An Alternative to the In-Your-Face Atheist Holiday Displays

Over the last few holiday seasons, many readers here have expressed dismay or discomfort with some atheist display posters that have been set up alongside religious holiday displays in city halls and other government buildings that essentially say, “Religion sucks. Grow up.” While many of us might think that sentiment is correct, we can also have other thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that we might want to express to our communities, statements about what we favor rather than what we disfavor.

I’d like to offer this graphic as an alternative. It is positive, affirmative, and I think it reflects values that atheists and humanists can and do support and practice. It doesn’t wish things for people. With caring and respect, it suggests that the reader do three things.

For visually impaired people who visit this site, this is the text:

When the season is dark, bring the light of your reason.
When the season is cold, bring the warmth of your love.
When the season is difficult, bring the ease of your generosity.
And when the season is once again bright, warm, and easy,
Keep bringing your reason, love, and generosity,
For they’re needed year round.

With caring and respect for all people from

(fill in your atheist or humanist organization)

If you like this, please feel free to use it. Just fill in your atheist or humanist organization. I made it with a very old Photoshop application on an aging computer in about 15 minutes, so you might need to rework it. Change the font, the background, whatever — just please keep the positive and affirmative spirit of the message.

Edit: No need to worry about attribution. I’m the author of the text.

It’s too wordy for a billboard and it might even be too wordy for an interior bus ad, but I think it’s suitable for a poster in a public place, perhaps alongside other holiday displays, or a greeting card. It may be too late in the holiday season for much use of it this year, but if people like it, I’ll remind everyone about it early next fall.

Keep each other warm and safe,
Richard

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • SeekerLancer

    I approve. It’s much better than the “myths” sign they usually put up. That always felt like it came off as angry, jealous ranting to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sullivan.smith Kevin Sullivan

    I think that’s beautiful. If I hadn’t already made the holiday card using the picture of me and my 13 cats, I would have totally used this instead.

    • Renshia

      A pic of you and 13 cats? Is that a cry for help. I think it is, we should talk. There’s therapy for stuff like that.

  • pascalecake

    Richard: you da best, you da you da best!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7JRJSAEESI54P4REYMVRTOSQYQ Gay Apparel

    Finally, something positive from the secular community at this time of year. I was getting tired of all the negativity, condescension and hate. Some Christians might be that way, but don’t sink to their level.

    And remember, Christmas is a federal secular holiday as well, so freethinkers are free to celebrate and do in large numbers. I am one of them—I love Christmas.

    So to everyone in the freethinking community, happy solstice, joyous Saturnalia, happy Yuletide and Merry Christmas.

    • Bill Haines

      And Happy HumanLight too! :)

  • Mark Johnston

    It’s great!  It sounds like a prayer that is meant to be answered by a person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.p.holder John Pearson Holder

    When the season is dark, bring the light of your reason.
    When the season is cold, bring the warmth of your love.
    When the season is difficult, bring the ease of your generosity.
    And when the season is once again bright, warm, and easy,
    Keep bringing your reason, love, and generosity,
    For they’re needed year round.
    With caring and respect for all people from

    Rational Johns House of Happy Humanitarians!
    Yes I am PEOPLE! it’s crowded in here!
    Thank you I used it.  I am my own organization!

  • WoodyTanaka

    Exactly what is the strategic purpose of such a sign?? 

    The problem is the state endorsement of religion through the use of religious symbols.  The goal is to have the government agency stop using religious symbols.  How does this sign advance that goal and work to defeat that problem??

    Do you really think that demonstrating that atheists are “nice” or not “in your face” will make them say, “Oh, I guess we shouldn’t put up that manger and baby Jesus on the courthouse lawn.”??

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      It’s not put up for a “strategic purpose.” That’s what signs like FFRF’s are for. These are just to wish people well during the holiday season. The local group that I’m a part of is about to put up a similar kind of sign, and we’re just exercising our right to put our secular voice in a public place so it isn’t just religious groups that are represented.

      • WoodyTanaka

        Okay, but what purpose is served by simply wishing people well?  What is the point of putting a “secular voice in a public place” if not for stopping the abuse of public spaces by religion-minded politicians? 

        • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

          To counter the image of “those evil grumpy atheists trying to take away our holiday”.  Our public image tends to be made by our critics instead of by us.  This kind of sign goes a step toward fixing that.

          • WoodyTanaka

            I can see some negligable benefit to that, I guess.  But it ultimately won’t matter because the people who believe that will not be persuaded by this type of sign, and those who don’t believe the lies about atheists won’t need the reassurance.  I guess I think the money would probably be better spend trying to advance the organizations’ goals.

            • Bill Haines

              You’re both forgetting that positive messages like the above do a much better job of getting people interested in *joining* local secular groups, than negative messages like the usual FFRF fare, and this is not a negligible benefit. :)

              • WoodyTanaka

                No, I’m not forgetting that. I simply would rather a group like FFRF develop strategies that might work in spreading their good ideas. I’m a member of the Democratic Party, so I’ve got no need of another organization with good ideas but without the fundamental competence in getting them enacted.

            • 3lemenope

              Not every communication is a bid to persuade. Some times people say nice things just to be nice. There doesn’t have to be another motive.

              • WoodyTanaka

                Oh, for pete’s sakes, it’s designed to be used by activist organizations, not knitting clubs.

                • http://www.facebook.com/scott.jamison.9212 Scott Jamison

                  And there are no freethininking knitting clubs?

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          Personally, that just seems like a nonsensical question to me. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think that wishing people well is a purpose in itself, even if it had no other ancillary effects (which I think it does).

          • Drew M.

            You’re not alone. I’m a bit gobsmacked by Woody here, myself.

          • WoodyTanaka

            If I’m donating money to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the purpose I would want them to serve is to do things to get the government free of religion, not spending their time wishing people well.

        • The_L1985

          1. Well, there’s the purpose of wishing people well. Atheist organizations, like all other organizations, must interact with other members of the surrounding community. It’s easier to do so when you’re on good terms with everybody else.

          2. Every billboard that has this particular form of wishing-well, is a billboard that doesn’t have the obnoxious “GOD Bless America!!!” with the word “God” written 3x as large as the rest of the text, on an American flag background. Again, anything that results in fewer of those eyesores can only be a good thing. (Christians: It’s supposed to be a religion, not a pissing contest.)

          3. This billboard rather neatly shoots holes in that irritating argument that one must belong to an organized religion in order to have any morals at all. As a member of a “disorganized” religion (eclectic Neopagan), I am sick of this argument, and I’m sure you are too.

          • WoodyTanaka

            None of these things are particularly valid, as strategy for a civil rights group trying to get government to respect the first amendment. Your first point is irrelevant to that goal, as these government don’t violate the First Amendment because they think atheists are mean.

            The second, too, is pointless. If they’re not on government property, purchased by the government and so long as the atheist groups have a chance to purchase space equally, I don’t give a damn what the God botherers put on private billboards.

            The third, too, makes no sense. First, anyone who believes that is not going to be persuaded by a sign. Second, I don’t care what people believe; it’s their right to believe it and express it (for example, I believe the “eclectic Neopaganism” you espouse is patent silliness and juvenile nonsense, akin shaking a stick at the sky or worshiping squirrels. No amount of you telling me about your beliefs is going to change that), my only concern is that they don’t use the state to spread their beliefs.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/7JRJSAEESI54P4REYMVRTOSQYQ Gay Apparel

      Hey, did ya ever think that maybe goodwill and cheer during this traditionally festive season doesn’t have to be strategic? And the Supreme Court has already ruled on nativity scenes on federal property—they are legal as long as they are part of a larger display with an overall secular purpose. Same justification for Christmas Day being a federal holiday.

      • WoodyTanaka

        It doesn’t have to be strategic, but if it’s not, what’s the point?  Would the money not be better spend by the organization doing the organizations’ work, rather than merely being a “god cult minus the god”?

        Yes, they’re legal under those conditions, but that does not mean that we should not work to eliminate them anyway.  If the government has to put up with “in your face” atheist signs as the cost of putting up baby Jesus, maybe they’ll decide that baby Jesus isn’t worth the hassle and put up no religious symbols.  Should that not be our ultimate goal?

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/7JRJSAEESI54P4REYMVRTOSQYQ Gay Apparel

          It might be your ultimate goal, but it’s not mine, and it certainly isn’t “ours”. Atheists are individuals, not an organized cult like religions.

          To me, the nativity scene is no different than Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman. All are depictions of mythical figures and stories associated with the Christmas holiday. Why are you so determined to get nativity scenes removed, but don’t care about those other fictional characters being displayed?

          • WoodyTanaka

            “Atheists are individuals, not an organized cult like religions.”

            Hate to break it to you but groups like FFRF and the “atheist or humanist organization” Richard wrote for her are, in fact, organized. 

            “Why are you so determined to get nativity scenes removed, but don’t care about those other fictional characters being displayed?”

            Because there aren’t scores of millions of Frosty-worshipping people in the US trying to dictate the terms of our lives according to the tenets of Frosty Worship.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Woody.

      There is no “strategic” purpose of the sign in my mind. Its purpose is to suggest three behaviors that anyone who reads it could do. If someone thinks there’s a strategy behind it, that’s their invention, not mine.

      Some people’s goal is to have the government agencies stop using religious symbols.  The “Religion is but myth” poster that FfRF has put in many governmental buildings alongside religious displays seems to have been intended to be so unpleasant that the agencies would decide to curtail all holiday displays, religious or irreligious. I think that would be a preferable outcome to a zoo of all sorts of religious, pseudo-religious and irreligious displays, but I don’t see a lot of government agencies making the choice to stop all displays.  The mangers are there each year, and so is the poster.

      While I agree with what the FfRF poster says, it is not necessarily what I want to say year after year.  It does not express for me all that I think or feel. It does not adequately represent me as an atheist and humanist, and I’m offering this as an alternative statement for atheists and/or humanists who have other things to express besides disdain and repugnance of religion.

      So no, I don’t think it’s going to get religious people to stop putting nativity scenes on public land. That’s not its intention.

      • WoodyTanaka

        Fair enough.  I see no reason to go throught the trouble and expense if there is no strategic reason behind it.  And, frankly, I see no reason for an atheist organization to take any position regarding these signs that does not simply attack the underlying assault that these holiday displays entail on the separation of church and state.  I guess we’ll agree to disagree on their usefulness.

        (That said, I think that the writing itself is pretty good, for what you’re trying to accomplish, so I give you credit there, for sure.)

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Thank you, Woody. You’re rational and earnest, and we need those qualities in the mix. Stay safe and warm.

    • Bob

      One thing it does is remind people that atheists exist in a way that doesn’t immediately get their hackles up. Attacking religious people makes some more moderate atheists uncomfortamble. A sign like this might appeal to them and so bring in new members. It’s so inoffensive that it’s harder for fundamentalist christians to manufacture outrage about and it’s a good way to challenge the idea that atheists are joyless funsuckers or just plain evil.

    • The_L1985

      Well, it rather neatly puts a stop to all that “if you don’t believe in Jesus, there’s nothing to stop you from killing 500 babies!!!” nonsense. After all, you can’t have a stance like that mentioned in the billboard without having a personal code of ethics in the first place. ;)

      • WoodyTanaka

        Baloney. The people who make such statements aren’t going to be deterred by this statement. And, besides, what you’re talking about isn’t a strategic goal, it’s, at best, a tactic.

        • The_L1985

          Ok, now you’re starting to confuse me. As someone who grew up in the heart of Fundie-land, you have to remember that most of the nastier Xians don’t know atheists. They know a straw man.

          They are fighting a child-killing, devil-worshipping, god-hating straw man to protect their children from same. Destroying that straw man is key to destroying the “Us Vs. Them” mentality that causes some Xians to think public nativity scenes are a good battle tactic in the first place.

          • WoodyTanaka

            And whether they know atheists or not won’t matter, by and large. at most, they might think better of atheists, but so what. I don’t care what they think. I care about what they do. Even if they think atheists aren’t demonic, they’re still going to take actions to place Christianity in a privileged position unless forced not to.

            • The_L1985

              I don’t think you’re right about that. Libby Anne says it better than I do, and frankly I don’t have the space in this comment thread to explain it in enough detail to make it clear.

              The phrase “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” comes to mind, though.

              • WoodyTanaka

                But that is a plus only if your goal is to attract flies, isn’t it. And, here. the goal concerning holiday displays should not be, in my opinion, to make atheists liked, but to prevent governments from putting up religious symbols.

                • The_L1985

                  I’m not so sure you’re seeing the bigger picture here. As was pointed out in the very article I linked:

                  - In a world with more atheists, and more visible atheists, it becomes political suicide to establish Christianity via religious displays on public property.

                  - When atheists make it known that they’re decent human beings, and the average religious person gains a more positive view of atheists, more people who are expressing doubts about religion are likely to “come out” as atheists/agnostics. This includes both people in prominent social/political positions and “just plain folks.”

                  - People are more likely to agree to do something, and to continue doing that thing, if you can convince them that the reason to do so is a good one. (In this case, that thing is “making public spaces more secular.”) When the reason is perceived as “those horrible, whiny, evil atheists don’t want you celebrating Christmas this way!!” then religious people are going to double down. This is how the Religious Right has been allowed to frame the debate–and the FFRF’s confrontational ads encourage this negative view! When atheists are allowed to frame the debate, and show it as “other reasonable human beings see this as a form of coercion, and would like to be treated with more respect,” then people are more willing to keep their nativity scenes at home.

                  Once again, I fail to see why you would be against anything that makes atheists look better, because improving PR automatically helps you, no matter what your other goals are. It’s the reason Christians have been able to pretty much trample on the 1st Amendment–1500 years of good PR in the Western world.

  • Michael

    I approve. Far better than let’s be logical when everyone else is getting drunk.

  • Annie

    It’s lovely!  As a procrastinator who sends out new year cards, this is just in time for me.

  • Santiago.

    I liked it. Better by far than what FFRF. I have to admit my eyes glazed a little when I saw the word reason, but that is just me. Great job!

  • Annette

    Hooray! I love this. As an atheist myself, I’m less concerned about calling other people irrational and mocking their (granted: irrational) beliefs and meaningful traditions than I am about extolling generosity, love, compassion, and acknowledging those among all people.
    I think this billboard will touch other people too, in a way that encourages a positive reaction rather than a defensive one.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Love it. Nicely done.

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

    It looks nice, BUT if I might take the militant atheists position for a moment…  The reason why we would want to put up a display that might offend people is to get them to take down a religious display…especially if the religious display is the only thing in front of a government building and there is the appearance of endorsement.  We say…hay, city/county/state, the reason you have this display up is obviously not about freedom of religious expression…because the government doesn’t have freedom of religious expression, people do…so the reason it’s up is because of free speech and if you are going to allow one form of speech you have to allow them all (and that’s always meant allowing speech that you might not like).  If there is a nativity scene in front of a government building all alone and it looks like it’s an official endorsement of Christianity, we would prefer that it be removed (as if there aren’t enough churches in town that could put one on their property).  If we put up a sign that religious groups complain about, we can tell them that we will take our offensive one down, if they take theirs down (the idea of endorsement of religion, or even the appearance of endorsement, is offensive to us after all).  The idea of equal time and their desire to not be exposed to (and have their kids exposed to) ideas that might challenge their believes and their privilege are the leverage we have…we should us it.  We are the ones asking for the religious displays to be taken down…not for more displays to go up.

    • John Gills

      Your point is well taken, and important. My only caveat is that we must use the holidays to make our points with determination, but also with good spirits. (After all, we’re the ones who are right.)

  • nakedanthropologist

    This is wonderful. I’ll definitely be doing something with this in mytown next year. Thanks Richard!

    P.S. I always appreciate when you, Hermant, and others clarify the text in images for us visually impaired folk. It makes a big difference, and I’m always grateful. :-)

  • Pseudonym

    I love it! FFRF, please use this.

  • Bob Speeter

    Yes much better! Our city council chose to move the Nativity to private property in order to avoid placing the offensive banner along side it. There is no need to purposely offend while fighting for church state separation.

  • Guest

    I think that’s a beautiful sentiment. Well done!

  • Renshia

    I like it. I like it a lot. Excellent sentiment.

  • http://twitter.com/Three_Star_Dave Dave Hill

    As a Christian, I’d much rather governments not put up religious displays. My faith means too much to me to be turned into an advert or be associated-by-proximity with Mayor Frim and the knuckleheads on the city council.

    That said, I suspect that for most Christians a nativity scene isn’t thought of as a bald assertion of spiritual-cultural hegemony, but as a quiet, reassuring, inspirational scene of promise, family, and peace. Which is why, I also suspect, that “Neener, neener, just a myth” signs come across as an attack not just on church-state entanglement but on all those other things that the nativity is associated with. It’s reminiscent of the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” ads that _are_ in fact exclusive and meant to attack others.

    The message above makes the point that warmth and inspiration and generosity are not just Christian values, but ones that are held by many others. That message seems like a “strategic” value to me, beyond just the worth of sincerely expressing the sentiment and the good feeling it engenders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Talbot/1014919276 Scott Talbot

    I like your sign, however, if you are referring to the ffrf sign (or any of the signs used in government controlled spaces) allow me to offer this perspective: The idea seems to stem from ffrf’s stated goal of having no religious (or non-religious) messages in those spaces. If you want to pay to put up signs in every courthouse/city hall in the country, feel free, but still I (and others) would rather just have space free of those signs entirely.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Scott. Please see my longer reply to Woody Tanaka earlier in the comments here. Yes, I know that that is the intention of the FFRF sign, and I would prefer that outcome, but that strategy does not seem to be working very well. For the most part, the government agencies that have permitted both religious displays and the FFRF sign seem to be continuing that practice each year.

      The problem with shock value methods is that if they don’t work right away, people get inured to the undesirable stimulus, and it has less effect over time rather than more. So the FFRF sign is becoming a perennial one-and-only statement to represent atheists. I technically agree with its sentiment, but I also have other thoughts and feelings to express to the public, and it’s clear in the comments that many other atheists feel the same way.

      • WoodyTanaka

        “that strategy does not seem to be working very well.”

        Except where it does. See, e.g.,Cheboygan

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Yes, I just saw that, and that’s good. As I said, the option of no religious or irreligious displays on government property is the outcome I’d prefer. Whether or not this actually becomes a consistent or frequent outcome remains to be seen. As I also said, what I’ve offered here is an alternative that has a completely different intention, because it’s about expressing what we some of us favor rather than disfavor. Various “Religion sucks, grow up” messages are not just being used in these conflicts about use of government property; they’re also being used in billboards, bus ads, and other non-governmental venues. It’s not like the FFRF and American Atheists are the only organizations who can speak for atheists. Many of us have other things we wish to say. What I’ve offered can be used by anybody on government property alongside the FFRF sign, or instead of it, or in non-governmental venues wherever people will have the several seconds it takes to read it.

          • WoodyTanaka

            Richard, I think that as used in other venues, other than the courthouse lawn, so to speak, a sign like this could serve very useful purposes, so to that extent I amend my earlier statements, as I read this as being offered as an alternative to the FFRF’s public square sign.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.mear Jessica Mear

    Richard, are you the original author of the text?

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes.

  • Octoberfurst

    I would love to see signs like this around the holidays than the “Jesus is a myth you morons” type signs we usually see our side put up. It would help people be attracted to our cause. The negative signs just push people away, IMHO, and make them think that all atheists are just mean killjoys.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roccim Marlo Rocci

    I’m letting them have their holiday, while trying to ignore it as much as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    Here is the text of a poster put up by humanists on the Warren County courthouse lawn in Virginia:

    “With reason and compassion as our guide, let us work together to produce a world in which peace, prosperity, freedom, and happiness are shared by all.”

    I think that’s reasonably non-confrontational.

    It was, as humanists have come to expect, vandalized.

  • The_L1985

    Thank you for this. I’m sick and tired of the whinier portions of the Christian and atheist communities sniping at each other all year. Plus, it finally gives me a decent response to my dad’s continued insistence that “atheists don’t have morals because they have no religion.”


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