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December 6, 2008

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... For readers who haven't been around the past couple of weekends, I have brought back "This Week in God" as a regular Saturday feature. The weekly piece highlights some of the news from the world of religion, most notably instances in which faith intersected with politics and/or public policy. TWIG was on hiatus during the height of the election season, but by popular demand, it's back.

First up from the God Machine, there's an increasingly bitter controversy in Olympia, Wash., over a winter holiday display. (thanks to reader M.W. for the heads-up)

An atheist group has unveiled an anti-religion placard in the state Capitol, joining a Christian Nativity scene and "holiday tree" on display during December.

The atheists' sign was installed Monday by Washington members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group based in Madison, Wis.

With a nod to the winter solstice -- the year's shortest day, occurring in late December -- the placard reads, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

This, as one might imagine, has not gone over well among the faithful in Washington's capital. Earlier this week, Bill O'Reilly blasted local officials for allowing non-Christians to have access to an public holiday display, and condemned Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) as "weak" for not discriminating against the atheist group. (Gregoire has said she doesn't like the atheists' sign but explained, "This is not about my personal religion. This is about the First Amendment and respecting views that I don't necessarily agree with.") Soon after, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's placard was stolen and thrown into a ditch.

A temporary replacement with an identical message has been put in its place. This one will include an attached note that reads, "Thou shalt not steal."

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A state representative in Kentucky is upset because Gov. Steve Beshear issued a Homeland Security report last month that didn't credit God for keeping the state safe in its mission statement. State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister and a Democrat, expects Beshear to "fix" this oversight promptly.

* The Episcopal Church is in the midst of an enormous shift, with conservatives trying to break off and form their own rival denomination. The fissure began with the ordination of an openly gay bishop five years ago, and the move now "threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian body."

* And finally, state Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah has introduced legislation that would officially urge all retailers in the state to use and promote the phrase "Merry Christmas," instead of "Happy Holidays." Buttars explained, "I'm sick of the Christmas wars -- we're a Christian nation and ought to use the word." As a friend of mine explained, "[I]t's amusing to see right-wing Republicans, who normally adopt a hands-off attitude toward regulating business, trying to force retailers to use certain terms in their ads or in-store greetings.... As Jim Olsen of the Utah Retail Merchants Association pointed out, Buttars' plan isn't even practical. Many stores these days are owned by national chains, he noted, and decisions about ads and language used is made at home offices, far from Utah."

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Jesus F---ing Christ!

There. He has been credited.

Posted by: Elwood Blues on December 6, 2008 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

. . . state Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah has introduced legislation that would officially urge all retailers in the state to use and promote the phrase "Merry Christmas," instead of "Happy Holidays." Buttars explained, "I'm sick of the Christmas wars -- we're a Christian nation and ought to use the word."

I own my own business. At least 10 percent of my customers are Jewish. Several are Hindu and several others are Muslim. I also have customers who are Pagan and others who are enthusiastically atheist or agnostic.

December, with the sale of holiday gift certificates, is my highest grossing month. There is no way I am going to alienate some of my customers by wishing them a "Merry Christmas" when I know that they don't celebrate that holiday.

So to Sen. Buttars (appropriate name), Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the morons who are fighting against the imaginary "War on Christmas (tm)", I offer an enthusiastic Fuck you! and cordially invite them to shove a pine tree up their asses.

To everyone else, Happy Holidays!

Posted by: SteveT on December 6, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Great post here!

BTW, would you like a Link Exchange with our new blog COMMON CENTS where be blog about the issues of the day??

http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

Posted by: Steve on December 6, 2008 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK
Bill O'Reilly blasted local officials for allowing non-Christians to have access to an public holiday display

It's amazing how hard it is for these dipshits to avoid extending a big middle finger to Jewish (and other non-Christian) people.

I'm sure Shrill is one of those assholes who reflexively defends Israel (or uses Israel as an excuse to hate on other non-Christians in the region), but further reflection suggests its because he and his ilk hope all of "those people" will go "back to where they came from."

And finally, state Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah has introduced legislation that would officially urge all retailers in the state to use and promote the phrase "Merry Christmas," instead of "Happy Holidays."

Shorter: Buttars makes an arse of himself.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Some elected officials will do anything to avoid actual work. The economy is deader than a doornail and this Butthead wants to introduce legislation that would do exactly diddly+squat. Say it passes, retailers (AKA employers of the state's residents) are "officially urged" to do something. They decide not to do it. Then what?

Exactly.

Posted by: tAwO 4 That 1 on December 6, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I lived in Olywa(Olympia, WA) for a winter a liberal town with a redneck problem. If I had to guess, I would guess atheists, agnostics, and witches outnumbered christians.Out side of town it gets redneck fast!
The local toy store in town closes on December 23 the Winter Solstice because their staff is almost all witches and it is their most important holiday. The toy store reopens on the 24th and closes on the 25th.
I do not approve of the atheists mocking tone. They are not actually putting up a symbol of their religion, as they have none. It was disrespectful and does not really help.

Posted by: cheflovesbeer on December 6, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I don't like the atheists "hijacking" the Winter Solstice to advance their adgenda. The plaque contained a lot of dismissive language that is not what that holiday is all about. In fact, they hijacked the solstice like right-wingers have hijacked Santa.

Posted by: coral on December 6, 2008 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Could I offer a different perspective? What do people that consider themselves progressive gain from this sophmoric mocking of religious folks? Putting up an atheist sign at a Christmas display is, to a lot of swing voters that we need, the equivalent of giving equal time to white supremists during celebrations of MLK Jr. day. Why offend people for no reason other than to be pugnaciously obnoxious? For the record, I'm a secular person myself, but I think the concept of civility should have some bearing on these issues. I can understand how atheists and agnostics could look on religous people with bemused contempt, but the craving to go out of your way to offend someone with no concievable benefit is not a progressive value.

Posted by: loki on December 6, 2008 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

i agree (mostly) with loki, but the 'thou shall not steal' addition make me laugh.

Posted by: danelectro on December 6, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

"There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

As a nonbeliever, I find this offensive and completely missing the point. Sure, religions are replete with myths, folklore, fables and superstitious, but all are dressings to the more fundamental notions of human morality and spirit. You don't need to believe in the story of Jesus to believe in much of what he preached, for example. God himself could be regarded as just a symbol of the overarching human spirit, or the greater cosmos in from which all life, on earth or alien worlds, has spawned.

It's just crude and belittling, that sign. Shame on those guys.

Posted by: hark on December 6, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

It's silly to think that a protest of this kind will accomplish anything positive. A superstitious nature is genetic - it won't go away. Our best option is to quietly, firmly, and relentlessly push back against the not-so-quiet, very firm, and feverishly relentless campaign by 80 million evangelicals to turn our country into a christian nation. If we're in the bind we're in now it's because we didn't take the time to explain to our well-meaning brothers and sisters that the Founding Fathers had no intention of creating a theocracy. Well, the camel's nose is deep within the tent now - so our struggle will be that much harder. A good starting point would be to hold Diane Feinstein's feet to the fire over the DeMint affair. She, of all people, should know better than to roll over for silly junk like that. DeMint is a write-off; but Diane we need to hold high the torch of truth and freedom.
btr

Posted by: Brian T. Raven on December 6, 2008 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Certainly these people have the right to free speech, but they are not doing atheists any favors. Whether people are religious or not, this time of year has been in Western culture at least in part a celebration of virtues like love, generosity, community, and peace for a very long time, and this anti-theist (rather than just atheist) display sends rather the wrong message about atheists in that context.

Posted by: NewProg on December 6, 2008 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

As for the FFRF's mocking tone in the Winter Solstice plaque:

1) I agree. They do use a mocking tone.

2) That's their right, protected under the First Amendment.

The use of "Thou shalt not steal" is even more mocking. I think that's the point...

Posted by: Jim H on December 6, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Is this Sen. Buttars' idea of an employment program? Hire the unemployed to patrol stores and make sure stores are saying "Merry Christmas"?

Posted by: Charity on December 6, 2008 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

The regulation of business aside, wouldn't the 1st amendment have something to say about urging businesses to say "Merry Christmas"? Sure, that's not the same as forcing them to, but it's still the voice of government.

Posted by: tom on December 6, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Fortunately, the first amendments protections don't included qualifiers for level of snark, effectiveness of message, or approval of whiny blog commenters.

Posted by: doubtful on December 6, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

And people like Chris Buttars wonder why Jews vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats.

Posted by: Elrod on December 6, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Soon to join the crowd of displays at the State Capital in Olympia (drum roll please):

!!!!!FESTIVUS!!!!!

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/35616504.html

Posted by: apssara on December 6, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

And here in Tejas, a driver claimed God told her to have a wreck

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 6, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

as a former episcopalian (not now religious) i have one word to those who are threatening to break away - bu-bye! (that is one word, right?)

Posted by: just bill on December 6, 2008 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

I am curious about the selection of materials chosen for this weekly blog entry. My sense is that the items posted are those that paint religion in its worst light, and that there is little, if any, posted that paints religion in its best light. Am I correct? If so, why is this the policy?

It is not as though it wouldn't be easy to find more positive stories. I suggest, for instance, the National Catholic Reporter.

As a progressive, I became a fan of this site during the election season. If the intent is to present, on a weekly basis, material that engages in an attempt to paint religion using a level of thought that I would not accept in my college freshmen, then I think I'm gonna be inclined to take my business elsewhere.

Posted by: dcprof on December 6, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Utah! The only state where Jews are Gentiles!

Apparently Buttars' legislation is only urging retailers to say "Merry Christmas" (which is pronounced keep on shopping where I live.) I urge them to give me a pony, which I will name Buttarboy and ride to Kolab.

My view is the one truly great contribution by the modern world's organized religions is ending slavery. Since then they've been a net loss, nourishing more wars than souls. But, I agree the atheist placard is needless irritation when celebration should be encouraged.

Happy Everything Everybody!

Posted by: dennisS on December 6, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with SteveT. I run a business on my own and do alot of business for Christmas but I would find it quite rude if I assumed that all of my customers celebrated Christmas in the same way. An easy way to lose a customer is to be disrespectful and to offend them. These guys are just nuts!

The "thou shall not steal" addition to the Washington display is brilliant.

peace

Posted by: kswan on December 6, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Good point, loki. Instead of an "anti" message which creates a vacuum, it would be great if atheists would message to tolerance, kindness, generosity, compassion and tolerance - the classic virtues.

That's how popular religions "sold" and "marketed" their messages - member benefits.

That's how secular civic participation could be effectively enhanced. Give people a reason and self-interest to rally around secular community action, and they will naturally gravitate away from religious ideology.

But when they are taunted, bullied or ridiculed for their beliefs, with which they have never experienced anything different, you're only going to get proportionate resistance, escalating hostility and divisiveness. Have we learned nothing from warring and the free market?

I think we're smarter than that.

Posted by: Annie on December 6, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen quoted: "... the placard reads, in part, 'There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.'"

The human conceit that the natural world is "ours" is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. And it is that myth and superstion that is driving humanity's accelerating degradation and destruction of the Earth's biosphere.

According the photo in the article that Steve linked, the full text of that portion of the placard reads: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world."

That is a nonsensical non sequitur. The term "nature" means all that is.

All things that are, all phenomena, all that can be, has been, or ever will be experienced or observed is part of "nature", since "nature" means "all that is".

The mental category "supernatural" is nonsensical, empty and devoid of meaning. No "supernatural" entity or phenomenon can exist, because by definition "nature" comprises all entities and phenomena that exist, have existed, will exist, or may exist.

To say that gods, devils, angels, heaven or hell exist is by definition to say that such entities or phenomena or experiences are natural phenomena -- they are part of nature.

Now, such phenomena may or may not actually exist -- but the question as to whether or not they exist is no different from any other question about whether any other natural phenomenon or class of phenomena exists, and it can be addressed empirically, just like any other question.

By contrasting "gods, devils, angels, heaven and hell" on the one hand with the "natural world" on the other, these folks are unhelpfully perpetuating a baseless, useless, confusing and counterproductive dualism which has actual negative consequences for the scientific study of certain aspects of nature.

For example, some serious researchers, notably the late Ian Stephenson, have for decades studied what they refer to as "cases of the reincarnation type". In these cases, very young children, as soon as they are able to talk, begin talking about "previous lives" -- mental content which they subjectively experience as a memory of a previous existence as another person.

In a significant number of these cases, the details and specific information provided by the child have been investigated and found to match the actual experiences of an actual deceased person, that could not possibly have been known by the child through conventional means. In addition, in some cases, children who recall a "previous life" that ended in violent death, have birthmarks that correspond to the fatal wounds (e.g. stabbing or gunshot) of the actual deceased person.

Unfortunately the reaction of many scientists to this research is to reject it out of hand without even examining or considering it -- because they categorize the very notion of "reincarnation" (or more precisely the apparent survival of death by elements of a deceased human's mind or personality in the form of "memories" in another living person) as "supernatural" and therefore not worthy of or inappropriate for the attention of scientific inquiry.

They already know that such phenomena cannot possibly occur -- because they are "supernatural".

Which is, frankly, as absurd as the most absurd "religious" belief you care to think of, since if such phenomena do in fact exist -- and there is a body of carefully assembled, very powerful empirical evidence that they do -- they they are necessarily, and by definition, natural and part of nature. They certainly may reflect aspects of nature about which we know little and understand less, but that doesn't make them supernatural. Indeed, the idea that aspects of nature which we don't understand are "supernatural" and therefore not worthy of or accessible to scientific study can do nothing but limit the progress of our scientific understanding of All That Is, a.k.a. "nature".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 6, 2008 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Not thrown in a ditch but rather turned into a country music radio station in Seattle whose dj's had railed against the plaque. Who called the press and then returned the sign.

But the tone was dismissive and disrespectful.

Of course, it was matched by a well known local publicity seeking anti-gay preacher who put a similar placard stating there was God, Devil and Hell and who went on to say in the accompanying clip that people who did not accept Jesus would fry in Hell like a Jimmy Dean pork sausage. That must have gone over well with the local Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim citizenry.

And allegedly there will be a Festivus placard put up soon.

We're like one big family up here. Love that Christmas spirit.

Posted by: y2karl on December 6, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

You call that a 'This Week In God' post? Where was the "face of Jesus appears in tortilla" item? You know perfectly well it happened somewhere this past week.

Posted by: JL on December 6, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think religion makes the world a worse place. Trying to placate or humor religious people is a bottomless pit. They don't distinguish between a snide remark and a crucifixion.

So like fuck 'em.

Posted by: npr on December 6, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm always amused by the concern trolls such news stories generate, who invariably express angst over the "incivility" of atheists and agnostics calmly sharing their views, or decrying their statements of nonbelief as "sophomoric".

Much like the legions of fake "Democrats" warning of a breakdown of the Democratic Party if Hillary or Obama failed to quit the primary, I often smell the hand of a charlatan or poser.

Posted by: melior on December 6, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

dcprof: If the intent is to present, on a weekly basis, material that engages in an attempt to paint religion using a level of thought that I would not accept in my college freshmen, then I think I'm gonna be inclined to take my business elsewhere.

One hopes that your freshmen have a better grasp of context and venue than you seem to possess. This is a political blog. The clear intent in presenting "This Week in God" is to examine the places where politics, government and religion intersect. That these places overwhelmingly have to do with persons attempting to legislate aspects of religion or test interpretations of the establishment clause is not Steve's problem.

Annie: Instead of an "anti" message which creates a vacuum, it would be great if atheists would message to tolerance, kindness, generosity, compassion and tolerance - the classic virtues.

Most atheists do focus their messages to these virtues, generally noting that these are secular as well as religious traits. The FFRF is no more representative of all atheists than any particular far-right evangelical group is representative of all Christians.

Posted by: as it unfolds on December 6, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

the post discribes the fellow from the great state of kentucky as a "Southern Baptist minister and a Democrat."

this really is the big tent party.....clowns welcome....

Posted by: dj spellchecka on December 6, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, do athiests always have to be assholes about it?

"As human beings we must take positions based purely on compassion, reason and scientific evidence. To do otherwise is a dangerous distraction from helping our fellow beings and understanding the world around us."

Now was that so hard?

Posted by: MNPundit on December 6, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Buttars. The same guy who pushed loudly in a USA Today op/ed piece for "intelligent design" to be required in public-school science classes.

A paragon of wise judgment and Constitutional understanding he's not.

Posted by: Cash on December 6, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

This is not a Christian Nation. Christians insisting on this are ignoring the constitution and our Bill of Rights and are therefore anti-American. It's a nation where you are free to practice Christianity or any other religion.


Only idiots believe Jesus was born on Dec.25. Because it was already a season of celebration (the winter solstice where the sun begins increasing in light from the earths shortest sunlight day...yeah, the sun is rising again after 3 days where it came to a stop).

The seasons celebration was there long before the Christians began celebrating it as the birth of Jesus. The Gov. needs to stop pushing his beliefs off on the rest of us and let us enjoy the season.

Posted by: joey on December 6, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

I agree, the atheists' sign was simply hostile. Hostility is usually not the best way to get one's point across. The point seems to have been to simply piss off Christians.

The sign upsets me for another reason: it means Bill O'Reilly might be right! For some reason, some atheists have decided to pick a fight with Christmas, and that means that-- on this singular issue-- O'Reilly isn't exactly being paranoid.

About "Happy Holidays"-- I am conflicted. I am a Christian, but I have always been firmly in the "Happy Holidays" camp. It is my standard greeting in the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/New Year period. It's a seasonal greeting for me during this general time of good cheer, giving, etc., etc., and convenient because I don't always assume that people are Christians or practice any religion, but I would still like to include everyone in the joyousness/magic/whatever of the season. However, my Jewish co-workers sneer at the "Happy Holidays" greeting, saying "You really just mean 'Merry Christmas.'" But I don't! So, I'm conflicted.

Posted by: Taritac on December 6, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Only idiots believe Jesus was born on Dec.25. Because it was already a season of celebration (the winter solstice where the sun begins increasing in light from the earths shortest sunlight day...yeah, the sun is rising again after 3 days where it came to a stop).

The seasons celebration was there long before the Christians began celebrating it as the birth of Jesus.

Which is why the English Puritans (and some modern sects like the Jehovah's Witnesses) are as anti-Christmas (or more) as any non-Christian.

Posted by: Chet on December 6, 2008 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

America never needed a Voltaire because in its past religion was often a force for ameliorating evil. Now it's degenerated into a hypocrite's manual for phony weasels who rape altar boys, kill muslims, mob dissenters, poke holes in condoms, and generally try to push other people around. So fuck you Christ, fuck you and everybody who looks like you and especially everybody who thinks they act like you, écrasez l'infâme.

Posted by: candida on December 6, 2008 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking as an atheist, I think the atheists are getting to be as obnoxious as the O'Reillyites.

The sign in Olympia (mountain of the pagan gods, though, LOL) is just rude. I've never heard of a holiday display where there was a sign on the menorah saying "Jesus is a false messiah" or a garland on the Christmas tree spelling out "Accept Jesus or burn in hell."

I mean, can't we all get along? We nonbelievers have a tradition of tolerance and respect. It's a tradition we should honor.

(I did think the "Thou shalt not steal" sign was funny, though.)

Posted by: Nancy Irving on December 7, 2008 at 4:36 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Nancy.
No minority has EVER gotten anywhere by being confrontational.
They should just, like, wait for the majority to allow them their rights.
You utter cretin.

Posted by: HairlessMonkeyDK on December 7, 2008 at 6:19 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, atheists are just supposed to be polite and wait for people to see our point of view. Cause if we're nice and never confront others, people will magically be able to overcome a lifetime of religious training and centuries of tradition.

Your concern has been noted.

Posted by: Daniel on December 7, 2008 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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