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Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in Uncategorized | 5 comments

The abuse of Christmas in the public square

I’m mostly indifferent to Christmas. I neither celebrate, nor generally care that others, including atheists, do. I don’t care if anyone says “happy holidays” to me, or even “merry Christmas”.  People should do the things that make them happy, and the mere beliefs or choice in celebrations of others is no threat to anything I believe. I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, here.  Except for this.

This is one of several religious banners appearing in the Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, PA, right now. What exactly does it have to do with Christmas? Damned if I know, but Christmastime, or perhaps “the holidays” are the excuse to put it up, and on public land. A more common instance is the traditional nativity scene. I have no objection to any of these displays, so long as they were placed on private property.

Resistance to the public showing of these displays on the basis of constitutionality are often combated successfully with appeals to tradition and the celebration of Christmas as a national holiday. Perhaps that is why some atheist groups adopt a different strategy: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Justin Vacula working with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has succeeded in getting this secularist banner placed in the same location. I would not generally approve of this kind of me-too-ism, nor the pointedness of the message. It’s sure to offend many, and persuade few , if any. I am not interested in celebrating the solstice. Pre-modern agrarian peoples celebrated the solstice either for religious reasons or because it was important to life-sustaining agriculture that they conducted themselves. Neither reason has any significance for me.  All that said, I find the strategy a sound one. If every church gets a spot in the public square, so must humanists and atheists. It’s only fair. And maybe it will highlight the pointless pageantry of showcasing religious beliefs on public land.

Further reading

Justin Vacula’s post
FFRF press release

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Boy do I like what Justin and the FFRF did! Yes!

  • Clare45

    Our local Humanist group, myself included, have decided that as Christmas is a 99 percent non-religious holiday, we are going to celebrate it along with the winter solstice. Christmas celebrations were actually banned for many years by Christians (mostly Catholics) because it was considered a pagan festival.
    Even the carols, the Messiah and crib displays are fine with me, as long as it is understood that the underlying story is just a myth- the same as Santa Claus. I think atheists who are militantly starting a “war on Christmas” are just going to make themselves unpopular with people who might otherwise not be particularly religious. I think we should take back Christmas as an all-inclusive holiday.
    Dawkins recently pointed out that we already have Wodinsday (Wednesday) Friggasday (Friday) Saturn’sDay (Saturday) and Thorsday (Thursday) and we are not worshipping Norse gods any more.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I think a point could also be made that the goodness of Christmas, the positive values of hope, peace, kindness, time with loved ones, etc.., has made it successful and are more enduring than anything religious about it. Much the same as abject fun has made halloween enduring, long after the religious nonsense has been forgotten by everyone.

  • Cozman57

    I agree with he author that whatever makes people happy when it comes to personal spirituality doesn’t hurt me. Sort of like Jefferson’s “if it doesn’t break my leg or pick my pocket” approach to personal religiosity. But when it encroaches on the public commons we must stand up even in the face of ridicule and charges of ant-Americanism. At the same time we should not be so combative that we alienate those who are open to or supportive of our cause. Arrogance never won over anyone.

  • KevinDougherty

    Why the fuck would anyone celebrate the winter solstice? Do you celebrate high tides and tornadoes too?