Every year, for the past 60 years, Santa Monica has been home to Nativity displays along its Palisades Park, overlooking the beach. The scenes are built on 14 individual lots, each one sponsored by a local church or other organization who had entered the city raffle for the spots.
This year, several atheist groups, including Atheists United, put their names into the raffle and ended up winning all but three of the spots. As a result, Palisades Park this year has three scenes related to the Christmas story, a giant menorah made out of PVC piping and spray-painted gold and a bunch of signs like this one that tells everyone who believes there is a God that they are a bunch of morons:
The whole thing has gotten a bunch of attention, including an article in the New York Times.
“Just the other day, I was walking down the street and I saw a sign that said all religions were based on myths and I thought to myself, maybe everything I’ve ever believed is just a fabrication and I should really reconsider the world view I’ve held sacred for my entire life.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say those words have been spoken zero times in the last month that these displays have been up. Actually, I would probably say that number of people that signs proclaiming God is a myth have converted is probably equivalent to the number of Nativity scenes that have converted atheists to the path of righteousness.
Someone might protest and say, “But Jason! Those signs aren’t there to convert believers. We put those there to stand up for the rights of atheists! We’re tired of these oppressive Nativity scenes popping up every year!”
I grew up in Santa Monica. You can’t throw a stone in Santa Monica without hitting someone who considers him or herself an atheist, or at least agnostic. I know because I spent most of my childhood throwing rocks at people who passed by my house.
Santa Monica is actually a community that is generally tolerant of people with a wide variety of religious (or anti-religious) beliefs. It’s a safe place to stand up for your rights and voice your opinion. No one is going to ostracize you if you proclaim loudly that there is no God. I know, because when I wasn’t throwing rocks, I would often go around shouting about the eternal void that awaits all of us after death.
I was a weird kid.
Santa Monica’s Nativity scenes are not exactly the world’s biggest threat to religious freedom, nor are the suburban, liberal Christian churches who put them up every year. I think perhaps people like the Ayatollah in Iran might have an edge in that category. Or the late, beloved Leader Kim Jong-Il. With so many legitimate threats to religious and political freedom in the world, it comes across as just kind of stupid to attack a bunch of chintzy, decorated mannequins.
Though, I might accept an argument that the atheists were just trying to save us all from the threat of gauche.
So, what do the anti-Nativity displays in the park actually accomplish, if they aren’t converting people nor really doing anything to seriously advance religious freedom in the world?
Well, these signs have definitely help raise the community of atheists to a level of equality, certainly. I now consider them more than ever equal to those annoying guys in ties who come to my house in the middle of the day and ask me if I have seen the light and then, when I tell them that I belong to the esoteric sect of Zoroastrianism, they just look at me funny and tell me I’m going to hell.
I’m not really Zoroastrian. Are there even still Zoroastrians?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure whether there is a divine creator-being that exists beyond our realm of comprehension. I was raised a devout lapsed Catholic by parents who are not much more religious than apparently ol’ Tommy J was, according to the signs.
If we are going to solve this debate once and for all, we should ask someone who knows for sure whether or not God exists.
Oh, wait. We can’t do that, because THERE ARE NO SUCH PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
No one can say with absolute certainty that there is or there isn’t a God, because pretty much by its very definition God is not a thing that can be understood or discerned in our physical world. Believing with certainty that God does not exist requires as much a leap of faith as saying that it does.
“But, Jason! Science!”
Science can prove and disprove a lot of things, like the fact that the world isn’t actually about 4 billion years old (and not 6,000), though I have to say, she doesn’t look a day over 3 billion, and the Red Sea probably wasn’t parted by Charlton Heston. Though if anyone could part the Red Sea, he damn well would be the one. But science isn’t equipped with the tools necessary to answer the larger, metaphysical questions that have been debated by philosophers and theologians for centuries, like whether or not such a thing as a soul exists or if Kelly Clarkson is, in fact, the greatest American Idol of all time.
“But Jason, you do realize that you’re condemning these atheists for being preachy by writing a long, preachy rant, right?
Ok, fair point.
But I get it. We all have opinions and we all want to say them and because the people who founded this country believed that everyone was born with rights endowed by their creator to say whatever the hell they want, atheists can go ahead and put up signs that say religion is stupid at Christmas time.
It is definitely their right, of which no state nor individual can ever deprive them.
It’s also my right to think they are annoying.