Saturday, December 20, 2008


I've been thinking a lot lately about a realization about myself and my philosophical priorities I had during the first Salt City Skeptics meeting, which I hosted last Wednesday. I'm working on a post about it, so you'll have that to suffer through that shortly... Don't worry, I haven't become a born-again Christian or Scientologist... Or have I? (The answer is no. No I haven't.)

For now, though, I'm horribly sick. It's been a hellish couple of days spent in bed alternately shivering and sweating, sometimes both. My lungs feel like Dresden in February 13, 1945 and my head is... blah blah blah, enough milking for sympathy. When I'm back on my feet, both literally and metaphorically, I'll be hitting the blog again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blog Meme!

[via the Friendly Atheist]

Yay! It's a blog meme! I actually don't tend to do these, but, well... I'm doing this one...

How serious do you take your atheism? Let’s find out.

Copy and paste the list below on your own site, boldfacing the things you’ve done. (Feel free to add your own elaboration and commentary to each item!)

  1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge.
  2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person.
  3. Created an atheist blog. [you're looking at it!]
  4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
  5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic. [I wouldn't say quite 'offended,' but I've corrected them]
  6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron. [among other reasons, like the fact that Growing Pains is insuffereable]
  7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know.
  8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc. [I reference the Skeptics Annotated Bible regularly]
  9. Have come out as an atheist to your family.
  10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
  11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
  12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony.
  13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
  14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins. [close!]
  15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
  16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize.
  17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away. [I wouldn't say 'hid,' but I've heald my cards close to my chest sometimes]
  18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
  19. Attended a protest that involved religion.
  20. Attended an atheist conference.
  21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel.
  22. Started an atheist group in your area or school. [first meeting is tomorrow!]
  23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism.
  24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die.
  25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
  26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place. [Hahah, it's true!]
  27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
  28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count).
  29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills.
  30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”
  32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
  33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch. [Oh EWTN, aka the "Catholic Channel," is there no end to the amusement you can provide? Honorable mention: BYU TV]
  34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
  35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant.
  36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service).
  37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)
  38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism.
  39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God. [to my high school paper, and it actually scored me an editor position the next year]
  40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
  41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public.
  42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them.
  43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
  44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants).
  45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
  46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.” [Exhibit A, Exhibit B... Haven't made it to the Creation Museum]
  47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all. [But I might if given the opportunity]
  48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…
  49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
  50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you. [I like Unitarians, but just don't feel at home in a church]
total score: 30

Monday, December 15, 2008

Congress Shall Make No Law, a play in one act

[hat tip to PZ]
Here is my new play, Congress Shall Make No Law: A comedic tragedy, or tragic comedy. I hope you all enjoy it.

ME: Me
1ST AMENDMENT: The first amendment to the United States Constitution
HR487: House Resolution 487

ME: Good morning, First Amendment. Say, would you mind sharing your thoughts with me on religion? Specifically, what do you think the role of the U.S. Congress should play in the establishment of religion?

1ST AMENDMENT: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

ME: I must say, I agree. it's a good thing we have you in place to help protect our government from hijacking by any one religion. Oh, look! HR487 has joined us. I didn't even see you come in! First and I were talking about religion in our government. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

HR487: Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its Judeo-Christian roots;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Atheism Song

This has been making the rounds... I really really want to not like this, and yet... I do.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Personal History, part 4

See the entire "personal history" series of posts:
  • Part 1 - Who I am now. why I'm an atheist, a skeptic, and a progressive liberal, and why I think that's a good thing.
  • Part 2 - I grew up in a Mormon family and community, but my parents always encouraged critical thinking.
  • Part 3 - As I became a teenager, I began having doubts about religion and the supernatural and began to reconcile that with a scientific viewpoint that increasingly edged out religion.
  • Part 4 - "Agnostic, leaning toward atheism"

Part 4: "Agnostic, leaning towards atheism"
It's been a long while since I've posted an entry in my personal history series... The time has come, intrepid readers, for the next in the series.

In part three, I discussed my reasons for leaving the LDS church at a young age. So, what's a newly godless junior high school kid to do?

The answer: not much different than what I did before. I still had the same friends, I still excelled in school. The main difference is that I did not attend the daily seminary class as most of my peers did. For those not in the know, since Utah is dominated by the Mormon church, most middle and high schools have a not-quite-on-site "seminary" building, where most Mormon kids attend a religious instruction class for one period a day.

It was in fact my non-attendance at seminary that first made me realize how different I was from everyone else. In tenth grade, I'd sit outside my 5th period class, every day after lunch, waiting for it to begin along with a five or so other students. I'd struck up a friendship with one of these kids, until one day he asked me who I had for seminary.

"Oh, I don't have seminary."

"Why not?"

"I'm not Mormon." This was the first time I had ever said those words to anyone. I even felt a little bit like I was lying to him for saying it.

"What are you?"

"I'm agnostic."

"What's that? Does that mean you worship Satan?" These were his exact words. It is burned into my memory.

"No! What that means is that, to me, whether or not God exists is kind of irrelevant. I'm going to live my life the same way either way." I was formulating my personal philosophy, on the fly, for the first time. "As long as I live my life to the fullest and I try to do good if I can or at least do no harm, then I'm happy." I had stolen bits of that from the Dalai Lama, but it accurately reflected how I felt at the time.

"You're weird."

At this time, the teacher came back to unlock the classroom... But it was official: I was an agnostic.

I repeated a version of this little speech or anyone who asked me what religion I was for the next, oh, ten years. Sometimes, the response was thought-provoking, sometimes hostile, sometimes outright hilarious. I didn't understand why those with faith -- regardless of their faith -- found it SO hard to accept that I really, truly could feel this way:
  • Once, at a party, the conversation turned to religion, and it came up that I didn't believe in god. A friend was was shocked to hear that. "What do you hold on to in life?" she asked. I responded that I held on to the people and things that made me happy. "Well, cocaine makes you happy, so you'd hold on to that?"
  • My later-sister-in-law, about a year after I told her I gave her that above speech, asked me "So, have you decided what religion you are yet?" She herself was a Wiccan who would introduce herself to strangers by saying "I worship the goddess Brigid!" After asking if I'd found my faith, she then made a recommendation. "I think you would really get in to the Norse gods." (Yeah: the idea of eternal bloody warfare sure was my idea of heaven.) Wait, what? Even though you worship some modernized version of the Celt gods, you think I would do well with Thor? Don't both of these cosmologies have their own competing take on how the universe functions? They can't both be equally true.
  • At a late night outing to The Belgian Waffle (ah, the finest American cuisine one can find at 4:00 AM), one friend, a born-again Christian, explained how this philosophy doomed me to hell. "Why?" I asked. Wouldn't God care that I strove to be a good person, whatever failings I have? No, she explained, he wouldn't: "I have faith in Jesus Christ! I know that he died for my sins, so works have nothing to do with it! I know that if I were judged for the stuff I do, I'd go to hell, but since I believe in Jesus, I'm saved."
Oh, how perverse! Saying "in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen" gave her a free pass to do whatever she liked, to whomever she liked; while even the most moral, kind, helpful and honest person would be doomed to an eternity of the most horrific torture if he happened to not thank a Mesopotamian sky god for his mac n' cheese? Astoundingly, my friend answered that "YES HE WOULD!" Remember, Hell isn't some place where someone has to go for a couple of years of unpleasant conditions. It's not prison. Hell is a place where you are DOOMED TO BE HORRIFICALLY TORTURED FOR ETERNITY.

Do you have any idea how long eternity is? The Universe that you and I live in is currently estimated to be just shy of 14 billion years old. That's nearly an unimaginable about of time. 13,700,000,000 years. The current life expectancy for an American is about 78 years.
That means the universe has about 175,000,000 American lifespans under its belt... It's really difficult to wrap our minds around even THAT number... Now, think about 13.7 billion years repeated an infinite number of times. That is how long this "merciful god" thinks it is appropriate to unrelentingly torture someone who lives a perfectly moral existence, but declines to worship him.

Loving God my ass.

Telling people you're not religious somehow seemed to encourage them to trot out their most superficial reason for believing... In each case above, their religion was all about making them feel better about themselves. It wasn't -- not REALLY -- about having a deeper understanding of the universe. I don't doubt that many religious people do feel very connected to the universe and strive to understand their place in it, but it certainly wasn't the standard trope of your average religious person when I revealed myself as a nonbeliever.

Now, I know that not every religious person believes things like that, but a disconcerting number of them do. Indeed, it is a major premise of the evangelical movement. And why the disconnect? If the Bible (or any other religious text) is infallible and to be taken literally, then how could so many people have so many different takes? Either unbelievers were damned (Mark 16:16) or they weren't (no Bible verses to back up that perspective).

All the stuff was rolling around in the back of my head. As I said, I called myself agnostic, but if there WAS a god, it surely wasn't the god of the Bible. Maybe it was more of a Deist god... Of course, if you had forced me to choose one way or the other on the god proposition, I would have thought god was unlikely... But it was a hell of a lot easier, socially, to just say I was unconcerned about religion, rather expressing disbelief in what so many others held dear.

From the time I was in middle school up until just maybe five years ago, I continued to call myself agnostic. But I was always fascinated by religion. I read the Gnostic gospels, the Kalevala, the Bible, bits of the Qur'an. My college major was anthropology, in part because it allowed me to study evolutionary theory, and in part because it allowed me to study the history of religion. (One of my professors, Eva Wasilewska, wrote a book called Creation Stories of the Middle East which is very readable and very entertaining).

Every once in a while, I'd update my definition of myself to "atheist," but soon I'd go back to "agnostic." In part 5, I'll talk a bit about how I came to view myself decisively and confidently as an atheist, and my introduction to scientific skepticism.

Monday, December 8, 2008

War on Christmas II

I'm sick of the War on Christmas nonsense... So this is the last you'll hear from me on the subject, but I wanted to clarily and expland on what I said in my last post, as it was written hastily as I was waiting for some hard drives to finish reimaging. A friend e-mailed me taking issue with some of my points, so here's a clarification:

First, my bulleted list -- particularly the part about Christmas trees -- is just my opinion. Other atheists and secularists have other opinions on the matter, and quite reasonable ones at that (I'm sure that religious people have a gamut of opinions on this matter as well). It's just that I personally have no problem with X-mas trees.

Also, as for the Freedom From Relgion Foundatiuon's "religion enslaves minds" display: I'm with them on the sentimentm, and I of course support the right of the FFRF right to put it there. I stand by my assestion that religious displays or symbols should not be allowed on government space. If, though, any government property does sponsor a religious display of any kind (nativity scene), then in order to show that the government does not show favor to any one religion (Christianity), these displays need to be made available to any religious group, including atheists, and these displays should be allowed to express whatever sentiment that gorup wished to communicate.

My issue with the FFRF sign is that I think it's unfortunate that the sentiment they chose to express here only serves to reinforce the image of atheists and secularists as uptight, crotchety jerks.

Now, I don't think what the FFRF said is any more severe than, say, Christians saying "Jesus was born this day. And those who reject him will spend eternity being tortured in a fiery conflagration" (and this meaning is carried, for me at least, by anything including the word "savior"). Indeed, it's far LESS severe than that... But is this a game of escalation? Seeing which "side" can say the most offensive things?

Sure, this stuff makes the news, and lets people who might be questioning religion know that they are not alone. But those "fence-sitters" might be scared away from exploring those questions when the only image of atheism is this. I would love to see atheist displays that are a little more creative and welcoming. But that's just me.

Anyway, there is no "War" here. X-mas is certainly religious in origin (even pre-Christian), and though the word "Christmas" itself is surely religious, I consider it a secular holiday, all about family and presents and nutmeg. ("Gonna cover you in my nutmeg.") I would probably prefer to shop at retailers who use more inclusive terms, like "Happy Holidays," than "Merry X-mas," but only because of the Culture-Warization of the terms by O'Reilly et al. Frankly, if Bills Donahue and O'Reilly and their ilk hadn't made such a big deal out of "Happy Holidays," I probably wouldn't even really notice. If Christians would rather shop at Walmart because they use the word Christmas, then more power to them. Walmart's not getting my business anyway, so they may as well market to their audience of hillbillies and klansmen (talk about gross overgeneralizations!).

This "war" is manufactured by the right and sensationalized media (particularly, sensationalized right media).

And now, I'm officially done with this issue.. at leasyt until next year. ;)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The War on Christmas

A few weeks ago, I was writing a long-ass blog post about the "War on Christmas," after hearing Bill Donahue criticize the signs put on DC busses that said "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness sake."

I ultimately decided that my six paragraphs of bloviating weren't worth the time I had already put into them. I just didn't CARE enough about a few asshats refusing to shop at Target because they were wished "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Now, though, the War on Christmas is on in full force. You may have heard about the Atheist sign allowed to be displayed along side the nativity and menorah in the Washington State capitol.

Well the sign was stolen. It was later found in a ditch and returned, but some atheist peeps are now saying that baby Jesus in the nativity scene is fair game.


Okay let's just lay this out, so that everyone is on the same page here:
  • Christmas trees on government property = okay. They're pretty much a secular symbol now. And shiny.
  • Nativity scenes on government property = no. They are clearly and explicitly religious symbols.
  • If you must have a nativity, then other religious symbols or displays should be allowed. And pretty much any religious group that wishes to participate should be allowed. This includes atheists.
  • If you're an atheist group and you want to put up a display, don't make it a sign you made at Kinko's that's a big page of black text saying "religious people are a bunch of fucktards." First off, it's boring as hell to look at. Secondly it will be seen as an attack. It is an attack of course but still.
  • Seriously dudes! Do something creative like the Flying Spaghetti Monster statue peeps. Do something positive where instead of saying "These are the reasons religion is evil," say "Chekk it! We're atheists and we be luvvin life!" Only don't say exactly that. Maybe just have a nice, "isn't it great hanging with your friends and family this time of year?" thing with the scarlet A or something at the bottom.
  • If you are a Christian and don't think a given religious group has the right to display their sign on YOUR public space, well, now you know what it feels like to be an atheist or a jew or a pasafarian or a hindu when you see that nativity scene.
  • Don't steal other people's stuff. Period.
Are we all clear now? War is over if you want it.