FFRF Puts Up Winter Solstice Message in Wisconsin Capitol Building

***Update***: The sign will also be going up this Monday in the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson!

In a year when we’ve seen so many atheist billboards, it’s hard to believe that the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Winter Solstice message, currently sitting in the Wisconsin Capitol building through the end of December, might not be the most controversial sign we’ve talked about this year:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

In case you think the sign is unnecessarily mean/dickish, consider this: FFRF is merely asserting their own views, something that religious groups do every time they put up a Nativity scene on public property and remind everyone that dismissal of their faith will earn us a one-way ticket to hell.

If anything, this is optimistic. It speaks of a world without hellfire, devils, and superstition. It calls for kindness.

Too bad the religious people who will inevitably complain about the sign won’t see it that way…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1034366850 Erin Jones

    I’m currently only one block away from the capital, I may take my son up after class and take a picture with it before we catch the bus home.

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    Love it! Speaking from experience, Christians don’t consider displaying Christian things to be asserting their views over others… it’s “fighting persecution”!

    I heard a good one today, btw: “If you can’t have Christmas without Christ, then you can’t have Thursday without Thor.”

  • Anonymous

    Thought it was dickish last year, still think it’s dickish this year.

    The holiday season is supposed to be about celebrating. It’s about family, and pretty lights, and charity (and pigging out and Xbox, let’s be honest). How about not being adversarial for once? How about not attacking the beliefs of others for just a teensy little while? You don’t have to agree with them. You can even continue to believe that their beliefs are destructive and irrational, but give it a rest for a few days. A purely positive Solstice message simply has to be within the creative capacity of a group of skeptics, there’s no need to go on about hardening hearts and enslaving minds.

    Light some candles, put up a tree, explain various solstice light festivals to your kids, have some pie. You can pick up fighting where you left off on January 2nd, after the hang-over wears off.

    • Papabear6612

      You missed the point entirely!  There is NOTHING whatsoever adversarial about this anymore than your preachy and offensive billboards that push YOUR agenda.  Get off your foolish horse of victimization and open your eyes.

      • Anonymous

        Err what’s that now? There’s nothing adversarial about saying that religion “hardens hearts and enslaves minds”? If someone told you atheism “encourages immorality and diminishes worth”, you wouldn’t call that adversarial? I sure would.

        And what’s that aboug “my” preachy and offensive billboards pushing “my” agenda? You’re assuming I’m a Christian? You haven’t been around here long, have you?

      • EJC

        Papa, that was rather ad hom and very incorrect. Please sir, before you react, stop, take a deep breath and THINK before firing off incorrect missives. 

      • William Garvey

        It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.  Putting up a nativity or a menorah is not inherently adversarial or negative, especially in an environment like Madison where any group can make a display.  Putting up an FSM or a happy humanist logo, or even a copy of Jefferson’s letters where he discusses the wall between church and state would be a positive display.  That sign is just hard-hearted antagonism–”Your beliefs suck.  Happy holidays!”

        • BrandonUB

          The part where I disagree is in the notion that “your beliefs suck” isn’t what a nativity scene says. Anyone familiar with Christian theology (or at least Catholic and mainline Protestant versions) will quickly recall that it’s not just “your beliefs suck, happy holidays!”, it’s “believe what we do or go to hell, merry Christmas!”. That’s certainly not explicit in a nativity scene, and I’m guessing it’s not even implied; the idea of a confrontational reply is sort of to hold up the mirror to the privilege of obliviousness that folks who desire their religious symbols on public property are displaying. Additionally, there’s the always common “Jesus is the reason for the season!”, which really is “your beliefs suck”.

          • Alix

            As a Catholic well-versed in the Catechism, I have to say that  ”Believe in what we do or you go to Hell”  is *not* the teaching of the Church. Catholics believe that, although everyone who is saved is done so*through* the Church, you can still go to Heaven if you aren’t Catholic. Honestly. It’s in the Catechism. And, there are several Protestant creeds that have similar beliefs (not all though… and they think Catholics are going to Hell, too. So, if they are right, I’ll see you there!)

            So, speaking for myself, when I say “Merry Christmas,” or hang a cross up in my house, or whatever, it’s just because of my joy in the Season. It makes me very happy, and I want to share it. Like chocolate… if  offer you some, and you don’t want it, that’s fine. I don’t mean to offend you by it, I just want to share something I love.

            • BrandonUB

              I’m happy to share and not offended at all! My post definitely struck the wrong tone in that regard. Unfortunately, formal Church doctrine does, however, include include blasphemy and all sorts of other seemingly trivial matters as mortal sins. I realize this isn’t something that’s particularly held by very many Catholics (especially in the US), but it’s still in the Catechism.

              I guess part of it is that I’m not particularly offended by being told I’m wrong, and I’d like to think others shouldn’t be particularly offended by it either… I think I’m not going to get my wish there though.

            • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

              Keep your “chocolate” off of tax-supported property  or let other candies compete.

          • William Garvey

             Echoing what Alix said…I grew up in a Presbyterian family.  This study (http://wwrn.org/articles/2999/?&place=united-states&section=presbyterian) came out in 2002 that showed that 57% of the laity and 61% of the clergy don’t believe that Jesus is the exclusive path to heaven.  Plastic Jesus in a manger isn’t threatening anyone with hell.

            Maybe it’s because I’m more of a humanist than anything else, but I actually like seeing the holiday displays.  When I drive past my city hall and see a nativity, menorah, and star & cresent (large Muslim population in my town) next to each other I feel like humanity isn’t boned because we can agree to cooperate and celebrate our diversity like that.  That’s a big part of what the holidays are about for me.

    • Pete084

      I could sympathise with you were orbit for the fact that Pagans celebrated the winter solstice long before some pope bloke in Rome declared December 25th to be Jesus’s birthday. Fir trees, holly, Yule log are Pagan symbols. that Christians quite happly hijack, but they get their knickers in a knot when anyone tries to take them back.

      • Pete084

        Sorry, orbit should read as ‘it not’ I blame predictive texting on this phone, but then I would!

      • Alix

        Not all Christians, though. Many of us are well aware that it is possible Dec. 25 was chosen to observe the birth of Christ because of the feast of Sol Invictus. The nice parallel imagery of the ‘Unconquered Sun’ and the Risen Christ could be why the early Christians chose that day, and absorbed (or hijacked, if you wish) the customs into their own celebration. It could also be that they simply counted 9 months from the Feast of Annunciation (3/25,) which is a much older Christian feast. There is a great deal of discussion of this, actually.

        Anyway, I don’t get my knickers in a knot when someone burns a Yule log to  honor Sol, or Apollo, or just to keep warm… I just like a nice fire. And, as my in-laws run a Christmas (or Yule) tree farm, I would encourage everyone, regardless of creed, to have a nice, live fir tree this year… perhaps two!

        • Travshad

          The Feast of the Annunciation probably originated shortly before or after the council of Ephesus in 431 CE.   The first mention of December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth appears in the Philocalian calendar, a Roman document from 354 CE.  The Feast of the Annunciation is not older than the choice of December 25th as the date of the birth of Jesus.

        • Nordog

          December 25th is the feast day, not a birthday.

      • Anonymous

        Err I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what your comment (which I have no argument with) has to do with whether the sign above is dickish or not.

        A possibly relevant point is that I’m an atheist, and opining from that perspective. It would appear this isn’t clear to some people?

        Christmas trees are actually a pretty funny thing all by themselves because of this:

        Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
         For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of
        the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
        They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. Jeremiah 10:2-4

    • EJC

      Hi Claudia,

      I respectfully disagree with your take on this.

      Two reasons:

      1) Why does the holiday season equal a “time out” or “get out of jail” period for apologists? It makes no sense. We have been told that this is the way it should be, but why. Sincerely. Why? This period of myth worship in the calendar holds no trump card vis-a-vis empirical evidence to prove anything, so why should it get this special hiatus? Treat it like any other period on the calendar and be done with it.

      2) We have the benefit of empirical evidence on our side. We can show how reigion does and still corrupts and “hardens hearts.” So when we stand up and say “The Emperor has no clothes”, why are  we dicks?

      We are exposed to religious based bullshit daily and we are expected to keep a civil tongue, yet when we put up something that shows where we stand, we are dickish? I simply do not agree with this.

      • Anonymous

        Hi EJC! Just to address your points:

        1 – Personally I think its a matter of being nice and also a matter of strategy. I think the vast majority of people, including the majority of atheists, consider the winter holidays a time when good-spirit and brotherhood should prevail. It’s a time to put aside differences and get along. Is there any core objective reason for this? No, just as there is absolutely no objective reason to put candles on a cake and celebrate that the position of the Earth relative to the Sun is approximately what it was when you were born. It’s a tradition, and one celebrated by plenty of people who don’t neccesarily believe a word of the religious myths attached to it.

        So in being adversarial at a time most folks think of as the least adversarial time of year, we know we will cause extra offense. Now, that may be justified for a given objective, but what is the objective? Is it to joyfully present ourselves as simply celebrating another way? Is it to reach out to closeted atheists? I happen to think dickish ads, particularly around the holidays, are counterproductive to the general goals of growing the community and combating harmful stereotypes about us.

        2. That something is empirically true need not have any bearing on whether or not to mention it, or how you mention it, is dickish. It would be supremely dickish of me to go up to a recent orphan with a big smile on my face and say “You’re parents are dead!”, even if it were 100% factual. That cancer can kill you is a fact, but you don’t have to go about shouting it in a cancer ward. I happen to think that adversarial signs during the holidays are unneccesary and counter-productive, especially since there are a whole lot of purely positive ways you could claim nontheist visibility.

    • BrandonUB

      I see nothing inherently more adversarial about the atheist statements than what’s implicit in Christian symbols associated with Christmas. No one familiar with the meaning of Christian imagery could reasonably regard it as completely non-confrontational.

      I might personally be inclined to go completely non-confrontational with the atheist one simply because it’s irrelevant how non-confrontational we are, the simple presence of non-Christian imagery is enough to tick off the “war on Christmas” people. That, in and of itself, makes its own point, while the this probably doesn’t do quite the same.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        She wants a “positive Solstice message”,

        not none at all.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      The sign is better without that last sentence.

      That d— last sentence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcie-Miller-Spence/1322445534 Marcie ‘Miller’ Spence

    Woohoo, go Wisconsin!

  • Anonymous

    II forgot to say: Happy wintet solstice everyone!

  • Gerry

    I didn’t find it mean or dickish in the least, on the contrary I really found it very inspiring!

  • Mary

    I think that signs like this make it even harder to be an atheist in this culture. We are purposefully making ourselves look spiteful, arrogant and argumentative. A sign that said something like this would be much more appropriate and would surprise many people with its simplicity:

    So many Gods, so many creeds,
    So many paths that wind and wind,
    When just the art of being kind
    Is all this sad world needs.

    Happy Winter Solstice from the FFRF!

    • starskeptic

      …someone didn’t read the article?

  • starskeptic

    The World’s Need
    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox  (1850-1919)

    So many gods
    So many creeds,
    So many paths that wind and wind
    While just the art of being kind
    is all this sad world needs.

    I am the voice of the voiceless
    Through me the mute shall speak
    ’til the deaf world’s ear
    be made to hear
    the cry of the wordless weak.

    From lab, from cage, from kennel,
    from slaughterhouses, comes the wail
    of my tortured kin 
    who proclaim the sin
    of the mighty against the frail.

    For love is the true religion
    And love is the law sublime
    And all that is wrought
    where love is not
    will die with the touch of time.

    Oh, shame on the mothers of mortals
    Who have not stopped to teach
    of the sorrow that lies
    in an animal’s eyes; 
    the sorrow that has no speech.

    • starskeptic

      After more research I found that “The World’s Need” (as used on FFRF sign) IS actually a stand-alone verse that was incorporated into one of the five versions of her poem, “The Voice of the Voiceless”.http://www.ellawheelerwilcox.org/

  • Sophie

    Although I’m an atheist, I am close with various deeply religious folks and I would never vaguely suggest that their hearts are universally “hardened.”  Their minds are closed,” sure, but “hearts hardened” sounds ridiculous.

    • Michael Appleman

      Do these people know you are an atheist?

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        Are you related to Phillip Appleman, the atheist poet?

        • Michael Appleman

          I don’t know. Its not a common last name, but I do see it from time to time. I looked him up and interestingly he and my grandfather both served in the Army Air Corps in WW2.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

            Each issue of FFRF(.com) Freethought Today
            prints one of his fine poems.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Get rid of that last sentence in the sign.

      (By the way, some hearts ARE hardened.Check out FFRF’s
      hate mail page in every Freethought Today.)

  • M G

    I would appreciate a bit more if they had managed to get the citation right.
    ELLEN Wheeler Wilcox?

    • starskeptic

      Good eye, M G…

    • Eskomo

      Ellen is printed on the sign.  It is Hemant’s text format that has the typo.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t find it too unnecessarily mean, just too wordy. People aren’t going to stop and read the whole thing unless they’re already non-religious.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Yes. Get rid of that last sentence.

  • Nicole Youngman

    I find it mildly amusing that the sign seems to have a clear proselytizing intent. ;)   @Starskeptic–thanks for posting the full poem. It seems like the FFRF took that first verse a bit out of the context of speaking up for animals’ rights.

    • starskeptic

      indeed…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    I do kinda think it’s “dickish”, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it.  On the contrary, this is how social change, happens folks: By some people going too far and crossing the line.

    You can’t separate an action such as this from the cultural context in which it takes place.  In a world without excessive religious privilege, a sign like this would probably be uncalled for, an unprompted and unnecessary swipe at people’s private beliefs.  But last time I checked, we don’t leave in that world yet.  And until we do, groups like the FFRF are fully justified in pushing boundaries, even past what might otherwise be considered good taste.

    And besides, if nothing else:  If the sign bothers you because it is too “mean”, remember that it now makes you seem like the “nice” atheist in comparison.  If nobody is expressing  bold confrontational messages like this one, then even mild-mannered expressions of disbelief are met with contempt and hostility.  Now you get to seem like the nice guy in comparison — and you have the FFRF to thank.

  • Geeforson

    The idea behind allowing these displays is *purely* about pushing religion. Government should be staying out of pushing religion altogether, these display areas shouldn’t exist.
    I would personally focus on a positive message, but because the whole idea of a public display area for religion is ridiculous I’ll accept the approach they took here. I don’t think it’s as effective as a more positive message would be, but it serves its purpose.

  • Brett Hansen

    The FFRF put up a sign like this in my home state’s capitol building a while ago, and as an atheist it made me pretty mad.  I live near Seattle, one of the easiest places to be an atheist in the country, and it just wasn’t good for PR.  It’s not that the message wasn’t true, it just wasn’t nice.  It made people think “Maybe I was wrong, maybe atheists ARE angry people who don’t like me”.  Maybe that would have been the wake-up call people needed in some parts of the country, but hear it was a step back. 

    Immediately after posting this controversial sign, FFRF ran back to Wisconsin to let us deal with the fallout.  Dan Barker seems like he’s a cool guy I’d love to hang out and discuss religion with, but I don’t think he has the mind for strategy that he thinks he has. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

    I guess coming from the bible belt helps me get most peoples point of this is not as bad as what they do, but why stoop to their level, I like the sign just wording could have been better. Hell last Halloween at a haunted house we were verbally attacked by a group screaming ” turn back put the chirst back in halloween he is the reason for the season.!”   I mean come on. I am tired of hearing “he” is the reason for any season.  Holidays were made by early humans trying to make since of what they didn’t understand.  Yule  is merely hoping to survive the winter, samhien simply remembering and honoring the dead, ostara  yay things coming back to life.  Why can’t we celebrate like early english did go around caroling drinking at every stop , till were passed out in front of the harth?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

    sorry for all typos and misspellings, trying to put a baby to sleep and typing is hard.


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