A Courthouse Lawn, John Lennon, Atheists, God and me

Artwork © Stilson Greene

In Loudoun County, Virginia the courthouse lawn has exploded into an arena for freedom of speech versus religious expression. This past Christmas season the lawn was host to two manger displays, a skeleton in a Santa suit crucified on a cross and a large billboard portraying the birth of Christ as the birth of the Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster or some such nonsense. Atheists, and others, use the lawn throughout the year to promote their views or non-views. First of all, everyone is entitled to their belief or non-belief and I do respect their point of view, especially when it comes to religion. I do not respect it when someone ridicules a religion, or wraps their view in hateful and disrespectful imagery; and, say what you will, but on this lawn, Christianity is the most frequent target of tasteless assaults.

My other point is the Atheists wrong-headed use of John Lennon as a visual icon of atheism. Every year a large image of John Lennon with the lyrics “Imagine there’s no heaven…” is erected on the courthouse lawn promoting their tenet of “No God.” Admittedly, John questioned many things in his short life, and his songs “God” and the oft-quoted utopian anthem “Imagine” are full of his searching and questioning. They are full of love and hope, too.

In the middle 1970’s John had an spiritual awakening on a fateful sailing trip and not only made his peace with his God but with his own creativity.

Of course there isn’t any empirical proof to this except in one of John’s songs entitled “Grow Old With Me”. It is one of his most personal works and one of the last songs he wrote. It only takes a listen or a look at the chorus to determine if John was an atheist and an icon worthy of atheistic beautification:

Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
When our time has come
We will be as one
God bless our love
God bless our love

I don’t think those lyrics, again, some of his last, give any indication to his atheism but actually defy that view.

So if you do want to be taken seriously with your public displays of Atheism I suggest you dial down the venom and use an appropriate visual spokesman; John Lennon certainly is not one of them.

8 thoughts on “A Courthouse Lawn, John Lennon, Atheists, God and me”

  1. Write on, Stilson!
    As I will turn 60 in April…I can claim to represent the tail-end of the Boomer Gen, also called the Me Generation. That, however, is a misnomer. We were not so much about “me”. We were labeled that by the older generation who thought we had a lot of “ego” to think we could design a better world. A better world where you were free to wiggle your hips and stand tall against a nasty war in Vietman and racism. Anyhow, somehow we seem to have spawned a Godless generation. Or one that is afflicted with entitlement status.
    Lenon was saying something profound about living in an open place, not in a place of resentment (against other folks’ sense of the sacred). I feel that we sacrificed alot to invoke that truth. Now the new gens wants someone to hand them the keys simply because they demand it. If they are about anything substantial, it sounds more like “Me” than a willingness to allow goodness and feeling connected.

    1. Thank you George. As you wrote, we are almost mocked by our beliefs from those years ago. Unfortunately today’s pop icons are not willing to go against a corporate marketing path to help define a system of hope. We have lost our way because we don’t have any young prophets “writing on subway walls” unless it sells a sandwich. Peace.

  2. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and I am against slavery. However, many of his other ideas were great, including his notion of the separation of church and state. Similarly with Lennon, I don’t agree with the messages of all of his songs. I like most of his songs, but I don’t agree with all of his lyrics. The Beatles went through a Krishna phase, and I don’t think even Christians are comfortable with that.

    Still, his song, “Imagine”, hits home with me. The lyrics challenge people to imagine a world without religion, politics, and all the other nonsense that divides us. That is why it really resonates with me as an atheist. I really don’t care if John Lennon was an atheist. That really has no bearing on what he did as a singer or the ideas he dared to put into song.

    As to the signs on the lawn, there was nothing that was anywhere near anti-religious except maybe the the Flying Spaghetti Monster display which parodied the nativity. Of course, parody is not the same thing as ridicule. The display was more humorous than biting. It’s a subjective call. The Skele-Santa was more offensive to some than anything else, and that was put up by a Christian to protest how Christmas has become commercialized. Apparently, people are more sensitive about Santa than Jesus. Though, when it comes to religion, people seem to have very thin skins. Muslims, for example, bomb people just for displaying a picture of Mohammed. If we allow people to dampen any speech they deem blasphemous, then we allow them to monopolize the public square and restrict freedom of speech.

    And if you think the purpose of the displays is to mock Christianity, you’ve missed the mark there, too. In the past, the only display allowed on the lawn any time of year was the Christian nativity scene. Atheists fought to keep the government from favoring Christianity and the board decided to not have any displays at all. The Christians fought to keep the display, so the board changed its mind and allowed all displays. Mostly, atheists are against religious favoritism. We would really like to just have no religious displays on the courthouse lawn. But if any are allowed, then we’re going to make a show of it, too. The lawn is not sacred ground and Christians have no right to monopolize it.

    1. Mr. Nondescript

      I respect all your points except one, depicting MY Lord and Savior as a plate of spaghetti has nothing to do with biting humor, Monty Phython’s Life of Brian was a humorous parody, it was, as I said, hateful and disrespectful.

    2. Mr. NonDescript:

      The message portrayed by dressing a skeleton in a Santa Claus suit is that Santa Claus is dead. The message portrayed by Santa Claus is that giving of yourself to others is good thing. To say Santa is dead is saying that that concept is flawed. The cross was used as a cruel and painful way to kill people, most notably, the man Jesus Christ, who suffered tremendously when he was left on one until he died. The cross was a public way for authorities to warn people to not do what its victims had done. The symbolic message of the courthouse display was that its erectors are depicting that you should suffer a painful and public death if you believe in giving of yourself to others. Stilson Greene is a powerful and effective graphic artist who skillfully conveys messages with symbols and art and would be the first person to acknowledge that you cannot simply declare a specific meaning is being conveyed by a graphic display. There are ways to symbolize the over commercialization of Christmas that would actually convey that message. The skeleton dressed in a Santa Claus suit did not. It was an insulting image to anyone who has ever sacrificed their own wants to care for and give to others.

      Who was Saint Nick before he became what we call, “Santa Claus”?

      Saint Nick was Bishop Nikolaos of Myra in Lycia in the region anciently referred to as Asia Minor (modern day Demre, Turkey). He was born in 270 A.D. and died on December 6, 373 A.D. He was a real person and was a Christian bishop who became famous for secretly sneaking in the middle of the night to give help to the poor. He used to leave coins to those who left a shoe out for him to signal that they needed help. Saint Nicholas became very popular in both Eastern and Western Europe after the 4th century. The Dutch called him Sinterklaas and from this came the English version of the name we’re most familiar with, Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was a participating member of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where the current Nicene Creed, a statement of Christian beliefs that Catholics pray every Sunday, was formulated. He was a staunch defender of the important teaching that Jesus has both divine and human nature. Without him there would not be today’s Santa Claus and lessons so many have lived about giving of themselves to others would not have been learned.

      The repulsion felt towards the display was not limited to Christians and is not evidence that Christians want to ‘monopolize’ the courthouse lawn in a way that ‘favors’ one religion over another.

      1. Well said, one of the best opinions I’ve read on this matter. And thank you for your kind words with regards to my work. Stilson

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