Yes, Seattle, in early November you did get a surprise.
That’s when the Foundation, just ahead of its 32nd annual convention there, outfitted 100 Seattle buses with exterior ads saying “Yes, Virginia, there is no God,” coming straight from Santa’s lips.
Steve Benson, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic and grandson of former Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson, suggested the irreverent slogan and drew the accompanying artwork in which Santa is smiling jovially and wagging his finger in a friendly freethought reminder.
In an interview on Freethought Radio, Benson quipped that “It’s great this sign is going up on Seattle buses, because for too long Christians during this time of year have had a free ride.”
In addition, the Foundation bought 300 interior bus ads with six provocative quotations by five famous skeptics of history (turn to page 2 to see photographs), 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.”
Other quotes were from Emily Dickinson, Butterfly McQueen, Katharine Hepburn and Clarence Darrow.
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
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.”
Benson called the “Yes, Virginia” slogan “funny, true, provocative. That’s what billboards and cartoons do. You take simple concepts and you go for some jaw-dropping shock value, and that’s the power of art.
“I think it’s great we can push back against a mythological Jesus with a mythological Santa Claus. It’s a titanic battle of the cartoon characters: Jesus versus Santa, and Santa wins in Seattle.”
Of the sign vandalism, Benson said, “Christian vandals are obviously pretty fragile in their faith when a mythical cartoon Santa debunking their mythical cartoon Jesus so deeply offends them.”
The theme carries over to the Foundation’s newest Winter Solstice cards for freethinking friends and relatives. Featured are Benson’s full-color art, his Santa slogan and a message inside that says “Wishing you a splendid and secular Winter Solstice & New Year.”