Pruning the Tree of Knowledge: Religious Advocates Vandalize Atheist Tree and Officials Demand That It Be Shortened By Eight Feet To Be Lower Than The Christmas Tree

In the Book of Genesis, the tree of knowledge was a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9) from which God directly forbade Adam to eat (Genesis 2:17). In Philadelphia, religious advocates would prefer that it not be seen, let alone touched. The tree of knowledge is an atheist display showing books (including the Bible) as part of secular humanist values. The tree has been vandalized and hit with a series of harassing demands. These include that the 18 foot tree be cut down to ten feet — since no display can be higher than the Christmas tree. Officials also declared that the creche won a “first come, first served” status — allowing them to move the tree to a less visible spot.

Frankly, I am not sure why it is so important for atheists to put up the tree which is not part of any celebratory tradition and seems merely intended as a retort to religion. However, I have a greater problem with the harassment of a protected form of speech.

The display was designed by Margaret Downey, president of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP) and is festooned with laminated book covers. It is the continuation of our holiday tradition of litigation leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ. For a prior column on the season, click here.

For the full story, click here.

50 thoughts on “Pruning the Tree of Knowledge: Religious Advocates Vandalize Atheist Tree and Officials Demand That It Be Shortened By Eight Feet To Be Lower Than The Christmas Tree”

  1. One thing for sure GOD never said asked the “To be or not to be”question. Of course Jesus and Satan didnt have human bodies in the beginning which is why Adam and Eve were made and this is why Jesus said God is a God of the living.

  2. Buddha: “And let’s be clear about what got Lucifer booted from the Throne. It was arrogance and ego that he placed himself before his relationship with God.”

    It wasn’t arrogance, it was a craving that created life on earth.

    Imagine no dimensions; no flesh, no time, a non spacio-temporal existence. And there’s God and ‘the spirit of contradiction’ floating around in that non-spacio-temporal realm aka heaven, when ‘the spirit of contradiction’ says “if Dionysus were alive, where would he eat?” Then BAM, the spirit of contradiction contradicts God by falling from grace, landing on his physical feet, and off he goes in search of a turkey club.

    Oh the sins of the flesh.

  3. Personally I consider modern Christmas celebrations as part of American culture rather than a Christian holiday. I think of it as our equivalent to Carnival in Brazil. That’s why I have no problem celebrating it. Plus it’s not like it has purely Christian roots.

  4. Mike Spindell wrote:

    “One of my daughters is quite religious, the other is an atheist I think.”

    That demonstrates that your parenting skills were 50% perfect–regarding the atheistic daughter.

    Seriously, what that really demonstrates is that you and your spouse raised your daughters to use independent thought. Kudos.

  5. Hi Elaine,

    My post on the polling about Merry X-mas vs. Happy Holidays may contain snarky inserts by an atheist. If they are there, and only God knows for certain that they are, they would be in brackets and may contain statements like: “godless whores” etc. Also, I’d wished I’d added one thing–At least there is one difference between Republican and Democratic party, more R’s want Merry Christmas on their signs than D’s do! (When someone says Merry Christmas to me I say, and to you a Blessed Solstice as well!)


    That was brilliant. LOL!!!

  6. As a Jew I have no problems wishing people a “Merry Christmas” because for Christians it is indeed a major holiday. Channukah on the other hand is a very minor Jewish Holiday that sometimes overlaps with Christmas. While observant and less than observant Jews do the Channukkah ritual of brief prayers and candle lighting, they are well aware that the two holidays are not comparable in terms of their religious import to the faithful.

    Many Christians, for understandable reasons, feel that non-Christians are envious of Christmas, primarilly for the pageantry and gifts. When I was a child I must say that Christmas never tempted me and living in an apartment I couldn’t understand the Santa Claus thing. While I did resent being forced in Elementary School to participate in things like Christmas Grab Bags and decorating the class Christmas Tree, at the same time I liked the feeling of Christmas in NYC and I do like many Christmas Carols. Then too since my parents friends were primarilly Italian-Americans we spent many a Christmas Day and Eve with them. We all respected eachother to know that as Jews we never participated in, not were thought less of for it,
    Christmas Gift giving.

    With my own children they were given a good grounding in Judaism and our family tradition was to use the eight days of Channukah to give them presents each night. One of my daughters is quite religious, the other is an atheist I think. Both of them are proud of their heritage and in the end that is the best a parent can do to pass on family ties.

  7. Elaine M.,

    Think of this sonnet when you want to see a master bastardize the American version of English. He was a pro but not as good as another poet named Jim Morrison. Studied them both while in college or pharmacology. I never subscribed to Tim’s life style. As Robert Plant said words have two meanings….kind of like Led Zepplin


  8. No need to quote weirdo verses. The atheists are in the right; the vandals are not- despite whatever might be in their book of made up crap.
    I hope this post hurts God’s feelings.

  9. Jill: “Amidst all the holiday shopping craziness, most Americans at this time of year want to see holiday signs that wish them a “Merry Christmas.”

    I’m thinking that the results might have reflected a much different outcome if there was a third choice: “50% OFF!”

  10. AY–

    I wouldn’t call it a corruption in the language–just a Darwinian-type evolution of words and their meanings. After all, English is a living language. We wouldn’t want to stunt its growth or impede the birth of new defintions, would we?

  11. Holiday? Wow corruption in the language. How about foreigners when the go on vacation. They take a Holiday!!!!! Wow, not that I am too bright but isn’t it a derivative of Holy Day?

    So in the end who gives a rats ass so long as you are acknowledged as a human being…..

  12. I taught in a town that had a large Jewish community for more than thirty years. I started wishing my students and their families “Happy Holidays” in the month of December early in my teaching career. And, believe it or not, it didn’t cause me any kind of physical pain…and it didn’t make Christmas any the less “Christmassy for me.

    When there are so many issues of greater import to be considered and dicussed, should we spend so much valuable time talking about such trivial matters on TV, in the newspapers, in polls? Who cares if stores have signs that proclaim “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to shoppers? What I’d like to say to all those folks who get their knickers in a twist over what is/isn’t printed on holiday signs: Get a life!!!

    P.S. Jill, what I just wrote isn’t meant as a criticsm of the polling information you provided in your last comment.

  13. “Amidst all the holiday shopping craziness, most Americans at this time of year want to see holiday signs that wish them a “Merry Christmas.”

    A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 72% of adults prefer “Merry Christmas,” while 22% like “Happy Holidays” instead.

    Older Americans favor “Merry Christmas” more than younger adults. {they also appear to favor large flag poles!!!}

    Married adults fancy the traditional greeting a lot more than unmarrieds {most of whom are godless in their refusal to marry}, although there is virtually no difference in the views of those with children {approved by christians everywhere} in the home and those who don’t have children living with them {not approved as they may be having sex for purposes other than procreation}.

    Perhaps inevitably as with much of what is polled by Rasmussen Reports, there is a partisan difference on the question.
    Ninety-one percent (91%) of Republicans and 70% of adults not affiliated with either major political party like store signs that wish them a “Merry Christmas,” compared to just 58% of Democrats {only 1 % of ACLU members prefer this greeting}.
    Last year, 68% of all adults wanted holiday signs to read “Merry Christmas,” while 25% preferred “Happy Holidays.” {so the fundies are winning the war on christmas–HOORAY!}

  14. “Mike,
    I’m interested what’s the most common Jewish take on the story? It seems pretty counter to most of what I know about the value the Jewish religions puts on learning to punish someone for seeking out knowledge.”

    I can’t speak for the Jewsih take on this because it differs from Rabbi to Rabbi and movement to movement. I think generally Genesis and the Garden of Eden is seen as metaphor and not important ones at that. It is a creation myth giving simple explanations and is obviously cobbled together and slapdash. The wise Rabbi’s and the wise religious Jews I know almost never discuss the Garden of Eden, because they all believe in evolution. It’s a fairy tale for most Jews and not a very interesting one at that.

    Where this gets dicey is with the Christian Belief of “Original Sin,” which unfortunately as a tenet of belief requires some belief in the Garden of Eden and the fruit tale. This is where evolution becomes a problem because if there was no Adam, Eve, snake or Garden of Eden, than what about “Original Sin.” The problem with Dogma and doctrine in any religion is that it paints you into a corner. The way I see fundamentalists deal with this is via total denial.

    To me Jewish belief requires original thought and a questioning of everything, most Jews I hang out with feel the same, but then I rarely hang out with Fundamentalist Jews.

  15. I don’t understand why Christians are freaking out about a Christmas tree.

    Jeremiah 10:3-4

    “For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold, they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”

  16. I saw your story too, so how about this story; As Jesus slept on the cross; GOD used the water and blood that fell from his side to the ground below; to make him a wife via the Mother of Harlots and just like S/He did with the 1st Adam.

    After all the only thing GOD made that was not Good; is A Man Alone; so wouldnt GOD want a wife for His/Her only Son? And if GOD could beget a GOD using a normal virgin woman; couldnt GOD beget a Holy Hostess using a Not Virgin Woman?

    PS it wasnt an Apple Tree either; because the tree of Knowledge of Good And Evil; area a Pair i.e., a Partridge in a Pear tree.

  17. Burnt,

    You got me. I misread the text of Gen. 2:16-17 (really I just like posting a link the the Brick Testament whenever I can).

    However, according to your own text Eve explicitly says that it was God that said not to touch. So, either she’s lying, Adam’s lied, God changed his mind about what was allowed, or the text is wrong. Any one of the four are equally likely from the sparse text given, the first two being precluded if you assume that the eating of the fruit were was the original sin.

    At any rate this is a rather silly argument. We’re talking about a book that in a matter of two chapters has already come up with two if not explicitly contradictory than strikingly different stories regarding the creation of man and woman. A book that was pieced together using three distinct traditions, which were themselves transmitted mainly orally, and melded with those of other cultures, before finally being written down. I might add, we’re not even the original text of the book. We’re talking about the text of a translation of the original text, and not the definitive translation of the original text, one of several highly disputed translations

    So like I said, nice story.

  18. Gyges:

    You missed it; Show me where GOD said anything about Touching the Tree. Since GOD didnt; that makes it a Lie Eve told the Serpent about GOD, which the serpent being the wisest knew was not True. This is why the Bible say; Eve was Deceived and Adam knowingly sinned.

  19. Burnt,

    Gen. 2:16-17 begs to differ.

    Nice story though.


    I’m interested what’s the most common Jewish take on the story? It seems pretty counter to most of what I know about the value the Jewish religions puts on learning to punish someone for seeking out knowledge.


    I disagree with the techniques of any evangelical of any religion\philosophy\sports team\Amway. However you have to look at this from an Atheist point of view, what exactly are we supposed to do for a “celebratory tradition” other than just start one?
    This doesn’t seem to be all that offensive. There’s seriously ingrained cultural stereotypes that any atheist has to counter in this country. So rather than stress what they don’t value, they choose to stress what they DO. Honestly, it’s not exactly a slap in the face to say “we value the great literary works of the world, of which your holy text is a part.”

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