matter if the courthouse puts up a cross or not?

    Above all, forgive them and do no harm, and if you are thinking harm, then let them among you who is without fault, cast the first stone.

    May I suggest Bart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus”? You’ll find that the story about casting the first stone was added to the Bible years later than when the gospel was written. It’s a made-up story that didn’t come from the original author.

    I also believe I read that you follow the KJV, right? You’ll learn that the KJV is chock full of translation errors. Instead of being the most accurate as you asserted, it is actually probably the least accurate Bible out there.

  • Dutch

    I reread my comment and what I meant to say is that God was everywhere in regards of our Christian founders, wisely they did not include it in the constitution. That they were Christian is no doubt. Many secularists would like to make the original Thanksgiving a different sort of holiday by rewriting history books.

    It really dooesn’t matter anyhow, as you will probably acknowledge, change always happens, whether for better or worse. Life, weather, in fact, the universe is always in flux. So if it is to be that all religous symbols are to be arradicated from the public square, I will tell you when that happens, you may expect change in the other direction. The pendulum always swings.

    OMGF, I use only the KJV and use e-sword a great online Bible study tool. Since this has worked for me, I do not wish to change. The Bible says faith = evidence and substance of things unseen(more or less) I have my evidence – and it has been mind blowing.

    As more and more people get their “evidence” no attack on the veracity of the Bible will work. This will take place, of that, for me and a few others, there is no doubt. It will be slow going and not explode on the scene. I always wonder how it will come about? As this will take place over the next thousand years, I, as well as everyone here, will witness it from another place. Scientists are always asking “how?” I wonder when they will start asking “why?”

    I am almost finished with the book “Einstein and Religion.” You will be happy to note that Einstein was an atheist, perhaps agnostic. Perhaps as you all claim, that once you become a thinker, you become atheist. Right now, being a no doubt believer in God, the reading of books that involve the Quantum Field are very interesting.
    from plato.stanford.edu
    “Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is the mathematical and conceptual framework for contemporary elementary particle physics. Since the very beginning of western philosophy reflections about the material world which go beyond the directly observable play a central role in philosophy. Starting with the presocratics it has always been a point of debate what the fundamental characteristics of the material world are. Is everything constantly changing or are there certain permanent features? What is basic and what is merely a matter of perspective and appearance? In the course of time various answers have been given and conflicting views have often been alternating in their predominance”
    Is science eventually going to come up against a the proverbial “brick wall,” Or will that “brick wall,” be God who is the “all in all?” I don’t know how it all happens, but happen it will. This way off topic – sorry.

    The title on this website of this article should be “how not to fight the battle on Christmas.” For the war will be ongoing many years, well after we are gone. Battles will be won and lost, but the war continues.

    Good day, Dutch

  • OMGF

    That they were Christian is no doubt.

    As others have, I suggest you actually look it up.

    Many secularists would like to make the original Thanksgiving a different sort of holiday by rewriting history books.

    Thanksgiving has its roots in pagan harvest celebrations. But, this is funny that you target Thanksgiving, considering it’s not generally thought of as a Xian holiday anyway. Are you asserting that it is a Xian holiday?

    OMGF, I use only the KJV and use e-sword a great online Bible study tool. Since this has worked for me, I do not wish to change.

    Does the veracity of what’s written matter to you at all? If not, shouldn’t it?

    The Bible says faith = evidence and substance of things unseen(more or less) I have my evidence – and it has been mind blowing.

    Well, this is interesting. If faith = evidence and substance of things unseen, does that mean that you believe that your subjective faith actually shapes the world around you? Why is that not true of Muslims or Hindi or any other non-Xian? If I decided to have faith that god doesn’t exist, would I then erradicate god?

    As more and more people get their “evidence” no attack on the veracity of the Bible will work. This will take place, of that, for me and a few others, there is no doubt. It will be slow going and not explode on the scene. I always wonder how it will come about? As this will take place over the next thousand years, I, as well as everyone here, will witness it from another place.

    You sound as if Xians are the extreme minority. Are you a true Scotsman?

    Scientists are always asking “how?” I wonder when they will start asking “why?”

    What do you mean by “why?” If the question falls outside the realm of science, then I suspect scientists will never ask that question. If science starts debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, then it becomes useless.

  • Dutch

    I am truly a dutchman, kan jei nederlandse praten?

    Funny you mentioned “Scotsman.” Two of my duaghters married Scotsmen. One of my daughters is spending the New Year in Glasgow with her husband.

    Oh, but scientists will ask “why.” Maybe after all this research at Cern and Fermilab, and they begin to wonder at why it(Big Bang) happened at all. I don’t know the human race started with quarks, leptons and such – even that seems ridiculous to believe without at least intelligent design. I know, I know, if you can’t explain it, we Christians use God as the explanation. try reading some material on the quantum field, or the unified field – I assure you it’s not religous so you wont be tainted. It can explain a few of the apparent anomolies that occur in nature – it may also give atheists another weapon to do away with religion.

    One suggestion, don’t be so myopic by focusing on Christianity. I don’t believe Christians are nearly so violent as another religion we all know. Why the silence? I Have read the article on this website regarding the crazies in Africa, but that is the exception. Christians are dying everyday at the hands of other fanatics. The nun that was beheaded as she was helping the poor in Africa just because of some cartoons in Denmark. I could list countless examples of this, but I suspect you know it. I have many relatives in Europe and what I hear and read is a bit unsettling. I know the Dutch are leaving at a 200 thousand/year clip. Perhaps you would be glad to know that the churches throughout Europe are emptying, and many are being replaced by mosques, but that is another subject.

    Those clouds you see on the horizon aren’t Christians wanting to take over, they are Muslims.

    “does that mean that you believe that your subjective faith actually shapes the world around you?”

    No, I know the world around me is “shaped” created by God. It is not faith in that sense, since I know it to be the way it is. I have my objective evidence which no one will believe. Hey, I just thought of something. Maybe you can explain it. Two people, one near Chicago, and one in Florida had the same dream. The next day the Florida guy calls and starts to describe his dream. The Chicago guy stops him and explains the dream to Florida guy. This really happened, and may explained by science at some later date.

    I say there is a God, the creator of time and the universe. You say the universe’s existence can be explained without God. Neither of us is likely to change our position, I know I can’t.

    I end with another quote from The Bible – Ebonmuse can thank me later for providing amunition. Good day, and Happy New Year!

    Rev 11:8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

  • OMGF

    I am truly a dutchman, kan jei nederlandse praten?

    Funny you mentioned “Scotsman.” Two of my duaghters married Scotsmen. One of my daughters is spending the New Year in Glasgow with her husband.

    I don’t think you got the joke. I was pondering whether you were making a comment that Xians are in the minority because most people who say they are Xians are not “true Xians.”

    Oh, but scientists will ask “why.” Maybe after all this research at Cern and Fermilab, and they begin to wonder at why it(Big Bang) happened at all.

    Of course we wonder why. If we can’t ask/answer it scientifically though…

    I don’t know the human race started with quarks, leptons and such – even that seems ridiculous to believe without at least intelligent design. I know, I know, if you can’t explain it, we Christians use God as the explanation.

    Which is also known as the “god of the gaps” fallacy. ID has zero evidence for it. Why would you prefer an explanation that has zero evidence?

    One suggestion, don’t be so myopic by focusing on Christianity. I don’t believe Christians are nearly so violent as another religion we all know.

    There are some dead Iraqis that might disagree with you if they could. Oh, and some abortion providers, etc.

    Why the silence?

    What other religions would you like for me to criticize, and why? There is quite a bit of discussion on this blog about faith in general and why it is not a good thing to believe in things sans evidence. That applies to all religions equally. Further, Islam and Judaism suffer from a lot of the same arguments that apply to Xianity, so the main three of the western world are generally covered.

    Christians are dying everyday at the hands of other fanatics.

    I know, but they are also doing the attacking in other countries, and all in the name of religion. It’s sad that people want to kill each other over who has the better imaginary friend.

    Perhaps you would be glad to know that the churches throughout Europe are emptying, and many are being replaced by mosques, but that is another subject.

    Replacing one myth with another doesn’t give me any joy. Right now, Muslims are more intolerant that Xians, that much is true.

    Those clouds you see on the horizon aren’t Christians wanting to take over, they are Muslims.

    In my country, there are many Xians that want to turn this nation into an official Xian nation living under Biblical rule. Neither one is pleasant to contemplate.

    No, I know the world around me is “shaped” created by God.

    Actually, you don’t know that. You believe it but you don’t know it.

    I have my objective evidence which no one will believe.

    If it is objective, there’s no reason that others shouldn’t be able to see it as evidence.

    This really happened, and may explained by science at some later date.

    It’s said to have really happened, but I doubt that it did happen, or that something else wasn’t responsible for it.

    I say there is a God, the creator of time and the universe. You say the universe’s existence can be explained without God. Neither of us is likely to change our position, I know I can’t.

    That’s an interesting thought, a theist saying that (s)he can’t change his/her position. Why not? Does not Xianity hold that we have free will?

  • Dutch

    Have a truly great new Year OMGF and others, I will spend a quiet evening with the missus.

  • OMGF

    It is new year for you already, right? Have a good one.

  • lpetrich

    Where are the liberal Xians who say about the fundies:

    ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’

    If they are, then they are not being very loud and public about it. The closest thing I’m seeing to that is from the activist “New Atheists”; where are the liberals who are proposing to debate notable fundies in full public view like what the Rational Response Squad did with the Way of the Master? Or else pulling off stunts like the Rational Response Squad’s Blasphemy Challenge?

  • Tomas S

    Ipetrich wrote (twice, apparently):

    I keep on wondering why the “liberal” and “moderate” Xians aren’t howling “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” about the fundies.

    This kind of reaction would be neither moderate nor Christian – and totally not eccumenical (which is often a focus for moderate denominational Christians.) Still, this doesn’t mean that you won’t hear disagreement from the pulpit.

    The idea of a liberal ELCA pastor taking on a “Bible Believing” pastor in a debate strikes me as … well, what’s the point? What would they debate? “We believe the Bible better than you do”? “We love the true Jesus and you don’t”? Knowing Fundamentalists and moderate clergy as I do, I simply cannot see this happening. What purpose would it serve?

    From my point of view, I don’t see liberal clergy doing much of anything “loudly and publically” at least at this point of my life. I don’t suppose this means they’re not, and again, I don’t understand why we’re concerned about it. Moderate Christians believe that extreme Christians are fellow belevers who can perhaps be made moderate through gentle discussion (and perhaps small doses of “tough love”, and are acting accordingly. This should not surprise us. If we disagree, then we should also act accordingly.

    Dutch:

    I am truly a dutchman, kan jei nederlandse praten?

    Ik kan het verstaan, maar ik praat het maar en klein bitje. :-)

  • OMGF

    This kind of reaction would be neither moderate nor Christian

    Why not?

    The idea of a liberal ELCA pastor taking on a “Bible Believing” pastor in a debate strikes me as … well, what’s the point? What would they debate? “We believe the Bible better than you do”? “We love the true Jesus and you don’t”? Knowing Fundamentalists and moderate clergy as I do, I simply cannot see this happening. What purpose would it serve?

    The point it serves is that some moderate Xians actually sometimes quietly voice their dissatisfaction with being lumped in with the “god hates fags” group or abortion bombers and they DO claim that that’s not real Xianity. Yet, they are not willing to stand up and proclaim it to those groups. If they don’t want to be associated with those people, however, then they should speak up and proclaim that their vision of Xianity doesn’t include those individuals. Unfortunately, for all of us, they would rather be with those who proclaim god than with those who don’t, regardless of what is right.

  • Randall

    OMGF: you are right. So let me try, as Popes and bishops and Catholic leaders before me have repeatedly declared:

    I am a Christian. I do not believe that God hates anyone or that bombing is ever the right way to solve problems. This is not real Christianity. I don’t want to be associated with these people, and Catholicism, which I try to practice, does not include these beliefs, but fights them wherever it finds them.

    We are trying. It is difficult to argue with those who are generally considered to be on your side in addition to those who are generally considered not to be.

  • lpetrich

    As to what to debate on, there’s a LOT:

    How to interpret the Bible
    Does the Bible really imply that the Universe is only about 6000 years old?
    Is homosexuality evil?
    Should women be second-class citizens?
    Are non-born-agains Real Xians?
    Will all non-Xians get sent to some place of eternal torment no matter how good they are?
    Etc.

  • theistscientist

    I must say, not that I am crying crocodile tears for my athiest bretheren, but from a PR perspective, the atheist’ insane and fanatic war against manger scenes at Christmas, not only has been an unwise allocation of resources, but has been a public relations blunder of the highest magnitude.

  • Randall

    Doesn’t seem like debate will do much, though. Those questions can almost all be answered by: do you accept Christian fundamentalism or not? If so, your mind won’t be changed by debate; if not, the answers are very simple.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Theistscientist,

    I have no problem with someone who wants to put up a manager scene on their lawn, or even spray paint a large one on their house. Whatever they want to do on their public property is their business. However, the constituion is very clear that the state cannot endorse anyone religion. It either needs to give them all equal access or deny access to all of them. So for the government to erect one on public property, or put a cross on a public building is a violation of the seperation of church and state.

  • Randall

    Mrnaglfar,

    Would you be content with true equal access to all religions – perhaps with a certain number of representatives in the community, in order to avoid nitpicking – in placing religious symbols in public places? Or would you say that by doing so, the state is “endorsing religion” in general?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    I don’t think religion has a place in the government at all personally. If you want equal access and actually put up something for each religion, the walls would be too covered with symbols. It’s a waste of resources to do that in a true sense.

  • Randall

    Same question, then, but assume that the government is simply allowing a representative of each organized religion to put up whatever symbol he or she chooses. That way the government is simply providing permission, and people are free to devote their own resources to providing a symbol. Would you be offended by the government’s endorsement of “religion” in general? Do you think that most atheists would be?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    I would be offended in the common-sense region of my mind when I saw a gold deck of tarot cards sitting on the steps of a town hall. I would see it as incredibly pointless at best. I don’t feel the government should be concerned with the placing all manner of superstitious nick-nacks, however inclusive. I think most people would (should) agree as well, atheist or not.

  • OMGF

    Randall, thank you for your statement. I don’t agree that Xianity teaches this, or that god doesn’t hate anyone, but I’m glad that you will publicly state that hateful beliefs should not be opposed. Please do your part to talk to others of your faith to oppose those who would use their faith as a bludgeon against others.

    As to religious symbols, it would not be OK for the government to put up religious symbols, even if they tried to be all-inclusive. The separation of church and state is there for a reason, and government can only truly respect all people’s rights be being neutral on the topic of religion. Without the freedom to disbelieve, we aren’t truly free. An endorsement by the government of religion over irreligion goes against this and is a violation of all of our rights. Yes, even yours.

  • Randall

    OMGF, I think you missed part of my latest post. Let me rephrase.

    Do you have an objection to people putting up religious symbols of their own in public places, such as public parks? What about asking the government to do so, as an extension of their freedom of expression?

    Say the government, in response to a petition, decides to display the Ten Commandments in a government building. Why is this considered “endorsing religion” rather than “respecting the wishes of a subset of the population”?

    “Please do your part to talk to others of your faith to oppose those who would use their faith as a bludgeon against others.”

    When I meet other Catholics who do so, I will certainly remonstrate with them. This has not happened yet.

  • OMGF

    Do you have an objection to people putting up religious symbols of their own in public places, such as public parks? What about asking the government to do so, as an extension of their freedom of expression?

    The government must remain neutral on the topic of freedom or else they violate all of our rights. It’s that simple. If someone comes and asks to put up a religious display in a public park, the only response must be no. The public park is there for all the public, not just those who are of a certain religion or even just those who are theistic.

    Say the government, in response to a petition, decides to display the Ten Commandments in a government building. Why is this considered “endorsing religion” rather than “respecting the wishes of a subset of the population”?

    See above. Also, it is considered endorsement because the government is essentially giving preferential treatment to that subset and their religious leanings. In effect, the government is saying that this religion is respected while others and non-religions are not respected.

  • Martin

    Ebonmuse,
    I am rather unsettled by the warrior sub-text evident in this piece. You ask, “How Not to Fight the War on Christmas” and talk of the “marching culture warriors” and hope to “defeat the religious right” as though there actually is a war going on here.

    I am an atheist, and have fairly strong views on the overly respectful attitude that religious belief is afforded in our society. I also object to religions being given charity status which, most people don’t seem to realise, is costing me tax dollars (it’s actually pounds in my case, but hey…). What concerns me though is that it is not obvious that we are going to bring about the social and political revolution necessary for religion to be considered a quaint but obscure belief system by marching into war with culture warriors.

    Is anyone looking at the bigger picture here? Instead of repeatedly grinding every minute morsel of meaning out of the holy book and trumping the religious with rhetoric and logic, do we actually have an objective. Are we simply fighting an endless sequence of minor skirmishes that both sides claim to have won or do we actually have an agenda. Is this battle we cannot win going to get us anywhere or is it just some intellectual jiggery pokery to make a few skilled debaters fell good about themself?

  • Randall

    OMGF,

    Doesn’t the freedom of expression, as long as it is equally applied to everyone, cover religious displays? As long as the government lets any organized religion, or non-religion, display symbols, there is no preferential treatment. The government exists to protect freedom, and this includes the right to practice religion as long as it is not infringing upon the freedoms of others. I hardly think that seeing a Nativity scene in a public place could be considered “forcing religion” upon others. Is there a disjunct in our points of views?

    Martin: what do you expect? There are only two ways to win such a war; to force others to believe what you believe, or to realize that such a war need not exist and to declare a truce. No fight over beliefs is ever won unless one of the sides is annihilated, and that hardly qualifies as a victory. Both sides throughout history have employed the first strategy; both sides should be focusing, in the modern world, on the second.

  • Martin

    OMGF,
    I sincerely hope your response is not intended to be an answer to my question.

    Does anyone else here have a more considered reply?

  • OMGF

    Martin,
    Considering that I haven’t even commented since you posted your question, I have to conclude that you were actually speaking to Randall?

    Randall,

    Doesn’t the freedom of expression, as long as it is equally applied to everyone, cover religious displays?

    Yes, and everyone has the right to privately display their religious symbols all they want.

    As long as the government lets any organized religion, or non-religion, display symbols, there is no preferential treatment.

    Incorrect. Giving space to the religious over the non-religious is preferential treatment of religion over non-religion. We can’t be truly free to worship our chosen religion unless we have the option of not worshipping.

    The government exists to protect freedom, and this includes the right to practice religion as long as it is not infringing upon the freedoms of others.

    Exactly, and the only way to do that is for the government to remain truly neutral on religion or non-religion, to stay out of it. That doesn’t include allowing religion to set up shop on public lands.

    I hardly think that seeing a Nativity scene in a public place could be considered “forcing religion” upon others.

    And you would be incorrect from a government standpoint. This would be an endorsement of Xianity and as such would violate my first amendment rights as well as yours even though you would want a nativity scene.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Do you have an objection to people putting up religious symbols of their own in public places, such as public parks? What about asking the government to do so, as an extension of their freedom of expression?

    Randall, you may want to reconsider your position here. When we allow the majority to choose which religion should be officially favored, often it’s not just atheists who suffer ill effects. From a post of mine in 2006, “It’s Your First Amendment Too“:

    For example, take the 1890 case State ex rel. Weiss vs. District Board. In this decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that teacher-led Bible readings in public schools, as had previously been the policy of the Edgerton school district, were unconstitutional. Were the plaintiffs atheists? No – they were Roman Catholics, upset that the Bible version being read to their children was the King James Bible, which they considered to be incorrect, incomplete and full of errors, as opposed to the authorized Catholic translation.

    Similarly, in the 2000 case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a policy of student-selected, school-endorsed sectarian prayer at high school football games in the town of Santa Fe, Texas. Again, were the plaintiffs atheists? No: they were Mormon and Catholic families whose children were being harassed and bullied by the right-wing Baptist majority in the schools – not just by other students, but even by school administrators.

    There are good reasons why we have separation of church and state in this country, and it’s not just to protect atheists. Do you want your children attending public schools where a Protestant majority chooses which Bibles will be read, which prayers will be said, or which versions of the Ten Commandments will be posted?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hi Martin,

    Are we simply fighting an endless sequence of minor skirmishes that both sides claim to have won or do we actually have an agenda. Is this battle we cannot win going to get us anywhere or is it just some intellectual jiggery pokery to make a few skilled debaters fell good about themself?

    First of all, I don’t agree that this is a battle we can’t possibly win. It seems as if religion is overwhelmingly dominant, that’s true, but it’s never faced open and sustained opposition before. There’s no telling how much room there is for atheism to grow, if we have forceful and passionate advocates making the case for it. See my post from 2006, “Is Atheism Unnatural?“, and more recently, “A Crack in the Wall“.

    Second, I think these skirmishes do serve a purpose. By making the case for atheism in public, we spread the message that religious belief is not the only possible choice, that nonbelief is an acceptable and defensible alternative. That alone does a great deal of good. There are many frustrated freethinkers out there who don’t realize that other people feel the same way as they do, and by making them aware that they’re not alone, we can encourage them to speak out and voice their own convictions in turn. It’s a beneficial positive feedback cycle.

    However, I don’t think that this is all we have to offer. If we’re going to provide a positive and desirable alternative to religion, I absolutely agree that we have to go beyond mere criticism and build a true secular community. And I think that’s already happening. Insofar as we have a “strategy” for advancing atheism, I think that’s what it is.


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