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.

Thinking vs. believing

I realize that I can’t know for sure whether Bertrand Russell’s proverbial teapot is in orbit around the planet (or is it around the sun?), but I have no problem* categorically stating that I believe it is not.

Except that’s not quite true. I have a bit of a problem with the word “believe,” since it misleadingly suggest I’m talking about a belief or faith. In fact, my view of Russell’s Teapot (and God) is more of an opinion. It’s a best guess.

The problem is that while we make a distinction (at least I do) between “belief” and “opinion,” in colloquial speaking (and writing), we generally use the verb “believe” to refer to both kinds of views. I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, and I’m not afraid to use it, but I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “opine” in my life.

The other option, of course, is the verb “think,” and I try to use that when I’m referring to my view on deities — that is, I think there aren’t any. If I were a little less mindful of my Rule #1, I might respond to queries about what I believe by saying, “I don’t believe, I think.”

(pic via xkcd)

Saturday Sermon: Burn ’em, Bo!

I only know Bo Burnham from one Comedy Central special, but I’ve seen the nerdy singer/rapper/comic as something of a kindred spirit (except I’m pretty sure he’s gay, and pretty sure I’m not). But this clip that’s apparently from an hour-long special airing tonight (also on Comedy Central)  puts a hurt on religion that’s just a joy to watch.

Breeding contempt

So, the Intertubes have been all abuzz lately about the Pew study showing atheists are msot knowledgeable about religion (you can take the quiz here).

Some have suggested possible contamination because atheists are more educated, or more intelligent, and of course people who want to argue against something often know a lot about it because they’re looking for stuff to criticize (then again, creationists tend to be woefully ignorant of evolution and evolutionary theory).

But I suspect that looking deeply into any religion (to the point where you can discuss doctrines without merely parroting them) probably tends to point to the conclusion that the religion has some problems. In other words, of course we know a lot about religion — that’s why we’re atheists!

(cartoon via FanPop)

I’m wide awake and I can see

Not exactly a Sunday Sermon today, but since I’m watching the team I grew up rooting for (Packers) playing against the team I rooted for in the ’90s when I was living in Maryland (‘Skins), this meditation on “Torn” seems somehow appropriate:

Thanks to Reddit (yes, I know, they’re my source for lots of stuff), I now realize that a song I always sort of liked, Natalie Imbruglia’s (cover version of) “Torn,” is actually an atheist anthem. Well, maybe not “anthem,” more like “confessional” or something more personal. Still pretty cool. And sure, there’s some wiggle-room on interpretation, but lines like “I’m all out of faith” and “I should have seen just what was there and not some holy light” are pretty blatant, not to mention the opening line.  Here are the lyrics:

I thought I saw a man brought to life
He was warm
He came around
And he was dignified
He showed me what it was to cry

Well you couldn’t be that man I adored
You don’t seem to know
Or seem to care
What your heart is for
I don’t know him anymore

There’s nothin’ where he used to lie
My conversation has run dry
That’s what’s going on
Nothings right
I’m torn

I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late
I’m already torn

So I guess the fortune tellers right
I should have seen just what was there and not some holy light
But you crawled beneath my veins
And now, I don’t care
I have no luck
I don’t miss it all that much
There’s just so many things
That I can’t touch
I’m torn

There’s nothin’ where he used to lie
My inspiration has run dry
That’s what’s going on
Nothing’s right
I’m torn

Tuesday Semi-Sermon: Don’t start, believers

OK, so I’m watching “Glee” and the storyline is that Kurt (the fierce gay one) is in crisis because his dad’s in a coma after a heart attack, and it turns out Kurt’s an atheist, and not wavering from his views, even being disdainful of well-meaning efforts by his theist friends to pray for his dad, etc.

And then there’s a touching scene where Mercedes (the sassy black one) says to him, “I know you’re going through a really scary time right now, and I know you’re not really religious or spiritual, but I want you to know that I’m still behind you and I care about you even though you don’t share my beliefs.

Oh, except that’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT SHE SAID! Instead she said, “but I think you’re missing out on a lot” or words to that effect, and then invited him to attend church with her. Since when is it appropriate to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability to proselytize for your religion? Sure, that might not be her intention, but that’s what she’s doing. At the very least, it’s horribly insensitive.

“Glee” had a really great opportunity to make a statement about atheism being, at the very least, a valid part of the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity. Instead they treated atheism as a problem to be dealt with, or a phase to be outgrown or moved on from.

Postscript: I’m now watching the end of the episode, and Kurt still doesn’t believe in God, and he still gets to make a touching and sympathetic speech. So I guess there’s still some hope.

(pic via Homorazzi)

Sunday Sermon: Maher-velous

If you’re reading this the day it posts, I’m out of town — visiting an old friend from college (On Wisconsin!) who’s now in Newark, and we’re probably watching the Packer game in a Packer bar in Greenwich Village(!) that used to be a beatnik hangout(!!). So I’ll turn the mic over to brother Bill Maher, who absolutely pwns Bill O’Reilly in his own “No Spin Zone.”