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Jesus and the Resurrection. Been There. Done That.

Mar 30, 2013 - Tags:

Let me see if I get this straight . . . a long time ago, this guy was born of a virgin, performed miracles, collected disciples, then was eventually crucified, died, was buried, and rose again to redeem mankind? Does that sound about right?

I thought so, except I'm not talking about Jesus. In this case, the guy's name was Attis and he was a fairly popular Phrygian man-god some 400 years before Jesus Christ came on the scene (though the origins of the story go back as far as 1200 B.C.). Attis was born of the virgin, Nana, became the consort of the mother Goddess Cybele. Attis is sometimes depicted as a shepherd, his priests are celibate (they are in fact, castrated),  is crucified to a tree (accounts vary somewhat on this point), dies, is buried, and rises again to bring life to the world. The Attis myth reaches its peak sometime around 200 BC.

Attis isn't special though. In point of fact, guys who were born of virgins, performed miracles, died, then rose from the dead are common to many religions. Christianity adopted a lot of these old stories to make their new religion more palatable to the dominant religions of the day. As for all those miraculous things . . . well, your god wasn't much of a god if he couldn't perform miracles or had some kind of miraculous birth. Born of a virgin sounds pretty miraculous so it makes sense to start there. Water into wine? That's an old one too.

In 405 B.C., Euripedes' "The Bacchae" was released. It features Dyonisus who, among other things, is born of a virgin, turns water into wine, and has someone crucified to a tree. Dyonisus was called "King of Kings", "Redeemer", "Savior", and other familiar titles we associate with that Johnny come lately, Jesus.

The True Meaning of Lent

Feb 14, 2013 - Tags:

Even though the language I am most comfortable with is English, my first language was French. I spoke my first English words when I was 9 years old, and to this day, I still remember those first words. We had moved from Alma, Quebec to Ontario and didn't yet have a place to live. So my parents rented a room at the Sleepy Time Motel in St. Thomas, Ontario, where we stayed for a couple of weeks. The motel was just on the outskirts of town. Just a short walk down from the motel was a chip wagon selling hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, and so on. I wanted a hot dog, so I asked my Dad for some money and the English words I would need to ask for my treat. I practiced that line over and over again, reciting it out loud and in my head as I walked toward the chip wagon. Those words, "I want a hot dog with everything on it" still echo through my mind to this day.

Those types of early language memories can be powerful. Consequently, there are still a lot of French idiomatic expressions floating around in my head. I still occasionally say "Close the light" instead of "turn off the light". Which brings me to Lent.

This is the time of year when Christians give up something they really, really like for reasons they don't actually understand but are told they should from childhood and into adulthood. For most people, it's seen more as an endurance contest, to see whether they can make it 40 days without taking a drink of alcohol or eating bacon double cheeseburgers. Kids are started on this road by suggesting they give up chocolate or Saturday morning cartoons. It's a last man standing game where the person who retains their sanity after having gone without, oh, let's say bacon, is the winner.  Sure, there's a religious component there. Lent is about, uh, well, you know, some churchy thing. Oh, here . . . let me Google if for you.

What, you ask, does all this Lent stuff have to do with speaking French? Well, in my mind, I see "lent" which is the French word meaning "slow". Lent is that 40 day period when you are frankly sick to death of winter and you are barely hanging on waiting for the days to get longer and the weather to get warmer. Right around the time of Lent, or lent, if you will, time seems to move so slowly that pulling out your own fingernails starts to seem like an interesting passtime. 

Interestingly enough, for those who practice the religious ritual of Lent, the meaning is often the same. It's a long, painful, and s-l-o-w 40 days while you wait, barely hanging on, for the taste of an ice cold beer. Or chocolate. Or bacon.

Or a hot dog with everything on it.

Betrayal of the Intellect

Last night, at the Cambridge Union debating society, Professor Richard Dawkins debated the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The image here comes from a story on the Huffington Post where Dawkins is quoted as saying that religion is a "betrayal of the intellect". When I referred to this story on Google+, someone replied to my post by saying the trouble with Richard Dawkins is that he is a "rabid, fundamentalist, atheist" and as deluded at the former Archbishop. He further suggested that neither science nor religion will ever settle this issue.  

Here's my take . . . whether or not some deity or other exists, I can say with near absolute certainty that it's not the god of the Bible, Talmud, Torah, Koran, or any of the books that are paraded as God's word on this planet. Furthermore, the evidence suggests, with near absolute certainty, that there is no god, at least not in the way that most religious people envision such a being.

It's true that Dawkins can be a little rough when it comes to taking on religion, but that's not to say he's wrong, or that he's just plain mean-spirated. Richard Dawkins, and others like him, take on religion because they see it not only as a delusion (as Dawkins calls it) but as a dangerous superstition that stands as the basis for fear, ignorance, and hate, and much the evil that accompanies fear, ignorance, and hate. Christopher Hitchens believed it, Sam Harris believes it, and I believe it.

On the issue of whether religion or science will ever settle this, Religion has already settled this. It's true. But religion has settled the issue by giving in to ignorance and taking it on faith, possibly the least virtuous virtue imaginable because religious faith is pretty much the same as ignorance without question. Science, while it may never 100% settle the argument of whether some kind of god exists, is vastly different from religion in the best possible way. Science is based on observation and hypothesis, finely tuned and forever open to re-examination by experiment. Using the tools of science, we can say with near absolute certainty, that there is no god. At least not in the sense that such a being is represented in the planet's holy books.

Rather than trash atheists, religious people should rally around guys like Dawkins, and give him and other scientists all the support they can. For the first time in history, the religious have the opportunity to test faith against the tools of reason and science. If the god hypothesis can survive the scrutiny of science and reason, then religious people will be vindicated in their beliefs. If, however, god fails on all counts, as so far he has, they can cast off the yoke of ignorance, darkness, and fear, and step joyfully into the light of reason.

Thoughts on December 6, 1989, and the Montreal Massacre

On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine, age 25, walked into l'École Polytechnique in Montreal, entered a classroom and separated the men from the women. Then he started killing people. When he was done, 14 women were dead with another 10 injured. Only four men suffered injuries. The names of those fourteen women are inscribed on a plaque outside l'École Polytechnique de Montréal (click on the image to see a larger version and read teh names.) Lepine wasn't gunning for the men. He told the people around him that he was 'fighting feminism'. Lepine was clearly insane, but his madness was an extreme reflection of much of society's views on women and sex. It wasn't a one-off and unless we are willing to leave the dark ages behind, it will happen again and again.

Enlightened society claims to value women and to care about their rights; that a female child is just as valuable as a male child. If this is true, and we are ready to leave the dark ages behind, then what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen?

Hatred of women has its roots in the way we educate our children. It seems innocent at first, but the message that women aren't as good as men, that boys are better than girls, goes on to be reinforced throughout life in churches around the country and the world. Religious tradition is rife with it's oppressive obsession with the bodies of women. Enshrined in the scriptures are the justfications for keeping women silent and subservient to men, for rape, for witch burnings, for forced marriages, for honour killings, and the vilitfication and disgust that surrounds the female birth canal in so many cultures even today.  On one hand, we talk of the evils of rape, but Scripture makes it clear that it was the woman who tempted Adam with her femine wiles. Her first crime, of course, is the result of her vanity and weakness of character (courtesy of her creator) which causes her to listen to the serpent and break God's commandment in the garden. Right at the very beginning, the stage is set for women to take the blame for all the ills that follow.

My Personal War On Christmas

Nov 28, 2012 - Tags:

December is just around the corner and the the annual rhetoric around the holiday season is starting to heats up. Yes folks, it's the whole "War on Christmas" thing. Particularly popular with the FOX News crowd, insecure Christians of every stripe manage to get a little hot under the collar at the very idea that this season might be about anything but Christmas. If you hang out on any of the social networking sites like Facebook, you've already seen friends post things like this.

"It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas! Hit Like and Share if you agree."  Or perhaps you've seen this one: "I'm keeping Christ in Christmas and putting up a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree" (as though a Christmas tree has anything to do with keeping Christ in Christmas) and a million variations on the theme. In short, well meaning fans of the Christmas holiday season are worried that there's a war going on, a war that can only end when Christmas has been cancelled. For good.

As a raving atheist and obnoxious anti-theist , it's time for me to come clean on my own views regarding the holiday seasons. But first a little history. 

Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in the guy or not, that's really the idea behind Christmas. That's what the manger, baby Jesus, and a whole whack of Christmas carols are all about. That said, putting Christmas on December 25th has less to do with Christ and more with trying to make Christianity palatable to Pagans in the early Christian years. Few people had a clue as to when, exactly, Jesus was born and it wasn't until sometime around the fourth century that the Church pegged December 25th as the big day. Since countless cultures on the planet have historically held some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, it made sense to use this time of year to slide Christmas into the calendar. The Romans already had a big thing going with Saturnalia and it already landed around the week of December 25th, so it was perfect timing.

The solstice is why so many religions have a holiday in and around the end of December. In less enlightened days, we saw the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the temperature get colder. It was scary stuff. But when the solstice was upon us, we knew that the days would start to get longer, the nights shorter, and the season warmer (at least in the northern hemisphere). People who had been feeling depressed suddenly got happier. They threw big parties with elaborate feasts and they filled their world with light. Fire and light. People were doing the winter holiday thing long before anyone had hear of Jesus and the little drummer boy. It was the solstice. Time to party.

Now I love a good solstice celebration as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I love a good solstice celebration better than a lot of guys I've met. 

I have no trouble with the holiday being called "Christmas" and yes, at my non-believing house, we put up a "Christmas tree" and sing "Christmas carols". One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Oh Holy Night" and it doesn't get much more religious than that one; sung with conviction and a beautiful voice, the song can bring tears to my eyes. I love the giving and receiving of gifts and I love seeing my frends and family gathered together to enjoy an otherwise cold and unpleasant time of year. I say "Merry Christmas", kiss under missletoe, and send out Christmas cards, complete with our annual Christmas letter. I watch Christmas movies, both secular (e.g. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and Christian (e.g. "A Chalie Brown Christmas"). I totally get into Christmas, but not because I'm a Christian. I gave that up a long time ago. I do it because it's Christmas and Christmas is fun for me. I've played Santa Claus and worn the red suit many a year.

I also say "Happy Holidays" and "Joyous Solstice" and "Happy Haukkah" as the situation presents itself. It's a happy time and I like to see people happy, especially when they are enjoying the happiness and company of others. When it's Christmas, it's Christmas and when it's Hanukkah, it's Hanukkah. Ditto for all the other calendar-entrenched holidays. It's the solstice and every culture since the dawn of time has had some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year. Deal with it.

So that's my war on Christmas. Getting people to see that it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", and "Happy Holidays", or whatever feels right to you when you're greeting others with warmth and friendship, and stop being so damned hung up on the whole thing. Take a holiday pill people and get into the spirit. It's the solstice and it's time to party. Have your fun and make sure you let others have theirs too.

Jesus Is Alive - So Is Elvis

Oct 25, 2012 - Tags:

Meanwhile, near Peterborough, Ontario, a battle rages for the hearts and minds of drivers making their way down the roadways. 

One man, deeply devoted to Jesus, decides to make it clear by using his own house as a billboard.

In case you can't read the words on the roof, let't take a look at a close-up (you could also just click on the image).

His next door neighbour might be just as passionate about another man made god, the King of rock and roll himself, the immortal Elvis Presley. Of course, he may just be annoyed at his neighbour's billboard and chose to respond with a billboard of his own. Check it out.

If you're having trouble reading the rooftop on that one, look at the closeup below or, once again, just click on the image for a full sized view.

So? King of rock and roll or King of kings? Are either really alive and living in Spokane where they work at a local greasy spoon serving up burgers and fries?

Myself, I take a more pragmatic view of the whole debate. It seems to be that Elvis is just as alive as Jesus. Maybe just a little more so but only because he hasn't been dead quite as long as Jesus.

Praying For Peace In Winnipeg

Image from Radio Canada article here http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/manitoba/2012/10/04/002-winnipeg-chef-police.shtml

I'm trying to decide just how much fun I want to poke at this guy. 

On one hand, Devon Clunis has an unenviable job, one I certainly never want. While Winnipeg is a quiet rural town when compared to comparable US cities when it comes to crime, tackling crime in Canada's murder capital is a hard job by anyone's reckoning. 

Unfortunately, I must temporarily suspend my respect for the person willing to take on this kind of job because Devon Clunis needs to sit down and think seriously about what policing involves and how best to deal with crime. Winnipeg's new police chief has apparently decided that the way to reduce crime is to get everyone to pray.

Yes, pray.

"I'm a little tired of us…being '[the] murder capital of Canada,'" says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."

"What would happen if we all just truly—I'm talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

Spiritual Experience for the Non-Religious

Aug 13, 2012 - Tags:

As an atheist, I am occasionally presented with the question of spirituality. Many will point out that spirituality is the hallmark of the religious experience. It follows then, that if I can claim to have experienced what might be called a spiritual experience, then I must allow for religion. Conversely, if someone is a non-believer, the spiritual experience must be alien to them; something they can't possibly understand. 

Not so. The spiritual experience is part of being human and one can feel it without the slightest nod to a god or that god's peculiar collection of rules and rituals. Awe and wonder are not shut out to me because I choose to eat whatever the heck I damn well please on Friday. Transcendent joy isn't locked away where I can never feel it because I choose to play with my children on Sunday mornings rather than taking them to a shaman who will do his best to close off their minds and chain them with the fear of a non-existent deity. 

I have had, and continue to have, real and powerful spiritual experiences. These include, in no particular order, and at various times in my life :

  • holding my wife in my arms
  • seeing my children being born
  • hearing my oldest son (who has autism) say something new, without prompting
  • figuring out a complex problem I have been working on
  • reading a really great book
  • looking out into a clear, starlit night
  • sex (one of the most powerful spiritual experiences a human being can have)
  • having someone do something kind for me, without my asking
  • standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon
  • seeing protozoa through my microscope
  • seeing the Rocky Mountains looming high above me as we drive ever closer
  • my first solo flight in an airplane
  • a loving kiss
  • seeing the impact marks from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in my backyard telescope
  • coming to grasp with some new learning (science books do this for me)
  • standing in front of the large tank at Marineland and watching the Orca swim by, inches away
  • catching the wispy Ring Nebula in my telescope
  • holding a copy of my first [published, written by me] book, fresh from the box
  • getting hugs from my kids with an "I love you" thrown in for good measure

Without reservation or exaggeration, I can honestly say that some of these moments are spiritual, even transcendent.

All those things . . . love, friendship, the appreciation of nature, the feeling of being carried away by music, the exploration of the self . . . none of these things require religion. Nor do they require a holy book of any kind. The Bible, the Qur'an, or the Talmud are no better moral guides, nor divinely inspired, than "Horton Hears A Who" or "Harold and the Purple Crayon". And in terms of enriching the human experience, I'd go with Horton and Harold.

Religion and its associated holy books are the trappings. If anything, they take away from the spiritual experience by providing you with a ready-made set of guidelines and rules that you must follow. They chain your mind and restrict your spiritual growth by teaching that the only path to true spirituality is through its complex maze of justification and fear. 

I'll close this post by suggesting that the path to spritituality and personal growth actually opens up when you reject God.

Incidentally, in a recent post I responded to a related argument where a couple of friends argued that since I believed in love, I must (obviously) believe in God. You can read my reply to that by clicking here.

Jesus doesn't want you to go to church

Jul 30, 2012 - Tags:

Many of us live for the weekend. Time to kick back and slack off a little. You've worked hard all week and you deserve a break. But the day after Saturday is Sunday, and for many Christians, it means a mandatory trip to the local church to do a little praying and worshipping.

As an non-believer, Sunday is just another day off, like Saturday. But on Sunday, many Christians believe they should be going down to the house of God for a little shot of the Almighty. The only catch is that Jesus was totally against this idea. That's right. By going to church and praying with friends and family, you are disobeying the very man around whom the whole church is built.

Harken to the Word . . . Matthew 6:5-7
New King James Version (NKJV)

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.[a] 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

So you see, Jesus doesn't go for that whole getting together in Church and praising God thing. If you're going to pray, Jesus wants you to do it quietly, at home, in your own room. Your room can hardly be interpreted as a large building full of people. He also doesn't think you should recite prayers. God likes original content and that stuff in the Bible or the other holy books . . . He's heard it all before.

And so, when the next weekend rolls around, take a pass on the whole church thing. Not going is what Jesus would want you to do. 

Is God Love?

Jul 19, 2012 - Tags:

Someone recently suggested that I might, in fact, believe in God. (A closet theist?) The supporting evidence for this suggestion is that I often write about religion and even quote scripture to support my arguments. Another person suggested that since I profess a belief in love, that I must, ipso facto, believe in God. Allow me a few moments to address both of these suggestions. 

I don't believe in vampires and I have been known to post about them from time to time; I am a huge fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and thought "Angel" was pretty cool, though not as cool as Buffy by a long shot. That said, while I am interested in vampires (Twilight and True Blood both suck, for the record), I am utterly and completely fascinated by religion. And so you'll find me posting on religious topics more often than about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Also, my postings about religion don't tend to flatter religion or gods of any sort; quite the opposite. So, no, I do not believe in any god nor will I ever. 

The truth is that, and this is a topic for a future post, I can not imagine a scenario where I could be convinced (without the use of mind-altering drugs and other coersive methods) that any being you present to me is the one true, omnipotent, omnipresent, creator of the universe as depicted by insert-your-favorite-religion-or-holy-book-here. I have written before that I can easily imagine someone creating the our universe, but that's not the same thing as a god.

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Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus."

Thomas Jefferson