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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

05 December 2008

Atheists Trying To Spoil Christmas

So the capitol city of Olympia, Washington decided to install a Nativity scene in their Legislative Building this Christmas. Those who believe that "freedom of religion" means freedom from religion screeched as expected. Coincidentally, a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation forced the state government to allow a plaque to be put up supposedly celebrating the (cough-cough) winter solstice. The plaque reads:

At this season of the winter solstice let reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.


Hmm.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 50-pound sign was stolen and tossed into a nearby ditch. It was later recovered and returned. Point made.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was founded and is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The FFRF believes that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a "wall of separation" between government and religion.

For the record, the Declaration of Independence makes it abundantly clear that there is a God. The very first sentence (a humongous, confusing run-on, explanatory sentence) refers to people's equal station on the planet, entitled to them through the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The next section (The Preamble) asserts that all men are created equal, and that "...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Hmm again. "Nature's God?" "Creator?" Whaaaaat?

Even the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution curiously only states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That is all. No mention of "separation of church and state." In fact, nowhere else in our Constitution or Bill of Rights (Amendments) is that phrase uttered.

So. Clearly, the Founding Fathers believed in a Creator/God. They were not uneducated dolts. Nor were they atheists. They were smart men, and they simply wanted their new government to be free from any religous influences or interference, and to be free to worship in any way they wanted without persecution by the government. We may not be a "Christian nation" but we are one that believes in God.

But wait. Isn't the very belief in a Creator/God a form of religion in and of itself? That is an argument that can be, and often is made. My own personal opinion (and the opinion of the majority of sentient, intelligent, reasonable, rational citizens of the U.S.) is that the evidence of a Creator is strong. No, that evidence may not be scientific, but that does not disqualify it as such. You don't need to be a member of an organized religion to believe in a Creator/God.

Okay, okay. So anyway, there is this guy named Dan Barker. He's the co-president of the FFRF and husband of the group's founder. He is also a former Pentacostal Christian minister. When people objected to putting that plaque up next to the Nativity scene, this is how he replied:

"If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we're all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Does he really believe...really believe that the mere display of a Nativity scene says that? Is this Dan Barker an idiot? Or does he just play one in sound-bites? It must be the former. Listen to what he says next!

"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. On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways."

Wow. This, from someone who was once a Christian minister? I guess if you're a hateful person, then hate is what you find when you look. That's pretty sad. More than that, one must really question the sanity of a person who would make such a remark. By spouting such bullshit, guys like Dan Barker and his FFRF do more harm than good to the cause of the unbelievers/atheists. If I were an atheist, I would go see about shutting him up and getting him some psychological help.

Bottom line: The construction of our government does not prohibit the display of a Nativity scene in a public building. It does not preclude the celebration of general holidays like Christmas. You want to display some atheist crap alongside the nativity scene? Fine. I might think you're trying to shove your views down my throat, but I won't try to stop you. Just don't be surprised if it gets stolen/vandalized by people who feel differently.

Does this mean I'm condoning what was done? Nah. What the thieves did was wrong. It's just that in the state of Washington, only about 7% of the residents identify themselves as "atheist." So in a city of 42,000 or so like Olympia, only about 3,000 would be atheists (plus some troublemaking visitors from Madison, Wisconsin). And if the other 39,000 would rather have a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building than some insulting poster saying that religion is nothing but a "myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," then I have no problem with that.

14 comments:

Bob said...

Well said. Ben Stein, a Jew, wrote a great piece a couple of years ago about all the silliness over saying "Merry Christmas." Though he doesn't observe the holiday, he has always has a warm feeling when someone conveys the sentiment to him. Likewise, I am graciously appreciative when wished "Seasons Greetings," "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Hannukah."

Don't you know the founding fathers are having a good laugh -- to keep from crying -- when they see all this nonsense?

If someone is threatened by the display of a Nativity scene, they have more problems than they care to admit. I pity them.

Redlefty said...

If someone is threatened by the poster about winter solstice, I'd say the same as what Hal said.

I'd hope that Christians can be universal in our principles. If a nativity scene has a right to be in the legislative building without being defiled or stolen, then an atheist poster, Muslim prayer mat or Buddhist statue deserves the same respect, in my opinion. The principles of liberty and respect transcend religions and denominations.

Dan Barker's words ring very clearly to me as those from a man who was brutally hurt, to his very soul, by someone or someones in his Baptist background. He sees hate because he has experienced it in his church, and that kills religion in a person very quickly.

I'm probably feeling empathetic towards him right now because I just got offered the chance to preach at our church (~800 members) next month and I turned it down, knowing that if I spoke my heart I would be attacked, excommunicated and probably even hated by those who sit next to me and speak about love every Sunday.

Redlefty said...

Sorry, in the first paragraph I meant "Bob", not "Hal". Too many Bobs around here!

Bob said...

OK Michael, I'm with you on the various religions being represented but the political correctness thing just gets to me after a while. But you are right, respect should be mutual.

More importantly, please tell us why you would not want to preach? It seems from things you have written on your blog that you have spoken in some classes and have benn well received? Why the hesitation to speak your heart?

rodolfo said...

You wrote: No mention of "separation of church and state." In fact, nowhere else in our Constitution or Bill of Rights (Amendments) is that phrase uttered.

The phrase “wall between…” was written by Thomas Jefferson to some minister. He was merely quantifying that the 1st Amendment is in fact absolute.

You wrote: We may not be a "Christian nation" but we are one that believes in God.

That’s clearly debatable. We’re a nation of many beliefs and identities. Our government, however, is 100% secular. The rest of the world’s government ought to implement our 1st Amendment in their respective Constitutions and Charters if we stand a chance of combating religious terrorism.

You wrote: By spouting such bullshit, guys like Dan Barker and his FFRF do more harm than good to the cause of the unbelievers/atheists. If I were an atheist, I would go see about shutting him up and getting him some psychological help.

I don’t agree with everything Mr. Barker thinks or says but I don't think he needs psychological help for being an atheist. I’m not sure exactly what his *cause* is in this instance but I’m sure his other views are pretty mainstream. If someone wanted to criticize opposition to gay marriage based on the Bible is that really just an atheist cause? Or what about criticism of jihadists when they use the Koran to justfiy killing innocent civilians? I’d like to believe these are causes the majority of people share.


You wrote: The construction of our government does not prohibit the display of a Nativity scene in a public building. It does not preclude the celebration of general holidays like Christmas. You want to display some atheist crap alongside the nativity scene? Fine. I might think you're trying to shove your views down my throat, but I won't try to stop you. Just don't be surprised if it gets stolen/vandalized by people who feel differently

Not every instance of non-religious display is *atheist crap* either. There is evidence to suggest that the Nativity story is nothing more than recycled pagan myths.

You wrote: ….if the other 39,000 would rather have a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building than some insulting poster saying that religion is nothing but a "myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," then I have no problem with that.

Me too. Personally I don’t have a problem with Christmas or Easter egg rabbit displays either. I do try, however, to limit my criticisms of religious faith only when clear evidence of injustice is on display.
Denying the existence of Nature’s God or a Creator is like denying the Universe. The problem is the sheer number who claim to know the mind of God or speak for its behalf. To govern effectively and exist peacefully requires the separation of Church and State. The realization of this profound truth is the genius of our country’s founding. Simple but powerful.

Merry Christmas to you all and may reason prevail over hateful dogma.

Bob Barbanes said...

Wow, Rodolfo, this must be a first, a response from you that I have no major quarrel with. You post some interesting asides to my statements, but that is all they are: elaborations but not contradictions. The fact that T.J. wrote some stuff in a letter is irrelevant; it is what made it into the Constitution that counts. Everything else is just an opinion, including Jefferson's "wall of separation."

Actually... I do have one teensy disagreement with something you say. To wit:

I don’t agree with everything Mr. Barker thinks or says but I don't think he needs psychological help for being an atheist. I’m not sure exactly what his *cause* is in this instance but I’m sure his other views are pretty mainstream."

I didn't say, nor do I believe that Barker needs psychological help for being an atheist. That's not the problem. When he says things like he did, it points to some deep psychological issues that should probably be explored by a professional. I would absolutely *not* assume that Barker's other views are mainstream, based on how bizarre this one is. If all he sees in a Nativity scene is hate and violence, then he's a few bricks shy of a load. In this instance, I agree with Hal that Barker must have been damaged somehow by membership in his religion and his role as a minister.

This is why all religions are suspect and objectionble to me. The only one true religion is the Catholic Church - the one that's the descendant of the one Christ himself founded. *ALL* other religions come after the fact, and say they are "improvements" of Catholicism. Uh-huh.

And finally, this. When I refer to stuff as "atheist crap," it is because that is what I believe. I don't know how you can say that it's debatable that this nation is one that is based on a Creator/God. The Founding Fathers put it down in black and white! Do you deny that?

Furthermore, this is my blog, these are my views, and I don't have to answer to anyone for them. In your blog, you can have and espouse any opinion you want.

Redlefty said...

Bob (non-Barbanes),

To answer your question, yes, I have taught bible classes on a weekly basis for the past six months at my church, and they have been well received. But during that time I've been very careful not to say things that would rock their views too much, and the discussion format of the class helps since I don't have to present 40 minutes of "material".

A sermon is a different setting, and for me to pull it off in a way I'd feel good about, I'd have to share my deepest self. And that would entail a talk about how my understanding of salvation/redemption/grace has changed my life. And that sermon would bring a world of consequences on me and my family, unfortunately.

(End hijack)

Bob said...

Understood, Michael. Thanks. I am sure the members in the class you have taught have greatly benefitted. I am sure you have, for now, however, made the right decision and one that is for the greater good. May I encourage you, though, to keep speaking up as the opportunity presents itself.

Grace and Peace and thanks to our good friend Bob B. for letting us take up a little space on his blog.

Aldo said...

What you have to understand is where the problem with the nativity scene comes from. No one is stupid enough to think a statue of a baby is a message of hate. It is a symbol of religious faith, and to certain people it is a negative symbol. Think of the confederate flag. There's nothing negative about it by itself. It's knowing the history behind it that makes it negative. Same goes for any religious symbol. The death, violence, hatred, and intolerance that religion has had a hand in creating, gives these symbols a negative image.

However, I would never want to take away this freedom of expression from anyone. With that said I also believe neither the nativity scene nor the FFRF plaque have a place in any government facilities. Even if you believe our forefathers believed in a god, they clearly wanted to keep religion from influencing government, and the nativity scene is obviously a sign of a christian leaning government.

Bob said...

Howdy folk,

As far as the wording of the Constitution goes – freedom “of” religion is correct – however, the deeper meaning of freedom “from” religion is what really counts.

I’m sure that each religion appreciates being free FROM the encroachment of other religions upon their personal practices. Baptists and Methodists, etc. appreciate protection FROM having their tithing sent to Rome to support the Pope, etc.

Atheists just want one more freedom FROM religion than those of any given other religion – freedom FROM every religion.

I believe that the basic issue with the sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in the state of Washington is the same issue that created the original wording of a similar sign placed in the capital building for the state of Wisconsin – namely the religious entanglement of church and state.

One would think that with all of the tax-exempt church property all over the place – that there would be plenty of opportunity for religious folk to place “nativity scenes” on private property. The issue is when a “nativity scene” finds placement on public property that the entanglement of church and state ensues. The FFRF would never place one of their signs on a private “nativity scene” on private property.

I fully support what the FFRF is doing with their efforts in breaking up a large number of entanglements between church and state. I am proud to be an Assertive Atheist doing my part in confronting the over zealousness and audacity exhibited by many Theists that believe they have the Right to encroach upon the Public sector – with out and out Propaganda. Although to date, both Theists and Atheists tend to take a provincial view that the contest between Atheism and Theism has only been around for a few thousand years – the truth is that this contest has been going on for better than 2.9 Million years.

Recently, Assertive Atheists finally speak up and place this contest in the larger human picture.

On my new Website of www.assertiveatheistmoments.com I present a different orientation as to what the Epistemology of Atheism covers. The focus is on Symbols and Symbolic Form (ala Cassirer) combined with Symbolic Anthropology (ala Geertz). Roughly, the orientation is that during the evolution from proto-Homo Sapiens to Homo Sapiens, commencing 3 million years ago, the physical brain size and brain mass increased three-fold, due to the use of Symbols and Tools. During this 3 Million year evolutionary process, the Symbols for Atheism and the Symbols for Theism have also evolved.

With the written word being around for no longer than 100,000 years, there is a 2.9 Million period during which we know very little about the evolution of the Symbols of Atheism and the Symbols of Theism. It is during this 2.9 Million year period that the origins of the Symbols of Atheism and the Symbols of Theism begin. Although we know little, we can apply Cassirer’s orientations to Symbols and Symbolic Form to learn and Know more.

This places a totally different take on the notion of Assertive Atheism.

Bob

Bob Barbanes said...

First of all, we've got way too many Bob's posting here. I'd appreciate it if any Bob other than me would make his individuality known in some way so people don't think it's me posting replies to my own posts.

With that out of the way, I'm not sure that I agree at all with "Bob's" assertion. The Constitution *only* says (paraphrasing here - the actual quote is up in the post) that the government will make no law with respect to establishing a religion, and neither will the government prevent the practice of any religion.

Okaaaaaaay...WHERE does it say that the government must be absolutely, totally free of any influence from religion? I know, I know, atheists always try to make the case that there must be this huge, impenetrable wall between religion and government...but...where is this stated? Answer: It's not.

So. You know what? If a state government wants to put up a Nativity scene in one of their buildings, I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH IT. You can argue from now until kingdom-come (hey, isn't that a religious term?) that there must be *NO* influence on the government from religion, and I'll simply ask you to show me where it says that in the Constitution or any other Federal document.

Bottom line: Nobody is preventing anyone from being atheist. If you want to be an atheist, devil-worshipper, Mormon, Hindu, Muslim or Christian...or whatever in the U.S., you certainly can be. All this talk, and all these lawsuits about taking God out of everthing are as frivolous as they are unnecessary.

Bob said...

Hi all and Bob Barbanes,

This is Bob Allen responding to your comments on my comments. I agree that the various Bobs need to identify themselves within the comment area.

If you would take a moment to visit the www.assertiveatheistmoments.com (AAM) Website and go to the WWJD – What Would Jefferson Do ? section, you will notice this sentence:
“Yet the Danbury and Cheshire Baptists celebrate Jefferson's election as bringing the standard barrier of Religious Freedom to the Presidency.”

It is Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists that contains the reference that there is a need for a wall of separation between Church and State. The letter is on the AAM Website with additional history from the chief curator of the Library of Congress speaking about the many historical issues involved.

Additionally, I also cite the first Supreme Court ruling using the Danbury letter – so there’s a Federal document for you.

The State government of Washington is NOT sponsoring the “nativity scene”; rather, a private religious group is sponsoring the entanglement of church and state, with the State of Washington erroneously encouraging the entanglement.

Since the Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF) was not able to convince the state of Washington to cease the entanglement of church and state, their alternative was to present their sign as an equal representation to the initial egregious entanglement of church and state.

The only reason that the lawsuits happen on this and other entanglement issues is because of aggressiveness of various Theists to pass their Propaganda off on the public.

As I indicated in my original comment – there is certainly a great deal of tax-exempt private property around on which religious folk may place their “nativity scenes”. It’s only the “in your face” aggressiveness that Theists use and abuse that bothers Assertive Atheists. If they would keep their Propaganda to themselves, there wouldn’t be any problem.

Bob

Bob Barbanes said...

Mr. Allen, I think you know better than to cite Supreme Court rulings on anything. Interpretations of various laws do not always stand the test of time. They are subject to the prejudices and biases of the justices who serve. And they can change.

Furthermore, it matters not one teeny little bit what Jefferson wrote in any letters to any congregations - you know that. Jefferson may very well have felt privately that there needs to be a "wall" between church and state. If so, why were the Constitution and Bill of Rights not written that way?

What *matters* is what the Constitution says. If that is not acceptable to you, well, tough. I say the same thing to those people who try to claim that the Second Amendment is all about "well-regulated militias" being the National Guard and *nothing* else. Wrong. The National Guard was not even thought of when the Foundling Fathers wrote the Constitution. The "well-regulated militia" they were referring to was *we* the people.

The FF's clearly believed in a Creator and clearly felt that Americans should own guns, and that's what they wrote. Attempts to cloud, shade, or "creatively interpret" these writings after the fact are just silly.

Gee, maybe those Connecticut Baptists should have asked TJ why the Constitution was not more clear about his so-called "wall of separation" of church and state?

Here's the ugly truth: If there were more atheists than Christians in this country, then we'd see more of these bogus "winter solstice" plaques around, Christians would be marginalized and atheism would be more "in our face." But it's not a perfect world, eh?

Bob said...

Hi all and Bob Barbanes,

Bob Allen responding to your last comment.

I only cited the Supreme Court ruling in response to your earlier assertion of “….show me where it says in the Constitution or any other Federal document.” I believe that a Supreme Court ruling would serve as an “other Federal document” – thus nullifying your earlier assertion.

Since you also assert that “what ‘matters’ is what the Constitution says” – your subsequent assertion of “The FFs clearly believed in a Creator” – by your own assertion – doesn’t matter – because there is nothing in the Constitution about a “Creator.”

It doesn’t appear that you have looked closely at the WWJD – What Would Jefferson Do? Section of my Website of www.assertiveatheistmoments.com. This section clearly indicates that the Danbury Baptists where not all that pleased with Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state”. But more importantly, the section deals in detail of why the Danbury Baptists even wrote Jefferson in the first place. You see, in those early years of the US of A – Baptists, Quakers, and other minority religions where persecuted by the Institutional Congregational Religion of the Federalists (the party of John Adams). These where State Religions, Instituted by various states in the Union. The Danbury Baptists wanted Jefferson to stop the State of Connecticut from persecuting Baptists with the Institutionalized State Congregational religion.

When you state a hypothetical like – “If there were more atheists…..” – I respond in kind with the hypothetical of – If Elephants flew, I’d be looking up at the sky all of the time, just to avoid an Elephant pie.

Peace,

Bob