Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad, survey, bad!

I was going through PZ Myers' blog and he posted about this survey, Coming Out as an Atheist.

I couldn't finish it. I mean, not because I didn't come out as an atheist - I think, fairly obviously, I have quite a bit come out as an atheist. But like many of these surveys, I find that the choices I'm given for the answers simply don't make any meaningful sense for me.

In particular, there were two political ones, right in a row - asking one's political views, ranging from very conservative to very liberal. I held my nose and clicked very liberal. I mean, I'm not a liberal. But, generally, my views are leftist - in the sense that I'm somewhat to the left of Karl Marx - so I held my nose and clicked. But the very next question was how I generally voted, ranging from . . . all Republican to all Democrat. The real answer is, "Well, mostly socialist, if applicable and in many races there there are only Democrats and Republicans running I don't vote for either." Right or wrong, I feel that choosing between Republicans and Democrats, in most instances, is like choosing between Coke and Pepsi - the ad campaigns might make a big to do about it, but the differences are really quite superficial between the two.

So then I stopped taking the quiz. The people who gave it couldn't envision atheists as being anything other than liberal or conservative, Democrats or Republicans. It never entered their mind that around 5% of all Americans vote, fairly regularly, as independents of various stripes. Their inability to imagine a world that wasn't split between two parties, largely identical in a great many ways, far more ways than they're different, made me close it down.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's change the date of Christmas!

I largely like PZ Myers. But, like many atheists, he's in denial about Christmas. He says, here, and a number of other spots, that Christmas is really a secular holiday.

Which is why it's the busiest day of the year for Christian churches, right? The secularness just packs the Christians into churches. Ugh. It's not a secular holiday, it's a religious one, by and large, and obviously so.

But Myers quotes some thing or the other about how the US courts have largely claimed that Christmas is a secular holiday. I feel that's an appalling ruling. I think that's a clear and transparent attempt to keep this religious holiday on the federal books - because, again, it is clearly a religious holiday for the overwhelming majority of people who celebrate it in the United States. And given such preponderance, to call it secular is absurd.

And I can prove it! If Christmas is a secular holiday, well, let's move it. There are good reasons to do so. In particular, it is criminally irresponsible to encourage people to drive on icy roads. Auto accidents shoot way up in December compared to both November and January - and the reasons are clear. People do lots of driving on lousy wintry roads. So, why not change it the date of Christmas to September, when the roads are a lot better, to minimize the thousands of preventable injuries. It'd be a much better idea to do shopping in late August instead of December!

I will take it as given that everyone reading this knows that could never happen. Not because of the inertia of it, either. Holiday dates have been changed plenty, and they will be, again. But I think we all know that Christmas can't have it's date changed for reasons founded in religion. That the Christians could not endure it because they view Jesus' birthday as December 25th and so to celebrate Christmas at any other time violates their religious beliefs.

Still, the date should be changed. It's crazy to encourage people to crowd the roads on days that are often icy. It's downright irresponsible.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tony Blair = gutless coward and lousy Prime Minister

It wasn't until Tony Blair was out of office that he admitted he was Catholic. Oh, but not because he couldn't be a British Prime Minister, oh, no, that had nothing to do with it!

Likewise, as the article makes clear, he hid his religion from his constituents for the duration of his time as a politician. He was afraid of people dismissing him as a "nutter".

Yeah, Tony, that's the point. Your constituents needed to know how you made decisions so they could meaningfully support or oppose you. So you decided to engage in decades of deception because you know your real thoughts and feelings would be bad for your political career. And in some bizarre way no one seems the least bit, oh, I dunno, feeling weird or betrayed over this?

But mostly what I'm thinking is that Blair is a gutless coward. I mean, here's this thing, and if you listen to what religious people say it's the most important thing there is, and he hid it. And not because he and his family would be hurt or even disgraced. Tony Blair is rich, he's been rich for a long time. No, no, he hid his true feelings about what religious people claim is the most important thing there is because he was worried that people would call him a "nutter". I don't think being a Roman Catholic makes you a nutter - tho' switching from the Church of England to the Catholic Church is basically as exciting as switching from Coke to Pepsi, IMO - but I do think hiding it like he has and for the reasons he has makes him a hypocritical gutless coward.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Traditional Christmas rant - oh, I loathe Christmas

I deeply dislike Christmas. Since around the time I was twelve or so I haven't actually liked gifts - my mother was terrible at giving them, not the content of the gifts but how she gave them; on my birthday one year she pretended to have forgotten my birthday and waited until I exploded about how she'd forgotten and then exploded back at me about how she did get me presents and she did remember my birthday but she was just trying to build tension by pretending she'd forgotten. There were several experiences like that, so I actually dislike gift giving as a Pavlovian thing. When I was a child, however, I still liked the religious aspects of it, church and singing and such.

Then I became an atheist. Because Christmas was, for me, always a religious holiday, when I became an atheist I gave up Christmas. It was actually out of respect for the religion. I don't celebrate Christmas in the same way I don't celebrate Ramadan or Holi or Shavuot. At this time I didn't particularly dislike Christmas, either. Indeed, part of me still yearned for it because I did enjoy the music and church and the rest of it, but a yet bigger part of me would have felt disrespectful for celebrating a holiday for a religion that I found quite absurd.

Then this really weird thing happened. People would ask me what they should get me for Christmas and I'd say, "Nothing. I don't celebrate Christmas. I'm not a Christian." Then they'd try to talk me into celebrating it! They'd say it was a secular holiday (it is, weakly, but it is much more a religious holiday) so my reasons were silly or wrong somehow. Almost inevitably they'd end up by telling me that they'd get me a gift, anyway.

I really hate that. That's the proper word. Hate. Because what it does is ignore me. It ignores the way that I, Chris Bradley, really feel about gifts in general and celebrating Christmas in particular. This has caused me to see Christmas in an entirely different light. I feel Christmas is a very selfish holiday. Everyone gets so wrapped up in whatever it is that they are feeling, well, they don't really have time to be honestly generous or loving or even peaceful.

Take this Christmas season - a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death. The customers broke down the doors of the Wal-Mart and when this regular guy tried to stop them from literally invading the store they trampled him to death. Beyond the death itself, how does that show any "Christmas spirit"? How is that about generosity, love or peace? Everyone is in such a hurry! Traffic accidents skyrocket, violence skyrockets, people are brusque and rude, everything about Christmas - except a few parties - is pretty unpleasant really. And deeply selfish. Like those people at Wal-Mart - and tens of thousands of other places all across America - where people started the holiday season by mobbing stores.

So, in actual behavior, I feel there is a real deep hypocrisy about Christmas. People aren't being generous. Generosity isn't giving your kid an Xbox 360. Generosity is . . . creating a society with no poor. Not giving to a food bank once a year (often just cleaning out canned goods from your cupboard) or giving something to a Toys for Tots thing, but eliminating the social need that makes people that vulnerable in the first place. Generosity is feeding the poor all year long, making sure our schools are good, making sure that everyone has medical care, outreaching to people in countries poorer than ours (all of them) to make sure they've got enough food to eat and their kids go to good schools and have medical care. It is not about trading gifts with people. That is a parody of generosity - giving people who don't need anything things they don't need!

It's not about peace. If it was about peace, instead of going shopping and to parties, people would be petitioning the government to get out of Iraq, to shut down Guantanamo Bay's illegal prison. It would be about working to end the scourge of war both here and abroad. But you can't do that because to get political wouldn't be in the spirit of the season, which is absurd.

It's not about love, because you don't need - indeed you can't - buy love. Love is something you feel, and while you can work on feeling love, greater love, both for those you know and those you don't, there is nothing about Christmas that invokes love with the possible exception of the actual Christmas feast. (Eating good food with people you love is a way to keep the bonds of love strong. Companion is Latin for "people you share bread with".) Shopping, gifts, all that, has nothing to do with love.

So, when I tell people I don't celebrate Christmas and they try to talk me into it, often with emotional manipulation and always over my (I feel) reasonable objections, they're being selfish and offensive. They show no generosity, charity, peace or love for me by ignoring my clearly expressed, reasonably and easy to follow request to be left out of Christmas. They focus on their need or desire to force others into celebrating this holiday. They show, indeed, quite a bit of contempt for me - that my requests aren't worth following. It pisses me off. And it happens so damn often that it's entirely poisoned the season for me. Entirely.

Since I stopped celebrating Christmas, I have grown in understanding. I understand that many atheists and agnostics are cultural Christians - Christianity is a foul religion, true, but it is also an integral part of European and American civilization - our history is bound up in innumerable complex ways with Christianity. And much like people can go to medieval recreation societies, or Civil War recreation societies, and appreciate how feudalism or the Confederacy shaped their history without wanting to recreate feudalism or the Confederacy, people can celebrate Christmas without endorsing Christianity. I see that.

But for so long people have been telling me that I'm silly for not celebrating Christmas that it's stripped off the mask. I see the fnords. Christmas is a giant hypocrisy, where selfish people make a mockery of the very principles that the celebration is supposed to be about. Not to mention that so many Christmas celebrants have been rude and arrogant to me, personally, that I have no desire to "celebrate" Christmas. For me, it's just a sad and ugly time that's made all the sadder and uglier because of the hypocrisy of it - that except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day it's all just a consumer driven holiday, that the Christmas Season is a marketing ploy that pisses over the supposed principles of the season. That instead of being a time of joy, it's a time of stress mitigated by one day's celebration after six weeks of lousy traffic, drunken drivers and chaos in the marketplaces.

Ironically, and I'm poignantly aware of this irony, it's actually religious people who listen to me when I say I don't celebrate Christmas. They always go, "Oh, yeah, I understand that." They might believe my soul is damned to hell, but they grasp why a non-Christian doesn't celebrate the holiday.