Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, December 31, 2007

George H. Smith quasi-endorses Ron Paul

George H. Smith, author of the famous introductory book on atheism "Atheism: The Case Against God," endorses Ron Paul for president in 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Atheist's Christmas Carol

Libby Purves recently wrote in the Times:
Richard Dawkins, Prophet of Atheism, has said in a BBC interview that he is not against “cultural” Christianity and “Yes, I like singing carols along with everyone else”. Which raises enough tantalising philosophical and ethical questions to keep us going till Christmas Eve. Dawkins sings carols? Does he sing all the words? Does he boom out lines about herald angels, holy nights, the tender Lamb promised from eternal years?


But if you loudly and repeatedly make a career of denying any possibility at all of the reality of God, how honest is it to sing? How easy to reconcile? How insulting to those who mean every word of it?
Tantalizing, indeed. The veneer of hypocrisy seems to have been too attractive for Ms. Purves to let alone- though I daresay she, being both deist and carol-singer alike, may also be engaging in some cultural self-flagellation. The draw is obvious: the Great Atheist, the man who trumpets religion's flaws the world over, pauses at Christmastime to sing a few bars of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." If there's anything that titillates our interest more than hypocrisy, I'm not aware of it (although adding sex to the equation usually tips it past the boiling point, as the Spears family knows all too well).

But as with most outbursts of (false?) shock, this belies both a woeful ignorance of the accused, as well as a pathetically facile view of the cultural context. Dawkins has long voiced his support for the continuation of religion as a cultural curiosity, preserved in museums for edutainment purposes, much as we've done for the ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman religions. Would Ms. Purves think us ethically and philosophically out-of-bounds for watching "The Mummy Returns," even though we didn't really accept the mystical power of the Book of the Dead? Or does the Disney film "Hercules" promote rampant hypocrisy amongst our youth? It would be another thing entirely if Ms. Purves discovered Dawkins teaching Sunday School in some back-alley or basement, and snapped pictures of him as he desperately tried to hide the felt-board Jesus in his hand. But if she thinks that catching him with a carol in his mouth will shame him or inflame us, Ms. Purves clearly doesn't know Dick.

Nor does she know much about Christmas. At the risk of enraging the Christian Christmas Warriors out there, this season isn't exactly a high-water mark of Christian theology. The well-informed need no instruction on this, but the primary contribution of Christianity to Christmas is the name alone- virtually everything else about the holiday comes from other sources. The foundational, of course, is the winter solstice, celebrated by virtually all northern hemisphere cultures in antiquity (and, not coincidentally, which is occurring today). From that humble (yet important) beginning, we have Brumalia, with its feasting and merry-making; Saturnalia, with its gift-giving and social reversals; Natalis Solis Invicti, which set the date on December 25th and linked it with the birth of a god; Yule, which brought the Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe, and most of Santa Claus. Each of these are thoroughly pagan, and yet without any of them, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas. In fact, if one wanted to be annoyingly picky about it (and one does, I'm sure), it could be argued that Christmas was stolen by the Christians, and that celebrating the holiday as a non-Christian is simply reclaiming its proper heritage.

But the Christians did write some lovely songs, didn't they? Of course they did- music is a key component to any celebration, and after Christmas was co-opted there were many theologically-oriented songs written. Some songs were co-opted as well, as "Greensleeves" became "What Child is This?" Others have mixed parentage: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was written by the proto-Methodist Charles Wesley, but the melody was written by Felix Mendelssohn, a Jew. Ultimately, of course, these songs represent a sampling of the best human musical talents throughout history, which anyone can be proud of, no matter their religious orientation. The music for "Cantique de Noël" (O Holy Night) was written by the 19th century French composer Adolphe Adam, and is my absolute favorite. The lyrics never were much of an interest to me- even as a Christian, one of my favorite versions of the song was as a French horn quartet, performed by the Canadian Brass. And my absolute favorite version (which can sometimes bring me to tears) is sung by Eric Cartman, featured below.

It's a true atheist's Christmas carol. Best wishes to you and yours, and I hope you enjoy whatever holiday you use to mark the winter's solstice.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hitchens on Christmas

The A.V. Club interviewed Chris Hitchens on his thoughts about Christmas.

A teaser:

AVC: Do you have any fond memories of any holiday?

CH: A Christmas one? Only when I spent it far from home, and preferably far from anywhere where the thing was celebrated. Which has become more difficult since I've become a father. When I was younger, I used to shake my girlfriend and go just as far away from where we would normally be as possible. And just try to forget the whole thing. Cuba's a good place for that. I went there also for the New Year for 1999-2000, because it was the only place in the world that did not call that the Millennium. Because Castro ruled, for once, quite rightly, that the Millennium is 2000-2001. This is the wrong year. That's actually quite true. So you could get away from all the incessant crap about Y2K. And also Christmas, they don't make a big deal of Christmas down there. I took the family on that occasion, and we had a great time. I think attitudes toward Christmas don't depend just on attitude to religion, but on what kind of family you had, and my family was one that didn't do very well with compulsory celebrations. Whether they were birthdays or any other kind. It was always a little tense.

You can get the rest here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flying The Christian Skies

I recently returned from a long business trip; the flight wasn't too long, but most of the passengers were grumpy because the flight itself had been delayed several hours. The upshot of this meant that, at least for me, it would have been quicker to drive home than fly... but I digress.

Typically, when passengers disembark a plane they're met by one or more of the pilots or flight crew, to wish them well in the continuation of their journeys, and to express their gratitude for choosing their particular airline. This was the case here: both pilots were standing outside the cockpit, offering pleasantries to the passengers on the way out.

Just before I reached them, one of the pilots smiled at the fellow in front of me, and said, "Happy Holidays!" As I passed by them, the other pilot grimaced, looked over at his colleague, and offered this brief monologue:

"Happy Holidays? I don't think so. It's against my religion to say 'Happy Holidays.' We have rights too, you know."

Given that this particular airline operates in the heart of North Texas, it's a pretty safe bet that the guy wasn't a Jehovah's Witness, or any other religion that looks down on those who celebrate holidays. I don't think I'm being unreasonable to suggest that this fellow was expressing the popular 'War on Christmas' viewpoint perpetuated by cultural conservatives in this country- that saying 'Happy Holidays' is not only a betrayal of American culture, but it's actually a refutation against anyone who wishes to celebrate Christmas as a specifically Christian holiday.

While shaking my head silently as I walked up the gangway, I couldn't help but think of my piano teacher. As a young boy, I took piano lessons from a nice Jewish woman for several years- and every year at the proper time, I would wish her a 'Happy Hannukah.' In return, she'd wish me a 'Merry Christmas.' It seems to me that any well-wishing that's made should be done so in light of the recipient's particular celebration, not the other way around. If you want to give good wishes to a Jew, say 'Happy Hannukah.' If you want to do the same to a Christian, say 'Merry Christmas.' For a Muslim or a Hindu, you can wish a 'Happy Ramadan' or "Happy Diwali' respectively, once the calendar rolls around. But these specific wishes are dependent on knowing the specific religious (or cultural) affiliation of the person to whom you're offering them. In a situation where you don't know those affiliations, or you can count on them being diverse, 'Happy Holidays' is actually the most appropriate thing to say.

What I find particularly disturbing about the current Christian Christmas-warriors is that they've turned such a friendly, generous gesture into a selfish, divisive battle-cry. It used to be that 'Merry Christmas' meant, 'I wish for you a Merry Christmas.'

Now, it means, 'I celebrate Christmas, asshole, and if you don't like that you can go to hell.'

Christmas spirit, indeed.

Altar Boy defense tips

Sunday, December 16, 2007

David Mills- an atheist in space

Photo gallery of David Mills, author of "Atheist Universe," in space.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

World History... with the Pope

(click on image to enlarge)
Yea ok, besides the dig at the Confederacy it's still a funny cartoon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The tiny, tiny Christian universe...

Incredible as it may seem, many Christians today believe that a god created the universe approximately 6000 years ago. That means that everything in it, planets, stars, moons, comets, and even light itself, must have originated at the time (or after) the Great Creation. Consider that no energy or matter in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light. If you take the speed-of-light back in time 6000 years to the point of the alleged Creation, you get a spherical radius of only around 6000 light-years. This means that a 12,000 diameter light-year bubble represents everything that could possibly happen or exist within the time range of Christian chronology. Consider that the entire Christian universe cannot measure larger than a single average galaxy in the known universe! The miniscule Christian universe would sit as a tiny dwarf within single galaxy such as the Andromeda galaxy...