Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There Goes Another Decade

Well, there goes another year -- and another decade.  Wow.  It's hard to believe it's been ten years since Y2K.  A lot's happened to me in this decade.  I got married.  I realized I don't believe in God.  I started this blog and started learning how to think.

While I think it was an okay year, I'm hoping this coming year will be a little better.  I'm also hoping this coming decade will see rationalism, skepticism, and most importantly atheism expand and thrive throughout the world, as this decade saw the atrocities of the fruits of faith (though I think it's getting better).  As far as resolutions go for myself, I'm hoping to get back into writing and debating more.  I'll attempt to get back into the Gather.com community, and make a more videos on YouTube.  I'm also going to continue to slowly step out of the closet, perhaps by speaking up a bit more and not letting bigoted, ignorant things go unchallenged.

As always, thank you so much for your support, emails, and comments on this blog and all my endeavors.  The interaction is what keeps me going; I can listen to myself talk any time.  Now I'm off to spend time with friends and family.  I'll see you next year!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Get Back To The True Meaning

Every year America is inundated with pleas from the Christian populace to cast off the secular traditions and once again return to the true meaning of Christmas.

If only they'd study a little history.

Origins of Christmastime
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.  Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival.  During this time the Roman courts were closed, law was lifted, and the social order was inverted.  Slaves didn't have to work, banquets were held, and all seriousness was essentially barred.  There were gifts given and informal dress with felt hats (normally used by slaves) were worn to symbolize the freedom of the celebration.

It was an occasion for jubilation, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god Saturn.  Lucian of Samosata wrote, "Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside."  The Saturnalia continued to be celebrated as Brumalia, the winter solstice, down to the Christian era, when its rituals had become absorbed in the celebration of Christmas (just as the festival of the Germanic goddess Eastre).

The Real Reason
When I was a Christian, I despised what I saw as the corruption and commercialization of my Lord's birthday by the evils of Walmart, Target, and Santa Claus (who I saw as a way of getting Christ's message across to heathens).  Now that I actually looked into a bit of history surrounding the time, it's clear that we're not too far off from the "original meaning".  I admit that I was an ignorant theist, as I think many today are; they don't want to learn anything past Jesus.  They don't realize that centuries of time, traditions, and practices came before the third century!  Just as with Christmas, they stop at 4AD and refuse to accept that gods like Mithra, Horace, Dionysus, Osiris, and lots of others all call that date their birthday.

Traditions get taken over as ideas slowly change.  As the culture changes, you either adopt the new traditions by relating to them in some way, or you ignore them outright.  I find it amusing that the pagan influences are still wrapped around the Christian face of the holiday. Jeremiah 10:2-4 warns not to put up what we today call a Christmas tree.  And yet how many Christians have a tree in there house right now?  Like I said, you go with the flow and change the meanings to fit your own tastes and beliefs or you die by the wayside.  Our contemporary traditions are just as much the "true meaning" as any.

The fact is, the season is the reason for the season; it's the winter solstice.  We must realize that feasts and festivals in honor of to the gods and forces of the seasons have existed for millenia.  In our modern times of abundance and prevalence of food (the fact that you can get strawberries in the winter, etc.), in a way removes the reasons for many of our traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Thus, we're free to "celebrate" whatever we want.  If you want to view Christmas as a celebration of the hope of the next spring, go for it.  If you want to see it as another chance to spend time with loved ones, be my guest.  If you want to think that it's the day your god was born or as a festival to one of the many fertility gods, that's fine too.  Whatever reason you decide the season is for, just make sure to eat, drink, and be merry -- and don't force your practices on everyone else.

And have a wonderful Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa-Wali-Solstice!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Claus and Christ

It's that time of year again.  We see you-know-who's face plastered up on billboards and posters all over the place, at least here in America.  With his big blue eyes wishing peace and love to the world.  Yep, Jesus is everywhere.  And so is that pagan red devil, Santa Claus.  Coincidence???

Let's look at some similarities of these two fairy-tale personas:
  • Jesus (being God) is ever-watchful -- see Psalm 139:1-4
  • Santa sees you too -- see "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

  • Jesus rewards good behavior (heaven) and punishes bad behavior (hell)
  • Santa also rewards good behavior (toys) and punishes bad behavior (coal)

  • Jesus has a list of good people (The Lamb's Book of Life)
  • Santa has a list of naughty and nice children

It's pretty clear that they both represent attempts in our culture to keep children in line.  Some even view Santa as a way of passing the messages of Christianity onto nonbelievers.  What about their differences?
  •  Santa has a physical, tangible existence -- he eats cookies, drinks milk, comes down chimneys, etc.
  •  Jesus lives in your "heart" and is no longer* a flesh and blood being

  •  Santa rewards you in the here-and-now with material positions
  •  Jesus's gifts have to wait til you die (except for babbling incoherently and other "gifts of the Spirit")

  • Santa will put you on the naught list as long as you're bad
  • Jesus will roast your ass in hell forever if you screw up and forget to say 'Sorry' before you kick the bucket

  • Kids who stop believing in Santa Claus are praised for their cleverness and skills of deduction
  • Kids who stop believing in Jesus are shunned for immorality and outlandish blasphemy

It's also interesting to note how society relates to these two.  Santa is looked upon as fantasy, whereas Jesus is touted as 100% fact (even though Santa is more plausible, baring the "magic" and violations of physics and economics).  The Santa myth is looked upon with fondness as something innocuous that we can look back upon and laugh about.  But the much more bloody and unbelievable myth is put forth in all seriousness.

There isn't many wars fought over which of Santa's ideas are to be followed.  There isn't any Santaquisions or Elf Burnings.  As Stefan Molyneux of FreeDomainRadio.com points out (paraphrased), "Nobody drinks the wine that is supposed to turn into the blood of Santa, and you don't eat bread that turns into Santa's flesh.  Santa doesn't come back from the dead, Santa doesn't heal the sick and so on."

That's why I don't have a problem partaking in the pagan and secular mythologies of Santa Claus.  When the time comes, I won't be lying to my susceptible children about the existence of Santa.  It's indeed just as harmful if you lead a child into thinking they "better watch out" because Santa is watching them, as it is to tell them God is watching them and they'll burn in hell forever if they're not good.  I'll most likely let my children know that it's just a fun story, and I'll pretend with them for as long as they want to.  I see it as an opportunity to show them critical thinking, weighing of evidence, and the parallels with religion.  When a majority of the world can see the universality of myth -- that their creation stories are one in the same, unjustifiable myth -- we'll be a lot better off.

I get asked sometimes why I bother writing about and making videos on religion if I don't believe in it.  The fact is that many, many people do believe in the teaching of their supposed prophets and deities.  These people's beliefs affect the actions they take upon others, and that's the problem.  If there were "Santa Wars" fought daily, I'd be here pointing out the absurdities of flying reindeer, the lack of evidence for elves, and arguing for people to put away their childish notions of a fat guy who lives at a toy workshop at the North-Pole.  Luckily, no one takes Santa seriously enough to jeopardize the fate of the planet, so I'll keep railing against the bigoted religious intolerance that is doing just that.

*Assuming Jesus ever existed in the first place.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day In The Life: Accused

I just have to share this because I'm jazzed about it.

Many of my regular readers will know that while I'm very outspoken about my atheism on the web, I'm still a mostly-in-the-closet atheist when it comes to my immediate family members.  (I know, I'm working on it; these things take time.)  Said family members were have their Thanksgiving celebration yesterday, myself included.  I love our Thanksgiving.  I mean, sure, I still like going to the houses of parents' and grandparents' of extended family for the holidays, but nothing can beat the spread, quality, and atmosphere of having Thanksgiving at home (and Mom's food is always better).  They're not an overtly religious bunch.  None go to church regularly and holidays have always been about family and food and togetherness, never about Jesus or other religious hogwash.  So there I was, sitting at the dinner table in the house that I grew up in, stuffing my face with...well, stuffing, when one of my grandmother's many brothers walked into the kitchen with his southern boisterous ululations.

"You god-damned atheist!" he roared.

I froze, heart thumping.

"With yer bumper sticker saying 'The hard work of one does more than the prayers of millions'!  I'm gonna go get Brother Jack and we're going to send you straight to hell!"

I nearly choked on the turkey -- with laughter.  "Well, send him over!" I quipped.  My mother chuckled.

You'd probably have to know the man to appreciate it all.  He's known for that type of language, but I was surprised to hear it and being in the form a joke softened it a little.  But the fact was there...I was called an ATHEIST in front of my whole family!  Holy shit!  I'm sure because of me not objecting to the term and congenially welcoming the attack was in a way a coming out of sorts.  At least I'm sure it will aid in the real event, should it arise in the future.  It was great.  In one instant I essentially made the topic accessible.  Call me an atheist, I don't mind.

I assume that my family suspects at least something's up.  I mean, they realize I stopped going to church.  And I have that bumper sticker and an EvolveFish on my truck.  And I made the priest who came into my hospital room when I had my cholecystectomy leave immediately.  And I sent my mom a reply linking to this blog when she forwarded me a stupid email.  And some of my kinfolks and related-in-law already know for sure, through either direct conversation or finding me on the internet (no telling who they talk to).  So I think at least some of my core family members might get the picture, although they're not aware of all the details.

My great uncle was joking, of course.  He meant no ill toward me, though I'm not entirely sure he'd be so cordial if I had stood up and said, "yeah, I'm a soulless, faithless, godless atheist...so what?!"  And I was all ready to defend my position.  This is it, I thought.  Oh well, perhaps for the better; it may have ruined the festivities.  But at least my uncle can joke about it.  He was raised in a tough Catholic school way back in the days where they would beat your hands with rulers for not obeying their strict requirements.  He hates nuns now.

Anyway, I'm still all goosebumpy over it even though it literally was one sentence and nothing more from anybody.  I never thought I'd be (semi)outed by one of own family.  Being called an atheist, just out in public like that, was exilerating.

I hope it happens again.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Prayer and the Internet

The bible states that prayer somehow works better when you get a bunch of like-minded people together.  You'd think that with the invention of the internet and therefore the ability for billions of believers to sync up their communication channels to God and send requests en mass, we could easily change things.  Things like, oh I don't know, world peace, the end of hunger, cancer, and other needless suffering.  After millennia of just a spattering of people here and there asking for a global change, we have now within our means a way to systematically connect all the conduits of faith, and with a glorious roar reminiscent of Horton Hears a Who, simultaneously unleash a massive prayer toward the heavens.

But still nothing happens.  Either everyone isn't synced up just right, or not enough people care about the state of things, or too many people are talking to too many different Gods, or -- the more likely answer -- prayer just doesn't work.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who Really Needs God?

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving weekend went well.  How many of you nonbelievers had discussions with religious family members?  I'm betting a lot of you 1) sat quietly through the prayer before dinner, and then 2) listened to your aunt bitch about how Obama is the Muslim Communist Antichrist.  I was lucky enough to only have to deal with a few racist jokes this year; and all-in-all fairly good Thanksgiving.

This time of year always gets me thinking about why people cling to the ideas they have.  What makes these otherwise kind, sane, decent people feel the need to uphold barbaric, antiquated, immoral concepts?

Religion Binds Culture
Religions tend to contain directives that are divisive and harmful.  They are prone to being used by people who are willing to take the necessary actions suggested by them.  Take the passage of "thou shall not suffer a witch to live".  That passage is toothless until someone comes along who is of such character as to accept it as an authority and then act upon it.  Therefore, the passage (or the religion, moreover) becomes a reflection of that individual's character.

Not only that, but religions change -- and poison -- the culture they're in.  They increase the likelihood that people with these characteristics will be cultivated.  Cultures change over time if left to their own devices.  The problem is that a religion, upon its creation, encodes the current culture.  Once locked in, it attempts to maintain the status quo.  This is why the believers of the Bronze Age ideals of Christianity and Islam are trying to keep their outdated ways of thinking in the norm.  Religion shackles culture, inhibits progress, and encourages stasis and stagnation.

Breaking The Chains
So who needs religion?  Many people feel that without religion humanity would have no sense of right and wrong.  Some even feel that its impossible to breath without God.

A lot of the ideas modern folks have about God, prayer, and religion has grown out of the mindset of the contemporaries of their belief systems.  As stated above, religion naturally assumes the state in which it is founded.  Those who hold Bronze Age beliefs come from a long line of people wanting a better life.  The average poor person in America would be considered rich by the standards at the time the New Testament was written.  The average tween probably knows more and is generally smarter than anyone who lived over two thousand years ago.

But even by comparison, some people today still feel like the world is against them.  They covet the positions of the rich, feel like the "good guys" are loosing, and see the world as doomed.  Most people still cling to hopes for a better life.  I suppose in some sense that will never go away; no matter how good things get, there will always be a need to find something better.  Religion thrives on this idea.  It tells you that things are guaranteed to be better for you, if not in this life, then in the next.  It's the ultimate "grass is greener" mentality -- something that's extremely appealing to the downtrodden.

We have to eliminate the need for god.  We have to realize, as a whole, that together we can accomplish amazing things.  With the scientific discoveries of the century, we've discovered microbiology, cured major diseases, and even walked on the moon.  As long as our society neglects people, as long as there is major injustice and suffering, god will be there as the last resort and the empty hope for surrendered minds.