Western Washington is known for being among the most tolerant areas in the country, but somehow the Christmas season brings out the worst in us. Instead of being a time for joy, love, peace and presents, people go apeshit over religious displays in public spaces and dig in their heels in the tired Christian vs. Atheist debate that is fast becoming as much a part of Christmastime as Rudolph and ringing bells.
In this year’s local drama, which once again has garnered national attention, the battle lines are being drawn with an anti-religion sign and a nativity scene, both of which are displayed in the Washington Capitol building.
As is so often the case, the dispute has been led by the loudest proponents of the most extreme positions on either side. You and I would likely be happy with a non-religious display of trees, bows, candy canes, and Santa Claus (I don’t want to hear a peep from the overweight lobby!), but these squeaky wheels will not rest until all traces of their opponents’ agendas are wiped from collective memory. And what a silly waste of time that is.
Leave the creches out of the public square; as it is we see them in church lots all over town. If you want the baby Jesus in your yard or business parking lot, that’s your prerogative. But government buildings and spaces we own collectively are not appropriate locations to display a central tenet of a given faith (in this case, the birth of the Christian Savior).
But this also means that atheists need to lighten up and accept that Christmas is a long standing Euro-American tradition, one that didn’t always cause so much enmity between the religious and non-religious. They should be thankful that all they have to protest is a manger, the Ten Commandments, and the use of the word God on currency notes and in the Pledge of Allegiance.
In some areas of the world, where one side has undue power over the other, non-believers are killed and the religious can be jailed for their beliefs. We are extremely fortunate to live in a pluralist society where most all beliefs and opinions are tolerated. But we take that good fortune for granted when we devolve into these petty arguments.
There truly are some serious incursions on personal freedoms by those who would impose their religious beliefs on the rest of American society, but this perennial battle over holiday displays is not one of them. Let’s exert our energies on those things that really matter, like marriage equality and control of one’s own body in matters involving both life and death.
For now, just enjoy the holiday, and let’s simply agree on traditions and common themes such as peace, love and rampant consumerism to help our ailing economy. If we were focused on what really matters, we’d display a pink slip and a credit card bill in the Capitol, right next to the soup line.