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.

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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)

Thanks

So, it’s Thanksgiving, traditionally a day of giving thanks to God and the semi-official beginning of the holiday season (and therefore of people whining about calling it the “holiday” season and all that crap — I may have more on that later). So what’s an atheist to do?

I say, be thankful. It’s not like you have to state or imply that you’re thankful to some magical sky-wizard. Do you think all the theists reciting their lists of things they’re thankful for are really stating or implying that those things are primarily the providence of their sky-wizard of choice? I don’t. I think “thanksgiving” generally translates to just stepping back, taking a breath, and remembering all the ways in which your life doesn’t suck right now.

Personally, I’m kind of thankful that I have the day off from my job (even though I have to work tomorrow and therefore can’t be with my family back home in Wisconsin), and I’m really, really, REALLY thankful that I have a job to have the day off from. I spent 1 year, 9 months and 11 days being unemployed before I started my current job in September, and while I don’t attribute that change of fortune to any divine activity, I’m thankful as all hell for it.

And while I’m at it, I’m thankful to anyone reading this, just for reading it. This is a tiny little blog, with pageviews numbering a few dozen per day, but it just knocks me over that even a few dozen people are interested enough in what I have to say that they come here and visit when I put up a new post. I’m thankful for the encouraging comments I received when I said I’d have to cut back on the blogging a bit now that I’m working at a job that doesn’t allow any goofing off at all, and I’m thankful for all the suggestions, comments and even arguments that people have brought to this tiny little outpost in the blogosphere. Thank you, thank you, thank you, every one of you.

(awesome version of Tim Minchin’s “White Wine In The Sun” via Pharyngula)

Sunday Sermon: Gene therapy

I’m delighted to learn that one of my favorite writers, the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten (best known for his Pulitzer-winning “Pearls Before Breakfast” experiment as well as a great, must-read piece on children’s party clown The Great Zucchini), is an atheist, and today’s column is devoted to the recent Pew study showing atheists know more about religion than religious folks.

So I’m turning my Sunday Sermon microphone over to Brother Gene. Here’s a brief taste:

Q: If God didn’t create the universe, how do you atheists think it began?

A: With a Big Bang.

Q: Oh, yeah? Well, what came before the Big Bang?

A: The Big Diamond Ring.

You may have to sign up with WashPost.com to read it, but IMO it’s well worth it (I generally go there on Sundays for Gene and the Style Invitational).

Theists I Admire(d): Uncle Howard

A couple weeks ago I lost my Uncle Howard and his wife, my Aunt Mary (they’re on the right in this family photo from 19mmhmm), who died within a few days of each other, both in their ’90s and suffering from various ailments

Uncle Howard was my “funny uncle,” the one who always had a joke I’d never heard before, and who read me weird poems like “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Barefoot Boy With Shoes On.” He was deeply religious (either that or he did a good job of faking it after marrying a deeply religious woman), and later in life he became the one who’d send out a Christmas poem, meticulously rhymed but with little regard for meter, that would reliably make me groan (and not in a good way) at the mawkishness of it.

Anyway, I just received (in the mail, from my folks) the program for the memorial service held for the couple, that included 3 Catholic priests as celebrants of the funeral Mass, and a variety of religious hymns and songs. But this struck me — at the bottom are two places listed for memorial donations, and neither are churches or religious organizations or faith-based anything, just the two secular hospices where they spent their last days.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that was a deliberate choice. Howard’s family (my dad’s side) wasn’t particularly religious, and Howard was always an exemplary model of how to live an obviously religious life without ever being overbearing about it. I’m gonna miss him.

(BTW, if you’re wondering, that’s me in the light-colored cowboy hat, along with my brother, my parents and my dad’s mother).

Hope, and change

I voted today, in my local polling place, the American Legion hall. At one end, on the wall was a big sign with the Legion’s constitution, which begins “For God and country …”, and at the other end was the bar, with a big sign saying “Miller Time.” Is this a great country, or what?

On an unrelated note, this blog (and my main one) might be going into semi-hibernation for a while, as I’ll be pretty busy. Here’s the deal: Have you ever seen someone in a particular job, and thought to yourself, “I want to be that guy! I want to have that job”? The thing is, “that guy’s” boss just reached out to me to let me know that “that guy” is retiring, and that I might have a pretty good shot at being “that guy.”

But first I have to pass a whole boatload of IT certifications, in just a few months. So I’ll be working all day at my current IT job (which is a nice job, but not one I ever coveted) and coming home to bone up on Microsoft and Cisco stuff to get the certifications I need for the job that I actually do covet.

I’m not going to stop posting here (I’ve still got things to say, or just to work out by writing them down and putting them out there), but I’m going to (try to) stop worrying about how many days it’s been since I posted something.