Justice that arrives like a thunderbolt

Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Those seemingly delightful lyrics are from the song “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and sung by him and LL Cool J. The song often refers to how white people from the south and black people from the north maybe just can’t understand each other, and maybe they’re being a little too sensitive about things, and maybe they should just have a beer together. It’s a really dreadful song and you probably shouldn’t listen to it.

A couple weekends ago, a white 20-year-old wearing patches representing pro-apartheid African nations, and who has been pictured waving a Confederate battle flag and burning a United States flag, and who — according to his roommate — had often spoke of killing some black people and starting a new civil war, went into an historic black civil war-era church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat around for a while while the pastor led his congregation in prayer, and then pulled out a gun and opened fire. The death toll, before he fled the scene only to be captured in North Carolina the next day, was nine.

Based solely on the evidence I listed above (confederate flag, anti-apartheid, yearning for another civil war, historic black place of worship) a lot of people labeled this pretty much immediately as a hate crime. Others claim it’s an act of terrorism, and I tend to agree with both. His intent was very clearly racially motivated, and going by the FBI’s official definition I think it’s clear to say this was an act of terrorism as well. The oddest thing, however, is when you switch your television station over to Fox News, you’ll hear they have taken a different approach to the situation. Obviously this wasn’t a racist hate crime, but an attack on Christianity! Because in Foxnewsland, the spin they put on any story has to make it seem like they, the Christian Right, are the ones being attacked. So far as I can tell, no indication of Roof’s religion has been made.

Anyway, this whole shooting debacle led very briefly to a discussion on gun laws and a lot of old internet memes popped back up for about three days, but that was all swept aside to make room for this week’s new topic of debate, and the real culprit here: racism.

And you know, I sort of agree. I’m no fan of guns. We need stricter gun regulations. We need to make it more difficult for all people to obtain guns. But it’s also important to determine motive and then see if there are ways to quell motivation — in this case, racism — that may lead to heinous acts like shootings that kill nine people. So our first course of action has been, for the first time in 150 years, to villainize the confederate battle flag (CBF). The day after Roof’s killing spree, the CBF was still flying on South Carolina capitol grounds. It still exists as part of the design on several state flags, as well. So obviously we have to have that flag removed.

But why a flag? It’s just a flag! It’s more than a flag, people. It’s a symbol. A symbol flown by supporters of a war 150 years old that was lost to the Union. A symbol of traitorous southerners who thought it was their god-given right to keep slaves. Yeah, technically people have the freedom to fly their CBFs or their Nazi Germany swastikas, but does that mean they necessarily ought to? Furthermore, does it mean they reserve the right to do so free of consequence? Freedom of speech and expression does not grant you immunity to criticism. As a person with German ancestry, I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to fly a swastika to honor my ancestors.

“Southern pride” rednecks can hang the flag from their trailers and lean-tos and claim their ancestors who fought and died for the Confederacy deserve respect, but I refuse to mourn for or respect separatists who, had they had their way, would have maintained their right to oppress a race of people and buy/sell them and force them into servitude.

Hell, the presence of the CBF or its likeness in the form of stickers on the bumpers of Ford trucks as old and rusty as their owners or patches on overalls serves to warn me in advance who the racists are who can’t let go of the past and their ancestors’ failings in the name of heritage, or some other hokey backwoods jargon that secretly stands for “Hey, we tried to [3/5ths] compromise!”

But that flag has no place whatsoever on public or government property. When it exists next to a United States flag, or a state flag, or especially AS a state flag, it gives the Dylann Roofs of the world a symbol to fight or kill for. It perpetuates — and even worse, institutionalizes — racism.

As of this writing, several states have removed the CBFs from their capitol grounds. Several retailers — even huge retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and eBay — have stopped selling CBF merchandise. I don’t think that was a necessary step, but I support their right to sell or not sell what they please. Even video game publishers of historic games are talking about stopping sales of games featuring a CBF. It is absolutely huge that this is in national discussion right now. There are the people who think the flag belongs in a museum, since it certainly has a history within the United States, and then there are the people who refuse to take it down because their “southern pride” is more important to them than supporting their fellow Americans. When all is said and done, the racists will stick out like sore thumbs and we’ll all be better off knowing who to stay away from.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO TODAY’S BIG NEWS

I awoke this morning and turned on the news, like I do, and I picked up my Android phone and started scrolling through Facebook to see what I had missed during my slumber. As it turns out, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a vote of 5-4, overturned states’ rights to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This is an extraordinary time to be alive right now, knowing that not only is history being made, but that I’m on the right side of it and have been since I was old enough to understand that boys are allowed to love boys too.

The second thing I did this morning, after I had scrolled a bit through Facebook, was to start perusing the comments sections under the posts made by local news organizations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you really want to know the state of things in our country, don’t watch TV, don’t read a newspaper; all you have to do is read the comments sections under local news articles. Because this is your home; these are the people who surround you. Many of them are kind-hearted, reasonable people whose love for life extends to their friends and neighbors and doesn’t just stop outside their own personal egobubble.

But then there are the rabid, hateful, obscene people who want everyone to know how much love they have for family values and Jesus and oh god won’t somebody think of the children! It is to those people whom I address in the remainder of today’s post. Those Christians who assume this progressive country abides by the laws in their millennia-old book.

Your silly book of fairy tales with its laws against shaving your beard and laws against women taking on roles as educators and laws proclaiming bats are birds and stories about talking donkeys and people being turned into pillars of salt and daughters raping their drunken father and god destroying everything a man loves and lives for all because of a silly bet…

That’s not the book from which our normal-people laws are derived. Hell isn’t real, heaven isn’t real, talking serpents and donkeys aren’t real, dragons and unicorns and behemoths and leviathans aren’t real… so do kindly shut the fuck up and refrain from passing judgment on anybody – ANYBODY – seeking happiness and inclusiveness and equality. Because if what they’re doing shakes the very foundation of your fundamental beliefs, then it’s your fundamentals which need to be checked, NOT theirs.

If I learned anything from the Bible, and I have read it cover to cover, it’s that lesson from very early on in the book about the big important guy getting all in a kerfuffle because his two subservient playthings decided to seek knowledge: the ultimate gift.

Too bad satan’s not real, otherwise I’d praise him for setting us free from the Christian god’s shackles.

Equality wins, boys and girls, friends and family. And of you still huffing and puffing about hell or about how icky it is that some people actually had to fight and live through the ridicule and the pain and the insults just to hear their country say “okay, you’re allowed to love each other now,” you huffers and puffers are a dying breed.

This is an incredible time to be alive in the United States. I’m watching history being made. I’m watching my friends finally be recognized as actual people. I get to see my friends rejoice in who they are and know that finally, America is on their side.

If there was a god, I wouldn’t offer cries of “god bless” or “god is great” or any sort of fealty. Not after seeing how his/her/its followers and so-called disciples spit venom and hatred and condemnation toward anybody a little bit different than themselves. Anybody with a different skin color, or anybody with a different sexual preference or identity. No, god deserves no love, no praise, no thanks. It’s the fast-growing majority of progressive, forward-thinking Americans who are to thank for helping bring this country that much closer to universal equality.

White Privilege

Ah, 2014. The year of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” The year of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and of Darren Wilson and nation-wide violent and non-violent protests and riots performed by and opposed by people who aren’t sure whether this is an anti-police issue, a race issue, or an all-encompassing message about violence.

Yet here I am, white, 20-something, unscathed but not unfazed about everything going on around me.

Let me tell you about myself. Are you ready for this? In 2013 my wife of 5 years and I divorced. We split our possessions somewhere down the middle and, with the exception of one instance of keeping each other updated on how our pets (who were also affected by the divorce) are doing, we have not spoken to each other since we sold our house. I have been in a loving relationship for over eight months now and, in fact, recently moved into a house with my partner. We celebrated the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and recently Christmas together. Our families/pets have merged and despite pressure from outside obligations I daresay we couldn’t be happier with one another. We have a pretty wide-open circle of mutual friends, many of whom were involved in either mine or her past; all of whom offer their unrelenting support of our happiness and success as a couple.

And all of this managed to happen while white cops were shooting unarmed black people or, as I like to say, while people with guns were busy shooting people without guns.

It’s not about cops being corrupt, people. It’s not about cops being racist. It’s not about all of us “majority race” people being racist. Cops (group A) are overwhelmingly good, non-racist, un-corrupted people. Black people (group B) are overwhelmingly good, non-racist, non-criminals. But sometimes bad things happen to people in either group which will, thanks to the power of the internet, cast a dark shadow on the rest of the group.

Eric Garner and Michael Brown, both unarmed black civilians, were killed either intentionally or not, by police officers. White police officers. And all of a sudden the internet is in an uproar and everybody is either a cop hater or a racist. Period. So I’m just gonna go ahead and piss off all the cop haters and the racists.

These are isolated events. Do you have any idea how many black people weren’t killed by white police officers this year? How many black people got into a scuffle with white police officers this year but weren’t killed? Lots and lots and lots, that’s how many. An overwhelming amount, in fact, when compared to the number of those who were killed. It’s the media. Simply rephrasing something like “bad cop shoots unarmed person” into “white cop shoots unarmed black person” suddenly makes it a race issue, instead of the poor-training/screening-for-cops issue that it really is.

So to the cop haters I say: not all cops are bad. Media coverage of cops wrongfully killing people, whether the same or a different race than the cop, is simply more interesting news than cops who are doing their jobs, protecting instead of harming. Not many people would watch the news if the stories of cops protecting innocent people were proportionate to the stories of cops harming innocent people. Ratings, folks. Ratings. It’s all about making a scene.

To the people who support scumbags like Darren Wilson, go fuck yourselves. Darren Wilson is a prime example of a bad cop. He, as well as any cop — or any person at all — who uses a gun to fire a bullet into an unarmed person, is a scumbag. And to support his actions, even to say “well, Michael Brown charged him,” is an act of cowardice. Wilson is an allegedly trained police officer, and to use lethal force against a non-lethal threat is something a coward would do. A coward or, at the absolute least, a shitty fucking cop.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a fantastic 2014. Call it white privilege if you will.

Guns are bad.

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.

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.

————————————-

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.

 

 

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.

Christopher Hitchens dies at 62

Photograph by Gasper Tringale

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

-Christopher Hitchens

13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011

Why am I so smug?

According to Christian religious texts (the Bible), the one unforgivable sin is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. In other words, to deny Jesus’s power.

Before we get any further, let me say the following right here and now: if Jesus ever even existed at all (historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era suggest a religious leader of a similar name may have existed) and if he actually did those things Christians typically chalk up as miracles, like killing a fig tree by pouting at it or curing a man of leprosy or raising Lazarus from the dead (no historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era support any of his so-called miracles), then I firmly believe his feats were nothing more than magic tricks which could each be explained in turn using modern science and simple logic.

In other words, if Jesus existed and did those things the Bible says he did, it’s not because he’s the son of any god or because he possesses special powers the rest of us don’t. No, Jesus was a trickster – a master illusionist. I don’t know how David Copperfield or Penn and Teller or even modern day televangelists do what they do, and what they do is certainly fascinating (except the part where gullible people are knowingly scammed out of large amounts of money), but I don’t think these people are actually capable of bending natural laws at their will or literally accomplishing the impossible.

Jesus may have mastered sleight of hand, but he wasn’t anything special.

Oh, and here’s the cherry on the top if that wasn’t enough for you. If there’s one “good guy” in the Christian Bible, it’s the guy who freed humans from their blissful ignorance and granted them the greatest gift of all: knowledge. It’s not the guy who has literally killed millions of people or had millions of people killed in his name. That’s right, friends. I just inferred that in the great contest of who’s done more good versus bad for humanity, Satan beats God.

There. It took me a while, but in the end I’m pretty sure I just committed the one unforgivable sin and thus solidified for myself a future of eternal pain and suffering. Phew.

Now that’s one (or two, I guess) simple little opinion of mine that doesn’t really come up very often in everyday conversation. It’s a personal opinion that I can’t expect many people around me to share, especially in Texas. Despite my opinion regarding Christianity’s Jesus, God, and Satan (none of whom I believe exist simply due to a lack of evidence), which I typically keep to myself outside Internet World, I like to think of myself as a somewhat decent person.

I’m pretty nice to people, even those I don’t know or don’t like (despite my being a nice guy, there are plenty of people I just don’t like). I try to avoid confrontation or conflict, not because I’m afraid of either but because I like people to be happy, sometimes even at the expense of my own happiness. I love to make people laugh. I’m a pretty charitable guy. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but who hasn’t? Fortunately I can say I’ve learned from my mistakes and if I haven’t yet, I aim to make up for them. I enjoy reading books and I like to learn as much as I can, sometimes about random things “just because.” I’m educated, for the most part. No, I don’t have a college degree but I’ve still got plenty of time and I’m working on getting my first degree. I love my wife and she loves me. I think the most severe law I’ve ever broken is driving too fast on the highway, and now I’m very careful about driving at a reasonable speed. I don’t judge people for something they can’t control, whether it’s their gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. I abide by the golden rule: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to yourself. I’m a utilitarian: the outcome which is best for the most people is the most ideal outcome. Do the most good while causing the least harm.

I do all this not because I believe I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, or even out of fear of being punished in the afterlife, but because the evolution of society and ethos tells me the best society is a cohesive one, in which people are happy and can work together to achieve a common goal, whatever that goal may be. Sometimes the goal is just more happiness.

Despite this; despite my contributions, a Christian will tell me it’s what I generally keep to myself which matters. The Christian Bible basically says that because I’m humble enough to admit that sometimes “I don’t know” really is the most rational answer, a child rapist can repent on his deathbed and will have a greater chance at getting into Heaven (if Heaven exists at all) than I do. And part of being Christian means believing what the Bible says to be true.

And I think anybody who sincerely believes that is a horrible person, and I’m better than you.

That’s why I’m so smug.