Saturday, December 23, 2006

But I've Never Seen Mommy Kissing Jesus

The Christians have hijacked Christmas.

Many atheists, I among them, would argue that Krissmuhs is the most secular of holidays, a celebration of human excesses. In the primeval parts of our brains, we are pleased once again that the sun has decided not to disappear; it’s definitely rebounding, if ever so slowly, from the solstice. Not being a god any more, our very own star, rising in the east, does not—and cannot—give a goddamn about what we eat, drink, smoke, say, or do during our week-long hedonistic extravaganza.

Up until recently, I had no trouble wishing friends and acquaintances a Merry Krissmuhs or a Happy Holiday. I used the phrases interchangeably, occasionally throwing in a Chanukah greeting to keep things kosher with those who are practicing Jews. Now, however, some Christians, mostly clerks in stores, feel compelled to correct me when I say “Happy Holiday,” carefully enunciating their “Merry Christmas” in a school-marmish tone, as if reprimanding a child. How dare I forget that it’s their fairy godfather’s birthday.

Still, I continue to think that Yule is cool—although I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable about Santa Claus. Clearly, he’s a watered down, albeit bulked up, substitute for god. Belief in him is practice for a lifetime of unreason. Get your kids swallowing unquestioningly the existence of a magical being, and faith in a supernatural meddler will smoothly follow.

The similarities are everywhere, and segueing from one to another is child’s play. Santa gives lovely presents; god gives his loving presence (which, as any youngster or heathen can tell you, is clearly no substitute for something you can actually see, touch, and play with). Santa has elves for helpers; god has angels and evangelicals. If Santa gets pissed off at you, he leaves coal in your stocking; if god gets pissed off at you, he sends you to hell for eternity—not anywhere near as awful a tragedy as not getting the toy you wanted.

Obviously, both guys have beards, although Santa’s is better groomed. They are similarly fixated on baked goods: Santa likes to eat cookies when he visits you; Jesus likes to convert bread into pieces of his body and have you eat them when you visit him. Each one cares inordinately about whether a person has been good or bad. For Santa, good and bad are fairly easy to define. God, on the other hand (the one that does not have the whole world in it), is a little more arbitrary. For instance, it might, in some circumstances, be a righteous act to pull your little sister’s hair or talk back to your teacher. The children of Israel, soldiers of Christ, and disciples of Allah have been free—even urged—to commit far worse atrocities in god’s name and for his dishonorable honor. Whether you’re naughty or nice depends upon the criteria set forth by the particular witch doctor you’ve chosen, who passes along the judgmental word from on high.

To be fair to Santa, though, he actually seems to enjoy his job; god’s not having any fun at all. Santa would dig into a Krissmuhs feast with raucous good cheer; Jesus, his homemade wine notwithstanding, would be a drag to have as a holiday guest. Santa asks no quid pro quo for his gifts; god insists that you worship him or you get zip. And most importantly, Santa would never dream of giving you his sleigh with which to commit mischief, while god has no compunction whatsoever about offering his believers airplanes and missiles to perpetrate whatever evils they desire.

Which of these characters is more likely to represent peace on Earth and goodwill toward men? With Santa in mind, despite my reservations about him, I wish my readers a Merry Krissmuhs. To the adults who have chosen the far more unpleasant myth, I say: Get your hands off my happy holiday.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where Is H.L. Mencken When We Need Him?

Mojoey over at Deep Thoughts has created an Atheist Blogroll, listing over 100 sites of interest to us nonbelievers. I’m proud and pleased to be included.

I don’t disply his whole list here, however, because I don’t find every one of those blogs interesting. I’m particularly bored by two kinds of subject matter:

The Same Scientific Arguments for Evolution
Those of us who are gonna get it, already get it. There’s no point in repeating the same facts, over and over, ad nauseam, as if some fundamentalist from the blogosphere is going to stumble across one of our pages, smack him- or herself in the head, and say, “Oh, now I see!”

Most of us atheists have grabbed the mantle of science and wrapped ourselves in it. But, let’s face it: it’s not necessary to be an expert in biology, geology, paleontology, zoology, or any other kind of –ology to be reasonably certain that nature’s ways do not need the overlay of a higher power. Most of us are just not qualified to rattle off scientific evidence to academic poseurs. While I, for instance, love and admire books like The Selfish Gene and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea—to name just two of dozens I’ve read on the subject—and like to think that I’m fairly well-versed in neo-Darwinian studies, I’m not convinced that I’ve digested all the complex data to the point where I can speak persuasively on a theoretical level, a la Dawkins or Dennett. Nor am I interested in doing so. Why would I be, when they’ve already done the job so eloquently themselves? If a creationist hasn’t had an “aha” moment by now, I’m not likely to be the one who’ll open his or her non-created eyes. And, pssst. Neither are you.

Because really, it’s almost 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species. I don’t think it’s necessary to follow every single argument presented by the scientific community since then to accept the overwhelming evidence against Genesis, just as I don’t believe one needs to have studied meteorology to suspect that Zeus has nothing to do with thunderbolts. Although I’ve long forgotten Newton’s formulas and have only a dim understanding of Einstein’s improvements to them, I still know that if I trip at the top of a flight of stairs, I will wind up, somehow, at the bottom—and that the cause of my fall will be the attraction of gravity, not sin. But don’t ask me to prove this with well-articulated theory; my intelligence was not designed that way. That’s why I’m happy to leave the fine points of science to the scientists, particularly those rare few who write wittily and well.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant in selecting our school boards and other educational leaders. We must fight the theocrats whenever necessary. But we don’t have to keep re-enacting the Scopes trial amongst ourselves, do we?

Philosophical Disputations with Believers
Give it up! It’s a waste of time! The Christian Nation is not reading your Letters to them with any intent to ponder your ideas. They know the Truth; it’s printed in their bibles and whatever-elses they use to spread the god meme from generation to generation. Most of us wouldn’t consider spending even five minutes explaining why we feel that “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” isn’t true. Yet, many of us atheists love nothing better than to score illusory intellectual points against the moronarchists.

But faith always trumps facts, because it’s shown to its best advantage when the facts contradict it. So while we may find it great fun to yammer on about the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and other arguments for the existence of god, and to try to blow them up in the believers’ smug faces—really, whom are we kidding? Most religious folk do not have a love of, or even a casual affection for, wisdom. They wouldn’t recognize a philosophical argument if it bit them in the metaphysical ass.

We all know (or we should) that our blogs are, for the most part, read by one another. Let’s try to entertain and enlighten ourselves, to call for political or legal action when it’s necessary, and to share the hilarious and/or frightening idiocy that greets us every day. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can hawk our wares in the so-called free marketplace of ideas, when we’ve really just found ourselves stuck in the medieval bazaar of ignorance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Brainwashed in the Blood of the Lamb

The Friendly Atheist has improved a chart from Newhouse News Service, showing the religious affiliations of the members of Congress. The list includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Unaffiliateds, but it’s mostly made up—as you probably guessed—of followers separating themselves into umpteen Christian sects. I’ll wait here while you look over the FA's great work.

The question is: what criteria have our elected representatives used to choose their particular religious paths? The answer in most cases, I suspect, is the accident of birth.

But Richard Dawkins, the current darling of atheists, delights in pointing out that there’s clearly no such thing as a Christian child, or a Jewish child, or a Muslim child, etc.. Children are not competent to profess belief in a worldview that favors any particular system of religiosity. Hence, there are only children of Christian parents, Jewish parents, Muslim parents, and parents indoctrinating their offspring into any of the other myriad superstitions now plaguing the Earth.

In other words, chances are good that most of our congresspriests learned what their religious affiliations were well before they had the intellectual wherewithal—and, let’s face it, many of them will never have it—to think about their chosen beliefs. They were brainwashed, conditioned to salivate at the mere mention of certain magic words like “Jesus,” “Adonai,” or “Allah;” as adults, they continue to drool. Unfortunately, their slobber permeates the pages of the country’s law books.

It might be instructive—or at least fun—if someone could get our politicians to take a few minutes off from their pious dribbling to answer the following brief questionnaire:
1. What would you say is the central “message” that defines your specific religious sect?
2. Would you articulate two or three differences between your selected religion and some of the others listed on the chart?
3. What advantages do you think your colleagues reap by practicing their religions instead of yours?
4. Still, why do you think your religion is the best?
5. If you don’t think it’s the best, why don’t you convert?
6. If you don’t think it would make any difference whether you converted or not, why do you bother to list a religious affiliation at all?
7. Where do you find evidence in the Constitution that the government should prefer your particular sect to any of the others, or to none?

That last question is a ringer: it can’t be answered by any words other than “nowhere.”

My proposal: Only those elected officials who could respond spontaneously and publicly to the questionnaire, without prompting or preparation, should ever be allowed to mention religion, directly or circuitously, in Congress again.

The result would be far from perfect, but it might get some of the holy mouth-water off those law pages.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Person of the Year

The atheist limelight has been grabbed this year by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and, to a slightly lesser extent, by Julia Sweeney. Clearly, there's no denying that these champions of rationality are all worthy of our secular adoration.

But as far as I’m concerned, the person who has done the most in 2006 to wake people up to the sins of the theocrats is a New York Times business reporter named Diana B. Henriques. Whether or not she’s an atheist herself is immaterial, although, god doesn’t know, I wish she were. In fact, her short bio on The Times’s Web site specifically references her lengthy religious history, stating that “throughout her life, she has been an active member of various Protestant congregations, serving for several years as an elder at a suburban Presbyterian church and currently serving as the senior warden at an urban Episcopal church in New Jersey.” The blurb makes her sound like she’s a sects addict, for heaven's sake. Since New York Times staff bios do not generally refer to a journalist’s church-going record, obviously this information is included about Henriques so that readers will not be able to dismiss her reportage as the work of some heathen crank.

Henriques’s crusade against holy thievery began with a five-part series, “In God’s Name,” that ran from October 8th through 11th, with its final entry on the 20th. These articles, as The Times says, “examine how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government.” The reporter has now coauthored another feature that appears in today's paper. After six such efforts, she might look over her accomplishments and rest contentedly, as a lazy deity would. But I’m prophesying that there’s more to come; perhaps a good book is in the works.

The titles of Henriques’s articles ought to be enough to get us heathen cranks weeping and gnashing our teeth:
* Religion Trumps Regulation as Legal Exemptions Grow
* Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights
* As Religious Programs Expand, Disputes Rise Over Tax Breaks
* Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books
* Ministry’s Medical Program Is Not Regulated
* Religion for Captive Audience, with Taxpayers Footing the Bill
She’s not writing only about the recent faith-bait initiatives here. Some of the laws she cites have been on the books for more than a decade. The promulgators of superstition have been riding the gravy train for a long time, and the conductors have come from both major parties.

Here’s a link to the Dec. 10 article. The first five installments are also just a click away. There are some nifty graphics you ought to check out, as well.

The Times, unlike most of Henriques’s subjects, is not a tax-free charity; it doesn’t keep its stories online for free very long. If you’re interested, you’d better read or download these gems quickly.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Oh, So That's What They Mean by a "Yule Log"

Fundies have gotten their edible panties in a twist over a new product called “pornaments.”

You can easily picture what these decorations are: humping snowpeople, gingerbread folks with anatomically correct parts, randy reindeer in a state of arousal, teddy bear masters and slaves. We’re not talking about great wit here, just some sex-crazed seasonal characters, good for a laugh if you’re tired of “Scrooged.”

I found out about these items on an alarmist news broadcast tonight. It seems that the religious community is up in arms over the defilement of Christmas. In the most grave voice imaginable, the anchor told us that these foul things were allegedly for sale at Spencer’s Gifts in the local malls. In case we couldn’t conjure up our own visions of these sugar plums, pictures of the products were flashed on the screen, albeit with the private parts tastefully blurred. The message was spelled out: area children are in grave danger. Ginger-penises and snow-vaginas are lying in wait for our kids on merchants’ shelves.

Now, anyone who has ever walked into a Spencer’s knows that toddlers are not its targeted clientele. There are all kinds of sexual and scatological silliness for sale, the type of stuff that gives the giggles to eighth-graders. The store’s most sophisticated offerings are machines that make fart-sounds.

In the past, if I remember correctly, Spencer’s got lots of triple X-mas mileage out of nutcrackers—get it?—and various printed jokes about elves’ endowments. Pornaments seemed to be a natural, and I’m kicking myself for not having thought of them myself.

Of course, I had to rush to my computer to see these little horny devils for myself. Lo and behold, however, Spencer’s has yanked them from its web site: “There are no products matching your search.” In other words, there’s no more room at the bin.

Perhaps the pornaments are temporarily sold out. Far more likely, though, is that Spencer’s has been unduly pressured by the easily-offended American Christian taliban, who brook no competition from commercial establishments in spreading seasonal unpleasantness. Rev. Jim Patterson of the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida said, “It is just sad they have to stoop to this kind of thing to defame Christmas. It says we are nothing more than sexual acts or physical beings and we are much more than that. We are spiritual beings and this is a spiritual holiday. And, why bring it to that level. It makes no sense to me.” Is this guy kidding? He’s talking about flying reindeer and talking snowmen here, with plastic appendages. It's not as if anyone has stuck a tumescent schlong on his precious Jesus. Even so, from the pulpits of the nation you can imagine others like him raising their voices in damnation as they single out the poor little gift shop: “Get thee behind me, Santa!”

Of course, once these holiest of Christmas personages are saved from disgrace — pace, Rudolph and Frosty— the righteous voices of America will surely allow Spencer’s to return to purveying its usual wholesome holiday fare. And then the ministers of god can get back to doing what's really spiritually important: making sure that every public park and plaza is defiled by a creche scene.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation:
Sue the Bastards (or Maybe Not)

Way back in 1968, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether taxpayers had standing to sue the government for throwing their money around in unconstitutional ways.

The case, Flast v. Cohen, was brought by a woman who objected to federal financing of textbooks for parochial schools. Apparently, the schools in question had been dipping into the government’s collection plate rather than their own. Even though those particular textbooks were on secular, rather than religious, subjects, Flast believed that the expenditure still violated the First Amendment.

The Court’s opinion was authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a secular saint if there ever was one. He wrote that a taxpayer could, indeed, prevail in a lawsuit—but only if two conditions were met.

First of all, the suit had to establish a logical link between the taxpayer him- or herself, as a taxpayer, and a legislative act that the taxpayer believed was unconstitutional. For all intents and purposes this link could be established only if the act in question fell specifically under Congress’s power to tax and spend, as stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. In other words, a person could sue about the expenditure of his or her tax dollars only if it could be shown that Congress had earmarked those taxes for an explicit use.

Secondly, the taxpayer could claim that the act was unconstitutional only by demonstrating that the funding in question exceeded specific constitutional limitations on Congress’s power to tax and spend.

In Flast, the Court found that both conditions were met. The taxpayer was able to establish a link between herself and the legislative act by showing that the allocation of her money fell under Congress’s power to provide for the “General Welfare.” The expenditures exceeded Congress’s power to tax and spend because the bestowal of public monies on religious institutions flouted the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Flast, and all other taxpayers like her, had suffered harm; she had been ripped off by god's representatives posing as her own.

As time passed and the Court grew more and more conservative, the taxpayers’ right to sue became narrower and narrower. In 1981, for example, another Establishment Clause case was brought, this time by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It seems that the Department of Defense, as part of a series of cutbacks, had closed a military hospital in Valley Forge. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare decided—in an act of Christian charity, no doubt—to donate part of the land to the Valley Forge Christian College. This pilferage of public property improved neither the common citizens' health, nor their education, nor their welfare. The Court found, however, that since Congress was not directly involved in the land transfer, the public had no right to sue. Basically, the government was free to steal from us as long as the theft was not spelled out by an act of Congress.

Fast-forward to last Friday. The Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether citizens can challenge the spending of tax money by Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives. The case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, et al., will be heard in February.

Of course, I would love the FFRF to succeed. Bush and his theocratic cronies are distributing our hard-earned bucks to the supernatural charlatans. That’s clearly a violation of the First Amendment. There’s no separation of church and state when their hands are joined in picking our pockets.

But I predict that the good guys will be losers in this effort; we don’t have a prayer. The money was not allocated directly by Congress to the White House’s Faith-Bait effort. Rather, the President was given a gift of our cash to use at his discretion—or lack of same. I doubt that a conservative Court will decide that the FFRF has standing to speak for you, me, and all the rest of the people who feel cheated by our nation’s churches. Most likely, the inactivist majority of judges will shrug their robed shoulders, while the pirates of religion continue to thank their bandit god for Republican appointments.