Archive for December, 2009

Sunday Sermon: A not-so-even Keillor

Garrison Keillor, whom I usually admire, goes a bit off the rails in this rant about Christmas (which prompted this response from Gina Welch, among others).  Here’s where I think Keillor goes off the rails: “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah“? No, we didn’t.”

I have to confess, if it weren’t Garrison Keillor, I’d wonder if there might be some anti-Semitism there. I understand what he’s getting at (it’s interesting that there are lots of Christmas/holiday/winter songs written by Jews), and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps only because I’m a fan.

But the problem is, he’s objecting to a Unitarian church where ” ‘Silent Night’ has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God” because it violates his own sense of propriety and tradition, but he’s badmouthing lots and lots of songs — “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting …”) to name just a few — that are just as much a part of lots of other people’s holiday traditions as “Silent Night” (in its original, pristine version, written 18 centuries after the event it describes) is for Keillor.

It’s sort of like George Carlin’s observation about highway driving — everyone you’re tailgating is an idiot, and everyone tailgating you is a maniac. Keillor seems to think that traditions are to be kept and revered and maintained in static form forever and never criticized, except when they’re someone else’s traditions.

P.S. This will probably be my last Sunday Sermon — and perhaps my last post — for the year. I’m off on a week’s vacation in sunny Vieques, Puerto Rico, and I’m not sure I’ll be posting from there. It’s been a wonderful year for this blog — special thanks to Parenting Beyond Belief and its readers’ suggestion I start my RSS feed — and hopefully the new year will bring still more good tidings or whatever folks like us are supposed to call them. Thanks!

(pic via Curmudgeonly & Skeptical)

Rooting for nobody

So, I’m sure you’ve seen all the stats about how people would vote for a Muslim before an atheist, and how atheists as a group are considered less trustworthy than people of any religion, and all that sort of stuff. I think I may have a rough idea about why that is.

We all know it’s not polite to rag on people for their religion. That’s not merely because it’s polite to show respect for other people’s beliefs and opinions. For most people religion isn’t so much a worldview as an upbringing.

Some people do adopt a new religion (or get much more serious about religion than they were brought up to be), but most people go to pretty much the same church, in pretty much the same way, as their parents, and their parents before them. Criticize someone’s churchgoing habits, and you’re not just criticizing what they believe, you’re criticizing the way their parents raised them.

Even people who know their upbringing has been kind of screwed up will tend to get defensive about it when someone else criticizes it (don’t believe me? Try criticizing someone’s mama right after he gets done criticizing her — let me know how that works out for you). And most people understand that other folks can’t entirely help the way they were raised, and tend to make accommodations for such differences in upbringing.

But atheism’s a bit different. Sure, some people are raised to be atheist, and probably quite a few people go through the motions of religion with an awareness that going through the motions is really all that they’re doing. But atheism isn’t a choice of religion, it’s a repudiation of religions.

It’s one thing to be a Protestant talking to a Catholic (or vice versa); it’s a whole other thing to be an atheist talking to a Catholic (or Protestant, or Muslim or Hindu or whatever). It’s not like telling a Packers fan that you like the Bears (though that can be problematic enough), it’s like telling a Packers (or Bears) fan that you think football itself is silly.

In short, atheism bothers people because it’s usually a conscious decision to reject religious upbringing, rather than a reflection of it. If someone belongs to another religion, even one that says you’re going to hell, you don’t treat them as if they’ve reached that conclusion — it’s what they were raised with. Bashing someone’s religion is like bashing their family.

(T-shirt pic via Zazzle)

Sunday Sermon: The true meaning of Christmas

Short sermon today: Watch the video.

Here endeth the lesson.

Skeptics and sex (well, gender)

There have been a couple of spats among atheists in recent days that sort of seem connected.

There’s Skeptifem’s rant (and I mean that in a good way) about the “white male privilege” attitude of Bill Maher and other prominent skeptics/freethinkers/etc., with which PZ Myers agrees (sort of), but says the problem is merely that male atheists tend to be “confident that equality is the right answer, appreciating everyone, male or female, working to promote rationalism in society, and then smugly assuming we’re done when we’re not.”

I suspect the real problem is that, like members of pretty much any oppressed and/or disenfranchised minority, atheists often think prejudice is something other people have, and that they themselves are immune to it (or immune to being called out on it).

Along somewhat the same lines, Stephen Prothero holds forth on how maybe it would be good for atheism to have more prominent female voices (and for the male voices to be less prominent), since everyone knows girls are made of sugar and spice and all that. OK, that’s not exactly how he put it, but it’s not all that far off.

So Amanda Marcotte tears Prothero a new one, pointing out that expecting female atheists to be less aware of theistic nonsense or less articulate about calling it nonsense is just as sexist as the religious nuts who say women can’t lead religious nuts because they don’t have, well, nuts.

(cartoon via Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop & Tea Room)

Sunday Sermon: Who Would Jesus Boycott?

Let’s say you’re a fine upstanding Christian organization, and you decide to put “Christ” back in “Christmas” (and take it out of “Christian”) by disobeying Jesus and casting judgment.

And let’s say that in this stone-throwing campaign, you’ve tried to ruin a business because you thought they didn’t use “Christmas” in their advertising , but it turns out they’d already used it before you called for the boycott.

What do you do when it becomes obvious that you’ve borne false witness? Why, declare victory, of course.

That’s what the AFA did in its yearly “Naughty or Nice Christmas List” after falsely claiming The Gap didn’t mention Christmas in its ads after it had already run ads mentioning Christmas.

(pic via Zen Comix)

Season’s greetings

‘Tis the season, not only for corny holiday cliches, but for bickering about the proper way to wish people a happy merry whatever.

Here’s a suggestion: Let’s try to have one consistent standard. If you don’t want to hear Christians whining about being greeted with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings,” then don’t whine about people greeting you with “Merry Christmas.”

Not because it’s the same — it’s not. There’s a big difference between being inclusive (e.g. “season” or “holidays”) and being exclusive (referring to one specific religion’s holiday, e.g. “Christmas”).

But the principle is, if someone’s trying to be nice, do you give them some credit for that, or do you sneer at their attempt just because it doesn’t measure up to your standards, or meet your preferences?

On the other hand, if you want to preserve the right to complain loudly and vociferously about  being wished “Merry Christmas” (and you don’t mind that you’re playing into every negative stereotype about atheists being “strident” or “militant” or “politically correct” or whatever), then understand that other people have just as much right to complain, just as loudly and vociferously, about being wished “happy holidays” or whatever.

Sure, complaining about insufficient inclusivity isn’t the same as complaining about insufficient exclusivity, but free speech is free speech, even for people who are wrong or stupid or bigoted or whatever. So pick a standard, and stick with it.

(pic via Atheist Holiday Greeting Cards — collect them all!)