I do not often find that the social issues that get Bill O’Reilly worked up are worth my attention. But I am troubled about a situation that he has highlighted involving religious displays in the State Capitol of Washington.
Last year the Alliance Defense Fund took time from their anti-gay activities to sue the State of Washington over Christmas displays. As a consequence, a policy was established to allow use of public space to sponsor a display, regardless of belief.
This year three displays went up: a “holiday tree”, a nativity scene, and a statement by an atheist organization.
That in itself does not bother me entirely; I support the accommodation of diverse views. I am, however, bothered by both the language of the placard and its placement next to the nativity scene. The statement says:
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.
This is not an endorsement of atheism; rather, it is an attack on religion, most specifically that religion next to which it was placed. Those who placed the sign, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, make no pretenses that this was not an attack on a Christian holiday nor do they apologize for the hurt and anger that they have caused Christians. In fact, they portray themselves as the victims.
In an interview with Fox News, the co-president had this to say:
DAN BARKER: If there is going to be a nativity scene that’s pro-Christian, which basically insults those of us who are not Christian, by telling us we’re going to go to hell unless we bow down before that Baby Jesus, then we want an equal time, too. We want a place at the table. We want to show America that we, atheists and agnostics, are here, too.
A statement of belief is not equivalent to a position of hatred and attack on others.
Nor do I think that the atheist organization is the victim here. The existence of a nativity scene is no more an insult or attack than a Sikh wearing a Dastar is attacking Muslims or the lighting of a menorah is an attack on Buddhists. That others observe that which I do not has nothing to do with me and I have no right to insist that they do so in secret nor does society have an obligation to respect my attack on them.
Many atheists are content with their conviction of the order of nature and the limitation of existence to that which can be observed. And they really don’t much care whether I agree.
But these particular atheists, like some others that I have encountered, are not interested in allowing disagreement. These evangelical atheists view the existence of anyone else’s religion as an attack on their own religious beliefs. It is not enough that each person determine whether to believe and that each religious viewpoint be respected, or at least allowed. No, rather than coexistence with religious faith, they want to attack religious faiths and those who practice them.
Ironically, this is very similar to the tactics and language employed by some religious opponents to gay civil rights. Those who are recoiling from the anti-Christian behaviors of this group includes, no doubt, many of those who made statements about gay marriage that were astonishingly similar.
The anti-gay marriage campaigns were full of those who indignantly demanded that gay people not have marriage because the mere existence of such marriages was at threat to their family. It was not enough that they had their own marriage, rather they insisted that mine not exist.
I think that our society would be better served if each of us allowed room for the other.
I am entitled to equality under the law, including marriage rights. But I can also respect those who disagree and I do not insist that my wedding be at their church. And while they can believe that I will burn forever in eternal torment, this does not entitle them to place placards next to the best man at my wedding.
This sort of religion-by-attack only escalates. Each slight is answered by a larger attack until the whole of society is embroiled in a nasty culture war.
Redmond pastor Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church called an 11 a.m. news conference Friday. The Olympian reports he’ll place his own pro-Christian sign in the Rotunda to mock atheists.
I think it is time for Washington State to establish rules that those seeking to display their religious positions are banned from attacking others. Tolerance does not include those who refuse to show it to others.
Further, I think that they should demonstrate some connection to the season. Perhaps the atheists could find a time of celebration, maybe the birthdate of a leader in freethought or a season in which there were fewer traditional mythologies. They can hardly expect to be taken with credibility when they oppose myth and mystery at the time of the Winter Solstice.