Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

Take it on faith

Sally Quinn marks 5 years of doing her On Faith discussions for the Washington Post.  She says after all of this religion coverage that she is no longer an atheist.  She doesn’t have a personal relationship with God, though, and she believes that all religions are equally valid.  Still, her reflections contain some good stories:

An atheist father was trying to explain to his son that there was no such thing as God. “But dad,” asked the boy, “how do you know?”

“You’ll just have to take it on faith,” said the father.

That says it all.

We are all taking our beliefs or lack of beliefs on faith. . . .


My friend, Welton Gaddy, a Southern Baptist minister, told me about a friend who informed him that she had absolutely no interest in religion. “Well,” he asked her, “are you interested in national politics or foreign policy?”


“ What about abortion, gay marriage, immigration and the environment?” he asked.

Of course she was.

“Well, then,” he replied, “you’re interested in religion.”

Gaddy might well have added the financial bailout, poverty, disease, movies, music, holidays, separation of church and state, parenting, sexual abuse, animal rights, sports, books, the internet, the military, women’s rights, racism, violence, crime, marriage, families, science, medicine and on and on. Everyone is interested in religion. They just don’t know it. . . .


We are all searching for the transcendent, for a sense of the divine. Even those who claim no faith, no belief, cannot ignore the three questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What then must I do?

Life is hard. No matter whether you are religious or not, you will have periods of extreme doubt which will make you ask, “What is the point?” Nobody gets a pass.

Viktor Frankl, in his famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” written after the Holocaust, asks the question and answers it for himself. I think I know what gives my life meaning, what the sense of the divine is for me, what I find transcendent. I have found this out by studying religion. That doesn’t mean I have any answers. It only means I believe I know why I am here.

Being personally offended for someone else

I’ve noticed the phenomenon of someone getting personally offended on behalf of someone else, who, in fact, has not been personally offended.  A complaint has been filed against Catholic University for being insensitive to Muslims–basically by being a Catholic university–even though no Muslims have complained.  From a Washington Post editorial:

The press release announcing complaints against Catholic University of America for alleged bias against Muslim and women students begins with a mention of criminal charges leveled against a bishop in Kansas City for withholding information about suspected child abuse. It’s an irrelevant cheap shot. But it’s a good tipoff to the lack of substance in public-interest lawyer John Banzhaf’s high-profile campaign against Catholic University.

Mr.  Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University noted for litigation on behalf of non-smokers and women, recently complained to the D.C. Office of Human Rights that Catholic was violating the rights of its Muslim students. The complaint is focused on the school’s policy of not giving official status to non-Catholic worship groups, but Mr. Banzhaf, in interviews and releases, also suggests that Muslim students are uncomfortable with the symbols of Catholicism on the campus. He faults the university for not setting aside space — free of crucifixes and other religious icons — for Muslims to worship. The complaint follows another action by Mr. Banzhaf in which he alleges that Catholic’s elimination of coed dorm floors is discriminatory (he claims such adverse effects to women as not being able to find males to walk with them to their dorms after dark).

It’s a little hard to take the charges seriously considering no one actually claims to be aggrieved. Mr. Banzhaf acknowledged to The Post’s Michelle Boorstein that he had received no complaint from Muslim students but was acting on the basis of a 2010 Post article (which, to our mind, painted an overall positive experience of Muslim students at Catholic). The university has received no complaints from Muslim students and, in fact, reports a doubling of its Muslim enrollment since 2007, from 56 to 122.

via Campaign against Catholic University – The Washington Post.

The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs

CNN’s religion blog asked several experts if they thought that the recently departed Steve Jobs has been turned into a secular saint.  I liked what Gary Laderman of Emory University had to say:

Steve Jobs the man is dead. But Steve Jobs the myth is only growing in stature and will only continue to grow as a cultural point of reference as an inspiring model for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a compelling success story with perplexing moral commitments and as an appealing icon whose life, death and products will, for many, cross over the line from profane to sacred.

In a USA Today review of Walter Isaacson’s new book, “Steve Jobs,” the author rightly suggests that no Silicon Valley figure has attained the “mythical status” of Jobs and notes his “almost messianic zeal” for work.

Why the religious language to characterize his life and death? How does a mere mortal transform into a superhuman, glorified cultural hero?

Jobs has been the object of numerous memorials, and tributes – more than a million – are being posted on Apple’s “Remembering Steve” webpage, with condolences as well as testimonials about how Jobs and his products have touched and indeed transformed the lives of countless individuals.

Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through – not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.

It is not tied to any institution like a church or to any discrete tradition like Buddhism; it is, instead, tied to a religious culture that will only grow in significance and influence in the years ahead: the cult of celebrity.

As more and more people move away from conventional religions and identify as “nones” (those who choose to claim “no religion” in polls and surveys), celebrity worship and other cultural forms of sacred commitment and meaning will assume an even greater market share of the spiritual marketplace.

In life Jobs may have been something of an enigma who maintained his privacy and generally stayed out of the public limelight. In death, Jobs now is an immortal celebrity whose life story, incredible wealth, familiar visage, and igadgets will serve as touchstones for many searching for meaningful gods and modes of transcendence.

via Short Takes: Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint? – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs.

I would say that it isn’t just that Jobs has been turned into a saint.  In our newly-minted paganism, he and other celebrities have undergone apotheosis.  That is, they have been turned into gods.  The parallel is what would happen in the Roman Empire.   An accomplished emperor dies.  So the Senate votes to proclaim him a god.  Whereupon he enters the pantheon and citizens are enjoined to perform sacrifices to him.

Laderman’s point about celebrity worship in our current spiritual void is very acute.  The most dramatic examples are the shrines and religious devotion that some acolytes give to Elvis Presley.  We are seeing something similar with Michael Jackson.  The devotees of Steve Jobs are arguably more sophisticated, but still. . . .

What are some other examples of celebrity worship?

HT:  Joe Carter

It’s going to be Romney

It looks like the Republican presidential nominee will be Mitt Romney.   Tea party favorite non-candidate Chris Christie has endorsed him, as have former candidate Tim Pawlenty.  Meanwhile, many conservative pundits are writing columns about how terrible it would be for someone to oppose a candidate just because he is a Mormon.  True, not a single primary has been held, but it looks like Romney will be the last man standing.  If that proves true, look for my Obama re-election prediction to come to pass.  That would mean not even Republicans will vote for a conservative candidate.

Columnist Michael Gerson notes the antipathy of many conservatives and Christians to Romney’s Mormonism.  “About 20 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Protestants tell Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president.”  Gerson thinks many of them will come around to supporting him as an alternative to Obama.  But, he points out, the dislike of Mormonism is even greater among liberals and secularists.

In 2008 Mormon leaders raised their heads in support of Proposition 8 — the California initiative against gay marriage. Their commitment to the traditional family runs deep, and no issue is currently more likely to provoke liberal ire. Secular progressives will add this transgression to a history of Mormon offenses against women and minorities and raise, as usual, the specter of theocracy. . . .

Secular tolerance for the emphatic faiths has been thinning for some time. To many liberal thinkers, conservative religion is inherently illiberal. Mormonism only magnifies those concerns. Damon Linker has warned that Mormon leaders, claiming prophetic authority, might dictate to an American president. Jacob Weisberg has insisted, “I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.” Twenty-seven percent of Democrats currently say they would not vote for a Mormon — a higher percentage than among Republicans or Protestants.

via Who’s afraid of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism? – The Washington Post.

Do you think Christian conservatives will vote for Romney despite his Mormonism?  Will you?  Would you rather have a Mormon in the White House or Barack Obama?  If you refuse to vote for either, what will you do?  Vote for a third party or just stay home?  Or does the candidate’s religion not really matter in the task of running the government?

The American religion

“I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. He redeemed me fully and completely. He is the only reason that I am able to stand here today. I am a proud member of that faith, but more importantly, I am a proud member of the American religion.”

–Glenn Beck, addressing controversies over Mormonism

via At values summit, Romney keeps focus on Obama – The Washington Post.

Exegete THAT.

What would you say are the tenets of “the American religion”?

Where do we see the American religion as being treated as ‘”more important” than the Christian faith?