Battling Billboards

CNN’s Belief Blog carries the beleaguered story of the Lincoln Tunnel billboard battles. Last month a billboard proclaiming that the Christmas story is a myth had been sponsored by American Atheists to try to raise awareness that not all commuters are Christian. In response, the billboard has now been rented by the Times Square Church and newly proclaims “God is” with a number of devotional qualifiers. ‘Tis the season of wearing one’s passions on one’s red sleeves with white trim. Since this is America, it must be writ large.

The recriminations fly like childhood accusations: “but s/he started it!” Can’t mature adults agree to disagree? In a world constantly filled with inequality and strife, religion is used as a cudgel to enforce uniformity. The holiday season is much more than various religions marking their territories. The symbolism of the return of light after a long descent into darkness is archetypical, no matter whether it is the finding of oil to light lamps, the birth of Jesus, or the triumph of Sol Invictus or any of a plethora of other celebrations. It should be something that all people are able to share.

It is the “other” that is feared: the groups who do not share our religious outlooks. “He who is not for us is against us.” It is much safer to slap the other with a billboard barrage than to have to look into the eyes of another human being and say, “I respectfully differ.” Instead of welcoming in the light, we dig further into darkness. The Manichean sensibilities are undiminished after all these centuries. Some would argue that all must be brought into conformity for peace to prevail. To them I say, “I respectfully differ.”

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