Seattle Gets a Tree of Knowledge

The Seattle Atheists have put up a beautiful Tree of Knowledge at the State Capitol building:

The text reads:

At this winter Solstice, as people embrace
light and hope, Seattle Atheists
celebrates human knowledge:

Inquiry and discovery, invention
and exploration, the investigation
of mysteries subatomic to astronomic,
ever growing, ever reaching, ever striving

According to Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review:

… their tree looks suspiciously like a Christmas Tree, considering it’s about a 6-foot conifer with decorations hanging from the boughs. No toys or angels or smiley snowmen for the atheists, however. Their decorations consist of pictures of famous scientists like Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, covers for books like “Cosmos” and a small copy of the Periodic Table of Elements. (I know what you’re thinking: These atheists sure know how to trim a tree!)

In case anyone’s wondering, there is no Nativity Scene on the Capitol Campus at this point. The Catholic League was faxed the standard form for campus displays that every group must submit, but the group hasn’t yet responded, Steve Valandra of state General Administration said. So far, the creche remains in the GA vault, awaiting the form or a request to send it back to the league.

It’s a tree for everybody. It’s certainly not disparaging to any religious group or faith. Unless you’re the type of person who gets offended that the world doesn’t revolve around you and your beliefs.

Which means Bill Donohue will go ballistic in 5… 4… 3…

  • leeloo

    <3

  • Alessa

    I love the idea, but the visual needs some work.

    There needs to be some pretty, sparkly ornaments of Charles Darwin and Co.; not just plain photos.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    i agree with Alessa. i love the idea, but Style, people, Style! the fundies have flashing lights and silly songs and eggnog and shiny stuff that makes kids clap their hands with glee. book covers are great for nerds, but what about the lowbrow types?

    someone needs to design a tree decoration a la the thing from “Men in Black” that hung around the cat’s neck, but larger. the thing that had a whole galaxy inside. or a really cute Sagan doll that says “it’s full of Stars” when you press the button on the back. or a fluffy Einstein head that flashes “E-mc2″ out of each eyeball every couple of seconds. how about a string of lights, each with the name or number of a stellar object or galaxy on it, colored according to how they appear in telescopes (red gas giants, blue-white stars, etc)? maybe three wise scientists in white coats staring up from a telescope at a black hole, and a little child in a manger holding a beginning physics textbook? with two proud lesbian mommies looking on? /sorry, couldn’t resist that last, sue me i’m queer/

    we can be more creative and it will only help get the message out.

  • http://alliedatheistalliance.blogspot.com/ pinkocommie

    Way to go guys!

    Also as for complaints that it isn’t flashy enough – talking to a few of the guys who participated in this, they were aware of that shortcoming,they just didn’t have the time or resources to improve on the glitz this time. I think it’s awesome that they at least did something.

  • AxeGrrl

    Ok, I say we let the Seattle atheists write every public sign representing us from now on :)

    between this one and the one from last year (“In this holiday season let us remember that kindness, charity and goodwill transcend belief, creed or religion”), this group seems to get the message and tone just right :) Far better than the FFRF’s offerings, imo…..

  • http://alliedatheistalliance.blogspot.com/ pinkocommie

    Also, it’s been windy enough around western Washington in the last few days to cause property damage and power outages, so I think a lot of the baubles blew off. Is that what those things are called, baubles?

  • Claudia

    I love it, both tree and message. It could be more colorful yes, maybe use some sparkly markers to decorate the papers next year. Considering this is Seattle, I hope those papers are covered in plastic. Awesome all the same. As for this:

    their tree looks suspiciously like a Christmas Tree, considering it’s about a 6-foot conifer with decorations hanging from the boughs.

    I got your Christmas tree right here, bub.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    Here’s a thought for discussion… If there are no theist displays, should there be an atheist display? It’s an opportunity to advertise, but if we are always complaining about religious displays on government property because it might appear to be an endorsement then we shouldn’t have them there if there are no religious displays. We could be there as a reaction to religious displays and even do it in a way that gets attention. In the case of the FFRF displays they are blunt and non-friendly on purpose. If people don’t like the FFRF display there is an easy remedy…remove the religious display. Shouldn’t that be the goal?

    If we put up atheist displays when there are no religious displays it seems to contradict our stance on separation of church and state.

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ Andrew

    If we put up atheist displays when there are no religious displays it seems to contradict our stance on separation of church and state.

    Except for the whole “we’re not a church” thing, sure…

  • Claudia

    Here’s a thought for discussion… If there are no theist displays, should there be an atheist display?

    Well that depends. If a Christian display isn’t allowed, then certainly an atheist display shouldn’t be allowed either.

    Now, it’s a little trickier in the case where any display is allowed but the religious have simply elected not to erect a display. I think in such cases atheists should also refrain from a display since the ultimate goal is to keep government out of religion altogether. My guess is that the absence of a Christian display in this case is an anomaly this year. So far as I’m aware athiest displays only go up in response to pre-existing religious displays.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    chicago dyke has it right.
    I’m on board with the general message, but the execution of the concept is a bit dull. I understand from pinkocommie’s comment there was a time and budget constraint, so I guess something is definitely better than nothing.

  • Jordan

    Let’s compare our appreciation for the Tree of Knowledge with the emotions generated in right-wing America…

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/seattle-atheists-erect-holiday-knowledge-tree/

    If you’ve never seen The Blaze, it’s a handy site to visit to remember why we have to take a stand on these issues!

  • gwen

    I wish there were someone SELLING these ornaments. I would buy a set in a heartbeat.

  • Heidi

    @Jordan: NEVER send me there again! That was horrible! LOL.

    @Claudia: I love when they try to reconcile that passage with their Heathen Trees.

  • Claudia

    @Jordan, now you’ve done it. I arrived at the lab today and then went to your link. My brain is now broken for the rest of the day.

    The following comment perfectly encapsulates the intellectual level of that website:

    they do realize that Einstine was a Christian don’t they?

    Wow….just…wow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Cat’s Staff, I agree with you but if you read it again, religious displays are allowed. I believe this went up last year in response to religious and they won the right to also put theirs up. Are am I mixing that up with another tree of knowledge?

    I respectfully disagree with Claudia. If we waited until they filled out the form to take action, the time would elapse because they’d do it last minute. On the other hand, now they’re apparently setting back and trying to make us look bad for putting one up while protesting such displays. Maybe the thing to do is apply and get the approval but not put something up unless a religious display does go up (not just Xian but any religious display).

    Jordan, that was a scary read!

  • Claudia

    @Muggle, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything bad about this display. I would be pretty surprised if this was something done in a vaccuum. Presumably, a religious display is something that normally happens and the atheist group could have reasonably expected it to happen again this year. I wouldn’t go as far as to suspect purposeful foul play on the part of the church. It seems more likely that they merely forgot or messed up the paperwork, leading to the anomaly of a stand-alone atheist display.

    My point is more that we shouldn’t pro-actively put up displays in places where there is no pre-existing tradition of religious displays. That doesn’t mean waiting to see a manger scene before acting, since these things take time to put together and paperwork deadlines can easily pass. It just means that if your local city hall has never had a manger scene, then put the tree of knowledge in your front yard instead.

  • http://www.bluefrogdesignstudios.com/thebluefrogsays/ The Big Blue Frog

    I love the message. I’m going to steal it for my Facebook status for today.

  • NuJazz

    I think it was the Tree of Knowledge that caused the problem to begin with. :oD

  • tmlegsec

    To each his own, I guess, but I don’t think this is a “beautiful” tree at all. In fact, it looks very tacky – if it is supposed to mimick a CHRISTmas tree (which it does), then something needs to be sparkling or…oh, I don’t know, worth looking at. I would not be drawn to this tree at all, despite any controversy it desires to generate.

  • http://marisolperry.co.cc/ Marisol Perry

    @Muggle, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything bad about this display. I would be pretty surprised if this was something done in a vaccuum. Presumably, a religious display is something that normally happens and the atheist group could have reasonably expected it to happen again this year. I wouldn’t go as far as to suspect purposeful foul play on the part of the church. It seems more likely that they merely forgot or messed up the paperwork, leading to the anomaly of a stand-alone atheist display. My point is more that we shouldn’t pro-actively put up displays in places where there is no pre-existing tradition of religious displays. That doesn’t mean waiting to see a manger scene before acting, since these things take time to put together and paperwork deadlines can easily pass. It just means that if your local city hall has never had a manger scene, then put the tree of knowledge in your front yard instead.

  • http://driftingcosmos.blogspot.com Jami

    Thanks for the advice and criticism. I had the privilege of working on this display, which was a lot of fun, and I wish we had more time to devote to perfecting it. I’ll add my two bits just to clear up any misunderstandings. First off, this display wasn’t set up with the intent to offend or proactively speak out against religion (like the FFRF, for better or worse, has a habit of doing). The purpose is more about making an informative, fun display to celebrate the season, and the folks who were working on the tree happen to be a part of an atheist group. Seattle Atheists likes to get into the spirit of the season, and this was one outlet. As far as us being the only display on the Capitol lawn — that surprised us too! Anyone can apply for a permit (we applied for ours a while ago), and we really didn’t think we’d be the only group (atheist, religious, or simply N/A) there.

    As mentioned, we were under time and budget restrains, but your suggestions are noted. Unfortunately there were some restrictions that cramped our style, as we had to consider waterproofing everything for the weather. And there was no power available for the displays, so we had no option for any sort of electric sparklies, otherwise we most definitely would have strung up some lights. We did a lot of work on extra ornaments to jazz it up, like painting the inside of spherical glass bulbs with different colors of glitter paint, and there are other clear disc ornaments with pictures of planets on the inside (heck, I decided to make a few for my own tree). This picture above doesn’t do it justice, and apparently many of the jazzy ornaments were blown off the tree, despite our best efforts to secure them tightly (which has since been corrected). Though we were defeated by the wind, we did laminate everything, so they should hold up fine in the rain.

    Re: not putting up a display unless there’s already a religious display — I totally get where you’re coming from, but I also think it’s a shame that we always have to react to something, that we can’t get together as a nontheist community and do something positive and creative to celebrate the Solstice and human knowledge. Cheers to you all!

  • Claudia

    @Jami, thanks for dropping us a line. I think I speak for most of us here in saying that none of the suggestions are made with the intent of complaining, just as a way of improving future versions. I think it’s great you guys did it.

    that we can’t get together as a nontheist community and do something positive and creative to celebrate the Solstice and human knowledge.

    Absolutely you can and I’m very glad you did. I humbly submit that if there aren’t usually displays on government property, such celebrations should be held on private property. Happy late solstice :-)

  • http://disavian.no-ip.info/lamenta3 Hillary

    While I get the point of the scientists and the book covers and everything, I do agree with the article’s author’s implication that the tree would benefit from a couple of snowmen. Would it be a faux pas to somehow make snowman ornaments that look like Darwin and Dawkins and the like? Because for some reason I think that would be great.


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