Thursday, December 2, 2010
I agree with the message, but I'm not keen on the delivery
For a couple of weeks now, there's been a bit of a brouhaha regarding a billboard placed outside the Lincoln Tunnel by the American Atheists organization. The billboard has the traditional Christian Christmas backdrop of a manger and camel riders silhouetted against a night sky while a particularly bright star shines above the building. The message on the sign reads "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!" It has naturally caused an uproar amongst the more vocally religious. While most atheist bloggers are praising the sign and dismissing or flat-out deriding those who disagree, I've got to say I'm not crazy about this one.
Does that make me an accommodationist? I don't think so. While I don't go around introducing myself to people as "Rich Lane-atheist," I don't shy away from talking about my thoughts on the matter when the subject comes up. I don't believe in hiding my beliefs, and I do think that atheists need to stand up and be counted to let people know that we won't accept religion finagling it's way into our public offices or schools. I love the public outreach ads that have come before on the sides of buses,
or on other billboards.
I like making the presence of rational, non-religious types known.
I just think the new ad kind of strikes the wrong chord, and I probably have my wife Dolores to thank for it. She likes to have a big fiesta at Casa Lane every couple of months. We usually have one in the Spring around my birthday, one midway through the summer, one in the Fall (her birthday) and one in winter during the holiday season. She has one hard and fast rule during these shindigs--no talk of politics or religion.
Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes the party coincides with something juicy in the news that I or one of our guests are dying to dig into. If it looks like the conversation is heading that way, she swoops in and diverts it with her famous Mexican cheese dip, pepperoni balls, or (my favorite) beer. If I'm the lone offender, it's not as pleasant. I get diplomatically pulled into the bedroom and get my ass chewed.
Her reason is that these get-togethers are to celebrate friendships, enjoy each others company, and recharge desperately drained personal batteries. We have quite a diverse group of friends, and these discussions could easily derail the point of the parties. Even if the individuals involved are enjoying the debate/argument, most of the time the others there do not. Though I chafe at times at the restrictions, I know she's right. There are just certain times and places you simply have to put controversy aside.
I am not saying that we need to respect the beliefs of Christianity during the winter holiday season. I sure don't. When theist groups overreach and encroach on the First Amendment during this time, they still need to be slapped down hard. But I think that maybe we'd be better served to keep in mind the spirit of the season. One of the points the American Atheists are trying to make (and one that they are correct in) is that Christians don't own the idea of winter solstice festivities of joy and good will. When a Christian comes up to me during this time and says "Merry Christmas," I respond with "Happy Holidays," not "There is no god."
In that vein, I do believe the American Atheist could still use the billboard space effectively. Rather than the "You know it's a myth" message, I think I'd like to see a "Season's Greetings from American Atheists" or "The Atheists of America wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday." We are then participating in the best part of the season without condoning the aspects we disagree with. And as carloads of families drive past the sign, and children read the well wishes of a group that many of them have never heard a good word about before in their lives may now begin to realize that atheists are people who love their own families and wish goodwill, peace, and joy for others.
Then, when the season is over and they see this awesome bus ad in Dallas,
It could be that they may possibly consider that message with more of an open mind.