Saturday, December 15, 2012

Merry Christmas-- Damn It!


Many of the residents of Jesusland seem to have a bit of an attitude this Christmas season. I notice people saying that they are sick and tired of hearing the phrase "Happy Holidays" as opposed to "Merry Christmas". These same people assert that we ought to know the true reason for why we even have Christmas; Avoiding the very word Christmas is the same as being bullied by the proponents of secularism.

People in Jesusland have worn t-shirts admonishing people to not be afraid to say "Merry Christmas"-- as though they might possibly be persecuted or lose their jobs for keeping Christmas Christian. They make angry Facebook posts and tweets condemning anyone who says "Happy Holidays" in place of the mandatory phrasing for this time of year.

I submit today that people who share that sentiment wrongly believe that Christians should own the holiday season. I believe that such people unwittingly feel entitled to more rights than others. They assert there is a "war" on Christmas without realizing the irony of their words.

Let me explain.

My daughter comes home from school earlier this week (based on the time of this post) saying that Hanukkah is Israel's way of celebrating Christmas.

No. That's just not true about Hanukkah. But, this bit of misinformation shows how Christianity gradually absorbs so many non-Christian traditions over the centuries. Perhaps the teachers are unwittingly imposing their Christian bias onto others. But purposefully or not, they are slowly assimilating a Jewish celebration that has nothing to do with Christmas at all. As a rule of thumb, Jews simply do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Christmas in it's most strict religious form is counter to mainstream Jewish belief; Didn't you learn anything in Sunday School?

Why would an Reformed Jew celebrate Christmas, then? I think it's safe to say that they only celebrate Christmas for as far as the gift giving and the decorations go. You know-- just to enjoy the holiday spirit of giving and such. Can you blame any Jewish parents who might not want their children to feel left out when all their Gentile classmates and friends rave on and on about how the baby Jesus-- um . . . I mean Santa Clause-- er . . . I mean . . . their parents left tons of toys and gadgets for them under their Christmas trees?

Judaism is a good example of why greeting others with the phrase "Happy Holidays" as opposed to the phrase "Merry Christmas" is, in my opinion, simply being sensitive to others. But, just as I feel offended that someone would mandate that I only greet others with "Merry Christmas", I don't want to suggest that the greeting in and of itself is inappropriate for this time of year, either. Like Thomas Jefferson said, "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg". And quite frankly as an atheist, I feel that way when people greet me with "Merry Christmas". I don't mind the greeting and I even reply in kind. But, for people to get an attitude because you don't say it . . . I begin to wonder if they even understand why freedom of religion is so special and important at all.

With much attitude, I hear people insist that Jesus is the reason for the season as they decorate their "Christmas" trees and plan to buy their "Christmas" gifts. No harm in having a Christmas tree or buying gifts. Hell, I have a Christmas tree up in my home and I'm an atheist for crying out loud! I just got back from Christmas shopping before starting on this post. But, the difference: I'm willing to accept the fact that a Christmas tree ain't got shit to do with Jesus; and if a Jew can buy Christmas gifts, so can an atheist. But more importantly, consider how this season as a whole seems to come more from the Yule festivals of the Winter Solstice. Think of how Christianizing other cultures has overshadowed so many festivals and traditions over the centuries and made them Christian. Don't believe Christians ever assimilated other traditions? It's happening now as evidenced by my daughter coming home and calling Hanukkah the "Jewish Christmas".

The sort of Christians who demand that we all use the phrase "Merry Christmas" feel entitled whether they realize it or not. And worse, when such people don't get their entitlement, they claim to be bullied by everyone else. It's as if Christians of this sort feel their rights are being stepped on if they cannot make everyone else participate in their Christian activities. Take prayer in school, for example. The law is not telling Christians that they cannot pray. The law is telling them that they cannot have teachers lead the class into prayer and mandate that each child takes on prayer. Would a Christian parent want a Muslim teacher mandating that their child prays towards Mecca daily?

But, the law does protect the right for children of any faith to gather together before or after school (or even during the activity period within the school day) and pray to their hear's content so long as the activity is student initiated. Also, no one can be forced to participate against their will, either. Our children still have that precious right because of freedom of religion (and freedom from it, too). Yet, certain Christians feel that if they cannot make your child pray in school, you are stepping on their rights. That's a sense of entitlement. That's the same reason why certain Christians feel they own the Yuletide traditions all to themselves; they feel entitled.

And with all of this assimilation and entitlement going on, how can Christians honestly assert there is a "war" on Christmas? There is no war. People are merely tired of being assimilated.

Case in point: the office manager at my place of employment sent out a mass e-mail spreading the notion that Christians need to stand up against the secular bombardment upon their faith. In her thinking, she's got 100% support within the office and can send her message out in total confidence. Of course she won't be reprimanded or fired for circulating that e-mail to everyone in the office. Who in the world would object?

Never mind that the e-mail was a partially forged message attributed to Ben Stein. If integrity is so important to Christian faith, why go around spreading an e-mail that falsely attributes words to someone? I know we make mistakes, but I can't count how many e-mail messages I have received that spread fables in the place of truth only to make a an often unfair point.

Below, I'll share a portion of the e-mail I received. This portion below really was delivered in a commentary by Ben Stein back in the year 2005. But, it's being circulated as though he stated this during the 2012 Christmas season and extra paragraphs were added on by other authors. The message as a whole is made to look like it was signed as coming from Stein even though only a potion of the message in circulation comes from his original commentary:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees...  I don't feel threatened..  I don't feel discriminated against.. That's what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me.  I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it.  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu .  If people want a crèche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. 
I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat...  
Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.  But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to. 

Again-- my office manager can send this around the office with total confidence and not worry about losing her job. She can take for granted that she's sending this e-mail to an office full of supportive people who are undoubtedly in her corner and share this sentiment of entitlement.

However, should I talk too loudly about my atheism from behind my cubical wall, I feel that I could realistically put my employment status in jeopardy.

So then, tell me; who exactly has the upper hand in this supposed "war" on Christmas?

Look-- I don't feel pushed around when someone greets me with "Happy Holidays". I don't even feel pushed around when someone greets me with "Merry Christmas".

But, I do feel pushed around when I'm slapped in the face with a sentiment that basically and angrily says, "Merry Christmas-- damn it.". I'd rather be greeted with the infamous, "Bah! Humbug."

So much for making the Season bright with "Christmas" cheer.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Everything Evolves

During my June vacation in Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Very cool! Free entry, too!

Rocks about 2.5 billion years old reveal that the Earth's atmosphere hasn't always been supportive of life as we know it today.

Water life adapts to droughts and evolve into land animals.

Ideas also evolve-- slavery was upheld by the United States Constitution at first; later, it was repealed. Women were second class citizens, now they are more and more being treated with proper fairness.

For one while, you couldn't legally buy a strong drink! 

Yikes!

And yup . . . even religions have evolved. Denominations splinter off from each other and become less and less familiar with how their scriptures lay out the tenants of their faith. Doctrines change and people tone down the more radical passages found in their scripture texts. Yes, even faith evolves.

And look at the United States today-- we seem to be at the threshold of allowing homosexuals to live their lives with full freedom as well. This is long over due in my opinion, just as Women's rights and Minority rights were long over due (and perhaps, still not fully realized even now).

Yes-- even the so called "Land of the Free" is still striving and evolving towards a more perfect union.

Evolution is everywhere. We might as well accept it. And we might as well use the engine of evolution to push our nation towards becoming a nation that is truly, fully free.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Life, Liberty, and Happiness



I had the wonderful pleasure of spending some time in our Nation's Capitol during the week of June 24th. While learning my way around on the Metro, something occurred to me. People on the Metro don't get too friendly with strangers. They'd rather read the news paper, interact with their smart phones, listen to their headphones, or even nod off to sleep before engaging in idle chit-chat with a stranger.


Don't get me wrong-- they will help you if you're lost or get on the wrong train. But outside of that, people expect you to leave them alone-- no matter how close they happen to be sitting next to you.


But, noticing the distant coldness of other people isn't really what occurred to me. The atmosphere that I just described is largely common knowledge concerning densely populated environments.


What occurred to me was how that perceived "coldness" from others may have simply been the people minding their own business while pursuing life, liberty, and happiness for themselves. And since they are so absorbed in their pursuit, they don't have time to worry about your pursuit; just don't get in their way.


For all my life, I have live in the Deep South. Here, strangers love to strike up conversations. Strangers often "speak" to each other-- meaning they say "hi" to you-- a total stranger on the street-- and expect a greeting in return. And many Southerners can take great offense if you don't respond; this is the beginning of politeness. Neighbors will meet you at the end of your driveway and start telling you all of their business as they seem to expect you'll trade your life story for theirs. They pry: What church do you attend? Where do you work? How many kids do you have? Why do you have two kids at your house during the week, but three kids at your house every other weekend?




But, in the smaller Southern cities we do not cram onto a Metro system like in D.C. We often commute 15 or 20 minutes to work by car. Now at work, a few of your co-workers may pry into your life just like your next-door neighbors do.




This same culture that I described (which is a generalization . . . so, it's not true for all of the South) also has a knack for wanting to squeeze everyone into their mold of objective morality. Is this behavior simply the result of people not knowing how to pursue freedom and happiness for themselves? Perhaps they need to know what you're doing in your private life so that they may know whether to ostracize you or accept you; they need knowledge of what you do behind closed doors so that they can know if you fit into their objective morality or not.




We'll, you don't have to worry about that on the Metro in D.C. Driving into D.C. is so difficult during rush hour that total strangers will carpool so that they can access the HOV lanes on the freeway. But, guess what-- they don't get into each other's business either. As a matter of fact, the carpooling culture has an unspoken rule to not strike up idle chit-chat with each other while riding into the city together.




Again, this seems like coldness and rudeness-- something Southerns generally hate on the surface. But, I wonder if that "coldness" is nothing more than an extension of people being extremely comfortable with themselves.




Then they silently dare you to tell them how else to live.




Isn't that really what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is all about?




Happy Independence Day!



Saturday, June 23, 2012

Get Outta My Pants!

Isn't the notion odd that someone would dare forbid you the use of contraception?

The Catholic Church is claiming that President Obama's health care plan will force them to purchase and provide insurance that will offer medical features (contraception) which are against their faith. In so doing, this violates their rights to practice their faith.

I thought about this a bit. Maybe the Catholics have a good point. If their leaders think contraception is evil, they shouldn't be forced to purchase it or use it at their own free will.

But for all the ideals that their leadership attempts to unjustly impose, I think they cancel out their own point.

I noticed an organization named Amac who supports the Catholic Church's official stand against ObamaCare. They sent out a message to their members encouraging them to purchase arm bands and where them on certain days in order to vocalize their support of the Church. In that message, they quote and emphasize a potion of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

They really hone in on "prohibiting the free exercise thereof"-- which is extremely important, I must admit.

But, they seem to overlook the clause that balances out that statement-- which is also extremely important-- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".

Nope. No religious faith gets any special favors, attention, or exemptions by Congress when laws are made. The laws made shouldn't care what any establishment of religion thinks about them provided the free exercise of faith remain.

But don't get carried away. If the tenants of your faith include world domination, well . . . I don't think the Bill of Rights will cover that one . . .

That's why faith is a private thing . . . just like the inside of my pants.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Amazing Grace

The Southern Baptist Church has elected Rev. Fred Luter as it's first African American president. To me, this is amazing because I didn't even know the SBC had any African Americans members to begin with-- let alone, one to elect as it's president!

To their credit, the SBC has acknowledged that flirting with racism and the Confederacy was a mistake and they admit that racism shouldn't have any place in their congregations today. They want to change their image now and embrace diversity because their membership is currently on the decline.

I can't help but wonder, though . . .

When did African Americans start joining the SBC?

Is that when membership started to decline?


Is this a case of white flight?


OK. I'm sorry-- that was a bit tacky.

To be fair, SBC statistics suggest that the decline started happening before African Americans (and other minorities) started to attend SBC congregations. So, I don't think any so called "white flight" is going on just yet.

Isn't it interesting, though, that the decline of membership (and funds) jarred the SBC into finally realizing they needed to change their "unwelcoming" image?

I never thought I'd live to see an African American president. But this goes beyond that because I never even thought to consider an African American member of the SBC-- let alone a president!

My, how times are changing!




Just Keep on Waiting

I let my mom and mother-in-law guilt me into going to my old church this past Father's day. Deep down inside though, I think that's my last time going there; although, I haven't voiced this to my family, yet.

Certain elements of the pastor's message really irked me. For starters, he stated that the sort of people who want results before they can ever be convinced would have a hard time being Christians. Christians need faith, he asserted. And he defined faith as trusting and believing without any results or evidence. If you need evidence or results, Christianity isn't for you because you don't have faith-- that is, according to the pastor's sermon.

I was also bothered by how he constantly insinuated that Christians have happier marriages and home life. He frequently suggested that believers always had "blessings" following them while disobedient Christians and unsaved people would always have trouble as their constant companion. I particularly take issue with that idea. Having been Christian, I don't see that trouble has followed me now that I am atheist. In many ways, my life has become far easier. Yes, I still have problems . . . but that was true while living as a Christian, too.

I think what bothered me most from his sermon, though was his key point-- his encouragement to "just keep waiting". He encouraged the congregation to just keep waiting for Jesus to return . . . just keep waiting for God to turn around a situation that seemed impossible. Just keep waiting for God to reward you for your faithfulness.

Just keep waiting.

Then, he gave an analogy of a school child waiting for a bus. That child never leaves the bus stop until the bus comes-- even if the bus seems to be running late. Just keep waiting-- that bus is sure to come.

For as many times as my kids have missed the bus, this was a poorly chosen analogy.

The bus has passed by my house without me hearing it. So, I still send my kids out. The bus (of course) will never come. At some point, I've need to understand that we've missed the bus. At that point, I must take matters into my own hands.

But, you may say-- Ah, the bus did come . . . you just missed it.

Well, there have been a few occasions where I know I was on time for the bus, but it never came to pick up my kids. (Sort of like in Waiting for Godot).

Buses do break down, you know. This has happened one or twice. We also had a situation where the bus driver stepped off the bus between stops for some reason. He twisted his ankle while going down the steps, fell and tore a tendon. He couldn't finish his route. Another bus never came; I had to take my kids to school myself.

You know how I found out the bus wasn't coming? I looked at the clock and compared it to the time the bus usually arrives. That time had long passed and I realized I needed to take matters into my own hands.

Influencing people to mindlessly wait for anything is regressive at best. Discouraging the desire for supporting evidence is folly and worse than being regressive.

It's actually quite dangerous.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Wits' End

About a month ago (from this post), my daughter plainly and flatly told her older cousin that we simply don't believe in god in our household.

At first, I got rather worried, but then I came to the realization that her cousin (my niece) probably won't make a stink of it. And so far-- she hasn't.

However, that incident forced the question of whether remaining a closeted atheist has any real benefit.

Summer vacation began and my kids started spending their days at my mom's house. The kids surprised my wife and me one evening by telling us that my mother was trying to make them memorize bible versus.

Now, we're strongly considering putting them in a secular summer program. But, something like that will be hard to find in Jesusland and we don't have tons of cash to spend on summer camp.

The question of whether remaining a closeted atheist comes up again. My wife becomes a bit flustered about having to hide what we really feel; I worry about how sick my seventy-four year old mother will become if we told her. I worry about how our relationship could fall apart just near the end of her life.

Then, both my mother and mother-in-law start really putting social pressure on us to come to church-- at least for Father's day. We didn't make Mother's day . . . my mother-in-law was quite cross. There was no gift, gesture, or convenience that made up for our missing church. Her daughters skipped church to cook her an amazing meal to eat after church service. She almost didn't come over to enjoy it out of disappointment at our absence from service.

And again-- we wonder if staying in the closet is even worth it.


I grow tired of the default expectation that everyone is a Christian. I grow tired of people compelling us to participate in an activity that-- for me-- feels like a waste of time.

I don't want to make other people stop being a Christian-- I just want them to stop trying to make me into one. Ah . . . but there's the problem. The very nature of being a Christian for many believers, is to faithfully spread the Gospel. These ideas are not mutually exclusive and poses a difficult problem for those who want to simply be left alone.

I'm at my wits' end.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Authentication

How does God authenticate with all of humanity?

What protocol does the supreme deity use to confirm communication with human kind?

What procedure or algorithm does God use to ensure we do not confuse divine communications with those of a false agent who spoofs divinity?

Authentication is a serous issue. Sometimes the problems of authentication can be solved by a familiar voice, a familiar face, a secret handshake, a secret knock, or a secret password. But, even these security tokens can be compromised. For centuries, the greatest minds have toiled to solve the problems that come with establishing secure authentication. This search continues today because very important people have realized that false security is far worse than no security at all.

Just ask the Queen Mary of Scots.

So, when a preacher preaches or when a small still voice speaks in your heart, how do you authenticate that voice as God? How do you know that communication isn't forged or compromised in some way?

When a lucid vision compels you to engage in a certain action, how do you authenticate that message?

With the Bible-- God's Word?

And how is God's Word authenticated?

By miracles?

Miracles seem to authenticate God within the scriptures themselves.

But what agent outside of the Bible authenticates those stories of yesteryear to a modern society-- especially when Biblical archaeology and document analysis undermine a literal reading of the Bible?

In short-- how to you prove that your God is really speaking to you and that the rest of the world should listen and obey?

How you decide to personally authenticate God is certainly your business. But, how God authenticates himself to the world as a whole is another matter altogether. No one has the right to compelled another person to exclusively follow after an allegedly divine voice-- not until a universal form of authentication is established for God.

I don't see that happening any time soon . . .

Think about it. Would you want me telling you what God you should be serving?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Brilliance Lost: Ignorance is NOT Bliss

Neil deGrasse Tyson gives a very interesting talk. To me, he really rips it up.

Short version:

By watching this one, you get the gist of his point. But, you might miss a lot of important context worth hearing. And what is the main point? We have a lot to lose when we displace the drive for discovery with blissful ignorance.




Full version:

You get to see Tyson really build up his case against the real harm that comes from embracing Intelligent Design as a real part of science.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Maybe the Nones Will Help Us

The March 12, 2012 edition of Time Magazine presented an interesting cover story entitled Ten Ideas That are Changing Your Life. This story was broken up into ten sub-articles each written by different authors. I found all of the articles highly interesting. But, due to the theme of this blog, I wanted to focus on only one particular article here-- The Rise of the Nones, by Amy Sullivan. She shares how the population of non-religious people is growing to an all time high in the United States (about 16% of the US population). But, this group isn't referencing mainly atheists or agnostics. The majority of this group seems to be made up of church-goers who have become tired of dogmatism; theists who are still seeking spirituality and fellowship with other believers-- but they refuse to be described by or bound by any particular denominational or sectarian label within Christianity.

So when filling out surveys, these people mark their religious preferences as "none".

Thus the title of the Time Magazine article: The Rise of the Nones.

This trend causes me to wonder if the Nones will help us atheists to be better accepted by the rest of the religious world. Have the Nones let go of dogmatism in exchange for tolerance and acceptance of non-believers? Will the Nones regard us atheists and agnostics as actual contributers to society rather than the cause of God's wrath upon America?

I wonder if this trend concerning the Nones is a sign that more and more people of religious faith are becoming flexible enough to believe without imposing upon others. Can the Nones fully appreciate and accept both sides of the coin concerning freedom of religion?

Can the Nones help us?

Maybe they can. Or, perhaps it's all wishful thinking on my part.

Time will tell. And when the results finally come in, I really hope the news is good.