There's an early winter solstice surprise coming to a corner near you in Seattle, courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
You know, they're the folks who want to move the immaculately conceived fable of baby Jesus in the manger back to churches and out of the public square. Somehow, they think, it's not a good fit with the separation of state and church that America's founders wrote into the U.S. Constitution.
They also think this surprise is too good to keep under gift wrap, so here it is: Starting this week, the Foundation is sponsoring 100 ads on Seattle buses that say "Yes, Virginia, there is no God." That's coming straight from the Santa's mouth on the signs, 100 of which will be king-sized exterior ads, with about 300 smaller ads inside buses.
The interior ads feature six provocative quotations by five famous skeptics of history, plus a quote from perhaps the world's preeminent atheist, Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling "The God Delusion." The ad features Dawkin's comment from the book: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."
The ads also feature quotes from Emily Dickinson, Butterfly McQueen, Katharine Hepburn and Clarence Darrow, who famously said, "I don't believe in God, because I don't believe in Mother Goose." Actress Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy in "Gone with the Wind," said: "As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion." McQueen was a nearly lifelong atheist.
Obviously, the "Yes, Virginia" reference is a play on the famous question posed by 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon in 1897 to the New York Sun newspaper: "Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?"
The rest is history. In an unsigned editorial, the Sun's Francis P. Church (ouch!) wrote his "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" line, along with, "Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!"
Freethinkers and skeptics have a hard time with the belief thing, which is what's behind the ads, said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. "Most people think December is for Christians and view our solstice signs as an intrusion, when actually it's the other way around," he said. "People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the natural holiday from all of us humans."
The Foundation, which has more than 14,000 members, asks only that reason may prevail, all year round: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world," as the Foundation's sign said last year in the Washington State Capitol (resulting in a moratorium on all inside displays, per the Foundation's request).
Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, said the winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years in the Northern Hemisphere, with festivals of light, evergreen trees, feasts and gift exchanges.
"We nonbelievers don't mind sharing the season with Christians," Gaylor said, "but we think there should be some acknowledgment that Christians really 'stole' the trimmings of Christmas, and the sun-god myths, from pagans."
The bus signs are timed to be a "jolly and irreverent" greeting for the 600 Foundation members descending on downtown Seattle for the Foundation's 32nd annual convention Nov. 6-8, 2009.
Visit the convention page for details.