Why Are You So Angry?

This is the most common question I’ve been asked for as long as I can remember.  From high school through to the last argument I had “Why are you so angry?” pops up again and again.  Everyone I talk to on almost any given subject is convinced that there is some one thing in my life that is bugging me, and that if they can just fix that one thing I’ll be happy.

I’m not angry, I’m intense. This would be my explanation. I’m focused on whatever it is that I’m talking about, writing about, thinking about.  It comes across in nearly every conversation, in nearly any documentation, in almost any interaction.  I’m pretty sure it freaks most people out and I have no idea how to turn it off.

The quickest way to get me to feel actual anger is to ask me why are you so angry? when I’m simply responding with emphasis.  This tendency to fly off the handle has gotten me sent to many headshrinkers over the years. Thoughtful types who purse their lips and want to dig through all the detritus in my head to find out what makes me tick. They would press me to get past the anger masking the real emotion so that they could help me.

Let’s say I’m angry, just to admit a point for debate.  Why would I be angry?

I have always been a smartass. My father made sure that I knew this at a very young age, informing me “you really are a smartass, aren’t you?” throughout most of my youth. The internet age has given me a synonym for smartass. Troll. I apparently trolled my parents and teachers pretty frequently.  I was sent on mysterious errands in Sunday school for asking things like “who made god?” or “where did the extra loaves and fishes come from?” I had no idea I was being a smartass.  The questions occurred, and questions need answers. There were always more questions than there ever were answers, and I’d bet one of my limbs that the first time I was labeled a smartass was when I observed this fact to an adult. Why couldn’t they answer my questions?  I thought adults knew everything.

Standing apart and observing others with a clinical eye when most people are too busy, too caught up in the rough and tumble to notice the larger picture.  Disturbing the peace with my questions, my unwelcome observations. Daring to call down the wrath of adults and spending more hours sitting in a corner than I probably ever did on the playground, just to gain an insight into behaviors that puzzled me, patterns and habits that baffled me.

Stuck in the middle of Kansas surrounded by people that I could just barely relate to, forced to participate in rituals that I had no interest in.  Church? Football? Rodeo? That last one is the kicker I will never understand.  What purpose is served by rodeo? In the medieval guilds you would call what rodeo does a demonstration of skill. A demonstration that a journeyman attempts in order to be hired on somewhere as a master. I guess if I was in the need of horse riders or cattlemen, I’d go to a rodeo to find them. Luckily for me, I don’t need any of those so don’t need to go to the rodeo. The inscrutability of rodeo is tangential, though. It is a speed bump in the middle of nowhere that makes you ask, why?  The speed bump is irrelevant, the question is important.

Why am I so angry? Well, there is a start right there.  If I’m angry at all.  Am I really angry?

I was first clued in on the synonym for smartass while in a Compuserve chat group way back at the dawn of the internet. They called me a troll. In hindsight this label was indeed accurate. I was trolling then. Internet trolls do seem angry about something, although what they are angry about is open to question. The wife insists I’m not a troll because in her eye trolls are evil creatures. Trolls are not evil, trolls are misanthropes; and all of us are misanthropes outside of our comfort zone.  I was called a troll because I didn’t understand and wanted to know. Wanted to know about being other kinds of people than I appeared to be. I appeared to be, still appear to be, a white guy who appreciates his guns, cars and the company of women. I understand that.  That is life for the average male in the midwest.  It’s not enough for me, but it appears to be enough for most men.

I wanted to know, so I went outside my comfort zone which is the only way to learn anything and started asking questions, making observations.  As I have always done.  As I will probably always do. I asked, I read, I listened and I learned.  Because I learned I became sensitive to the misuse of various words, which I have even wrote about in the hopes of educating others.

If you don’t listen to the answers to your questions, if you don’t learn anything from asking questions, you are worse than a troll; you are wasting everyone’s time asking questions that you have no intention of internalizing the answers for.  You are tormenting others just to hear yourself talk. You are engaging in casual conversation, conversation without feeling. Conversation without meaning.

I loathe casual conversation.

If I am angry, a point which I do not concede, then the demand to engage in meaningless banter on a near constant basis is probably the biggest reason why.  I do not speak to hear myself talk.  I’m not quick on the uptake and most wit goes right over my head on first pass.  It is only later that I will piece together the joke and then facepalm over the stupidity of not getting the point while the conversation is occurring, when it would have done me some good.

It takes mental energy to engage in small talk effectively.  To be witty in a casual fashion. Far more energy than I care to devote to a brief conversation with a stranger whom I will probably never meet again. I have always had goals that were far more important to me than witty banter.  Goals which consumed most of my mental energy.  When the adults around me failed to produce answers to my questions, I turned to the only source available in 1970’s Kansas.  I went to the local library.  For most of my life I have wandered around with my nose stuck in books.  Books were the only place where answers could be found, where stories that interested me were being told.

What was real? Where are we going? Where did we come from? Every question answered produced at least two new questions that needed answers.  A never-ending task of education which now extends out beyond my mortal existence. Another good excuse to be angry.  Frustrated by the limitations of life itself.  I will die still needing answers to questions that will never be answered.  If that doesn’t piss you off, you aren’t thinking about the problem.

Thinking. Thinking about thinking.  Thinking about thinking about thinking.  The philosopher’s dilemma. Is this me thinking or is this an outside influence causing me to come to a particular conclusion?  Am I angry or does my thinking make you angry which you then reflect on me? I’m thinking the latter.  Of course I would think that.  You would think that in my place.

I’m thinking that most people hate thinking so much they’ll pay to undergo pain in order to stop themselves from thinking. I’m thinking I’m not angry but that you wish I’d stop troubling you with my thinking, my desire to make you think. You are angry because I’m thinking and thinking makes you angry. I apologize for not having electric probes for you to blank those thoughts with. Is it sadism to make people think knowing that they would rather endure pain than think? Am I the jackass whisperer? If I’m not, am I the jackass? It’s probably best to leave the jackasses to their electric shocks and not taint myself with their pain.

“Casual conversations, how they bore me. Yeah, they go on and on endlessly. No matter what I say you’ll ignore me anyway. I might as well talk in my sleep, I could weep.”

Why go on, just hoping that we’ll get along.

Supertramp

Who Gives a Shit About Iowa Anyway?

So the news is engaged in a full court press today, bound and determined to prove that their horserace really is a race and they really aren’t blowing smoke up our collective asses.  I’m doing my best to avoid this mess today, not listening to the news in a complete reversal of my normal patterns for daily life.

It is Monday though and Monday is Freethought Radio day (as well as Point of Inquiry day lately) so I have been listening to my regular podcasts (and BBC news) and Freethought Radio had an interesting interview with Justin Scott who has been doing some brave work in Iowa, going around asking questions of presidential candidates at various meetings attempting to call attention to the slights being offered to minority groups in the US when it comes to the subject of faith.

I wanted to highlight the bigotry by omission of candidates for government office; candidates who go around touting their religion prominently.  This importance placed on their beliefs in the supernatural leaves me wondering openly if they understand how those who believe differently feel when they stress how important their religion is to them. How important they think their religion is to good governance in the US.

The problem for me is, neither Justin Scott nor FFRF seem to be interested in producing content to be consumed directly on the internet and only on the internet.  FFRF’s near cluelessness when it comes to web programming is what lead me to attempt to catalog all their episodes several years ago, a project that I finally had to give up when I realized that I wasn’t willing to volunteer my effort on the project indefinitely.

First off, the videos of his interviews are not where he said they were; they are on his personal youtube channel which I finally located here. This is a playlist of all the interviews to date;

Justin ScottJohn Kasich on Religious Based Discrimination – Feb 1, 2016

FFRF’s link resolves on Facebook to look like this;

The youtube link conveys about the same level of information.  Therefore it falls to me to write something that I can share even though, as the title of the piece says, I really couldn’t care less about Iowa. Or New Hampshire, for that matter.

Why?  Because they aren’t representative of America.  They just agreed that they would go first, and they are determined as small Midwestern states to make themselves out to be more important than they are by being first to caucus and first to primary in the US, because they are utterly forgettable by almost any other measure unless you like snow.

So the presidential candidates run around in these little isolated areas of the US for months at a time, far longer than the voting block that they represent merits if you were looking at national influence, percentage of voting Americans. The idea that these two races mean anything would be laughable if only the media could be convinced to laugh.  Instead they insist on portraying the primaries as horse races and build up the competition as if what we are witnessing was a sporting event and not the future leaders of our country vying for attention.

Which is why the subject of Justin Scott’s videos interests me, even though his location in Iowa galls me ever so slightly.  Iowa is one of those regions where religion figures prominently; and when I say religion, I mean evangelical christians, the omnipotent WASP‘s who have run the country since its beginning.  The people who are most threatened by the presidency of Barack Obama and the likely potential that he will be succeeded by Hillary Clinton, if we are lucky.  If we aren’t lucky we’ll have any one of the current GOP candidates currently doing their best to out-conservative each other.

Being brave enough to go out in public and film, to identify oneself as an atheist and ask how the candidates plan on protecting your right to not believe.  That takes real courage.  I wanted to let Justin know that I appreciated his work, even though I have to spend several quality minutes (hours actually) writing a post highlighting the important work that he is doing.  I wish that more members of the media had the balls to ask the really hard questions.

Knowledge vs. Belief

I started to write this post after Jim posted Unknown unknowns over at Stonekettle Station, which was a post in response to the tempest in a teapot that represented the 24 hour news cycle reporting on the clinic standoff and shooting incident in Colorado Springs. I shelved it for various reasons at first, none of them really earth-shattering. Of course, a week later and we have the inexplicable mass shooting in San Bernardino, which instantly eclipsed the previous story.

I could easily spin this into an screed against the gun lobby and their paid cronies in Washington DC who won’t let the CDC even study gun violence in an effort to figure out how to address it, considering that we have had more than one mass shooting every day of this year (2015) which has to be some kind of record that no society on the face of this earth is really interested in breaking…

…but that isn’t the article I want to write. This isn’t going to be the article I started out writing, either. The issue is much bigger than the specific subject of what we know or don’t know about a specific person set on doing wrong, or having been caught doing wrong. It is even bigger than the problem that Jim was trying to address, the 24 hour news cycle, which I agree probably represents the greatest threat to human civilization in the modern age. The need to fill time, to produce facts and counterfactuals when no hard facts are known about the specifics of the incident in question, can lead to greater and greater flights of fancy.

I turn the TV off when that feeding frenzy starts. It is hard enough to separate the wheat from the chaff on good days.  On bad days like the two events above bring, listening to the news just feeds confirmation bias until you end up looking and sounding like an idiot.

I will include the specific arguments for the Colorado Springs incident in this post, but the point that I’m seeing come into focus now that the shooter has appeared in court and indicted himself is the argument about what we know vs. what we believe. How we can know what we think we know, and how is that different than belief?

That is the reason why the 24 hour news cycle is such a threat. Being not much more than the talking heads that sold soap in the early days of television, the current crop of news faces appear to have even less familiarity with what facts are and why fact-checking is important. They are, after all, just selling soap.  Keeping the most number of eyes on the screen is how they sell soap and so the factual content of what they say isn’t the important part of the equation.  That they tell you things that reinforce your beliefs on a subject so that you will keep watching, is.

Most of the white-looking people in the US trust the police intrinsically, for example.  Most of us older types were raised on police dramas portraying the cops as the good guys who enforce the laws and keep the peace.  It is very uncomfortable for most of us to be confronted with stories if entire police departments covering up the details of killings done at their hands. And yet, time after time over the last few years, we have been shown just how human police departments are everywhere in the US.  Be it Chicago, Baltimore or Saint Louis, just about anywhere USA, there are examples of police who brazenly violate laws and procedures who are then protected by their brothers in uniform.

This really isn’t news.  If you’ve been paying attention you would have run across stories by people like Radley Balko who have been documenting police excess for several decades now.  The police are humans, they make mistakes just like the rest of us.  If you were in their place you would act no differently than they would, because that is what humans do.  But that doesn’t excuse the excess, it is a point of data that needs to be accounted for when deciding what you know or don’t know about any given subject.

For the black or brown people who are almost always the bad guys in police dramas, the revelation that cops are only human really isn’t news either. They’ve lived with the reality of constant police scrutiny for generations. So much so that stories abound of fathers and mothers cautioning their children not to become police statistics.  So it is no wonder that the chant black lives matter resounds with them. The counter offered by clueless whites that all lives matter is heard by these same people as just another call for them to sit down and be quiet. How is this possible?  How can realities and beliefs about these realities be so widely separated?

When it comes right down to it, what you know with certainty is a very small number of things. Whether it is night or day. Whether it is cold or hot. You know these things because you can test them directly with your senses. Solipsists will argue that you can’t even know those things because we are all just brains in jars at best, but I’d like us all to pretend that the shadows on the cave walls actually represent something real, and try to make sense of that.  If that much can’t be granted, then there is little point in continuing to read this.  Even less in my continuing to write.

Beyond what you can test yourself (fire burns) there are grades of factual knowledge which you can probably safely rely on.  At each point where the facts exchange hands, the ownership of that data has to be documented to be trusted. This is why, when doing research, it is important to seek out source material and not just rely on wikipedia.  The more obscure the subject matter the less reliable secondary sources are.

When watching the news on television or reading news stories on any other site than AP, Reuters or UPI you are already dealing with information that has been through at least three hands if not dozens. When you’ve gone beyond the point where the witness is being interviewed in person, you are dealing with evidence that wouldn’t be accepted in court. That doesn’t mean it is without value, it just means the news you are being offered could be just this side of fantasy.

It might even be pure fantasy. Case in point, the FOX/conservative/anti-abortion counter-narrative about the Colorado Springs shooter.  When I logged on Blogger that night, the first thing I saw wasn’t the Stonekettle Station article. The first article that caught my eye was a piece over at Friendly Atheist in which Ted Cruz voices the notion that the shooter was some kind of leftist.  No, I could not make something that stupid up myself.

Cruz is basing that characterization on a supposed voter registration form in which Dear was listed as a woman. Whether it’s a mistake, or Dear was just messing around, or simply not the right form, we don’t know, but no other evidence indicates that he was transgender.

There’s even less evidence that he was a “leftist.”

The problem that I had with Jim’s Unknown unknowns piece now surfaces. Jim mentions this story in opposition to the reports (which he attributes to Planned Parenthood) that the shooter was heard to say “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested.  But the contrast between the veracity of these two stories is as marked as they are in opposition to each other.

The statement no more baby parts was repeated by an officer to a reporter directly on the scene, a reporter who dutifully passed the comment on to their viewing audience. While that is hearsay and not evidence admissible in court; the officer, if he were to appear in court, could repeat the statement and it would be admissible.  It would also be accepted by an overwhelming number of juries who trust police officers to be truthful (see above) even in the face of so much evidence that police will lie to protect their own.

Since this case isn’t about one of their own, and since the police showed remarkable restraint in bringing a cop killer in alive, I was inclined to believe the statement of the arresting officer.  That the shooter (not alleged, he plead guilty) repeated a version of the same statement at his hearing just confirms the motivation that lead him to commit the crimes he is guilty of.

On the other hand, the preferred story of conservatives/anti-abortionists is based on what? Essentially no evidence whatsoever, more wishful thinking than anything else.  And yet it is repeated by a Republican Presidential candidate as if it was the unquestionable truth.

That is the nature of belief. It doesn’t require facts.  Facts are counterproductive because they can be questioned. If facts are presented that counter a belief, it only takes the briefest scrutiny to discover or manufacture an anomaly which the believer will use to discard the entirety of the factual information presented. Ted Cruz wants to believe that the shooter couldn’t be one of his fellow anti-abortionists. Ted Cruz believes that leftists are dangerous people, and that LGBT people are a threat to his way of life.  The story he repeats is ready-made to fit into his preconceived view of the world, and it matters not one bit that the story makes no sense on its face.  That the average liberal and LGBT person would be in support of Planned Parenthood and consequently wouldn’t see a need to attack one of their clinics never enters into the mind of a conservative repeating this laughable story.

Given the history of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the current cloud of controversy artificially created by anti-abortion activists faking videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling body parts, the story of a shooter in a clinic almost serves itself up ready-made as a vehicle to attack the religious right and conservatives in general. Of course they would want to craft a counter-narrative (however flimsy) to give themselves an out, a way to disavow accountability for their actions over the last twenty years and more.

A conservative could easily counter all of the above (most probably will) with the adult equivalent of I know you are but what am I?  Since about the time that Reagan was elected, conservatives started to complain about the liberal media. Even I, for a time, fell for this notion that the media was somehow biased in general against conservatives. As the years have progressed, and conservatives have created their own outlets like FOX news, conservapedia, and uncounted news sites including the whacko fringe like prisonplanet and infowars, it has become clear that conservatives aren’t satisfied with simply presenting news from their point of view.  No, what they want is their own set of facts which are unassailable.  Unassailable because they aren’t based on anything real.

Another example is the softer, nicer language of pro-life and pro-choice adopted by the two sides of the endless argument over abortion. Having softened the language, pollsters can get majorities of citizens in the US to say they are pro-life. Who would be against life?  I’m pro-life, I’m also pro-choice; militantly pro-choice.  The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal gets lost in the conservative rush to declare the opposite, that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. This conservative view on the matter simply isn’t true as polling shows.

What has occurred since the creation of FOX news is the division of the US into two camps; one of those camps thinks they are right, and the rest of us are liberal.  In their attempt to prove that the rest of the media is based on a liberal conspiracy, conservatives have consciously created a conspiracy of their own. A conspiracy where they tell lies which they know are lies, because the ends justify the means.

When you evade the truth, when you spin tales to hide your true goals, what you get are people who believe your lies so firmly that they will act on them as if they were truths.  You get what transpired in Colorado Springs yesterday, to the embarrassment of every single person who identifies as pro-life. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase liberal media.

Ted Cruz: Only Syrian Christian Refugees Are Allowed

Sam Harris’ latest Waking Up podcast,

Five minutes into this, and I’m already pissed off. Ted Cruz is right to call for only christian refugees to be let in? Only to the extent that an observation that only atheists be let in by an atheist is correct.

“President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America—it is nothing less than lunacy,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.”

Atheists should be more welcome than christians, especially Christianists like Ted Cruz. Atheists are under more threat, and they have no religious test to inflict on our secular government if brought here. Cruz’s test would exclude these people as well as Muslims, which is why no test should be allowed beyond ascertaining no inclination to violence and links to terrorist organizations. We will have to trust, as we do with all citizens, that the refugees will attempt to conform to norms (normative behavior patterns) Whatever those are.

Reasonable Doubts – Calling Bullshit on Intellectual Dishonesty

Just listened to the final (?) episode of Reasonable Doubts. I’m actually still going through the back catalog of episodes but I have suspected for some time that the podcast was coming to an end.  Something in the tone of voice for the intro to the Shelley Seagal interview episode made my brain itch.

Doctor/Professor Luke Galen uttered the phrase that I used as a title for this entry in the last half-hour of the podcast. It struck a cord with me, because that was the facet of the podcast that first made me take notice and start going back through the archive to consume the episodes that had been made before I found the podcast stream.  Intellectual dishonesty is something that always sets me off. It is why I can’t stomach 9/10’s of conservative, libertarian or liberal rhetoric. Especially conservative and anarchist rhetoric. There are basic precepts to both those ideologies that make me call shenanigans on the whole notion that one can honestly believe that anarchy is desirable, that conservatism contains values that a person applies to their own behavior.

Reasonable Doubts really did enshrine the concept that intellectual dishonesty should be called out for what it is; bullshit.

Some atheists have argued that children are naturally non-believers. Were it not for indoctrination at the hands of parents and clergy children would never pick up supernatural beliefs on their own and religion would wither and die. But a growing body of research in developmental psychology suggests just the opposite. Children have a natural inclination to believe in invisible, immortal, super-knowing agents who are responsible for design in the natural world. For this first part in a series on the evolved origins of religious belief the doubtcasters review two books  (Justin Barrett’s Born Believers and Jesse Berring’s the Belief Instinct) which make the case that religious belief is not only natural–it is almost inevitable. – Reasonable Doubts episode #105

Here is my take on what the study reveals; It is a survival trait to attach to your parents, to see them as what we deem ‘godlike’. It is a survival trait to accept what your parents tell you is true. As children everything in our world appears designed because for most children it is. It was designed by generations of people who came before them, smoothing the edges, building the structures, taming the wild. These two facts go hand in hand, leading children to assign agency where no agency exists. These children grow into adults who simply accept that there is a divine purpose to everything; and they value knowledge that underscores that belief, discard knowledge that contravenes it.

The teleological explanations are just another flawed heuristic that humans utilize to explain the world around us.

Richard Dawkins on Startalk

I’ve listened to the Startalk podcast for years. It’s not my favorite, but I do enjoy it. Far more engaging has been the Startalk show on National Geographic.  This week the interview was with Richard Dawkins;

The interesting thing about this episode was Neil’s inclusion of a Jesuit priest in the panel. The lead-in giving credit to the Jesuits for our current calendar was a nice touch.

I would like to note that the priest is far more antagonistic towards Richard Dawkins than the converse during this episode. The hurt expressed by him, that he is seen as being crazy or stupid because he wears a collar angers him. I get that. Imagine how atheists feel when they are told that they cannot be good people without god?

When a Structural Intersection Isn’t One

American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in headaches, indigestion and mental pain.

Huffpo, Ground Zero Cross

The problem here is, this is just another form of pareidolia. Every building which is multi story has a beam intersection of this kind in it somewhere. Most of the bigger ones have thousands of them. So the significance of this one intersection is miniscule compared to the numbers of intersections destroyed in the collapse. Additionally, it was a virtual certainty that an intersection would come to rest in this fashion, exactly as documented. If I were to go digging through records of demolitions I could probably produce at least one example of this from every single one. It is meaningless, a trick of the eye and the believing brain.

What this piece of wreckage represents is nothing more than the human tendency to assign meaning where there is none. It is not a cross except in the minds of people who want to see a cross; consequently, the reason they want this particular intersection saved is entirely religious and in no way secular. Just FYI, a trained eye can easily reveal that the two intersections are not the same, so the symbolism of the cross standing amidst the debris? Lost on the people who salvaged any old structural intersection to satisfy the calls to preserve the one everyone claims to have remembered.

What if structures were formed in crescents or Stars of David? Which group would find those shapes significant, and would we be receptive to their calls to preserve their symbols?  Remember FOX’s depth of acceptance of the structure they deemed the Ground Zero Mosque? Read the hysteria surrounding the design for the flight 93 memorial, and then tell me how these arguments are not religiously motivated.

In response, Paul Murdoch released a statement saying that there was no open or hidden Islamic symbolism in his design; rather, the proposal was based on the bowl-shaped terrain of the site. Other supporters noted that the crescent image was also the shape of an embrace. Nevertheless, Murdoch acquiesced and amended his designs in an effort to avoid a larger political controversy. The architect therefore revised his design into a circular shape bisected by Flight 93’s path toward its eventual crash site. Additionally, site planners installed a visitor’s center and a marble “Wall of Names.”

Seventeen years and $60 million later, the final phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial has ended with the completion of Murdoch’s “Tower of Voices.” Here, the architect presents a variety of numerical homages to the tragedy of September 11. For example, the tower is 93-feet-tall and contains forty wind chimes, one each for the Shanksville crash victims.

Hyperallergic, 17 Years Later

This is the most telling fact. No church has spoken up and offered to host the christian monument on their own property nearby. There are plenty of churches within visiting distance of the WTC site for this to be a simple solution to the problem. Since they’ve already substituted a different intersection for the one seen in the wreckage that christians have assigned so much meaning to, they could just as easily have cut I-beam crosses for every single church in New York from the wreckage of the WTC. Every church in the state could have featured one, if churchgoers actually thought that there was this much meaning in a structural intersection. Since this hasn’t happened we can safely assume that the significance is minor.

I sat on this article for years waiting for a final ruling. There never was a final ruling. The cross is still on display, as far as I know. The fact that its meaning comes from religious belief and religious iconography will result in its eventual removal from the memorial site. This is because at some point the site will be wholly publicly funded and public funds cannot be used for religious purposes. The United States government is forbidden from endorsing any religion.

Christmas Music

As a general rule, I avoid it like the plague.  There hasn’t been any Christmas music worth listening to since Bing Crosby gave up his crooning license (number 8 on this list of 25 best Christmas albums of all time) back in the days of my youth.  Still, every now and then there is a song that captures my imagination;

Amazon.com

I mentioned this song in a previous entry, but it’s that time of year again.  I had pointed the song out to The Wife the other day; she poo-pooed it, pointing out how it was clearly a song written by an atheist to make fun of the holiday.

I never noticed those lyrics.  I have always been captured by the imagery of sharing a drink with family in the sun of a summer’s day.  Tim is from Australia and Christmas in Australia is probably a lot like the 4th of July is in the US.

Coincidentally, the imagery that is my favorite way of remembering the family I grew up with is in the sun of a summer’s day; picking cherries from gramma’s cherry trees, making ice cream and sharing a cold drink. I can see her sitting on the covered porch in her favorite chair, grampa sitting next to her and dad helping the kids hand-crank the ice cream maker.  A beautiful image captured in amber that I wouldn’t mind being able to revisit if I could turn back time.

That is what I see when I hear White Wine in the Sun and it never fails to move me.  Thank you Tim for taking the time to write this one.

Santa Claus, the Spirit of Giving

Santa with Soul

Continuing the trend of all that is old is new again, this one was first written in 2006. As I mentioned in a post a few years back, I find that atheists and skeptics generally step on the sense of wonder in their haste to squash pseudo-science, religiosity, false-piety and fear-mongering.  I understand their goals, and for the most part agree with them in principle, if not agreeing with their often ham-handed tactics.

One of the subjects that they tend to stomp on mercilessly is Christmas as a christian holiday, and the figure of Santa Claus in particular.  I’ve lost count of the number of people (Penn Jillette in particular) who have specifically targeted Santa Claus in their personal lives, trumpeting raising children without fostering a belief in imaginary beings. I couldn’t disagree more.

I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as Christmas, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the winter (Winter in central Texas is a frame of mind more than anything else; it certainly doesn’t have much to do with the weather) I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.

The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant.

My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather’s house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.

Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.

For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn’t until I met and married her that there was any magic during the holidays for me, and then only because of her.

She presented an argument that I couldn’t defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn’t a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn’t have to end at all.

So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of their heart and doesn’t seek to be recognized for charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn’t get recognized enough these days.

The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.

(courtesy Berkeley Breathed)

Oh, you can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus, and tell me how he’s actually St. Nicholas, and how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he’s the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It’s all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it’s just about as true as any of the rest of them.

You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.

Willful ignorance? If you like, call it that. It is a game, the same game it has always been. A game shared by adults and children down through the years whether they knew it or not.  It can be a fun game or a hurtful one, but it is a game; as an inveterate gamer myself, it’s one I’ve come to enjoy now that I understand it.  It can be a valuable teaching tool when used correctly, and a crushing burden when used incorrectly. So play it wisely, always with the knowledge that a game should be fun. Otherwise, why play?

(compiled from two previous posts. 2006 & 2012 and republished in 2016)

The Reason for the Season

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

Every year I hear the same thing; Holiday this and Holiday that and the counter mantra they’re taking god out of Christmas. There seems to be some confusion about the origin of Christmas amongst the general population; and this year is worse than most, with Kurt Cameron’s latest christian film (labeled a comedy for face saving reasons I’m sure) Saving Christmas currently out in theaters.

On top of everything else, FOX’s mindless genning up of  the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, and their demands that they be allowed to persecute actual minorities or they really will be oppressed; this year Texas is allowing a nativity scene to be displayed in the Capitol rotunda. (this is probably in violation of  the US Constitution, which clearly states that no preference for any religion can be shown in public spaces, and in decision after decision handed down by the courts) Apparently they look forward to being forced to allow atheist, pastafarian, festivus and even satanist displays in the rotunda as well, since that is the only way that religious displays of any kind are allowed.

It’s almost hopeless, the idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds, especially when polls like those conducted by the Pew Research Center show;

…that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.

But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ’s Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ’s Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time. What I’m getting at is, if you are calling the holiday Christmas and you aren’t a Catholic, you are referring to the secularized holiday formerly known as Yule. There is no need to further secularize it by calling it a Holiday.

My son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school (long past now) and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe thier Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it’s the Catholics.  They certainly didn’t hesitate to tell him all about god in that school (which was the main reason his attendance there was brief) I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn’t nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are related to Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

So, if you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.


(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)

I can hear it already, in stentorian tones even “Jesus is the reason for the season”. 

Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration.

It also bears mentioning that the pilgrims that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church, and they exorcised it’s celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

But that view is a oversimplification anyway. No one group can be said to be the founders of the United States, unless you are talking specifically about the authors of the Constitution, a group that consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document (aside from the proscription against religious tests) If you go beyond their ranks, you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it’s hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The US is not a christian nation. Establishing a new christian nation would have placed the Constitutional authors at odds with the cause of a good many early colonists moving to the Americas, to escape religious persecution in European state-run christian orthodoxy. Jesus was not a capitalist.  Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice, not only because he wasn’t born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know, that is What Jesus Would Do, as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s real foundations.

Yes, I know, I’ve ruined Christmas for you. I’m sorry. The world isn’t as simple as you want it to be, it won’t change just because you or I think it should, and like those toys you bought for the kids, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so that you can return it to the pimply-faced clerk that sold it to you, so that you can just get the preassembled one that has all the pieces in the right place! The kid will be happy for the gift anyway, he probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on it’s (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!