So Much to Celebrate

Although I intend to continue celebrating Humanlight, Festivus and the winter solstice itself, I also intend to celebrate a secular Christmas without any qualms whatsoever. It's a very natural time of year for a cheerful and festive holiday, the winter solstice has been celebrated in almost every culture throughout history, it's the dominant holiday in my own culture, it's already mostly non-Christian anyway, and it's fun! Abstaining from the festivities accomplishes nothing unless you get special pleasure from making a symbolic gesture that nobody else cares about. Maybe some do, but I don't. I want to enjoy it! If any Christian objects to an non-Christian celebrating a secular Christmas, then I encourage them to support abolishing it as a federal holiday. If that ever happens, I'll think about it. I won't promise them anything more.



Becoming Human

I've never posted about science in the media, but I've really enjoyed NOVA's new documentary series on PBS about human evolution entitled Becoming Human, and I want to share it with my readers. It's shown in three parts, with the third part airing tonight. It's also available online.

The most interesting thing I learned from the first part is the theory that the necessity of adapting to rapid climate change in east Africa several millions of years ago initiated the brain growth that eventually lead to our large brains today. From the second part, I learned that bipedalism is more energy efficient than quadripedism but that large brains require a lot more energy than small ones. I was also truly fascinated by the theory that we lost our body hair so we could sweat to stay cool, allowing us to run much longer in the midday sun than most animals, thus enabling us to chase larger, faster, and stronger prey to absolute exhaustion and kill them with only the most primitive technology. (The meat in turn provided the energy for our large brains that plants couldn't.) The filmmakers even showed modern Bushmen employing this strategy to hunt a kudu! They chased it for four hours, the kudu suffered from heat stroke and just stopped moving, and the hunters got close and killed it with spears. I thought it was amazing.

I'm looking forward to part three, but I'll have to watch it online like I did the first two parts. I intend to share my comments here afterward. Check it out!



The Evolution of Marriage

I'm sick of hearing the argument that same-sex couples shouldn't seek full marriage rights and should be satisfied with civil unions since marriage is a religious concept. It's not. Marriage is a social arrangement which has evolved throughout history, just as societies as a whole have evolved, and we need to recognize that.

Marriage can receive legal sanction, religious sanction, both or neither. Here in the United States, I think most couples receive both, a large number receive only legal, but very few receive neither or only religious. I'm not aware of any mainstream religious group here whose members don't regularly obtain legal marriage licenses in addition to holding their religious ceremonies. Adherents of most faiths are explicitly required to present the license to the officiant in order for the ceremony to proceed! If religious leaders who claim that marriage is a purely religious concept were honest, they would insist their members refuse to obtain marriage licenses from the government. In reality, they recognize the numerous benefits of legal marriage for their members, but they have no difficulty simultaneously seeking to deny those benefits to others. It's hypocrisy, pure and simple.

Of course, same-sex couples have been seeking, and have obtained within some groups, the opportunity to hold a religious wedding ceremony, but that's not what the same-sex marriage debate in this country is about. It's only about the legal sanction which carries with it a large number of legal rights. But since same-sex marriages are indeed being performed by legally recognized religious groups, and if religion can make marriage valid, then to deny the couples married in those groups a legal marriage license would be a violation of religious liberty. I suppose critics would say those other faiths and their weddings are invalid, but this just makes their bigotry clearer.

Sometimes I hear a proposal to legally convert all marriages to civil unions and let people have whatever religious ceremony they want afterward. But that's just playing with words, and it would cause more harm than good. It would be as if the Fourteenth Amendment had made everyone “legal residents” because some people had religious objections to applying the term “citizen” to former slaves. Such a drastic change would also certainly increase the volume of complaints from people that their marriage had been destroyed. We've had civil marriage for a long time, and abandoning it now would not be productive.

When my wife and I got married almost a year ago, it was an very simple ceremony at the courthouse without any mention of the supernatural. Our commitment to love one another was certainly the most important aspect, but the legal recognition was necessary for immigration purposes. I'm thankful that religious conservatives have at least left us opposite-sex atheist couples alone, but I'm willing to fight against them on the behalf of others when I can.