God, guns and gobbledegook

god_in_schoolsSorry for the long hiatus, I’ve just been busy with work and other things, and to be honest, I haven’t had a whole lot new to say. But after the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, I feel like I should add my 2 cents worth.

One theme we’ve been hearing, from such people as Mike Huckabee, is that the reason for such shootings is that we’ve somehow managed to “take God out of the schools,” as if an omnipotent being could be kept out of them (some people have suggested that God is a “gentleman” who doesn’t go where He’s not wanted — but do they really think that when someone came in with a gun and started shooting children, not a single one of those kids was asking for God? Seems like they’re really saying that God’s not a weakling, He’s just a passive-aggressive dickhead. But I digress …)

Even though I’m generally loath to weaken our Constitution, I might be willing to make some compromises in the name of reconciliation and in scientific, empirical evaluation of methodologies.

Here’s my humble suggestion to religious types who think putting God back in schools makes more sense than, say, regulating guns or working harder to identify and treat mental illness:

First, we’ll try it your way. We’ll institute mandatory prayer in all public schools, and do absolutely nothing to ban or regulate guns or provide improved access to mental health diagnosis and treatment.

But if that doesn’t work — if there’s another school shooting, even with God on the job — then we’ll ban the prayers, ban the guns, and the fundamentalist fucktards will have to shut their goddamned mouths and keep them fucking shut.

Do we have a deal?

Joining the club


Sometimes people ask me if I feel “left out” at this time of year (full disclosure: nobody asks me that, I just said it as a way of introducing this post). My reply (full disclosure, this “reply” is entirely in my imagination) is, “On the contrary, this is the time of year I feel most included.” Here’s why:

At this time of year, there’s a big to-do about a magical being who knows if you’ve been bad or good, who sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake, etc., and who can do magical things like visiting billions of homes in a single night, defying all the known laws of physics.

And it’s pretty obvious that there are lots of people who actually believe in this magical being. And everybody kind of gets the message that it would be really uncool to tell these people that they’re wrong, or even to express the opinion that these people are wrong. There’s a very strong sense that we should all just play along, so these people don’t get disillusioned by having their mistake revealed to them.

In other words, the holiday season is when everybody over the age of about 8 gets a taste of what it’s like to be an atheist.

Happy holidays, everybody!

An imaginary conversation

“Why are you an atheist?”

“Why not?”

“C’mon, I’m serious!”

“So am I. That’s not a flippant response, it’s an entirely serious one.

See, it’s like this: Take a look at this room around us, and the walls of the room. What’s holding them together? I don’t know, since I haven’t looked closely. But while it’s hypothetically possible that what’s holding the walls together is a bunch of tiny invisible elves holding hands, I don’t think that’s what it is.

And I’m guessing that you wouldn’t demand that I explain myself, that I provide some reasoning or logic for not believing that tiny invisible elves are holding the walls together. On the contrary, if someone did come along and say they thought the walls were being held together by tiny invisible elves, you’d ask them what made them think such a thing.

Likewise, let’s say there are two people — could be you and me, could be two other people — and both of these people agree that the physical world exists, and that people live their lives in this physical world.

But one of those people also believes in some other stuff — they believe that besides the physical, natural realm, there’s also a supernatural realm that we can’t see, and that this realm contains a supernatural being whom we also can’t see, and that this supernatural being gives us a supernatural life that continues after our natural one.

In my view, it’s not the person who merely believes in the physical world we can see, and the natural life we lead, who’s got some ‘splaining to do. If we’re going to ask anyone why they believe what they believe, I’d say we should be asking the person who’s bringing all the invisible supernatural friends to the party.

So like I was saying, why not? Why not be an atheist? What’s your argument?”

Adopt me, please

So, the Catholic League is starting an “Adopt An Atheist” program, wherein Christians are encouraged to “adopt” atheists and enage in “working with them to uncover their inner self. They may be resistant at first, but eventually they may come to understand that they were Christian all along.”

I’d like to take this opportunity to place myself up for “adoption” by a willing Christian. We can discuss theology, and the Bible, and other God-type stuff, and you can use your powers of persuasion and your knowledge of Christianity to bring me back into the fold. C’mon, try it! What have you got to lose?

“War” is over, if you want it

I work in customer service (tech support for an Internet-related service), and for what it’s worth, we’ve never been given any official instructions or guidance about the whole “Merry Christmas” vs. “happy holidays” thing. We’re allowed to say whatever we think is appropriate (and most likely to get the customer to fill out a survey saying they liked us, rather than saying they didn’t).

But I’ve noticed something interesting, in this first part of the holiday season — so far, I don’t think anyone’s wished me a “Merry Christmas,” but several customers have wished me “happy holidays.” I don’t know if that’s because they suspect they might be talking to some Hindu at an Indian call center who has a really good accent (I’ve actually had an Indian customer congratulate me on my excellent American accent, assuming I was working in India),  or just showing the customary respect (respect for the person being addressed, and for diversity and tolerance in general) that to me is implied by the use of that inclusive phrase. But it seems like an encouraging sign. Maybe the media-hyped, wingnut-targeted “War on Christmas” is seeing an early armistice. (cartoon via Engineer of Knowledge)

Sunday non-Sermon: A fine “Wine”

I’ve linked to videos of this song before, but this is a new animation of Tim Minchin‘s modern atheist holiday classic, “White Wine In The Sun”  (via PZ)The animation is a bit overly literal for my taste — reminiscent of the early ’80s music videos where e very scene was a direct illustration of the lyrics — but it’s still powerfully moving.

Of course, almost any video would be moving when it’s accompanying Minchin’s wonderful song, which still gets me choked up at the family scene near the end where he sings, “wherever you go, whatever you face, these are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world.”

And while last year the song served as a poignant reminder of what I was missing (new job, no vacation time put away, couldn’t get back home for holidays), this year it’s a joyous anticipation of my own journey home (albeit for hot chocolate in the snow rather than wine in the sun). Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday Sermon: Tardis edition

I really should have written this a few weeks ago, given the subject matter, but let’s just pretend I have a time machine and that this is still December:

Something that occurs to me is that being an atheist is kind of like being a grownup at Christmastime. We have this shared knowledge that’s not polite to express in public, because there are still folks who believe in the magical bearded man, even though we know he isn’t real.

And I wonder if a lot of atheists are people who grew out of Santa Claus, and then just kept on growing. I mean, at some point as a grownup (or semi-grownup), you start going along with the program, and you knowingly let the little kids have their silly fantasies about Santa.

And you do this because you know that it’s relatively harmless and that one day they’ll grow out of it and come to realize Christmas isn’t really about some silly notion of a guy who lives at the North Pole and rides a magic sleigh full of toys.

It’s really about how the son of God was born to a virgin after being immaculately conceived as part of a grand plan for God to forgive mankind for having the sinful nature God gave them … and then you start going “Hmmm …”

Sunday Sermon: The discovery of lying

Still really busy with studying for tech certifications (closing in on the last MCSA module, now I just need to schedule the exams), so I’m afraid I just haven’t been thinking much about the whole atheism thing (I’m neglecting my main blog as well). But I’ve been sitting on this nice video of Ricky Gervais describing his childhood discovery that his mum was being a bit cagey about the whole Jesus thing. So I’ll turn the mic over to Brother Gervais for today’s sermon.

Sunday Sermon: Trends with benefits

One of the bogus arguments offered in favor of religion is the old “if it makes people happy …” line. They cite studies showing that religious people are happier or more content or find life more fulfilling or some such thing, and then suggest that this is somehow an argument in favor of the truth of the religious proposition, rather than merely a benefit of believing something that may very well be false.

But a new study by some folks at my alma mater suggests that even the psychological benefits of religion may just be the same as the benefits of any sort of group affiliation. The study finds that “it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction.” So maybe it’s not about feeling plugged in to some higher power, or perceiving life to have some special purpose, or even just having something to believe in, but rather, it’s just about having other people to believe it with.

I can’t help but think of this Onion article from years back: “Recently Born-Again Christian Finally Has Social Life”.

(pic captured from Atheist Empire)

‘Tis the season, again

Well, it’s that time of the year again, when Christians start imagining themselves to be oppressed because their hegemony isn’t absolutely complete, and atheists find themselves wondering if it’s OK to have a coniferous tree in the house and some lights on the roof, and lots of folks are in a bit of a bind over whether to wish people a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever.

My own feeling on the whole greetings topic is (as regular readers might guess) one of “live and let live” (and that’s why I’m not calling this a Sunday Sermon, just a blog post that happens to be going up on a Sunday). Cut people some slack, as long as they’re not being huge jerks about the whole thing. If a greeting seems sincere and well-intentioned, but it turns out to be inappropriately placed (e.g. wishing a non-Christian a Christmas greeting), I say let it slide.

But of course, not all such greetings are innocuous. One of the ironies of the War On The War On Christmas is that there are a lot of folks who are denying the true meaning of Christmas (whatever that is) by using “Merry Christmas” not as a greeting, but as a salvo, a shot across the bow of an imagined enemy in an imaginary war. There are people who say “Merry Christmas” in what they perceive to be a daring act of defiance, uttering a forbidden phrase in brave defense of a religion that only claims 3 out of 4 Americans.

If you find someone doing that, saying “Merry Christmas” as a soft of “you and me against the evil hordes” gesture, I don’t see any problem with politely explaining that you’re one of the hordes. People who make those sort of presumptions, and try to enlist your help in reinforcing their presumptions, deserve to be enlightened about the foible of their worldview.

But most people aren’t like that. Usually, if someone’s wishing you “Merry Christmas,” it’s a misguided but well-intentioned gesture of goodwill. Likewise (though IMO to a lesser extent) with “Happy Holidays” — there might be a few militant types who use it as a cudgel to beat people over the head with the fact that lots of people aren’t celebrating Jesus’ birth, but in general it’s merely a way to wish someone a seasonal greeting, perhaps with an added element of inclusiveness to embrace not only Christians but others as well (note to Christians: Are you celebrating a holiday? Would you like it to be happy? If you answered “yes” to both questions, then you’ve got nothing to complain about).

But what about us? What greetings should we offer? Is it some sort of problem if we wish someone “Merry Christmas”? I don’t think so. Some people may choose to discipline themselves to avoid the phrase they were brought up saying, just as they may choose to discipline themselves to say something other than “bless you” when someone sneezes, but I don’t think it’s worth getting all in a tizzy about your (or someone else’s) choice in that matter. Do it, or don’t do it, as you see fit, and as for what others do, live and let live.

It’s not like Christianity has a trademark (now or any time of the year) on “goodwill toward men” (and women). They co-opted it, just as they co-opted pagan symbols like fir trees and yule logs. Being nice to people isn’t a Christian thing, it’s just a thing. It’s my thing, and it can be your thing too no matter what you believe about imaginary deities.

(pic via Changing Places)