Monday, March 29, 2010

Progress in the Public Religious Displays Debate

When I post geography-centric news I mostly post about my current residence of San Diego, but there's a relevant news item from my home town of Reading, Pennsylvania. There's an old fire tower overlooking town, and every year at Easter the city lights up a cross on it.

I've been following this story not only out of nostalgia for good old Pennsylvania Dutch country, but as an index of public attitudes about improper government endorsements of religion in more conservative parts of the U.S. And of course, no matter where you are in the U.S. today, this sort of thing couldn't go on forever without a challenge. For the past couple years, it's been disputed legally and rhetorically. This year the city is lighting it up but is shortening the period it's lit from 40 to 8 days (that's progress of some sort). It's relevant to mention that Reading is an exurb of Philadelphia and while I can say I never felt intolerance or "oppression" of my open atheism as I was growing up, central PA is a conservative part of the country where people's attitudes might require a bit more consideration before they change. (My relatives might read this so I had to put that diplomatically.)

It's exactly because of PA's innate conservatism that I'm most encouraged by the tone in my hometown paper's online discussion forum. Last year I waded in to argue my point and it was clear that most of the impassioned pro-cross folks were shocked and outraged that the cross was being questioned; they just didn't seem ready for that, and there were only a couple secular voices among them.

This year it's different. More secular voices, but even more encouraging, more reasonable pro-Separation theists, and more openness from Christians to the idea that maybe they don't have a unique right to have their symbol up there on public property to the exclusion of everyone else. Slowly but surely, people are getting it. What's more important than deverting people is getting people to understand the importance of secular government. And all our "education" and public discourse is slowly but surely making a positive difference. Good news! Inspiring, even!


TGP said...

The guy who responded to your comment today calls himself "Tard."


Michael Caton said...

Perhaps even more sadly, I still think this represents progress.

TGP said...

Sometimes it's really hard to tell if it's two steps forward and one step back or one step forward and two steps back.