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.

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.

God “chose” Adam Hubbs… why?

This Thanksgiving between football games, a touching piece was aired about a young boy named Adam Hubbs who suffered a stroke and is having to learn to cope with his disabilities. The boy was given the privilege of spending an entire day with the Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow, one of those annoying Christians who feels the need to publicly thank god for everything that happens to him on the football field while ignoring what this insinuates about god’s feelings toward the other team and players.

But that’s a separate rant which I think I’ve gone through already somewhere in the last ninety-nine posts on this blog. By the way, this is post number one hundred! Huzzah, and all that.

Anyway, during the story Adam said at one point, “God chose me because I’m strong enough to get through it.”

That’s what I’m interested in learning a little more about. That belief, that god specifically chose Adam for the stroke because he knew Adam could get through it, raises a couple questions.

The first question is why did god have to choose anybody at all? “He’s god,” you might say, “he doesn’t have to do anything.” That doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense but okay, I’ll bite. If he doesn’t have to do anything, why was there a decision to be made at all? Perhaps god could have simply not made a decision. Would nobody have then received a stroke? Why is there an unassigned stroke lying around god’s house, anyway? Does god just have extra strokes laying around, along with lists of young children who may be strong enough to handle them? Why would god even have these extra strokes strewn about? He’s god – he made them. Why? Can he un-make a stroke? Or once a stroke is made does it have to be administered? Could god have chosen somebody even stronger than Adam Hubbs? Why didn’t he? Was Adam strong, but not too strong? Just the right amount of strong, I suppose. Maybe each stroke requires a particular amount of strength; no more, no less, and Adam’s stroke was perfectly suited for him.

The second question is why does god give strokes to people who don’t survive them, or who remain comatose and unresponsive afterward, or who find they can barely function and consider themselves to be a bane on society? Did god assume they, like Adam, would be strong enough to pull through? That would raise concerns about god’s precognition. Or did god have other reasons for giving those people strokes? Did those people do something terrible so that they deserved the strokes they didn’t survive? Whereas on the other hand there’s Adam, who’s so strong he deserves a stroke just to prove it.

I guess the moral dilemma is if god causes bad things to happen to bad people and also bad things to happen to good people then why, for god’s sake, be good at all?

I thought the story as a whole was incredibly touching. I’m glad, for Adam’s sake and for the sake of his family and friends, that he survived his stroke. There’s no doubt that for a young child to go through something like that and still find joy in life takes plenty of strength and courage. Heck, as much as I dislike Tim Tebow for his vanity on the field I’ll give him credit for being a super-great, charitable guy off the field. In fact, it was only the one line, that Adam was chosen to be the recipient of a life-threatening stroke by an allegedly all-powerful god who could have prevented the stroke from happening in the first place, that irritates me.

You would suppose an infinitely powerful being gave you a stroke simply because he figures you’re tough enough to handle it, and you would continue to worship that being? It seems like a lot of religious folks have a pretty sado-masochistic relationship with their god.

Happy one hundredth, loyal followers. I wanted to do something special for you but I couldn’t think of anything, so I hope you enjoyed this opinion piece instead.

Regarding lesser forms of (still) dogmatic belief

When people say that they aren’t really arguing the case for an “old-world god”, and especially when they argue that they’re not even arguing for an anthropomorphic god, they generally seem to be giving up the very basis for a belief in god(s) in the first place.  Considering the religions that nearly all theists come from one can really only argue for the reality of their chosen god and his/her literal influence on the world as revealed to man-kind through some form of revelation (which implies that the knowledge only exists at all in this world by virtue of the fact that its particular scriptures are true), or one has no real basis for believing in a god(s) at all.

Also, and forgive me because I am sort of half responding to a debate that I was watching with Chopra and Sam Harris, I have to say that actually watching a man so blatantly and pathetically appeal to the god of the gaps by saying that god can always exist in the tiniest, most imperceptibly minute fraction of a second after the big bang when physics breaks down because even physicists say that the comprehension of that time is unknowable…<gasps for breath>…and to do so without recognizing how pathetic and sad that argument really is when taken to such an extreme…well, I just find that hilarious.

Pascal’s Wager

Fortunately, most moderately intelligent theists won’t bother playing the Pascal card when debating religion, but nevertheless there are many who do. The purpose of this post is to respond only to those who feel the Wager is a legitimate reason to believe in their god. I make no attempt to prove or disprove the existence of any god in this post; just to counter the Pascal’s Wager argument.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pascal’s Wager, it goes a little something like this (paraphrased):

God either exists or does not exist. Salvation and eternal happiness is through belief in and worship of God. If you “bet” on God’s existence and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing; if you’re right, you will receive salvation and everlasting life. If you bet on God’s non-existence and you’re wrong, you’re destined to an eternity in Hell. Therefore it is safer to bet on God’s existence.

Now if you’ve got any mind at all you’ll see the obvious flaws in this. However, I’ve had people who I had previously thought of as fairly respectable play this one on me, so you never know who might fall for it.

First, being that he was Christian, it’s clear Blaise Pascal was referring to belief in the Christian god. To the skeptic, however, one need only swap the name God for another name (Allah, Zeus, Odin, et al) because the fact is that most mainstream gods demand worship and punish those who don’t offer it. So which god should I bet on? How do you know the god you’re betting on is the right god? Is anybody really making a safe bet?

Second, belief is not a light switch. One can’t just say “Oh, in that case I believe.” In order to believe something is true, one must be convinced of its truthfulness. Threats like Pascal’s Wager do nothing to convince anybody of anything.

Third, chances are the god you’re trying to convince me exists is omnipotent according to your religion’s textbook. Surely it can see through somebody who claims they believe simply because it’s the “safer bet.”

Finally, the part of the Wager which states “If you believe and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing” is absolutely wrong. What about all the time you wasted on your knees praying or in a church singing? What about the scientific or medical advances you’ve ignored (extreme cases) because your religion states that all you need is your god? If you believe in a god and you’re wrong, then you’ve lived your entire life thinking you had an eternity of happiness and pleasure to look forward to in an afterlife without paying as much heed to the life you’re currently living.

I and many atheists like me, on the other hand, see this life as our only one. We are more inclined to live our lives to its absolute fullest; making sure we make a lasting impression on others, hoping that once our bodies are decaying and our atoms are moving on to other endeavors that our legacy will live on in the memories of others.

So maybe the safer “bet” is that no gods exist. We’ve got a 50/50 shot at being right, while the odds that your particular god is the only one who exists are far lower. Bet on non-existence and perhaps you’ll see a whole new value in your one and only life.

Godless Medley

This is a medley of three songs I’ve written. The first, called “Little Atheist Me,” makes its debut in the medley. The second and third, titled “Songs About Jesus” and “The Fantastic Theory,” were previously recorded and released on my YouTube channel. Altogether, the video is just under ten minutes long. Two, if not all three, songs contain swear words. So put on those headphones.

“Little Atheist Me” is about nothing more than me and my worldview, which just happens to not include any gods. The song describes those things I do believe in, such as “love and hope and family,” as well as those things I’m afraid of, like “falling to my death or being stung by bees.” As the song says in the chorus, I’ve got “no time for Jesus.” I wrote this as a way to tell the religious community that atheists do have plenty of things they believe in or are afraid of; it’s just that none of those things include superstition.

“Songs About Jesus” is really just one song, and it’s only about Jesus insofar as the Christian belief that “Jesus is God” goes. So I suppose, really, it should have been called “A Song About God.” But there you have it. The song is also how a lot of Christians don’t seem very Christ-like, so I guess that’s the part about Jesus.

“The Fantastic Theory” is about Intelligent Design versus evolution, and the battle to censor science and/or teach ID in public schools. Mostly I cover evolution and sing about how life has no apparent design; and if it was created, it wasn’t done so very intelligently.

A few notes unrelated to the song(s)…

  • No, I will not take off that hat. I really like that hat.
  • No, I will not trim my guitar strings. No reason; I just can’t be bothered.
  • The silicone band on my right wrist is zebra-print and I got it at the Dallas Zoo. Incidentally, the Dallas Zoo is where my wife and I had our wedding ceremony.
  • The guitar is a Yamaha. I received it as a gift for my seventeenth birthday.
  • I bought my shirt through RichardDawkins.net

Also on my YouTube channel, you’ll find a few additional songs:

  • “Mary,” which is more or less about marijuana.
  • “Imagine,” which is a cover of John Lennon’s famous song.
  • “Rat-Zinger,” which is about the Catholic Pope and child-molesting priests.
  • “Fabulous,” which is about equal rights, especially for the LGBT community.

Humans are pretty dam* dumb.

The following is taken from the comments section of a particular Listverse list of “15 Unusual Prehistoric Creatures.” This is one of those cases where I don’t think a rebuttal is even necessary, but I’ll provide a very brief one after the quote. It’s entirely possible that this Captain Carrot is just a “Poe,” but I’ll treat this as though he’s being completely serious.

Captain Carrot / 27 May, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Oh, Lord. I’m tired of hearing the retarded sounding “creationists believe the earth is only 6000 yrs old” bullcrap. Who said that? Where is that fact?

Good Lord, nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old. That would be like saying that nothing existed, that there was this big explosion, or “bang” if you will, and then things started growing from out of nowhere. But we all know that, scientifically, it’s been proven something can’t just grow out of nothing, right? Um, right?

Plus the fact that animals were a totally different creature or species and they just “grew” what they needed later. Like how I read somewhere that dolphins were actually land animals (a cow, for instance) and all of a sudden “transformed” into something else entirely. The legs just miraculously “fused” together, it grew fins out of it’s sides, the blowhole developed, etc. etc.

For f*ck’s sake, and they say the religious crowd comes up with some unbelievable stories. Humans really are pretty dam* dumb.

Fortunately, whether or not they’re correct, most people at least recognize the existence of the Young Earth Creationists who do, in fact, claim the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. To deny these people exist (“nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old”) is nothing more or less than a blatant lie. Just because something is highly illogical does not mean nobody believes it to be true.

Secondly, please, for the sake of the religious right, stop attempting to use science to invalidate science. That would kind of be like saying “The Bible says it’s true, therefore the Bible is true.” Nobody ever says that! (that’s an example of me being facetious)

Third, and finally, please refrain from commenting on evolution until you actually understand evolution. Animals don’t just grow things they need. If that were to ever happen, I would be more likely to believe some supernatural force is the one guiding such transformations. It is clear you have zero understanding of evolution or the theory of natural selection.

In short, you’re right. Humans (at least some of them) really are “pretty dam* dumb.”