Duke Hefland of the L.A. Times has a predictable story today about the American Humanist Association's campaign to promote secularism during this month of religious holidays. I say "predictable" because, of course, such "offbeat" and contrarian features are more likely to get into print than articles about this or that denomination's efforts to minister to the sick, the homeless and the lonely during this season. According to the story:
The group, consisting of atheists and others who say they embrace reason over religion, has launched a national godless holiday campaign, with ads appearing inside or on 250 buses in five U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco starting today. The placards depict smiling people wearing red Santa hats with the slogan: "No God? . . . No problem!"
Just as predictably, some religious organizations think the atheists' $40,000, five-city ad campaign amounts to... (sigh)... "an assault on religion." Hefland does his best to sample the reactions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims. I found myself wincing at the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, nodding at Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and feeling my eyes widen at the pronouncements of Imam Muzammil Siddiqi.
Now, Joel and I tackled the "war on Christmas" for the Scripps-Howard column a couple of weeks ago. "All most people want is to say "Merry Christmas" without a bunch of politically correct Grinches and litigious Scrooges getting bent out of shape," I wrote. "We've traveled a long way to reach this absurd point in American life."
Indeed we have. But the American Humanist's ad campaign doesn't bother me one bit. First, because it doesn't seem to be aimed at anyone other than co-relig... er, fellow skepto-agnostic-Americans. They're preaching to the converted, for the most part, and trying to reassure the faithless that doubt is indeed safe. (As if there was any doubt about that.)
Second, because the ads betray a certain insecurity. As the Times story notes, "Humanist leaders say the... ad campaign... is meant to counter a barrage of religious messages during the holiday season, letting free-thinking atheists and agnostics know that they are not alone." Well, no kidding. Is the American Humanist Association worried that 30 days of incessant department store sales, 987 covers of "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night," and the odd broadcast of "It's a Wonderful Life" will lure their members into the embrace of monkish superstition or evangelical Christianity? Dawkins forbid! Seems like the opposite would be more likely.
Although my own faith isn't what it used to be -- and that may well be an understatement -- I've never understood the weird, embattled sense of entitlement espoused by some atheists and agnostics. Is it the idea that so many people believe "nonsense" that grates? As if secularists aren't prone to irrational flights of fancy. I realize that it's impossible to simply "live and let live," but the Christmas season was so much more pleasant and peaceful when people swallowed their personal grievances for a flawed but nevertheless greater good.
If the holidays are supposed to teach anything, regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith, it's that it isn't about you. If you drop the "faith," you're still left with "hope" and "charity" -- and two out of three ain't bad.