Is This Atheist Sign Going to Help?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is putting a display of its own alongside religious symbols in the state Capitol building in Olympia, Washington:

The foundation’s co-president, Dan Barker, said it was important for atheists to offer their viewpoint alongside the overtly religious Nativity scene and Christmas-style holiday tree.

“Our members want equal time,” Barker said. “Not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table.”

The three displays, all privately sponsored, were granted permits from state groundskeepers to be placed in the Capitol’s grand marble hallways.

For now, the atheist sign is a stand-in. The metal plaque meant for display was delayed by a shipping error, Barker said.

It will be two-sided, with a lengthy message on the main side, and “Keep State/Church Separate” on the back. Barker said that step is necessary because critics have sometimes spun around the group’s other statehouse display, in Wisconsin, in hopes of hiding its message.

Obviously, this sign has a right to be displayed next to the others.

But what will be the effect?

Will it cause religious people to consider atheism? Will it make silent atheists more vocal?

Or will it turn people away from atheism altogether?

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy says this:

I’m not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism. Passers-by who are not atheists themselves are likely to find it more offensive than persuasive. As a legal matter, however, I think that atheist groups should have the same rights to put up displays on public property as religious groups do. I don’t object if theists are allowed to put up creches, menorahs, and so forth on public property so long as agnostics, atheists, and others are accorded similar privileges.

LabRat at Atomic Nerds isn’t a fan:

Do all of us infidels a favor — you know us, the least-trusted minority in America — and sit down, be quiet, and SMILE when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas or Chappy Chanukah or Reverent Ramadan or Krazy Kwanzaa or whatever generic sentiment that assumes you view the winter season as anything other than a yearly astrological event. They are wishing you good will — the smart thing to do is take it, and return it.

It’s in short enough supply as it is no matter what flavor it comes in.

Where do you stand?

One other thing I just found interesting. tricyrtis.hirta was at the Capitol building watching a giant Christmas tree get set up. She has a set of pictures on Flickr of the proceedings. Along the way, she caught FFRF’s Dan Barker bringing the temporary sign into the building:

He looks so alone there… that just seemed poignant to me.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    That’s stupid. This is a holiday celebration display. Why didn’t they choose something upbeat and holiday-ish that is secular? This is the exact kind of thing that pisses people off. And for good reason. It’d piss me off and I’d boo at him if I saw him with that sign at a holiday display, and I’m an atheist. Besides a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol — it’s a symbol of a secular and commercial winter holiday.

  • HP

    Well, we saw just the other day how offended the Christians got by just the simple “you are not alone” billboard, so it’s safe to say that any recognition of atheism at all is going to offend many Christians.

    I agree that it’s a particularly inept message, but that’s a separate issue from the perceived need to reach out to religious people. That’s a fool’s errand.

    I’m not a big fan of Public Displays of Affiliation, so I don’t really have an idea for an alternative message. But I think the goal of public atheism should be to encourage closeted atheists to be more open. Atheists shouldn’t be in the business of proselytizing.

  • Christophe Thill

    Getting more preachy than the believers themselves? Not sure it’s a good approach.

  • Gullwatcher

    For once, this isn’t a theoretical question for me – I live in Washington. My first thought was, wow – I live in a state that actually tolerates me – how cool is that?

    I don’t really give a rat’s ass how Christians feel about this. Content aside, its presence makes me feel warm and fuzzy, just like their displays make them feel warm and fuzzy. It means I have a place at the holiday table. Yay, Washington!

  • Jeff Flowers

    While I support their right to post those signs, I wouldn’t do it.

  • Karv

    So stupid…

  • http://www.travisjmorgan.com Travis Morgan

    I support their right to post it, and I support the verity of the conent in which it reflects. If people have a problem with it, it is because of their own dispositions.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Actually, I like the first two sentences and have a mild disagreement with the third.

    But, the sign isn’t going to be politically effective.

    There is a way of stating truth to current “believers” that might just open them up to our ideas, and there is a way of stating the same truth that will further distance them from it.

    But if the idea is to “just vent”, then fine. :)

    But I doubt that it will plant any seeds of doubt.

  • Simon

    I like the idea of a sign, atheists need more visibility: ‘We are here, we are godless; get used to it!’

    But an aggressive, in your face approach is probably not the good approach especially toward the general believer population.
    Especially not in the context of a Christmas celebration which is associated with warm and fuzzy feelings.

    Something like:
    ‘I will drink hot cocoa the exact way my mother used to prepare when I was a kid and chat with aunt Jane I only see this time of year.
    I will share a nice dinner with my family and catch up with them.
    In the morning, I will share the surprise and excitement of my kids and store happy memories to keep me warm all year long.

    I don’t need a God to appreciate Christmas’.

    Warm and fuzzy should be the way to go.

  • http://www.penonblack.com Sam

    I don’t think the message is meant to reach out to Christians or others to try to convert them as much as it is a statement that there should be no religious symbols in the capitol building. This thing started when the simple “Holiday Tree” that was going to be put up was found to be offensive by Rep. John Ahern (R-Spokane) since it wasn’t a Christmas tree. So he had a “Merry Christmas” sign put up. That paved the way for a menorah, and then a nativity scene, and now they pretty much have to allow any religious symbolism in the Capitol building. The atheist sign is probably meant to spin that around – saying bluntly “there is no god” instead of bluntly “there is a god” in order to state that really, none of that stuff belongs in the Capitol building in the first place.

  • SarahH

    Word to those who’ve criticized the sign for it’s ineffective (and unhelpful) content. This sort of thing contributes to the idea many people have that atheism is a sort of religion – grouping with religious displays, proselytizing – and doesn’t really fit in with a holiday display, because it’s not celebrating anything. Celebrate the solstice, or Festivus, or what-have-you, but this is stupid.

    A sign like this or an aluminum pole (for its very high strength to weight ratio) would be playful and represent actual celebrations that don’t involve religious belief, rather than the paradoxically dull middle finger that the posted sign represents, IMO.

    Edited to add: It’s also not very good at conveying protest, if that’s the main point. It’s not going to make most people think about separation of church and state, just about the “War on Christmas” and how atheists are insulting their beliefs during one of their most cherished times of year. (Yes, it’s insulting their beliefs by calling religion something that “hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”) This distracts from the separation of church/state issue and makes things worse in several ways.

  • Aj

    It’s not the greatest of signs, like the billboard and DC bus ad. Who care whether it pisses off morons or doesn’t deconvert people? I like things like the atheist’s prayer or the London bus ad. Signs can be used to express our ideas and values, make them visible.

    I think secularists should be working to stop the religious displays not to add non-religious displays. Trying to compete with religion in this area will not work anyway.

  • Richard Wade

    At first I cringed when I read the sign, but then I wondered, “What am I afraid of?” I’m sick and tired of being afraid to speak my mind. I completely agree with the content of the sign and it gives me more courage to speak out rather than bite my tongue. Many people will choose to feel offense at this sign, but the sign isn’t offending them; they’re responsible for their response. As several readers have said on this site over the years, “You don’t have the right to not be offended.” Timidly tiptoeing around all the time to avoid giving others an excuse to strut and bluster their pretentious umbrage is never going to get us any respect from them. This sign won’t either, but it promotes my own self respect, and that’s a start.

  • Sandra

    I think a simple, “Religion has no business here.” would be more appropriate. A reminder to everyone that god does not belong in government.

  • http://www.ehpcreative.com eric perkins

    I love the sign. Absolutely love it!

    I think it should be placed anywhere religious memorabilia is displayed in public places. If the religious do not like it, then maybe they will get the point and understand how we feel.

    This sign definitely deserves to be placed in the capital building. Maybe the religious will appreciate the 1st Amendment a little more after seeing this :)

  • Sarah T.

    In feminist circles, we have a phrase for people who say, “You need to soften your tone. You need to sit down and shut up before you anger people with all your talk about having rights, etc.” We call them “concern trolls.”

    Edited to add: I am an atheist who celebrates a non-religious form of Christmas. I like the sign. It gets its message across succinctly and effectively. If it angers a few people, I hope they take a second to ask themselves why they are angry.

  • http://www.uw-ssu.org Walker

    “Besides a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol — it’s a symbol of a secular and commercial winter holiday.” -writerdd

    It wasn’t just a Christmas tree. In 2007, a local real estate agent sued the state in order to get them to display a Christian nativity scene. It worked, and this is its second year on display.

    Dan Barker (President of the FFRF, man holding the sign in the second photo) spoke at the University of Washington last night in support of his new book, Godless. Having been an evangelical preacher for nearly 20 years, he understands better than anyone how difficult Christians can be. By pandering to their incessant nagging to sustain tradition, atheists give them exactly what they want. They want to pretend we are a smaller minority than any poll could ever show. For the fundies, ignorance is bliss.

    While I agree that the FFRF’s message was in poor taste (the holidays are a time for good fellowship with other human beings), it is a false dichotomy to say atheists must choose between claiming their own morality, and discrediting religion. We need a comprehensive strategy to make any progress, and we need to be making headlines.

  • Pustulio

    I agree with Sam. If the point is to show that religious displays don’t belong there, then the message needs to be blunt and somewhat offensive.

  • http://retropolitics.tumblr.com/ EvilPoet

    I have no problem with the sign at all. I do think the picture posted of the sign is not very good though. The news article I read had a much nicer photo of the stand-in sign. I’m looking forward to seeing what the real sign looks like. It’s a pity that there was a shipping error – bad timing. Hopefully, the error was not accidentally on purpose.

  • Siamang

    My preferred display would be an MP3 player with two sets of headphones, playing a song to the Solstice (The Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun”) and a song of love and brotherhood (Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today”).

    Those two songs say it all. They really do.

  • Richard Wade

    Here’s a possible scenario in which the sign could result in the discontinuation of religious displays in the state capitol building:

    A religious group puts up a sign on an easel next to the FFRF sign, saying

    Atheists hate America.

    Atheists United then puts up a sign on an easel next to that one saying

    No, we don’t. We love our country as much as you, and we have the right to speak our minds.

    Then a local preacher puts up a sign on an easel saying

    FEAR GOD!

    Then another church, a bit embarrased by the “Fear God” sign, puts up one on an easel next to that saying

    GOD IS LOVE.

    Then the Secular Students of the local university put up a sign on an easel next to all those saying

    Keep religion out of government.

    Then an out-of-state right wing evangelical group sends someone to put up a sign on an easel next to that saying

    America is a Christian Nation!

    Then Americans United for Separation of Church and State put up a sign on an easel next to that one saying

    “Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.” -President John Adams

    This goes on and on, clogging up the halls of the Washington State Capitol building with hundreds of signs on easels, completely obscuring the original nativity scene and the Christmas tree, and forcing the state legislators to use the rear entrances and the freight elevators to get to their offices. Fedex Kinkos is hiring extra help to keep up with the demand for larger and larger posters on easels. The spectacle draws an enormous crowd wanting to see all the signs and to argue over them. In the jammed halls someone accidentally bumps against the latest sign, which knocks over the previous sign next to it, which in turn starts a domino effect knocking over all the signs and the now forgotten nativity scene and tree, which pops a light bulb starting a fire. The whole huge pile of paper and wood ignites rapidly starting a panic in the crowd trampling each other as they run for the exits. Many people are injured, and the Capitol building is severely damaged by the terrible fire.

    The next year there is a small sign taped on the door of the state groundskeeper’s office where permits for displays are issued saying

    Per the Fire Martial, due to public safety issues, no permits for religious displays will be issued. We regret any inconvenience.

  • Stephen P

    I agree with the people who say it would be better to find something more upbeat, given the location: more along the lines of ‘celebrate reality’.

    But I completely disagree with Ilya Somin’s opening sentences. People who would be offended by this sign are offended by the mere fact that atheists exist; offended by the fact that the earth is millions of years old; offended by the fact that their distant ancestors had tails. It is time to stop taking their feelings into account.

  • Siamang

    I keep re-reading that sign to try and find a part of it that I disagree with.

  • SarahH

    I highly doubt the people who’ll be angered by the sign are going to suddenly discover a thoughtful, introspective streak and rethink their position.

    I don’t think that we should aim to avoid offending people – and I agree that it’s sometimes necessary to offend as part of making sure a message hits home and gets noticed. Still, this sign isn’t sending a useful message, IMO. If the goal is to promote separation of church/state, the message needs to be: “These religious displays have NO place here!”

    The only argument I can think of for the current sign helping advance church/state separation is that a lawsuit could be filed if it’s taken down and a court could rule that all the displays are unconstitutional – in like, two years. Maybe.

    Taking the message to the people in a way that directs them to the actual issue at hand seems much more efficient and does much less collateral damage to the reputations of atheists in the meantime. I mean, anyone can be in favor of church/state separation. I’m sure some religious allies would be willing to stand up for the same cause.

    The sign is stupid, IMO, because it insults people who might otherwise fight for the same constitutional principle and unnecessarily (and clumsily) hands ammo to the people who shriek “WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!!!111!1!!!” on the news constantly. They’re going to be pissed either way, so we might as well make the display straightforward and useful, you know?

  • mikespeir

    I tend to agree with SarahH. If that makes me a “concern troll,” so be it.

  • http://hagp.blogspot.com Ed Baker

    I believe this sign is antagonistic . We are not trying to start a war .We need to be respectful but get our point across .
    We are kind ,freethinking ,and caring .
    We just wish others would have enough FAITH in themselves to be the same .

  • Ann

    As a Seattle atheist, I’m thrilled to see the sign! I feel as though we’re finally coming out of the closet—no longer apologizing for our lack of faith. Most of my family and friends are religious, and I don’t respect them for it—because I know it’s just a default state, and not the result of real thought.

  • Richard Wade

    Taking the message to the people in a way that directs them to the actual issue at hand seems much more efficient and does much less collateral damage to the reputations of atheists in the meantime.

    The “reputations of atheists” is already in the toilet, partially because we don’t stand up and fight slanderous bigotry enough. It is absurd to go through life taking responsibility for someone else feeling insulted when we have no intention to insult. As others have pointed out, plenty of people take offense just from our existence. I don’t see how we have much to lose by saying the truth as we see it.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    What I think is that Christians would be pleased as punch if atheists sat down and shut up. So, I’m all for shoutin’ out. The sign says simply and without accusation what virtually every atheist believes. It should be the opposite of controversial. But, really, I’m all for atheists kickin’ up dust because . . . well, we have to if we’re ever going to be given respect and our rights.

    The sign will not convince any of the truly faithful. Nothing will. They’ve made up their minds. But it is my experience that unless any persecuted group is willing to make some noise and stand down the bullying detractors from their position, they will never gain equal rights.

    It is, unfortunately, common even for people inside of persecuted groups to adopt a “don’t make any waves” approach. I can’t think of a single civil rights movement – and that’s what this is, I’m not saying that atheists are as persecuted as black people or women, but it is largely about the civil rights of atheists to worship (or not worship) as they please, to express themselves, to have the government redress their grievances – I think that atheists who say to take it when people foist off their merry Christmases are, largely, cowards. It is NOT impolite to say, when someone wishes you a merry religious holiday, to point out that you don’t follow that holiday. If a Muslim wished me a Merry Ramadan, or a Jew a Happy Shavuot, or a Hindu a fantastic Holi, I would inform them I am not of that faith. Same with Christmas. It is not rude, or wrong, to politely assert that you have nothing whatsoever to do with their religious holiday.

    Which is why this is all so crazy! This is a religious holiday. It is normal for every other religious holiday for non-co-religionists to be able to say that “sorry, I don’t celebrate that”. But with Christmas it’s different and even most atheists are of the opinion that unwanted Merry Christmases should be taken with a smile. No, no, no, no, no. Christmas is just a religious holiday like any other. This is simply nothing wrong with simple, honest assertions that you don’t celebrate that holiday because you don’t belong to that religion.

  • http://thebitchreport.blogspot.com/ Milena

    A sign like that next to all the nativity scenes and religious symbols would sure make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I don’t think the only purpose of atheist organizations is to uphold separation of Church and State at every opportunity. Sometimes, it’s enough to say “We’re here too, representing our point of view.” There’s no need to sugar-coat it all the time. Hell, if all of these other people are going to enjoy their freedom of religion on public property, why shouldn’t atheists?

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Re: “concern troll remark”: there are better ways to sell a message, and worse ones. I really think that we could learn from Barack Obama’s campaign.

    As far as the kinds of things I’d rather see?

    example one

    example two

    example three

    example four

  • SarahH

    The sign says simply and without accusation what virtually every atheist believes.

    Not unless you have an unusual definition of “atheist” – the stance that religion “hardens hearts and enslaves minds” is a separate and distinct belief that is absolutely not shared by all atheists.

    I think a real “concern troll” would be someone who truly argues against making ripples, against doing anything that pisses people off, against stirring the pot. The posters who’ve expressed criticism of the sign here don’t seem to have problems with offending people – just about whether the sign is effective and useful.

    I think a sign that listed a bunch of really offensive beliefs and then, at the bottom, said something like, “And this display is exactly as unconstitutional as the displays that surround it!” would be much, much better than this sign. My issue with the sign is that it’s clumsy and I think the fight for enforcement of separation of church and state is being pushed onto a back-burner in favor of insulting religion.

    Also, I’m really sick of hearing the argument that since people already dislike and don’t trust atheists, we shouldn’t worry about alienating them or offending them further. There are plenty of liberal theists who do (and would) fight 100% to help us with equality issues, unconstitutionality, and even stand up for our reputation in the public sphere. If we keep pairing our (legitimate) arguments for fair treatment and separation of church and state with attacks on religion, it’s going to keep backfiring. Progress will be slower than it has to be.

    What if feminists had paired all of their arguments with assertions that men were pigs and assholes and idiots? Sure, some men were (and are), but insulting them isn’t necessary for the feminist argument and alienates male feminists.

    Criticizing specific religious beliefs (or specific men) is different from making blanket statements that are paired with arguments. I don’t think it’s wrong to argue that ALL religion is bad, but in the context of the sign in question and generally within many local fights involving civil rights and fair treatment of atheists it’s self-sabotage to insert it unnecessarily.

  • SarahH

    Hell, if all of these other people are going to enjoy their freedom of religion on public property, why shouldn’t atheists?

    Atheism isn’t a religion, and this is absolutely going to fuel the idiotic arguments that it is.

    I don’t think all atheist displays have to be about the separation of church and state, but I’m harping on it in this case because the sign in question “will be two-sided, with a lengthy message on the main side, and “Keep State/Church Separate” on the back.”

    Incidentally, I’d be interested to read what the lengthy message is going to be on the intended sign. This wasn’t the first choice of sign, and we don’t really know how much thought was put into the message vs. what the planned sign said.

  • Obermeister

    That sign makes me want to barf. Dan Barker used to know better – I remember interviews he did where he’s a very pleasant guy. They could have said something nice, or maybe a little snarky. But this is a sign we can all hate. Not because I disagree, but it’s not the time or the place. It just comes off as being dick-ish.

  • http://thebitchreport.blogspot.com/ Milena

    Atheism isn’t a religion, and this is absolutely going to fuel the idiotic arguments that it is.

    It’s not a religion, but it does fall under the protection of the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution. That’s what I was getting at.

  • Marsha

    I think it’s great, totally agree with the concept of allowing all displays, would be sad if atheists *didn’t* take the opportunity to put up a display… however, it’s not very FUN and that’s kind of a bummer. Christmas is a fun time of year IMHO, snow… time off… eggnog… — I’ll bet even religious fanatics have moments where their insides feel some calm simply because of the pretty lights all around.
    But, hey, budget is budget – maybe next year the Washington folks can make something fun and atheist-y to display.

  • Linda

    I’m not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism. Passers-by who are not atheists themselves are likely to find it more offensive than persuasive.

    hmm… What exactly is the issue here? The words on the sign themselves or the fact that people have a right to display the words? And what is the purpose for displaying the words? To persuade people or to exercise a right? Fear of offending people is not a good enough reason for forcing silence. And I hope people in general are not dumb enough to be persuaded by a mere sign or a display, religious or otherwise.

    As a Christian, I personally do not find anything on the sign to be offensive. First of all, God and religion are not the same thing in my mind. And secondly, I take freedom of expression seriously. Each of us should be able to express our thoughts and beliefs freely. I would not hesitate to stand on the side with the atheists if I thought their rights were being violated.

    What I do find a little disturbing is the fact that the government buildings get cluttered with signs etc. that should not be there in the first place. But then again… perhaps if they should be anywhere, they should be there…equally represented. I commend those in the minority who step up and go the extra mile to continue to have a voice against the majority.

    He looks so alone there… that just seemed poignant to me.

    I would have helped Dan Barker bring the sign in and set it up. Why not?

  • Marsha

    Oh, I feel silly. I didn’t get the point that the sign means that NO displays should be there – guess I didn’t analyze deep enough. I thought it was trying to point out that if the gov’t is going to allow any displays they must allow all displays.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Not unless you have an unusual definition of “atheist” – the stance that religion “hardens hearts and enslaves minds” is a separate and distinct belief that is absolutely not shared by all atheists.

    I have never met an atheist, face to face, who hasn’t thought religion enslaves minds. Not one. So, maybe that’s a function of the people who associate with me – I freely admit to being fairly hardline about the damage religion does – but it is certainly my broad experience that almost all atheists do think that there’s something wrong with even the most “liberal” forms of religion. (It is my further experience people who don’t think religion is bad but don’t believe in god identify as agnostic.) YMMV.

    However, I don’t think that my comments are weakened very much to say that many atheists think that religion is bad even in its most theoretically benevolent forms. It is common for atheists to think this – as, I submit, it being put on the sign demonstrates.

  • RobL

    I’m fine with the sign but is Dan Barker really wearing brown shoes with a black suit! Good grief – no wonder we have no respect!

  • Linda

    If I may make an observation here:

    It seems as though there is much criticism by atheists against other atheists for expressing what they feel should be expressed in the best way they could think to say it.

    I would not look at the sign and think that is the exact mindset of all atheists, just as what other Christians do and say do not speak for me. It is just a view and action by one group of atheists, no? Would I be out of line to think whoever has a problem with the way things are being done should then step up to the plate and do it differently?

  • llewelly

    That’s stupid. This is a holiday celebration display. Why didn’t they choose something upbeat and holiday-ish that is secular?

    ‘no hell’ is upbeat. If the god of the bible is assumed, ‘no god’ is also upbeat. Same could be said of many other gods.

  • llewelly

    I’m fine with the sign but is Dan Barker really wearing brown shoes with a black suit! Good grief – no wonder we have no respect!

    When you’re a public atheist, violating the edicts of the Fashion StormTroopers is very small beer.

  • LA

    I agree with Linda, who said, “Fear of offending people is not a good enough reason for forcing silence.”

    That said, I wouldn’t want to lump all athiests’ beliefs into that one sign. It gives a false sense that we all have the same opinions about religion.

    Frankly, I’d like to see the ol’ pagan Christmas tree, which many Christians have adoped as part of their holiday, used in public displays and leave the manger scenes to the churches and private organizations where religion belongs. The state should stay out of religious displays, per our Constitution. Adding an athiest plaque seems to cede that church-state overlap. Aren’t there better ways of showing the public that athiests are part of our society too?

  • Richard Wade

    They could have said something nice, or maybe a little snarky. But this is a sign we can all hate. Not because I disagree, but it’s not the time or the place. It just comes off as being dick-ish.

    It’s not the time or the place? If not now, when? If not here, where? If not us, who? I’d rather risk coming of as being dick-ish than coming off as dick-less.

    I used to feel as SarahH is describing, that we should be careful to keep our remarks circumspect and non-confrontational so to not risk alienating our potential liberal Christian allies who will come to our side in a fight for church-state separation or a fight for free speech.

    But we have had many such battles, and so far for the most part we’ve waged them entirely by ourselves. They have not been there for us. Regardless of how polite we’ve kept our rhetoric, our liberal Christian “potential allies” have sat passively on the sidelines giving little if any even verbal support. In Hein v. FFRF in the Supreme Court in June of 2007, I don’t remember hearing about any support from liberal Christian groups wanting to help protect church-state separation. We lost, and because of the precedent we’re worse off. I don’t know if we’d had help from their vast numbers and resources there might have been a different outcome, but regardless, as far as I can find out our “allies” weren’t there. If anyone has differing information on that, please enlighten me, I’d be very happy to be wrong about that.

  • http://ununtentionalatheist.wordpress.com Closeted in Academia

    While this sign is “true” from a naturalist point of view, it seems to be of the same dogmatic (sorry to use that word) tone that the “accept jesus or burn in hell” signs take. I really like messages that promote a positive message rather than denounce an opposing message.

    I’m a big fan of Dan Barker though, and I’m inclined to trust his judgment in delivering the appropriate message in the right context.

  • stephanie

    What? Not even a ‘but have a nice holiday anyway’ bit at the end? That guy’s no fun. Heck, I’ll celebrate the possible birth of Jesus or the incredible MPG of the oil on the eight nights or really anything you want as long as you don’t expect me to believe in them. But my (lack of) religion leads me to celebrate this life as much as I can- particularly when it’s gloomy out. :)

  • Siamang

    I think the worst thing that can be said about this sign is that it seems to lack a sense of humor.

  • Nick

    I’m surprised at the number of atheists who seem to have a over-the-top problem with Christmas. Quite frankly, I celebrate the holiday, obviously as only a cultural one, but nonetheless…. I do agree that religious elements should be kept out of the state, but come on.

  • Jamie G.

    I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me could care less about Christmas displays and Nativity scenes or any display by any other religion. However, if the powers that be reject the displays of Wiccans, Satanists, or whoever else based on content then they all shouldn’t be allowed, non-religious included.

    I recently heard from a friend that a local grade school is going to put on a Christmas pageant. His son attends school there. The principle has stated that it’s his school and he will do what he wants. My friend was praising his courage to defy what I told him was clearly laid out in the Constitution. “But this is a Christian nation.” Apparently that makes it okay. As far as I know there aren’t any parents objecting.

    Another quick story. I recently attended a School Foundation Banquet where the local fifth graders were singing a song titled, “Thank God”. One little girl in the choir stood away from the group and didn’t participate, but rejoined the group for the next song. I wasn’t going to go up to her and ask if she and her family were atheists, but it was definitely noticed by the obviously Christian crowd.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    If you just say “Religion is but myth and superstition”, people will read into it whatever they like. Atheists will look at it and say, “Way to represent!” Evangelicals will look it and say, “The War on Christmas starts earlier every year!” Religious seekers will say, “I actually agree, religion is distinct from God.” The casual apathetic will say, “Damn, why are atheists so angry?”

    In order to minimize such confusion and confirmation bias, they should be more straightforward about the message they intend to convey. I gather that the intention is to protest publicly sponsored displays that cater exclusively to Christians. Therefore, maybe the sign should say something like this:

    All beliefs deserve equal time on state property: There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. [etc etc]

    As for how “strong” the message should be, that depends on whether they ultimately intend to get rid of all displays, or to be forever included among them.

  • http://newref.blogspot.com/ James

    I almost think it would be better to display a Flying Spaghetti Monster statue. It would lower the “power” of the other religious displays. Christianity loves to think Jesus higher than Thor or Zeus or FSM, it would be just a friendly reminder that all religions are silly fairy tales.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    My preference is a message with a little humor like the links Ollie provided.

    Axial tilt is the reason for the season
    Happy Holidays
    Put the FSM back in Chrifsmas
    May you be touched by his noodly appendage…

    If they have to work at it a bit to understand it, they will want to learn more about the point of view…

  • J. J. Ramsey

    On the Respectful Insolence blog, when someone complained about civility in the outcry against woo on Scienceblogs.de, I noted that there is incivility that comes from playing loose with the truth and caricaturing one’s adversaries, and also incivility that comes from speaking the truth bluntly. This sign has both kinds of incivility.

    No gods, no devils? Only a natural world? I can defend those statements. They are just blunt truthtelling.

    Religion is but myth and superstition? Ok, probably close enough to the truth, and I’ll let someone with a more encyclopedic knowledge of the various religions to catalog exceptions to the claim. Still more or less in the realm of blunt truthtelling.

    But religions hardens hearts? That’s enough of a half-truth that I don’t want to try to defend it. I’ve seen religion both soften and harden. Religion enslaves minds? That sounds provocative, but it’s too ambiguous to be defensible. This stuff is more in the realm of the former kind of incivility.

  • http://non-theist.com Josh Nankivel

    I liked the idea of a pine tree decorated with atheistic books much better. More in line with the holiday, less offensive, still somewhat festive.

    Josh Nankivel
    http://non-theist.com

  • http://www.uw-ssu.org Michael

    This was covered here:
    King 5 News Report

  • stephanie

    I liked the idea of a pine tree decorated with atheistic books much better. More in line with the holiday, less offensive, still somewhat festive.

    I am *so* swiping this and making little ornaments of the most important books. Thanks, Josh!

  • AxeGrrl

    I really like messages that promote a positive message rather than denounce an opposing message.

    Thanks Closeted in Academia ~ that’s precisely why this sign gets a ‘meh’ from me.

    I call myself a ‘naturalist’ (or ‘secular heathen’:) instead of ‘atheist’ for a reason ~ do we really want to perpetuate the annoying stereotype that all we’re ‘about’ is trying to mock/tear down other peoples’ beliefs?

    The atheist/freethinker movement has enough creative mojo to come up with something FAR more effective than this reactionary-based sign.

  • Aj

    I’ve been persuaded by Sam, Sarah, Eric, Sandra et al that atheists should display something next to the religious crap, just to make the point that it shouldn’t be there, and being offensive would probably have that case.

  • TXatheist

    As someone who has asked my local officials to call it Spring Festival(not Easter) and Winter celebration(christmas) and been flat out NO I say put the sign up. There is no bending or giving with these religious folks. The majority aren’t going to give an inch anyway so a nice sign isn’t going to do anything but let them be annoyed. This sign is just blunt and honest. I still get flack when I call any fir around this time of year a holiday tree instead of xmas tree.

  • stogoe

    Christmas is not a religious holiday. It is a secular winter festival. Its purpose is to spend time with your family, share large amounts of delicious food, and exchange gifts with loved ones.

    That Jesus character is an afterthought at best – so have a Merry Christmas!

    As for the poster in WA, it’s blunt, but then again blunt is oftentimes necessary. If it will get all religious paraphenalia off government property (and even if it doesn’t), it will have been worth it.

  • MH

    I’m in the don’t rain on other people’s parade camp.

    Also isn’t the position stated by the sign metaphysical naturalism which is an atheistic worldview, but not the same as simple non-belief?

  • timplausible

    My opinion on this kind of thing is evolving. The message of a nativity scene is, essentially, “This is what we believe is true.” In that sense, a message that says “We believe that there are no gods,” is not really significantly different. Although stating it with words is more blunt and direct than a pretty scene with animals and a baby.

    We shouldn’t feel pushed into masking what we believe, when no one else does. But there may be better ways to deliver that message, and mix it with something positive. Commenting on the importance and power of reason and the value of skepticism and doubt. Then again, it’s hard to be positive, when the underlying stance is essentially a negation of other stances.

  • http://www.popcorngallery.net Max

    Its a little frustrating to see something like this. While I agree with what the sign says, I still find it incredibly divisive. Regardless of what you believe, the holidays are a time when people traditionally come together, so it would be nice to make an effort to find a little common ground with those that think differently than us. Not widen the rift.

  • http://forum.canucks.com Charmy Canuck

    As a Christian myself, I don’t mind others sharing their beliefs, however this sign is not sharing a belief but rather attacking a belief and I believe it is aimed at the American Christian. If you want to win brownie points don’t post stuff like that. How about be respectful.

    I try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, I am not perfect as you are not perfect but I do try. I apologize for people out there parading around their faith as if it allows them to do whatever they want. It doesn’t.

    One thing that gets me is how can you live with no hope for the future? What happens if you are wrong? According to a few faiths unless you believe you do not go on to heaven. I just can’t wrap my mind around the thought of no creator. Even in evolution there has to be a creator. Just as an artist shapes their piece so I believe that God guided evolution.

    I think that the sign should be removed and replaced with a respectful one. Furthermore I think it is an attack on Christians and its not right and atheists are going to gain respect from anyone with this sign. It just shows that some of you can be just as bad as the right wing conservative Christian nut jobs.

  • http://forum.canucks.com Charmy Canuck

    To those who state that Christmas is all about the winter solstice you are only half right. Jesus was most likely born around the end of September. However in an effort to eradicate the pagan belief system the Roman Catholic church started Christmas in December and allowed the pagan people to keep some of their practices. It wasn’t right but it is what it is now. Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus and Hanukkah is about the miracle of the lamp that burned for 8 days with no oil, and Yule is about the winter feast and celebration with family ;)

  • Iztok

    Charmy Canuck said: “What happens if you are wrong?”

    Well considering there are hundreds of possible gods our guess is that our chances of being wrong purely numerically speaking are just as bad as yours.

    Difference is that we don’t pretend to know.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Carmy Canuck,

    One thing that gets me is how can you live with no hope for the future? What happens if you are wrong? According to a few faiths unless you believe you do not go on to heaven. I just can’t wrap my mind around the thought of no creator. Even in evolution there has to be a creator. Just as an artist shapes their piece so I believe that God guided evolution.

    This part of your comment is off-topic and these questions seem somewhat rhetorical, but you sound earnest and respectful and I am sure that many atheists here appreciate that attitude. You have never commented here as far as I can tell, so if you are new to interacting with atheists it is understandable that you would have questions such as these. Since this thread seems to be slowing down I’ll briefly respond to your questions in hope of helping you to understand us. To those who are old hands at this, just skip reading this.

    I don’t “live with no hope for the future,” despite my lack of belief in an afterlife. I hope for the future of my family, my friends and my species. I hope that they will find a better way of life through reason and rationality, free from superstition, and living in immediacy with their focus on the well being of each other more than selfishly focused on themselves. The continuation of my own particular consciousness is of no consequence to me; I am only concerned about how the influence of my actions of compassion, honesty, fairness and creativity may continue on in similar actions of others whom I have affected.

    Your question “What if you are wrong?” sounds like Pascal’s Wager, a famous but deeply flawed argument for theism. You can find a brief and very good description of its shortcomings here.

    As for your thoughts about the necessity of a creator, remember that skeptics are not people who refuse to believe but who are willing to withhold belief until credible evidence is presented. We look at the world and the universe, seeing many processes that follow natural laws, but the notion of a creator is a jump to a conclusion that is not supported by evidence, so we do not make that conclusion. Mankind is a maker of things. Making things is deeply in our nature. So we tend to have a bias in our view of natural things around us that they must have been “made” in a similar way that we make things. But that bias leads to confusion because it suggests the necessity of an ultimate maker for which there is no evidence. Skeptics live by sight. That’s where the word comes from. What we see is what we hold as reliable. What we hear in stories from our parents or in ancient scriptures, we refrain from believing until we see evidence. It’s just the way we are.

    Charmy, I hope you stick around and continue to comment, because your positive and fair-minded input is very welcome and sorely needed. Your belief in a god will probably not be damaged, but your puzzlement about your fellow humans who do not believe will hopefully be clarified.

  • John Jay Rambo

    If anyone seems to have an insecurity about peoples right to believe something or not believe something and have it displayed publicly in a positive way it is this group of atheists who are making these displays. I am not Jewish. Yet I dont feel a need to make a display explaining why their beliefs differ with mine during the holidays. I like seeing how people of other beliefs and cultures express themselves in a positive way.

    Let’s call this display by this group what it is. Something to piss people off. It’s not something there to make a statement for freedom of speech. Should people just keep making signs in public countering one another in a negative way? No. This is best left ignored. People celebrate the holidays for all sorts of reasons and this just makes atheists look like people who are out to suck the life out of a time of year that brings enjoyment to people.
    This is negative attention seeking and it doesnt impress me much that people who consider themselves atheists agree with this display just because this group that made it also happens to be an atheist organization. It’s an unintelligent and inappropriate way to go about making a point.

  • Nicholas

    I’m greatly concerned that my atheist brethren would be so CONSERVATIVE! What are you attempting or advocating we preserve? Why are you all so upset that this sign speaks for US, it is representative of our thoughts and feelings, I think it’s pretty damn important. How can you all be so foolish to believe that saying “something nice” would somehow advance our agenda? Are you going crazy? I don’t know if you remember this or not but the evangelical church has declared a state of war against us and I, for one, am not going to sit around and say “nice” things just because it may upset all those Christian folk who just want to have a “peaceful Christmas.” No, this is idealogical warfare. This isn’t a “nice season” after all, the Mormon church just denied thousands of queer families the ability to be recognized as a couple, shouldn’t we be a little pissed off? I am. There is no time to stop and make peace with a group of people who have clearly voiced that they want nothing less than the obliteration of our freedom of thought. Not only that, but their culture of ethnocentrism is seriously causing the violent deaths of many, many people.

    This sign isn’t action enough in my opinion. More direct action should be taken against the insanity of Evangelism. It’s sad to see that many of you don’t believe in the power of radical change. It’s disheartening to know that some Atheists are more apathetic than revolutionary. I say step up your efforts! Make change! Don’t “play nice” just because you don’t want anyone to “be upset” that you can use your brain! We deserve to be recognized and we deserve a nation state that recognizes the intellectual freedom and seeks to eliminate oppression of any free-thinking group!

  • http://s2solutions.us/wordpress Seth Strong

    I disagree with Nicholas’s statement. It’s not what people think it’s what they do… right?

    I do have a mixed opinion about Christmas. I don’t think unbelievers have to take offense at Christian symbolism that comes with the Christian celebration of Christmas. I consider it more of a big winter holiday and people who don’t want to celebrate it can stand aside, excluded voluntarily. If atheists want in on it, and I for one do, then we need a winter holidays’ themed atheist made myth.

    If the symbol for Christmas were Zeus I would defend that symbol even more emphatically because it would be even more clearly a symbol of the holiday versus the religious affiliation of the cultures that celebrate Christmas. The more holidays the merrier. Deistic “God Bless Yous” in response to my sneezing get the same approval. It’s just a cultural way to be, we don’t have to include it in the ideological debate.

    I think how far you would go for your atheism is a good topic for discussion since it will probably be a different answer for each person. This answer just happens to reflect me.

  • Michelle

    I love the signs! I back Nicholas’ statement 100%.


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