The Onion admits Christian bias

Here is the cover of the most recent print edition of The Onion. I scanned and uploaded it since it doesn’t appear to be in the online version. I think it pretty much sums up the situation for all major media outlets in the US (but ironically enough, not The Onion itself since they often publish irreligious stories).

UPDATE: I figured it said Merry Christmas, but it looks like I was wrong. According to a discussion on Reddit, the Arabic text here means “Happy Eid”, but there’s a mistake in the Arabic apparently, either intentionally or not. Thanks to Jason Mosler for submitting the post to Reddit.

“Christmas is Pain” and other fun holiday songs

I’m going to be visiting with my family soon, so there may be fewer updates on the site for a while. I’m hoping to sneak in some time online, but if not wish me luck! This will be this first year that I’m out to my wife at Christmas, but no one else knows I’m an atheist. That should make things interesting. We’ll be seeing mostly my immediate family, which is (at least in the past) less in-your-face about religion. My mom seems to be getting more religious as the years go on, and my brother is religious, but not Christian. So I guess we’ll see.

Here are a few holiday tunes from the hilarious and talented singer Roy Zimmerman for your enjoyment. He often treats themes of peace and irreligion in his songs.

  • “Christmas is Pain” looks at both the darker and funnier sides of Christmas (“the 8 tiny reindeer have left an embarassing stain”);
  • “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas” is a take off of the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (I think the music is actually better in this one than the original, as are the words;
  • “Hula Yule” is about how Christmas will be like after global warming (I wonder if the folks who met in Copenhagen had heard this one);
  • “Buy War Toys For Christmas” is pretty self-explanatory (“Kids are dropping napalm on their Christmas trees / Singing “Happy Happy Birthday” to the Prince of Peace”);
  • and last but not least, the first song I heard of his, Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa wishing us a “real good time…no matter what your race or religion — or lack thereof”.

Whatever you’re doing or not doing for the holidays, have a good one!

Music for the holidays: Two Lennon songs

John Lennon’s view on Christmas (or X-Mas in the official title) is unfortunately just as timely today as ever. It’s a song I always make sure to listen to every year around this time. I had also thought about posting “Imagine” here as well (if you’ve seen the icon I often use on the web, you’ll have figured out I’m a big fan of “Imagine”), but I decided to post another, lesser-known song of Lennon’s entitled “God”. If anyone has a doubt as to whether or not John Lennon was religious, this song should put it to rest. People don’t need gods or celebrities to idolize. We can learn from the good (and bad) examples of the past, but we should believe in ourselves, and our own ability to do good in this world.

Congress praying/preying on health care reform

Who is responsible for new laws in the US, elected members of Congress or God? Apparently, some Congressmen and women think that it’s God, and not them, who is the highest authority on things such as health care reform. This video shows to what extent some politicans are either deluded, willing to pander to the Religious Right’s base, or both.

I try to stay as much out of politics as possible when it comes to this blog, and I am not saying whether I am for or against health care reform, but I find it very alarming that elected official would participate in the sort of insane religious prayers featured in the above clip on the Rachel Maddow Show. I don’t watch her show, but more and more often I’m coming across clips from her show that I think are important for freethinkers (such as a recent report on the Psalms 109-ers who are praying for Obama’s death). These are scary times indeed.

Thanks to Brother Richard’s Life Without Faith and Steve Wells’ Dwindling In Unbelief for originally featuring these videos.

A Christmas medley with Santa and Jesus

Nothing brings more joy to this atheist’s heart around Christmas time than seeing the season’s top two fictional characters, Santa and Jesus, doing a lounge act together. In this classic clip from South Park, Santa and Jesus are singing together in a night club, and Santa gets pretty peeved at Jesus. (This is the clean version of the clip; I have one where the expletive Santa uses is not deleted). Singers put out Christmas medleys all the time, but this is by far my favorite Christmas medley.

Another non-traditional holiday song — Christmas in Fallujah

“There is no justice in the desert / Because there no god in Hell.”

There aren’t many songs by Billy Joel that I can say I saw the world premier of; in fact, this is the only one! My wife and I attended his concert in Chicago in Dec. 2007 and, lo and behold, he announced that there was a new song that he and a new singer named Cass Dillon would be performing that night for the first time ever, and which would be released officially the following Monday. He joked (correctly) that it would probably be uploaded by someone onto YouTube before then.

As you might guess, the song talks about the Iraq war, but focuses on the experiences of soliders, whom Joel mentioned he received a number of letters from. The song touches on the topic of religion briefly at several points. Some people may not know that Joel at least was an atheist earlier on in his life, saying in an interview in a book called Rock Stars from 1982:

As an atheist you have to rationalise things. You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy – meaning God in all of his imagined forms – for a helping hand when you’re in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can’t, you have no choice but to be good and scared – but that’s okay! When animals are afraid, they don’t pray, and we’re just a higher order of primate. Mark Twain, a great atheist, said it best in The Mysterious Stranger, when he stated in not so many words, “Who are we to create a heaven and hell for ourselves, excluding animals and plants in the bargain, just because we have the power to rationalise?”

Death is death, and the ego can’t handle the consequences. We should all struggle to the last to hold on to life, and religion encourages people to give up on making this life work because the supposed next life will be fairer. Religion is the source of too many of the world’s worst problems.

More recent reports show he may have become at least somewhat spirtual or religious, saying in 1994:

I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspects of things…But there are spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about and that I can’t explain.

When I saw him in concert, he played as interludes a number of Christian Christmas songs (which doesn’t necessarily indicate anything), and Celebrity Atheist cites reports of him saying “God bless you” to people in recent years (and not after sneezes). I believe he made one or two vague mentions of God during the concert. I remember thinking at the time that I wonder if he was using it as a figure of speech (à la “Oh my God”, etc.) or literally. The song does contain a brief Biblical reference to it: “Peace on earth / Goodwill to men”.

So it’s possible Joel may have become either religious or spiritual, or at the very least has become more circumspect about his disbelief or doubt in god. But if so, it would appear from his lyrics that he and I can agree on the fact that Iraq is not a God-sanctioned war, unlike what George W. and company either sold it as or actually believed. (At the beginning of the song, Joel also includes the presumably ironic/satrical lyrics “We came with the Crusaders / To save the Holy Land” and later on, “We came to fight the Infidel.”)

With troops still dying in Iraq and 30,000 more on their way to Afghanistan, it’s sad that this song is just as topical today as it was back then.

More festive tunes — 4 songs by Weird Al

For my second installment of holiday songs, I’ve decided to feature not one, not two, but count ’em — FOUR “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. As far as I know, Weird Al has never come out as being irreligious or a freethinker, and he may be Christian (in fact, a question from 1995 in the Ask Al archive from his site includes only a very brief answer to the question of whether he “would consider himself a Christian”. His response to the questioner is simply “Yes”). But nothing is sacred in Weird Al’s universe of songwriting, and I’m including four examples of this.

* “Christmas at Ground Zero” is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it definitely desacrilizes the Christmas season and has an anti-war message. It describes a “jolly” Christmas during a nuclear holocaust and includes vintage 50s and 60s video clips from the good old days when they used to scare kids by practicing for nuclear fallout by ducking and covering, as if that would really help if your city is hit by a nuke. (The song was written long before 9-11 occurred, in case you’re curious, so no relation to that Ground Zero). EDIT: click here to view in a new window if clicking on the embed doesn’t work.

* “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a (slightly) less macabre and funnier take on the Christmas holiday. As the title might suggest, a “disgruntled” Saint Nick finally snaps and goes postal in the North Pole. The video I’ve embedded below is a claymation-type take on the song that someone apparently did for their thesis. An “extra gory” alternate live version of the song can be seen here. With his two Christmas songs being so violent and laughingly depressing, you get the impression that it must not have been his favorite holiday growing up. (Rumor has it, he got notebook paper as a present one Christmas!)

* “Weasel Stomping Day” is perhaps the least obvious choice to include here, but it actually may come the close to criticizing religion of the bunch. As you might guess, people go around stomping weasels in the song, but if you listen more closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear several subtle freethought-like messages (“Bash their weasely skulls right in / It’s tradition, that makes it okay”), and a few nods to Christmas in the video that suggest that he had religious holidays on his mind

* “Amish Paradise” is one of Weird Al’s best-known songs. It’s a parody of Ganga’s Paradise by Coolio (the other three are Weird Al originals). The song isn’t specifically about a holiday, so I’m bending the definition of “festive” tunes here, but it is the only one that openly pokes fun at religious extremism, that of the “crazy Mennonites” (isn’t that redundant?) the Amish are. It’s also the only video I know of that features both Florence Henderson (the mom from the Brady Bunch) and a depiction of hell!

I wonder what Weird Al, who pokes fun at the Amish for “shunning fancy things like electricity”, would think of the recent stories of extremist orthodox Jews attacking a journalist using an electronic device on the Sabbath, or complaining about electric lights turning on at their apartments on the Sabbath.

White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin

Over the next week or so, I’ll try to post some interesting seasonal music (in addition to other news and commentary that may come up).

For the first one, here’s a funny and yet sweet song I just heard for the first time a few minutes ago. It’s called “White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin. It was posted on Life Without Faith (a blog written by Brother Richard from Atheist Nexus) and on Think Atheist (posted by reggie). I see the song was just re-released as a single on iTunes as well (US link). Enjoy!

EDIT: Here are the lyrics, if you’re interested

Barker visit, Part 2: roundup and personal reaction

Dan BarkerPhoto source : The Daily Helmsman

Here is Part 2 of my roundup on Dan Barker’s visit on December 3 in Memphis. In this part, I’ll mention a few more highlights as well as my personal reaction and thoughts. For Part I, click here. For an excellent recap of the Dan Barker event, read Oliver’s post (oliver_poe on Twitter) on the Mississippi Atheists website.

I’ve already mentioned in my first post much of his talk about state-church separation, so I will focus on other aspects here. Perhaps the most notable thing about Dan Barker’s talk was the fact that it was a fair-minded plea for state-church separation, filled with anecdotes, examples, and humor that could appeal to both believers and non-believers. While Barker does also talk on things such as Biblical errancy, his goal in this talk was not to promote an atheist agenda but speak on state-church issues.

A nice example of this were Dan’s arguments defending religious believers. (No, that is not a typo.) Unlike the exaggerated image of angry, close-minded atheists held by some believers (and too often painted in the media), Dan Barker made it very clear at several points that religious people do a lot of good in the world.

One believer argued during the Q & A that humans by nature are not altruistic, that we are selfish and introverted by nature. Barker countered that humans are actually very social animals, and that being empathetic and altruistic comes naturally to people. Barker said that Christians, believers of different faiths, as well as nonbelievers, are just as good and kind at heart. Because of this, he argued the human qualities of kindness and generosity “transcend” religion. Instead of just attacking religion, Barker was trying to find common ground among believers and non-believers.

Dan Barker also made it clear that he does not think that the government should go on the offensive against religion, just keep religion out of government. He cited the example of the much-mediatized solstace plaques that have been placed in a few state capitals (including Olympia, Washington; Springfield, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin). The plaques, which state among other things that “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell” are only placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in response to Christmas displays in state capitals.

In response to a questioner about the goal of such plaques, Barker made it clear that they are actually pleased when governments choose to ban all displays during the holiday season, which is what happened in Olympia after the FFRF’s plaque spurred a number of groups to post displays in addition to the Christmas one. Barker argued that banning these diplays was a victory since there shouldn’t be “religion OR irreligion” (emphasis his) in government buildings, including religious prayers.

He argued that non-believers deserve just as much protection as belivers both in Memphis and nationally. Using national statitics, he argued that few politicans would openly come out with policies that would discriminate against Jews, who represent a little over 1% of the population, while many politicians openly oppose atheists and agnostics, who represent between 9-10% of the population. The Memphis City Council, like all government bodies, should represent and support the rights of all citizens, not just believers. Instead of having Christian or other religious prayers at its meetings, the Council should neither support nor attack any religion. (As an atheist, he likened the situation of seeing councilmembers praying to seeing an airline pilot pray. A pilot should be confident in his flying skills, not asking for outside help to fly the plane. Barker joked that if he saw a pilot praying before take-off, he’d get right off the plane.)

Barker also mentioned the Founding Fathers, at a number of junctures: something that believers often do while trying to defend religious incursions into government. Barker mentioned the Jefferson Bible, for which Jefferson literally cut out with a pair of scissors all of the superstitious (miracles, etc.) parts of the New Testament. He said that while some founders were Christians, most were Deists who wanted religion separate from government. He said that as a believer, he used to think of the Pilgrims and Founders as being related to each other, when in reality they were separated by over 100 years and religious beliefs.

In order to address the fact that the Founders didn’t put the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in the Constitution (Jefferson wrote this in a letter), Barker said that the concept is there even if the phrase isn’t. He gave other examples of phrases that aren’t in the Constitution or Bill of Rights that have become commonplace descriptions of the ideas found there: the words “Bill of Rights“, “interstate commerce“, “separation of powers“, and “checks and balances” also are not in the constitution either, but you don’t hear religious people criticizing those who talk about the Bill of Rights saying there is not such thing.

Barker did not completely spare religious teachings in his talk, however. There were a few critiques about religion, the majority of which were in direct response to questions attacking church-state separation or atheism. Dan Barker poked fun at the creation story in the Bible, which includes a talking snake (Barker, who is part Native American, mentioned that his tribe also had a snake myth). He also mentioned that Jesus clearly supports slavery in the New Testament, using it as an example in his parables (saying you should beat some slaves less than others) instead of speaking out against it.

Barker mentioned that Jefferson famously said that finding good in the Bible was like trying to find “diamonds in a dunghill.” Barker also defended his right in the public sphere to say that he finds the teachings of Christianity, and the Christian god, to be morally offensive, in particular the idea that humans are by nature unclean and sinful. He said that real life debunks this notion, that we see headlines of criminals in the paper (of which religious leaders aren’t exempt, he pointed out) because they are exceptions to the norm. If that’s how everyone was, then it wouldn’t be news. He also cited studies have shown that countries that are generally areligious, such as Nordic countries, often rank as the happiest and least plagued by crime and other social problems.

There is more I could comment on, but I think that sums up the main points of interest about the talk that weren’t covered in my first post or Oliver’s post.

I have a personal confession to make: I am somewhat of an admirer of Dan Barker. I was very religious when I was younger, and can identify with Dan Barker’s journey from belief to unbelief. My grandmother thought I would be good pastor material, and I seriously considered becoming a pastor. So when I first heard about Dan Barker, a minister-turned-atheist, his story really hit home with me. I’ve read his book godless, am a faithful (or faithless) listener of Freethought Radio, and have listened to and viewed many of his talks and debates online. So I was very much looking forward to seeing what he had to say about the Memphis situation, and state-church separation in general.

After the talk, I waited in line to meet Dan Barker. He talked to me briefly and was very personable both to me and the people who were in line ahead of me (he even gave out a free copy of his book to someone!). I asked him to sign my copy of his book, and I mentioned to him that I am a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I had a bookmark “Imagine No Religion“, which FFRF had sent me for free when I ordered his book from them. I showed it to him and the person next to me said she thought at first I was trying to give him a religious tract!

Since I am not “out” as an atheist, except to my wife, standing in line in a public venue to meet Dan Barker and have him sign a book entitled “godless” for me was a big, and somewhat frightening, step for me. While I did not come out and say “I am an atheist”, it was the closest I’ve ever come to be open about my atheism in person. I told him my name for him to sign it, but I don’t think anyone there knew or recognized me, so I guess I am still officially in the closet for now. Dan Barker was wearing an “A” pin, part of the Richard Dawkins coming out campaign for atheists. Maybe someday soon I will feel comfortable enough with friends and family, and secure enough in my job, to be an open atheist, too.

How The Religious Right Stole Christmas

Americans UnitedSource: American United

I’m hoping to have time in the next day or two to post more on Dan Barker’s visit. In the meantime, here’s an interesting article from AU: Americans United (for the Separation of Church and State) about the so-called “War on Christmas” that the Religious Right bemoans around this time of year.

AU is not an atheist/freethought group, but they do actively support having a secular government, following the principle that church and state should be separate. (Fancy that!)

http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2009/12/how-the-religious-right-stole.html