A Question for the Atheists

ALPERN AT LARGE - Ultimately, it comes down to the unavoidable fact that some of us like to build sandcastles and forts, while others prefer to tear them down.  It also comes down to that big decision as to which group we choose to align ourselves with, and to whether or not we wish to grow up and get along with others.

How else should we all, as either individuals or a community, view those who—during a time of troubled economic, political and social change—choose to attack and make a stand against what must be to them the great scourge of our era:  the Nativity Display at Palisades Park in Santa Monica? (Link)

After arguing for a lottery to dole out spots among the 21 display spaces in the park, atheists won 18 of them.  The Nativity Display, once elaborately detailed in 14 scenes and an attraction to many throughout the region, was forced to be condensed to two scenes—and even then attracted the ire of the atheists who erected a nearby poster about how “millions of Americans know myths when they see them” which equated Jesus, Santa Claus, Neptune and Satan. (Link)

There was also a display that the lottery gave to a Jewish group that used the spot to erect a menorah.  Of note is that there are no atheist protests about that site, although I’m in no way encouraging any anti-Jewish protests against a religious symbol that denotes a miracle of the relighting of the menorah to rededicate the Great Temple (following its capture by Jewish revolutionaries against occupying Syrians) that lasted eight nights despite having enough oil for only one night.

So (as a Jew) I am asking those atheists for whom the idea of miracles and holidays stick in their craw to please leave the menorah alone and not besmirch any celebration of the Jewish/Hanukkah Festival of Lights.

But is it too much to ask (again, as a Jew) a simple question … now that we’ve all had a sumptuous taste of how Atheists treat Christians once they have the bully pulpit …WHY?

WHY does the religious practice of others rub you so very raw?

WHY does the fact that others believe in God, Christ or any other divinity offend you so very much that an open display of faith makes your stomach churn, steam come out of your ears and your blood pressure rise?

And why oh WHY, as Christianity becomes increasingly tolerant to other religions (trust me—as a Jew, I can assure you that we live in an era far, far away from the “Gentleman’s Agreement” era of a half-century ago), must we attack and persecute Christians and make them feel in any way inhibited from celebrating their cherished religion?

Maybe it’s an anti-European thing, since Christianity has so much of its roots in Europe and of the European global missionary effort that too often subjugated and squelched the cultures and religions of other peoples.

Maybe it’s a reaction to the bigotry associated with the “white man’s burden” that encouraged Christians to force their own culture to other peoples who they saw as primitive and inferior—although Christianity is hardly limited to whites, and both Judaism and Islam are as “white” as Christianity yet we don’t see those religions attacked by atheists in our modern era.

Or maybe it’s a fervent belief in Atheism—and that we should all be Atheists—that is as from the gut and soul of true believers as one would ever find amongst a cadre of Baptist preachers.

And if we run Christians out of the city, or county, or nation, then … fine!  Be done with them, and be gone with them!  Let them sail away to another faraway land on some sort of ship or other vessel.  Perhaps we could even call it … the Mayflower.

But (as is my wont) I digress.  The fact remains that I have met many atheists, some who I cherish as friends and even love as family members.  And with rare exception, these atheists have no problem with openly-practicing Christians or anyone else so long as no one gets in their face.  They also have no problem with public displays of the Cross, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and many atheists and non-Christians find the pacifistic spirit at the heart of Christianity to be a good thing.

They are atheists, not Atheists, and seek to convert no one.  

Of course, I am lucky to be a Jew, because there is no shortage of religious writings and beliefs in the more liberal elements of Judaism that make it clear that a true God doesn’t need anyone to believe in Him/Her/Whatever—so long as humanity behaves in a humane, caring, noble, brave, loving and (dare I say it?) godly manner, humanity effectively grows up and exists in God’s image.

But does that mean that the more critical elements of Christianity are to be belittled?  That we live in an imperfect world that forces us to choose and to let others choose as well?  That we are creatures that often cannot rise to our highest potential until we witness horrors both natural and manmade?  That God acknowledged how horrible a lot mankind faced by being willing to be born and die in agony to reaffirm His ties with Humanity?  And that He opted to promote a pacifistic leadership devoted to the next world instead of the typical Jewish warrior-king focused on doing battle in this world?

The late Christopher Hitchens (link) was a prolific intellectual and avowed atheist who felt that religion had done more harm than good for the world, but yet he recognized the virtue within America, for all its Christian background and despite its flawed history, had become a civil society that the Left had refused to acknowledge.  He did debate (and might even mock), but would never intimidate, Christians.

As a Jew, I’m too familiar with my own people’s persecution to tolerate that done to Christians in any way, shape or form.  I’ve no problem living in a Christian nation, because it has embraced me and other Jews in ways I just don’t see in Europe or in the Third World.

I loved spending a charming weekend at the brilliantly-lit, wonderfully-done, and Christmas-themed Mission Inn located in Riverside, and love the spirit of happiness and love and peace that I just frankly don’t see from those promoting Atheist (again, not atheist—Atheist!) beliefs.  

I’m sorry when Christmas gets too sensationalized or commercialized, and admire those who still remember the true meaning of Christmas, which was chosen to be on the Winter Solstice because of European/Pagan tradition but still commemorates the fact THAT Jesus was born more than it does WHEN Jesus was born (which no one knows, and is really not so important as what Jesus stood for in life, and what believers felt Jesus died for).

So on a final note, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that I’m not the only Jew or non-Christian who prefers the company of loving, praying Christians more than to their scowling, snarling Atheist counterparts.  Enjoy what you “won” in Santa Monica … although I’m not too sure what on earth you truly “won”.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all, and may you all be blessed with a Happy, Healthy New Year!

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

Tags: Nativity, Santa Monica, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Christmas, Judaism, menorah

Vol 9 Issue 101
Pub: Dec 20, 2011