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!

Lament

A few days ago, my father died. I am deeply saddened, and miss him dearly. I was with him on his last two days; he knew he was dying. Although most of our conversations were heartbreaking, I will treasure them forever: our talks were loving, honest and sometimes even funny. I’m thankful and happy that we had this last opportunity to be together. There are no words left unspoken between us, no unresolved quarrels, nor secrets that remain untold. For that, too, I’m immensely thankful and happy.

My father was very religious. His funeral service was beautiful and deeply personal. The priest knew my father, and during his eulogy recalled many of the details that made me proud to be his son. As atheist, attending church service is a strange affair: on one hand you get to sit with a group of nice people who talk about being kind and generous. This usually elates and uplifts me. But, every single time, they manage to point out that they act kindly for spectacularly wrong reasons. That part drives me nuts. Kind people, really bad reasoning. I usually get through a religious service by setting my mind adrift, letting it meander through thoughtscapes filled with silly religious arguments that engage in shouting matches with ethical reasoning. It always puts a smile on my face.

Attending my father’s funeral, however, was different. Grief-stricken as I was, I was unable to let my mind wander, unable to dwell on the many things that I loved about him: the involuntary twitch of his left arm when he was about to say something embarrassing; his astonishingly blue eyes that could twinkle like few others, or the way he ducked his head ever so slightly before he made an ironic comment. Instead, my attention was riveted to the priest and his eulogy. At first, when he talked about my father’s life, I was grateful, nodding, and wiped away my tears.

But then, he told us how my father was now in paradise, describing how cherubs were singing around him, and how my father was singing with then, praising God. Make no mistake: the priest was trying to be profoundly kind, to assuage our fears, and to honor my father – and for that I’m thankful.

Yet, unbidden, from the bottom of my grieving heart rose a single thought:

Seriously?

How can people even want to believe something as silly and, well, pedestrian as cherubs singing and praising god? I’ve commented before on how downright boring all descriptions of heaven and paradise are. Even I, atheistic unbeliever that I am, wished that my father was in a better place than that uninspired, drab setting. Theologically, I couldn’t help but noting that the priest was presupposing that my father had gone to heaven. Of course I, too, wish that this was true. But how would the priest know? The priest neither knows what happens in heaven, nor if my father had gone there – yet confidently stated both in the lamest imaginable terms. Hadn’t the immense sadness of my loss weighed me down, I would have laughed out loud.

My father was a great man – at least he was to me. I will always miss him. And yet, today I feel content. Although he’s gone, I’ll remember his kindness and the hand he had in forming me. My sorrow has turned into pride. My friends helped me with that. It is the people dear to me who help me building his memory. It’s their kindness that fills the void left by my father. It’s their unwavering support that lifts my spirits. I’m healing.

Unexpectedly, though, the thought that my father is singing with cherubs also brings a smile to my face: my father was a terrible singer. Just imagine the faces these poor cherubs would try not to make.

So, yeah, I guess religion can help consoling atheists. Just not the way believers say it does.

Thanks, Dad – I miss you.

In loving memory of my father, Ove Franz

Dumb Dynasty

Showing once again how deranged fundamental Christians can become, Duck Dynasty’s resident pea-brain Phil Robertson shared his unhealthy obsession with rape and decapitation. It’s unsettling for Atheists to see that so many devout believers are preoccupied with rape and torture, and Robertson’s latest deliberation is another scary case in point.

At a Prayer Breakfast in Vero Beach, FL, Robertson fantasized:

Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off [sic] in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?

Somewhat revealingly, his narrative then changes to the second person, perhaps expressing his own revenge fantasy:

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun.’

This guy needs therapy. And a brain. Both urgently.

First, it seems that Robertson confuses not having a belief with not being able to distinguish between right and wrong – something that even apes can; apes that are obviously not religious. If someone needs to read the bible to find out that murdering people is wrong, they are a danger to society. Robertson seemingly believes that someone who isn’t cowered by the Bible’s threat of eternal consequences would have no restraints and be free to do anything they like. Which, as IS proves, is rape and decapitation. Except that those guys say they believe in essentially the same god as Robertson does. A couple of things

  • It was some 2400 years ago when Greek Philosopher Plato showed in his Euthyphron that Gods and Good are separate concepts: believing in Gods does not make you a good person, nor is belief in Gods a prerequisite to being good.
  • Judging by his remarks, rape and decapitation are what Robertson would do if he wasn’t living under the threat of celestial retribution. The sickening story he tells is much too elaborate to be a first-time thought.
  • It seems that rape and decapitation are the hallmark of religious people, not atheists: the IS does it on a daily basis, and devout Christians just can’t stop talking about them.
  • For this argument to make any sense, Robertson must be deathly afraid of his god. How can you love something that you are terrified of?
  • For reasons eluding sanity Robertson ignores any retribution that society will exact on him should he live out his repulsive fantasies. What does that say about his view of society?

Just for the record – as always, atheists maintain that even though we do not fear eternal retribution, we already do all the raping and decapitation we want – which is none at all.

But there’s a lot more wrong with Robertson’s creepy outburst than a disturbing misunderstanding of fundamental ethics and a sickening fantasy.

First of all, in Robertson’s grisly story, the atheist, the one who allegedly can’t tell right from wrong, is the victim. As a general rule, perpetrators are to be held accountable for their actions, not their victims. It doesn’t matter if a victim can’t tell right from wrong: a person who is incapable of understanding basic ethics still has the same rights to every ethical rule we have. Not understanding your rights are not grounds to withhold them. Newborn babies have rights – even though they don’t (yet) understand them. Not getting this simple concept right requires an astonishing amount of ignorance and is a sign of a disturbing disconnect from reality.

Moreover, perpetrators by definition ignore the consequences their actions would incur, else they wouldn’t be perpetrators. It stands to reason (if there is any reason left in Robertson’s ‘argument’) that he somehow thinks that the murderers and rapists in his story somehow aren’t responsible for their actions; that the atheists somehow brought this about themselves. You know, like the woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped, and a guy with dark skin wants to by lynched. That’s one sickening line of reasoning.

What’s most bewildering in Robertson’s horrible sex-and-crime fantasy, though, is that he delivers the most convincing argument against his vile belief himself. Now, I know that following an argument to its conclusion isn’t a believer’s strong suit, but in this case, Robertson really should have gone the extra inch:

You see, Robertson never says anything about the religious background of the two murderers. Let’s assume that before they die, both rapist/murderers are saved – they affirm their belief in Christ. So, according to Robertson’s belief, what will be the result?

  • The atheists (husband, wife and their two little girls) suffer eternal torture in hell – because although they never committed a crime, they didn’t believe in Jesus
  • The rapists and murderers live in paradise because they accepted Jesus in their hearts
  • Robertson believes that this is good and just  

So who can’t distinguish between right and wrong?

Small wonder that the two guys committed their crime – Christianity offers a get-out-of-hell-free card. You can do the most horrible crime and don’t have to face the consequences as long as you believe in Jesus.

Moreover, the double child rape that Robertson fantasizes about squarely points the finger at a serious moral issue that all believers in an allegedly ethical, omnipotent god have to struggle with. As Tracy Harris observed:

If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your God.

The fact that God does not step in to prevent the rape of the two children is not a case for an ethical god. It doesn’t disprove His existence, but casts his supposed benevolence in a very dim light. Plus it establishes that Atheists (Traci Harris is an outspoken atheist, and sometimes co-hosts The Atheist Experience, an Austin, TX, based cable TV show) are opposed to rape, even though they don’t believe in Gods. It also shows that she is more opposed to rape than the all-powerful Christian God – who doesn’t raise a finger to prevent it from happening.

In all, Robertson manages to prove just how horribly unjust and unethical his belief is, yet somehow fails to understand just what he is saying. Luckily for him, our society is better than this loon. If it behaved like he thinks we do, they’d have to ‘decapitate his head off’.

What an ass.
 

Humble Belief?

You should be more humble.

It’s really convincing when Christians play that card – usually after they humbly assert that their faith is the only true one, that their god created the entire universe, that I’ll be going to hell because I don’t love that god, and that I’m arrogant for not believing their preposterous scripture.

But tell me – who is the humble one here: He who admits that ‘I don’t know if there is a god’ – or the person who states that ‘I know for fact that this is god, and he wants you to exactly do that‘?

Tell me, dear Christian: when was the last time you heard your priest say ‘maybe there is a god’ or ‘perhaps Jesus wants you to love thine neighbor’? I certainly never did when I went to church. All I ever heard were assertions: god did this, said that, performed this miracle, and made people go there. None of that was ever accompanied by a cautionary ‘maybe’ or humble ‘perhaps’. It was always stated as fact. Do you really think being that arrogant qualifies as being humble? Then why are you accusing atheists, who are doing none of the above, as being arrogant?

Ricky Gervais once observed that it is revealing that atheists are never accosted by ‘hateful satanists’ for not believing in their demon. It’s always the ‘loving Christians’ who insult me for not believing in their god.

Because, seemingly, being insulting is the new humble.

Red vs Blue

The first time I watched The Matrix, I was stunned. For more than one reason. The story was original (although Carpenter’s Dark Star covered the basic premise when protagonist Doolittle debates Bomb #20) and I especially liked how they realized the two worlds – the way how Neo could bend some rules in the illusionary world: very much like I sometimes do in a lucid dream.

One scene in particular struck a chord and has stayed with me since then; when Morpheus offers Neo two pills: a red and a blue. Take the blue pill, and stay in your world of comfort. Take the red, and see how far down the rabbit hole goes.

I always liken my becoming an Atheist to taking the red pill. Far less heroic than Neo’s, my journey through a world that is dictated by edicts from imaginary beings is as strange, frightening and surreal as anything that Lewis Carroll or MC Escher could imagine.

It’s only after you clue in to the fact that there are no gods that you realize almost everything that people do somehow relates to beings that don’t exist:

  • the year is 2015 – counted from the alleged birth of Jesus, an important figure in the Christian mythology
  • where I live, all shops are closed on Sundays; many other countries have similar restrictions on other week days, e.g. Saturdays or Fridays. It’s because a God allegedly mandates that no one should work on the holy day.
  • the names for most days of the week are named after Gods: Monday (day of the Moon, not a religious but astrological reference), Tuesday (Týr’s day, the Nordic god of glory in combat), Wednesday (Woden’s day, the Germanic version of the roman god Mercury), Thursday (Thor’s day, the God of thunder and recent Avenger super hero), Friday (Frigg’s or Freia’s day, Nordic goddesses), Saturday (Saturn’s day, a roman God), Sunday (day of the Sun, not a religious but astrological reference).
  • much of the food I buy is certified to comply with various silly religious dietary rules: most likely Islam (Halal), Jewish (Kosher) and Hindu. Most US-american schools serve only fish on Fridays (a Christian rule)
  • few people know this, but many magazines and newspapers you read or games you play are also certified to comply with various religious rules, usually Abrahamic.
  • the economically most important period in the year revolves around a bizzare Christian ritual called ‘Christmas’ that cobbles together a multitude of pagan beliefs into a major event where people spend up to 25% of their year’s allowances and some companies generate more than 40% of their annual revenue.
  • our language itself is riddled with innumerable idioms from religious belief: eye for an eye, bite the dust, forbidden fruit, scapegoat, reap the whirlwind, fly in the ointment, …

Silly beliefs have, and have had, incredibly strong influence on our everyday lives. It’s from this perspective that I can sometimes relate to Cypher’s desire to go back to the illusion and forget that the real world exists. It’s so much easier to believe simple stories and be told what to do.

And also boring.

Merry Christmas to all

I’m off to celebrate Christmas. Yup – the believers don’t get it, my godson doesn’t care as long as his loot quota is filled – but everyone agrees that it’s Christmas, so that’s what we celebrate.

So Merry Christmas! to everyone – to my heathen, pagan, unbelieving and believing friends.

And especially Merry Christmas! to my jewish friends! I can see you grinning from here!

Enjoy!

Crossed out

Soccer Club Real Madrid are proud of their logo. It contains an image of the royal spanish crown. The crow itself is, well, crowned by a small christian cross. Real now has made the rare decision to remove the cross from the crown. Not to appease hordes of militant atheists that were offended by a religious symbol and demanded that it was removed, centuries of tradition be damned!

No, Real chose to remove the cross because they signed a lucrative deal with Abu Dhabi’s national bank. The streets of Madrid have been strangely calm – no reports of outraged Christians that demand putting Jesus back in Real yet.

There are a number take-aways here: many self-professed devout christians, so it would seem, are only christians as long as it’s financially favorable. Further, it is a fact that the religious intolerance of a muslim organization has led to the removal of the cross – which is rather ironic given Spain’s history with Islam.
Finally, it’s strange that christians have less objections when their holy symbol is removed to appease another religious group than when people demand it removed for humanity.

Then again, that’s exactly how religion works.

Education Kills God!

From the Department Of Bloody Obvious comes another confirmation of what even Martin Luther knew in 1520: the more you know, the less silly superstitions you have. This was also indicated by a study a few months ago which concluded that better internet access leads to less religiosity (the headlines then screamed ‘The Internet Kills God!!!!!’), and is now (unsurprisingly) confirmed by a study conducted by the Louisiana State University:

The study finds that more education, in the form of more years of formal schooling, has “consistently large negative effects” on an individual’s likelihood of attending religious services, as well as their likelihood of praying frequently. More schooling also makes people less likely to harbor superstitious beliefs, like belief in the protective power of lucky charms (rabbit’s feet, four leaf clovers), or a tendency to take horoscopes seriously.

Strange phrasing (really? not attending a superstitious gathering is a large negative effect?) and questionable differentiation (luck charms are superstitious, but belief in gods isn’t?) aside, we see once again what motivates Boko Haram, IS and Taliban, and what Luther wrote about in the middle ages:

Reason is […] the greatest enemy that faith has

It’s only a matter of time until we can openly say what is blatantly obvious: smart, educated people don’t believe in gods, fairies or magic. Stupid people serve their priesthood.

I’m godlike!

The Intelligencer published a new entry written by David Bereck today that makes you really question the ‘Intelligence’ bit. Titled ‘So you think you are an atheist…’, the article trots out some of the silliest and, well, stupidest arguments against atheism. If I didn’t know better I thought the author was trolling.

Do the people who practice atheism actually know what they are putting their faith into? I hope that more atheists take an interest in learning more about what they think they believe.

Can you be any further off the mark? Of course you don’t understand atheism if you think of it in terms of a religion. People don’t practice atheism. Atheism is absence of practicing religion. It’s like the idea of a vacuum that some people can’t get their head around: how can there be nothing – there has to be something. David seems to be having similar difficulties with the idea that not believing in gods really does mean that the concept of gods vanishes from our thoughts. That it’s become a non-issue.

David’s understanding of atheism in other people is influenced by things he himself believes to exists. He believes a God exists, hence he concludes that not believing in the existence of Gods is also a belief. But it makes no sense to try and enumerate the infinite number of things that we believe do not exist. Let’s instead look at what we believe that does exist. What differentiates you, David, from us is that in addition to the many beliefs we share, you also have a belief in gods. From that perspective it becomes understandable why the term ‘practicing atheism’ becomes a non sequitur. One can’t do things by not doing them.

Some atheists will not even know they have to use a lot of faith just to believe that from nothing … came something.

Perhaps it does require some faith. Yet somehow believers fail to grasp that it takes even more faith to believe essentially the same plus the existence of a magical all-powerful creature. But I think it’s important to point out that most atheists merely say ‘well, I don’t know what happened. Let’s see what the scientists can come up with’. ‘I don’t know’ is a much better, and more honest, answer than ‘I know that God did it’.

The other point of common sense is that chaos doesn’t result in order. If someone were to put all the parts of a Lamborghini in a garage and then threw a bomb into the garage, you wouldn’t expect to find a perfectly designed Lamborghini to drive away.

Yup, the good old 747 ‘Jumbo’ Jet analogy. So David probably read a Creationist book. Yes David, you are correct – except no-one ever said they believed that they would. What we actually believe is more likely by orders of magnitude than ‘God did it’, and it doesn’t require any magic at all. Perhaps you should invest some time to actually understand what scientists have to say about this.

The second point that chaos doesn’t result in order proves that even if I was wrong about the Big Bang Theory, there is no possible way an explosion (chaos) would ever be able to create a universe with such tremendous order.

No, David. It merely proves that you do not understand the laws of thermodynamics, and probably fail to grasp the scale of what you are talking about. It’s not as if it’s not understood how galaxies condense (order from chaos). It’s readily observable even today. There is no faith involved in believing something that elementary. It seems you are questioning not just the Big Bang, but matter accretion and other fundamental, well understood processes. That would be unwise.

I encourage people to question atheism because when you really look at the details from a different perspective, you have a much wider range of understanding.

And yet, strangely, you propose a much, much simpler solution: all this was created by a god. Complexity? God did it. Life? God did it. Universe, Stars, Planets? God did it. Your understanding is much narrower than a worldview that allows ‘I don’t know – let’s find out’ for an answer. You are not proposing that people open their minds – you advocate credulity in millennia-old superstition. It’s not a perspective that is difficult to understand, nor does it enrich understanding. It’s a bit like the Santa Claus myth. Everyone understands where it comes from. But it will in no way broaden our understanding of the world if we believed they were true.

David closes with

Personally, I am glad to be artistically created in the image of an awesome God rather than being the cousin of some slimy thing that crawled out of the ocean.

And that’s pretty much it – David prefers to think of himself as an image of a God who has a special purpose for him – rather than facing the possibility that his existence is mere happenstance, and that he is of no consequence at all. His belief, it seems, serves to elevate his self-esteem.

Moroccan Motherlode

A couple of days ago, a major brouhaha erupted over a remark that Bill Maher and Sam Harris made on Maher’s show Real Time. Maher and Harris contended that the majority of Muslims entertain morally unacceptable beliefs. Ben Affleck, another guest at the show, became hostile, and accused Maher and Harris of being prejudiced and racists.

Yet, they were merely stating a fact, and Affleck seems to have fallen prey to hyper-politically correctness. When you say that the majority of US Republicans is religious and believes that Jesus died on the cross, that is a provable fact. It is also a provable fact that the majority of Muslims believe that the appropriate punishment for apostasy is death. Not a few freaks – the majority. And that is a morally unacceptable tenet.

Yesterday, the Guardian reported the story of a british subject, Ray Cole, who was arrested and illegally detained in Morocco on grounds of being gay.

As Cole recounts:

At the police station, although still not under arrest, Cole knew why they had been taken. “Straight away [there was] the insinuation that we were homosexual,” says Cole, “They said, ‘We’ve got religion here. You’re filth and scum.’ They did their best to humiliate us.”

These homophobes are not fundamentalists – they are everyday (and probably otherwise kind and upstanding) Moroccan citizen. Their problem: they adhere to a deeply homophobic ideology. Our problem: these believers are the majority in Morocco.

[edit Oct-19]
Last Thursday, the Pakistani High court dismissed Aasiya Bibi Noreen’s appeal and upheld her death sentence. Her crime: Blasphemy against Alla. In Pakistan their High Court is convinced that the appropriate punishment for blasphemy is death.

Maher and Harris nailed it. The majority of Muslims hold immoral tenets. It is high time we stop this PC bullshit and look the problem squarely in the face. Stop making allowances where none should be made.