PBS airs A Brief History of Disbelief

I’d like to extend a thank you to my local PBS station for airing A Brief History of Disbelief. I generally feel that I am drowning in religious programs, even on cable channels that should not have a religious view. This program was like a breath of fresh air. I look forward to seeing the next two episodes.


I managed to capture and watch all three episodes with the DVR. Very enlightening. I understand that there are 6 additional hours of programming. I would be interested in seeing these as well some time in the future.


h/t to the WaybackMachine

Starting with the teachings of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius, and traveling forward in time through the first appearance of truly atheist works in the writings of Baron d’Holbach, and the founding of the United States on Deist thought; to the spreading of disbelief (whether you call it atheism or not) in modern times, it is definitely a ‘rough’ history, but a thought provoking one. I recommend it to anyone who might be curious about the subject.

Penn Jillette on Politics and Religion

The self-described libertarian nut is interviewed concerning his thoughts on Nevada being moved up in the primaries.

[Youtube video “Penn Jillette speaks of his atheism with Wolf Blitzer” could not be found. to re-attach. My apologies.]

Apparently he was on Paula Zahn prior to this, also talking about religion, or his lack of it. I couldn’t find any content on the ‘net with Penn in it; but if these other clips are any example, she should be ashamed of the hatchet job she performed on Atheists everywhere.

YouTube – Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 1
YouTube – Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 2

At least she attempted to make amends by inviting Dawkins on after some viewers protested (YouTube – Richard Dawkins on Paula Zahn Now) but even the average talking head on TV should know that your panel should include people who hold the views under discussion.

…Making Paula Zahn a below average talking head, I guess.

Codes and Jesus the Superstar

I was reading a review of the Da Vinci Code movie over at the Atlasphere (The Da Vinci Code: Fighting Faith and Force) the other day, and noticed one of the links at the bottom of the page labeled the U.S. Catholic Bishops Brown-bashing site” I found the link intriguing, so I clicked on it.

The actual title of the page was the funny part. “Jesus decoded“, it proclaims.

That’s a great idea. Maybe they can explain the trick with the fishes and the loaves of bread, or perhaps the walking on water. That would be good to know. The most important trick, of course, would be the changing of water into wine. Very popular at parties, I would imagine.

Too bad this sort of insight wasn’t available to Judas ‘back in the day’. Might have saved him a lot of missteps. “Who are you, what have you sacrificed?” One of the most memorable lines of lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas, as one of the disciples, should have known how to ‘decode’ Jesus. Obviously it isn’t as easy as the Catholic Bishops would have us believe.

A fondness for Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the few things that remains constant from my days as a ‘born again’ to my current ascribed atheism. I picked up the DVD recently and watched the movie for the first time. Alamo Drafthouse aired snippets of the movie between showings of The Da Vinci Code (I have written about the movie and the book before) and it intrigued me. I’ve listened to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack since the early eighties, but I’ve never had the occasion to watch the film made from the play. Little did I know that the soundtrack was in fact the original version, created before the play even took shape.

That makes it all the more interesting to me that they chose to alter some of the lyrics from the soundtrack in making the play and the film. One of the most telling lines, for me, has always been Jesus’ despairing declaration to the lepers “Heal yourselves!” which is the last line in that song on the soundtrack. The movie uses a much more ambiguous “Leave me alone!” to end the song.

I prefer the more empowering declaration, myself. More fitting in describing what is wrong in the world today. The vast majority of people seem to think that what they need to fix themselves is external to their selves; when, obviously, the answers lie within.

Judas fails to comprehend were the answers lie as well. The movie, album, etc. ends with Judas still asking questions of Jesus (which still plays quite well) when the real question is why Judas would turn in the man he professes to love. Jesus Decoded, indeed.

An Atheist Marking the Untimely Passage of a Family Member

Ok, I give up. I don’t know if this is writer’s block or some internal need for catharsis, but I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and write anything of any significance since learning that my father-in-law had passed away four weeks ago.

Well, calling him my ‘father-in-law’ is simplifying things quite a bit, but that is what he was. Grandfather to my children, husband to my wife’s mother. True, the man that my wife called ‘father’ died several years ago, an event that changed all our lives quite a bit. But does that fact make the passing of this man less than her father’s passing?

This was a good man; a man of the earth, and a man of deep faith. A widower who was just as alone as the woman he met at church one Sunday. After a few years of friendship they decided to spend the rest of the time they had together; and they were happy together. My children enjoyed spending time with G-ma and Grampa Henry; would it be wrong to observe “more than when Grandma lived by herself?” Henry reminded me of my own long departed grandfather in many ways. He had a sharp wit, and a gentle disposition; someone who was sure of who and what he was in life.

Looking back, I wish “the rest of their time” had been more than it was. Four short years after we witnessed their marriage, Henry was gone from us, taken by a disease that none of us had heard of before. My son, now about the same age as his sister was when she had to say goodbye to her first grandpa, looked at me with the same questioning eyes; what does it mean, where did he go?

Questions I don’t have any answers for. Other people comfort themselves with stories of a beautiful afterlife that is much like this one; fanciful visions of angels and visiting loved ones who are long gone. Though I never spoke to Henry about his beliefs, as a practicing Catholic, I’m sure his views of the afterlife were similar. I hope that his beliefs were comforting to him; in the end, that is the purpose of religion.

The answer I offered my son was similar to the one I offered my daughter, “he’s in a better place”. Since both men were in constant pain (when un-medicated) before their deaths, it’s a fairly safe bet that the observation would be true. But what does it mean? I don’t want to delude my children, nor do I want to crush them with the weight of harsh reality. For me, the meaning of “better place” is somewhere between non-experience (the ending of this consciousness that is ‘me’) and surfing the cosmic flux, and I don’t really know which end it will favor when the time comes. Nor, after reading some of the weightier reflections on the subject, do I find that I really care. Having decided that spending time in fear of being sentenced to hell by a vengeful god was a waste, I instead actually try living my life; so that when it’s “Times Up” I don’t experience the “I should have’s”.

Which is perhaps the reason why I’ve been absent for the last month. Just making sure I’m spending my time wisely.


As an afterthought, the other thing that these two wonderful men had in common is they both trusted MDs at the local hospital to diagnose their maladies. And in both cases, the doctors failed them miserably. The wife’s father was killed by overdoses of radiation used to treat a non-existent tumor. Grandpa Henry was killed by the failure of these same doctors to properly diagnose a disease; a disease that ‘the wife’ correctly identified just using the symptoms and looking it up on the internet, a process that took less than an hour. Not that knowing what it was did any good. Cancer is like that when it is in it’s advanced stages.

The MDs could possibly have averted it if they had done their homework when they were first presented with the problem. I only wish that we had realized that he was going to the same doctors earlier than we had. Perhaps we would still have grandpa Henry with us. Probably not. Cancer is like that.

If You Don’t Like Abortion, Don’t Have One

Sitting in the car listening to three confirmed Christians (if Austin is the liberal island in the center of the conservative ocean of Texas, then why don’t we have any Atheists on the airwaves around here? Sorry, lost track there for a second) sound off endlessly about the rightness of an anti-abortion stance, and listening to these three self-proclaimed conservatives express apparently genuine confusion as to why the Abortion issue is the litmus test for potential judges. From what I’ve seen it’s not a litmus test, as in a piece of paper that is one of two colors based on the acidity of the solution it’s placed in; it is rather a weathervane that shows which way the hot air is blowing during any given political season. That these three talking heads can’t see it just shows their rank in the political game.

This is one of those arguments that I’ve had so many times with so many people that I could convincingly argue both sides in a continuous monologue that looked like a dialogue. I don’t think I’ll do that. It would go on as long as the so-called ‘debate’ (if two sides engaged in endless name calling could be labeled a debate) has gone on already, and none of you would read it.

This is a faith based issue with the devout believing or being instructed to believe in a particular fashion on both sides of the argument. The Fascist Right (what I fondly refer to as the Religious Reich; what is generally mislabeled ‘conservative’) believes that it is the correct stance of the state to confirm their loathing of a waste of potential and to require women to carry pregnancies to term, no matter what. For those on the right, correct thinking is paramount, the resultant unpleasant reality is punishment for incorrect thought. The Socialist Left (Tree huggers if you like, I don’t have a cutesy name of my own for them) believes that it is the correct stance for the state to confirm a woman’s right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, with funding as necessary. For those on the left, correct actions are paramount. We should always feel good about what we are doing, even if forced to.

What the two sides have in common is the desire to wield force in the form of law, and require others to bow to the whims that they worship. This is, in truth, the common thread of all the political footballs that come into play with each and every election and decision. What the players on the field (or the pawns on the chessboard, take your pick) never seem to understand is that the leaders on either side of the issue don’t have any core disagreements. They are all willing to force others through law to behave or believe whatever they deem correct at any given minute. The issues are simply how they maintain control and distract attention.

“But wait” you say, “The Republicans are poised to reverse Roe v. Wade! How can you be so cavalier about this?” It’s easy. The Republicans have no intention of reversing Roe v. Wade. They would be fools if they did. The reason is constitutional…

[If there really were a “Litmus Test” it ought to be the constitution that forms it. The test (as is fitting) should be in the form of a single question and answer. “What is the meaning of the ninth and tenth amendments to the constitution?” Unenumerated rights. Limited powers. Any potential judge that does not concede the existence of a “right to privacy”, of a limit to state power, does not have a place on the bench within the US court system. Good luck getting a straight answer there.]

…Roe v. Wade establishes a right to privacy. To reverse that is to make us all wards of the state (some would say we already are) and to make all claims to privacy by persons, including the multi-national corporations null and void. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see the Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’ of the world signing up for that type of punishment. So excuse me if I don’t take this threat seriously. The Right to Privacy will continue to exist (as it did unenumerated before Roe v. Wade) and with it the availability of unpopular medical procedures, including Abortion. Sorry folks, them’s the breaks.

In libertarian circles there has been an uneasy truce on the issue of abortion for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, we have believers on both sides of the issue here too. It just doesn’t get contentious (generally) because we don’t acknowledge that the state has the authority to force someone to bear children on the one hand, or the authority to steal money (generally referred to as taxes) to pay for abortions on the other. We’re more than happy to let the individuals involved make decisions for themselves. It’s what tends to work best.

I hear you saying “what about protecting life, dammit?” That’s all fine and good. First prove that there is a life, a life with a conscious mind, a will to live (not just autonomic responses) the presence of brainwaves, preferably; and then show how you will preserve that life without harming the life (and by harm I mean economic as well as physical harm) of the mother-to-be, and you might have a telling argument. Otherwise we are still back at individual choice.

The short version of this is if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. That should limit the decisions to the individuals with a real stake in it. The women.


Mea culpa review, 2017. Mercifully my libertarian delusions about tax dollars and government health expenditures fell by the wayside of my deeper understanding of what money is and what society is. What good governance entails. It could have happened sooner, but I’ll take the enlightenment anyway I can get it.

The last article I wrote on this subject was this one, in which I come out unambiguously on the side of choice, science having pretty much taken us to the edge of survivability for the fetus outside the womb. What is needed now, if the anti-abortionists want to prevail on this subject, is an artificial womb. With that invention the woman need no longer carry the baby to term herself, it can be implanted in the artificial womb and the lifers who think every sperm is sacred can just foot the bill for raising all those previously aborted children.

I’m sure they’ll jump at the chance to pay for that. 

Christmas lists…

“Dear Buddha, I would like a pony and a plastic rocket…”

Malcolm Reynolds

I have a different kind of list in mind. A list of standard rants that I just want to get off my chest. The opportunity for them occurs nearly every “Holiday Season”. So let’s just get to it, shall we?

First.

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’. Let’s see if we can clear this up, eh?
Christmas is a ‘bastardization’ of “Christ’s Mass”, which is 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) ergo, “Christ’s Mass”. (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) 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”.

(I was at a charter school the other day that is hosted at a Catholic Church, and they actually used the phrase “Holiday Party” to describe the Christmas Party. If there’s one group that should be using the word “Christmas” it’s the Catholics)

So, if you hear me wish you a “Merry Christmas”, it’s because “May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable” is too cumbersome to say repeatedly.

Second.

“Jesus is the reason for the season”. See the above rant. Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Marketing is the reason that Jesus is associated with the season.

Admen everywhere should give thanks for their unique heritage; and I really don’t understand a protestants insistance on associating Jesus and the Holiday formerly known as Yule. I thought they wanted to get away from Papal edict?

Third.

For some reason, the last few Christmas seasons have occasioned messages in my inbox exhorting us to rediscover our ‘Christian roots’, telling us to hold tight to our language and our culture. Most of them have declarative statements similar to the following:

“…Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented.”

Anyone who has done more than a cursory hours worth of work on the subject KNOWS that this is incorrect. If you are talking about the ‘Founding fathers’, then you are talking about educated men for whom the dogma of organized religion represented the belief system of the past. True men of the enlightenment age (most of them) while they still professed a belief in god, they were not ‘Christians’. Fully half of them were acknowledged ‘Deists‘, which is the belief system of the true ‘father’ of the philosophy that is enshrined in the founding documents, John Locke, who first wrote the famous phrase as life, liberty, and estate (Jefferson changed the last to “Pursuit of Happiness” for various reasons)

But, the basis for this (country and philosophy) is not Christianity!

If, however, you are talking about the average people who founded this country…
…Then you would also be mistaken. From Buddhism to Zoroastrianism America has been host to every religion known to man, and those who came here weren’t told to “check their religion at the door”. We don’t even “Speak English” as some of the posts assert (the British would attest to that quite readily) walk into any major city and see how many languages you run across.

While I despise the word “multiculturalism” as much as the next guy (the next guy probably being blissfully ignorant of Postmodernism and it’s adherent’s dismissal of objective reality and reason. Reason being the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s REAL foundations) the “Melting pot” that is America isn’t something that happens instantaneously; and as with any alloy, the base material is changed by what is added.

Yes, I know, I’ve ruined Christmas for you. I’m sorry but, the world isn’t as simple as you want it to be, it won’t change just because you 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 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!