Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freethinker vs. Atheist

I used Google's Ngram viewer to plot the use of the terms freethinker and atheist between 1800 and now in Google Books.

Below is the result. If you click on it, it will take you to the Ngram Viewer where you can see the results in more detail.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Manhattan Declaration

I came across this website on the Facebook page of one of my sons' classmates. This reaffirms for me that I have absolutely nothing in common with these people (except for having a son the same age as his).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Yale New Testament Course

Since I'm having so much trouble actually re-reading the Bible, I subscribed to several religious blogs and Bible verse a day services, but they didn't motivate me. This week, I started watching the Open Yale Course Introduction to New Testament History and Literature. I wasn't sure I'd learn much from the course, but I thought it might inspire me to blog. Since I grew up in one of the slightly-more-rational denominations where we were encouraged to read, study, and learn as much about the Bible and our church as possible, I knew quite a bit about why decisions were made to include certain books in the Bible. However, I didn't know the details. The second video in the course, From Stories to Canon, reviews the decisions that were made. What books could be trusted? Which should be included? How did we end up with the Apocrypha? If you don't want to watch the video, the transcript is online as well.

I came across another Christian blog today where he explains in a circular way how we know that the Bible is the word of God. Thus he creates this fallacious argument: We know that the Bible is the word of God because it tells us so in the Bible. Sorry, dude, circular reasoning won't persuade a non-believer. The Christian tradition I came from required one to analyze the Bible to determine what God wanted from us. It's a short step from there to analyzing the Bible in a way that creates atheists. A true believer, reading the history of how different books were included in the Bible would conclude that God had inspired the selection of those books. In other words, a true believer can live with the inconsistencies because they choose to believe no matter what. A true believer doesn't need a Jesus Seminar to arrive at a theological consensus about the truth. A true believer selects the verses that support his/her position and ignores the rest. This is why atheists and true believers don't have a lot in common.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


When I attended Sunday School, I scribbled a joke I'd found in my Bible: "Easter's been cancelled; they found the body."

I experienced a similar joy when I told the owner of the dog I'm taking care of that, when we walked past a nativity scene outside of a church, the dog inquisitively sniffed at all the animals in the nativity. "Silly dog," I told him. "Those are *plywood* animals." My friend replied, "Damn, I thought for a moment you were gonna tell me he pissed on Jesus. I was hopeful."

Yes, I found that *very* funny. The overwhelmingly negative experiences that we've had with Christians have made my friend and me wish for the denigration of a plywood statue (although the tacky nativity scene itself is a good advertisement against Christianity).

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Being loved

When I read articles like this one on Atheism Resource (Christians love you) it reminds me of the perverted "born again" Christian who roomed with my then boyfriend. We got into an argument one day, probably over the fact that he frequently scratched his genitalia with me in the room, and he screamed at me, "You are SO HARD TO LOVE!"

I smile every time I think of that encounter. Poor boy. He'd been instructed by his church to follow John 13:34 "Love one another" but he just couldn't do it when he met me. I always thought it was too bad that Jesus hadn't mentioned "Do not scratch yourself in front of your roommate's girlfriend"--that would have been a more useful injunction to me. The reality is that I didn't want him to "love" me, nor did I feel any compulsion to love him.

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Atheist's Take on Bible Verses

When you spend your formative years in a church, you end up knowing the Bible fairly well, and many phrases and verses become thoroughly integrated into your psyche.

Out of curiosity, I Googled "favorite Bible verses" to see what others regarded as favorites. Beliefnet has a page devoted to Ann Coulter's favorite verses, an aggressive set of prescriptions. She shares three verses from the most bizarre of books, Revelations, including this one: "But the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and fornicators and sorcerers and idolaters and all the false, their part will be in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Revelation 21:8

Ann Coulter actually believes in a physical hell. Silly woman.

The lists I read contain some *very* strange verses, like this one: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1 What in heck is that all about? Why would anyone regard that as a favorite verse?

In fact, in this small sampling of lists, only one even had a verse that I'm fond of:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21

I think of that as the anti-hoarder's verse, or the de-clutterer's verse. As I work on a massive de-cluttering project, I think of that verse often.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

White Wine in the Sun

360 Degree Skeptic posted a Tim Minchin song which I'd actually somehow missed.

I especially like these lyrics: I don't go in for ancient wisdom/ I don't believe just 'cause ideas are tenacious/ It means that they're worthy/ I get freaked out by churches/ Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords/ But the lyrics are dodgy/ And yes I have all of the usual objections to the miseducation/ Of children who in tax-exempt institutions are taught to externalize blame/ And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right or wrong/ But I quite like the songs.

As one who attended church for years just to sing, long after I became an atheist, I agree that I quite like the songs. More about those dodgy lyrics later.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas lights

The dog I'm caring for and I were walking at 4:00 a.m. and found that many people seem to have enough money to leave their Christmas lights on all night. As we wandered past the partially-inflated Santas, snowmen, and reindeer, listening to machines expelling tiny portions of tinny Christmas songs, I thought about all the money wasted on this stuff. It made me think of this verse: Matthew 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Yeah, right. Or maybe you could just leave your Christmas lights on all night while other people in your town are cold.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I thought about it

At a meeting once, my atheism became a topic of conversation. One member of the meeting said, "Why don't you just call yourself an agnostic?"

One of my colleagues, a former minister, but still a believer, answered for me. "She says she's an atheist because she's *thought* about it and made a decision. To declare yourself agnostic means you're still trying to make up your mind."

He was right--I did think about it--religion--a lot--and rejected it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Season's Greetings

In 1960, this was my family's Christmas display:

It says "Season's Greetings" on the sign. There's a painted plywood nativity in the front yard and a plywood Santa Claus with his reindeer on the roof.

On Christmas Eve, our church had Santa Claus visit to give the kids Christmas canes and oranges (standard stocking fare in 1960). When I was 3 years old, my brother pointed out that Santa Claus was actually my dad, wearing a costume.

By the mid-1960s, we had a newer, more Biblical minister, and so the Christmas Eve service turned into a more religious affair and Santa Claus was banned, although the church was still decorated with a gigantic Christmas tree.

Season's Greetings was considered a wonderful greeting in 1960. Yet, now there are movements to "Keep Christ in Christmas"--e.g., this Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-Christ-in-CHRISTmas/ Sorry, guys. In the good old USA, the issue of Christmas being all about Christ was decided decades ago. I made sure that my kids knew about the birth of Christ being celebrated on Christmas, but I also made sure that they knew that theologians generally believe that if Jesus existed, there's no reason to believe that he was born in December, and that the 25th has pagan origins. Somehow, by telling them the truth at all times, including that there was no Santa Claus, I managed to raise three rational atheists.