Atheist Christmas

December 15, 2009

Today’s Toronto Star has an article about how atheists have to “grapple” with Christmas; that the religious aspects of Christmas are just too much for us to handle.

This is, I think, part of a larger idea that atheists are incapable of enjoying anything having to do with the notion of god or religion, which is nonsense; you can watch and enjoy Star Trek, all the while knowing that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are not real. So too, I can enjoy ‘Silent Night’ as a nice piece of music, while still content with the knowledge (self-evident, I would think) that a virgin did not give birth to a holy infant.

Secondly, Christmas is not simply a religious holiday; indeed, did you ever stop to wonder why it falls on December 25th? Do you really believe this is the actual birthday of Jesus? Or is it, perhaps, simply that pagan religions had been celebrating the winter solstice for millenia , and early Christians wanted in on the action too?

But that, too, is irrelevant; I enjoy Christmas because it is a time of year to take a break from the craziness of the world; to step back, to enjoy time with friends and family, to simply relax.

No ‘grappling’ required.


The Fort Hood Murders

November 12, 2009

I would say something about the underlying cause of the 13 murders that took place at Fort Hood on November 5, but I can’t say it any better than Ibn Warraq, so I’ll just quote him:

It is time to abandon apologetics, and political correctness. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims are implicated in the horrendous events of September 11, 2001 — or of November 5, 2009. However, to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with 9/11 or the Fort Hood massacre is willfully to ignore the obvious. To leave Islam out of the equation means to forever misinterpret events. Without Islam, the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence by Osama bin Laden and his followers make little sense. Without Islam, the West will go on being incapable of understanding our terrorist enemies, and hence will be incapable to deal with them. Without Islam, neither is it possible to comprehend the barbarism of the Taliban, the position of women and non-Muslims in Islamic countries, or — now– the murders attributed to Major Hasan.

This is what I mean when I say that religious faith is always and everywhere exonerated of blame for these types of things. I’m not merely saying that religious faith is the cause of a great deal of evil in the world (though that would appear to be self-evidently true, given what is actually written in our ‘holy’ books). No, it is not merely that. The real issue is that, in deference to political correctness and ‘liberalism’, we always fail to point the finger at religion, even when it is really and truly to blame.

Warraq is right; the actions of the 9/11 hijackers make no sense, except when you allow for their religious beliefs. The actions of Christian abortion doctor murders make no sense, except when you allow for their religious faith.

That is not, as Warraq points out, to say that all Muslims or all Christians are evil; far from it. Clearly, many Muslims and Christians have learned to shelve the less palatable aspects of their religious dogmas (despite the fact that they are no less canonical than any other aspect by which they choose to live their lives). This is especially relevant for western Christians, who have gained an unprecedented level of financial and political success (and not quite as much for western Muslims, who have not). We are all far better off because of this. Nor is it to say that all tenets of religious faith are bad; the Golden Rule, much as it did not originate in Christianity, is a wonderful principle by which to live one’s life (slavery, on the other hand, not so much…shame about it being tacitly approved of in the New Testament).

It is to say, however, that these acts of terror cannot be reconciled with any rational motivation unless we first accept that the perpetrators believe – truly believe – that the creator of the universe approves of the killing of non-believers, heretics, and apostates. Moreover, it is to say that by failing to even mention the unmentionable (for instance, that Islam itself was necessary, if not sufficient, for 9/11 or that Christianity was necessary for the Inquisition and for abortion doctor murders), we are, as Warraq points out, doomed to forever misunderstand these things.

We cannot simply ascribe these events to bad men with bad ideas. No; it takes a special kind of bad idea to un-make oneself (and thousands of others) at 500 miles per hour, to slowly roast a suspected witch, or to gun down 13 soldiers in cold blood; generally, it takes a religious idea to do that.

We cannot simply say that these are were mis-interpretations of religious faith. First, who are we to say that, and on what basis? The theological know-how of the 9/11 hijackers or the Inquisitors was, very likely, beyond all criticism. But more importantly, these acts simply are not mis-interpretations of anything. They are the logical result of believing that books written in a pre-scientific age, an age in which human beings did not know enough about their world to know to keep their toilets away from their food supplies, are the actual or inspired word of the creator of the universe. Once you accept this, you must logically accept that what is written in these books is true; that god does approve of killing apostates and heretics, at least in certain circumstances.

Once again, we come to the realization that we cannot long endure the co-mingling of Bronze Age ideas about morality and the nature of the universe with 21st century technology. Sooner or later, we will recognize the enormous price we are paying to ignore the real causes of much of what ails us. Hopefully this will come through the rational realization that religious faith is, by-and-large, anathema to long-term human peaceful co-existence; we will learn to recognize that, what ever else we may call ourselves, we are human beings first. There is nothing, however, to suggest that this will be the case. The alternative is the continued descent into faith-inspired conflict at an ever-increasing, and ever deadlier, pace.


In which I, inexplicably, defend Stephen Harper

July 8, 2009

Yes, it’s true. I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit, but I really am defending the actions of our Prime Minister.

It seems that while attending the funeral of former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc, Stephen Harper was caught on video accepting a communion wafer and, gasp, putting it in his pocket instead of immediately consuming the body of Christ right then and there. Well, today must have been one heck of a slow news day because this made the front (web)page of most Canadian news outlets.

The argle-bargle (fooferaw?) results, of course, from the long-standing tradition of religious people getting all uppidy when other people don’t consider the same things sacred as they do. Roman Catholics are outraged because they believe the cracker, once “consecrated”, becomes the literal body of Christ (usually to be washed down with the blood of Christ, in the form of communion wine). By not consuming the cracker, Mr. Harper is offending the religious sensibilities of Catholics. The story goes something like this: Catholics think the cracker is sacred, and so, therefore, must everyone else. At the very least, those of us who are not afraid to call a cracker a cracker (ummm…) must treat the cracker with a certain amount of respect that would not ordinarily be afforded to other pieces of unleavened bread.

Nonsense.

Stephen Harper was under no obligation to do anything with that cracker. If he (or I) were actively preventing Catholics from eating their holy cracker, THAT would be grounds for anger. But he was not interfereing in anyone’s ability to practice their (ridiculous) religion as they deemed fit. If Mr. Harper had, say, taken the cracker home, driven a nail through it, and then tossed it in the garbage, that would be his right. Catholics might not like it, but I’m afraid that’s the price you pay to live in a liberal democracy.

Of course, in the end, Stephen Harper ate the cracker, which is a bit odd. He’s not Catholic, and as far as I know, Catholics have a very well-enforced “Catholics only!” policy on these things. Perhaps they shouldn’t have offered it to him in the first place, or perhaps he should have declined. I don’t really know. This is the most ridiculous non-news piece of news I’ve heard in a long time.

Bottom line of how this should all go: Catholics, go ahead and delude yourself into thinking cracker = Jesus, and we here in realityland wont get in your way, so long as you don’t get in our way of making merciless fun of your ridiculous superstitions.

K?


Goodyear “Clarifies” Stance on Evolution

March 18, 2009

Well, things are certainly clear as mud now.

You’ll recall that Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of Science and Technology, refused to state whether he ‘believed’ in evolution, stating:

“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,”

Well, last night on TV, the Minister ‘clarified’* his position, stating:

“Of course I do, But it is an irrelevant question”

It is not an irrelevant question, Mr. Goodyear. It speaks to your abilities to comprehend scientific fact, and to be a good advocate for science in the Federal Cabinet room. Failure to accept the fundamental underpinnings of modern biology is, I think, a fatal flaw in a Minister of Science and Technology.

But it gets worse; much worse.

MP Marc Garneau, the Liberal Party’s Science and Technology critic, then came out with this festering pile of crap in response to the whole situation:

“It is a personal matter. It is a matter of faith.… I don’t think it prevents someone from being a good minister”

This frightens me, because Marc Garneau, a former astronaut, should know better. It is absolutely in no way a matter of faith; it is a matter of accepting the overwhelming evidence, or not. It is not a personal matter, any more than accepting that DNA is the genetic material is a ‘personal matter’; you may be entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

And if the Minister did not believe in gravity, or was an HIV/AIDS denialist, I would put it to you that it would prevent him from being a good Minister. The same holds true for denial of evolution.

What a sad episode.

* – Why is it that politicians always have to ‘clarify’ things? I can’t recall the last time I ‘misspoke’ or ‘misremembered’ something, yet politicians seem to do it all the time.


Pope Visits Africa; Unimaginable Slaughter Continues

March 17, 2009

The Pope is visiting Africa this week, where he continues to spread his message of hate, ignorance, and stupidity.

First up, the HIV/AIDS epidemic that currently kills over 2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa each year (see http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/HIVData/GlobalReport/2008/ for more details).

There is absolutely no question that sexual abstinence is the best mechanism through which an individual can avoid getting infected with HIV. Abstain from sex and avoid I.V. drug use, and you’re virtually guaranteed not to get infected.

The smack-me-in-the-face-because-it’s-so-fucking-obvious problem with this is that people don’t abstain from sex. Human beings are human beings, and the human sex drive is strong. So how do we get around this little problem? Simple; we teach people how to have sex safely; to avoid risky behaviour, and to use condoms. Condoms are not as effective as abstinence, naturally; but they’re one hell of a lot more effective than nothing at all.

So if the Pope cares about ending human suffering, he should be championing the use of condoms, right?

Of course not. The Pope believes that the invisible creator of the universe disapproves of condoms; the Pope believes that the alleviation of suffering that would surely come from increased condom use is less important than ensuring that Yahweh is kept happy. Actually, the Pope believes that condom use wouldn’t alleviate suffering at all:

“You can’t resolve [the HIV/AIDS epidemic] with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Perhaps the Pope would like to expand on exactly how condoms “increase the problem”? If the problem is pissing off the god of Abraham, then I imagine he’s right. If the problem is the >2 million Africans dying needlessly each year, then the Pope is hopelessly, murderously wrong.

The accumulating evidence tells us that abstinence-only sex education does not lower incidence rates of HIV and STD infection or rates of sexual activity.

This whole episode once again demonstrates the fundamental problem with religion; religion places concern for the sensibilities of imaginary gods above those of real flesh-and-blood human beings. I should point out that I have no doubt that there are deeply religious people who support the distribution of condoms in sub-Saharan Africa; these people, while doing great work, did not arrive at this state by way of their faith, but by way of their secular concern for human suffering (I’ll take what I can get, while noting that religion gives bad reasons to do good things, when good reasons are available).

This episode also highlights the impossibility of practicing religion in a vacuum. The Pope is free to believe whatever nonsense he wants to. Other rank-and-file Catholics are free to believe whatever they want; they’re free to go to church on Sunday and eat and drink Jesus and listen to a bunch of hateful crap. They’re also free to donate money to the Catholic church, the official position of which (and the one that is acted upon by its high-ranking officers in the Vatican) is that the slaughter of millions of Africans is preferential to a solution with known efficacy. Have you given money to the Catholic church lately? If so, you are participating in this, no matter what your personal beliefs about condom use are.

When are we going to grow up? When are we going to start demanding evidence for our beliefs before we sacrifice millions of lives? When are we going to see these allegedly “moderate” Catholics rise up and stop supporting a murderous organization like the Vatican? If moderate religion is the answer (which I strongly believe it is not), then lets see it. If I’m painting religion with too broad a brush, let someone come forward and explain to me how they, as a believer, are fighting against not just the killing in Africa, but against the organizations that are committing the slaughter. Religious moderates: the world can no longer endure your silence.


Embryonic Stem Cell Research Back On; God Pissed

March 9, 2009

President Obama has announced that US federal funding will resume for embryonic stem cell research. Burn victims, suffers of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, heart disease, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and any number of other horrific conditions have moved one small step closer to having their daily pain ameliorated.

Meanwhile, Kansas Senator and general all-around real-good-Christian-type Sam Brownback, says:

“If an embryo is a life, and I believe strongly that it is life, then no government has the right to sanction their destruction for research purposes.”

Nothing like moral equivocation between the demonstrable, quantifiable pain experienced by millions of sentient people around the world each and every day for the rest of their lives and the “destruction” of an otherwise-non-viable mass of cells. Nothing like comparing the agony that families have to go through watching their loved ones die a slow, excruciating death to the termination of a pregnancy.

A fine example of just how religion replaces real moral values (like trying to lift the suffering of your fellow humans) with imaginary ones (like trying to do the will of your particular version of the invisible creator of the universe).


No evidence for Santa? I disagree…

December 15, 2008

Reposted from Pharyngula:
santa_vs_god-1

I’ve seen Santa in at least four different malls this year. He’s been on TV, in the newspaper, and on the radio. And he got me that red shovel I wanted when I was four.

No evidence for Santa? Pshaw…

EDIT: I should give recognition to ureasonablefaith.com for the original graphic…