Rabbi defends nativity scene on public land

December 13, 2012 • 6:05 am

I’m not sure what the “War on Christmas” really is, nor do I bother myself much with the celebrations of a nonexistent Jebus. But what I do object to is using the excuse of the holiday to breach the American wall of church and state by putting religious symbols on public land.  Nativity scenes crop up like mushrooms, and I don’t care if they’re in people’s front yards.  But the faithful insist on the encroaching public creche, feeling that somehow they have a right to flaunt their beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

The worst, however, is when a rabbi insists that Nativity Scenes on public land are okay. Who has suffered more from Christian hegemony than the Jews? And, sure enough, one Jew is glad to get in bed with the Christians on this issue: one Michael Gotlieb, identified by The Los Angeles Times as “rabbi at Kehillat Ma’arav, or the Westside Congregation, in Santa Monica.”

In an op-ed published in the Times two days ago,”Threatened by faith in Santa Monica,” Gotlieb raises once again the fallacious argument for breaching the wall of separation: our nation is undergirded by religious principles, so why not show that? Gotlieb:

Christmas in Santa Monica has gotten a whole lot darker and a whole lot less tolerant. For almost 60 years Santa Monica’s Palisades Park embodied the Christmas spirit with its displays depicting the birth of Jesus. Through the use of large dioramas, the Christmas story unfolded chronologically, based on the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

The life-size statues of baby Jesus, along with Mary, Joseph and others, added a visual reminder of our nation’s religious underpinnings. The Nativity scenes were an impermanent acknowledgment of the timeless role faith and organized religion plays for the residents of Santa Monica and visitors alike. No longer is that the case; the city has now prohibited the display of these dioramas on public land.

What about the Jews of Santa Monica, who don’t believe in the Jesus story, or, for that matter, the nonbelievers, whose lives aren’t based on “faith and organized religion”?

As you might recall, to avoid squabbles about this matter, Santa Monica took the ill-advised step of having a “lottery,” in which members of different faiths could compete to put up their special display.  Faced with an inundation of atheistic displays, the city council simply gave up and banned all displays. That’s what they should have done in the first place. Competing displays might be constitutional, but they are still expressions of religion on public property, and serve no purpose except to inflame people

And they sure inflamed Rabbi Gotlieb. On whom does he blame the fracas? Guess!

The second factor [after lawsuits] driving this unfortunate ban is an unprecedented, angry form of atheism.

Yes, because atheism has turned angry—and for good reason given the proselytizing of evangelicals and the fulminating infection of American government and politics with faith. The only good atheism, says Gotlieb, is a kind and gentle atheism.  Presumably, the only feminism is a kind and gentle feminism (why do those women get so angry?) and the only opposition to racism or homophobia must be conciliatory.  Well, we all know how well that strategy works!

And so the familar words tumble from Gotlieb’s pen—the old trope about why New Atheists should be like the old ones:

Today’s atheism is different from the atheism of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Nietzsche, Russell and Voltaire did not gloat over the presumed death or nonexistence of God. There was no triumphalism in their assertions. While not enamored of organized religion, they did not view it as a singular force for evil.

Things have changed. Outspoken, angry 21st century atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have sought to eradicate God and organized religion from the planet; faith-based religion in any form is unacceptable to them. When studying these modern-day thinkers, the late Herbert Marcuse’s lament proves fitting and prescient: “We, no matter the side, become fanatical in our own anti-fanaticism.”

Today’s atheists hold that religion educates children and adults to hate in the name of their pious doctrines. Religion, they tell us, encourages followers to engage in God-directed slaughter and conquest of innocents. Its mission is to convert skeptics — or worse, subdue nonbelievers — until the whole world buckles.

Well maybe the old atheists were wrong!  After all, religious persecution has existed since time immemorial. Does the good rabbi know about the evils of Catholicism, the kids who die because their parents try faith-based healing, the murders of abortion doctors, the opposition to assisted suicide, and the innumerable murders of Muslims bent on converting the world to their point of view?  Does the good rabbi ignore the fact that nearly all mainstream religions disenfranchise half the populace: those lacking a Y chromosome? Presumably he knows that in Orthodox Judaism women are second-class citizens, forced to worship behind covered screens and to “purify” themselves in ritual baths after their periods. But maybe that’s okay with Gotlieb. Hey, that’s not discrimination, but the “timeless role of faith.”

At least atheists don’t kill others in their drive to “convert skeptics.”  Further, although Russell may not have gloated, certainly many older atheists (viz. Mencken) trenchantly emphasized the follies of faith and its lack of evidence—something that New Atheists, with their connection to science, constantly emphasize.  Gloating? That’s trivial. And who gloats more than evangelical Christians, especially those who put up nativity scenes on public land. “Look—we did it!”

To be sure, the Rabbi admits that evils have sometimes been done in the name of faith (how could he not?), but he doesn’t name them.  Does oppressing women count, because Judaism is good at that?

Anyway, he dismisses these evils because they’re counterbalanced by the “evils” of strident atheism:

But today’s atheists are as extreme in their convictions as the fire-and-brimstone believer. The resolute follower knows beyond any doubt that God exists, whereas the atheist knows beyond any doubt that God is a figment of the imagination. I’m reminded of the aphorism: To the believer there are no questions; to the atheist, there are no answers.

Really? As extreme as fire-and-brimstone believers? No fricking way! We don’t kill people, toss acid on schoolgirls, let people get AIDs or HPV rather than use birth control, or instill guilt and fear of a nonexistent hell in our children.  We don’t maintain that atheism dictates the inferiority of women.

And no, atheists don’t know beyond any doubt that God is a figment of the imagination. For most of us, it’s sufficient to say that “there’s no evidence that God exists and, in view of the fact that there could be evidence but isn’t, and that the world suggest that there is either no deity or a malicious one, we consider the existence of a beneficent god very unlikely.” The rabbi knows nothing about atheism—or else he’s distorting it to fire up the faithful.

Finally, Gotlieb pats himself on the back—for the wrong reasons:

As a Jew and a rabbi, my speaking out in support of Christians who wish to display a Nativity scene on public land can potentially carry more weight than a priest or minister speaking out. The reason is simple: It’s not my religious narrative. More important, faithful Christians do not threaten me. If anything, I’m inspired by them. By definition, different people from different faiths view God and religion differently.

Well isn’t he special?

Well, Rabbi Gotlieb, maybe you don’t feel threatened by Christians (or Muslims, for that matter), but you should. They make Christian-based laws, they impede scientific research and the teaching of evolution, and, if they controlled the government, Jews would have a harder time of it.  Muslims are even worse: look what they do when their faith gets the upper hand in a nation.

But it doesn’t matter whether Gotlieb feel threatened or not.  Democracy itself is always threatened by the hegemony of religion (that’s why the Freedom from Religion Foundation always has its hands full), and the possibility of that hegemony is precisely why the founders wrote the First Amendment. Or, Rabbi, do you reject our Constitution?

A misguided rabbi
A misguided rabbi

h/t: Bill

122 thoughts on “Rabbi defends nativity scene on public land

      1. I don’t know why he says “… Russell … did not gloat over the presumed death or nonexistence of God.”

        I turned to Russell and immediately found

        “I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religion will die out. I regard it as a disease, as belonging to the infancy of human development which we are now outgrowing.”
        (Free Thought and Official Propaganda, 1934, cited in Bertrand Russell’s Best)

        Did Hitchens write or has Dawkins written anything more caustic?

    1. My problem is, they already have their displays, they’re just in front of every single church in America. Why the need to put them in front of the courthouses too? Why isn’t a Christmas tree good enough?

      I wasn’t originally in favor of spending time and money suing everyone to get rid of them, so the whole citizen resistance seems the right way to go.

    2. I say call them on their bullshit wherever and whenever. There’s no need to put up with encroachments that shouldn’t be encroaching in the first place.

      Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. I don’t want to encourage them.

  1. Not being an American, I don’t know much detail about the interpretation of the Constitution. I have always assumed that the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect religious minorities from government, which wouldn’t have a lot to do with local displays such as Nativity scenes. I suspect Christians would refer to the same Amendment to defend their displays on the grounds of Freedom of Speech.

    1. When the governmnet funds a Nativity scene, its using religious minority tax money to do it, so the protection has failed.

      More subtly but probably more importantly, when the government endorses Chrisianity by putting up a Nativity scene and no other religious works, this can create a coercive environment where religious minorities suffer. Like your boss asking you out on a date: you’re going to feel pressure to say yes, even if you don’t want to. You suffer for the question even being asked.

      So, the (liberal) US position has been that such scenes do have a lot to do with defending religious minorities from government, because government endorsement of some other religion is an imposition on them.

      Christians can and do refer to the 1st to defend their displays. It is the 1st that allows them (and everyone else) to put up religious displays on their own properties. But they do not get to put up displays on government land, because that’s everyone’s property.

    2. The first amendment to the US constitution doesn’t just cover free speech* but also freedom of religion, right to assembly and some other stuff. It’s the freedom of religion, the Establishment Clause, that is relevant here. The clause states, in part:

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

      I think that the legal reasoning goes something like this: if the ‘government’ (in this case the city government of Santa Monica) has a law (an ordinance is really a law) permitting christmas displays, but no other religious display, then that would be unconsitutional because it establishes christianity as an approved state religion. It doesn’t help if you expand the permitted relgions to include (say) judaism and islam because then what about budhism or wicca?

      When you consider the number of possible religions** it should very quickly become obvious that the only rational solution is not to have public space used for religious displays.


      * The free speech part is what makes religious displays on private land not only acceptable but protected.

      ** Of course the huge number of available religions is just another piece of evidence that they’re all crap.

      1. This same principle has been involved in other areas too. Schools have banned, for instance, all clubs rather than permit atheist or gay clubs access to facilities. This has resulted, unfortunately, in the gays or atheists being blamed.

      2. Thanks. But there are a lot of ifs in there. The First Amendment refers to Congress, though I believe it has been extended much later to include State Legislatures. Has that ever been cascaded down to individual communities? Anyway, is/was there a city Ordinance specifying/favouring Christian displays and prohibiting others? Is there such a thing as “an” (as opposed to “the”) established religion? In the UK we know precisely what “established” means, and it was rejection of the Church of England model which is presumably enshrined in the Establishment Clause. Quite right too – in the late 18th century British Roman Catholics were second class citizens. Was there any hint of such a trend in Santa Monica? And where would the reaction end? Should Santa Monica be renamed (and San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego…)?

        I suppose what I mean is that confrontation/polarisation doesn’t achieve much more than ill will. Christianity is eroding, and that’s the way to go, hanging on to the cosy traditions if we wish. I remember reading a British woman’s account of buying a gold cross pendant in an Australian jeweller’s. “Wouldja like a plain one, or one with a little fella on it?”

    3. A question I frequently ask Christers, to which I have never once gotten a straight answer is, “Why is it when somebody does it to you, it’s discrimination, but when you do it to somebody else it’s exercising your religious freedom?”

      You are right. Christians always do frame limiting their privilege as an infringement on their freedom of speech. But it isn’t. It is a question of everyone playing by the same rules, a concept which they cannot grasp. This was the basis of the Santa Monica lottery system. And when the Christers didn’t win but three spots, they started screeching, even though the lottery was open to everyone.

      Atheists and others who are not Christers have as much right to be protected from a government imposition of any specific religion as Christers. L

      1. Yes, as I understand it the atheists didn’t prevent the nativity from being there. It was still there. But many people didn’t want to look at the nativity anymore if there were ALSO a lot of atheist displays — so the city had to take everything down.

    4. Lets leave off the fact that it isn’t legal for a moment.

      There are so many secular ways to celebrate Christmas that I have increasingly little patience for people that *must* have a nativity scene. The one specifically Christian part of the holiday. Its not Christmas spirit that motivates people to put those up, its evangelism. It puts non-Christians off that there are purely Christian symbols present in a place they need to do business in. While they might be treated perfectly fairly inside, it just helps remind them that they are outsiders.

      1. Its not Christmas spirit that motivates people to put those up, its evangelism.

        It’s just xian territorial marking.

        My old cat did that. When we went for walks, he would pee (spray) on important (to him) shrubs to mark his territory and warn other cats away.

        Dogs do the same thing as do many other animals. Birds sing partly to define territories.

        There isn’t any difference between xians, dogs, or cats. Hmmmm, well xians can be violent, sometimes killers, and don’t make good pets.

  2. As a Brit transplanted to the US I have had a few conversations with Americans upset about the war on Xmas – it’s astonishing how many people don’t realise that it only applies to public land. They pugnaciously tell me how they will put up manger scenes on their lawn and then look a little slack jawed with surprise when I mildly point out that that is perfectly legal. I assume that this is because this is always ignored/conveniently forgotten by Fox News fulminaters.

    1. Or because objecting to religious displays on public land is framed by the religious right in domino theory terms – first the public displays and then the private displays.

      Also I believe that Rabbi Gotlieb’s real reason for speaking up is that he knows if christmas displays are not permitted then he has no chance of getting a menorah put up.


      1. I suspect you may be somewhat right. If you go back 20 years, I think you’d find that many communities tried to address 1st amendment issues by expanding their displays from Nativity scene + Xmas tree to Nativity + Tree + Menorah. “See, look, we are no longer favoring one religion!” Even the site of the National christmas tree, in DC, had a big menorah displayed next to it.

        It is not surprising to me, given that many earlier “fixes” consisted of throwing some token support to a second religion, that at least some members of the second religion favored would be okay with the idea of government endorsement of religion.

  3. Always fun to see Jews defending Christians who are sure that anyone who doesn’t accept their “messiah” will be sent directly to some netherworld where they will be tortured for all of eternity. Ah, the hypocrisy of people. They only care to ally with other theists because they know that as soon as one religion can be shown as purely ridiculous, they all can be.

    1. In the same vein, the Catholic Church in Germany gave strong support to Jewish protests against the ban on circumcising unconsenting infants, which has this week been overturned by the Bundestag.

  4. I feel extremely fortunate in having been able to watch three of four enlightening programmes on BBC4.
    They are ‘The Dark Ages: An Age of Light’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00zbtmp
    Waldemar Januszczak looks at the Dark Ages in a new light. I can’t think of a better way to educate all on the preposterous lies and disinformation as played out by Christian hierarchies since the origins of the Christian cult. If a Rabbi sees fit to pay homage to such bunkum as the nativity it is probably a ruse to take people’s minds off the other poppycock in ‘The Old Testament’
    There are thirteen days left to watch the programme on the above link and I cannot rate it highly enough.

  5. Yawn. One gets tired of religious folks characterizing any atheist who dares to speak out as “angry”. At least the good rabbi did not use “strident” when describing Dawkins, an adjective so often unjustly associated with his name whenever a clueless fundamentalists opens his/her mouth or yet another lazy journalist takes up a pen.

    In my neck of the woods (continental Europe), nativity scenes are fairly common as well, including occasionally on public land (town squares, etc.). Nobody really makes a fuss about them, mainly because we mostly lack those “angry” and “strident” fundamentalists (ha, I can play that game, too) who insist on using any xmas-related issue to drive a wedge into the wall of separation between church and state. No “encroaching creches” really, mostly people see them as just another holiday-related decoration akin to christmas trees, fake cheap santas hanging from windows (oh, how I hate those), and xmas lights. I myself often build an elaborate outdoor nativity scene together with my nephews, albeit of a slightly unorthodox variety (last year’s included a Liopleurodon lurking in the pond, an Allosaurus in the woods, a smattering of smurfs, and a puzzled baby Jesus watched over by Grizzly bears…).

    That said, if I were in America, I would of course be a lot less nonchalant about the issue.

    1. Oh, I thought Strident was Dawkins’s first name. Just like Carter was Mondale’s first name during Reagan’s 1984 campaign.

  6. How any thinking person can read Candide and think Voltaire was a genteel atheist is beyond me. Sheesh, these guys just name drop without checking sources. But, arguments from authority is the driving epistemic principle for religious people.

    1. My thoughts exactly when I saw Voltaire mentioned. I forget, was the “men will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest” his or Diderot’s? That I would accept as a slightly angry statement.

      1. I think that was Diderot but we do need to send the Rabbi a nice translation of Candide so he can see what Voltaire thought of religious belief and its influence on the carnage of his age.

        1. Definitely! Our family lore is that my great-grandfather was a rabbi, but my grandfather (who I never met) read Voltaire, became an atheist, and emigrated from Poland to the United States before World War I.

      2. Side thought: Voltaire’s line was later adapted in Scotland to, ‘Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post’.

        I’d explain the Sunday Post bit but it would probably take too long…

    2. I don’t think the dear rabbi can really be counted as a thinking person. Not when his “thinking” leads to him believing that there was no triumphalism in Nietzsche’s assertions.

      “Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.”

      I mean, really.

    3. How any thinking person can read Why I am not a Christian and call Russell a genteel atheist is beyond me. “Buddha was morally superior to Jesus”.

    4. The idiot Rabbi is both right and wrong. Wrong, because Voltaire did indeed view organized religion as a pernicious force. Right (alas) because Voltaire did not gloat over the presumed death or nonexistence of God. Voltaire was a deist who attacked the works of the most prominent genuine atheist of the time, Baron D’Holbach. If the Baron was alive today, he would have undoubtedly been called strident, just as Voltaire could have fit in the accommodationist camp. The clash between the more and less atheistic forces of the Enlightenment is told at length in the works of Jonathan Israel and in more compact form by Philipp Blom in “A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment.” D’Holbach is in many ways the father of the New Atheists–his ‘The System of Nature” created as big a fuss as “The God Delusion”–as well as father of the old ones.

  7. Jerry, I think you need to relax about this whole issue. No one is going to force you to become a card carrying you-know-what.

    I work for a government department in Australia and there are Christmas decorations around the foyer and people’s workplaces and no one bats an eyelid. Perhaps because Australia is much more secular the atheists, agnostics and the like don’t feel as threatened.

    1. Thank you for your concern. And should I relax about having the Ten Commandments in schools and courthouses, or about cheerleaders in public schools waving banners with the words of Jesus on them?

      It’s a slipperly slope, you know, and that’s why these things need to be nipped in the bud.

      I don’t know if Australia has legal separation of church and state,but we do, and there’s a reason for that. We don’t allow “minor” violations because they just lead to major ones.

      And I don’t appreciate your telling me to “relax”. If you don’t like what I wrote, there are many other websites to frequent.

        1. Yes and the angle of the slope is set by religious aggression.
          It’s not enough to be able to put a creche on your own lawn or in front of your own church, they have to press into other peoples territory, to seize control of the public space that should belongs to everyone.

          Americans are all equal but christians are more equal than the others.

      1. The Australian Constitution has an almost identical provision to the US Establishment Clause, though it has been interpreted less rigorously by the courts.

        My impression is that the displays accompanying Christmas here (I’m in Sydney) have been almost entirely evacuated of religious content over the decades. Religion was always a low-temperature affair in Australia, and has now sunk into a kind of permafrost.

        I can well understand why it is critical to defend the “wall of separation” in the US, given the cloying religiosity that seems to permeate all aspects of public life.

      2. We have it in the constitution

        Ch 5 § 116 The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

        Which as you can tell is based on the US constitution, but our courts have interpreted it to mean we can have religion all over the damn place. No law has ever been stuck down for contravening this section and we have fucking chaplins in all our gov’t schools, courtesy of John Howard of evil memory. I wish I knew how the constitution could have been so subverted and ignored. It’s a disgrace and if we don’t get our act together round here the encroachment of religion will spread and grow.

    2. Growing up in Western Europe, in a culturally Catholic family, I never gave religion much thought and I understand your point. Creches and the like are just part of the traditional holiday backdrop, and nobody forces religion down your throat. It’s been an ongoing struggle for the last 3 centuries, but religion is pretty much beat. Let em tell you, living in the US for over 8 years opened my eyes, meeting my WY and MT in-laws a revelation, and if I were to still live there I’d be up on the (metaphorical) barricades about this sort of stuff. It is 2012 and most people there still take religion seriously!

      1. Try living in Colorado Springs for almost 20 years while running an organization (BSCS) that is committed to presenting evolution as the organizing thesis for all of biology. Most of the attempts to breach the church/state barrier in this community were so brazen as to boggle the mind, and they generally had the support of the only newspaper in town. Fundamentalist perspectives were so pervasive in C.S. that many simply perceived them as the accepted cultural norm, and anyone who raised the slightest objection to their insertion into public policy was scorned as “anti-religion” — a demonstration of Nat Hentoff’s “heckler’s veto.” That’s why it was so important never to give in and to call out the “gentle Christians” every time they tried to cross the line.

    3. miles teg being ignorant;

      Jerry, I think you need to relax about this whole issue. No one is going to force you to become a card carrying you-know-what.

      You have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about. For one thing, the USA isn’t Australia.

      1. I’ve been getting death threats from xians for over a decade. So do a lot of other scientists. On a good day, PZ Meyers has gotten up to a 100.

      2. Xian terrorism has been a serious problem in the USA for decades. 8 of my colleagues have been assassinated with hundreds wounded.

      3. The nearest terrorism act to my house was xians burning down the local Mosque. The next nearest attack was some xian terrorist on his way to attack an ecology group getting into a shootout with the cops.

      4. The xian death cultists have their own political party, the GOP and have come close already to destroying the USA.

      5. Thanks to our fundie ex-president, two of my friends are already dead, killed in Iraq.

      I know what the fundie xians think about me and people like me. They want to kill me. They say so often.

      Miles teg can wallow in his ignorance in Australia. We in the USA can’t do that. We have to defend ourselves and work against the fundie xians for our personal survival and that of the USA.

    4. Miles_Teg, Christmas decorations, yes, that’s fine. But not bloody nativity scenes. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, fine. But not a bloody baby-in-a-manger nonsense.


  8. Long time UK lurker delurking to say that, for reasons I can’t consciously define, I found this post ever so slightly spine tingling. Why this one, I couldn’t say.

    Oh… and while briefly in delurk mode, thanks for your recommendation for Prof Noor’s Coursera course. Interesting, stimulating and fun. Now I know what recombination is – along with many other new things too!

  9. I actually did a page search on the article for the word “uppity” (no results were returned).
    Not that I think atheists are treated similarly appallingly as African Americans were, but the rabbi does seem to be of a similar opinion as many white Americans were back in the day that people being vociferous in asking for equal treatment by the law are somehow getting ideas above their station.

  10. Holy cow, did he actually say that Nietzsche did not gloat over the presumed death of God? Did he imply that Voltaire was a nice kind guy who did not call for political change?

    1. Yeah, it reminds me of an article on IO9 suggesting that atheists not compare God to the Tooth Fairy and be more like Carl Sagan. Ignoring the fact that Sagan wrote a whole book debunking paranormal things that ended with notion that religion shouldn’t be kept apart from the same skepticism that shreds Bigfoot and UFOs.

      The old atheists were just as brutal as the new, they just didn’t have the audience and the data backing them up that we do now.

  11. Opposition to assisted suicide is a good, not an evil.

    The elderly can swing from being depressed and expressing a death wish to being perfectly happy from one moment to the next. They can be easily manipulated and intimidated.

    The hypothetical scenarios that supportes of assisted suicide present are non-representative outliers. It is unusual to have some kind of painful illness in its terminal stage, to be unable to commit suicide, yet capable of rational choice at the same time.

    1. I refer you to the excellent blog “Choice in Dying”, by Eric MacDonald, to which Jerry links in only a few posts below this one.

      No one has written more movingly or with greater love about his wife’s terminal illness than Eric MacDonald.

      As for this:

      “It is unusual to have some kind of painful illness in its terminal stage, to be unable to commit suicide, yet capable of rational choice at the same time.”

      this, I just find ignorant.

      1. During my civil service I have seen numerous retirement homes and hospitals from the inside and engaged in conversations with hundreds of different patients, many of whom were terminally ill.

        I believe that a lot of these patients could be easily manipulated into signing a suicide contract.

        Medical professionals are at risk of trivializing death, because it is such a routine phenomenon for them to see their patients predictably and inevitably die. There is a lot of dark humor and banter going on behind the scenes that could cause a major public outrage, if somebody filmed this and posted it on youtube.

        Now that is just normal human behaviour, but the Hippocratic Oath exists for a reason. There need to be clear demarcation lines to prevent a culture of euthanasia to arise.

        1. Dark Humour and Banter
          These are some of the tools we use to insulate ourselves from the enormity of serious illness and death.
          We recognise this and don’t do it in the open.
          Threat of “youtube” exposure is obscene.

          If we allowed total empathy at all times we would be so consumed as to be unable to perform our jobs. As it is, the emotional toll on hospital staff is huge and not inconsequential.

          We are not at risk of trivialising death, the suggestion is deeply offensive.

          Jerry won’t let me use some of the words I am now thinking.

    2. Opposition to assisted suicide is a good, not an evil.

      Knowing what blog you are on is also good.

      So is knowing what the subject of a thread is.

      You haven’t done either.

  12. I don’t recall Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens espousing the “eradication” of religion. To state their true position (that belief is absurd and should not be inflicted on others) just doesn’t sound as “strident”.

    1. The gnu-atheist bashers are transposing the view that religious believers should change their minds with the view that religious believers should be punished. That’s because they will do anything they can to get off the subject of whether or not their beliefs are true.

      I’d like to “eradicate” poverty. Using the rabbi’s special translator device, this means that I want to scour the earth with my military might and fill up the gulags with the poor.

      1. I believe that what Dawkins and company really want to eradicate is the special immunity given to unsupported proclamations emanating from religious figures. Accepting your logic I can understand why the rabbi would feel himself at risk.

  13. “As you might recall, to avoid squabbles about this matter, Santa Monica took the ill-advised step of having a “lottery,” in which members of different faiths could compete to put up their special display. ”

    I like this idea. It’ll be great to see the look on the Christians’ faces when I win next year’s lottery and erect my golden statues of Baal and Astarte, accompanied by sacrificial altar, skull rack and fully-stoked child-furnace.

    1. This pattern has been repeated lots and lots of places. City has Nativity scene. To make it legal, city institutes lottery. Other displays appear next to nativity scene. City bans all displays.

      The blasphemous-ness of the other displays doesn’t seem to change the pattern much. The banning step tends to follow regardless of how normal or insane the other displays are. So, by all means feel free to enter your local community lottery (if they have one) and put up your alter to Baal. But consider, instead, using the space to put up something worthwhile and educational. Maybe a big Bill of Rights poster?

      Don’t worry, I guarantee you that, done right, a perfectly secular and areligious display will tick off your local fundie community just as much as your Baal altar would. Maybe more; some folk are going to discount FSM and Baal displays as childish. But a serious call for the government to stop endorsing Christianity is going to really upset those same people.

      1. “a perfectly secular and areligious display will tick off your local fundie community”

        Heck, I think even if you put up a pine tree with lights, tinsel and ornaments but called it something other than a Christmas Tree it would still tick them off.


      2. Technically speaking, the law states that you can have a nativity scene only if you also have secular Christmas symbols like Santa, reindeer, snowmen, or decorated trees nearby.

        So they don’t have to hold a lottery. They just have to go out and buy a candy cane and a couple elves.

        The government can’t seem to give out the message “keep the Christ in Christmas.”

    2. Christians, Jews and Muslims would much rather have an altar to Baal in a public space than anything tainted by atheism.

      So it’s almost definitely a bad idea.

  14. I am more concerned about Jews mocking Christmas than Jews defending the display of the nativity scene.

    The war on Christmas has nothing to do with religion: it’s a war on European culture.

      1. I was referring to Jews as race, not religion. And yes, the Ashkenazis are a part of European culture: a part that never really fit in.

        1. “a part that never really fit in”
          I guess centuries of religious persecution could have that affect on a group of people…

    1. “I am more concerned about Jews mocking Christmas”

      Really? You’re concerned about this? Where is it you live that this is problem worth noting?

    2. Why not mock Christmas? That’s part and parcel of being a holiday that stretches from Halloween to Dec 25th. People are going to make fun of the ridiculousness of all facets of the celebration. That doesn’t mean they hate it, it means that its funny. Its not like European culture is some sort of platonic ideal that can’t get any better and doesn’t have anything wrong with it, and that will suddenly disappear if someone laughs at a joke about it.

      Grow a thicker skin.

    3. The war on Christmas has nothing to do with religion

      You’ve either completely ignorant about what Bill O’Reilly and the other ‘war on Christmas’ leaders have said. Or you have your own private ‘war on christmas’ going on. Or you’re a poe.

      1. I am aware of O’Reilly’s “war on Christmas,” but I am also aware of why he is doing it–although he may not know it himself. O’Reilly is not defending Christmas because he “loves Jesus,” just like the Arabs are not flying into buildings because they “love Allah.”

        1. Okay, just so I’m clear then. It is your position that when O’Reilly says ‘keep the Christ in Christmas,’ he’s secretly or subconsciously doing it NOT because he wants to keep Christ in Christmas, but because he thinks a secularist saying “happy holidays” is a (Jewish-led?) assault on European culture?

          1. I doubt Jews are the primary drive behind the “war on Christmas” (although they play their share), but yes, that is what in a nutshell is the reason for this cultural “war.”

            1. George, I should introduce you to someone in my area who insists that Christianity is nothing more than a variant of Judaism. He could explain to you that it would be impossible for Jews to destroy European culture since it is just Jewish (that is to say, Christian) culture anyway.

              1. I think the Europeans are capable of destroying their culture on their own. It’s a very interesting and a sad phenomenon.

    4. Oh my oh my, George, what a load of rubbish. I’m a bona fide European(TM), can trace the presence of my family back in the neighbourhood to the 15th Century (documents stop there, alas), but have never encountered anything resembling such a thing as a definable “European culture”. Maybe you could enlighten me? Does the Eurovision song contest count? Oh wait, those pesky Jews in Israel occasionally take part, so it can’t be that, at least according to you.

      What my Celtic/Germanic/Roman/(add your favourite ancient tribe here) soul really resents is those parvenu Christians’s War on Saturnalia, War on Yule, and so on. I mean, there we were, with perfectly good traditional Winter solstice festivals (never mind that they undoubtedly replaced pre-Celtic, pre-Germanic, pre-Roman festivals, ahem), with feasting, gift-giving and decorated trees, and there they come those immigrants with those newfangled manger-baby and traveling-salesmen-from-the-East stories. Somebody call the Daily Mail!

      And for your information, there were certainly Jews in Europe before Christianity barged in, so dibs?

  15. …those lacking a Y chromosome?

    Jerry, not to be overly pedantic, but I’ve seen you use this in reference to the female population twice now this week and I feel it conveys a context which you do not intend. We could just as easily refer to the male population as “only having one X Chromosome” or “one nub short of a full chromosome”, or “mutant women”. But lacking something, to me, implies that if they only had it, then they would be complete, or better than they are. I know this isn’t what you’re trying to say, but it could be taken as such and we should be mindful of potentially sexist language. Frankly, I’m at a loss for a creative alternative. Perhaps, simply, “those without a Y chromosome”? Or “those with two X chromosomes”?

    1. Yes, you are being overly pedantic: because the Y chromosome has far less active genetic material than the X, one could see males as being genetically depauperate, which they indeed are. Males lack one full X, which is loaded with genes. So it could be taken to be be dissing males.

      1. I think Justin’s objection turns on the word “lack”. Even if males are technically depauperate (wonderful word), the word suggests that the Y chromosome is something desirable that women are the poorer for not having. (Which is the religious view you’re criticising!)

        We’ve seen others here making similar objections to definitions of atheism as “a lack of belief in God” rather than a simple absence.

        It may be a nice distinction, but also an important one.


  16. This is an area I disagree.

    “Public” and “state” are different things. The problem with religious displays on public land are when the “state” itself endorses one over others. The right of private individuals to express themselves on public land is very much the intention of the First Amendment. Are you allowed to say “God exists” or “God doesn’t exist” in a park or on the street? How is that different?

    Think of soap box speeches on street corners. That’s public land. So are protests and marches. The KKK can hold a parade on public land, and you’ve even supported their right to do so and condemned those who would try to ban it. (You said the response to hateful speech is more speech; in that case it was hecklers dressed as clowns that you supported.)

    The proper dividing line isn’t whether the land is public or not; it is whether any particular set of beliefs is receiving special privileges that are denied of other beliefs. When limitations need to be made so as not to block other uses of the space, those limitations cannot be biased. These include things like permits for parades or displays in parks. The lottery was a good idea given the finite space available.

    1. Chad, I’m not sure you’re really in disagreement. I don’t think anyone is arguing that lottery systems (or other content-neutral regulation) for holiday displays on public land are unconstitutional merely because the land is public.

      We are arguing, like you, that the City cannot limit citizen speech on public land based on religious criteria.

    2. “Public” and “state” are different things. The problem with religious displays on public land are when the “state” itself endorses one over others.

      No, the problem is when the state endorses *any* religion, not just when it endorses one religion over another. It’s a violation of the Establishment Clause.

  17. I wonder if something other is in play here. Religion is a “large-ish” thing in SoCal (Saddleback is in SoCal) but it’s no longer the force it once was (Crystal Cathedral bankruptcy). Santa Monica may be perceived by them as the line; if they lose this dispute, then the region will become more like NoCal. Think Ess Eff & Santa Cruz where religion is relegated to bystander or minor voice rather than the force (both political and financial) it currently is in SoCal.

  18. Today’s atheists hold that religion educates children and adults to hate in the name of their pious doctrines.

    This is true.

    The Rabbi’s own religion has seen nearly 2,000 years of xian hate. Persecution, massacres, deportations, forced conversions.

    Today the Moslems and Jews have a mutual hate fest in the middle east, Israel, one that sporadically ends with lots of people dead.

    US fundie xianity is based on pure hate. They use it for a motivating force and ingroup outgroup reinforcer. No hate = No fundie xianity.

    Atheist haters among the xians are dime a hundred. The Rabbi is clearly an atheist hater at the least.

    It’s all just human tribalism. Many groups use hate for tribalistic reasons and others outgroups.

    1. I think you’re right about the tribalism. Religions create an entirely new category of Bad People: “people who fail to acknowledge, recognize, obey, and/or understand God/Spirit.” The wonderful way of uniting the faithful in love is also a handy way of cutting off everyone else.

      If you are religious or spiritual, you don’t need to actively hate such people (though you can, of course.) You might only pity or despise them. You might only ignore them, refuse to count them as part of your tribe, someone like you. But you’ve divided these people off in a way that brooks no reconciliation.

      If God is the source and manifestation of All Value, then what does that say about the people who are so totally unlike YOU that they apparently hate God?

  19. “Nietzsche, Russell and Voltaire did not gloat over the presumed death or nonexistence of God”

    This guy has clearly not read Nietzche.

  20. “I’m spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica…”. Really, no one?

    I’ve gone back and forth on this one. By itself a city nativity scene doesn’t really bother me (although it will be interesting to see if Xians now start to differ on what should be included following the Pope’s new book). Recently, though, I’ve started to get less tolerant about these things. When I hear that this is A Christian Nation because the Declaration of Independence mentions god (in the most watered down way possible), I begin to think that if you give Christians an inch, they’ll take a mile.

    As for the war on Christmas, I look forward to the day when the Christ in Christmas has as much meaning as the Saturn in Saturday.

    1. It doesn’t bother me that some well-meaning people try and do something they think will be nice for their community, even if they don’t know it breaks the law.

      It DOES bother me when people in the community tell them to stop, and they don’t.

  21. My dear rabbi, you speak as if you are an expert on atheism when in reality you know little. Atheists like Jews, come in many sizes and shapes and there seems to be little conformity within their ranks aside from basic precepts. Some atheists, like Jews, are reluctant to speak out against the prejudices they confront every day. Some atheists and Jews are outspoken and defend their rights with vigor and passion. Surely you can’t criticize defenders of atheist rights and not criticize defenders of Judaism as well. Take a look at your own religion and criticize it as you have done to atheism. Then, ask yourself if you make any sense.

  22. Why don’t the churches, I dunno, get together, plan out the same sort of chronological nativity displays they used to do in the park except place each one in front of a different church? They could plan the route out to make a rather nice Christmas city and church tour. Cities do unofficial light tours, so if they have one in Santa Monica then it would probably be worked in to the tours easily.

    Or they could stomp their feet about mean old atheists.

  23. It seems painfully obvious that atheism got angry in the early 21st century because of the eruption of the madness that was the Religious Right in the 1980s, and the malignancy of organizations like the Christian Coalition (the worst), the Moral Majority, and Focus on the Family. This led to both a resurgence of atheism !*and*! liberal religious leaders like John Spong, Matthew Fox etc.

    And Voltaire was pretty triumphalistic. Isn’t it Voltaire who said “Ecraser l’infame!” (Erase the infamy- i.e. the Catholic Church).

    The “War on Christmas” people never seem to get that no one objects to Christmas on private property. Bill O’Reilly (the pro-Christmas version of Ebenezer Scrooge) fulminates that “No one objects to the Rockefeller Christmas tree”- that’s because it’s !*privately*! funded, BillO!! Here in Palo Alto a local Mormon church runs an annual display of creche’s from all over the world that is open to the public. It’s lovely and I enjoy it. It’s where it belongs!!

  24. I’m so busy trying to ignore the entire Christmas experience that one more manger – even on public land – doesn’t register on my radar. I also don’t really care what people do, so long as they don’t do it on my land and no one is injured.

  25. Oi vey! You get all sorts. I remember the news a few years ago about a Holocaust denying Jew who traveled to Iran for a Holocaust denial conference. Ahmadinejad had a field day with that one.

  26. Atheism only got angry because theism began to. I still celebrate “Christmas” with presents etc. but not with anything involveing Christ.

    And I know that is a slight double standing considering CHRISTmas.

    It may be a bit fussy, but you have to tackle the small things first. If children growing up at Christmas time see Santa everywhere, then people will eventually tell them he isn’t real.

    The same should be said for a divine Jesus. But, whenever a child sees nativity scenes these days, they are told all about the baby Jesus and Salvation etc. I was one of them not so long ago.

  27. Interesting:

    Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year which prompted CBS presenter, Ben Stein, to present this piece which I would like to share with you. I think it applies just as much to many countries as it does to America …

    The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

    My confession:

    I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

    It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

    I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

    Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God ? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

    In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

    Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina).. Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

    In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

    Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.

    Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

    Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

    Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

    Are you laughing yet?

    Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

    Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

    Pass it on if you think it has merit.

    If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

    My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

    Ben Stein

    1. Ben Stein is, honestly and respectfully, a horse’s ass.

      “Christmas” trees have zilch to do with Christianity, and the fact that the current White House incumbents may have the sensitivity to acknowledge that the end of December does not equal the birth of Jesus to everyone in the United States is NOT the reason the world is “going to hell”.

      Also, the world is not going to hell, which he would know if he bothered to read books read by honest and intelligent people like, say, Steven Pinker.

    2. What a pile of tripe.

      “I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country.”
      I think this is really the biggest thing wrong with Steins statement. I’m not American but from what I can gather the US constitution wants a secular government. I would point out to Stein that secular is not atheist.

      The rest of the piece is not even worth rebutting, same old crap “stop persecuting us”.

  28. Ben Stein is an idiot, a hater, and a liar.

    1. He starred in a fundie xian film Expelled which basically demonized biology and biologists. He is a creationist and an atheist and science hater.

    Ben Stein from wikipedia: “it was science that led my cousins into the gas chamber”

    2. In expelled he blamed the Holocaust on…biologists. Which is just a lie. The roots of the Holocaust are deep in xianity and those that carried it out were all Lutherans and Catholics.

    3. He claimed to be an economist and stock market wizard. He then totally missed the 2007 market crash and the Great Recession. Anyone who followed his advice lost lots of money.

    So John Heininger, what is the point of posting what is absolute drivel? Are you too stupid to even think up your own drivel?

  29. Stein:

    I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.

    Fake persecution.

    Atheists are heavily discriminated in the USA whenever the xians can get away with it. We aren’t going to take it anymore either.

    Eight states prevent atheists from voting, holding office, and/or serving on juries.

    These laws are illegal and unenforceable due to a recent court case. But the states can’t and won’t remove them. The xians would scream and moan if they tried.

    1. Recently? The Supreme Court struck down religious tests for state public office half a century ago. Which states prevent atheists from voting or serving on juries? Just curious.

  30. “faithful Christians do not threaten me. If anything, I’m inspired by them.” – the Rabbi.

    He seems to have a short memory. I take gloomy satisfaction from the fact that the First Crusade, in preparation for invading the Middle East and slaughtering the heathen Arabs, warmed up by killing all the local European Jews they could lay their hands on.

    (Not satisfaction that fascist thugs a.k.a. Crusaders killed Jews, just satisfaction that it shows the Rabbi is talking BS).

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