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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.