Would You Help Restore a Nativity Scene? December 13, 2008

Would You Help Restore a Nativity Scene?

Admit it: for a few minutes when you knew the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s atheist sign in Olympia, Washington was stolen, you were angry. People could disagree with it — maybe even get offended by it — but to the point that they would steal it?

How “Christian” of them.

Then the sign was recovered and all was back to normal.

So what’s your reaction when you hear that, in Georgia, Mount Carmel Christian Church’s drive-through living Nativity Scene was destroyed?

The vandals struck early Wednesday, flattening all eight scenes and backdrops that church members spent weeks building. It was the first year the church had put on the Nativity, which attracted more than 1,000 viewers when it opened last weekend, he said.

About 120 of the church’s 500 members built scenes or were participating as the actors, Sutton said. Because members donated much of the lumber and materials, the church is out only about $700. But Sutton estimated the damage at more than $2,000.

The caption to the photo below reads: “Carlos Guerra, a ministerial intern at Mt. Carmel Christian Church, examines the star that usually shines above the manger scene as staff and volunteers spent Thursday working to repair damage done by vandals.”

Is that a tragedy to you?

Is your reaction the same? Any different?

Would you have helped them if you lived nearby?

Dale McGowan has the right idea:

I hope and trust I am not alone in the freethought community in feeling outrage at this news. Whether or not you support the message of the display, vandalism and violence are completely out of bounds. I’ve sent messages to the Atlanta Freethought Society, Secular Coalition for America, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation urging them to take a quick public stand on this. I’ll shortly be contacting the other national organizations as well.

One of our most fundamental shared values — free expression — has been attacked. Secular humanist organizations and individuals should take an immediate and public stand condemning these actions.

Hopefully, the church’s set is back up and running now. (And I really hope atheists had nothing to do with this…)

I agree with Dale — it’d be nice to see more of us condemning these types of actions.

Not just the extreme vandalism, but even the stealing of Baby Jesuses. Not cool.

We don’t need to take or damage Christian property, anyway.

As we’ve learned from the past couple weeks, if you want to get into the heads of certain types of Christians, all you have to do is share space with them. Or wish them “Happy Holidays.”

That’s what makes them really mad.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Don’t steal the baby Jesus. Hide it behind the creche and replace it with a baby Cthullhu.

    //No, not really.

  • Yes, but would any of them help me replace a tire on the Atheistmobile when the Christians have their semi-annual tire-slashing?

  • Like Dale said, the issue isn’t religion, it’s vandalism. And, y’know, I’m an atheist but I’m an American atheist. My objection to religion is that it’s waaaay too much in politics and that certain religions basically get to foist off their religion on the rest of us – not that it exists. I believe they have the right to believe whatever they want, no matter how absurd and foolish I find it. After all, I’m sure they find what I believe absurd and foolish. But part of being American – or so I heard when I was in civics classes when I was but a wee bairn – is living with people who disagree with you. Defending their right to wave their arms to the point of it intersecting someone else’s nose sort of thing.

  • Dale McGowan got it right. The church had every right to set up a display on its property. If some misguided nonbelievers thought they were striking a blow for nonbelief by vandalizing the display, they were dead wrong. Sorry, folks, Not. Cool.

  • Stina

    I agree that violence and vandalism were not warranted in this case. They had the display on their own property, not a public forum. I hope the FFRF says something about it. I have deep respect for that organization.

  • Aj

    It’s wrong and I condemn it, I doubt that’s unusual among us. It’s trivial and I don’t care much about it. No I wouldn’t help Christians promote Christianity.

    Petty vandalism isn’t something I think secular organisations should spend a lot of time on. It’s the religious nutjobs that are pedantic about small episodes and express their outrage at every little thing. Jumping on these things for political means seems false to me, I like that secular organsations don’t do it so much.

  • ThatOtherGuy

    Yeah, I think the exact same thing. Vandalism of other people’s stuff is never okay, and I would expect the same sentiments from christians.

  • stephanie

    Vandalism is wrong so I don’t see this an ethical dilemma.
    I would certainly go help if I were in the area and knew about it. The question I have is if a congregation would want an Atheist helping, since it’s might be easy to confuse non-belief with somehow being complicit in the vandalism.

  • Condemnable. Since it’s other’s property, it should be left alone. If someone wants to deface a nativity scene, he’she should buy his/her own Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Cow and Donkey and kick the crap out of them.

  • Arnaud

    To be completely honest, the first thought that came to my head was, “I hope to FSM that atheists didn’t do this.”

    Seriously though, I’m not at all cool with this. There’s absolutely no reason to go out and destroy this. The fact that it’s religious doesn’t change anything. It’s vandalism, pure and simple. I’d definitely speak out against the individuals who did it, be it atheists or not.

  • I have a sentimental feeling about nativity scenes on church property. It’s kind of kitschy, after all. I’m also of the opinion that this was a bad deed by whoever. I am not going to accept that it was a group of non-believers who did this, until and if they actually arrest somebody. It could also have been some just plain vandals who thought it would be “funny.”

  • PrimeNumbers

    Violence and vandalism are bad no matter who are doing it, be it God wiping out a whole city, or vandals one nativity display….

  • Glen

    Absolutely, I condemn it. I fear that a few hot-headed atheists may be adopting the tactics of the militant Christianists who done “it” (vandalism) first, and will do it again. Please, don’t sink to their level.

    Paradoxically, it’s often incumbent on atheists to be more Christian than far too many Christians: do unto others…

    Tangentially, just because I also have a sense of the absurd, I have to wonder which religionists thought that a Drive-Thru Nativity Scene was a good idea? What’s next? The drive-thru, coin-operated wafer-o-matic?

  • I hope that whoever did this is caught; that was a stupid and obnoxious thing to do, and there is no excuse for such things.

    In a case like this, I think I might actually help out, despite that I doubt they would return the favor.

  • Richard Wade

    This kind of thing makes me feel sick. I think of how hard people worked on it, how much love they put into it and how much they hoped it would be well received by the community. Then I think of how much it must hurt to see it destroyed so cruelly and senselessly. If I lived nearby I would certainly help to restore it. To me, this is not about atheists and theists, this is about people. People should be kind to each other, no ifs ands or buts. The nativity scenes in government buildings is a completely different issue. Vandalism and cruelty have no place anywhere, on public or private property.

    Attacks like this are usually the work of antisocial punks who just want to have fun destroying. It is not likely the work of people who did it because they were atheists. But if that was so, I’m afraid I would very tempted to set aside my principle of kindness and seriously kick their asses until they had no asses left to kick.

  • Indigo

    Of course I think it’s wrong, especially since it was on private property. Trashing someone’s stuff for fun is never acceptable, and like everyone else here it would not occur to me to think that the Christians who gave their time and money would “deserve” to have that destroyed.
    However, I’m inclined to think that there is a subtle distinction in motivation here. The atheist sign was stolen because someone was trying to silence the people who put it there; they were making the statement that they think atheists shouldn’t be given the same right to speak up as everyone else. It was a small-scale but highly symbolic act.
    By contrast, I kind of doubt the Nativity scene was ruined by anyone out to do anything but wreck stuff. Of course it’s not impossible that it was a hate crime, but it seems a bit unlikely to me. More probably it was an act of garden-variety vandalism.

  • My reaction to this is only different because I was unsurprised when the Atheist sign got vandalised.

    People still have their freedom to practice their religion as long as we keep it all nice and secular.

  • Zar

    Definitely a lousy thing to do. It was in front of a church, which is a totally appropriate place for a nativity scene.

  • I don’t feel “outrage” any more than I felt outrage at the sign getting stolen (sorry, as involved as I try to be, I’m still quite jaded about political mischief). However, I do agree that it takes a douche of epic proportions to cause $2000 worth of damage (or anywhere near that amount) in any case that doesn’t involve an immediate threat to someone’s life or well-being.

  • Nancy

    Richard, you took the words right off of my keyboard. I couldn’t agree with you more if I had written it myself.

  • Rat Bastard

    Again, repetitious, but not cool. Also, I’d put money on the vote that the perps were not atheists, but just some local buttheads out for a little mischeif.

  • I also agree with Richard’s fine comments.

    As a former Christian, I know what it’s like to feel a certain reverence towards these displays. When I heard about this I was sad — not about the symbolism but because the people who put it together probably had their hearts broken when this happened.

    It’s one thing to not believe in their religion or even go so far as to write a book explaining why we feel their religion makes no sense. But it’s another to drive an emotional stake into their hearts, something I refuse to do.

    This is probably going to sound kind of strange to a lot of people, but one of my biggest concerns about me being so vocal against Christianity is that of hurting people’s feelings. I don’t want to do that. These are people, first and foremost, no matter how much I disagree with their ideas (and even at times question their intelligence). They’re people with feelings, and hurting those feelings doesn’t promote our cause in the least. And even if one doesn’t feel empathy towards the people, if nothing more, attacking them just emboldens them.

    And “emboldened” is probably how these people felt a day or two later. I would almost bet, having been a Christian myself, that the next day these people are feeling stronger in their conviction that they’re fighting evil and that God is with them even more.

  • Joanna

    Stealing a sign or running off with the baby Jesus is NOT the same as completely demolishing property like in this situation. So I’d like to think I’d get involved in the cleanup. As part of a community action…a good citizen action. I wouldn’t bring up my athiesm…I normally don’t in everyday life.

    One of the UPS drivers that I work with noticed Mary, Joseph, and Jesus plastic figurines sticking out of the melting snow this past spring. They were pitched out in a cornfield…he knew where they belonged, so he returned them. (Small town; he knows his customers!) I know it’s a case of vandalism and it’s valuable property to somebody but it was still a funny story at the time. And it had a happy ending. The case mentioned above sounded a lot more serious and mean-spirited.

  • Sandra

    My heart goes out to the people who put their time, effort and money into creating this project…just to see it destroyed. I wish I lived close enough to be able to help them put the pieces back together.

    I know many of you have expressed more eloquently than I how horrid this is, and I echo the hope that the vandals who did this wretched act are caught (and punished to the fullest extent).

  • Is it just me, or does anyone else think that photo looks doctored?

  • Skepticat

    Not only am I against this vandalism but I would also help them repair their nativity scene if I lived close by. If we don’t stand up for other people’s free speech and property rights, how can we ever expect them to stand up for ours?

  • Stephen P

    Is it just me, or does anyone else think that photo looks doctored?

    No, I see no reason to think so. Posed, yes, but not doctored. If you think the lighting looks a bit odd, it’s because the foreground is in shadow, and the photographer has used a fill-in flash.

    I’ll go along with Glen in saying that the idea of a drive-through nativity scene is pretty bizarre, and one to remember when theists next accuse atheists of lacking taste. And I’ll go along with everyone in unreservedly condemning the vandalism.

  • Ex Partiot

    This is totally wrong, and I hope none of the non believing community was responsible for this. I wouldn’t doubt if it wasn’t some of their own flock that did do it

  • Joe

    I’m inclined to believe that the vandalism was an act of criminal sociopathy rather than atheistic ideology, but whatever the reason, what a crappy thing to do. Kudos to Dale.

    And yes, I know: “atheism isn’t an ideology”. I don’t imply by the term “atheistic ideology” that atheism is an ideology–just that certain ideologies are based upon an atheistic premise.

  • I probably would help them restore the damaged nativity scene provided:

    A: I knew some of the church people who were victimized by the vandalism, and

    B: they don’t have a problem with me wearing my “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist” t-shirt while helping them.

    Of course, it’s one thing to sit at my computer and speculate as to how I might behave in some hypothetical situation, and what I would actually do if faced with such a situation–together with all the nuances that are missing from the hypothetical.

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