Godless Holiday Tree

West Chester did a good thing a couple of years ago and pre-empted the growing trend of suing towns to take down overtly religious holiday displays.  They created a “free speech” zone for displays.  For the second year in a row the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has set up a “Godless Holiday Tree,” which they have dubbed, “The Tree of Knowledge.”

“War on Christmas!”
“Christian Nation!

Yada, yada, yada.  I really don’t care that these folks have set this up in the religious free speech zone, that’s what it’s for.  It can’t be any more tacky than the platstic, light-up, nativity sets I see on people’s lawns.

On the other hand, I would like to point out that “Freethought” isn’t anything of the sort.  It is simply another means of using reason for the purposes of evangelism (in this instance, the “good news” that there isn’t any God at all and that people can be free from the “monopoly” of religion).  Again, I have no problem that people are doing this, it’s part of American Civil Society and I’d, frankly, much rather help the people who are actually under my care to delve deeply into the faith than spend my time trying to beat down people who don’t share the Christian faith.  This is one of the reasons why I don’t want any part of that mud-puddle religion known as Evangelicalism™ – it leaves adherants defenseless against people who aren’t part of the “chosen,” which makes people feel like they have to silence opponents.

I do wish, however, that these new Evangelical Freethinkers would admit that they are at the very least, a religious sect.  Many of the statments made in the article linked above, as a matter of fact, echo the same philosophical points made by the religious sepratists in this country during the Great Awakening (read Under the Cope of Heaven for a decent survey).  It’s a decidely non-theist religious sect, to be sure, but that’s the point – in being a non-theist movement it excludes religious theiests from being members, it’s a sect with a religious boundary-marker.  May they meet in peace and free from fear, this is the same religious freedom which allows us to do likewise (be careful, culture warriors, what you wish for).  Just don’t tell me that a sect/society that advocates, “…reason, rationalism, freethought and humanism,”  and, “…provides forums in which freethinkers can gather for informational and educational meetings, and for fun events and social networking with like-minded individuals,” while setting up displays juxtoposing its views against [other] religious traditions, isn’t a religious movement.


  1. Spoon says:

    I think Whittaker Chamebers, in his book, Witness sums up the irony of the Freethinker movement quite well:

    In summer, my mother was a great pie maker and she had a way of holding up a pie on the fingertips of one hand while she trimmed the loose edges of crust with the other. She was doing this one day, when, in some rambling child’s conversation, I said something about “when God made the world.” I think I was trying it out on her. If so, the result was much better than I could have expected.

    She froze with the pie in one hand and the trimming knife suspended in the other. “Somebody told you that,” she said with a severity she seldom used to me. “You picked that up somewhere. You must learn to think for yourself. You must keep an open mind and not accept other people’s opinions. The world was formed by gases cooling in space.”

    I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me, though I did not reject it. What impressed me was that it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then, why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open…, truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred. In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end.

    I used to say, “Those who insist on thinking outside the box are just as constrained by the box as those who insist on thinking within it.”

    Personally, though, my main concern is the very existence of “free speech zones.” It seems to me that they are more often used to restrict certain forms of speech to a particular, marginalized location (and they cut both ways; for instance, at a nearby college, a “free speech zone” was used to restrict people speaking out against homosexuality).

  2. wezlo says:

    Well, West Chester’s is in front of the courthouse and is open to all – I’m cool with that.

    When it becomes a euphemism for “free speech for those who think like we do” then it becomes an issue. That’s not what’s going on in this particular zone though…

  3. jimgetz says:

    If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck….

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