Thursday, March 16, 2006

Christmas Box Angel on public property

I usually don't like to dive into local politics, but I have to mention this because it fits in with so many things we have talked about on theis blog over the past few months.

A controversy is afoot in Oshkosh over placing religious symbols in our public park.

This strikes me not as a Christianist plot, but just a case of insensitivity. Whatever committee that approved of this statue simply could not fathom that people might be opposed to putting Christian symbols in public places. That this decision was made with almost no fanfare demonstrates how little the committee thought about the separation of church and state and the rights of minority groups.

Obviously, someone who thought this was a bad idea informed the freedom from religion foundation down in Madison, which decided to get involved.

It may, however, be transformed into an issue for the radical right--with our fair mayor pronouncing it a done deal on Tuesday--he is not even up for reelection this year!

Will we soon see this story on the national circuit? Will Bill O'Reilly denounce opposition to this idea as a satanic attack on the moral foundations of our country?

As the Northwestern editorialized this morning, why not just build the memorial on private property? Or will the mayor dig in his heel and waste our time and money on this issue?

Oshkosh Northwestern - Controversy continues over Christmas Box Angel statue


lammers said...

I am not a religious person; I do not believe in anything I cannot see. Ostensibly then, the freedom from Religion group is working on my behalf.

Except I thought the offer was a very nice jesture, and I was looking forward to having some more nice statuary in the park.

To me, an angel isn't so much a religious symbol the way a crucifix or star of David is. To me, angels are part of our general Western mythology, like leprechauns and fairies, or are symbolic of attributes such as freedom and hope. To me, it is no more a religious symbol than the plaque on the boulder already in the park marking the spot where Mass was first said in the area in the 17th Century.

I join you in resisting unwarranted intrusions of religion into public life, but I do not think this is one. I think this one should have been given a pass. Now that there is a fuss, I suppose the Northwestern's suggestion will be the best solution.

Lake Winneblogo said...

Tony Palmeri has posted several comments about this over on his blog

I think the talk about whether or not angels are religious symbols is a strange argument. It is going in a Christmas box. Are you then suggesting that Christmas has been denuded of all religious content (I suppose some did last winter).

Just because consumer culture has swept up religious symbols, doesn't mean that they lose their original significance. We live in a Christian society, so imagery from the bible should be taken in its Christian context. You know, intelligent design isn't explicitly Christian, but that charade didn't fly in court, either.

Maybe if a bunch of Buddhists wanted to put up an angel, the claim about lack of religous significance argument might fly. I haven't heard from the buddhists yet, but the letter writers to the paper are insisting on the Christian understanding of angels.

Janine said...

I don't see the problem with the angel going into the park. Christmas is a secular holiday as well as a Christian holiday, angels are also in both secular and Christian circles.

I'd have to disagree with you that this is an argument about seperation of church and state. I do believe that the seperation of church and state is about not allowing the state to promote one religion over another. I don't see the statue as a promotion of one religion over another.

lammers said...

>>Are you then suggesting that Christmas has been denuded of all religious content?<<

Well, it has for *me*. Just another pleasant holiday to be enjoyed in a purely secular fashion, much as the old Winter Solstice was celebrated.

I just think in any cause, it pays to choose one's battles wisely. This is such a small "affront" to church-state separation, that I would not exert any effort battling it. In my experience, it is the absolutist quashing of anything religious in public view that upsets so many religious people, and drives them into the clutches of agenda-driven demagogues. Going easy on minor things robs the demagogues of their power to influence the average believer.

From my front porch, I can see four churches, complete with crosses and other religious icons. Shall I demand that they erect high walls so I don't have to see them? Sure, they are on private property -- but they're *visible* from the street! If the city permits those things in plain view from a public thoroughfare, are they not supporting a particular religion??? (I hope you will find this argument as ludicrous as I do.)

Lake Winneblogo said...

We can always propose new hypotheticals about how far we can extend logical priniciples, but I think that this project is not one that should be simply ignored. Nobody put forward the motion to remove religious iconography from the park. Instead, just like with the RA in LaCrosse, it was a pushy prostyletizer who brought this issue to the forefront.

I actually think of this as more of a slippery slope analogy. In these times, with an aggressively assertive Christian right, to acquiesce on a small thing raises the question of what they will want next. If I accept a small memorial this year, what grounds to I have to oppose a bigger one next year, and then a Christianist agenda in the schools the year after that??

Especially now that this has come to light, if critics simply give in, the message will be that those opposed to Christianizing the public life of Oshkosh are easily cowed and can be shoved aside with impunity.