This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. For readers who haven’t been around the past couple of weekends, I have brought back “This Week in God” as a regular Saturday feature. The weekly piece highlights some of the news from the world of religion, most notably instances in which faith intersected with politics and/or public policy. TWIG was on hiatus during the height of the election season, but by popular demand, it’s back.

First up from the God Machine, there’s an increasingly bitter controversy in Olympia, Wash., over a winter holiday display. (thanks to reader M.W. for the heads-up)

An atheist group has unveiled an anti-religion placard in the state Capitol, joining a Christian Nativity scene and “holiday tree” on display during December.

The atheists’ sign was installed Monday by Washington members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group based in Madison, Wis.

With a nod to the winter solstice — the year’s shortest day, occurring in late December — the placard reads, in part, “There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

This, as one might imagine, has not gone over well among the faithful in Washington’s capital. Earlier this week, Bill O’Reilly blasted local officials for allowing non-Christians to have access to an public holiday display, and condemned Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) as “weak” for not discriminating against the atheist group. (Gregoire has said she doesn’t like the atheists’ sign but explained, “This is not about my personal religion. This is about the First Amendment and respecting views that I don’t necessarily agree with.”) Soon after, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s placard was stolen and thrown into a ditch.

A temporary replacement with an identical message has been put in its place. This one will include an attached note that reads, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A state representative in Kentucky is upset because Gov. Steve Beshear issued a Homeland Security report last month that didn’t credit God for keeping the state safe in its mission statement. State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister and a Democrat, expects Beshear to “fix” this oversight promptly.

* The Episcopal Church is in the midst of an enormous shift, with conservatives trying to break off and form their own rival denomination. The fissure began with the ordination of an openly gay bishop five years ago, and the move now “threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian body.”

* And finally, state Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah has introduced legislation that would officially urge all retailers in the state to use and promote the phrase “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Buttars explained, “I’m sick of the Christmas wars — we’re a Christian nation and ought to use the word.” As a friend of mine explained, “[I]t’s amusing to see right-wing Republicans, who normally adopt a hands-off attitude toward regulating business, trying to force retailers to use certain terms in their ads or in-store greetings…. As Jim Olsen of the Utah Retail Merchants Association pointed out, Buttars’ plan isn’t even practical. Many stores these days are owned by national chains, he noted, and decisions about ads and language used is made at home offices, far from Utah.”