What would I say if I died and met god?

First, look, obviously now I’ll acknowledge that you exist. That, or I’m not dead and I’m in such a state that I’m either dreaming or hallucinating your existence. Don’t want to rule that out. Great. So anyway, here I am and here you are. I guess I ought to ask for your forgiveness: you see, I simply wasn’t convinced you existed. Whether I was “created” stubborn, or the evidence (which couldn’t be explained some other way) truly wasn’t there, I just wasn’t convinced. I’m not the only one, either; there’s millions of us — billions, even! Yes, obviously we’re all wrong because, again, there you are. Unless I’m hallucinating which, frankly, I probably am. But in case I’m not, there you have it. Whether I’ll ever truly believe you exist — whether I‘m ever convinced I’m not dreaming or hallucinating — I’ll acknowledge that right here, right now, I see you, and I’m speaking to you directly instead of telepathically, as many people throughout my life would have told me to consider. I’m sorry, but there just isn’t evidence enough to convince me that telepathic communication is an actual thing.

This brings me to my second point: if you are what everybody seems to think you are, then fuck you. No, really, fuck you. Are you powerful enough to prevent things like disease, starvation, and for lack of a better word, evil? Then why do these things cause such suffering? Why do they exist at all? Why do good people — many of whom believe in and worship you — suffer these ailments? Why do natural disasters destroy people’s properties and livelihoods, even kill them in many cases? If you told me you could prevent any and all suffering or you could give me “free will” (yet still punish me, as people will claim, for not being convinced you exist until it’s too late), I’d choose the no-suffering option. Yeah, I would completely forfeit my free will if it meant nobody anywhere would ever hurt or be unhappy. So fuck you. (Especially if you’ll overlook that virtue of mine when deciding whether or not I should be punished, not for a long time, but for eternity.)

Unless, y’know, none of that business is true. Did you create everything and then continue to watch over us, powerless, as we hurt ourselves? I can really, honestly, forgive you for that. Why fault you for something you couldn’t prevent? For the exact same reason, I won’t blame my housecat for the ongoing bigotry, prejudice, hatred, and wars in the world. Then again, if my housecat was powerful enough to create, y’know, everything, I’d hope it would be responsible enough to create everything right. But I’ve watched enough movies and read enough books to realize that not everybody with such great power will use it so responsibly. Sometimes people just get carried away. Maybe you discovered you had the power to create human beings with a snap of your fingers and just started snapping without thinking of what we may do to ourselves or, worse, to others. So if that’s what happened and you’re ready to admit it and acknowledge that you may have made some mistakes along the way, then I’m ready to forgive you for it.

But, of course, for the same reasons I won’t get on my knees and worship my housecat, I really hope you don’t expect me to do that for you.

So in short, if you are capable of preventing pain but actively chose not to, fuck you. If you’re incapable of preventing pain (but would if you could), then I can’t hold that against you. But I will not, ever, under any circumstances, worship you.

Aside

I am sincerely considering changing the name of the blog. My hope is that if the blog is no longer titled “Atheist Dave,” maybe more atheists and agnostics and skeptics and bears and chickens and whatever will feel compelled to write for it. And if more people write for it, more frequent updates will be made.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

Suggestions so far:

  • Encyclopédie, a reference to Diderot’s “Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts.”
  • The Drunken Atheist

The easiest book in the world to understand.

If I were the creator of the universe, esp. the earth and its inhabitants, and I wanted everybody to know and worship me and follow a very explicit set of rules and guidelines, I might list all my achievements in book form, and I might even include all my rules in that book. Takes a load off my shoulders, right? I wouldn’t have to pop down here every hour and tap somebody on the shoulder and say “Hey, that’s against the rules.” Because if I wanted everybody to follow my rules and I had them all laid out in a nice book and people still didn’t follow them, I would do that. I would intervene. First off, it could serve as a pretty cool reminder that I actually exist. Second, some people just need reminders.

But being that I’m supremely awesome, supremely powerful, and supremely knowledgeable, the rules put forth in my book would be crystal clear. There would be absolutely no way whatsoever for people to misinterpret what I am saying. If I had to use my infinite magical powers to craft the book in such a way so that the words are phrased differently for every person just so they’ll understand exactly what I’m saying, so be it. But two people who have read my book would simply be unable to disagree on the fundamentals within: you would not have one person saying “Clearly if you read it this way, Dave says homosexuals should be put to death,” while another person says “Ah, but if you look at it this way it’s pretty obvious Dave thinks every adult person capable of decision-making, signing a contract, and saying the words ‘I do’ should be offered the right to be married.”

THERE WOULD BE NO MISINTERPRETATIONS. There wouldn’t be sects of people who interpret even two words differently in my book. Because I am awesome-fucking-possum and I actually want these people to obey my rules. They will be clear. I would use my incredible powers to make my rules somehow even more clear than the phrase “Don’t punch people in the neck.” Pretty clear, huh? Someone could misinterpret it. Not if I’m god though.

That is why religion is nonsense. Because the world’s three largest monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based upon the exact same story, yet all three religions are vastly different from one another and each even have a whole sloppy slew of sects and cults within that disagree with one another. Yours is one interpretation out of thousands, and you learned it from your parents, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, whose interpretation of your religion was probably even vastly different from your own. And yet somehow all those other religions/sects are wrong and yours is right.

My role as the atheist/skeptic is not to say to you “Nope, you’re wrong. They’re wrong. Everybody’s wrong.” Rather, it’s to say “Seriously? Look at the odds. What divine knowledge has been bestowed upon you that makes you right and millions of other people wrong?” So what if it turns out you’ve got the right god? You‘ve probably been following the wrong rules.

Ghosts!

The following is copied directly from a post I made on Facebook, and then my subsequent comments on that post.

I used to believe in ghosts. The belief was originally based on just the possibility of their existence, then “confirmed” by my own eyewitness account.

Then I grew up, thought about it, and determined that my account of seeing and hearing ghosts (in a cemetery, no less!) was brought about by

A) the pre-determination of ghosts’ existence (itself based only on assumption, hearsay, and speculation),

B) heightened senses in a dark, quiet graveyard,

C) an overactive imagination that once convinced me when I was younger that an animated skeleton was stalking me from outside my bedroom window (it also led me to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the effectiveness of a toy I had growing up called a “dream chaser”), and even

D) peer pressure. I was with friends who also saw and heard creepy things that night. However even if those friends maintain that we really did witness ghosts or spirits, I am inclined to think they have not yet come to realize the roles these four factors play in their own belief.

Once these four factors are recognized and even more importantly, accepted, it is not difficult at all to dismiss any other supernatural claims or apparent phenomena.

A friend commented, stating that he feels differently (but refrained from going into any detail), which prompted my response:

I would also add a fifth factor: that sometimes it just feels good to believe in something fantastic or magical, like ghosts and an afterlife. It feels good because it’s comforting, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit that just because something seems or feels wonderful doesn’t mean it’s real.

I’ll use books and movies as an example: I love reading and watching films; I love being lost in the story and imagining all the things that happen within. I love rooting for the good guy and I love when he is vigilant. I love when a story can pull at my emotions and make me happy, sad, or frightened. But when the credits roll, or when I turn the last page, the story’s over. Sometimes I get a huge feeling of relief when a story is over, and sometimes I wish it could go on forever, but every story (ready The Neverending Story joke) comes to an end, and whether or not I’m okay with that — whether or not I’m ready for it to be over — it’s over, and I know it’s not real. But it felt good. Hell, it might even still feel good.

He answered again, this time stating that he believes there are things people can’t see or explain; things that exist beyond the realm of the natural; that there are parallel worlds and dimensions, implying that some things (ghosts?) may be able to exist on multiple planes at once, and saying we should not dismiss the existence of ghosts because they might exist. My final response:

I think it’s totally fine to believe we can’t explain everything (I believe the same, and wouldn’t claim otherwise). But to believe in something based strictly on its possibility is absurd. Leprechauns could exist, but I don’t believe they do. I believe there are very small people in this world, and their stature may even make them somewhat elusive, and some of them may even make it a habit to dress themselves predominantly in green, but I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been proven (or even evinced) to possess magical powers such as a leprechaun’s. Bigfoot could — hell, there’s even video footage of him! — but I believe (based on a general understanding of how the brain can play tricks on somebody) any eyewitness accounts are either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Russell’s Teapot COULD exist; there’s no way to prove it doesn’t, but since there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence FOR its existence, I do not believe it exists.

What are your thoughts?

Stranded in New York

Today I received a text message from my friend Larry (“LD”), one he obviously sent to several people, and a follow-up to a private message I had received from him several days ago, explaining his situation.

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“Ok everyone this is the message I have been trying to avoid but I am out of options. So here goes. As most of u know I made a move at the first of the month back to ny. Well things went tits up from the start. We had car problems on the way up. We get that sorted and we get here only to find that the place we had secured to stay at decided that we couldn’t stay there. So for the last 3 weeks now we have been trying our best to sort ourselves out. We contacted dss for emergency help and they turned us away. We have scratched and clawed to try and get things sorted and have failed. We have been now officially homeless for about three weeks now with no shower, no Internet to look for work, nothing. So all we want now is to get home or at least out of ny. So I ask all my friends to pull together and help us get out of new York and get to a place where we can help ourselves survive be it back in Texas or Indiana, but somewhere we can have a chance to survive because it isn’t here. So please if u are willing to help me my mom and 14yr old brother get away and have a chance at life please let me know. I know times are tough for everyone but I hope someone of u guys can help out as we are homeless now and living in my car that is out of gas. Thank you.”

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LD is too proud to ask for help, which is how I know he is desperate at this point. After his original [private] message to me I set up a fundraiser with GiveForward, per some advice from “The Friendly Atheist,” Hemant Mehta. So please, please, if you can donate even a little bit that would be greatly appreciated. I just want my friend to come back home at this point. If you cannot afford to make a donation, please spread the word.

The “Stranded in New York” fundraiser at GiveForward is set up so that donations will be sent directly to LD’s Paypal account.

Please donate @ http://www.giveforward.com/strandedinnewyork

 

 

 

Dealing with family

Little-known fact: not everybody is entirely tolerant of atheists. Sometimes the intolerance is made even harder when those displaying it are family members. Today I received a private message from a cousin on Facebook. For her privacy I will not repost her message, but for the sake of showing that it’s important for us to stand up for ourselves — even against family — I will repost my response. In my response I refer to specific things she said in her original message, so it should be easy enough to catch the gist of it.

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If I might…

Yeah, I’m very in-your-face about my atheism. This is because Facebook is the only place I have to express my feelings about it. Religious people can be open about their beliefs publicly; whether you like to admit it or not, atheists cannot — not in Texas, at least. This is why I share my feelings on my private Facebook page (my account is set to friends only and has been for some time now).

I do not act like I know everything. Religious people seem confused when it comes to atheism in these regards. On the contrary, I do not feel like I know everything; in fact, I’m not going to presume to know the answer to all life’s difficult questions is “God.” I’ll leave that know-it-all attitude to the religious.

I’m not going to touch the fact that you sincerely believe I’ll “rot in hell” for eternity, because I don’t think you actually believe that. I believe it makes you feel like a better person to say it, but if you actually believed millions of people alive today would spend eternity being tortured, you’d go insane.

Fortunately in this day and age, atheism is on the rise. More people are thinking rationally and logically. Sure, I get emotional about it sometimes but in the end the one and only reason I am not religious is because I cannot — as a rational person — agree that the ideas put forth by religious people make even a shred of sense. I’d like for there to be a Heaven, but it doesn’t make sense. I’d like to think there’s a god out there who intervenes and answers prayers, but it just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, wanting something to exist does not make it exist. And “faith” just doesn’t make sense to me.

You wouldn’t rely on a 200-year-old book for medical advice; why would you rely on a 2,000-year-old book for moral advice?

But all of this will go right over your head. You’ll continue to never doubt anything you were taught to believe in as a child. You’ll continue to feel guilty every time doubt rears its ugly head. You’ll continue to believe things that just don’t make sense. You’ll continue to believe because you’re scared. I’m not scared. I know that we live and we die, and so my outlook is to make the absolute most of my short, short life. You said I believe once we’re dead, that’s it. Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s it for our physical bodies, sure, but what we achieve in our lives resonates in the lives and memories of others long after we’ve died.

With that said, again, atheism is on the rise. More and more teenagers and young adults are shaking off the guilty feeling they get when they’re faced with a difficult question they don’t know the answer to. More and more teenagers and young adults are refusing to accept “God did it” as the penultimate answer. My hope is that your children — as the next generation of thinkers, makers, and dreamers — realize the answers they’ve been spoon-fed since infancy just aren’t cutting it. My hope is that one day they’ll recall the fantastic stories they’ve read in the Bible and say to themselves (or even out loud), “Now that just doesn’t make sense.”

Despite the fact that you might actually believe I’m going to suffer eternally after I die (again, I don’t think you seriously believe that) I hope you have a happy life. I guess that’s where you and I differ: you’re okay believing millions and millions of people will suffer forever while you enjoy an endless paradise, whereas I’m just not that selfish or spiteful. Every human being has the same fate: you live, you die. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to do wonderful things in between and be remembered after. Either way, we all end up in exactly the same place.

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Just for fun, I went through every single thing I’ve done/posted/uploaded on Facebook from July 1st up until the receipt of her message, just to determine exactly how in-your-face I am about my atheism on my personal, private Facebook page. I specifically noted things of a religious nature, political nature, and scientific nature. Everything else is categorized as — let’s just be adults and admit it — “nonsense.” Here are the results out of 106 posts:

Religious in nature: 17, including one scary picture of Jesus and one post where I just happened to mention the word “atheists.”
Scientific in nature: 6
Political in nature: 8
Nonsense: 75

Summary: I am 16% in-your-face with atheism and 71% in-your-face with nonsense.

 

 

The Bible as a source of scientific knowledge

I first saw this posted on Facebook (with the name blurred out as it is here) and it was met with responses that contained words like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “Creatard.” I’m not terribly fond of that last one, but I understand the sentiment it’s trying to convey. But not a single commenter made an attempt to explain just why the person who made this absurd statement is an idiot, or why they’re stupid. Now, I don’t know anything about the person who wrote this. In fact, I don’t even know their name. I can’t honestly call this person stupid, but what I will do is hopefully explain why their argument(s) is/are stupid. My one hope is that somehow this post makes its way back to the person who made these arguments originally, because I am genuinely interested in seeing their response.

Let me begin my dissection of this post by stating that nobody ever has or ever will claim that something begins to exist or be true the moment it is “discovered” by science/scientists. I more than likely stumbled outside as a toddler and found myself in the green grass of my parents’ front lawn before a scientist had ever affirmed to me the existence of grass. This does not mean I waited for somebody with a Ph.D. to confirm grass was real before I could accept that it was. This also does not mean grass did not exist prior to my “discovery” of it.

Which takes me to your first example: snakes. More specifically, snakes with legs. Whether or not the Bible states that snakes actually have legs is really a matter of interpretation. The Bible speaks of a serpent in Genesis, who coerces Eve to take a bite of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God’s punishment for the serpent’s role in Eve’s betrayal of his trust, “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Whether this means the serpent had legs prior to God’s curse is unknown, nor is it obvious whether or not this meant the serpent did not have legs after the curse. After all, even a human can crawl on its belly while having legs. It is uncomfortable to do so, especially for long periods of time; perhaps this is what makes it such a harsh punishment. Or perhaps the bit about eating dust is the actual punishment. Either way, the nature of the serpent both before and after God’s punishment is ambiguous.

That being said, you specifically mentioned snakes. I can assure you, and I will do so publicly, that snakes do not have legs. They have not ever had legs and they will not ever have legs.* Throughout the course of evolution, any creature that had legs in the long line of a snake’s ancestry was, assuredly, not a snake. Even if it were so, like I pointed out in my opening statements, a scientist would not have to “discover” a snake in order for a snake to exist.

So let’s move on to your next argument, which is the Bible describing a spherical earth at a time when science allegedly told us the earth was flat. This would be relevant if it were true. It would suggest the Bible really was written or inspired by the words of somebody who not only knew more than modern scientists, but knew truths that were contrary to what science told us at the time. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Bible never once tells us the earth is a sphere. We hear talk of the earth’s “four corners,” actually, which suggests the earth is either a two-dimensional quadrilateral or a triangular pyramid. Incidentally, Pythagoras hypothesized a spherical earth as early as the sixth century BCE, long before the Old Testament was written (and even longer before the NT).

Oh, but you spoke of a “round” earth, and not a spherical earth. If that’s the case, I think you may actually be right in that the Bible suggests, at one point, that the earth is round (I couldn’t tell you which chapter/verse, but that would contradict everything it says about corners). That would be worth investing thought into, since Pythagoras’s spherical-earth hypothesis was not yet widely accepted, except that the common belief was exactly the same: that the earth was round. Flat, but round. More precisely, that the earth was disc-shaped. So the Bible has, yet again, taught us nothing we didn’t “know” already. In fact, at best we could only say it propagated the [false] belief people already held.

Your third example is that the Bible explained to us the nature of the ocean — specifically its currents and its topography — “way before the first submarine.” I think it’s important to note, first, that a submarine is not required to study the floor of the ocean. It certainly makes it easier (and yes, it is required once you get to the deeper parts), but for all intents and purposes let’s just agree that I could walk off the shore and into the ocean, swim twenty feet out, and tell you what I see below me without the use of a submarine. Likewise, I could describe the currents to you. The Bible does not, ever once, explain gravity and the moon’s role in the ocean’s tides. That would be an argument worth posing since it took “science” quite a bit longer to explain that, despite what right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News may tell you.

Second, I’ve read the Bible but admittedly I’m not sure what part you’re referring to when you say it tells us of valleys under the sea and describes how oceanic currents work. If you’re talking about the fantastical Noah’s Ark story, these are observations anybody in a boat could make.

I found your fourth example particularly interesting because I can use “toddler Dave” as an example yet again. My parents taught me constellations when I was young. I could look up to the sky and recognize Orion (though, admittedly, Orion’s Belt was far easier to point out) and Ursa Major. Looking up at the night sky and recognizing shapes made by the stars does not require the use of a telescope, just like a submarine isn’t required to study the ocean’s topography. That said, I’m curious to know which Bible verses speak in great detail of the constellations, and how looking at shapes in the sky pertains to science. Science doesn’t tell us anything about constellations, because they are irrelevant. Science instead focuses on the makeups of stars, their distances from one another, how they interact cosmologically, and what their relevance is. Whether or not a cluster of stars as viewed by the naked eye from earth vaguely resembles mythical people and animals is of no concern whatsoever to legitimate scientists.

Show me the Bible verse that describes the gases that make up stars and explains what happens when a star goes supernova, and then you’ll have my interest.

Your fifth example is dinosaurs. Again, I encourage you to tell me the exact Bible passages that discuss dinosaurs without using words that could possibly refer to other mythological beasts — such as behemoths — that people of that day and age actually believed in, but which never actually existed. You also spoke of archaeological discoveries, as though to differentiate between some random nomad digging up what appears to be a large skull in the desert and thinking it might have belonged to one of those mythological beasts they believed in long ago, and a certified archaeologist digging up a skull which they can study and determine once belonged to an actual dinosaur that we actually know actually existed.

To reiterate, anybody can stumble upon a large, old bone and say “Aha, something big used to be alive!”

I’ll respond to your sixth example briefly: nephilim have never, not ever, not even once, been “discovered” or determined to have once existed. Any skeletons of legitimate “giants” (as in, significantly larger than what we know modern and ancient humans and other apes could have grown to) that have been discovered have been proven to be hoaxes. I’m surprised you bothered to include this as an argument, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Finally, you’re restating what we all already know is stated in Genesis: that human life, as we know it, began with God’s creation of one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve). So far, we understand each other. Next you said we have, through the practice of anthropology, traced humankind’s origins back to “skulls in Africa.” The way you phrased it is confusing; I’m not sure if you meant we’ve traced our origins back to TWO skulls in Africa — which is blatantly wrong, so I won’t bother rebutting it — or simply back to, again, “skulls in Africa.” Hoping you meant the latter, this means nothing. Long before human-like skulls were discovered in Africa we had theorized that humans evolved from other human-like species. Based on the current geography of much of the world’s apes and monkeys, we theorized humans most likely first evolved in Africa. This is why we even searched in Africa in the first place! We already knew we evolved and it wasn’t based on anything the Bible tells us (especially since the Bible states that we were created, which we know is not true). Your last argument, just like your other six, is invalid and irrelevent.

Now, absolutely none of what I have just said disproves any gods, nor does it claim to, nor have I even made an attempt to; I’m simply rebutting the arguments which try to claim the Bible is a legitimate source of scientific knowledge and countering any arguments which state scientists are/were somehow wrong or “behind the times” at the time the Bible (especially the Old Testament, to which the original post primarily points) was first penned. Anybody is welcome to tell me where anything I’ve said here is wrong, but I politely ask to keep all discourse on-topic; that is, related directly either to the original post referenced or my response to it. Thank you.

*A Redditor brought to my attention a story of a snake with a single leg discovered in China in 2009. After researching it a bit I’ve yet to determine whether that particular story is a hoax or not (or whether it has simply been misinterpreted as something it is not), but it led me to feel the need to amend my claim that snakes do not have, will not have, nor ever have had legs. Snake embryos, in fact, have legs which are then absorbed by the body before hatching. This is an example of a vestigial limb, carried on in the genes of snakes from their non-snake-but-snakelike reptilian ancestors. In rare cases, the snake will retain its legs or feet after birth, but since this is a mutation (specifically, it is known as atavism) I will simply amend my statement to say that snakes do not have legs, except in rare mutation-related situations.

Same-sex marriage

The current hot topic is same-sex marriage. As I said in my last post, President Barack Obama “came out” in support of marriage rights and equality for same-sex couples. After listening to a radio broadcast this afternoon in which both hosts were in favor of same-sex marriage, I got to thinking about what arguments were commonly used in defense of restricting marriage to only be between one man and one woman, and I decided to take a shot at knocking every one of them down.

So here are the most common arguments I’ve heard against same-sex marriage:

Bible says it’s wrong.
Okay, that’s cool and all that you respect the word of your religious texts, and I won’t ask you to change that stance. However, our country is not founded on the practice of any particular religion, nor do we have a national religion. If either of those were true, it might be reasonable to think our laws should be based on Biblical laws. This is not the case, though. Instead of putting laws in place because a certain religion says we should, we put laws in place which help protect our rights and provide us with safety. Also, the Bible says not to get tattoos, trim your beard, or wear polyester. I’m just sayin’.

Well, it’s still a religous institution.
Not really. Marriage is a legal issue. It determines who owns the claim to another person’s property should that person die. It determines who can be included in an insurance plan, who has visitation rights in a hospital or jail, as well as other government, employment, and medical benefits. If marriage was strictly a religious practice, marriages between atheists wouldn’t be recognized by the government. If marriage were a religious issue, which religion? Yours? Should people of a different religion than yours be allowed to marry?

Reader comment: “If the church doesn’t want to marry gay couples, they don’t have to. Gay couples could still be legally married (just like many straight couples) outside of a church.” – Sarah C.

Sanctity of marriage
First, what does that even mean? Who determines the sanctity of marriage? If we are concerned with the sanctity of marriage being infringed upon, why is divorce legal? The divorce rate in the United States is somewhere around fifty percent. In other words, half of the people pledging themselves to love one another for the rest of their lives are changing their minds and calling it quits. That doesn’t seem like a very sacred institution.

Tradition
Traditionally, fathers sold their daughters to the highest bidder; whomever could offer the best dowry. Traditionally, white men could not marry black women (and vice-versa). Traditionally, American laws have been changed in light of our ever-evolving social acceptance of minority groups.

Procreation
There are people who will argue that the reason marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman is because only a man and a woman together can reproduce. If this were a legitimate argument, one would assume these same people would be opposed to letting infertile or elderly couples marry, nor would they allow marriage between two people who simply don’t wish to have children.

Reader comment: “Last I checked, people can procreate without being married. Do people think gay couples getting married is somehow going to change the birth rate? It might change the number of orphans and foster homes.” – Sarah C.

Slippery Slope
“Marriage is the legal binding of two consenting adults.” There, now we don’t have to worry about children, animals, or inanimate objects being married.

Okay, fine, but call it something else!
Why? If it looks like marriage, smells like marriage, acts like marriage, and tastes like marriage, it’s marriage.

Morally wrong
Who says? You? Does everybody share the same moral view as you? Should every one of our laws be based on what you, personally, find to be morally objectional? Would that be a reasonable way to determine the law for an entire country? If somebody other than you decided every law should be based on their opinion, would you agree with them?

Reader comment: “The simple fact that it wouldn’t harm anyone if your gay neighbors were married instead of just living together. People would go about the same lives with their same personal moral codes, except with marriage they’d be able to visit their sick spouse in the hospital.” – Sarah C.

Sure, what I’m proposing may seem like I think laws should be based on my opinion, but that’s only because my opinion is that none of a country’s citizens should be discriminated against. Unfortunately, I will still be accused of being “intolerant of intolerance” or “discriminating against discrimination.” Y’know what? I’m okay with that. If you can’t tell the difference, shame on you.

Facebook’d!

Yesterday, voters in North Carolina decided to make a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, a move some have claimed is not anti-gay, but rather pro-marriage. Because apparently, the Christian god created the institution of marriage despite the fact that it’s been practiced for thousands of years longer than even the Old Testament has existed.

I have, for years, been outspoken in favor of the LGBT community and against bigotry, especially on Facebook. Quite a few of my friends have thanked me for doing so, which inspired me to make a post today on my personal page:

In the past, Cees and I have disagreed a lot, usually when it comes to politics. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a very liberal person and Cees, well, he’s the kind of person who uses the term “liberal nutjob” quite, well, liberally. That’s never been an issue for me, however, because I don’t let political points of view disrupt my friendships.

But I just can’t remain friends with somebody whose best and only advice in response to injustice is to just ignore it, because it’ll continue whether I like it or not.

My comment, “THAT’S HOW YOU FACEBOOK” was tongue-in-cheek, and in response to the fact that Cees “un-friended” me after his “farewell,” something my wife has been urging me to do for months.

In related news, today President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president in history to openly support same-sex marriage. Even if this is a so-called “flip-flop” (he was previously opposed to same-sex marriage, but not to civil unions), I don’t mind. It takes a brave man (or a politician — I’m not totally naive) to become educated on a particular topic to the point where his opinion changes.

Either way, well done Mr. President.

Christmas is for everyone, even atheists

The “Christ” in Christmas means about as much to me as does the “Thor” in Thursday, the “Atlas” in the Atlantic Ocean, and the “Vulcan” in vulcanized rubber. Belief in the existence of each of these things’ namesakes is not a requirement if one wishes to use (or celebrate) them. I will continue to celebrate Christmas in my own happy, secular way just as I will continue to appreciate Saturdays without worshiping the Roman god Saturn.

Christmas is, as any atheist is always happy to point out this time of year, a conglomeration of multiple different Pagan, Roman, German, Babylonian, and Nordic traditions. The Bible itself tells every good Christian not to adopt “the way of the heathen” by erecting and decorating a tree with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:2-4); yet I would wager a very large number of Christians adorn Christmas trees with garlands and ornaments every year.

I’m okay with that – you ought to know by now that I don’t care one way or the other how you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia. Heck, you can even go ahead and give it a different name if you want to! Name it after the god your ancestors invented who shares many similar (or same) attributes as the various gods and heroes which were invented before it. I’m just saying, if you really cared about what your god wanted you to do or not do, you wouldn’t be putting all your presents under a tree.

But that’s all beside the point. I’m writing this post to answer a very simple question: Why do [some] atheists celebrate Christmas, and how?

I can’t speak for all atheists, and I know many atheists do not celebrate Christmas, but I can absolutely answer the question(s) for myself.

The why is simple enough: it’s a festivity and I love festivities, whether or not they’re celebrated today for the same reasons they were originally celebrated. Let’s pretend for a moment that the story of the Nativity and Jesus’s birth in a manger on December 25th and the subsequent visit from and gifts presented by the three wise men isn’t blatantly and obviously borrowing from other folklore. Let’s pretend the whole Christmas story is entirely original and true. That being said, who cares?

Oktoberfest was originally the celebration of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen. Did you know that? Do you care? When you celebrate Oktoberfest every year do you raise a glass and toast to the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen? You probably don’t. I don’t. But I celebrate it nevertheless because there’s always a fun time to be had.

Let’s face it; Oktoberfest’s origins of a marriage (and a horse race) don’t mean much to anybody other than diehard Bavarian historians, and I’d wager that most people celebrate it because it’s just plain fun. This is why I and an awful lot of non-Christians still celebrate Christmas. We’re not celebrating the birth of the mythological Christian hero Jesus; we’re just having a good time.

Many atheists will say this is hypocritical of those of us who celebrate Christmas. I say, cheekily, to Hell with them! Christmas is, for me, not about the birth of baby Jesus. It is religious in name only, and that’s not enough for me to want to call it something else.

So that’s the simple answer to why, but doesn’t so much answer how other than to say “without Jesus.” So here’s how I celebrate Christmas, and what Christmas means to me:

Christmas is a time for togetherness. It’s a time for sharing, hugging, and family. It’s a time for love. It’s a time to smile and make other people smile. Christmas is about laughter. It’s about making your loved ones happy. It’s about anonymous charity. It’s about drinking and feasting. Christmas is about wearing sweaters, playing games, and watching football. It’s about taking a nap at my parents’ house. It’s about sneaking yet another copy of The Princess Bride into my wife’s stocking and addressing it to her from Santa. It’s about curling up on the couch with my wife and reminiscing with my family about previous Christmases. It’s about coffee and hot chocolate. It’s about staying up late laughing and listening to music and not caring about how early I have to be up for work the next day. It’s about remembering everything that happened over the last year, and it’s about taking photographs that we can share with our children in the future. Christmas is for everyone.

Christmas used to be about Jesus, then it was all about Santa. Growing up it was the other way around for me, but now it’s just about having a wonderful time with my family and it’s a great way to wrap up the year.