The Tacoma News Tribune decided to editorialize in its news section with a headline (in its online edition at least) out today, about the squabble over religious-related signage at the Washington statehouse: "What hath atheism wrought? A mess".
There's a mess, all right. But (a) the editor might want to rethink who created it, and (b) whether it's a mess that really constitutes a problem.
The whole story is too long for recapitulation here; either the TNT or AP version offer straightforward rundowns of the facts. For many years a Christmas tree (now officially a "holiday tree") has been placed at the Statehouse by the Association of Washington business. One year a Jewish group, noting the presence of the essentially Christian display at the public building, sought to provide a presentation reflecting its seasonal holidays as well. Thereafter the door was essentially opened - presumably under the sound principle that if you allow one private interest, you shouldn't discriminate against others - to whoever wanted to deliver a display. This year, an atheist display (provided by an organization based at Madison, Wisconsin, but petitioned for by a Mason County woman) was set up as well, saying among other things "Religion is but myth and superstition." Which has led to counterpoints from the Christians.
This modest local tempest went much bigger once it arrived at the notice of cable gasbag Bill O'Reilly, he of the war-on-Christmas fantasy: "There is no reason whatsoever to allow an anti-religious sign to be posted alongside a Christmas display." (How about this: Is there any reason the non-religious people of Washington state should be required to provide support and protect for a religious display but explicitly not for others?) By the way, notice in this clip how O'Reilly specifically takes after Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, but not Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who alongside Gregoire said that the atheist display should be allowed if the religious displays are.
(Shorter O'Reilly: Your civil rights in this country are on a sliding scale, depending on how much of a minority you are in. Atheists poll as a small minority=Far fewer rights than Christians, who poll in larger numbers.)
That, of course, resulted in increased visiting to the site of the controversy (a political Lourdes?) and eventually theft of the atheist display. Which was eventually dropped off, by persons unknown, at a radio station. Throughout, the whole deal has become quite the hot story - far outpacing the massive state budget cuts or other, you know, substantive developments - in Olympia.
How much of the hoorah is the doing of the atheists? Suppose for a moment that they had delivered their sign, and no one from the opposition said anything about it. Result: No (or very little) coverage, no crowds, no Bill O'Reilly. (Remember: The Statehouse in Wisconsin has had a similar display on display for more than a decade, to little attention.) Suppose someone - presumably though we don't know for sure one of the Christian activists - hadn't walked off with the display? Far less media attention and coverage. The uproar isn't what the atheists, or atheism, wrought: It evolved courtesy of the other side of the fence.
Beyond all that . . . what's the harm in the discussion? Apart from the (temporary) theft, no damage seems to be done here. Some discussion is being engendered, and maybe some educating is going on. Nothing harmful in that.
And last we checked, Christmas is still scheduled to arrive on the 25th.