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Christmas symbols in public places
Posted: 05 December 2007 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:”

In this age of reason and tolerance, so far removed from the superstitious stone/bronze/iron age, why do humans continue to act the same?

I started to post this question in politics, but I moved it here. I don’t want this to be a political debate. I even remind other Christians that Christmas symbols are only affected by law when they are in/on government property, so who cares.

What I’m really asking, is why are humans so affected by symbols? I can understand the position of other religions. But atheists? Can this be discussed in philosophical terms, without the same old “having it shoved down our throats” explanation, which is actually part of the question, rather than an answer. Is atheism really NOT a religion, when it shares a Commandment with an ancient religion?

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Posted: 05 December 2007 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Are you assuming that atheism opposes all religious symbols, or even wants to seem them banned? No reasonable atheist would take that position. Leaving aside the First Amendment issues, there’s nothing offensive about religious symbolism in general. If any symbol is based on offensive concepts, religious or otherwise, the problem is the idea behind the symbol and not the symbol itself.

mcalpine - 05 December 2007 03:47 PM

What I’m really asking, is why are humans so affected by symbols?

Maybe we are simply a visually oriented species.

[ Edited: 05 December 2007 11:32 AM by Carstonio]
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Posted: 05 December 2007 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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mcalpine - 05 December 2007 03:47 PM

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:”

Is atheism really NOT a religion, when it shares a Commandment with an ancient religion?

It is an error to assert that modern objections to publicly-sanctioned displays of religious symbols in an ostensibly secular society amount to objections outlined in what is probably the most ridiculous of the ten commandments.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Eaton Shirdlu - 05 December 2007 04:32 PM

It is an error to assert that modern objections to publicly-sanctioned displays of religious symbols in an ostensibly secular society amount to objections outlined in what is probably the most ridiculous of the ten commandments.

Agreed. The larger problem is that fundamentalists twist such objections into hatred of religion. Similarly, when someone criticize fundamentalist doctrine or the hatred propagated by fundamentalist demagogues, they twist the criticism into hatred of Christians.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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mcalpine - 05 December 2007 03:47 PM

Can this be discussed in philosophical terms, without the same old “having it shoved down our throats” explanation, which is actually part of the question, rather than an answer.

Some in the political battle over the public face of religion seem unable to distinguish between the phrases “I’m entitled to free exercise” and “I’m entitled to shove it down your throat”. People who have grown used to the perks of cultural hegemony will find it difficult to give them up.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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“What I’m really asking, is why are humans so affected by symbols?”

semantics aside…

I am not sure why people are affected by symbols.  Maybe its a hold over from how our cognitive brain makes unconscious(spelling?) generalizations from sensory input.  Since the brain can’t evaluate every point of input and provide time necessary responses to our environment.  Symbols, many times provoke emotional responses and unless you critically analyze that emotional response to determine if it is accurate for the situation then you can have an inappropriate cognitive response.

On a side note on how usefull symbols and signs are. If you see a stop sign/symbol then you know you need to stop or that it might be wise to consider stopping.  If you see a xmas tree for example then you can make the judgement that xmas is celebrated/supported/endorsed(political rammifications) by the people in the vicinity of the sign.  Now take the xmas tree symbol and place it back in pagan babylon times and it would let you know that the people there believe that the son of baal will be coming soon(iirc, my mythology correctly).  Place the same xmas tree in (iirc) english druidic times and then you know that people are celebrating the fact that its the time of the year when daylight hours start to increase and dark hours decrease(winter festivals).

hope i didn’t ramble on to much.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Personally I don’t have any issues with Christian symbols at Christmas, other than the nauseating level of garishness and lack of style which they confer on people’s front gardens.

Seriously though I think very few atheists are particularly bothered by the symbols of Christianity - it’s the actual Christianity that’s so awful.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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“People who have grown used to the perks of cultural hegemony will find it difficult to give them up.”

Why would they have to give them up?

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Posted: 05 December 2007 09:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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“If any symbol is based on offensive concepts, religious or otherwise, the problem is the idea behind the symbol and not the symbol itself.”

Some people think the Confederate battle flag is representative of slavery. What offensiveness is the nativity scene representative of?

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Posted: 05 December 2007 09:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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“It is an error to assert that modern objections to publicly-sanctioned displays of religious symbols in an ostensibly secular society amount to objections outlined in what is probably the most ridiculous of the ten commandments.”

So despite what Carstonio says about “reasonable” atheists, there are indeed modern objections.

Why is the “graven image” commandment the most ridiculous?

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Posted: 05 December 2007 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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“The larger problem is that fundamentalists twist such objections into hatred of religion.”

When in reality, modern objections to religious symbols is what?

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Posted: 05 December 2007 09:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I once had a discussion about the appropriateness of placing the 10 commandments in court houses with a friend of mine, taking the position that if one was not of the Jewish or Christian faith that one might take issue with what is presented in them.

My friend then said, “the ten commandments aren’t specific to any one religion. They’re just rules to live by. They can apply to any faith.”

To which I replied, “ ‘I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have any gods before me.’  How can it be any more specific to one faith than that? And what if I’m a polytheist, like a Hindu or something? Kind of puts the kibosh on that.”

He didn’t have much of a reply to that.

[ Edited: 06 December 2007 04:13 PM by Celsus]
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Posted: 05 December 2007 11:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Good point. Didn’t the Taliban destroy a lot of historic statuary and so forth in Afghanistan?

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Posted: 06 December 2007 03:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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mcalpine - 06 December 2007 02:10 AM

Some people think the Confederate battle flag is representative of slavery. What offensiveness is the nativity scene representative of?

To be correct, the Confederate battle flag is representative of racist opposition to desegregation and civil rights. It wasn’t used much during the Civil War, and it only entered popular usage after the beginning of the civil rights movement. Many Southern states adopted the design into their state flags during the 1950s. (George Allen claimed that he assumed the flag was simply a symbol of rebellion, and that claim never seemed sincere to me, but he could have been telling the truth.)

The Nativity does not resemble anything offensive. My original comment had more to do with Noah’s Ark imagery, particularly in art intended for children. The art doesn’t show the full meaning of the Ark story. Plus, the idea behind large-scale crucifixes is troubling - the idea that people should feel guilty over the suffering of Jesus.

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Posted: 06 December 2007 03:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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mcalpine - 06 December 2007 02:14 AM

So despite what Carstonio says about “reasonable” atheists, there are indeed modern objections.

I assumed Eaton Shirdlu’s “publicly sanctioned” comment was about symbols on government property, involving a specific First Amendment issue, and not about symbols in general. Eaton, was that the case?

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Posted: 06 December 2007 03:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Celsus - 06 December 2007 02:30 AM

My friend then said, “the ten commandments aren’t specific to any one religion. They’re just rule to live by. They can apply to any faith.”

To which I replied, “ ‘I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have any gods before me.’  How can it be any more specific to one faith than that? And what if I’m a polytheist, like a Hindu or something? Kind of puts the kibosh on that.”

That’s the argument for why the Commandments should not be displayed in courthouses, and it’s a very good one. It’s not opposition to all religious symbols in general, which is what fundamentalists claim. Instead, it’s simply about a First Amendment principle since courthouses are government buildings.

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