Monday, December 24, 2007

Religious Symbols on Government Property

I thought that today would be a good day to lend a hand in this “war on Christmas” campaign.

I suspect that the vast majority of my readers recognize that the War on Christmas has more to do with disreputable news organizations trying to boost ratings by promoting hate in the form of “News”. I suspect that the vast majority of atheists were quite content to celebrate Christmas, to wish others, “Merry Christmas,” to put up Christmas trees, and sing Christmas carols to their heart’s content.

That was my life until I learned from Fox News (indirectly, through people who actually watch that garbage) that a “War on Christmas” exists. And, quite clearly, it exists precisely because the people of Fox News wanted more money and thought that inventing a “War on Christmas” would be a good way to rally viewers and fill them with enough hate that they would keep coming back for progress reports – just like they eagerly tuned into reports on the War in Iraq (for the first two years or so).

They also do not seem to have much respect for the facts. The Guardian has a nice story of all of the battles being wages against Christmas in England – about the town of Luton, for example, banning Christmas and replacing it with a holiday called Luminos, while Birmingham replaced Christmas with ‘Winterval’. The Guardian then said that these protests against a War on Christmas . . .

. . . might be reasonable, were it not for a few awkward facts. Luton does not have a festival called Luminos. It does not use any alternative name for Christmas. When it did, once, five years ago, hold something called Luminos one weekend in late November, the event didn’t even replace the council’s own Christmas celebrations, let alone forbid anyone else from doing anything. Similarly,, Christmas is not called Winterval in Birmingham. The Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Childrenn never banned a Christmas CD for mentioning Jesus. And Chester council’s “un-Christian” Christmas card says – as cards have done for decades – “Season’s Greetings.”

These are lies. The so-called “War on Christmas” campaign is a campaign of lies that are used to promote unjustified hatred of others around the holiday season – to promote ill will for the sake of promoting the economic and political power of those who are promoting ill will.

Of course, there have been individuals who have argued for alternatives to Christmas. I have never actually seen any research to show who was behind these campaigns. My guess is that they were teachers and employees organizing parties who wanted a party that every student or fellow employee could enjoy. These poor, misguided individuals thought that kindness and consideration were Christian virtues. They failed to realize, of course, that true Christian virtue (particularly during the holiday season) is found in maliciously distorting facts in order to generate hatred of others. This, apparently, is what the Christmas season is all about to . . . to some Christians at least.

Yet, this debate does raise some question about the legitimacy of religious displays on government property and the like. How far should we go to remove religious symbols from the public square?

You know that statue of “Justice” that you so often see associated with court houses? I’m talking about a commonly used statue or image of a lady, usually wearing a blindfold, with scales in one hand (to weigh the evidence for and against the accused), and a sword in the other (to deliver punishment if the accused should be found guilty).

That’s a religious symbol.

Or at least it was a religious symbol. That statue is a statue of the ancient Roman goddess Justitia – the goddess of justice. (An interesting fact to offer to those who claim that our concept of justice came from Christianity.)

Yet, nobody proposes that we remove this religious symbol from public buildings. Nobody objects to this religious symbol appearing on the money, in classrooms, and particularly not in courtrooms.

That is mostly because it is not a religious symbol any more. Most people do not even think of the statue as representing a goddess. They think of this image of justice like the statue of liberty – as a representation of an ideal in the form of a person. In thinking about symbols this way, I can easily imagine that, 2000 years from now, images of Jesus are displayed in public buildings the same way that images of Justitia are displayed today. A person who sees a statue of Justitia thinks that this is a place where the people are dedicated to an impartial hearing of a dispute, weighing the evidence on both sides without prejudice, and rendering a . . . well . . . a just verdict.

Some day, perhaps, they will see the symbol of Jesus in a public building and think that this is a place where the people are dedicated to finding food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to those who need it.

Or, perhaps, this symbol will come to mean something else over time. If current trends continue, like those mentioned above, people who see this symbol will come to think that this is a place where the people worship the power of maliciously distorting facts whenever it is judged politically or economically expedient to do so.

Or, perhaps, it will come to be a symbol of willful ignorance. This sign on a wall will indicate that the people within are like children who hold their fingers in their ears and shout, “I cannot hear you!” whenever they encounter a fact that they do not like – as the Catholic Board in Canada recently did to the Pullman trilogy on which The Golden Compass was based. The way several religious organizations have treated the evolution, global warming, and scientific research on the best ways to protect children from unwanted pregnancy and disease.

Or they could see it as a symbol of unreasoned motivation to work tirelessly to interfere with the happiness of others – making their lives on Earth less than they would otherwise be merely because some primitive tribesmen wrote their own hatred of these people into books later taken to be “scripture”.

If, indeed, images of Jesus are as common in government buildings 2000 years from now as images of Justitia today, we would hope that the image – like the image of Justitia – would symbolize positive values. In fact, only one of the four values mentioned above would be worthy of a statue in public buildings 2000 years from now comparable to the honored position that images of Justitia has today. That would be the Jesus who represents people devoted to charity and kindness.

Yet, what we see in this “War on Christmas” campaign is the Jesus of deception for reasons of political and economic gain – a Jesus not fit to be found anywhere near a government building.

1 comment:

Martin Vennard said...

Hi, I work for BBC World service radio in London on an international discussion programme, called World Have Your Say(, and today (Wednesday 26th December) between 6pm and 7pm London time (1pm and 2pm East Coast Time in the States) we are talking about whether religion helps make better politicians, in light of stories such as Tony Blair's conversion to catholicism and the US presidential campaign. If you are interested in taking part please email me your contact numbers to or call me on +442075570635 and I will call you straight back.

Many thanks

Martin Vennard