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

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.

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.

Memphis does work “in Jesus’ name”, in violation of Constitution


Image Source: Tennessee Department of Tourism Development

Memphis, TN is the latest city to come under scrutiny for invocations “in Jesus’ name” at City Council sessions. The Memphis City Council joins a growing list of institutions which the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent complaints to due to their unconstitutional endorsement of religion during official government business.

It is fairly common practice for city councils in the United States to open their sessions with an “invocation”. The Supreme Court has held that such invocations must non-denominational in nature. In other words, a government institution is not supposed to pray to Jesus or Mohammad, or favor one congregation or another, since this would appear to be supporting one religion over another and promoting belief over unbelief.

In practice, invocations at government meetings all too often turn into openly Christian prayers. Such practices clearly go against the Establishment Clause of the Constitution (which Thomas Jefferson described as “a wall of separation between Church and State”). As a resident of the Mid-South, I am sad to say that Memphis is unfortunately no exception.

Here are some examples of objectionable quotes and occurrences at Memphis City Council meetings this year which clearly seem to show the city choosing sides in religion. From FFRF’s News Release and letter of complaint ,

  • The Memphis City Council, at each of its general meetings, names an official “Chaplain of the Day”, giving them a certificate and a “goody bag” of gifts that includes cuff links.
  • Repeated references to praying “Jesus’ name” during and at the end of invocations, clearly showing a preference for Christianity.
  • A call by one Chaplain of the Day on June 2nd saying that “These legislative leaders you have allowed to sit at the table of decision now acknowledge the inability within themselves to fix these ills of society and they now recognize and depend on your sufficiency,” followed later by the Lord’s Prayer.
  • A quote from Psalms saying that “The Lord knows the ways of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish,” ending the invocation by saying “in the name of Jesus Christ we pray”.

These examples, among many others like them, clearly show that the Memphis City Council is not only preferring religion over non-religion, but Christianity over other faiths. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that invocational prayers at government meetings cannot be “exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith, or belief” (Marsh v. Chambers , as quoted by FFRF). Under this ruling, the invocations cited by FFRF clearly seem to violate the Constitution.

I also have looked into this somewhat (audio archives of all Memphis City Council meetings can be found at http://memphis.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2 ), and it’s clear that city council members are not only aware of these unconstitutional appeals to Christianity made by the Chaplains of the Day (who the City Council officially names), but council members sometimes even praise the Chaplains after making such statements.

The message is clear: as far as the council is concerned, Memphis is a Christian city. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that Memphis, or any other city, should not be pushing anyone’s religion on city time and on the city’s dime. Just as churchgoers would not want council members to go into churches to make sermons about city ordinances, why should civic-minded Jews, Buddhists, or atheists be subjected to Christian dogma at city council meetings?

Memphis City Council joins the list of other government bodies (The Wisconsin Assembly and the city councils of Toledo, OH and Lodi, CA , among others) caught mixing religion with official business. It will be interesting to see what Memphis’ response to these clear violations will be. I’ll be sure to post any updates to this story as I find out about them.

Furniture has surpassed Christianity as world religion (IKEA overtakes INRI)

My parody of an INRI cross I found on fotosearch.com

Well, it’s official — furniture has surpassed Christianity as the most important religion in the world. Specifically, according to a number of sources (Business Week , mental_floss , Wikipedia etc.), there are more IKEA catalogues printed every year than there are bibles. So I guess IKEA is in and INRI (the initials seen on many crucifixes) is out.

This apparently isn’t exactly news, as it’s been the case since at least 2006, but I hadn’t heard about it until now. (Thanks to Twitter users amiable84 and mental_floss for pointing this out.) The Bible still holds the all-time record apparently, and it would take IKEA some time to catch up considering the Bible’s over 500 year head start .

Based on the Business Week article, IKEA seems to have been the one to have publicized their achievement originally, but I can’t find this information on their site now. Maybe they remembered what happened what happened to John Lennon when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was.

I have mixed feelings on this. While I’m glad that the Bible is no longer the most printed book in the world, couldn’t something else besides a catalogue have surpassed it? We’ve gone from worshiping God to worshiping furniture. I guess it’s a step up, since furniture actually exists.

I might have preferred something else overtake the Bible in number of copies printed: a science book, a freethought book, a work promoting peace, or pretty much any (other) work of fiction besides the Bible (since the Bible is, of course, largely fictional). Maybe in another 500 years?

Christmas hits home, part II – Suffer, little children

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas hits home, part II – Suffer, little children

While visiting family over Christmas, there were several other disappointing things that happened involving family members. One involves politics (hogwash), one involves teaching (brainwash), and one involves preaching (whitewash).

* POLITICS (aka hogwash): One thing deserves just a fairly brief mention: somebody suggested that there should be a religion-based party in the US, one based on their denomination, to make it easier to know who to vote for. We already have entirely too much religion in politics. Many Christians even think so. It’s sad that someone, much less a family member, would think that religion should be the main defining point of a party or candidate. Shouldn’t their positions on issues figure in there somewhere? Christians, even within denominations, often disagree very strongly on a number of important issues. JFK, in a famous speech I became (re)acquainted with thanks to the FFRF , stated that politicians should not take their policies from the Pope or any other religious authority. If you’re a Baptist, would you want a Catholic running the country based on the Pope’s dictates?!? Politicians should not use or abuse religion to run for office or run the country. People have a right to their opinion, but I don’t think one religion should be preferred over another, and I have the Constitution to back me up on this one.

* TEACHING (aka brainwash): One of the little kids in our family received a manger scene for Christmas. When his mom asked who the baby was, he knew right away it was Jesus. This cute kid, who is just barely a toddler, can hardly say anything at all, is still learning his numbers, etc. Yet, he’s being taught about Jesus already, so much that he immediately could say who the little baby figurine represented. He’s obviously been exposed to a lot of religion at home or with his parents in church. He went to Sunday School for the first time the Sunday after Christmas. Now I don’t know what they do or don’t teach a toddler in Sunday School, but I don’t think a child should be taught religion before he can even form full sentences or do enough math to figure out that 1 + 1 + 1 equal 3 and not 1 (a little reference to the Trinity there). People should be allowed to make informed decisions about their religious beliefs, and a small child isn’t mentally prepared to make such decisions.

I don’t know what age would be good, but I would think they should at least be in regular school before they can be in Sunday School. (People aren’t allowed to even vote until they’re 18, and isn’t religion an even more important choice?!) Most kids who are indocrinated with Christianity seem to turn out more or less normal, but other people like me who took religion very seriously can be seriously damaged by the threats of hell and suffering or the crazy, warped logic (or lack of logic) found in the Bible. At best, the child is not taught to think critically. "Why do we believe what the Bible says? Because that’s what Pastor says, that’s what your Sunday School teacher says, and that’s what Mommy and Daddy say." "You’re just supposed to believe it and have faith!" etc. Not a lot of people go to Sunday School and then decide to read the whole Bible to find out more. Instead, they just listen to what their teachers and preacher say, go to church, do and say what you’re supposed to, love or be afraid of God (or both) and be duped into believing that doing what your church says will make you live forever, and don’t ruin your chances by asking too many questions.

That’s maybe a cynical way of viewing things, but not an untrue way of looking at it. It may not be the parents’ intent (who are themselves presumably brainwashed), but it is the result. It’s sad to think I have a little relative who is going to be brainwashed by Christianity before he can see through it. Maybe eventually I can "come out" as a non-believer and be an example to him (or at least he might wonder why I’ve been disowned even though I seem like a nice enough person).

* PREACHING (aka whitewash) I have another family member who will soon be ordained. I will name this person Pat, for the purposes of this blog. Since I once considered this route myself, I am very sympathetic to Pat and find we share a lot in common. So I have been curious as to what sorts of things Pat believes in terms of the nitty-gritty of religion, and how Pat will preach. I got a good sample of it over Christmas, since the family went to service on Sunday and Pat delivered the sermon. I didn’t know until fairly recently that for many denominations, you don’t have to be ordained to give a sermon. Pat is well on the way and was invited as a guest minister for Sunday. I was actually almost looking forward to going to church, to satisfy my curiosity as to whether Pat would be a kinder, gentler love-and-peace sort of minister or more of a traditionalist, fire-and-brimstone type.

The result was somewhere in between, but the message of the sermon simply infuriated me. It may have been the worst message I’ve ever heard in a sermon. I say "may have been" because I don’t know what sort of craziness I heard as a kid. The few sermons I’ve heard as an adult and after deconverting have been surprisingly tame and overall positive. Not this one.

To give Pat credit, it did something that I accused most Christians of not doing normally: linking Christmas with Easter. The reading was Matthew 2:1-16 , and was apparently what is normally taught the Sunday after Christmas. But Pat’s take on it was an interpretation that is inhuman, inhumane, and for lack of a better word, crazy. The fact that several family members thought it was a good sermon shows how much people just can’t get past the idea that they have to accept the Bible as the truth, no matter what atrocities are commitment or what flimsy excuse, or lack of any excuse, is given for it.

In these verses, we find out how King Herod supposedly had all children (presumably "just" the boys, but it doesn’t say) under 2 killed in Bethlehem in an attempt to have the rumored son of God killed. Herod figured having all kids under 2 killed should make sure God’s son was killed and that Herod’s power would go unchallenged. But Mary et al. had fled to Egypt (to fulfill prophesy, according to Matthew), so Jesus was spared. The lesson was that even though Christmas is a season of joy, we have to remember why Jesus came down to Earth. We sinners are responsible for Jesus’ coming to Earth and dying on the cross because, like Herod, we want to be king instead of God. We put our selfish desires first and God second. We are selfish with our time and think and say bad things (soon-to-be pastor Pat gave the example of us not wanting our life from last week to be displayed on film to the congregation). But in spite of the fact that we all do this, God still loves us anyway, so much that Jesus would come down to Earth and die for us. That is the reason we should be joyous on Christmas.

There is so much wrong with this sermon, and I am getting so upset again, that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just do bullet points

* Why Jesus came down to Earth: God decided he wanted to send him here. Instead of just forgiving our sins, God the father was out for blood. He wanted someone to pay, and that someone was Jesus. He took on human flesh so he could suffer in our place and appease the bloodthirsty father.

* We want to be kings instead of God: The continual use of lord and king to refer to God is appropriate, but people don’t think behind this. In America, we got rid of kings centuries ago because no one should have to put a king ahead of what is important for the people. Why should we put God’s desires first? What should matter is what’s important for people, not some ruler (divine or not). I’m not saying that people aren’t too selfish, but the whole idea that we should devote ourselves to Christ the King is very harmful. People should not be taught unquestioning obedience to anyone or anything. Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to teach people compassion and justice instead of being taught to serve a master? Then maybe we wouldn’t have so many killings in the name of religion, or in the name of blind obedience to one’s leaders (I was just followin’ orders).

* We don’t want our lives displayed on movie for all to see. The old make-people-feel-unworthy trick. We humans are horrible beings that think and do disgusting things. We should be ashamed! We don’t deserve to live! This is a very negative vision of humanity, that I still have trouble shaking sometimes. Yes, humans do, say, and think horrible things, but they also do very positive things. Why don’t we put up a film of all the generous, kind, and thoughtful things congregants did in the past week, and then do a reel of all the good things God or Jesus did this past week. We haven’t heard from God in almost 2000 years, so the second half of the presentation would be rather short. Some people have undoubtedly done good things in Jesus’ name, but Jesus hasn’t bothered to show up in millennia.

Some would argue that Jesus does good things: save kittens from trees, etc., but just doesn’t show himself to us (he’s too camera shy? Yahweh would have to pay him more if he had a speaking part?). But if we’re going to say he does good things, then he obviously either does bad things as well or lets bad things happen. Let’s show all the bad things that people in the congregation did in the past week, and all the bad things God did or let happen in the past week. I’ll betcha God’s total active or passive wickedness is much higher than the whole congregation put together.

* One important thing that was not explained in the sermon was: why did all those innocent toddlers in Bethlehem have to die? Couldn’t God have struck down Herod instead of letting him kill all those kids? What purpose did their deaths serve? Why should they be killed and baby Jesus spared? God’s responsibility for allowing these deaths was whitewashed by the message of us being unworthy of his love and sacrifice. But what of the sacrifice of those little children? We don’t know how much a 2-year-old or so deity can do, but I would think he or his father could have just stayed in Bethlehem to ward off Herod’s men, or persuade them not to kill those kids.

Jesus, son of the all-powerful God, being carried off to Egypt and letting those kids be slaughtered is nothing short of an act of cowardice . If Jesus was too young in his human form to know better, then his father should have done something about it. It’s inhuman for God to have let those babies die, it’s inhumane to have let them and Jesus be killed just because God was still upset about our sins, and the reasoning behind the whole thing is absolutely crazy. Allowing the mass slaughter of children is not justifiable, which is why Pat, either consciously or unconsciously, chose not to dwell on the most striking and appalling part of this story.

And yet, I heard more than one person say that this was a good sermon. It explained nothing about why Jesus had to come to Earth or why the children had to be killed. It unnecessarily ruined the joyous mood that many certainly had going into church on the Sunday after Christmas by telling people how bad and unworthy they are of God’s love because we don’t love God enough and we do or think bad things. I really doubt that made most people "joyous" as promised. Perhaps ashamed and falsely grateful to God for dying for and forgiving us. But I guess that’s what people expect sometimes from a sermon. I think I may have just been lucky in the few recent sermon’s I’ve heard.

Fortunately, I’ve read that it’s pretty unlikely this massacre of the innocents actually took place historically. But the fact that it is being taught as the gospel truth and being used to brainwash people into submission to a supposedly merciful God is so disappointing and frustrating. If God were really merciful, he wouldn’t have let those children be killed. If God were really loving, he wouldn’t have needed to send Jesus to Earth on Christmas to suffer and die on Easter, he would just forgive us and love us as the imperfect beings we are. Does Pat truly not see what is wrong with all this?!

So I am deeply upset by the fact that one of my relatives will be teaching hundreds of people (and probably thousands over a lifetime) lessons like this one. I’m sorry that I probably sound really upset about all this, but I was really hoping Pat would have a more enlightened take on Christianity than "You are not worthy, bow down to your master." or "You’re a very bad person, but God loves you anyway even though you don’t deserve it." or "The slaughter of children while Jesus was safe elsewhere is okay because Jesus was coming to die to save wretched old humanity." Pat delivered the sermon very well: very filled with what appeared to be genuine emotion. If only people of Pat’s intelligence and talent could work towards improving humanity instead of beating down children and adults alike with the same old myths.

The King James version of Luke 18:16 reports Jesus as saying "Suffer little children to come unto me". This "suffer" is in the olden sense of "allow" or "let". But by perpetuating violent, morally harmful stories such as these among adults, and teaching them to kids too young to know what a horrible story this is, I feel that "suffer, little children" would be an appropriate motto for Christianity. Let’s hope someday children won’t have to suffer because of their parents’ religion and can make an informed choice as adults whether or not they want to listen to this crap.