In Leesburg, VA, Christmas displays are causing discord.

Members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are scheduled to put up their contribution this weekend. It’s a banner portraying a Nativity-style scene, but Jesus is nowhere to be found. Instead, the Virgin Mary cradles a stalk-eyed noodle-and-meatball creature, and the manger is surrounded by pirates, a solemn gnome and barnyard animals. The message proclaims: “Touched by an Angelhair.”

With the new displays, a new tradition was born: a charged seasonal debate.

This year, the dispute struck a particularly raw chord. The skeleton Santa was ripped down — twice — by offended locals. Kenneth D. Reid, Loudoun County supervisor-elect for the Leesburg District, sent a news release opposing “outrageous anti-religious displays.” In a letter to a local newspaper, one resident called the displays a “mean-spirited attack by the faithless on the faithful.”

Let me ask a serious question here. What do the atheists in question trying to say with their display? Some would say that it’s about the separation of church and state. But the state isn’t saying that Christianity should be an established religion here.

A quick perusal of the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nobody’s trying to turn Leesberg, VA into Iraq, which is a theocracy. Once again, desecrating a religious image that others respect does run the risk of being considered hate speech. Secondly, look at the line that says Congress cannot make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. These folks who created the display are hoping to do exactly that–prohibit displays of religion and so they are mocking it with a display of their own. Mu guess is that their hope is that the end result will be that dueling displays will breed so much discord that the state eliminates all the displays entirely.

Isn’t this supposed to the time of the year when despite religious belief, we celebrate peace and harmony and not discord? It seems the specific branch of atheism here that put up this display just wants to breed dis-harmony.

And many of us who are religious take the bait every time, myself included. We lash back harder and meaner sometimes.

And that, friends, is evil at work amongst all of us. And I’m not saying that the atheists (or any religious group) are evil here. What I am saying is that discord amongst all people is not the way to go here. Why can’t the atheists just leave the manger displays alone? Why can’t they do some charitable work and say “we do this because we are humanists,” just as Catholics and other religious people have their faith serve them in the same way to celebrate the season?

It seems to me that our constitution calls us not to be mean-spirited about religion, but rather, calls us to tolerate expression of religion. In doing so, we breed peace.

Something I’d like to see happen is a group of atheists, Christians, Muslims and Jews (and others) coming together to serve the needs of the poor, or to build a home with habitat and to not disparage one another. Rather, we’re called to love. All of us. It’s in our nature and whether or not we think God was the impetus for that design, it doesn’t change our desire for peace on earth and goodwill towards all.

So what do we really want? What can we accomplish together despite our differences? Who can we not try to take a cheap shot at? Who is too hard for us to love?

What keeps us human? Love.

Perhaps it’s time we all thought about how to display that together.