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Atheist Signs at Christmas: Should Atheists Challenge Christmas Displays?

Is It Hate Speech or Intolerant to Challenge Religion at Christmas?


Christians sometimes complain that atheists and secularists are trying to remove religion from the public square, but the truth is that Christians are so accustomed to having the public square all to themselves that they can't stand it when they cease to be privileged and others are treated equally. We can see this in the reactions to atheists erecting signs alongside religious holiday displays at Christmas: atheists are accused of intolerance and hate speech for relatively mild criticisms of religion.


Why Do Christians Get So Angry?

There are two factors feeding into Christians' reaction. First is their inexperience with direct, public disagreement with or criticism of religion generally or their religion in particular. Most public statements about religion are positive, not negative, and some Christians have trouble not reacting with great hostility towards anything remotely critical. This was demonstrated by the removal of the "Imagine No Religion" billboard in Rancho Cucamonga after numerous Christian complaints. Companies in other cities refused to even display the billboard in the first place.

Second is that Christians have an even stronger expectation that positive, religious viewpoints should be privileged during Christmas. The statement "Imagine No Religion" on its own has already achieved that status of "hate speech" for some, so more direct criticism like "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds" when placed next to a religious display may make believers apoplectic.

Few if any Christians will admit to any of this because once it is recognized, the foundation of their complaints is eliminated. Instead, they offer different arguments to make them sound like the victims — arguments which apparently have enough superficial plausibility to fool some atheists into believing them.


Are Atheists Ruining Christmas with Hate Speech?

One argument is that atheists are "ruining" people's good time during the Christmas holidays. Who knew that Christians' ability to enjoy Christmas was so fragile that a single sign erected in a single location where it would be seen by a few people would have such a powerful impact? Christians who need to be protected from a single sign expressing mild criticism should not be pandered to and I have trouble believing that anyone truly takes this argument seriously. Is it really anything more than whining by spoiled people who are used to getting everything their own way?

The most bizarre argument has to be the idea that it's "hate speech" for atheists to erect signs criticizing religion during Christmas. It's not clear if the "hate" lies in publicly criticizing religion alongside a religious display or if it depends on the Christmas context, but perhaps this ambiguity is deliberate. If even a statement like "Imagine No Religion" can be considered hate speech, then it wouldn't matter what atheists said or in what context, they would be attacked just the same. The context of Christmas merely gives Christians an excuse to pretend that they are being victimized more than usual.


Should Atheists Just Sit Down & Shut Up?

Critics seem to wish that atheists would disappear entirely, but short of that atheists should just sit down and shut up rather than make public their opinions. Concern trolls argue that atheists are disliked because of things like signs criticizing religion, as if atheists were so much more liked and respected in the past when they didn't erect such signs. Although fewer people are willing to vote for an atheist for president than any other minority asked about, more people today are willing to vote for an atheist for president than at any time in the past — including all those years during which far fewer atheists were standing up, speaking out, and rocking the boat.

If there were some connection between atheists sitting down, keeping quiet, and just smiling while Christians pretend to have some privileged authority to define American culture, don't you think we'd see the opposite? When have conditions for any minority gotten better by them sitting down, keeping quiet, and smiling while other groups exercise unjust privileges? I can't think of any, but there are plenty of examples of minorities making great strides after doing precisely what all the concern trolls told them not to: standing up, speaking out, rocking the boat.... and doing it all at the "worst" times possible.


Standing Up & Standing Out at Christmas

Critics want atheists to believe that Christmas is the worst time for them to stand up and draw attention to themselves by criticizing religion, but just the opposite is the case. Christmas is a good time to speak out precisely because Christians have for so long been used to have the time all to themselves. Religious Christmas displays on public grounds are unnecessary for the purpose of advertising either Christmas or Christianity; instead, they exist solely to establish a connection in people's minds between Christian beliefs and public government. Few if any religions are granted such a status during their holidays, thus cementing in popular imagination the privileged, official status of Christianity.

Christians who want to suppress criticism of religion during Christmas are simply trying to carve out a cultural, social, and political space where they can dominate the conversation without fear of contradiction or dissent. Giving in to their expectations means allowing them to continue imagining that they deserve to be privileged; speaking up and challenging them means forcing them to confront the fact that they cannot and should not count on continuing to be privileged politically, socially, or culturally. More is achieved by doing this at Christmas precisely because of the cultural importance it holds in America.

Atheist signs criticizing religion are direct challenges not just to Christian beliefs, but the official privileging of those beliefs. If we don't do it at Christmas, why even bother trying to do it any other time?

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