Forbidden Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

And yes, we uncouth unbelievers truly mean Merry Christmas when we say that. I find it a little bit strange that devout believers think that Atheists are merely polite but probably insincere when they wish someone a Merry Christmas, yet have no such reservation when someone of a different religion – say, a Jew or Hindu – does the same. It should be clear to anyone that

  • well-wishes come from the heart, not mind. They don’t require reason and are thus compatible with all religions.
  • it’s the the believers of a competing faith who are far much more likely to be polite rather than sincere; after all, they know you are stupid enough to believe in the wrong gods. Atheists merely suspect this.

And yet, it’s Atheists who get accused of grinchian behavior: devout believers in the USA passed a completely unnecessary bill that made it legal to say ‘Merry Christmas’. In these instances, they probably were preventive strikes (a religious version of the Bush Doctrine so to say) against the perceived threat that atheist might think about making the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ illegal in schools – as part of their alleged War on Christmas.

Of course, there are some cringeworthy actions from Atheists around Christmas time – the small-minded annual controversy some misguided Atheists start when they want to ban nativity scenes. To me these scenes are more proof of a Disneyan understanding of Christianity than anything else – most of these scenes look like something straight out of a fairytale ride in an amusement park. Let these guys have their fun, guys! We have bigger fish to fry.

But looking at the world we find that intolerant, petty religious people are on the forefront of the ‘Forbidden Christmas’ business. This year alone, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Brunei and Tajikistan have actually banned celebrating Christmas – with punishments up to five years in jail should you be caught. Their rationale: Christmas is ‘unislamic’. Wow. That’s a surprise! And it only took them a few centuries to figure that out.

But let’s be honest. It just bugs these medieval dimwitted clerics that another religion has a couple of fun days. To fundamental believers, fun is always bad. Plus, they love to be able to tell people what they must not do – that’s pretty much the raison d’être for most organized religions.

So these countries ban Christmas because it allegedly threatens their great, peaceful religion. Which is at least somewhat ironic – given the hundreds of thousands Muslims that are currently fleeing their home to infidel Europe and US, where they can live in the peace and happiness that their devout islamist brethren deny them at home.

So, as a true Atheist please believe me that I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Splendid Solstice – wherever you are, and whatever you believe.

Take care, and peace!

Just Pray?

So it’s that time of the year again. And, like most billion-dollar businesses, the church of England would rather be damned than miss this opportunity to sell their brand, and bolster their recent Just Pray campaign. This year, they went about it in the most professional way imaginable: they created an ad to be run in cinemas. I watched the ad, and think it’ll get the job done: it’s 54 seconds long and features the Lord’s Prayer (you know, the one that starts with ‘Our Father in Heaven…’) spoken by different people in different walks of life. The ad is simple, surprisingly dignified, well produced, and quiet – nicely done. It even ends with a jingle of sorts: the hashtag #justpray flashes across the screen.

The ad itself is timed perfectly: for optimal sell-though, it was pushed to the cinemas to be played before the new Star Wars movie that opens in the final days before Christmas – I don’t think there’s a better slot in the year.

Imagine the Church’s surprise (and dismay) when cinema chains Cineworld, Odeon and Vue (together these chains control some 80% of all UK screens) refused to play the ad. Why? Because, according to the Guardian, the chains believe it “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”.

This is pre-emptive political correctness run amok. First, this ad is so inoffensive that not even the most fundamental, attention-seeking (anti-)theist with a hair-line trigger could be bothered to do more than raise an eyebrow in a vaguely annoyed manner. More to the point, though – what if? To quote Hitchens:

If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings I’m still waiting to hear what their point is.

I’m offended by people wearing white socks. The world doesn’t give a damn. Rightly so.

These cinema chains are run by cowards. They are afraid some religious dolt might take offense (unlikely as it seems), and protest. Against what? It’s not as if anyone has ever accused the advertising industry of being too truthful, so people don’t really expect to take an advert for Gospel (see what I did there?). Plus, this ad would run before Star Wars, for crying out loud! The audience is already primed for some childish fiction.

Also, most cinemas subsidize tickets with ads. Any moviegoer knows that they’d have to sit through a parade of ads before the main event. I’ve seen many ads I don’t like – perhaps even some that somewhat offended me (I dimly recall an ad selling cigarettes as a way to make you sexy). So? I’d rather watch some bad ads than pay more for a ticket. That’s universally understood. Furthermore, all cinema ads are lame – this is guaranteed since there is an oversight committee that must green-light any advert before it is shown.

The Church of England has every right to sell their brand of crazy, and this ad is well within the limits of decency. Once the Cinema Advertising Authority have cleared an ad it would behoove these cinemas to remember the only thing they should tell their advertisers:

“Just Pay”

Not Responsible

A few days ago, a bunch of murderers opened fire on unarmed, peaceful people. Everything pointed to ISIS as the culprit. And indeed, only a few hours later ISIS claimed responsibility for the murders.

Except they didn’t. Taking responsibility means that you are prepared to face the consequences of your actions. It means that you are willing to be held accountable for what you claim to be responsible for. It means that you agree, acknowledge and submit to the judgement of those towards you act.

ISIS does nothing of that.

What they do is murder someone, and then scream ‘look at me!’

I know it’s a small thing, but journalists should be more careful when they parrot loud-mouthed claims from terrorists. They should perhaps put a little bit more thought into what they write. Let’s face it: ISIS wants credit for the bloodshed. In their religiously retarded minds, inflicting death, mayhem and pain on defenseless people is something to boast about.

So, in the future journalist should maybe write something like ‘ISIS claims the bragging rights for these murders’.

Responsible my left foot.

Too old for this shit?

In Lethal Weapon, actor Danny Glover has a recurring line that has since become pop culture:

I’m too old for this shit.

The line is funny by itself, and works on so many levels. I was reminded of this when a while ago I discussed the concept of age of majority: the age at which a person ceases to be a minor and legally becomes an adult. Where I live, that age is 18 (as in the majority of countries), in the US and some other countries it’s 21. Historically, in Judaism that age was as low as 13 (for males) and 12 (for females). So the age of becoming an adult seems somewhat arbitrary.

While we discussed this, my friend argued that indeed setting a chronological age for maturity is arbitrary, but there is reason behind it. She contends that the reason behind setting a fixed age is one of applied probability (of course she would say that – she’s a mathematician): at age 18 you can expect the vast majority of people to be smart enough to act responsibly; that they are too old for some shit.  

A few days ago I realized that although my fried was probably right in her assessment, the underlying assumption is completely wrong. When we assume that with age people get too old for some shit, we imply that they become smarter as they age. In other words: we assume that there is a minimum age for being smart. Turned around, this could imply that we believe children to be stupid and, more importantly, that there is a maximum age for stupidity. Once a person crosses that age, so we assume, they become smart.

Both are obviously wrong. Stupid children do exist, but they grow up to be stupid adults. Most children aren’t stupid, they are merely young. When they do something stupid, what they do is stupid only from our adult point of view. Smart children do stupid things for smart reasons. Children are relentlessly trying to optimize their surroundings for themselves: they want to get the most pleasure out of the least effort. Their strategies are often stunningly brilliant. The reason most of these fail is because they lack experience and knowledge how the world really works.

But if they are so smart, how come smart children are so gullible? Whenever I tell my godson a tall story, I see his eyes go wide as his chin drops and he believes every word I say. Now, after looking into that little brat’s alive, but coldly calculating eyes, I know for fact that he’s not stupid.

My godson believes what I tell him for a number reasons:

  • He lacks experience. We usually can tell truth from fiction based on what we have encountered ourselves. He hasn’t yet experienced much.
  • Worse: his experience is tainted: in the few short years he’s lived so far, he has encountered many unlikely stories. Fairytales are a big part of childhood. And not to put too fine a point on this: the exceedingly unlikely and silly stories that priests and believers have told him have wreaked havoc with his sense for reality.
  • Evolution has programmed children to believe adults. That way children can pick up important knowledge without having to experience potentially lethal situations themselves.

So when my godson believes an outlandish story it’s not because he’s stupid. It’s because he trusts me. While it’s sometimes fun to tell tall stories to little ones, you always have to remember this: you are lying to them, and when they believe you, it’s not because you are such a good storyteller. Neither because they are stupid. They are smart: they believe you. You are the idiot. You tell them stupid shit. But, admittedly, it is also fun.

So, coming back to the original question we find that there is no minimum age for being smart. Which is good: most of us are smart from the get-go.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also untrue: too old for this shit is something that should, but doesn’t exist. If people became too old to do stupid things when they reached the age of majority, religion wouldn’t have a chance past the age of Kindergarden.

IS Rouge

IS stands for ‘Islamic State’. But is it really?

Doubtless the majority of followers in IS are muslims. And the official ideology that IS proffers can be traced back to Islam – the same way a sausage can be traced back to a cow.

But I think that referring to IS as an islamic organization misses the point. Who cares what a murderous band of barbarians believe in? Some may be fundamental muslims, others not. What unites them are their deeds, not their beliefs. We have seen this before.

Most of the Khmer Rouge who murdered themselves through Cambodia didn’t really believe in Communism – not by a long shot. The IS is similar in many regards. In fact, IS are the Khmer Rouge of the 21st century: a brutal, genocidal, unscrupulous organization that pretends to follow higher goals while plunging a region into dread, death, and decay.

I contend that few men today have become members of the IS’s fighting force for religious reasons. The more we learn about what they do, the more we come to realize a disconcerting fact: those who join IS do so because the IS promises them three things:

  • that they will be given a weapon to prop up their ego
  • that they can rape any women and feel good about it
  • that they have the cheap excuse of being pious

To many men, this is a surprisingly simple sell: it’s easy to become someone important: hold a gun and pray to god. Then you can screw any woman you want.

That’s way more attractive than what the West can offer: work your ass off and still be poor.

Small wonder that losers from all western societies flock to the killing sands in Syria and Irak.

So is the IS really a religious state?

No.

They are an unchecked manifestation of men’s primal desires: sex and violence.

Religion merely serves as their fig leaf.

Eternally Stupid

FOX “News” Channel have their own priest. Since it’s currently time in the US to get the next presidential circus race started, Father Jonathan Morris weighed in on the important question of what quality a presidential candidate must have. One of these qualities, at least according to the priest, is fear of eternal consequences in order to be trustworthy:

[Faith is] a belief in God; a belief that there are eternal consequences for your actions. And I think that a leader that doesn’t have that — a set of core beliefs that help him to make justice an important part of his life and his decisions because he knows that there are eternal consequences — well, it’s somebody that it’s hard to trust.

We should remember that like most TV personnel, it’s Morris’ job to look good, not provide intelligent theological points. We should also disregard the point that although Morris doesn’t mention a specific faith, he obviously means a faith with only a single god; and one that also sports eternal hell. He therefore accidentally excludes all faithful Jews (no Hell), Hindu (multiple Gods), Buddhists and Jainist (neither Gods nor Hell) from his list of trustworthy people. So what was probably meant as a minor attack on atheists turns out to be a disparaging comment against anyone who is not a faithful Christian nor Muslim.

But, probably quite unintentionally, Morris makes an interesting point. What should we think of a person whose decisions are influenced by irrational fears rather than sound ethics?

Put another way: do you really want your government to be lead by a person who

  • spends time contemplating the next life while there is so much left to do in this?
  • might wish to hasten the end of this world in order to enter paradise – while having everything needed to bring about Armageddon?
  • makes decisions based on a millennia old code of conduct that condones slavery, genocide and misogyny and eschews any conflicting modern ethics?
  • may fear that he’ll be punished for being nice to gays?

These questions boil down to this: do you really prefer a leader whose actions are guided by an irrational fear of an invisible dictator in the sky over someone who decides important questions by looking at facts and weighing them according to rigid, ethical principles?

Unfortunately, too many US americans answer that questions with yes.

This is going to be one frightening presidential race.

Mental Drivers

In Russia, you now can’t drive a car if you are a ‘sexual deviant’. In Russia, that of course includes being LGBT. The ‘reason’ behind this is that being sexually deviant (e.g. gay) is classified as a mental disorder, and people with mental disorders are banned from driving to make the road safer.

Of course, obvious mental disorders – like the delusion that there is a god that watches your every move – do not bar you from driving.

Only in Russia.

Je suis Charlie

Yesterday, two (presumably) fanatical islamists, armed with heavy automatic weapons, attacked the french satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They murdered 12 unarmed artists, and injured many more. If witness reports are correct, the two gunmen yelled, among other things, that they were ‘avenging Mohammed’.

Here’s what I think.

  • I’m deeply saddened and shocked by this senseless, brutal, indefensible and cowardly massacre. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims.
  • I wish I could also say that I’m surprised – unfortunately, and everyone agrees on this, it was only a matter of when, not if, religious nuts would bring death to another European capital.
  • It seems that the murderers think that they have the right to kill a couple of humorists for what they (the murderers) interpret as an insult to their religious idol, Mohammed. In other words: these people believe that brutal violence with assault weapons is the correct response to artistic expression with pen and paper. It should be obvious to anyone that these people, and anyone who agrees with that kind of sentiment, must be locked up.
  • If you think Mohammed, a successful war lord in his own time, needs you to avenge him, you seriously overestimate your importance and underestimate his accomplishments.
  • This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It would behoove the Muslim community to finally rally more than token indignation over this cowardly, barbarous act. After all, Muslims are known to mobilize en masse when someone so much as mishandles a book. Show that you have your priorities straight and agree that people are more important than any book ever written.
  • After such an outpouring of support for the victims of fanatical, intolerant Islamists, the moderate Muslims can then rightfully worry about repercussions. Perhaps, at the same time, abstain from using the word ‘Islamophobia’. At all.
  • We (the west) must finally talk about this blatantly obvious issue. We should no longer ignore the fact that an inordinate, disproportionate share of religiously motivated violence is attributed to Islam – no other religion in the world racks up more victims (be they dead, injured or repressed), most of them Muslims, than Islam. Yet, Islam is not the world’s largest religion. This fact has not escaped the rest of the world, and even though many try to hide how they feel about it, it is creating unease.
  • One of the reasons we don’t talk about the disproportionate amount of violence in the name of Islam is that anyone who voices such sentiments runs the risk of quickly being branded a ‘racist’ or ‘islamophobe’.
  • As a result, only the kind of people that embrace racism and xenophobia openly talk about the obvious problem Islam has with violence: Nazis. French ‘Front National’ exponent le Pen already exploits the murderous attacks, and the impact they have on the French people – to further their own fascist agenda. Do we really need the dimwitted right to fight the religiously fanatic? We should not leave this important discussion only to intolerant irrationals, political arsonists and unethical pompous asses.

If we act now, we can ensure that the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre did not suffer and die in vain. We can make their injuries and deaths count. However, if we don’t act and revert to tip-toeing around the white elephant in the room that is Islam’s problem with religiously motivated violence, we may have missed an opportunity to turn tragedy into something meaningful.

Because these acts of barbarism will happen again and again until we do.

Voting Rights

There is a disturbing trend in politicians to try to put ‘new rights’ up for vote: should gay couples be allowed to marry, or should women be allowed to drive cars.

Here’s the problem: true rights are not supposed to be voted on. Once discovered, they must apply instantly, universally. They are there to protect us from those who vote. If all rights could be voted on, democracy would become what has erroneously been attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch

If we allowed the wolves to vote on protection for minorities, they’d vote that down in an instant. Then the’d vote on lunch.

That’s why we must never allow votes on rights. We must simply implement them once we discover they exist.

Halal Schmalal

In Australia the Boycott Halal movement is making some waves. They demand that the Corporations Act 2001 be changed so that only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.

As with the Pegida movement in Germany, a potentially dangerous extremist group is picking up a real issue that is ignored by the mainstream and is generating political hay from it.

Indeed, the amount of food produce that is certified Halal is staggering. People who don’t know what ‘Halal’ certification means for a particular product will substitute their own idea of what it may mean. Since more and more products are certified, pretty soon it looks as if your traditional food is replaced by foreign, religiously tainted stuff. Which is usually not the case. More than 95% of all Halal-certified products haven’t been changed at all to meet the criteria.

So should we boycott Halal-certified food? Well, if becoming Halal means that some ingredients are changed, it’s perhaps a valid concern. Boycott the food if you feel that it has worsened, and the producers may change it back. If becoming Halal only means putting another sticker on the same tin, boycotting it is stupid. It’s the same product, it’s merely certified to comply with yet another silly superstition.

So what about forcing Muslims to cough up the cost for certification? That’s good old discrimination of a religious minority, and plain stupid. First, how could that work? If I’m a muslim but don’t buy Halal pecan nuts, do I still have to pay for their certification? Will there be a Mulsim tax like there was a Jew Tax in Europe? Let me give you a different example: would you agree to a bill that levies taxes on environmentalists to pay for ‘eco-friendly‘ certification in clothing? It’s that stupid an idea.

The food companies certify a product in order to sell more of it, and price it accordingly. It’s the producer’s decision to certify, and they pay the certification bill. That bill gets passed on to the consumer. You can choose to buy the finished product, or buy something different. But don’t blame a certain market segment (muslims) for a company’s decision. Here, the Boycott Halal movement simply peddles the formerly antisemitic Kosher Tax urban legend with a fresh coat of anti-muslim paint.

Jackasses. Well, at least they’re Halal.