CNN supports America-as-Christian-nation stance

On Friday morning, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation placed this sign next to a nativity scene in front of a government building in Olympia, Washington’s capital city:

I have no idea why the nativity scene was permitted on the property in the first place, but in any event, the FFRF sign was gone within an hour and later found in a ditch. In covering this story, the increasingly ramshackle Cable News Network reported:

An atheist sign criticizing Christianity that was erected alongside a Nativity scene was taken from the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington, on Friday and later found in a ditch.

I’ve always scored pretty well on tests of reading comprehension, but I still have a lot of work to do, because no matter how hard I squint I see no mention whatsoever of Jesus or the Christian deity on that sign.
But in the spirit of jumping to conclusions, I’ll assume that whoever made off with the 50-pound sign is or are a Christian or Christians. This is what makes me smile about “modern” civilization and its puerile adherents to traditions of antiquity: Here we have a cult that touts turning the other cheek and not stealing as two of its foremost imperatives, and in response to a slighting of superstitious faith we see vengeance, spite, and theft. Mix in the fact that an all-powerful skybeing evidently needs larcenous henchmen on the ground to have His back, and this incident, like many others, tells any curious beings monitoring us from outer space all they need to know about religion. Without hypocrisy, it would wither and die in a trice.
At Pharyngula, PZ Myers is urging people not to respond in kind–that is, to avoid pilfering or defacing religious symbols. He’s right, of course, but there’s an undeniable appeal in fantasizing about ways of wrestling in the metaphorical mud with the righteously blinkered. For my part, I decided that in about a week and a half, I’m going to head out in the middle of the night, gather up the many nativity scenes on locals’ lawns (I’m in Virginia, remember), and arrange the whole collection in front of the nearest church in the form of a massive orgy including fifty-seven wise men, nineteen prematurely priapic baby Jesuses, one hundred and twelve drunken shepherds wearing Yankees hats, several camels and donkeys wearing Red Sox jerseys, and six toothless crack whores with angel wings. To this menagerie I would add a Domino’s pizza delivery boy with a Hitler ‘stache driving a chartreuse-colored cement truck over a monument of the Ten Commandments covered in Crips graffiti, the lyrics to Stairway To Heaven, and a Fibonacci sequence; a JumboTron showing the members of the Backstreet Boys re-enacting the Scopes Monkey Trial; and a twenty-foot-tall statue of Richard Dawkins wearing a huge, genial grin and nothing else.
Once the mescaline wore off, I realized that this would involve quite a bit of work.

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  1. #1 by Jeremy on December 7, 2008 - 12:08 pm

    I like the “be good for goodness sake” approach a little better than direct attacks on religious belief in this kind of context. It’s a point that goes back thousands of years, to the “Euthyphro Dilemma” posed by Plato in the voice of Socrates. Don’t be good just because a god or king or law commands it. Be good because you hold that it is good. There’s a place for attacking and even mocking religious belief. I think that WA did a neat thing in opening the public square up for diverse expressions of moral and religious conviction. I’d like to see freethinkers use that opportunity a little better.

  2. #2 by Rob Knop on December 7, 2008 - 1:07 pm

    What I don’t get about you Angry Atheists is why you don’t see that describing religion as “enslaving minds” is just as bit as extreme as describing teaching evolution as “the secular society trying to drive Satan into the minds of our children.”
    It’s one thing to question displays of religion on public property. It’s entirely another to spew the kind of hate that is in that sign that the angry atheist blogs seem to be celebrating so much.

  3. #3 by Science Avenger on December 7, 2008 - 1:20 pm

    It isn’t even close to being as extreme. “Religion enslaves minds” is at worst, an exageration. At best it is an accurate description of reality. The religious people that do indeed enslave minds may make up a minority (I hope) of religious people, but there are still millions of them. Further, there are good arguments to be made that religion enslaves minds per se.
    By contrast, “secular society is trying to drive Satan into the minds of our children by teaching them evolution” is, at best, creative fiction. At worst, it is dismal incoherent fiction. The number of supporters of evolution who are trying to drive Satan into the minds of children is exactly zero, and logically evolution has little to do with Satan anyway.
    BTW Kevin, you owe me a new screen. Your best work since Harry Potter and the cashier.

  4. #4 by Kevin Beck on December 7, 2008 - 1:36 pm

    What I don’t get about you Angry Atheists is why you don’t see that describing religion as “enslaving minds” is just as bit as extreme as describing teaching evolution as “the secular society trying to drive Satan into the minds of our children.”
    You don’t get it because you don’t see that you’re blatantly equivocating. Religion does in fact enslave minds. (Well, I suppose Islamofascists might blow themselves up for secular reasons, but I have strong doubts, since they mention Allah so much.) Obviously, not all or even most religious people are hapless drones, but if you haven’t noticed the many who are (here’s a great example), you must either be one yourself or live in a cave. As for claiming that evolution is “Satanic” or some such crap, and denying it on the basis of holy writ: this is categorically wrong, and reeks of pitiable ignorance–and the very mind-enslavement you imply is rare or does not exist.
    Add in the facts that 1) I’m not angry (tip #1: adding a gratuitous capital “a” does not add credibility to a goofy label) but bemused; 2) my post in no way “celebrated” the sign; and 3) the sign is in no way hateful (tip #2: dissent =/= hatred), and the inescapable conclusion is that your comment is as about as irrelevant as blog comments get.
    What does make me a little angry is the fact that people like you are happy to overlook the various ways in which religion promotes backward thinking and the incessant efforts by Christians to get the government to enforce their various modes of silliness on the rest of us, yet claim that the sign like the one pictured “spews hate.” My guess is that you’re just blind to your own hypocrisy.

  5. #5 by Decidenator on December 7, 2008 - 3:01 pm

    Thanks for having a title that has absolutely nothing to do with the post or the article you referenced.

  6. #6 by Kevin Beck on December 7, 2008 - 4:00 pm

    Science Avenger: Glad you liked it. It wasn’t really inspired by serotonin-blocking drugs but by simple sleep deprivation. And even if some are nor amused, the fact that I was obviously trying to be funny is what makes me nonplussed at being called an angry Angry atheist Atheist. I think that because the strident and often angry-sounding PZ and his 8 frigtillion unique visitors a day is something of an atheist-camp Science Blogs ringleader by default, there are those who reflexively ascribe anger to every blogger who posts anything deriding religion.
    Also, I guess that because for so long it’s been unacceptable to resist huge daily doses of unreason rooted in the LORD, godless folk are just supposed to shut up and take it when vandals for Jesus make off with our signage, and we should certainly not crack wise or engage in any sort of ribaldry. I’m not jumping on the “atheists are the last minority it’s OK to discriminate against” bandwagon, but the various culturally rooted double standards are impossible to ignore.
    Decidenator: Your sarcasm is duly noted, and I apologize for having taken three minutes of your life that you can never have back. That said, a quick review: The sign carries no mention of Christianity. CNN is a U.S.-based outlet, and the story’s opening sentence claims that the sign specifically criticizes Christianity. Does this not suggest to you that–right or wrong—whoever wrote the piece equates religion in the United States with Christianity?
    Now, had I titled the post “Naked wombat butter brickle ice cream tanning booth,” you would have a real grievance. I have always tended to be hyberbolic, indirect, or tongue-in-cheek in my post titles here, and have employed no shortage of bad puns. This ain’t the Washington freaking Post. Christ, people, loosen your assholes. It’s the Christmas Holiday season!

  7. #7 by Sigmund on December 7, 2008 - 4:38 pm

    CNN had a link today to an entertainment weekly list of the top 25 smartest people on TV.
    Now in Europe, where I’m writing from you would most likely get a list of scientists, medical doctors, mathematicians, philosophers or writers.
    Top of the list for US TV?
    ‘The Ladies From The View’
    Now I admit that during the presidential campaign they apparently managed to ask a better series of questions to John McCain than the entire assembled newspaper and evening news reporters but we do have to balance that point against the fact that one of them questions whether the Earth is round! (Mind you, now that Miles O’Brien is gone she’ll probably be hired as the new CNN astronomy correspondent).

  8. #8 by Sigmund on December 7, 2008 - 4:38 pm

    CNN had a link today to an entertainment weekly list of the top 25 smartest people on TV.
    Now in Europe, where I’m writing from you would most likely get a list of scientists, medical doctors, mathematicians, philosophers or writers.
    Top of the list for US TV?
    ‘The Ladies From The View’
    Now I admit that during the presidential campaign they apparently managed to ask a better series of questions to John McCain than the entire assembled newspaper and evening news reporters but we do have to balance that point against the fact that one of them questions whether the Earth is round! (Mind you, now that Miles O’Brien is gone she’ll probably be hired as the new CNN astronomy correspondent).

  9. #9 by llewelly on December 7, 2008 - 4:44 pm

    I like the “be good for goodness sake” approach a little better than direct attacks on religious belief in this kind of context.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, those signs were also met with great vitriol.

  10. #10 by Rob Knop on December 7, 2008 - 6:32 pm

    I fear at this point, Kevin, the only response I can make back to you is something you’d want to moderate away.
    Let me say, though, that even though I’ve met you and like you and all that, the crap you spew makes it difficult for me to maintain respsect in your (or, for that matter, in a number of other bloggers at this site).

  11. #11 by Kevin Beck on December 7, 2008 - 6:53 pm

    Rob, I’ve never moderated away a single comment here. This is more a testament to my eagerness to argue endlessly over bullshit using florid, convoluted, and profane prose than to my even-handedness or sense of Internet diplomacy.
    In all seriousness, I’m a little mystified as to why you’re so outraged. Do you really find my post (and subsequent comments) “hateful” or do you see them as disrespectful? I’ll cop to the latter, but vehemently deny the former. The same applies to the FFRF sign–even the most permissive definition of “hateful” does not apply to its content.
    I was only trying to have fun with this–that should have been clear from the last couple of paragraphs in the original post–and have admittedly been flogging the piss out of it all along. It’s not like I want the people who stole the sign hauled off to Gitmo or anything. The entire episode is a monument to human goofiness, and my view of it is best described as Carlinesque, not partisan. I doubt that it’s any consolation that I’m an irreverent asshole and not an angry asshole, but there it is.
    If in my insensitive rambling I said something that really burned your ass in a personal way, I am sorry.

  12. #12 by Mary on December 7, 2008 - 11:46 pm

    Wow, I’d hate to be a virgin single mother in the middle of that nativity gang bang.

  13. #13 by Crack Pipe Lenny on December 8, 2008 - 12:10 am

    What I would like to know is how the same people who call that sign hateful see themselves as loving for warning people they are going to burn for all eternity for secretly having the hots for the married piece of ass next door, for sassing their parents, for sticking their meat whistles in other fellows bung holes, etc etc etc…and most of all for not asking a specific imaginary dead person/god/whatever to “save” them…fuckin incomprehensible. Religion is a mental illness and rarely treatable

  14. #14 by Lofcaudio on December 8, 2008 - 2:44 pm

    Here we have a cult that touts turning the other cheek and not stealing as two of its foremost imperatives, and in response to a slighting of superstitious faith we see vengeance, spite, and theft.
    And your point here is…what exactly? Are you ridiculing Christians for encouraging a certain behavior, but failing themselves to measure up to such a standard? How is this noteworthy? Does this make the religion of Christianity more unreasonable or undesirable? After all, I am of the opinion that Christians are just as likely to break the law and exhibit less-than-loving behavior as non-Christians. As much as I would like for it not to be the case, hypocrisy is alive and well in Christian churches here in America.
    However, if you are simply making the point that Christians are generally thin-skinned when it comes to matters of religion, then your point is a good one. From a religious perspective, I don’t see why it is so important to be able to have a nativity scene displayed on public property. I’m not sure why people continue to make an issue out of this.

  15. #15 by Kevin Beck on December 8, 2008 - 2:49 pm

    “Are you ridiculing Christians for encouraging a certain behavior, but failing themselves to measure up to
    such a standard?”
    Yes, in the same way I would ridicule atheists or any other batch of hominids for engaging in the same behavior. It’s always funny when people do this. It also shows we have a lot of room to grow as a species, which I suppose is a hopeful idea.
    “How is this noteworthy?”
    It’s not noteworthy to you, because you harbor no illusions about religious people being morally or behaviorally superior. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that plenty of pious people believe otherwise.

  16. #16 by Mark B. on December 10, 2008 - 2:35 pm

    It’s not noteworthy to you, because you harbor no illusions about religious people being morally or behaviorally superior. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that plenty of pious people believe otherwise.
    Actually, I think that many religious people do not harbor these illusions. The Christian argument is that you need to believe that Jesus died and rose to save your sins because humans–all of them–sin.
    Immediately, in my mind, I want to back off my above statement. I think religion, humans, and their intersection are much more complicated than anyone gives them credit for. People are motivated to reason in such a way as to support their a prior conclusions. So that (some) Christians see the stealing of that sign as justifiable in that they are fighting for what they believe, while at best it is vandalism and at worst it is stealing. Similarly, some atheists may find calling an entire group of people hard hearted and having an enslaved mind as justifiable as it is an expression of their beliefs–while at best its a stereotype and at worst is mean (hate is a damn strong word).
    It is also certainly possible (and likely) that people (Christians and atheists alike) suggest that everyone sins or is not morally upstanding, while at the same time viewing themselves as above all those sinners and moral violators.
    Also, it is important to note that not all of the religious are Christians–as I continue to pretend is the case–there are other religions as well.
    I, personally, think it would be fun to steal all of the baby Jesus dolls/statues only to return them on Easter. A little bit more light hearted,less work intense, and less creative than the nativity orgy.

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