Atheists take aim at Christmas
(CNN) — It’s beginning to look a lot like — a war over Christmas.
Alongside a Nativity scene at the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington, a sign put up by an atheist organization celebrates the winter solstice. But it’s the rest of the sign that has some residents and Christian organizations calling atheists Scrooges for attacking the celebration of Jesus Christ‘s birth.
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“Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” the sign says in part.
Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who now heads up the atheist and agnostic Freedom From Religion Foundation, said it was important for atheists to see their viewpoints validated alongside everyone else’s.
Barker said the display is especially important given that 25 percent of Washington state residents are unaffiliated with religion or do not believe in God. (A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 23 percent of Washingtonians said they were unaffiliated with a religion and 7 percent said they didn’t believe in God.)
“It’s not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest,” Barker said. “If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don’t bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views.”
He said if anything, it’s the Nativity scene that is the intrusion.
“Most people think December is for Christians and view our signs as an intrusion, when actually it’s the other way around,” he said. “People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the holiday from all of us humans.”
The scene in Washington state is not unfamiliar. Barker has had signs in Madison, Wisconsin, for 13 years. The placard is often turned around so the message can’t be seen, and one year, someone threw acid on it, forcing the group to encase it in Plexiglas.
In Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association began a bus ad campaign this month questioning belief in God.
“Why believe in a God?” the advertisement asks. “Just be good for goodness sake.”
That ad has caused the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to field hundreds of complaints, the group said, but it has heard just as much positive feedback, said Fred Edwords, the association’s spokesman.
Edwords said the ad campaign, which features a shrugging Santa Claus, was not meant to attack Christmas but rather to reach out to an untapped audience.
Edwords maintains the campaign began in December mostly because the group had extra money left over for the year. The connection to Christmas is a coincidence, he said.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t know there are organizations like ours to serve their needs,” Edwords said. “The thing is, to reach a minority group, in order to be heard, everyone in the room has to hear you, even when they don’t want to.”
The ad campaign, Edwords said, is to make people think. He said he doesn’t expect to “convert” anyone.
But the Christian Coalition of America is urging members to oppose the advertisements.
“Although a number of humanists and atheists continue to attempt to rid God and Christmas from the public square, the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts,” Roberta Combs, the group’s president said in a press release.
The atheist message was never intended to attack anyone, Barker said.
“When people ask us, ‘Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people’s holidays? — we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message,” he said. “On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don’t submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways.”