Although I am an atheist, I am not an angry one. Like Rabbi Michael Gotlieb, I do not feel threatened by the Nativity scenes that for nearly 60 years were put up in Santa Monica's Palisades Park. But if Gotlieb really thinks there should be Nativity scenes during the holiday season, why not erect some around his own Westside Congregation?
If Gotlieb thinks this might be offensive to his congregation or regarded as an inappropriate expenditure of contributions, perhaps he can understand the reaction of residents who are atheists, Muslims, Hindus or others to Christian displays on public property.
One need not feel threatened by these displays to regard them as inappropriate for a public park. Indeed, his essay suggests it is Christians who are feeling threatened by atheists rather than the other way around.
James M. Smith
Amen to Gotlieb for grasping the sad irony regarding the Nativity scenes in Santa Monica: This Christmas, intolerance has trumped tolerance.
Religion belongs in the public square, especially when people of different faiths reach beyond their beliefs to discover common ground. That's exactly what the Santa Monica Nativity scenes did for nearly six decades of exemplary interdenominational cooperation. Requiring such a diverse community to restrict their broad-minded display to private property has constrained the message of tolerance that once transcended each of their properties for the benefit of all.
Santa Monica's leaders should have invited all faith groups, along with nonsectarian groups, to celebrate their multiple holidays and feasts in the public square throughout the year. That would have continued and expanded Santa Monica's tradition of tolerance. Perhaps next year, better alternatives can be found to show respect for all.
While I agree with Gotlieb that public space should not be used for anti-religious messages, the point he misses is that neither should public space be used to support religious views. If church and state are truly separate, religious messages should at least be confined to church property.
The rabbi paints all atheists in a negative light, just as he claims atheists do to theists. I for one am an atheist who merely wants the right to be free from religion while recognizing the rights of others to practice theirs on their own property.
For years I avoided admitting that I'm an atheist. When I finally came out of the religious closet, some friends asked how a nice person like me could hold such a repugnant view. We will all be richer when religious freedom also entails equal respect for the views of atheists.
Gotlieb doesn't seem to consider the reasons for atheists' newfound militancy. Back in the day when atheists closeted their opinions, American religiosity had begun taking its current form. The benevolent Jimmy Carter's public testaments of his born-again Christianity marked the beginning of the modern evangelical movement.
Religious institutions in America allied themselves with politicians and became more muscular in their determination to enforce their social values. A more militant atheism arose in response to our secular country being taken over by the newly emboldened churches.