Atheist “Tree of Knowledge” Goes Up in Philadelphia

Want an alternative to the atheist plaques being put up in Olympia, Washington and Springfield, Illinois?

Margaret Downey, founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, put up the group’s Tree of Knowledge for the second straight year on Tuesday.

The “Godless Holiday Tree” will greet – or challenge – passersby with the covers of scores of titles including The Myth of Nazareth by Rene Salam, Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. The Bible and the Koran hang there, as well.

“We want people to read these kinds of books so they can make up their minds about religion, not just be spoon-fed by pastors and priests and rabbis,” Downey explained.

Of course, the tree didn’t go up without some controversy:

According to Downey, the [county] commissioners told FSGP that the sign would make “too many holes in the ground.” When Downey offered to put the sign poles in pots, she was turned down.

But being a creative freethinker, Downey had the eleventh hour idea to put the same information on 10-foot-long streamers. Unfortunately, the streamers block some of the book titles. “It’s a compromise,” said Downey. The tree is placed in between a Christmas crèche sponsored by the the Pastor’s Network and a more traditional holiday tree. A Hanukkah menorah is on the way.

Some passers-by aren’t too fond of this so-called “knowledge”:

“Why do they have do that now?” wondered Laura Walsh, 30, of Glenside, who was sitting at the window table with six family members, planning Christmas dinner.

“It’s very stupid,” opined Carolyn Gott, of Wilmington, who was wearing a jeweled cross around her neck.

“It’s terrible. And the tree is ugly,” said Peggy Carroll.

“We should pray for them,” said Marian Feeley of Newark, Del., and the others chuckled in agreement.

“We should tell them that!” said Frances Phaneuf of Downingtown.

But the group chose not to.

Blogger Ron Gold reminds critics:

It should be mentioned that The Freethought Society isn’t trying to stop Christmas, or any other holiday, from being celebrated. They are happy to share space with a Christmas tree and a menorah, and say they would welcome the additions of Kwanzaa candles and a Buddha statue.

In the meantime, the list of book covers hanging from the trees represent some great works by atheists. You can check out the list here (PDF).

Here’s a shot from last year’s tree:

TreeCloseup

More pics will be available soon on the FSGP website.

(via The Invisible Pink Unicorn)

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    Tree of knowledge. Nice, I like it :)

  • Dustin

    Misquoting Jesus is a wonderful book that should be read or listened to by everyone.

    Too bad there’s no way to jam all the symbolism and message of book covers into ornaments; some messages require more than a mere sphere, candle, halo, aura, or star to convey.

  • Tom

    *smacks forehead with palm*

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Interesting entry on the tree of “knowledge”: “The Myth of Nazareth by Rene Salam [sic]”

    Too bad that it looks like woo.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    BTW, here is the root of the Nazareth discussion on the ANE-2 academic mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANE-2/message/4274

  • SarahH

    “It’s ugly” is *such* a valid criticism! That’s why I always tell my in-laws, for example, that their decorations are tacky. They totally understand and take them down, because the season is really about subjectively, aesthetically pleasing decor and symbols. That’s why I pass so many glowing plastic Santas and snowmen on my way to work, right?

    Anyway, it’s a heckuva lot better than the plaque, IMO. Still: more Festivus poles!

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

    “Why do they have do that now?” wondered Laura Walsh, 30, of Glenside, who was sitting at the window table with six family members, planning Christmas dinner.

    Were I there, my retort: “Why do you have to spend ten percent of the year shoving your idiotic holiday down my throat?”

    But I think that Christmas should have no legal standing whatsoever, as it is clearly a religious holiday and I dislike my government promoting it.

  • Paul

    Hey, that list is missing one of my favorite atheist books from the “M” section…

    *nudge*

  • Pamela

    But I think that Christmas should have no legal standing whatsoever, as it is clearly a religious holiday and I dislike my government promoting it.

    Doesn’t it have to be, by definition, a secular holiday since it is a federal one because of the separation of church and state?

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/180127/august-29-2008/better-know-a-lobby—atheism

    I do feel the same way, though.

    ‘It’s very stupid,’ opined Carolyn Gott, of Wilmington, who was wearing a jeweled cross around her neck.

    Oh, irony. How I love thee.

  • Servetus

    Splendidly Creative

  • http://lumpsfromtheleft.blogspot.com/ Dr. Lumplevn

    Brilliant! I always thoroughly enjoy showing people how much smarter we atheists are than the other lower forms of humanity. Instead of stupid colorful bulbs, kitschy tinsel, and tacky lights, we put..what else?..books!

    by the way isn’t the tree thing some kind of religious symbol too? maybe next time we should just put it on something not associated with any religious symbol, like a pole…except that would be associated with phallic worship.

    Oh crap.


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