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Oh Come, All Ye Faithless! November 30, 2008

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In the spirit of the season, I have a little confession to make.  I love Christmas carols.christmas_carolers

Yes, even the really religious ones.  Actually, those are my favorite, though not because of their religious nature.

First, I had best explain my feelings about Christmas, since this may be a little confusing to some.  Though I am an atheist and therefore do not believe that Jesus was the son of god,  I still celebrate Christmas.  My atheist parents did not deprive their children of Christmas trees and presents under it, of letters to Santa Claus and the wide-eyed anticipation of his bounteous arrival, or of any of the other customary trappings of Christmas.  We children were of course aware that the season was, ostensibly, a celebration of Christ’s birthday, but we were also aware that it was a celebration of much more.  What more could there possibly be, I can hear the Christians amongst us grumbling?

Christmas is, for me, a celebration of family, of tradition (which need not be of the religious variety), of love, of wonder, of renewal, of winter, of hope, of giving, of childhood, and, though this may sound odd, of music.  “Christmas: The Season” is inextricably entwined with “Christmas:  The Carol” in my heart and in my mind, and in big, capital, italicized letters to boot.

The best Christmas carols are the old ones, of course.  Those written in the 18th and 19th centuries are my favorite.  They are either stately and grand or sprightly and humble, but they always make me feel like a child again.  There are a few 20th century gems such as “White Christmas” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but they are the exceptions to the rule.

Does the religious nature of most Christmas carols bother me?  Not in the least.  I think we should focus on the feeling that the music gives us, not the words being sung.  Whether you believe in a god or not, you just can’t help feeling good when you hear a Christmas carol.  

And as for the truly modern Christmas carol?  If I had my way Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, and all of the other thousands of idiots who wish to sell records would be struck permanently mute the minute they attempted to write anything that made one single reference to Christmas or Santa Claus.   

Don’t mess with the Christmas carol, that’s all I’m saying.

Evidently it WILL Play in Peoria! November 22, 2008

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Last month I wrote about The Atheist Campaign’s efforts to place advertisements on British buses reading “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  I thought the ad campaign was a good idea but wondered if it would “play in Peoria,” meaning that I thought that Americans were so overly-religious that such a campaign would never get off the ground here.  I guess I was wrong about that, and I must say that I’ve never been more delighted to be proven so.

Just in time for Christmas,The American Humanist Association is spending $40,000 to place this slogan on Washington, D.C. buses:  “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

It’s a pretty innocuous message, really, but of course it has already sparked outraged protests from religious groups.  Tim Wildmon (now there’s an odd moniker for a religious man), president of the American Family Association, has this to say about the campaign.

“It’s a stupid ad,” he said. “How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”

Well, Mr. Wildmon, the ad is not stupid, but your asking “how do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God?” is stupid.  There are plenty of people in this world, myself included, who have no problem whatsoever defining good without receiving assistance from a mythical being.  Are you saying that belief in god is the only thing that is keeping you from breaking laws and hurting people?  That’s pretty scary…and crazy.

Mathew Staver, chairman of the Christian group Liberty Counsel, also weighed in with his two-cents, saying “It’s the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ. Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want, but this is insulting.”

Why is it insulting?  Has it ever occurred to Mr. Staver that it is insulting to have other people’s religious belief thrown in one’s face constantly, and to be treated as if you are a second-class citizen because you have chosen rational thought over blind ignorance and wish-fulfillment?

I think it’s about time that we had a little balance when it comes to expression of faith and belief, and I think that this ad campaign is being launched at exactly the right time.

Hey Sis! November 10, 2008

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As usual, whenever I ponder the ridiculous stories contained in the Bible, I find myself getting side-trackedadam_and_eve1 by glaring inconsistencies and huge plot holes.  And I start asking questions.  For one thing, in the Christian Bible, Genesis Two, it says that after god created Adam he created the animals, which Adam then named, but “but for Adam not was found a helper corresponding to him.”  Now, since Eve had yet to be created, meaning that Adam had no mate, my question is this:  had god given the animals mates but then neglected to realize that Adam would want one too, and preferably one who looked like him?  Or was the entire earth at that time populated only by sexually frustrated creatures of only one gender?  Assuming that God, once he realized his mistake (oh, excuse me, I forgot…god doesn’t make mistakes, right?) and created a mate of the opposite sex for Adam, did god then retroactively create female animals?  It must have been busy in the old garden that day, huh?

Then there is that lovely question of where Cain found a mate of his own.  The bible says that after Cain slew Abel (in jealousy, because god, showing great maturity, got pissed at Cain because he thought Cain was being stingy with his presents) he went to the Land of Nod, east of Eden, and there took a wife. 

I am not the first person in the world to ask where these east of Eden-ites came from, because it would seem that at that time Adam, Eve and Cain were only three people on earth.  I decided to do an internet search and see what religious websites had to say about the matter.  The consensus seems to be that these people were the progeny of Adam and Eve’s many other children, and were born while Cain was wandering in the desert.

I guess what surprises me here is that everywhere I looked it was rather cheerfully stated that we are all the products of incest.  Here’s a typical passage:  “Given that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, either Cain or one of his brothers must have married a sister.”  Now, I’ve always known that this is the religious expanation of our origins, but I’m a  little creeped out that people who would otherwise condemn incest seem to have no trouble embracing the notion if it supports their whacked-out beliefs.   The website www.reasons.org even povides a useful table to illustrate how quickly these brothers and sisters could populate the earth.  It reminds me of those tables you see in pamphlets urging you to spay and neuter your pets…you know, the ones that show how quickly those little critters procreate.

But isn’t incest a sin?  Evidently not.  According to the website mentioned above,

“Though the book of Genesis condemns sexual relations between children and their parents, it nowhere prohibits a man from marrying his sister or niece.”

I guess I get it now.  Incest is a sin but it wasn’t a sin back then, because the bible says it wasn’t.  Now shut up and go picket a family planning clinic or tell gay people that they are abominations.

Crazy.

Smoking or Non-Smoking? November 9, 2008

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prepare_for_heaven

I have always been intrigued and baffled by the Christian concept of Heaven and Hell.  Supposedly, everyone goes to one place or the other, though there is also that wonderfully bizarre place that the Catholics call Purgatory, which is kind of like a waiting room to Heaven.  It would take much to long to tackle that particular weirdness, what with all of the questions about venial sins, intercession and indulgences, so for our purposes here we will just stick to the basics. 

The drill goes something like this:  people who believe in god and play by all of the rules imposed on them by their particular religion will go to heaven. Everyone else will go to hell.  Heaven is a wonderful place of beauty and light where you are united with your loved ones for eternity.  Hell is a horrible, black place filled with fire and brimstone where you will burn for eternity.  Heaven is awesome, Hell sucks, so don’t screw up!

There are problems with this thinking (if you can call it thinking).  One is that each religion holds that only it’s followers will be “saved.”  Another is that it seems like the saved are more happy about the prospect of the unsaved burning in hell forever than they are about their own salvation.  I can almost hear them saying “neener, neener, neeeeener!”

It seems obvious to me that Heaven and Hell are concepts arrived at by the dual agents of fear and hatred.  We fear death so we invent a “better place” that we go to when we die, and we hate those that are different from us so we invent a bad place for them to go to after death.   We use the fear of hell to control ourselves and others around us, and we sometimes hate our lives so much that only the prospect of eternal reward keeps us going.

I think it’s pretty pathetic to regard life on this earth as nothing but a stepping stone to something far better or far worse.  I happen to think that life is pretty wonderful.  Yes, it can be painful, and messy, and sometimes almost unbearable.  But it’s LIFE.  Living, breathing, feeling, thinking, loving, doing, being, beautiful LIFE!  There is no better place than this, there is no worse place than this.  It is Heaven and Hell both, all wrapped up into one incredible and all too fleeting moment.  To spend your time worrying about where you may go after this is folly.  You are here, right now, with this one life. 

Live it.

The Hidden November 3, 2008

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OK, I have to admit it:  I write this blog because I have been commanded to do so by my Journalism professor.  And since what I write here is basically a class assignment and I am under always deadline, I sometimes post things that don’t make as much sense as I would like them to.

This time, however, I strive to be different.

As I mentioned in my first posting, I was raised in an atheistic household and was lucky to grow up in what amounts to a religious vacuum.  As such, I have always held myself as somewhat different and somehow more fortunate than other atheists, though I have not, in all honesty, spent a great deal of time reflecting upon my good fortune.

One of the unforeseen side-effects of this blog assignment has been that I have lately begun to really think about why I do not believe in a supreme being.  And, in the course of this self-exploration, I have begun to ask myself what kind of journey other non-believers have undergone.  The following interview with my friend Stacy Bidwell is an attempt to add a voice to that question.

Click on this link to hear my interview with Stacy.

The Mudslinging of the Saved November 1, 2008

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Once again religion rears its ugly head in a politics.  Senator Elizabeth Dole (R) North Carolina, running in a tight race against opponent Kay Hagan, has released an television ad accusing Hagan of consorting with atheists.  In the ad, a narrator states:  “A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fund-raiser in Kay Hagan’s honor.”  In the background a female voice says “There is no God to rely on…there was no Jesus.”  A sound clip of conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor then follows, in which he is heard asking an unidentified male, “Taking under God out of the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re down with that?”  The male answers, “We’re down with that.”  O’Reilly asks,  “In God we trust, you going to whip that off the money?”  The male voice says, “Yes, we would.”  The narrator then intones ominously,

“Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras, took Godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?”

The ad ends with an image of Hagan and a female voice saying “there is no god.”  It is not Kay Hagan’s voice saying those words, but the intent is to make the viewer think that it is indeed her.

As it turns out, Kay Hagan is a long-time member and elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro and is a former Sunday School teacher.   Her campaign has issued a cease-and-desist letter insisting that the Dole campaign pull the ad , and Hagan has since appeared in an ad that slams Dole for “bearing false witness.  The entire ad is an attempt to smear Hagan by tarring her with the brush of atheism.

Now here’s what gets me.  Senator Dole wrongly attacked an opponent, accusing her of something that just isn’t true, and for that she owes her opponent an apology.  But what if it was true?   It simply should not matter whether a candidate for political office is religious or not.  Let me restate that:  in a sane and rational society it simply should not matter whether a candidate for political office is religious or not.  Belief in god does not make a candidate better suited to hold office any more than believing in Santa Claus does.  Religious faith and the ability to do ones job are two completely different things.  And the charge of taking “godless money?”  What exactly is godless money?  I’m an atheist, so does that make the money in my wallet godless?  If I buy something from  you and pay you with my godless money, then are you somehow contaminated?

Politics and religion should be never be married together.

But Would it Play in Peoria? October 26, 2008

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The other day I read an interesting article on the web about a group that is attempting to launch an atheist advertising campaign in London.  The Atheist Campaign intends to put the slogan, “There’s probably no god.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”, on 30 buses throughout London and is soliciting donations through it’s website.  Well-known scientist and author Richard Dawkins has offered to match donations for the campaign, up to £5,500.

The Atheist Campaign is the brain-child of Ariane Sherine, who first wrote about the idea on the Comment is free website in reaction to seeing religious advertising and bible quotes on several buses.  According to The Atheist Campaign.org website, the intent of the campaign is to

… brighten people’s days on the way to work, help raise awareness of atheism in the UK, and hopefully encourage more people to come out as atheists. We can also counter the religious adverts which are currently running on London buses, and help people think for themselves.”

I think it’s a great idea, but I do wish that they would take the word “probably” out of the slogan.  What’s wrong with just saying, flat out, that there is no god?  Of course, the inclusion of that word is most likely an attempt to reach agnostics as well as atheists, but I still think it is a bit cowardly.  I’m sure it helps them get more donations, though.

What struck me most about this campaign is that it would probably never fly in the United States.  I can just imagine the public cries of outrage, the condemnation, the accusations of discrimination which so many Christians love to level at those who have the temerity to offer a dissenting opinion.  What is harder to imagine is the probability of finding a bus company in the U.S. that would actually consent to displaying an advertisement like this.  I’m sure that many buses would be defaced and that religious groups would declare boycotts.   Isn’t that the way it usually goes?

So what, dear reader, do you think?  Would this campaign work in the U.S.?  Why or why not?  Please post a comment and share your thoughts on this.

800 Atheist Blogs and Counting October 25, 2008

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Socially Acceptable Insanity has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

The Atheist Blogroll now has over 800 member blogs, and if you’re like me you are probably surprised at that number.  Who knew there were so many of us actively spreading our views?  Rather than add the entire 800 to my sidebar, I have added a 25 blog rolling list:  it may take a day or so to show up, so please be patient.  In the meantime you may click on the Atheist Blogroll link above to see the full list.  Take a little time to read a few, and feel free to comment on this blog about anything you read.  It will take me some time to go through the entire list, but after a quick look I can particularly recommend Skeptico and Atheist Revolution

Have fun exploring!

We’re All Doomed October 19, 2008

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This Friday I finally saw Religulous, the new Bill Maher movie about the insanity that is religion.  In this movie Maher travels the world, interviewing people of many faiths and asking them questions about what and why they believe.

It probably goes without saying that I laughed a lot, as did the rest of the audience.  However, I was shaking my head ruefully while I laughed, because this movie brought home to me, once again, the sheer impossibility of getting religious people to see reason.  Almost every person he talked to seemed rational enough, but the minute he challenged them to explain inconsistancies in their beliefs they would retreat behind a wall of dogma, “faith” or just plain weirdness.  Do you really believe that Jonah lived for three days in the belly of a whale?  “It was a large fish,” the interviewee says.  As Maher wonderingly asks later, does that make a difference somehow?  Oh, it wasn’t a whale, it was a large fish.  That makes infinitely more sense, doesn’t it?  The only people that seemed open to listening to him were the truckers at a truck stop chapel, even though one of them walked out on him.

Maher takes on Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, and televangelism, shotting holes in their hypocrisy.   Time and again, when asked why their religion fostered intolerance and hatred, respondents of all faiths would answer “it’s all political.”  That’s right:  my religion doesn’t breed hate, it’s everyone else that is causing it.

He visits the Mormom Temple in Salt Lake City (they throw him out),  the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the Dome of the Rock, the Vatican and the Holy Land Experience in Orlando.  About the Holy Land Experience:  I could not figure out why the audience at the “Crucifixion” kept clapping!  What, were they just being polite, or did they really get off on seeing their “Lord” dragging a cross while being beaten by Roman soldiers?  Bizarre….

I really got a kick out of the two Vatican priests that he interviewed (outside the actual walls of the Vatican – the officials didn’t want him there any more than the Mormons did),  but I kept asking myself if they were really Vatican priests.  These guys were openly, cheerfully scornful of so many Catholic beliefs.   I know that Catholicism has changed a lot since Vatican II, but I didn’t think that they had gotten to the point where they didn’t believe in Hell anymore.  I think I might research that a little more.

In the end, amid images of violence and destruction intercut with those of religous adherents bobbing, swaying, gesticulating, screaming and otherwise acting like they are just plain nuts, Maher comes to his final point.  Humankind’s ability to created weapons of mass destruction does not mix well with their inablility to stop clinging to religious belief, and we may all eventually pay the ultimate price for such madness.  His final diagnosis?  That we must “grow up, or die.”

While I know that many people thought his conclusion to be heavy-handed and a bit melodramatic, I liked it. 

Because he’s right.

Hear an audio clip of audience reaction to the movie.

Religiously Unacceptable Insanity October 17, 2008

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An October 15, 2008 LiveScience.com article, titled Church Pastors Dismiss Mental Illness, is yet another example of religious stupidity at its best.

The article, which discusses a study done by Baylor University, states:

“In a study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness.”

The problem was solely spiritual in nature, they were told.”

Isn’t that just great?  You’re suffering mental anguish, perhaps even hearing voices, but when you seek help from your pastor or clergy member (someone whom you trust to have your best interests at heart), that person dismisses your legitimate mental problems and blames it on a not being “right” with god?  That is so supremely stupid, dangerous, and callous that it is almost impossible to comprehendTo make matters worse, the article goes on to say “those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don’t have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication.”

I thought we had left the Dark Ages behind us, but evidently we have not.  What’s next, flogging and burning at the stake?  And is it any surprise that the study found that “women were more likely than men to have their mental disorders dismissed by the church?”

Lest you think that perhaps these people weren’t actually mentally ill, read on. 

“All of the participants in both studies were previously diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider as having a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and schizoprenia, prior to approaching their local church for assistance.”

One wonders how many potentially violent or suicidal people have been pursuaded by their religious leaders to forego scientific treatment for their illness, and perhaps gone on to harm others or themselves.  One is also left to wonder if religion ever gets anything right. 

From where I stand, I’d say the answer is no.

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