As Toby Benson alluded to yesterday, there is a display in the hall of the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, across from a nativity scene.
It is a simple, modestly lettered sign which reads: At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
As you might expect, Bill O’Reilly is losing his shit. He has spent the last two days of his radio and television programs publicly ranting about the modest sign, which sits in the Capitol on the opposite side of a giant bust of George Washington from the nativity scene. Yesterday on The Radio Factor he described the sign as “an insult,” and today it was “an outrageous attack” that ought to offend “all the good people.” Lis Wiehl, O’Reilly’s radio co-host and token liberal (her actual role on the program is to continually absorb abuse and ridicule from the host), called the display “hateful.”
“Atheists are what, four or five percent of the population? They want parity with Christians!” O’Reilly exclaimed yesterday on the radio, using the familiar tone most favored by demagogues when they feel threatened by encroaching out-groups — immigrants, followers of strange foreign religions, or opponents of religious belief in general — and attempt to incite the hysterical masses to join their cause.
Legally speaking, atheists already have parity with Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and Wiccans, and every other religious demographic. One’s right to publicly express religious beliefs is not determined by how many people believe likewise. If atheists accounted for 10% of the American population, or 15% or 30%, would that lessen his objection? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Clearly, some people are offended by the placard. But why? What about the sign’s message makes it insulting, specifically to Christians? No religion is named on the sign. It merely argues that there is nothing beyond our natural world. What is it about this that religious zealots find so inflammatory? Or have I answered my own question?
Is it a hateful attack on someone’s beliefs to state the inarguable fact that astrology is a load of horseshit, that the particular zodiacal arrangement in the sky at the time of one’s birth has no influence whatsoever on how one’s life unfolds? Of course not. Neither is it to argue for reason over other superstitions. Are Jews guilty of insulting Christians by denying the deity of Jesus? It’s a ludicrous suggestion. Why then are atheists condemned for denying the existence of any deity? They hold their beliefs just as earnestly as any religious person, and come by them just as honestly.
O’Reilly continues to be one of the most irritating and fascinating figures in the popular media. Normally, people like him are said to have a messiah complex, or a hero complex, but with O’Reilly I think it’s something different. He’s got a Bad, Bad Leroy Brown complex. He’s obsessed with being the baddest man in the whole damn country, and he’s convinced himself that’s exactly what he is. On his radio show today, still foaming at the mouth over the atheist display, he declared “If that sign stays up, I’ll have to say that I just won’t go to Washington.” He softened a moment later: “Well, no, just the western part. No reason to punish the entire state.”
He was talking about “punishing” the State of Washington. By denying them his presence.
If I could say one thing to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who has presumably been inundated by complaints from O’Reilly’s small but strident and easily led audience, and who today O’Reilly declared to be incompetent and unworthy of her office in half a dozen other ways merely for allowing the atheist sign to reside in her Capitol, it would be this: Keep doing what you’re doing. Bill O’Reilly is a bully. I have known his kind all my life. Let him hold his breath and kick his feet and make absurd threats. He wants attention and vindication. Ignoring him gives him neither, and it’s neither that he deserves.