A Suggested Alteration to the FFRF ‘Winter Solstice’ Poster June 4, 2012

A Suggested Alteration to the FFRF ‘Winter Solstice’ Poster

Several times in the last few years, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has attempted to put up a poster in government buildings across the country where a religious holiday display such as a nativity scene has been allowed. This has had mixed results, from the poster being outright refused, to being stolen, to being begrudgingly allowed, and now most recently, disallowed by a federal court because it was deemed to be too directly a rebuttal of the nativity scene. Here’s the original:

The merit or weakness of that court’s decision can be argued exhaustively, and it will likely be appealed, but that’s not the point I want to make here.

Although I’m a member of FFRF and I’m very pleased with much of the work they do, I’ve never been comfortable with the original poster written by Dan Barker, simply because it just seemed too Scroogey. It has nothing positive to offer other than “may reason prevail,” which is good, but much of the rest of the text seems bitter and condemning.

I got the impression that it was intended to be so awful that it would hopefully discourage allowing any religious displays in government buildings in order to avoid having to allow that one. Perhaps my impression is not correct, but if that is the underlying goal, I don’t think it will succeed. More likely, atheist displays will increasingly be allowed alongside religious displays, and so I think it would be to our advantage to start offering positive messages instead of just “Bah, humbug!”

Yes, I agree that what the original poster says is true and correct, but perhaps it’s time to move beyond that to making positive statements about what we support rather than just what we condemn, and to affirm that during the coldest, most challenging season for all people, atheists can be a source of guidance, encouragement, and practical assistance for everyone and anyone.

I have no idea if Mr. Barker has ever shown any interest in changing his message. It would be nice to hear from him. Here’s a graphic that I very quickly threw together, so please forgive the visual or textual imperfections. What do you think of the general idea and spirit of this?

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  • Michael Brice

    Doesn’t that only work in the northern hemisphere? Wouldn’t Aussie atheists have to edit the poster?

  • It is far better , I still say short and sweet would be better.   Then 1st and last line would make a big statement and win more hearts.

  • I agree with that sentiment completely (although I can be quite aggressive myself from time to time). It is time for atheists to show a positive side and display thoughts on the things that are important in life – compassion for family and other people, nature and learning. And most importantly, we are good without god.

  • The Aussies are infidels!! LOL 😉

  • I like your version better, Richard. The message is positive but at the same time subtly subversive by seizing the moral high ground (viz. our message is to show compassion all year round). Lovely.

  • Cassie

    I like it very much.  It has the right kind of positive message.  I would feel proud to be represented by it.

  • it’s a lovely notion. but far too intellectual. you’re talking about people who reject physics, evolution, and archaeology. they don’t care about the science, they care about the superstition. 

    they will not be succored or consoled by this message. they will still hate us for saying it. reason does not rule them, that is indeed why we oppose them. 

  • Guest

    I like it.  I don’t think many others will appreciate the facts pertaining to temperature changes though.  I’d like to see historical reasons why certain symbols are in use, such as cutting down pine trees or the significance of the Winter Solstice, etc.  Most people have some inclination why it is hotter in summer and colder in winter, even if their ideas are wrong (the Earth is farther away during winter), so we aren’t making much headway with facts like that.

  • Erincurticeauthor

    I think that is awesome.

  • Sarah T.

     Aussie’s still have a winter solstice – it’s just in July (I think), so they can post this poster then, and a different poster at Christmas 🙂

  • Sarah T.

    I like this poster a bit, and I like the idea of a whole series of posters with winter science (in the northern hemisphere) or summer science (in the southern hemisphere).

  • I like this somewhat, but I think using this or the original depends on what our goal is.  If we are trying to get religious displays taken off public property, then I think the objectionable one might be better, along with a really big shiny statue of the FSM.  Something that people want to be rid of, so much that they might be willing to take down their precious mangers to acheive it.

    If this is going in a display on private property, or someplace where there is no dispute, and we are actually trying to reach people, then I like yours better.  Although perhaps we should shorten it, since people are likely to skip too much text.  Maybe something like “The REASON for winter is the axial tilt of the Earth.”  Not sure that’s the right phrasing, but shorter is often more effective.

  • Johannsone

    “making positive statements about what we support rather than just what we condemn”The above ALL day long. Tired of being bullied from both sides.

  • Fentwin

    I’m probably mistaken about this, but here it is; 

    The phrase “…may reason prevail” implies reason as being the ability to use logical, analytical thought processes.  The second phrase “The reason it’s colder in the winter…” suggests reason as being a description, an explanation for some event.

    Thats the only reason I think the new version of the FFRF could be criticized. Maybe we could reason out a different example.

    But hey, what do I know. I’ll be over…uh..over here, in the corner hoping no one starts throwing things at me. 🙂

  • This is southern hemispherisist!

  • But that’s not correct.  The reason that the weather is colder is that the sunlight is striking the ground at a more oblique angle, delivery the same amount of energy over a wider area, or, conversely, less energy over the same area.  

    And Sarah T., Australia’s winter solstice is exactly when we have our summer solstice, between June 20th and 22nd.

    Come on.  We’re supposed to be the smart ones.

  • scienticien

    Hmmm you can’t say “the reason is because”. 

  • Yes, I much prefer the new one. Only I still like ‘Christmas’ – I think atheists in the UK generally don’t have a problem with the term (I seem to recall Dawkins saying ‘Happy Christmas’ to someone on the TV). I can understand, however, why you might prefer ‘Winter Solstice’.

  • Daniel

    Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season!

  • Axial tilt: The Reason for the Season

  • Pete084

    I’d prefer to point out that the winter solstice is a Pagan ritual hijacked by Pope  Julius in 350 AD, and Jesus wasn’t born in December at all!

  • This is a much better message than the original. And, given that so few people understand how the seasons work, it would be hugely educational too.

    Given a little work on the grammar (it’s not bad, but could use a tweak or two), I think this would be an excellent poster. You should send it to FFRF.

  • Saying that the sun does not rise high in the sky implies the more oblique angle, but it’s an easier concept for lay people to understand. They know that it’s cooler in the early morning and late afternoon than it is at noon.  There is no perfect way to explain this briefly, and this single sentence is already 45 words long, coming close to many people’s TLDR threshold for a poster.

    I make a living explaining this very phenomenon and other scientific ideas to children, and to do it adequately, so their eyes light up and their heads nod with comprehension I have to use an orrery, a lamp held at different angles over a table, several step-by-step sentences, and a lot of gestures.

  • You’re safe from me. I deliberately highlighted both uses of “reason” in red to tie the two meanings of “reason” together.  “Reason,” as in rational, careful thinking, and “reason” as in an observable cause of something are linked. They support each other. We use them back and forth to understand the world around us.

    That was my reason…ing.

  • Me, I’d go much simpler, more direct and below-the-belt:

    “Even Atheists believe in Santa Claus.    Happy Holidays.”

  • Hmmm. Love the sentiment, but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I can’t really see this going on a greeting card or being sung by humanist choirs. And it doesn’t really hit any emotional pockets, which is what religion manages to do so effectively (“Jesus was born in the manger for YOU”, and so forth). This message still seems to be defined in religious terms, albeit anti-religious. This is responding to religious propaganda, against what the theists are saying. What is *our* positive message?

  • Annie

    Although I love the spirit in which the poster was made, I too must humbly object to the phrase of the sun “does not rise high in the sky”.  Due to children’s egocentric nature, their daily observations of the sun “moving” around the earth, and simple phrases like “the sun rising or setting”, many children have the alternative conception that the sun does indeed revolve around the Earth.  Alternative conceptions are often very persistent and resistant to change, especially when personal observations reinforce them.  For conceptual change to occur, children need to be exposed to multiple experiences and demonstrations (like the one you mention above with a lamp and orrery).  I would have a difficult time getting behind a sign that even remotely may support misconceptions.  But, I do think it is an excellent idea and would be much less threatening to a religious display.

  • However, it also overlooks the fact that the days are much shorter because of that low solar path, and that’s at least as significant in creating the colder days as is the larger area that the Sun’s energy is spread out over.

  • John Purcell

    How About Simply:

    “It’s Christmas everyone, lighten up! Christmas is not only the Season for Reason, it is also the season for Good Humor. Sure, you may believe in Father Christmas, or the Baby Jesus or The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    But we are all Humorous Humans. So this Christmas Season, why don’t we all forget about shoving each others beliefs down each others’ throats, and grab the closest human next to you and wish him or her a Good Cheer! “

    Or something like that. Admittedly, it’s off the cuff, and I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. About as much thought as Christians put into their greetings.

  • Sarah T.

     Being smart does not preclude having a bad memory, and being too lazy to look up a fact that bears no relevance to the central point (which was that there is a winter solstice in the southern hemisphere). The fact that it’s directly opposite our own is even demonstrated in Wade’s poster.

  • I think it loses its purpose in simply becoming a physics lesson (and one that most people won’t get). It should actively challenge the more conventional reason for the season, and should do so more philosophically and less scientifically (and I say this as a professional physicist).

    It should state that the winter solstice is the reason holidays have been celebrated at this time for thousands of years. That at this time we can all celebrate the annual change of the Sun’s path across the sky, bringing back longer, warmer days. It can acknowledge the symbols of the evergreen tree, the holly, the colored lights, the gift giving, and all the other things that derive from ancient solstice celebrations. In short, it can stand against Christmas, but without being as negative or confrontational as the current sign.

  • As I said, there’s no perfect way to explain this briefly. The shorter hours of daylight takes much more explaining than all the rest of it. I know, I’ve done this thousands of times, and my goal has always been to hone the explanation down to its most effective and most efficient form. It ain’t easy. This poster has to be somewhere between a billboard and a pamphlet. Too brief, and they don’t get it. Too long, and they don’t read it.

  • Tracie

    Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Reason’s greetings!

  • I think that is a definite improvement.

  • Here’s the problem with the poster as I see it:  If you’re doing it to be included while the faith-heads all get together on public property and talk about their fantasy characters with each other, then what is the point of that?  If your message isn’t “This misuse of public space is a disgrace.  (See, First Amendment.)  There is no God”  then why bother?  

    I don’t see why a group devoted to Freedom From Religion should have a message in response to the misuse of public space other than “can we please be free from religion.”  

    Further, the idea of substituting these amorphous, feel-good stuff (compassion, respect.. hell, reason) is suspect.  If this is a statement from Atheists, then the core message should be: “There is no god(s).”  My concerns regarding compassion and respect and when they should be employed do not spring from my atheism, but from my morality.  Further, I value reason for itself, not because it is somehow supposed to be connected with atheism. 

    If you are trying too hard to be liked, you run the risk of being ignored.

  • Or a two parter, on the left, a pic of Santa, under it:

    “Your parents told you he came and gave you wonderful things.  They did it to protect you from the harsh realities of the world.  He doesn’t really exist.” 

    And on the right, put a pic of Jesus, under it:

    “Same here.” 

  • I’m more inclined to make the opposition object to a Christmastime hymn to Santa.   That’s how they got the holiday in the first place–stealing it from an earlier mythology.

  • Lokicleo

    Brilliant! Much Better. More positive, more engaging, and I really like the contrast of the educational sign against what I would assume would be the usual barnyard manger and/or cartoonish santa/reindeer backdrop. 

    But… I do think it needs a different header. I bet many people immediately associate ‘winter solstice’ with paganism or the war on xmas.  They won’t get past line 2.  This is a great message – you want them to read all of it.  You could go with just winter? In the darkness of winter..? Maybe that’s too creepy. I’m sure somebody here can think of a great one…

    Very cool idea though & a vast improvement over the original. 

  • That message is without hope and without God.  http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

  • Pisk_A_Dausen

    I agree with toning down the Scroogey-ness of the original. But while I like this suggestion, it sort of gives the impression of saying “despite what some people tell you, this is how it really works”. Which would work better if the local majority religion claimed that Gaia wants to give her children a chance to nap, or that Jesus likes to turn down the thermostat in heaven for a few months every year.

    How about some heathenification of the so-called Christian celebration? “The reason we give each other gifts at this time of the year… [insert something about Saturnalia here]”. It would tie in nicely with the last message too: Be generous and giving all year round.

  • Patterrssonn

    And no jolly fat elves or flying reindeer.

  • I hate to provide any fuel whatsoever, but it’s kind of ironic that that link always comes with nothing else.  No input, no comment, no discussion, no engagement, just one way spamming of a link.

    Much as  I usually disagree with the theists who comment on here, they’re at least capable of engaging in a discussion.  We might go around in circles, but they’re trying.  I think they’re interested in making a point, and even, yes,  listening to points. 

  • Matt O’Neal

    Well done, and I agree with most that the current one is a bit Scroogy. But also, when we see a Christian sign reminding us to remember the “reason for the season,” I don’t think they’re talking about the winter. I think they’re talking about the Christmas season. At least that’s what I always thought they were talking about.

  • Here’s my suggestion:

    This Holiday Season
    You may be asking yourself

    Why get together with friends and family?
    Why exchange gifts?
    Why share special meals?
    Why be kind to strangers?
    Why give to charity?
    Why sing old favorite songs?
    Why relive old family traditions?

    Pleasure is its own reward.
    A holiday message from [atheist organization]

  • Patterrssonn

    Generally I leave the theists alone unless they’re being offensive, but I looked at his fella’s blog and it’s beyond ridiculous apparently he’s going to fight atheism in the “arena of truth”, by which he means he’s going to quote the bible.

  • LKL

    I like the new version very much. It’s more about what we’re *for,* instead of what we’re *against.*  If nothing else, the FFRF could submit both and allow the public entity in question to choose one or the other; it would take the wind out of the sails for claims of ‘inflexibility’ or ‘anti-religious bias.’ 

  •  That’s… reasonable.

    I do like the changed poster, though I’d probably go with the symbolism angle, as suggested by Guest (here).

  •  I like it.

  • I am a fan of Richard Wade and also a fan of FFRF.

    I like the FFRF version better.

    The proposed revision appeals to my science geek side, but it is too intellectual (they will just consider us being ‘elitist’) and would fail to get the immense media coverage that occurs in response to FFRF’s in-your-face version.

    The FFRF blasphemous version shows that it is possible to opening criticize religion, giving it no undue respect. In that way, it helps break the spell that would otherwise say that religions are beyond open critique.

    Thus, for both getting media coverage and for breaking the taboo regarding openly criticizing religions, I like the FFRF version better.

  • Kodie

    Yeah, I don’t know why they don’t just point out that religious displays deserve no place on public ground, but go ahead and enjoy your holiday festivities on private property.  The original sign is kind of awkward, if they were trying for the judge to guess what their goal was, they missed. I don’t think the axial tilt is the reason people have parties and buy presents for each other. It may have been originally, but Christian propriety of the season at the expense of everyone else is the reason it got to be unavoidable, in the way that many towns still see nothing wrong with displaying nativity sets on town hall property and people who don’t like it as waging a war on the whole holiday. Yes, even atheists can be sentimental people who enjoy exchanging gifts and spending time with their families, and stores like making money. Nobody likes being cold and fighting crowds and drunky handsy at the office party, ok, some people like any or all that especially and hate their families! Whatever!

    There shouldn’t be a nativity scene on public property – if the option proposed to FFRF was their version of a holiday display to be “all fair” and keep the creche, it wouldn’t be the worst to just use this opportunity to point out the inappropriateness of the religious displays. Of course, it seems they were going for whole-hog atheism, “there are no gods,” being very specific and joyless about it. It’s not joyless to be an atheist, not even at Christmas, and while I like the scientific demonstration about why it’s cold at that time, well, the first one was better in a lot of ways. Atheism is not a religion. I would hate for people to get or persist in some idea that it is. Earth’s tilt – non sequitur. The mean one was relevant, but mean. To stand alongside an inappropriate exclusive display that some people see as mean, maybe it should be a little mean. An infant Jesus born in a manger isn’t mean, people will say. Well, that little baby grew up to tell us we’re all going to hell. He’s not real! There is no hell! Have some pie!

  • Runswithforks

    I think just saying, “Atheists celebrate family and friends this time of year too,” would be enough. Hell, we could just put up a sign that said, “Atheism;it’s good stuff” and we would be accused of scroogery.

  • NickDB

    I like it, unfortunately think it will go over the heads of most of the intended audience.

    How about

    Jesus said love your neighbour.

    He didn’t say love your neighbour except for him and him.

    Brought to you by the Freedom of Religion Foundation.

    Let’s start hijacking their messages and putting them all over the place. Next time they’re in church and hear it, some of them might start thinking of us.

  •  That’s a very broad brush you’re swinging Ms. Dyke

  • The use of the word “reason” indicates a poor understanding of human nature. Everyone thinks they are reasonable. Everyone will reject being called unreasonable. It’s akin to calling people stupid.

    If the purpose is to demonstrate that atheists are annoying then I say bravo FFRFers!

  • T-Rex

    And if the brush fits, wear it.

  • T-Rex

    How about a list of holiday traditions and their origins? That way everyone would see that hardly any of the reasons for the holiday are Christian in origin. You can include the solstice as a reason too. They can’t argue about that as it will simply be a list of FACTS.

  • The point is not to create a pleasant little display that can sit next to
    the nativity and not offend anyone.  FFRF would prefer that there are NO
    religious displays on government property.  If the city wants to include a
    nativity scene, then FFRF seeks to include their somewhat rude sign as a form of
    silent protest.  I say good for them!  Occasionally, we need to make
    others feel uncomfortable to make our point. 

  • Lesson in the science that underpins the origins of the various Saturnalia is interesting but won’t play while the 99 1/2% are anticipating the holiday partying. Doubt it would play in Hawaii, either, just because it’s where it is. Do like and prefer suggestions for less belligerent  language which is in keeping with what people traditionally want to feel like in this season; that sort of reasonable sentiment would get more attention and might even go to help humanize the attitude of more passersby to the people setting up the posters.

  • We are made from the dust of the stars
    and the ocean flows through our veins,
    This Winter Solstice may we be reminded that
    deep down we are all the same,
    and to let reason prevail 
    in our journey to find a path that leads us
    closer to the heart.
    Happy Holidays
    A message from the Athiest Community

  • JakeR

    Delete “because that is when” as redundant.

  • Fundamentally, the idea that a sign could be rejected because it was “too directly a rebuttal of the religious statue” is probably an unconstitutional one.  It is viewpoint discrimination, which only permits positive views and, thus, unconstitutionally endorses reglion (or unconstitutionally rejects atheism, if that makes any difference).  If people don’t like a sign that says, “Baby Jesus, if he existed at all, was just a person no different than anyone.  There is no god(s)” then that is the risk the municipality opens itself up to by allowing any such displays.  

    The point is that the science and all the rest are simply irrelevant and poses the risk of distracting from the main point, out of fear of being disliked.   

  • That would be all well and good, if you can disprove that the world is flat and that the reason it gets colder is because God wants to balance out the hot from the rest of the year.

    I mean, have you ever seen the earth from space to confirm that it’s round? 

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