It's been said that getting atheists and free-thinkers to combine forces and form a cohesive political/social unit is like herding cats - not easy to do. I came across a terrific short film that was posted at The Friendly Atheist blog site. It is a film by Gregory Walsh in which he interviews several people while a Tree of Knowledge is planted at the Free Speech Zone in Philadelphia.
The Tree of Knowledge may be finding a new purpose as the symbol atheists and free thinkers have been searching for. On the plus side, free thinkers could use a powerful icon to symbolize their cause. It has the potential to do for free thinkers what the Menorah does for Jewish people and the nativity scene does for Christians - give them a symbol to rally around during the traditional American holiday season.
Such a move is not without controversy. Many religious people believe it would be distasteful to celebrate atheism at a time that has been traditionally recognized for celebrating the birth of Christ or the Hanukkah miracles. Atheists make the point that such a collusion has outlived its time claiming the holiday season should not be devoted to uniquely Christian or Jewish concerns. There is also the added pressure from church-state separation advocates to make certain public property doesn't promote or favor one religion over another. (In this broad sense, atheism is commonly construed to possess the benefits of a "religion.")
Personally, I like the idea of finding a sort of humanist trademark to identify our philosophical brand. I do have mixed feelings, however, about such a symbol being plucked from a widely recognized biblical source. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is, after all, the very thing God allegedly commanded Adam and Eve not to partake of (if you believe that sort of thing). It is not totally unreasonable to understand why some might find offense in this. Yet for the same reasons some might take offense, it may be a particularly appropriate symbol to use - atheists do in fact stand in direct opposition to core beliefs of the religious.
I am of the mind, however, that this need not be a problem. True diversity demands that in some ways we make allowances for one another. It does seems important that atheists be accommodated not for what they stand in opposition to - belief in god - but rather for that which they steadfastly support, e.g., the Affirmations of Humanism. Better to celebrate an affirmative ideal as opposed to a negativity.
There will no doubt always be those who vehemently oppose any normalization of atheism, free thought or humanism, but it seems clear that such normalizing would only serve to elevate the best of what our country stands for, and by the way, guarantees - freedom of expression. Not at all a bad ideal to celebrate.
3 years ago