Christmas Wars: And Now, the Rest of the Story

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Christmas Nativity Scene

Disclaimer: I’m an atheist who has nothing major against non-secularists. But sometimes this whole Christmas War nonsense is more tiring than Black Friday sales. Sigh.


“…and now, the reeesstt of the story,” as newscaster Paul Harvey used to say. For the past few years Paul’s pithy prose describes something we should all remember when it comes to the infamous Christmas Wars – look at the other side.

The latest battle has been fought before, yet it never seems to die. Christian organizations in Santa Monica, CA won’t be able to place their annual 14-scene Christmas nativity decorations in the city park and they’re miffed.  The Washington Post headlined the story this way, Atheists’ move halts Christmas tradition in Santa Monica, churches go to court to get it back.

The problem is the atheists didn’t kill anything. They simply applied for slots in a lottery the town set up to allow equal access to the city park. Not surprisingly, city officials grew tired of being accused of being “anti-Christian” for following the law, so they killed it.

Of the 21 available slots, atheists won 18 draws, Christians won 2, and Jews won 1. Since the drawings were blind, I’m not sure how to account for the imbalance, but my guess is atheists put in more applications and Christians fewer. In other words, they played by the rules and won fair and square. Yet, the atheists are a vast anti-Christian plot.

I won’t argue that atheists put up some displays that Christians found offensive and I won’t defend them for it. However, they are as entitled to do that as Christians are to say just as bad or worse things about atheists. The Constitution protects speech, it says nothing about friendly or agreeable speech.

Understandably, there are bad feelings all around – from both sides of the story. Although I follow the “logic” of some of the Christian backlash, it seems pretty lame, and frankly contradictory, to me. Cynthia Dermody offered “10 Reasons Atheists Can Go to Hell Over Holiday Decorations Fight” on Cafemom. Here are her “reasons” (with much of her snark removed):

  1. “You aren’t going to make Christmas or Hanukkah go away.” I don’t think atheists, who make up small sliver of the population, have any illusions about that. They are reminded of it every day. And while there are atheists who want religion to go away, like there are deists who want atheists go away, most of us simply want rights equal to deists.
  2. “You are coming off looking shallow, mean, and spiteful, like the spoiled neighborhood brat who always got pissy when everyone voted to play kickball when they really wanted to play tag.” If by “shallow, mean, and spiteful” you mean follow the rules and not ask for special dispensation, then yes, I’m guilty. School ground votes aren’t valid constitutional arguments and I’d wager that even if a kid was “shallow, mean, and spiteful” the other kids would make fun of him anyway.
  3. “The displays aren’t going to convince someone who isn’t religious to suddenly convert or defect from your ranks.” I agree. I suspect the atheists will be about as successful with their proselytization as a gaggle of Baptists camping, unbidden, on someone’s porch to share the word of God will be. However, I don’t have a problem with anyone presenting a point of view, as long as everyone gets a chance…and they don’t stand on my porch to do it.
  4. “Many of the past nativity scenes from area churches represented historical scenes from the Bible.” Again, I agree. However, atheists are part of history too. Would Dermody be happier had the atheists’ scenes depicted Supreme Court battles over the First Amendment?
  5. “You’re just jealous we get presents and you don’t. Yeah, it sucks to be you this time of year.” Woah! Talk about, “shallow, mean, and spiteful”. I don’t know any atheists who don’t get presents on Dec. 25th. They get presents on their birthdays, anniversaries, and sometimes Valentine’s Days too. I don’t think that sucks. In fact, I think it is in line with one of the most wonderful biblical concepts I know, “Give and ye shall receive.” (Luke 6:38)
  6. “Your kids might actually enjoy them. Like it or not, your little atheists will probably attend school with other children who are being raised in a faith.” My “little atheist” got presents when she was a kid. She liked them as much as any other kid. She also enjoyed learning about faiths in which kids don’t demand Transformers the size of fire trucks. She sometimes had questions about those faiths which I answered truthfully and thoroughly with real quotations from the proper religious texts when possible.  Studies show most atheists know more about Christianity than Christians do. BTW, my “little atheist”, who is now 22 years old, fervently believes in God and, unlike many Christians, regularly attends church. I think she may be a stronger Christian because of her knowledge of different religions, her tolerance of other faiths, and her ability to choose intelligently because of it. I hope you can say the same of your “little Christian”.
  7. “You’re winning anyway! Atheism is the only “religious category” that’s actually on the rise in the United States.” Ah, the Mitt Romney argument! Mitt didn’t “lose” because his beliefs became too out of step with other Americans. Obama “won” because he was a heathen non-Christian Kenyan. You might want to ask some former “conservative” turned “moderate” Republicans how that strategy worked out. Besides, with about a 80/20 split of the “electorate” I think you’d agree atheists are a long way from a “mandate”. Plus, your fund-raising is better. Atheists don’t pass the plate each Sunday, or get special tax dispensation to plow their money into a Cayman Island-like church, or have numerous and vast PACs to push their agenda. We should really work on that.
  8. “You don’t have to walk through or drive past this portion of the park.” That’s true, but neither do you. Luckily for you, it’s easier to avoid 18 signs than a 14-scene construction project with lighting and blaring music. However, I suppose I could just roll up my windows to keep the noise out.
  9. “People are going to continue to put up displays in their yards.” Dermody is right again. But those are yards, personal property. A public park is, well, public. I could be mistaken, but I’m not aware of any suits by atheists to prevent Deists’ right to do that. But even if they wanted to, that’s OK under the law. Besides, some atheists like twinkly lights and Disney characters cavorting in front of a manger as much as the next person with poor taste.
  10. “You are waging this war in Santa Monica, ironically. “Santa” translates to SAINT, by the way.” Ironically, city names containing “Santa/Saint” have as much to do with religious beliefs as the “New” in New York. It isn’t new, it isn’t York, and never has been. BTW, ironically, see number 4. The names are historical names based on religious people and I don’t think any atheists are pushing to rename Santa Monica (a woman and not the male Santa Claus) Dawkinsville or Hitchens City.

“…and that’s the reeesstt of the story.”

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