If you are walking through Manhattan between now and mid-January you are likely to see the latest message from the American Atheists in the form of this sign.
“Keep the Merry – Dump the Myth” is the message they want to communicate to holiday shoppers and visitors in the great city of New York. What strikes me as so odd is that for a group supposedly so concerned with rationality and verifiable truth, their sign gets everything wrong.
For example, there is no Santa Claus. There is no North Pole toy making factory, no Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, no elves, and no world-wide gift delivery service provided by Santa’s sleigh. What does exist is jam-packed malls, Amazon.com, and Fed-Ex. The closest one could get to “Santa Claus” is St Nicholas, a generous, gift giving Catholic Bishop, who was born at the end of the third century in Turkey, a small Asian country situated between Iraq (southern border) and the Black Sea (northern border). But even St. Nicholas, whose feast was recently celebrated by the Catholic Church on December 6th, lived the generous lifestyle he did for one reason, and one reason only – the love of Christ compelled him to. St Nicholas came from a wealthy family and was attempting to obey Christ’s command to sell all he had and give it to the poor in order to have treasures in heaven (Mt 19:21).
So from the word, “Go,” the American Atheists’ sign, with its image of jolly ol “St. Nick,” is encouraging the very practice they are advocating against – belief in a myth. Now, of course the rebuttal is that it is the “spirit of Christmas” – the “merry” – the atheists are encouraging us to keep. The American Atheists organization works very hard at portraying themselves as generous, loving people and that their efforts are meant “to encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people” (Aims and Principles). That sounds nice, doesn’t it? While many of them truly are generous and loving, their way of going about communicating their point of view, bashing the religious belief held by roughly 85% of Americans, seems counter-intuitive to their goal to “engage in…cultural activity as will be useful…to society as a whole.”
Secondly, the “dump the myth” message, with the picture of Christ crucified, is misleading and not factual. There are numerous non-biblical testimonies to Jesus’ existence, his crucifixion, and the worship of him as God by his earliest followers. Some of the testimonies are from sources quite hostile to Christianity; however, people recorded the events surrounding Jesus’ life because they are of historical significance. Some of the sources include:
Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian who was born around AD 38
Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor
Cornelius Tactitus, senator under Emperor Vespasian and later became governor of Asia
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian writing around AD 120
Lucian, the Greek satirist, wrote about the followers of Jesus in The Death of Peregrine circa AD 170
The Talmud, collection of Jewish oral traditions that were put into writing with additional commentary between the years of AD 70 and 200.
Now how can an organization that allegedly “accepts the supremacy of reason” justify a sign with a message implying belief in a fictional character (Santa Claus) and denial of a historical person (Jesus Christ)? They can’t. Oh, they’ll try. Believe me, they will try. Even the “Friendly Atheist,” a blogger on Patheos.com, wants people to look past the historical and factual inaccuracies of the sign and just intuitively know the deeper meaning they are trying to get across. He writes in this article about the Manhattan sign: “I know, I know, Santa is also a myth, but you get the idea.” Oh, so we’re supposed to just “know” the message hidden in the sign, kind of like one those 3-D patterns in the mall that if you stare at long enough you’ll see the hidden picture.
Why not just have a sign that says something accurate? Or truthful? Or reasonable? No. Better to incite controversy to get more press. I wish I could say the sign will have no effect but I don’t think that is true. The bottom line is this sign, with all its flaws, is meant to be divisive. It injects into society a feeling of ill will that is not beneficial to “society as a whole.” There is no positiveness, no goodness coming from this sign at a time when everyone is supposed to be celebrating ”good will towards mankind.” It’s not educational, informative, or worthy of such eminent display in one of the nation’s finest cities.
In contrast to this sign and its negative effects, I offer you this two-year old video of a “flash mob” of singers in a shopping mall. They sing Christmas Carols (the ones that have lyrics about Jesus not reindeer) to the delight of people passing by. Witnesses to the scene are filled with happiness, joy, and “merry” as they sing along with the familiar lyrics. This is an infusion of goodness into “society as a whole,” something the signs and the message of the American Atheists can’t offer.