Archive for November, 2009

Sunday Sermon: Another holiday song

Yes, I know, you’re thrilled. But sometimes I just get on a writing jag, and I can’t help it. So here’s another little song lyric parody, about the so-called “War on Christmas” — so called by pretty much the only large group of people getting pugnacious about the whole tempest in a tinseled teapot.

The tune is from the Greg Lake song (lyrics, official video), “I Believe in Father Christmas” (which in turn takes the melody of the instrumental interlude from Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije”). Fun facts from Wikipedia: 1) The B-side of Greg Lake’s single is titled “Humbug”; 2) Lake said in an interview that his song isn’t anti-religious, and that he himself doesn’t like people saying “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Go figure.

I Believe In Merry Christmas (Or Whatever)

They say there’s a War on Christmas,
They say there’s no peace on earth,
If Christians can’t keep pretending,
We all believe in some virgin birth
Some people say “Merry Christmas,”
Like it’s a challenge, a gauntlet hurled,
And they think they’re oppressed, and they act so distressed,
If they can’t control the rest of the world

We’ve got secular songs for Christmas,
Songs of snowmen and one-horse sleighs,
But some folks are far from jolly,
If you wish them “Happy Holidays”
They think there’s no room for Christmas,
If there’s anything else as well,
Either Christmas or naught, is how they think it ought
To be done, or you can just go to hell

I wish you a merry Christmas,
Or Solstice or Festivus,
Or Hanukkah, Eid or Kwanzaa,
If you’re OK with the rest of us
For holidays ’tis the season,
So this little wish I pen,
Umoja, Shalom, Mubarak, Ho Ho Ho,
Whatever, and ever, Amen.

A Thanksgiving poem, thankfully short

I’m not sure if I’ve already pointed this out, but even if I have, it bears repeating this week: Not believing in gods doesn’t mean you can’t be thankful.

Unless you’re horribly unfortunate, your family, your friends or other loved ones have been good to you this past year, and in some ways so have the world and/or the universe — just because it doesn’t care doesn’t mean you can’t be thankful to it.

There’s nothing wrong with say you’re thankful, or say “let us be thankful for …” in a situation you might be in this holiday weekend. You can be as sappy and corny as you like about it. Here, let me show you:

I’m thankful for my life,

I’m thankful for my wife,

I’m thankful for my health,

I’m thankful for what we have that passes for wealth

I’m thankful that it looks like I’ll be getting another year-end letter from my uncle Howard,

Who’s a devout believer, and in ill health lately, and who every year sends a religious poem with tortured rhymes and even more tortured meter, but who still manages to write a poem in which seldom is heard a holier-than-thou word,

I’m thankful to Parenting Beyond Belief for giving me a bump,

And for the visitors from that terrific blog whose suggestion I start an RSS feed has gotten my hit counts over the hump,

I’m thankful that I still can rhyme in meter,

And thankful Ogden Nash (andUncle Howard) gave me the freedom to abandon it altogether and not feel like a total cheater,

And I’m thankful that if I wanted to I could even write lines that don’t end with rhymes,

But that would just be stupid.

(pic with Douglas Adams quote — “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” — via

Sunday Sermon: In the Ghetto

So, there’s this discussion forum I’ve been frequenting for about a decade. It’s run by Calvinist, fundamentalist Christians. I started posting there when I first got really interested in evolution, and more recently (having gotten kind of burned out on debating that), I’ve been debating in their political board.

Just yesterday, they decided that all atheists, agnostics and secular humanists would be banned from all their boards except 2 — the one on atheism and the one on evolution. They’ve since created sub-forums on politics and other topics where atheists often post, but their main politics board is atheist-free (except for those who haven’t been caught yet).

The most interesting part is, one of the top board moderators posted a message asking all non-theists to identify themselves, so they could be properly labeled.

Now, to make a direct comparison between something that happened to me on an Internet forum and what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany’s early days, or during other periods where they were herded into ghettos, would be ludicrously insensitive — I’m tempted to say it would be beyond the pale, but that would be ludicrously insensitve as well.

But on some level, it’s the same sort of thing, the same sort of treatment, where people are not only being stigmatized but told to assist those who are stigmatizing them. It’s definitely a weird feeling, and one I’m trying to explore and cultivate in order to increase my understanding of other people who have been marginalized or disenfranchised or maybe just ignored (and I’ll have a bit more on that in my next post).

(image via JewishGen)

A bum rap(ture)

Rapture, or rupture? I think somebody's sex doll just sprung a leak.

Former Christian nutjob (now just Christian) Frank Schaeffer offers an insightful (he was there) and no-holds-barred takedown of the “rapture ready” crowd with “Spaceship Jesus will Come Back and Whisk Us Away,” but goes off course when he tries for a little “plague on both your houses action” with regard to the recent surge in atheist activism:

The New Atheists have played into the evangelical/ fundamentalist’s hands. Each side fans the flames of victimhood. “An atheist can never be president!” says one side. “A Christian never gets a fair shake in the New York Times!” claims the other. Each side is led by opportunists claiming to speak for a beleaguered minority.

Hmm. That may be true, but one side is much more of a minority — and much more beleaguered — than the other.

Schaeffer also asks, “how would Dawkins’s followers use their Scarlet A pins to open their conversations if America weren’t full of evangelical/ fundamentalists?”  That’s not only a bit of a strawman (how many atheists make a point of starting conversations about atheism?), it’s also a bit  like saying Christians need non-believers because how else would they evangelize.

(cartoon via Practical Ethics)

Sunday Sermon: “The Holiday Song (for atheists)”

Inspired by Adam Sandler’s wonderful song(s) about famous people who are Jewish, and by a couple lists of  atheists who are famous, I thought I’d borrow Sandler’s melody and write an alternate version for atheists. I don’t have an introduction like Sandler does (we atheists don’t even get “8 crazy nights”), but I think it’s not too bad for roughly half an afternoon’s work (UPDATE: I’ve added an intro and changed one of the couplets).

Note: When the second word in a line has the first letter bolded, that means it’s supposed to be on the downbeat, with the other word coming before it (i.e. a pickup note).

The Holiday Song (for atheists)

Hanukkah and Christmas, they both have lots of gifts
Ramadan has fasting, so it’s slimming for your hips
Pagans honor Solstice, with the sun’s emerging phase,
But having no gods doesn’t mean you can’t have holidays …

Lance Armstrong doesn’t pray to Jesus,
He’s atheist like Sheryl Crow, his ex-main squeeze, is,
Lots of authors don’t believe in the Virgin Mary,
Studs Terkel, Salman Rushdie, Florence King and Dave Barry,

Are there any deities? Musicians answer no,
Bob Geldof, Billy Joel and Barry Manilow,
Is there a hell? Some may answer yes, but,
If hell has open fires, they’ll be roasting Vic Chesnutt,

If you’re an atheist, no need to feel odd,
Lots of famous people don’t believe in any gods,

Put on your scarlet “A” to celebrate the holiday
There’s no hell to pay, so celebrate the holiday
God’s dead, and it’s OK, to celebrate the holiday
Allah is MIA, so celebrate the holiday

We know ’bout DNA, how everybody’s got some,
Thanks to non-believers Francis Crick and James Watson,
Penn & Teller, Mitchell & Webb, and yes, Fry and Laurie,
Even Brad and Angelina think the Bible’s just a story,

We’ve got lots of actors on the atheist roster,
Jack Nicholson, John Malkovich, Diane Keaton and Jodie Foster,
Guess who won’t be singing “Gloria in Excelsis,”
Kevin Bacon’s an atheist — so everybody else is!

Don’t feel out of place this holiday season,
Lots of famous people worship nothing — but reason,

Put on your scarlet “A” to celebrate the holiday
There’s no hell to pay, so celebrate the holiday
God’s dead, and it’s OK, to celebrate the holiday
Allah is MIA, so celebrate the holiday

(Oops, turns out it’s already been done — this version by Don Davis of ranges from really clever to kind of awkward, IMO)

Skeptical schism?


In “Atheism itself isn’t a movement” Ophelia Benson talks about the so-called “schism” between what she calls “movement atheists” (think “New Atheists”) and what she calls “plain atheists” — people who don’t want their nonbelief to define them, or make them part of some activist-type group, and who (in Benson’s view) would prefer for the “movement atheists” to just pipe down and stop making life harder for atheists by stirring up the believers.

As she puts it, “I deeply sympathise, but I also think that plain atheists should to some extent put up with it. We don’t actually want to dragoon them into “the movement” but we would like to be able to talk freely without even other atheists telling us to pipe down.”

Some folks have tried to paint this as some new “schism” among atheists, but as Benson herself points out, it’s just the ordinary difference of opinion you find among any sufficiently large group of people who are like-minded but not clones of each other.

In this blog, and in my own life, I tend much more strongly toward the “accommodationist” view, emphasizing that we share the world with religious people (some of whom are idiots, bigots or even terrorists), and we should try to be nice to people when we can. But by the same token, if you can make an effort to be polite and respectful to even the most strident religionists, why not make an effort to do the same for your fellow atheists?

(pic via SodaHead)

Sunday Sermon: Into each yard some leaves must fall


It’s going to have to be a short Sunday Sermon today — I’m kind of busy this weekend (and most of the last week, and probably most of this coming week as well).

Let me just say this: If you want to argue that nature — including deciduous foliage — is the creation of a benevolent God, maybe don’t try to make that argument in November.

(pic via Eric, Danielle, Gabrielle & Marianna’s Blog)

Can we talk?

sermon_on_the_mountThis post is more exploratory than explanatory, since I haven’t really come up with a conclusion or a plan or anything like that. But I think it’s worth exploring just how much we can openly discuss our religious views, and our views on religion, within a framework of politeness.

NYT “Ethicist” Randy Cohen addresses the question in a recent column, not so much about social situations as media reports and other related discourse. Cohen argues that our innate taboos about discussing religion shouldn’t inhibit us from calling a spade a spade, and labeling reprehensible behavior as reprehensible (whether it’s an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent refusing to shake hands with a gentile client, or the Roman Catholic Church making a patent appeal to the more homophobic or sexist Anglicans).

Parenting Beyond Belief also recently addressed the issue in more of a personal way, albeit in the context of a text exchange (on Facebook) rather than oral conversation. But I think they both (especially PBB) hit on an important point — it’s possible to disrespect individual acts and attitudes without disrespecting that individual’s religion (even if it’s the religion that’s causing the  bad behavior, or at least being used to justify it).

PBB is especially good at suggesting “defusers” to make one’s observations go down more easily, and produce a response that’s thoughtful rather than hostile. And this bit hits rather close to home for me, with my tendency to take a non-confrontational stance that borders on passive-aggressive:

“Making nice” is ever so much easier. … You just switch off your cortex and say, “Hey, to each his own. Whatever floats your boat. Live and let live. We’re all pursuing our own truths.” That’s vacuous bullshit. I’m not just looking for “co-existence.” I want engaged co-existence.”

My own view is that while engaged co-existence may be ideal, we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes the best possible solution is disengaged co-existence, as opposed to engaged hostility. Can that attitude be abused and twisted into an excuse for disengagement? Yeah, probably. It’s something to watch out for.

(cartoon via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

Sunday Sermon: For the Children

christian_halloweenHey kids! Here’s an easy ‘n’ fun activity you can do for school tomorrow!

Apparently the religious wingnuts believe (because Pat Robertson’s network said so) that “most of the candy sold during this (Halloween) season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.”

So, here’s what you do: Find a big barrel or box or other bin-like substance, make a sign that says “Demonic Candy Disposal: Get rid of your witch-blessed candy here” and take it to school with you tomorrow.

If you thought you made a great haul on Saturday, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

(pic via Stuff Christian Culture Likes)