Atheist plaque combats Christmas display in MS: is this a good thing?

Jackson, MS is the among latest cities in the news that are having illegal Christmas displays challenged. FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) has put one of their plaques in the Capitol building next to a nativity scene placed there by the Mississippi 9/11 Remembrance Association, according to WLBT.

Why would a 9/11 organization put up a nativity scene? The connection between 9/11 and this nativity scene is perhaps that both were organized by religious zealots… The comparison is a little unfair, perhaps. Obviously a nativity scene is not an act of terrorism, but it’s scary that religious people feel like they can do whatever they want just because it’s honoring their god.

There shouldn’t be Christmas displays or atheistic plaques in government buildings. I will admit that, although I support the FFRF, I am concerned that the expansion of the plaques into more cities might mean that it will become the norm or accepted to have Christmas displays, they will just be accompanied by “token” displays that include secular or non-Christian themes.

I think the plaques were originally meant to represent atheists but also as a deterrent (the language in it is strong and some might prefer there  to get rid of both the Christmas decorations and the plaque). I’m not sure it’s working, though. I do not object to the plaque’s message itself, although it isn’t the most positive of fronts to present to theists. But I vacillate on whether I think it is an effective strategy. If the plaque + Christmas scene precedent gets established, Christians will (mostly) get their way of having Christmas in state buildings around the country because they can then argue, “well, the atheists get their sign, too, so what’s the problem?” I want less religion in public places, not religion and atheism mixed.

Why can’t people just celebrate holidays on their own instead of forcing it on everyone in official areas? That pesky First Amendment again always trying to protect the rights of the minority where government is involved… Christmas is alive and well, in case Christians haven’t noticed. Aren’t the gazillion Christmas displays up in stores and private residences this time of year (bad) enough?!?! Hopefully eventually people will realize that religion is a private matter, but it doesn’t look like this will happen any time soon.

Images from WLBT.

Creationism still going strong


Check out Creation Science 101 by Roy Zimmerman

For anyone still actually reading this blog after my prolonged absence, here’s some news showing that while hard-core creationism has gone down slightly, the majority of Americans think that evolution didn’t happen or that God is the one guiding evolution.

From Gallup, Via The Atheist Spot

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms […] What no doubt continues to surprise many scientists is that 4 out of 10 Americans believe in the first of these explanations.

What frustrates me is how basic this one is. All you have to do is read the first two chapters of Genesis to see that something’s up: there are two different creation accounts. I guess most people just accept one or the other and leave it at that, instead of throwing the whole thing into question.

If you even ignore the Bible, does no one know about dog breeding? I think some people just think that there are minor changes that occur, and don’t think about the big picture that if little changes are occurring in a small amount of time, then big changes occur over large amount of time. But I guess thousands of fossil specimens and logic don’t go very far these days.

At least a growing percentage of Americans, 16%, believe that humans evolved without a god’s involvement. Maybe by the year 3000 we can get that up to 50%!

Prop 8 proponents — which kind(s) of Biblical marriage do you support?

A quick follow-up to my post on Prop 8. As pointed out by in a comment by a member of Atheist Nexus, the Bible is far from supporting only what Prop 8 proponents think of as “traditional” marriage. According to the site Religious Tolerance, there are at least 8 types of marriage the Bible specifically condoned by God in the Bible.

If Christians are going to only go to bat for god-friendly weddings, they’ll have to either endorse forced marriage of unwed, unbetrothed rape victims to their attackers or else explain why they are not campaigning for what the Bible clearly outlines as a required form of marriage. Do they really want to make their god angry by not allowing polygany (a man marrying multiple women) or thousands of concubines?

If we’re going to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to follow or legislate, I guess then that means that men “lying” with men (and women with women) should be fair game, too.

Image from http://www.slapupsidethehead.com/2008/11/proposition-8-is-discriminatory-nonsense

Anne Rice loses her religion

Famous author Anne Rice has said she’s leaving Christianity, specifically the Catholic religion she converted to 12 years go after recovering from a coma. This Freethinker article discusses the decision more in detail. She was raised Catholic, abandoned it for atheism, converted back to Catholicism, and is once again renouncing her ties with the church. She apparently has not given up on god or on Christ himself, but on organized Christianity. A few quotes from Anne Rice:

I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.

I’ve come to the conclusion from my experience with organized religion that I have to leave, that I have to, in the name of Christ, step away from this.

I’ve also found that I can’t find a basis in Scripture for a lot of the positions that churches and denominations take today, and I can’t find any basis at all for an anointed, hierarchical priesthood.

She makes it clear that she’s not anti-Christ, just anti-church. Is this for PR (not wanting to alienating likely the majority of her readers who are Christians) or does she actually like the Bible and not like what churches have done with it?

I’ve heard some people say this and can sympathize to some extent, but if she’s looked at Scripture in detail though, doesn’t she see that not all, but a lot of what she is criticizing does in fact come from Scripture. To take feminism just as an example: 1 Corinthians 14, for example tells women it is “disgraceful” for them to speak in church. She might consider reading the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible’s section on women, for more insight on this…

In any case, I applaud people who reject Christianity’s hate-filled teachings, whether they do so by rejecting the religion outright, or by picking and choosing the occasional nuggets and insights — just so long as they don’t pretend that the Bible (including the New Testament) isn’t backwards, hateful, violent, contradictory, and just plain wrong a large portion of the time.

UPDATE: According to an LA Times article, Rice answers how she envisions being devoted to Christ without being Christian.

It’s talking to God, putting things in the hands of God, trusting that you’re living in God’s world and praying for God’s guidance. And being absolutely faithful to the core principles of Jesus’ teachings.

It would be interesting to know what exactly she thinks the “core principles of Jesus’ teachings” are, since the interpretations of his teachings have helped lead to thousands of denominations, religious wars…As an author herself, you’d think she would find fault with the Bible’s lack of clarity!

Christian leaders condemn overturning of Prop 8

As most people who follow the news likely know, California’s Proposition 8 (the ban against same-sex marriage in that state) was just overturned last week in federal court. There will of course be appeals, but this is a major step towards the legalization of same-sex marriage not only in California, but if it survives appeal, possibly at the national level.

Since Christianity is all about love, they are throwing their full support towards gay marriage, right? (Did you detect a note of sarcasm there?)

Here is a link to an article by Christianity Today (which I saw posted in a few freethought-friendly places) which provides some reactions from the Christian community. To be fair, there are some quotes that are fairly neutral or even supportive of LGBT community, but here are a few gems to give you an idea of the other side of the coin.

Majorities are unstable, and while traditional marriage has the upper hand now, it may not in 20 years. [What is going to happen, LGBT people will suddenly become a majority in the next 20 years? Now that’s what I call evolution! Or will they just corrupt the rest of God-fearing people by then?]

Because gay marriage is less than God’s best for relationship, we need to equip ourselves to minister to those who will choose it and later realize it might not have been the best decision. [Will they also equip themselves to minister to those who will choose and later realize it was the best decision of their life?]

At stake in the debate is the very nature of marriage itself. Thinking biblically does not allow us to regard marriage as merely prudential or preferential (I like strawberry, you like pistachio), but as a covenantal union of one man and one woman established by God for a purpose that transcends itself. [Comparing the love and devotion of two adults committing to spend the rest of their lives together…to liking pistachios. It’d be hard to make a more ignorant or belittling comparison. Although  “my cute little strawberry” does sound like a nice pet name.]

The Bible makes clear that marriage is God’s idea rather than a social contract that we are free to renegotiate based on changing social trends. [So if we have to follow God’s ideas on marriage, does this mean we’re sticking with the whole you-must-marry-your-rapist thing dictated in the Bible, then? (Deuteronomy 22:28). If we mustn’t follow social trends when it comes to marriage, should we also wear BC-era wedding attire?]

The gospel is deeply serious while Judge Walker’s decision is a jumbled mess of sloppy thinking […] [That’s funny; I would have said the exact opposite.]

Hopefully this ruling will lead society towards understanding of those who are not in the mainstream, instead of the continuing legacy of bigotry towards the “Other” that religions too often help perpetuate.

Love never fails [A post in memory of my mom]

A universal sentiment for atheists and believers alike.

My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly last month. She died from what appears to have been a massive stroke. She had just seen a doctor, and while she had a few relatively minor health issues (as many 50-somethings do), she had just seen a doctor a few days prior to her death. There was nothing to indicate to her doctor or to any of her friends and family that she would suddenly be gone.

I simply could not believe the devastating news at first; this was nearly everyone’s reaction upon hearing it. It just didn’t make sense. From what my stepfather told me, my mom had a very fun night the previous night and had gone to bed happy. He goes to work early in the morning, so as was often the case he didn’t wake her up when he left and just let her sleep.

When he arrived home, she was already dead and had apparently never gotten out of bed. I mention this because it means she very likely died in her sleep and either did not suffer at all or suffered only very briefly. As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, my father died just a little over a decade ago after several years of painfully battling cancer. The suffering he went through made me question the existence of an all-powerful, loving God. My mother at least was hopefully not a victim of lengthy, unbearable, meaningless pain before she died. Although it is always difficult to lose a loved one, knowing they went as quickly and painlessly as possible is some comfort.

As you might expect, her death brought up a whole swirl of religious thoughts among her grieving family and friends, myself included. (I will go into these more in detail shortly, including the pastor who nearly ruined my mother’s funeral.) Not being religious at all anymore, and feeling certain that my mother isn’t in a “better place,” brought both comforting and distressing feelings in me. I know that dying is a natural part of life, and that helped me to some extent. A number of people said it didn’t seem or feel “fair” that my mother died so young.

I will admit that a part of me felt, and still feels, that way. Logically, however, I know that there is no cosmic fairness that determines when and how someone dies. Death is just a part of life, and we all will eventually die. Somewhat coincidentally, I had just become acquainted with George Hrab‘s song “Everything Alive Will Die Someday,” which helped comfort and remind me of death being a natural part of life.

But the other side of atheism is knowing that my mother isn’t in some magical place looking down on us, either finally at peace or having fun in paradise. I knew that other people (including family) saw the wake and funeral as a chance to see loved ones and celebrate her life on Earth — and for many if not most gathered there, what they believe to be her new life in heaven. A couple people have said they don’t know exactly where she is, but hope that she’s somewhere.

I don’t feel this way, however: I know with about as much certainty as possible that my mother, as much as I love her, simply doesn’t exist anymore. I’m sure most people who knew her don’t share my views on this, though. What was at least a somewhat comforting occasion to most was downright depressing to me. The wake and funeral felt to me overall as a sort of meaningless death ritual taking place around the rotting corpse of my mother. That was very difficult for me. I did what I felt was right though and played along for the most part, talking to loved ones and recounting memories of my mom.

Memories of her and her life will live on as long as we let them, but my mother herself is no more. On good days, I take time to remember and even laugh about fond memories of my mom, although there is still a great deal of sadness that I’m sure, if my experience after my dad’s death was any indication, will take quite some time to subside.

I was surprised actually at the wake and funeral, how few people actually said she was “in a better place.” Maybe it’s become too cliché now to say. Most people either said that they were very saddened and sorry for our loss, and/or their thoughts or prayers were with us. Their sentiments were appreciated. While the wake, conversations, and sympathy cards did include some “God” talk, there was only one thing that very much upset me, and it turned out that it upset some other people as well.

My mother had become more religious in recent years, but still was not a bible-thumping, church-every-Sunday sort of person. There was some basic Christian imagery and words chosen for the wake, but also some more general themes (peace, love). I think this reflected her well and I’m sure is what most of the family wanted. The chapter that was chosen to be read at her funeral was one that I thought was appropriate for a group of family and friends who are nearly all Christians, but also as a general message, too: 1 Corinthians 13.

As many believers and nonbelievers alike will recognize, this is the famous chapter that includes the lines “Love is patient, love is kind […] Love never fails” and ends with “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Of all of the Bible verses that could be used, I was happy this one was chosen since it includes one of the most universal (as opposed to dogmatically-Christian) sentiments in the Bible, at least as it is widely taken by many people. The power and importance of love is a warm way to remember a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and so many other roles she filled for the people she loved and who loved her so much.

But the pastor officiating the service did not leave the verse at this. In his message, he told my stepfather, me, and the rest of assembled grieving loved ones that my mother’s love did fail, and that our love for her also failed. He paused after each of these pronouncements, I presume to allow the full effect of his words to sink in. He then continued, saying that human love always fails, and that it is only Christ’s love that saves us.

I was shocked and infuriated that he would use those verses to deliver a message so dark and drenched in dogma at my mother’s funeral. My mother, despite any faults she may have had (who doesn’t have faults?), was perhaps the most loving person I have ever known. She very well may have believed some sort of afterlife, or specifically in heaven, or even in Christ’s saving love for her. But there isn’t anyone in that room who knew my mother who would actually think she would have approved of a pastor telling her husband and children that her love had failed us, and that our love had failed her. It felt like a hijacking of her funeral.

Fortunately, immediately after the service, when the funeral director was giving directions to the cemetery, he added a few much more positive words to end on a more upbeat and compassionate note. It was still a Christian message, but focused on life and death in nature, and love and memories. A few family members mentioned afterwards that they thought the pastor’s words were overly dark and “depressing.” So even some devout believers felt that message was just too much and inappropriate, although they didn’t put it in those words. My wife also agreed with this and we talked about it briefly. It gave me some comfort to know that I have loved ones who are not totally blinded by what was surely a valid, though cruelly heartless and insensitive, interpretation of their religion at my mother’s funeral.

But here’s what’s most important: I don’t feel the pastor, despite his best efforts to evangelize instead of comfort, ruined the commemoration and celebration of my mother’s life and love. In spite of the pastor’s words, and how difficult her sudden death has been on me and on my family, how much she’ll miss, how much we’ll miss her, there is something that comforts me. Not religion, but love. My mother is dead. But my mom loved me, and as long as I live, I will love her. Life ends, but love never fails.

Where’s Jesus’ birth certificate?! (Photo)

While my wife and I were traveling through Arkansas this weekend, I decided we just had to pull over to take a picture.

I couldn’t help but laugh at this. I’m assuming there were two separate intended messages here:

• I haven’t seen enough proof that Barack Obama was really born in America, and therefore he shouldn’t be President.
• Jesus Christ is my savior, since he definitely died on the cross and rose again for our sins.

My reading of this scene, however, is

• People may say that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, but
• We don’t even have solid historical evidence of his birth, death, or resurrection, so how do we know he even existed?

My wife, who is a Christian, also understood right away why putting these two symbols together was pretty funny, since the result is almost certainly not what was intended in rural, highly Christian Arkansas.

By posting this photo, I am not necessarily claiming myself that Jesus never existed (although many before me have made such claims, understandly given the Bible can’t even get his stepdad Joseph’s ancestory right). It would be nice, though, if people became skeptical in a more productive way than being an Obama birther. They could start by demanding that their god or their church give them better proof of the “greatest story ever told” than a very deeply flawed Bible

The Good Friday Turtle stops by (while James Madison does a facepalm)

The yummy treats that the Good Friday Turtle (if he exists) might bring us next year!

Unlike Christmas and Easter, which unfortunately have become widely commercialized and somewhat secularized, Good Friday remains very unambiguously a religious holiday: specifically a Christian one. Very few people would claim that Good Friday is a secular holiday. There is no Good Friday Turtle that crawls around giving presents to good little girls and boys, no exchanging of Turtles chocolate and pecan candies, no TMNT marathons on TV, no playing of music from The Turtles (though “Happy Together” would make a nice holiday song!).

Although it’s nice to think about, no Virigina, there is no Good Friday Turtle. The only reason that someone would treat Good Friday differently than any other day is for religious reasons. It is a religious observance of the day that some guy named Jesus, who only some people believe was the son of their god, died on a cross before going to hell for a couple of days, after which he miraculously (magically) rose from the dead to go back to heaven. All this trouble just so daddy would agree to let some people up into heaven, while leaving the rest burn for all eternity.

Personally, and for the record, I like the Good Friday Turtle idea much better, but the Constitution says people have a right to believe that whole God-sent-his-son-to-be-tortured-to-death mumbo jumbo. The Constitution also tells us however that government cannot endorse one religion over another. So when the Shelby County Clerk in Tennessee reportedly closes on Good Friday, or the state of Wisconsin recognizes Good Friday as a holiday, these government entities certainly seem to be celebrating a Christian-only holiday.

So what’s the harm in these and other government agencies closing for Good Friday? What’s wrong with people having a day off or people having to wait until Monday to renew their licences? Giving this strictly religious holiday preferential treatment shows an official bias in favor of that religion (Christianity) over other religions or non-religion.

Despite what many religious folk claim, the founding fathers did not intend the US to be a Christian nation, unless you think the entire Constititional Convention did a collective facepalm once they realized they had accidentally left “The United States is a Christian nation” out of the Preamble. Doesn’t seem likely to me.


A photo of James Madison after realizing he and other founding fathers forgot to establish the United States as a Christian nation in the Constitution??

The country was intentionally founded with freedom of religion in mind. People may celebrate their religious holidays if they so please, but government is not and should not be involved. Holidays of other religions besides Christianity are generally not observed or usually even mentioned by government bodies, and this is the way it should be. An occasional nod to Jewish or Muslim holidays may occur, but they normally don’t shut down government just because some religion somewhere thinks a given day is important to their deity of choice. And that’s the way it should be.

Government agencies get around this issue for Christmas because it has now taken on a largely (if not predominately) non-religious life of its own. Few would dispute this fact, although many might justifiably object to it. The main objections to Christmas arise when government steps over the line and starts inserting Christian words and symbols into what has become a secular celebration. Easter has followed Christmas along the path to secularization to a lesser extent (with pagan and secular symbols such as the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, marshmallow Peeps); but since most government agencies are closed on weekends anyway, the issue of officially recognizing Easter by closing offices normally doesn’t come up.

But when government or government-funded agencies (schools, libraries, etc.) declare Good Friday to be a holiday and shut down in observance of that Holy Day, they are very clearly moving from secular celebration to religious observance. That’s something that government isn’t allowed to do. It wouldn’t be an honest argument to claim that Good Friday is just part of some sort of long weekend of a secularized Easter, since Christians obviously must separate Good Friday from Easter enough to want a separate day to observe it. Good Friday is clearly, in practice and by definition, a Christian-only holiday. One that most religions don’t recognize, and some people object to. I don’t want my government telling me or my fellow citizens (whether child or adult) that one religion’s primitive idea of human sacrifice to appease the gods is something to be respected and revered. And the Constitution has my back on this one. Religions can teach this, but governments can’t endorse it by saying Good Friday is a holiday.

Unless The Good Friday Turtle stops by Tennessee, Wisconsin, or elsewhere next year, bringing candies and presents for all, I expect government to drop Good Friday as a holiday and get back to the business of running the country, not promoting religion.

Source of Turtles image: http://www.candyfavorites.com/i/t_3822.jpg and facepalm image: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/facepalm.jpg

It’s a miracle!

The CBS News had a report on tonight’s news (they haven’t posted a video of it yet, but I’ll put it here when they do) where they 3 times mentioned that people being saved from the rubble in Haiti was a “miracle”. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to such language, but does the word “miracle”, used not by people being interviewed but by reporters, appropriate in a newscast?

It’s similar to the comments by President Obama saying of the horrible earthquakes and its aftermatch, that “there but for the Grace of God” would the United States be. These comments were covered by the mainstream press, including CBS of course. Even if he or CBS News are not overtly thinking of religion with these sorts of comments (which I happen to think they are), much of their audience will construe it as such. There are at least two things wrong with this type of thinking.

*It implies that the people who died, and did not get saved by an alleged “miracle”, deserved to die. Why else would God not save them as well? Why does God like the United States more than Haiti for us to be spared? Obviously these people in Haiti and elsewhere that God miraculously saved from this disaster must be God’s chosen, which means the ones who died certainly must have been less chosen, right? I don’t think anyone deserves to die in an earthquake, but I guess God does not agree.

*It minimizes the efforst of millions of people who have donated their time or money to help save as many people as possible from the ruins. There are actual doctors, paramedics, crane operators, civil servants, and other volunteers who searched through the rubble, often at personal risk, to try to help save people. If God is to get credit for saving these people, why isn’t he there in person (he can take human form when he wants, cf. Jesus) risking his own behind, working night and day sifting through dirt, broken concrete, and the dead remains of those who didn’t live?

It is not a miracle that these people are being saved, it is thanks to the work of many wonderful people who are working hard to save them because God will not. Obama, the media, and even some Haitians themselves may have “faith” that God is with them. What they fail to see is their worldview would mean that their God allowed the earthquake to happen (or some like Pat Robertson say he even caused it), and it’s humanity picking up the pieces afterwards from an indifferent or vengeful God.

Or maybe, just maybe, there is no God to thank for the few who are saved, or for the hundreds of thousands who perished. There’s just people who will pull together after this devastating tragedy, other people who will give aid and support to these survivors, and a world of people who will pull together to help rebuild Haiti. Isn’t that a much better way to view life?

State-Church Separation (parody of “My Generation”)

Here’s my latest project, which I’ve just posted on YouTube. It’s called “State-Church Separation”, and is a political parody of The Who’s song “My Generation.” I wrote the song last month and just finally was able to finish recording and make a quick YouTube video. It’s a very nice coincidence that The Who will be doing the halftime show at the Super Bowl! When I found this out, it gave me even more motivation to finish this up and post it this weekend. (I’m an amateur singer and this is my first YouTube video, so please bear that in mind when viewing it or commenting!)

More and more, I’ve been reading about cases of government officials ignoring the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. I’ve reported on the Memphis City Council having official Chaplains of the Day who pronounce prayers, often in Jesus’ name, and get cuff links emblazoned with the city’s logo paid for at taxpayer expense.

Cases such as these, with the government promoting or endorsing religion, or even more egregious ones (such as a Mississippi police department trying to collect funds to rebuild a church in Haiti, saying “Jesus Christ [is] the answer for this life and the next”) are coming to light as more atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and other non-religious people are standing up for their rights. We are being marginalized in society, often by our own government at the local, state, and national levels.

This country was formed on religious freedom for individuals, not state-sponsored religion imposed on citizens. There are thousands of religious denominations in the United States, as well as millions of Americans who do not subscribe to any religious beliefs. The government should not be spending taxpayer money to support the religious practices of their choosing (nativity scenes, religious memorials, etc.). Our elected representantives, and other government officials, should not be holding religious prayers while doing government business for their constituents, many of whom may believe in a different god than that of the majority, or in no god at all. There is a time and place for everything. A church service is not the time or place for goverment business, and a city council meeting is not the time or place for prayer.

There is a growing movement of atheists and other freethinkers who are speaking out, and I thought a parody of “My Generation” might be able to capture this. Hopefully as more people speak out about this issue, public officials will realize that the rights of all citizens, no matter what religion if any they profess, need to be respected.