By John Carlson
Thanksgiving is still more than a week away, but the Christmas season already surrounds us. We see it in the holiday displays in stores.
We feel it when we heft the Sunday newspaper fattened with gift-giving suggestions and we watch the newest Christmas ads on TV (for some reason I still remember the old “Noël co” ad showing Santa sledding down a hill on a Norelco shaver when “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” was on). Some of our neighbors are already breaking out the Christmas lights. But this year, there’s a new reminder that the Christmas season is upon us.
It’s a bus board of a cartoon Santa Claus on the outside of several Metro buses. It shows Santa telling youngsters “Yes Virginia … there is a Santa Claus.”
Wait a minute. Some people might think it says that when the bus is rolling by, but instead, Santa is actually saying this: “Yes Virginia … there is no God.”
Who would be spending money to say something like that to children at a time like this? And what is their motive?
Answer: The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based organization, which bought 100 of the signs. The organization portrays itself as promoting the separation of church and state, but this message has nothing to do with public policy. The ads aren’t talking about public policy and they’re not targeting government. They’re targeting children.
Bullies often cast themselves as victims. Accordingly, Dan Barker, the atheist organization’s co-president says, “People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas.” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the other co-president, says “We non-believers don’t mind sharing the season with Christians, but we think there should be some acknowledgement that Christians really ‘stole’ the trimmings of Christmas … from pagans.”
Funny, but I don’t recall seeing any bus boards paid for by the Catholic Church, telling people not to pay attention to the winter solstice.
And if Christians really stole the holiday from pagans, didn’t secularists return the favor? Santa Claus, also known as “St. Nick,” is based on a real person. St. Nicholas of Bari was born in the fourth century and as archbishop was renowned throughout much of the world. Many centuries later, Dutch children in America called him “Sinterklaas” and thanks to Clement Moore (“The Night before Christmas”), the kind man who gives gifts to deserving children became forever known as “Santa Claus.” So I guess we’ve come full circle on the Christian-secular front.
But notice how the Seattle area has taken these bus board insults in stride. Suppose, for example, that a militant Christian outfit sponsored bus boards that said, “Yes Virginia…homosexuality is wrong.”
The community would be in an uproar against such an in-your-face display of tastelessness. Press conferences would be held denouncing the ads and Metro would pull them off the buses rather than face protests, boycotts and driver “sickouts.”
But so long as the intolerance comes from the other side of the political spectrum and is cloaked, however porously, in politically correct dogma about “separating church and state,” the bigotry is essentially shrugged off. Not a single public official or community leader has spoken out against the atheist ad campaign that was launched purely to offend people.
Perhaps by reminding us (once again) of Seattle’s double-standards the ads have performed an unintentional public service.