Theocracy vs. Liberty

This letter by Marcia Holliday was published on December 16th under the heading, “Nativity: No respect.”

I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I turned on a program and saw a piece about Willie Nelson mocking the Nativity with a song about bringing "pot" to the baby Jesus. And what was sadder is to see that people thought it was funny to mock our Lord's birth. Why do we forget that our country was founded on a belief in God and His divine protection? Forgive us, Lord. We need you more now than ever.
Ms. Holliday has the right to express her disapproval of the broadcast, but no more than Willie Nelson has the right to sing any song he pleases or anyone else to listen to any song they please. This nation certainly wasn't founded on theism; it was founded on individual liberty! I find her prayer within the letter rather presumptuous.


Goals & Accomplishments

Throughout most of this decade, I've approached the new year with a certain amount of dread. It seemed I had made another trip around the sun without doing anything important, without taking any steps to making my dreams come true. This year is quite different as I've chosen a new, promising career path and found the love of my life, so it seems especially appropriate to reflect on what has happened and what is yet to happen.

Here are my major accomplishments of 2008 (in chronological order):
  • got accepted to law school
  • got married
  • moved out of old apartment
Here are my goals for 2009 (in chronological order):
  • begin law school and study hard
  • help wife obtain green card
  • find new apartment
Happy New Year 2009!



Newspaper Problems

Two years ago, I started checking the opinion section of the local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union, daily for editorials and letters about religion and irreligion and responding to each of them here. It's been many months since my last entry of this type, and it appears it may be even more until my next. I don't subscribe to or otherwise purchase the paper version of the publication, so I'm dependent upon the online version, but the opinion section of the website hasn't been updated since December 4th. I've sent the newspaper multiple e-mails and received multiple responses, but it's still not updating. I know The Florida Times-Union, like all newspapers, has been struggling in recent years – they've resorted to the dangerous practice of having people stand in the medians of busy intersections selling copies to commuters stopped at red lights – and has been forced to cut back their staff, and I suspect this may be the issue. I know there have been numerous interesting pieces over the past month due to the annual discussion about Christmas, and I intend to write about them when they finally become available.

UPDATE: The issue has been resolved. It seems that the newspaper re-designed their website without re-directing the old addresses, so my bookmark was taking me to the old section which is no longer updated.



Happy Festivus!

I would like to wish all of my readers a Happy Festivus! For the rest of us! A donation has been made in your name to the Human Fund (“Money for People”). Please note that I display a Festivus pole year-round on this blog between the menu and the main text. If you want to air your grievances against the author, please leave a comment!



Ask the Author

This is your chance to pose a direct question to the author of Secular Planet outside of the framework of the regular blog entries and reasonably expect a direct response! I'd like especially to encourage questions on philosophical, theological or political topics, but I intend to answer all questions provided they're not too personal, revealing or absurd. If I decline to respond to a query, I'll explain why and at least acknowledge its receipt. In some cases, I may even choose to respond in a new blog entry devoted to your question. Anonymous questions are welcome!



My Mother Thinks I'm Going to Hell

Since my deconversion over four years ago, my Catholic family has never given me any trouble about my atheism. Outside of one occasion a long time ago during which my mother asked me a few simple, polite questions about what I believe now, they never even raise the topic of religion with me. They do talk about church activities around me, but it has nothing to do with my presence. They also pray before meals, but they've done that forever and I've never considered objecting, especially since it's quick and they're giving me free food! They never give me any flack whatsoever and never treat me any differently than they ever have, so the following episode surprised and hurt me.

A few weeks ago, my mother told me a story about my niece. My older sister regularly babysits two children of her neighbors who happen to be Buddhist. One day one of the neighbor kids heard something about Jesus and asked, "Who's Jesus?" My four-year-old niece told her, "You'd better know who Jesus is or you're not going to heaven!" My mother told me this story somehow thinking I would be amused, but I didn't laugh at all. I struggled to tell her I found it disturbing a little child has been taught to divide the world up into us versus them and tell people they're going to hell. She didn't seem to understand my viewpoint as she just thought it was funny a child would say something so adult-like. We talked and my mother expressed the (heretical from a Catholic perspective) opinion that it doesn't matter what religion you believed since they all lead to God. I asked her about the rest of the people and reminded her about me. She didn't say anything at first and said my beliefs are my own business.

So in the end, my mother who loves me very much and would do absolutely anything for me thinks I'll be damned to hell by her god who is supposedly all-loving for simply disbelieving in extraordinary claims without any evidence. In her view, it apparently doesn't matter what religious belief you have or why you believe it, you're still better than someone who looks at religion critically and decides it's simply not true. The dissonance between her belief and actions is remarkable. I thought about writing her a letter to express my thoughts, but I haven't done so. I see no need to risk adversely affecting our relationship over this evil belief which she doesn't talk about or act upon. It just bothers me that my family could possibly think I truly deserve to be roasted alive for all eternity. It makes me even more grateful for my new godfree wife whose love for me isn't obscured by systematic irrationality.



Home for Solstice

With the winter solstice approaching, I have a few choices of holidays to celebrate this year. Living in the United States and having a Catholic family, I will of course celebrate Christmas by visiting and exchanging gifts with my relatives on December 25th. While my family is rather religious, they have never asked me to accompany them to church since my deconversion and my own celebration will be entirely secular with the exception of listening to some carols which explicitly refer to Jesus. The rest of the traditions I observe have either secular or pagan origins, and I never bother decorate my home with a tree, wreath or lights because it's simply not worth the trouble to me.

Last year I wrote about my personal celebration of Humanlight, the relatively new Humanist winter holiday honoring reason, compassion and hope, but this year I don't feel as interested. I don't have any newfound objections to artificial holidays or to adding more around the winter solstice – I say the more, the merrier – but I've come appreciate that they can't be properly celebrated in isolation; they require some sort of community. As I'm not currently involved with any Humanist or freethought groups and I don't have any friends who've even heard about Humanlight, I'm going to forget about it this time around the sun and see what happens next year. My new wife shares my Humanist values, but we've never talked about Humanism explicitly, and this is her first year celebrating even a secular Christmas, so there's no need to overwhelm her with anything else simply to accommodate me.

I've also considered celebrating the winter solstice itself as it's the purely natural event which prompts or anchors all the other celebrations, but I realize that I'm already essentially observing it through them and I don't need to add any new practices. Let's all celebrate this time of year, whether we call Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Sol Invictus, Humanlight or Festivus!


Influx of Readers

This blog has enjoyed an usually high number of readers over the past week and I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why. I haven't done anything to promote it in a rather long time and I don't suppose any of my previous efforts have just now shown such remarkable results. If you don't mind, please consider leaving me a comment telling me how you came here. Thank you!

UPDATE: Since multiple readers have commented they have found me through StumbleUpon, I have added a button for it and other bookmarking services to the end of each post to encourage more ratings and reviews.



Who is a Christian?

As my criticism of Christianity often focuses on the belief in a place of eternal punishment for nonbelievers and other sinners, sometimes I receive the response that not all Christians believe in hell. Since they cannot deny that in the gospels Jesus frequently spoke of hell and threatened his listeners with damnation for failure to follow him, they offer various explanations of these texts: he never said anyone will actually be damned, he was speaking metaphorically, he just meant you have to be a good person, he just meant you have to believe in something, he didn't really say this, he never really existed or even God doesn't exist! (Most often, however, they offer no explanation whatsoever and simply ignore the question completely, giving it no thought at all.) We find each of these views held by self-identified Christians, but how can one label apply to people with such disparate opinions and still retain any useful meaning? I'm well aware of the danger of falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy, but it seems we need to draw the line somewhere. There are perhaps as many different Christianities as there Christians in the world, but as for me, whenever I present criticism of the religion in this blog, I implicitly refer to the basic theology shared by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism unless otherwise stated. I'm arguing against a specific collection and system of beliefs, not the label “Christian,” which can be and has been applied indiscriminately to almost anything. If I criticize a belief which you yourself don't hold, then you can ignore it and move on.



Levels of Control: Christianity vs. Atheism

I recently removed the Obama bumper sticker from the back of my car since the election is over and I decided that I don't want to give people controlling very heavy equipment at very high speeds an extra reason to feel any antagonism toward me on top of their general disdain for humanity. Despite this, earlier today I was pondering what the theoretical reaction might be to a sticker which read, “Smile! There is no hell!” I think the response would be less negative than to most anti-theistic messages, but I'm sure some people would think it's an evil lie intended to deceive people and lead them into hell although its actual purpose is quite the opposite: to help people free themselves from the control of manipulative institutions teaching an evil untruth! This led me to ponder the stark contrast between religion and irreligion with respect to control, and I've complied a short list of differences between Christianity and atheism on this matter:


  • We demand ten percent of your money.
  • We demand at least one hour per week of your time.
  • We demand total allegiance.
  • Don't think for yourself.
  • Obey all of our rules, even if they're absurd or evil.
  • Only vote for candidates of whom we approve.
  • If you disagree with us, you will be roasted in the flames of hell for all eternity.
  • People on the other side are either knowing or unknowing agents of the devil.
  • We don't want your money.
  • We don't want your time.
  • We don't want your allegiance.
  • Think for yourself.
  • Live as you see fit.
  • Vote for whomever you want.
  • If you disagree with us, nothing bad will happen to you.
  • Most people on the other side are good people who are simply mistaken. 
I used Christianity as an example since I know it better than any other religion, but most of the points could apply to the majority of religions with little to no adaptation. Atheism offers us freedom from religious tyranny, but it's our responsibility to use it wisely.


Atheism as Medicine

Although I have strong reservations about the Freedom from Religion Foundation's choice of venues for posting that “religion is but myth and superstition which hardens the heart and enslaves the mind,” I certainly can't disagree with the message itself. Religion is indeed a mental disease, and one which in my case was literally almost fatal. Critics of atheism often argue that it doesn't offer anything inherently positive or constructive and that it only tears down religion. They're correct, of course, but they're entirely missing the point. If religion is a disease, atheism is the medicine. It doesn't offer anything beyond canceling out superstition in exactly the same way that most medicine doesn't offer anything beyond canceling out sickness. We don't dismiss chemotherapy for just treating cancer but not offering any benefit to those who are already healthy! It may even be argued that I'm missing the point because atheism doesn't need to offer us anything whatsoever in order to be true.