A few months ago, I was friended on Facebook by a gentleman whom I didn't know, but who shared with me an interest in history and genealogy. I accepted his request, figuring that in this day of electronic social media this could be a way to meet new friends. (And in fact, there are Facebook friends of mine that I've never met in person, and who over time have become friends in the older, conventional definition of the word.)
A couple of days ago, this gentleman posted a photograph of a sign that said, "Merry Christmas! One Nation Under God. Disagree? Don't Let The Border Hit You On The Ass On Your Way Out." I posted a comment underneath saying, "Seriously? We atheists should just leave?"
He responded only by making the photograph his profile picture.
I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to this. "Unfriending" him seems justified, but doesn't that just make it even less likely that he'll ever see what the problem is? His seeming unwillingness to engage -- the fact that he didn't even respond to my comment -- is probably indicative of the fact that had he responded, it probably would have only been to tell me to go to hell in any case.
I find it disturbing how hard it can be for people of all stripes to remain civil these days. Maybe it's always been this way, I don't know; but it seems, although admittedly I have no factual basis for this, to be getting worse and worse. My general feeling is that most Christians are tolerant and moderate, and have no particular wish to dictate other people's beliefs; and most agnostics and atheists would respond to a hearty "Merry Christmas!" from a store clerk with a smile and a thank you, giving back the kindness based on its intention and taking no offense at some imagined assumption of religiosity. A small but growing minority, on the other hand, seem determined to make this into some sort of war, and everyone is getting increasingly skittish.
Much has been made about whether the United States was founded as a "Christian nation," and with amazing facility people dredge up quotes from the Founding Fathers supporting their contention that clearly George Washington and the rest intended the USA to be a theocracy. Or didn't. Or didn't have any intention of addressing it at all. In my opinion, however, all of this historiography misses the point; it's largely irrelevant what the Founding Fathers believed regarding this issue. Consider some of the other things that the Founding Fathers believed -- that women should not be allowed to vote, that slavery was acceptable (and that slaves, for census purposes, counted as "3/5 of a person"), and that it was justified to appropriate land from the Native Americans. We have abandoned all of those beliefs as unethical, immoral, and inappropriate for our day and age, with no yammering on about the fact that "the USA was founded as a nation where women couldn't vote!" (Ladies, don't let the border hit you in the ass on your way out!)
The relevant question, here, is only whether the USA should be run as a theocracy now. Should there, given the diversity of beliefs (and non-belief) we currently have, be prayer in schools? A religious test for holding public office? Should we be expecting that public officials mention their relationship with Jesus at every opportunity? Or should we accept the fact that we are now, and have been for quite some time, a patchwork quilt of Christians (of denominations liberal to conservative), Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and probably a hundred others, where to mandate belief, even tacitly, would be not only unjust but an impossibility?
How about this instead: let's focus on tolerance. Despite my reputation as a militant atheist, I honestly don't have a problem with what you believe or don't believe -- until you start using those beliefs to change public policy, to create laws that force those beliefs on others, or to justify acting like a boor. Diversity of thought should enrich, not impoverish, a nation, and the War on Christmas foolishness only further divides us, cementing the "if you're not one of us, screw you" mentality that has done us nothing but harm in the past.
As far as my Facebook "friend:" I think I'll just let him be. Maybe after reading this, he'll unfriend me -- who knows? But until that point, I'll wish a Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate it, a Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends, Happy Holidays to anyone who prefers that mode of address, and to the rest of you, a simple wish for Peace on Earth, and Good Will Toward... Everyone.