How Bill O’Reilly Inspired a Humanist Holiday Sculpture

Screengrab via Fox News

A few years ago, The O’Reilly Factor reached out to me with a last-minute invitation to come on the show and talk about the alleged “War on Christmas.”

I was ready to turn down their offer, thinking the conversation wouldn’t be very productive. But then I called my mom, who occasionally watches Fox News (with a critical eye), to get her thoughts.

She told me I had to do it. It was an opportunity to show another side of atheism to their audience, she said; an opportunity to directly communicate with a significant number of people who might be inclined to see us as enemies. So with her encouragement, I accepted the invitation.

During our conversation, host Bill O’Reilly asked what I thought about some nonreligious groups and individuals responding to the presence of religious holiday symbols in public by putting up anti-religious banners.

My first thought was that the separation of church and state, and efforts to protect it, are vital. But as I thought about his question, it also occurred to me that I’d like to see more nonreligious people respond by working to create things that reflect our values. While it’s important to advocate for secular government, humanists have much more to offer than pushing back against the presence of religious symbols.

As I said in the interview, I’d like to see more of the “yes” for atheism and humanism than the “no” against religions.

In the years since I spoke with O’Reilly, my convictions about this have only grown stronger. Secularism is important, and we should seek to protect it—but we can also try responding to religious holiday displays in another way: by seeing them as an opportunity for humanists and atheists to contribute something positive to our communities.

Each winter on the New Haven Green, several religious organizations put up holiday symbols. One day, during my first winter living in New Haven, it occurred to me that something was missing: a nonreligious symbol celebrating humanist values and our shared humanity. I realized that there was, in my town, an opportunity to put forward the “yes” of humanism.

In that spirit, my organization—the Yale Humanist Community (YHC), a nonprofit dedicated to building community for the nonreligious at Yale and in Greater New Haven—has launched a project that hopes to make good on this idea.

After more than a year of planning and meeting with community partners, YHC has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund an interactive, nonreligious sculpture that will go up alongside the religious symbols and serve as a reminder that, even during the coldest and darkest months of the year, human beings can come together to create light and warmth.

Rendering of the Green Light Project (via Indiegogo)

Rendering of the Green Light Project (via Indiegogo)

By doing this, we have a chance to model that nonreligious communities can stand alongside our religious neighbors in peace. But we also have a chance to model humanist values—to exemplify a universal, inclusive humanism that can speak not only to the growing number of nonreligious Americans but also to the shared values of our religious neighbors.

While our organization is modest—we only have one full-time staff member—our project is ambitious. We’re not just aiming to impact our own community; we want to shine the light of humanism far beyond New Haven. As humanist activist James Croft recently reflected in a piece for his Patheos blog:

I’m inspired by [the Green Light Project] in a way I haven’t ever been inspired by a humanist project before… It makes me excited to be a humanist, and it makes me yearn to see more positive public expressions of humanist values.

If funded, the Green Light Project will be a beacon not only to the New Haven Community but to the world, demonstrating that humanists can create gorgeous, compelling artwork which brings forth the magic of our worldview…

The Green Light Project is one of the best things to happen in humanism for years. It combines breathtaking artistic clarity with a profound understanding of humanist values. It is beautiful, fun, and inviting. The fundraising project itself displays admirable attention to detail, which instills confidence that the project will be managed well, and donations used responsibly. And, most importantly, it needs your help. Please give generously to the Green Light Project.

If you’re committed to the cause of nonreligious people voicing our values and working to create more beauty in the world or to the cause of equal representation in the public square, or if you want to support an alternative to the “War on Christmas” story that emerges each December, please consider checking out our crowdfunding campaign, watching our video, donating to our project, and helping us spread the word.

With your help, we’ll be able to say that Bill O’Reilly—at least in part—inspired a new nonreligious sculpture in New Haven. With your help, we can tell a different story about humanism in the public square.

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  • Harrytttttt

    Good work, Chris. I am inclined to agree with your strategy of “Yes for humanism/atheism”, but I’m wondering: how will this not logically lead to a “No for religion” as well? How will New Haven (or any government body) determine which displays should be allowed and which not? Satanists, wiccan, pastafarians, etc? The list could go forever. If I were a New Haven civic leader, I would advocate the very practical idea that it’s better to have no religious displays allowed on govt property, rather than have our parks filled with such displays.

    It’s a difficult balance. As an atheist/humanist, I personally enjoy seeing solstice, christmas, hanukkah, kwanza, and pastafarian displays — I like the artistry and festive spirit of it. But if I were a govt official, I’d hate to decide what govt resources can be devoted to such things, and which displays might be “too offensive”.