The Atheist's Guide to Christmas

By Phil Plait | October 1, 2009 12:00 pm

atheistsguidexmasAre you secular? Humanist? Even (gasp!) atheist? Or are you any one of the thousands of other non-Christian religions peppering the planet? And yet, do you celebrate Christmas every year, reveling during the moment, but feeling shamed and guilty on Boxing Day?

Then do so no longer. It’s OK to be non-Christian and celebrate Christmas. And for proof, you can read the 42 essays comprising the book The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, edited by Ariane Sherine (Amazon UK and Amazon US).

Yes, that Ariane Sherine, the one who created the Atheist Bus Campaign in the UK. Ariane is a humor writer and a journalist, and is also a genuinely wonderful human being who is upset by the way nonbelievers are portrayed in the media, and decided to do something about it. The bus campaign was her first organized effort, and this book is the second.

She found 45 comedians, scientists, philosophers, story tellers, and artists — all of whom find the stories associated with Christmas to be, well stories — and asked them to write a short essay about what the holiday means to them. The result is a collection of funny, warm, and interesting journeys into the mostly secular festivities of the world’s most maligned demographic.

I’ll note that one essay in the book — Starry Starry Night — was written by none other than myself. I was flattered and honored that Ariane would ask me to write for the book, where my musings would sit along side those of Richard Dawkins, Derren Brown, Simon Le Bon (yes, from Duran Duran!), my friend Brian Cox, and many others.

None of us who wrote for the book were paid in any way (well, I got a free copy). All of us who contributed donated all proceeds to the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, a secular group that provides information, advice, and support for HIV positive people in the UK. It’s a very good cause, and one that fits the reason for the season, don’t you think?

The history of the book is pretty interesting, too, and Ariane has been blogging about how she got this project started; Part 1 is here and the other parts are linked in her sidebar. She is a funny and warm writer, busting a lot of stereotypes about atheists as the spawn of Satan. After all, just look at this picture of these two notorious examples:

ariane_dawkins_bus

Doesn’t Ariane just radiate evil?

Go buy this book. Give a copy for Christmas, or just get one for yourself. You’ll be helping a good cause, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out that Christmas really is for everyone.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Religion

Comments (174)

  1. Keith (the first one)

    I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. I celebrate Xmas, as will be celebrated in the year 3000 (by which time Christianity will only exist as part of the First Amalgamated Church anyway).

  2. Goober

    I’ve worked in retail all my life, mostly as a place that sells a lot of Christmas decorations, and not a few items suitable for gifts. All Christmas means to me is narcissism and greed. I’ve hated Christmas for years. The only Christmas decoration I have is a hand made Santa Claus crucifix from a friend, which is titled “Santa Claus didn’t die for our sins.” (And no, I’m not the least bit religious.)

  3. Sarah

    The Progressive Atheist’s Christmas Carol… I love to watch the reaction of a crowd singing along with this when they get to “and no religion too…”

    magine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

  4. Tom

    Nice!
    I wish I could could just dump Christmas. I’ll take the days off, dinner with friends and family but can’t we PLEASE just eliminate the gift-giving stuff? I can’t deal with that anymore. Winter darkness aggravates my vitamin D deficient grumpiness and if I have to go shopping, I pretty much loose it now.

  5. Like I need a book to tell me the stuff I’ve known for years already.

    But maybe I should get it anyway.

  6. I celebrate Festivus. I have a pole and everything.

    We all look forward to the Feats of Strength, and the Airing of Grievances really brings a family together.

  7. @Tom: I think you could just phrase that as, “I wish I could just dump the guilt trips.”

  8. Are you secular?

    Yes.

    Humanist?

    Er, yes. *glances around*

    Even (gasp!) atheist?

    Am I on Candid Camera?

  9. Martin A. Lessem, J.D.

    That picture is just toasty ;)

  10. Nicholas Moline

    Lifelong atheist here. Christmas is by far my favorite holiday and is the greatest holiday. I celebrate everything Christmas and even attend church with family on Christmas Eve every year. I love the holiday and everything about it. Obviously I don’t have a manger but Santa Claus, Reindeer, and Christmas Songs make it all worth while. Hell Hark The Herald Angel Sings is by far my favorite Christmas Song.

  11. Jardmonkey

    Very OT, but I figure there are plenty of astronomers who post here and there too.. there being http://www.cloudynights.com.

    Is anybody having trouble hitting up cloudynights today? It appears to be down, and I have tried accessing it from different networks, including with my phone- keep getting a 403…

    Anyone?

  12. Hey, I blogged about this book yesterday! It would have been more appropriate for you to do so during Blasphemy Day as well. :P

    Ariane may not be exuding evil, but Richard seems to be positively sneering evil beside her. ;)

  13. vanderleun

    The ineffable banality of evil, perhaps.

  14. winkyeah

    What does this have to do with Astronomy? I used to really like this blog, back when it was about the science of Astronomy. Lately, its wanderings into philosophy have detracted from its purpose: to enlighten and entertain its audience with news and commentary about the universe. Regardless of how you personally believe it came to be, shouldn’t the focus of this blog be on space, not your personal belief system?

    I for one, disagree with you, as a firm believer that a designer had something to do with our universe. However, I will continue to read the blog, because I thoroughly enjoy reading about the wonder of our universe. From now on I’ll skip all of these type of posts where the author seems to forget why people visit this blog in the first place: astronomy.

  15. Sheesh, it’s only October 1. The War on Christmas comes earlier every year, doesn’t it? ;)

  16. Anne BToklas

    I’m not surprised that you don’t know this because I doubt you even know how to spell Bible much less read one ….but Satan? He’s one of the most beautiful creatures God ever created…What? You think people cleave to ugly things? Think again…and one day, EVERY head shall bow, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…and that means yours as well…every single one of us.

  17. Zoe

    Amazon US link has it as “out of print”

  18. tacitus

    I always have to laugh when self-righteous blowhards start ranting on about the War of Christmas. They’re about 50 years too late to the fight. The traditional American Christmas these days, even for a large majority of Christians, is about friends, family, food, frivolity, and conspicuous consumption more than it is about religious observance.

    In some ways the American Christmas is even more secular than in heathen nations like Britain. At least in the UK most of the popular sing-a-long Christmas songs are still traditional Christmas carols rather than schmaltzy stuff about chestnuts, red noses, snow, bells, and Santa Claus; and the Brits are still an awful long way behind in terms of conspicuous consumption during the holiday season, even if they’re catching up fast.

    There is one thing that has change in the last 25 years in the England though. A lot more emphasis is now placed on celebrating the New Year, much of which I think can be traced back to the Millennium celebrations 10 years ago (yikes!). Of course, in Scotland. ringing in the New Year has always been more important than Christmas. Why else would Scots be given two days off to recover from the night’s revelries when the rest of the UK only gets one?

  19. Dave in Calif

    I love christmas, songs of love and hope, however I don’t chant spells (prayers) to try and make them come true, I love reality today.

  20. Gary Ansorge

    Ah christmas, the pagan celebration of a new year starting. How I love the gift giving, the family standing around getting drunk/stoned, the orgies,,,oops,,,oh, never mind.

    So, when I tell people I’m an agnostic/mystic,secular/humanist,rational/materialist, do you think it messes with their minds? Damn, I sure hope so.

    Gary 7

  21. Jardmonkey

    @tacitus

    ah the memories of Hogmanay in Edinburgh…After a night like that it’s no wonder Scots need two days to recover. It was insane (in a good way).

  22. JefFlyingV

    As a lifelonger I’ve never had guilts about celebrating Christmas as a non-religious holiday. I have noticed a few agnostics and religious people starting to piss and moan about the new book, maybe a present for them eh?

  23. Call me a humbug, but I hate the Christmas season. It begins earlier and earlier every year. You barely get the Halloween decorations up and they begin the Christmas push. Where did Thanksgiving disappear to? Also, going to a store means being subjected to tons of Christmas displays/music. People wish me “Merry Christmas” and look at me funny when they’re told we don’t celebrate it. We’re Jewish and celebrate Chanukah. Try to find the Chanukah section. That would be the aisle end cap off in the back next to the clearance Halloween chocolates.

    Of course, Chanukah’s importance gets inflated due to the chance proximity to Christmas. You aren’t really supposed to give gifts during Chanukah (no less 8 gifts). You give “gelt” (money). Judaism’s “gift giving” holiday is much more fun than Christmas anyway. It’s Purim – What I call Christmas, Halloween and St. Patrick’s day all rolled into one. You give gifts, get dressed up in costumes and are actually told to get drunk. (So drunk that you can’t tell the difference between “blessed is Mordechai” and “cursed is Haman”.) Now tell me that doesn’t sound better than waiting for some fat guy in a red suit to squeeze down your chimney on a quest for free cookies and milk! ;-)

  24. I have no problem with celebrating Christmas as a purely secular holiday – it’s what it has become, by default. However, I find it mildly disturbing that Richard Dawkins, the Pat Robertson of atheism, can write anything positive about it. Or maybe his contribution is just his usual brand of fundamentalism…or fundatheism, I guess you could call it.

    Personally, I’m not an atheist because I realize that making a statement of definite disbelief is just as utterly illogical as making a definitive statement of belief…

  25. Roen

    We celebrate the winter solstice.

  26. Thanny

    Chef,

    I suggest you read something written by Dawkins, rather than something written about him.

    Then you wouldn’t do something as silly as comparing him to Pat Robertson.

    While you’re at it, look up the meaning of the word “atheist”, then ponder why your last sentence is making a false comparison.

  27. mariana

    That’s Ariane? Oh yes, that is definitely radiating evil….sultry temptress-type evil. As of now, my better half is banned from going anywhere near a conference that involves Ariane. ;)

    I do rather like that older fellow next to her though. Keep your hands off him, evil temptress. :) :)

  28. tacitus

    I’m not an atheist because I realize that making a statement of definite disbelief is just as utterly illogical as making a definitive statement of belief…

    There is nothing wrong with making a statement like “I don’t believe in God,” and it’s certainly nothing illogical about it at all. Most atheists will quite happily admit that they cannot prove 100% that there is no God of any kind, even Richard Dawkins, but they will also point out that the preponderance of available evidence is stacked against those who claim special revelation about the nature of God — Christians, Muslims, Mormons, etc.

    “There probably is no God” as the title of the book in question says, is all that most atheists will claim.

  29. annoyingmouse

    As tacitus & Jardmonkey so correctly point out, up here in Scotland the whole New Year thing is bigger. As a result, as a Scottish atheist it’s doubly hard to admit that I absolutely love Christmas but I do and I don’t care what the rest think. Of course, a lot of the Hogmanay over Christmas here is to do with a history of the Presbyterians and Church of Scotland being against Christmas celebrations, leading to some of the festivities moving to later in the month. Not that they particularly agreed with New Year either but it is interesting that we see so many Christian organisations complaining about marginalisation and secularisation of Christmas despite centuries of efforts to the contrary. Still, I’ve drifted partly OT. Christmas is awesome!!!

  30. Gamercow

    I have no problems with celebrating Christmas, because just about every race, religion, and culture in history has in some way or another noted the solstice, even if they didn’t know what they were noting. And if a theist gets on my case about “CAN’T HAVE CHRISTMAS WITHOUT CHRIST”, I say “Happy Holidays, then.”, or I just tell them that I’m enjoying my holidays in a way Christ would have given the thumbs up to. I spend it with family and friends, enjoying each others’ company.

  31. Fruity

    My husband and I have been skipping X-mas for the last several years. We always make sure we are out of town so that we can avoid any holiday obligations. Usually we take ski trips or some other type of winter vacation, just the two of us.

    It feels really strange sometimes, when you are standing in the elevator at work, and everyone is talking about how many more presents they need to buy and how many potato salads they have to make. At those times I feel like an alien in my own culture because Christmas is so important to so many people, but so unimportant to me.

    I prefer Thanksgiving or Easter. All the friends, family, and feasting of X-mas, but none of the crass consumerism.

  32. Chef,

    I suggest you read something written by Dawkins, rather than something written about him.

    Then you wouldn’t do something as silly as comparing him to Pat Robertson.

    While you’re at it, look up the meaning of the word “atheist”, then ponder why your last sentence is making a false comparison.

    I’ve read plenty of Dawkins’s nonsense. He spews hate-filled bile in a way that is matched only by the most insane evangelical writers, and states his own beliefs in such a way as to only denigrate everyone else who dares have an opinion. He is exactly that – a fundamentalist like Robertson or Falwell, only approaching it from a different spiritual viewpoint. Like religious fundamentalists, he refuses to acknowledge that he does not have exclusivity on spiritual “truth”.

    It is not a false comparison by any means. Expressing a lack of belief, as contradictory as it may sound, is a belief in itself (because when you make a conclusion about something for which there can never be evidence for or against, that is expressing a belief). I’m not daft enough to claim atheism is a “religion” as such (no hierarchy and no set canon of texts, to name a couple of reasons), but it is a spiritual belief. I find it baffling that otherwise rational people have difficulty grasping that simple bit of logic. I’m not going to say that there’s anything “wrong” with that belief, per se, but it’s still illogical to draw a conclusion when, by definition, there can be no way of physically proving or disproving the question.

  33. I think this book is a great idea, and I’ve already bought two copies, one as a gift. I look forward to reading mine soon!

  34. @Tom: I do all my shopping in October and November online. The wonders of technology mean you never have to set foot in a store during all the craziness.

    This book is now on my list for sure, looks really fun and I love that profits go to such a good cause.

  35. Benjamin Brown

    Christmas already?! Damn!

  36. I find this whole idea bizarre. There is an irony that just as Christianity usurped features of other religions (including Christmas) itself in self-promotion, atheism (which most definitely for the likes of Dawkins and co. is a full-fledged religion, whether they really want to admit it or not) is trying to usurp a feature of Christianity. But what they are trying to absorb, other than set up their own holiday on December 25, I have no clue. The core of what Christmas is supposed to be about, the birth of Jesus, is anathema to militant atheism. The surface features, e.g., having a holiday on or about December 25 and the Christmas tree, are European pagan, so far as I know, and should also be considered anathema. Take those away and you have… what? A generic winter holiday? Even the concept of “holiday” is (or at least originally was) religious, so the whole idea should be anathema. This idea in the most positive light of something not well thought-out and at worst as a Ken Rove-style publicity stunt to try to rally together all the obnoxious atheists they can and anger all the Christians they can.

    My advice: Let the Dawkinsian atheists found an unholiday on some date relevant to atheism, celebrating something actually relevant to atheism, and showing what is so great about atheism.

  37. How about we all contribute our own stories if we have them?

    My entire household is secular, so to enjoy the festivities, we have a few traditions. As with most people, it’s a great excuse to get together with family and frineds and induldge in Egg Nog, rum balls, and Glugg. We get a Yule tree in the house because they are so damn festive, and it’s fun to see the cats go insane at all the sparkly stuff.

    For food and gifts, we do everything on the 24th in my house. I am the master chef on this day. I do up a lot of hours dourves that employ smoked salmon, caviar, dill, and some nice pates. For the main course, I cook up Swedish Style Lobster (It’s a secret receipe, don’t you dare go to my web page and try to look it up! :P ). It’s also a great excuse to go out for the good stuff in bubbly (Moet Chandon White Star is the brand we get in my house).

    After dinner is when we hand out gifts. One by one passing out and opening (the youngest gets to hand them out if they are old enough to read and carry the boxes).

    This way the rest of the evening can be spent with the adults enjoying more libations and the kids playing with their new gifts.

    As an aside: Last year, my daughter requested a very special gift. She wanted a poster of the Periodic Table of Elements, and an accompanying book that described each element a bit more. My geek heart swelled with pride on that one! I am thinking a telescope this year!

  38. Ken

    Wow! I heard the devil had the power to assume a pleasing shape…

  39. @Chef:

    You claim to have read plenty of Dawkins’ work (sorry, “nonsense”), but if that were the case, then surely you would know that he has never made “a statement of definite disbelief.” In fact, he explicitly says in The God Delusion that “there ALMOST certainly is no god” (emphasis mine).

  40. tacitus

    I find it baffling that otherwise rational people have difficulty grasping that simple bit of logic.

    If you continue to misunderstand the atheist position then you will continue to be baffled. It’s as simple as that.

    As for atheists’ beliefs about spiritual matters, you are deliberately trying to muddy the waters. The widely understood definition of a spiritual belief is a belief in the supernatural that someone uses as some kind of guide or support in their lives. Atheism is simply the absence of such beliefs — absence of belief does not provide any guide or support to depend upon. Of course, atheists can hold humanist or socialist or libertarian beliefs, but that’s a separate matter entirely.

  41. Greg

    … “a secular group that provides information, advice, and support for HIV positive people in the UK. It’s a very good cause, and one that fits the reason for the season, don’t you think?”

    I was under the impression that “the reason for the season” was to celebrate the winter solstice; the days will get longer, the growing season will return. I read somewhere that around the 24th and 25th, the day is noticeably longer, which is probably why the holiday shifts to then.

  42. Dawkins a fundamentalist? Hate-filled bile? Here’s an extract from an interview he gave a few days ago:

    Are those incompatible positions: to believe in God and to believe in evolution?
    No, I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God—to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.

    … so while he can make a case for the incompatibility of evolution and God, he’s not only cool with people who think they are compatible, he’s willing to take that view in his own writings. How is that evangelical?

    I can’t see Pat Robertson trying to see the atheist point of view, let alone try writing from it.

  43. @Chef:

    Expressing a lack of belief, as contradictory as it may sound, is a belief in itself (because when you make a conclusion about something for which there can never be evidence for or against, that is expressing a belief). I’m not daft enough to claim atheism is a “religion” as such (no hierarchy and no set canon of texts, to name a couple of reasons), but it is a spiritual belief.

    So, regarding the invisible unicorn that lives in my garage: you would count your non-belief in said unicorn as a spiritual belief? Nonsense.

    There is a very real and distinct difference between “I do not believe a god exists,” and, “I believe that no god exists”. The first is an atheist. The second is a fundamentalist atheist* (of which far fewer exist than critics of atheism would have you think).

    Edit: *more appropriately, the first is a matter of lack of evidence, and the second is a matter of faith.

    Belief systems are not built around the literally infinte list of things that we do not believe in.

  44. tacitus


    The core of what Christmas is supposed to be about, the birth of Jesus, is anathema to militant atheism

    For a dwindling minority of Christians perhaps, but that’s the thing about festivals and dates on a calendar, you can make them mean anything you want them to be.

    Face it, Christmas is much more than about the birth of Jesus these days. The festival existed long before it was a Christian celebration and it will continue to exist long after it ceases to have any overt religious meaning. I know one atheist who refused to celebrate Christmas… until he had kids, when he realized that even if he didn’t like the religious connotations of the festival, it didn’t matter to his children one way or the other. It’s hard to resist the joy and excitement on little kids’ faces while they’re unwrapping presents from under the Christmas tree. Christmas is about spending time with family and friends as much as it is about anything else, and enjoying other people’s company.

    Why would atheists want to establish another holiday when Christmas gives them so much of what they would want out of a festival anyway? Tradition is a powerful thing, even if it comes with the odd belief or two that many people have discarded along the way. Many non-believers love to go to church around Christmas and belt out a few good Christmas carols simply for the enjoyment they get through community singing.


    My advice: Let the Dawkinsian atheists found an unholiday on some date relevant to atheism, celebrating something actually relevant to atheism, and showing what is so great about atheism.

    One might just as well tell Christians to go and find some other dates upon which to hold their religious festivals and stop usurping the old pagan holidays for their own purposes. It would make just as much sense.

  45. @Larian

    How many kids ask for the periodic table of elements for Christmas? Cool.

  46. Erik

    It’s out of stock (“Limited availability”) on Amazon US. Boo-urns!

  47. Aerimus

    I think just about everyone else here has already said this, but I don’t think atheist should feel guilty about celebrating Christmas either. Despite what some nut jobs might think, it has long already been a secular holiday at best (a corporate driven holiday at worst). I am a christian and I don’t think we have a single nativity or baby Jesus in half a dozen boxes of decorations and ornaments.

  48. Nemo

    Axial tilt is the reason for the season(s), so I celebrate the winter solstice. Four days late.

  49. JoeSmithCA

    Ok, so do I get a clone of Ariane Sherine if I buy a dozen copies? ;)

  50. Mike

    “Or are you any one of the thousands of other non-Christian religions peppering the planet? ”

    “thousands,” Phil?
    Try billions. Heck you could even emphasize the B a-la Carl Sagan.
    I guess technically you could say thousands, but it’s really thousand-thousand-thousands. =D

    I wonder what Tom Flynn has to say about this. ;)

  51. @ Todd W. Not many 12 year old girls, that I can assure you. :D Dr. Plait has his Little Astronomer, mine is a Little Scientist at this point (she seems to be focusing more on life sciences, but has a wide array of interests).

    Nemo wins!

  52. Justin

    “Doesn’t Ariane just radiate evil?”

    No. She radiates hawtness.

  53. My only beef with Christmas (besides the obnoxious consumerism) is that it’s too early in the winter. I like the run up of festivities and songs and wintry weather, but after December it’s a long, holiday-less slog until spring. Perhaps we could start a movement to move Christmas to, say February 25th? Deep in the miserableness of a freezing winter is when I need something to enjoy & distract the most.

  54. Calli Arcale

    Keith (the first one):

    I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. I celebrate Xmas, as will be celebrated in the year 3000 (by which time Christianity will only exist as part of the First Amalgamated Church anyway).

    Interesting factoid: despite the protestations of some rather ignorant fundamentalist Christians, “Xmas” is in fact a perfectly legitimate way to spell “Christmas”. In fact, the first people to do so were church authorities in the first millenium. This is because the word “christ” is actually Greek, and literally means “annointed” (or, literally the same thing as Messiah), and Greek of course does not have a “ch”. It has the letter chi, which to our Roman-influenced eyes looks like an X.

    For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to abbreviate Christ or any compound word formed from Christ by using chi or its Roman equivalent, X. (Indeed, many written texts referred to Christ almost exclusively with the letter chi and not the complete word. Sort of an ancient equivalent of text-message-speak. LOL!) The practice declined some time after, probably as widespread literacy standardized spellings, and the general public became able to read the word “christ” without having to just look at an X and know what was meant.

    So go ahead and celebrate Xmas! You may tick off some fundies, but only because of their ignorance. It might be amusing to explain to them that it is actually a proper spelling.

  55. John Swindle

    Too much has already been said about hawtness, so I’ll just add that, when the photo was snapped, it must have been good to be Richard Dawkins.

    I have always thought thought the word “atheist” to mean “not believing in a theology”. If everyone is going to define words, they soon lose all meaning. Then we’ll have people feeling perfectly fine about telling you what you think.

    It appears that Chef read some other books by some different Richard Dawkins. Or perhaps reading for comprehension isn’t his strong suit.

  56. Gary Ansorge

    The lady in question is a classic example of the hawtness of biology, ie, she’s really healthy.
    I loves me healthy peoples.

    I believe in evidence. Is that a spiritual statement?
    I have never seen evidence for a god of any kind.
    Therefore, it is a waste of my time even discussing something that has no evidence.

    I have seen lots of evidence for hawtness. Now, THAT’S worth discussing.

    All praises for hawtness. Merry hawtness, everybody.

    Gary 7

  57. ND

    Why is she using the Dunkin Donuts colors? It catches attention though.

  58. I take issue with the title of the book. What is the “probably” doing in a book for atheists?

  59. She certainly fills out that T-shirt well. Yowza!

  60. Anne BToklas

    You’re gutless for not posting my comment

  61. JT

    “What is the “probably” doing in a book for atheists?”

    I suppose it’s just for the sake of pedantic accuracy, much like saying “If I look outside, I probably won’t see pigs flying overhead”. There is a distinctly non-zero probability that a mad-scientist created a flock of pigs in some hair-brained scheme to take over the world, and just so happened to release the swarm over the building you were in just before you went outside and looked up, but it does seem rather unlikely.

  62. I’m an atheist, and i’m a HUGE fan of “put the christ back in christmas”. It’s not the religion bit of christmas that bothers me… it’s the 2+ months of wanton greed, false sincerity, and pretend goodwill that christmas has become that really irks me.

    If christmas was a winter feast where religious people quietly had a dinner and worked whatever magic rituals floated their boat without disturbing anyone else, that would completely rock.

    Instead, christmas has been perverted into something that is truly exemplary of the vile nature of humans. ick. You basically have to celebrate it or you’re considered at least weird. If you don’t give gifts you’ll be guilted (and considered weird) in general, and if you GET gifts people will think you greedy. Every half-baked yobbo with a schmaltzy product is going to be on your butt to get you to throw your money away from just after Thanksgiving/Columbus Day (canada/usa). The media promote this to its fullest complete with stats on “sales are down this year, it’s goign to be hard on merchants”… like somehow it’s the consumer’s fault when a business can’t organize itself properly to not depend on one season’s sales. It’s truly an ugly time of year and we should all be embrrassed that it exists in its current form.

    New Year’s is infinitely more fun.

  63. Keith (the first one)

    @Calli Arcale

    That is a cool little fact. I thought I was just making a Futurama joke.

  64. Personally, I celebrate Mithras’ birthday, the Winter Solstice and Hogswatchnight.

    J/P=?

  65. Pieter Kok

    I celebrate the second of January, the day I can get back to work.

  66. agenoria

    My copy arrived on Tuesday. Of course one of the first chapters I read was Phil’s. Interesting – I’m ambivalent about Christmas and often wish it would disappear into a black hole, but that would upset some (non-religious) family members.

    I fell about laughing at Jon Holmes (of the satirical Radio 4 programme, The Now Show) writing about over-the-top outdoor Christmas lights: “How to Decorate the Outside of Your House with Lights and Not Have the Neighbours Hate You: A guide to turning your home into a festive something that is so bright it can be seen from space”. And not just because I support the Campaign for Dark Skies!

    Some of the buses around here have the latest Alpha Course ad on the side. The one that says “Does God Exist?”, followed by three tick boxes for Yes, No and Probably. Someone had ticked the No box on one bus! The Atheist Guide to Christmas might be just the thing to read on the bus, as long as I avoid Jon Holmes.

  67. JJ

    I’m not religious, but I do believe in the positive moral teachings of religions. I consider myself more spiritual, but also a realist, logical thinker. Whenever possible, I try to seek out a logical, rational explanation to things, however some things simply defy logic. Religion, to me, is simply a psychological handbook for how to live one’s life. The existence of God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, etc. are all just vehicles (role models) that set examples for behavior. If people took the time to understand why the teachings are important, they would logically conclude that the teachings are there to help people deal with negative emotions by replacing them with the positive (depicted in many religious stories). We are all humans (animals) and our thoughts/beliefs dictate our behavior by governing our emotions. Atheism pushing itself as a religion is hypocritical in itself because it further segregates society with a label. If people rid themselves of religious labels, stereotypes, ethnic labels, etc., and realize we are all just beings that share different beliefs, rifts could be abolished (goal of atheism?). Religion wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all people were tolerant and understanding because the bottom line is that religion and atheism are very much the same in nature. They’re both a set of beliefs, for which we argue claims of support, simple as that. Just because 2 sides don’t agree, doesn’t mean either party is right or wrong when it comes to things that cannot be proved or disproved (there’s always exceptions to the rule on either side). People on both sides need to be more opened minded to each others’ rationale.

  68. Keith

    Did you hear about the Atheist Christmas movie?
    It’s called “Coincidence on 34th Street.”

  69. mike burkhart

    Let me say first that we will all find out weather God exsitst or not we all die and then we will ether be face to face with God or nothing will hapen my bet is on the former .I have one question to athests .how can you celebrate the brith of someone you dont beleve even exesits ?And why do you? (if there is no God as you contend then then there is no Jesus) or do some of you have doubts?

  70. wtlloyd

    When can we get it from Amazon USA?

  71. Doug D.

    I do not celebrate Christmas, or Jesus, but I do celebrate at Christmas time.
    As a nonbeliever, it is a convenient time to celebrate when people are usually happy.
    I dress as Santa, and drive around the poorer parts of town and give away envelopes with $20 bills in them to people that appear down on their luck. No religion, no dogma and no prayers required. ( I only have 10 envelopes, but they are gifts with no strings)
    The Santa suit is somewhat symbolic for me in that it is a lesson for us all. As a child Mr Claus gives us all much joy, however the belief and the joy is dashed when we find out that there is no SC. It teaches us a valuable lesson that even loved ones will lie to us to make us happy.
    It makes us grow up and face reality. It is a pity that religion does not have a cut-off date when we are also told it is just one big lie, just like Santa.
    But, all that said, I would love to re-live just one more morning as a child and coming out of my bedroom to find all the Santa delivered presents. Those were happy times and the shock of finally finding out Santa did not exist did not scar me for life.

  72. Moxiequz

    #52: and if you GET gifts people will think you greedy

    What? Maybe if you go around asking for gifts people will think you’re greedy but since when does simply receiving a gift cause anyone to think that? If that’s been your experience than I’d say it is out of the ordinary to say the least.

  73. Chris

    I am a Catholic (“Once you go, Vatican, you can never go back again!” — Homer Simpson) but I would rather see Christmas be more inclusive; less crass commercialism and more just a day to be with friends and family less religious overtones.

    Jesus preached tolerance and understanding. He didn’t preach with fire and brimstone. Atheists would be welcome at his table, as would Hindus and other religions, because he was that kind of guy.

  74. Just an FYI for those who do their purchasing from Amazon. Amazon US is showing it as Out Of Print or Limited Availability. It is still available from Amazon UK though. That’s only AU$15 or US$13. A bargain. Of course you have to add the delivery cost but we in the antipodes are used to that.

  75. Dave

    Mike Burkhart:

    Celebrations on or close to the winter solstice (around December 21/22 each year), or viewing that time of year as somehow special, are not unique to Christianity – many cultures around the world around the world and through history have had such celebrations, some of them long before this “Jesus” of yours was supposed to have been born – for example, Newgrange, an ancient tomb in Ireland dating back about 5,000 years, has a chamber that’s illuminated by the rising sun at winter solstice. It was an enormous amount of work for that time, one they wouldn’t undertake lightly or by accident.

    Winter solstice, in case it hadn’t occurred to you, is the shortest day/longest night of the year. A few days after that – by around the 25th – the days are starting to get noticeably longer, and that was the time to celebrate the “rebirth” of the sun. Pagans 2,000 yearas ago were quite used to celebrating on that day, which is why the church claimed it for the birth day of Christ.

    These days? For me it’s a party in the darkest most dismal time of the year. Nothing to do with any religion whatsoever, including yours.

  76. tacitus


    Let me say first that we will all find out weather God exist or not we all die and then we will ether be face to face with God or nothing will happen my bet is on the former .

    Pascal’s Wager is a terribly weak base upon which to base your faith. If, against all odds, you do face God when you did, are you really going to tell him that you believed in him “just in case” he existed?

    In any case, that isn’t how belief works. You can’t make yourself believe in God just on the off-chance that he does exist, and he will judge you when you die, and he will punish you, and he will send you to Hell for all eternity just because you didn’t believe in him.

    In any case, which God should I believe in to escape eternal damnation. The Christian God? The Muslim God? I can’t believe in both at the same time, so I have to pick one or the other, both of which have hundreds of millions of followers and over a thousand years of history behind them. If I use Pascal’s wager to decide, then I have to pick the one religion out of the thousands that exist which has the worst outcome if I am not a believer. What sort of faith is that?

  77. Last night the ABC (Oz) had Christopher Hitchens on a show called Q and A. A panel based question and answer show. Essentially Chris was Chris and was most entertaining. He mentioned the following quote which is quite funny and turns Pascal’s Wager on its ear:

    A priest advised Voltaire on his death bed to renounce the devil. Replied Voltaire, “This is no time to make new enemies.”

    Click my name to watch the show. If there is some sort of region issue there is a transcript there too (which will be available in a few hours as I write this).

  78. .I have one question to athests .how can you celebrate the brith of someone you dont beleve even exesits ?

    Erm, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. If you believe the Bible to be accurate, then Jesus couldn’t have been; the shephards were out tending their flocks, yet December would have been too cold to pull that off. The church itself couldn’t decide between January 6th and December 25th until the 5th century or so.

    It’s a symbolic date, no more meaningful than Family Day, so I can reinterpret it however I want.

    And why do you?

    It’s an excuse to throw a party and hang out with family and relatives. Also, there are presents!

    (if there is no God as you contend then then there is no Jesus) or do some of you have doubts?

    Nope. Well, to be accurate I don’t have a doubt. I can’t speak for anyone else.

  79. tacitus

    Thanks for the link shane, it’s watchable from the US.

  80. @mike burkhart
    I have one question to athests .how can you celebrate the brith of someone you dont beleve even exesits ?And why do you? (if there is no God as you contend then then there is no Jesus) or do some of you have doubts
    That’s 3 questions.
    1. Who said we’re celebrating the birth of Hey Zeus?
    2. Tradition, family, we all need a break. Holidays are cool. Giving is cool. Sharing time with family can be cool. ;-) I’m not one of those atheists that want to ban certain holidays because they were traditionally or originally religious based holidays. Christmas is just a label. I don’t really care if Santa was crucified that day or not.
    3. Not necessarily. There may have been a man name Jesus. My guess is that Jesus is made up, didn’t exist, a Pauline fantasy. I have no doubt but that is just me.

    Mike, do you celebrate Halloween? If so how can you celebrate a day celebrating zombies, witches, ghoulies and ghosties?

  81. Personally I like the Discordian calendar, where there are 5 seasons (73 days each) and the holidays are always on the 5th and 50th days.

    I get tired of this consumerist blur that’s become Thanksgiving/Xmas/New Year’s, especially because my birthday falls between the first two. Why not space out our holidays evenly?

    Plus the Discordian names are much funnier :)

  82. bigtime fan

    What I really like about your post is how you refrain from calling anyone names or bashing anyone. Loads of class. Can’t say the same for the comments, but the post is excellent.

    I am a Christian (gasp!) and I read your blog (gasp!) and love it. You demonstrate not only more intelligence than the greatest bulk of media-hungry bloggers/politicians/personalities, but a humor, respect, and dignity that I wish was seen more often in the broader world.

    You and I CAN live peacefully beside each other when we’re each willing to respect the other. And you exemplify that. Many of the comments, unfortunately, do not. And I know, those comment-ers whom I’ve just insulted will likely say the “Christians started it!” And you’re right. We did. Now grow up and end it. Intelligent people recognize the rantings of small and close-minded folk. And yes, many Christians are small and close-minded folk. So are many non-christians. I would argue that any persons who want to solve their problems by shouting at each other and refusing to listen to the other are likely close-minded.

    So here’s the point of my post- take a lesson from the blog we all read. Treat everyone, even those you disagree with*, respectfully. And maybe the Christians you used to yell at will realize no one is yelling at them anymore and finally start to grow up themselves.

    * does not pertain to anti-vac folk. Those people kill.

  83. JB of Brisbane

    In the words of Adam Quark, “Happy Number Eleven, everybody!”

  84. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    My family knows that I may or may not celebrate Christmas. I can take or leave it, really.

    Since it wasn’t part of most of my childhood (my parents having become Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was very young). As a matter of fact, most holidays and birthdays weren’t celebrated in my house. So they weren’t part of my life.

    Having left that particular and peculiar religion, and faith in general, those occasions still don’t have much of an impact in my life.

    Heck, I don’t expect much to happen on my birthday, but am glad when my friends do something for me on that day.

    I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be doing Christmas this year. I’ll think about it. I guess you can say I’m just indifferent about Christmas. “Meh-ree Chrismas!” perhaps.

  85. Gavin Flower

    …you can read the 42 essays comprising the book…”

    Hmm…

    From the “Hitch Hikers Guide to The Universe”

    Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (42)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answer_to_Life,_the_Universe,_and_Everything#Answer_to_Life.2C_the_Universe.2C_and_Everything_.2842.29

  86. Stargazer

    You don’t have to call it Christmas. You can still celebrate something during the same time, but why call it Christmas? It only confuses things because then people will assume that you are a Christian.

  87. Brent

    wow Ariane! So fine! Richard you lucky dog you!

  88. Stan

    @Stargazer
    I’ve known Hindus and Jews who celebrate Christmas. It has become a secular holiday that’s gone on to mean far more than simply the birth of Christ. Particularly when a large portion of how we celebrate Christmas is informed by Paganism.

    Christmas is such a mishmash of belief and culture that it belongs to no one group. It’s everyone’s to celebrate, ignore, or revile.

    No need to call it anything else. It is what it is. If people will confuse me or my Hindu, Jewish, and Pagan friends for Christians, well, that’s their problem, not ours. However, I’ll wish them a Merry Christmas anyway.

  89. Why do I have this sudden urge for Dunkin’ Donuts?

    – Jack

  90. Oops, I see that ND @48 beat me to it.

    I really should read the comemnts before posting…

    – Jack

  91. Gary Ansorge

    72. Stan

    You should visit Trinadad. I had a friend from there who stated that Christians, Jews and Muslims all partake of and share in each others holidays. My Saudi friend Saib Al Ghumdi was totally incensed at the very idea that Muslims would do that. He thought they should be chastised.

    I think we should have a holiday to celebrate hawtness. If there is a god, celebrating its superb design successes in this fashion would be sacred praise.

    Just watched Stephen Colberts Wed. interview with Dawkins. Colberts comedic statement about evolution and beauty is outstanding.

    Gary 7

  92. Wait a sec – doesn’t donating the proceeds to the Terrance Higgins trust destroy our image as immoral godless heathens? What’s the point of being an atheist if you can’t scare the bejeezus out of the religious. Now they’ll start thing that we’re, well, normal .

  93. 30. Larian LeQuella Says: “I am the master chef on this day. I do up a lot of hours dourves that employ smoked salmon, caviar, dill, and some nice pates. For the main course, I cook up Swedish Style Lobster. It’s also a great excuse to go out for the good stuff in bubbly (Moet Chandon White Star is the brand we get in my house”

    Man, I wanna come live with you!

    – Jack

  94. 39. Nemo Says: “”Axial tilt is the reason for the season(s),”

    Hey! That’s my line!

    – Jack

  95. JoeSmithCA

    Looking at Ariane Sherine’s picture…what astronomy site. I don’t recall any astronomy site…buy her book? ok, sure. here have the money…

    :)

  96. JoeSmithCA, I had the same reaction. Unbelievers are HOT!

  97. sapo

    Por favor, que algún editor lo publique en castellano.
    Ánimo. I love this Blog

  98. themos

    They have to be, getting ready for the eternal fires.

    Now you know what would be a radical slogan on that bus?

    “God is probably evil, have a nice day.”

  99. Mark Hansen

    @Anne,
    Just because BA’s blog didn’t post your holier-than-thou comment the microsecond you typed it, doesn’t mean it won’t appear. Sometimes they get caught in the ether for a while. And calling someone gutless isn’t very Christian is it?

  100. Lonny Eachus

    “The Chef”:

    The word “atheist” simply means “not a theist”. I.e., you subscribe to no particular theology. It is not a statement of definite disbelief, it simply states that there is no deity that you worship (or organized religion to which you subscribe).

    It is perfectly proper to call your self a “doubter”, or “agnostic”, or whatever other phrase fits your own situation. But neither of those is necessarily incompatible with “atheist”. The word agnostic has deviated somewhat from its historical roots but would basically put you in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp.

  101. Snoof

    On 25 December, I celebrate the birth of a man who was responsible for enlightening humanity. For revealing the utmost truths of the universe to all. One of the greatest men in history.

    I refer, of course, to Isaac Newton.

  102. Lonny Eachus

    Snoof:

    Newton was a religious nutcase who gave up scientific pursuits for religious reasons. Surely you could come up with a better example.

  103. Mark Hansen

    Incidentally, Anne, where did Phil say that Satan was a beautiful creature? Perhaps you should consider the beam in your own eye first.

  104. Big Al

    Wow. What a dustup. Let’s just all go back to “might makes right”, I guess. No religions, no rules, no civility. If you see it and you want it, just take it (if you’re big enough). After all, there are no consequences to bad behavior if you’re the baddest guy around, huh?

  105. Mark Hansen

    Big Al, you don’t need religion to have rules or civility. Curiously, the caster of the first stone on this thread is a Christian (post #17). Ironic, no?

  106. Big Al

    Yeah, well it just goes to show that all belief systems are equal in their validity to the believer. If you have no religions, you have to accept all points of view, including the belief that the strongest survive by preying upon the weakest. I’m just saying that if you want to have an absolutely secular society, you have nothing to base a code of conduct on.

  107. Nigel Depledge

    Winkyeah (15) said:

    What does this have to do with Astronomy? I used to really like this blog, back when it was about the science of Astronomy. Lately, its wanderings into philosophy have detracted from its purpose: to enlighten and entertain its audience with news and commentary about the universe. Regardless of how you personally believe it came to be, shouldn’t the focus of this blog be on space, not your personal belief system?

    I for one, disagree with you, as a firm believer that a designer had something to do with our universe. However, I will continue to read the blog, because I thoroughly enjoy reading about the wonder of our universe. From now on I’ll skip all of these type of posts where the author seems to forget why people visit this blog in the first place: astronomy.

    First off, no-one forces you to read the posts about other stuff than astronomy.

    Second, it’s Phil’s blog and he’ll continue to post about whatever he feels like.

    Third, did you miss his post about his posting policy? He pre-empts all of your whingeing, so maybe you should have a look for that.

    Fourth, at least some people read this for reasons other than astronomy. Don’t presume to know why other people come here. I happen to approve of Phil’s position as a defender of rationality in this world.

    Finally, why do you feel it necessary to state outright that you are irtrational? You have claimed that you believe that “a designer” had a hand in the universe. As there is precisely zero evidence for this, that is an intrinsically irrational position because it violates the principle of parsimony. You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you choose. But remember that you have made a choice.

  108. Nigel Depledge

    Anne B Toklas (17) said:

    I’m not surprised that you don’t know this because I doubt you even know how to spell Bible much less read one ….but Satan? He’s one of the most beautiful creatures God ever created…What? You think people cleave to ugly things? Think again…and one day, EVERY head shall bow, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…and that means yours as well…every single one of us.

    I have two words for you, Anne: prove it.

  109. Nigel Depledge

    Tacitus (19) said:

    In some ways the American Christmas is even more secular than in heathen nations like Britain.

    Heathen nation? But we have a state religion, and everything!

    At least in the UK most of the popular sing-a-long Christmas songs are still traditional Christmas carols rather than schmaltzy stuff about chestnuts, red noses, snow, bells, and Santa Claus; and the Brits are still an awful long way behind in terms of conspicuous consumption during the holiday season, even if they’re catching up fast.

    There is one thing that has change in the last 25 years in the England though. A lot more emphasis is now placed on celebrating the New Year, much of which I think can be traced back to the Millennium celebrations 10 years ago (yikes!).

    Nine years ago. Well eight and a chunk at this time, really.

    Oh, or did you mean all that kerfuffle about Y2K?

    Of course, in Scotland. ringing in the New Year has always been more important than Christmas. Why else would Scots be given two days off to recover from the night’s revelries when the rest of the UK only gets one?

    Scotland does not get the same bank holidays as England. In fact, Edinburgh and Glasgow do not get the same holidays.

  110. Ricky

    Ok I bought 2 copies, one for myself and one as a Christmas gift.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    The Chef (33) said:

    I’ve read plenty of Dawkins’s nonsense. He spews hate-filled bile . . .

    Either you have read a different Dawkins from the one I have read, viewed and read about, or you have inferred a lot that was not really in his words.

    Perhaps you can enlighten me by quoting a paragraph of said “hate-filled bile”?

  112. Yeebok Shu'in

    Interesting set of comments if some of them are a little .. err .. weird.
    Anyway first up:
    #70 (Mike)
    (if there is no God as you contend then then there is no Jesus) or do some of you have doubts?
    There’s a guy called Jesus at my work. I don’t believe there’s a god either. Even if “the” Jesus existed, that’s no proof of a god, he could have been one of the original Heroes characters, say Sylar’s opposite.
    @ those commenting on Ariane’s hotness, yeah good on you. Nice way to denigrate an intelligent girl who can think for herself.

    As for my own take on Xmas – I remember how important it was to me, but mainly for the gifts admittedly.. Sad thing is it’s gotten worse. Once you find out your parents have lied to you and manipulated you (Santa’s watching! be good!) for the last 6 or so years it loses meaning beyond the presents when you’re a kid.
    Xmas is just about capitalism these days. To me particularly, it’s lost its real meaning. I visit family, have a barbie outside in 35-40 degree (Celsius) days being mauled by small insects, get tanked and spend the next day doing the same thing with rellies I don’t like, then cleaning up. It’s great!
    Seriously, I like Xmas but for the same reasons I like the October long weekend. Xmas just has more negatives than a “vanilla” holiday..

  113. Dunc

    Of course, a lot of the Hogmanay over Christmas here is to do with a history of the Presbyterians and Church of Scotland being against Christmas celebrations, leading to some of the festivities moving to later in the month.

    Yup – the only successful War on Christmas was waged by the Church. Christmas wasn’t even a public holiday in Scotland until 1958.

  114. Ariane sure is radiating something, for sure, but it sure as hell isn’t evil, if you get my drift. (nod, nod, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more)

  115. Big Al:

    If you have no religions, you have to accept all points of view, including the belief that the strongest survive by preying upon the weakest.

    How do I “have to”? How does the one logically follow from the other? That’s quite a leap there.

    I’m just saying that if you want to have an absolutely secular society, you have nothing to base a code of conduct on.

    Just because you can’t have morality without your religion doesn’t mean some of us haven’t managed to develop a bit of intellectual maturity. We are social creatures. We evolved that way. It benefits us to be good to one another. That’s all.

  116. Rod Mollise

    I haven’t been a believer since I was…oh…12 years old. But I celebrate Christmas. I love it as a matter of fact. It is the one time of the year when people go out of their way to bring a little joy to each others’ lives. Unfortunately, it’s devolving into another battleground in the culture war. Me, I’ll continue to celebrate it IN SPADES. Frankly, a lot of the comments by non-believers atheists sound like, “IF I COULD WORK _MY_ WILL, EVERY MAN WHO GOES ABOUT WITH ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ ON HIS LIPS WOULD BE BOILED IN HIS OWN PUDDING AND BURIED WITH A STAKE OF HOLLY THROUGH HIS HEART.”

    Can’t stand someone might think you are worshipping ol’ man Jehovah? Tell yourself this is the Saturnalia…or you are actually payin’ homage to the natural world via a Christmas tree…or like me that you are merely acknowledging the psychological reality of these entities. Christmas is a time of joy, and the message behind it, whether it represents objective reality in the form of a babe in swaddling clothes or not, is a GOOD and hopeful one.

    HAPPY CHRISTMAS! LOL

  117. Rod, you and I celebrate Christmas in the same non-believer way. However, 116 comments before yours, and none of them have the tone of the boiled pudding example you used (pretty funny though).

    Yes, there are militant a-hole atheists. But they are very few and far between. Can we stop perpetuating this stereotype? I’ll even go first: most Christians are good and friendly people. The Fred Phelpses out there are thankfully rare, but unfortunately receive a lot of attention.

  118. mike burkhart

    If I offended any one I am sorry my point was that as a catholic I dont want people to be forced to celabrate christian holy days but if athests want to celabrate christmas it fine with me as long as it not forced on them . The death thing is well lets worry about it when it happens .Let me also say I cant call atheists eveil because I done bad things. I will also say that I respect atheists right not to beleve in God all I ask is for them to respect my right to beleve

  119. csrster

    Mike, I think the big question is whether respecting your _right to believe_ is the same as respecting _your belief_. They are, after all, quite distinct meanings of the word “respect” and it’s merely a confusing coincidence that in English we use the same word for both. In fact the problem is that the second usage is extremely vague and can be taken to mean all sorts of different and potentially contradictory things.

  120. csrster

    Yeebok: calling her a “girl” is just as denigratory as remarking on her hotness.

  121. @Yeebok Shu’in,

    Ah, another Heroes fan! Somehow I don’t think the flashback to 2000 years ago with Jesus seeing an eclipse and then performing element transmutation (water into wine) and healing people will make it into the show. ;-)

    On a serious note, Jesus could have easily been a real person yet have never performed a single miracle. During a college history class my professor (who told everyone in advance that this might upset their religious sensibilities) told us that Jesus was a rabbi on the fringe of Judaism at the time. The fringe of Judaism at the time (and to a lesser degree mainstream Judaism) was very interested in when the messiah would come. There were many rabbis, like him, who claimed that they were announcing the messiah’s arrival. Some people even began to whisper that he *was* the messiah. He didn’t confirm or deny these rumors.

    Usually, when one of those rabbis died, the followers moved on to another rabbi. After Jesus died, stories began circulating about him being resurrected and the followers formed a close offshoot of Judaism. Christianity, as it came to be known, slowly diverged from Judaism until it became the religion is it today.

    As for Jesus’ miracles, stories have a way of magnifying themselves as the years pass. Perhaps at a Seder Rabbi Jesus served some tasty wine. Over the years, the stories of the wine he served morphed into him performing a miracle to make the wine appear. Perhaps he said a prayer for someone who had a particularly bad cold and they recovered. Over the years, that cold changed into leprosy and his prayer/their recovery turned into magical healing powers.

    I’ve heard Orthodox rabbis tell stories of rabbis performing miracles 150 years ago. If those stories can crop up in 150 years, imagine what can happen to a story after 2000 years of retelling.

  122. Big Al

    Carey: I do not disagree that civilized, mature individuals can behave in a civilized manner. I’m just pointing out that there is no right but might in a society that is amoral. If the biggest, baddest brute is the state, the state makes the rules. As someone once pointed out, power flows from the barrel of a gun. It would be great if everybody followed all those rules we learned in kindergarten out of the goodness of their hearts, but there are cruel, unevolved selfish people who will only behave if you make them. If you can corral some of those brutes with an ideology instead of a gulag, then why not?

  123. FriendlyPrimate

    I grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness family, and we weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas. So I’m celebrating it now, since I don’t have to worry about God being mad at me anymore. It’s not really about Jesus anymore anyway, despite what all the fundies want you to believe.

  124. Nigel Depledge

    The Chef (33) said:

    It is not a false comparison by any means. Expressing a lack of belief, as contradictory as it may sound, is a belief in itself (because when you make a conclusion about something for which there can never be evidence for or against, that is expressing a belief).

    Not so.

    It can be a conclusion, arrived at in a rational fashion, and subject to reevaluation in the face of new evidence.

    It is quite possible for many atheists to have looked at the evidence and concluded that there is no god. There is certainly no need for a god to exist to explain the universe.

    I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

    I believe in a reality external to the self.

    These are two different beliefs, one based on experience and logic, and one a philosophical belief. To live one’s life without religion or belief in a deity is not necessarily another belief.

    I’m not daft enough to claim atheism is a “religion” as such (no hierarchy and no set canon of texts, to name a couple of reasons), but it is a spiritual belief.

    Well, what do you call this statement: I believe that if there’s a god, she doesn’t care two hoots about what I think. Is that a spiritual belief? Or simply an approach to life?

    I find it baffling that otherwise rational people have difficulty grasping that simple bit of logic.

    That’s because there are gaps in your logic, that you have covered by intuitive leaps. There is no consistent logical argument that atheism is a belief. It is a choice about belief.

    I’m not going to say that there’s anything “wrong” with that belief, per se, but it’s still illogical to draw a conclusion when, by definition, there can be no way of physically proving or disproving the question.

    What makes you think that all atheists have drawn a conclusion? It is eminently possible to live a life devoid of religion and be entirely without any conviction at all about whether there is or is not a god. Since there is no way of proving or disproving god, there is no rational way of possessing a belief either way. The rational thing to do is to acknowledge that we do not know, and recognise that the most logical conclusion (following the principle of parsimony) is to assume there is no god until we find contrary evidence. That is not a belief.

  125. Big Al: Ahh, but now you’re saying something different from what you were saying before.

    I do not disagree, either, that some people require religion as a moral crutch, otherwise they would behave according to anti-social whim. Religion is the only thing that keeps them in check.

    So we have people who are capable of intrinsic morality, and people who require external influence – some sort of reward/punishment system – to be moral. So, which group is more moral? Which group would build a better society? If some of us can be moral without religion, can’t all of us? I’m not saying it could happen overnight, or even over many generations, but certainly that is the desirable outcome that we should work towards. And it all starts with the simple recognition that morality does not require religion any more than drinking wine and eating bread do. And that was my original point.

  126. JT

    “@ those commenting on Ariane’s hotness, yeah good on you. Nice way to denigrate an intelligent girl who can think for herself.”

    Pointing out that someone is attractive is a compliment, not an insult. Insinuating that someone cannot both attractive and an intelligent person who thinks for herself, now THAT is denigrating.

  127. Big Al

    Carey, we’re not as far apart as you think we are. I’m not saying religion is “the answer”. I’m saying it’s a good tool for basing a society’s core beliefs on. I grew up in a church, and occasionally still visit it, but it doesn’t stop me from being rational. What it did do for me is instill a sense of right and wrong. If nothing is wrong internally, then what keeps people in line? Force does. God doesn’t have to be real to derive societal benefits from behaving as if he might be. And as a basis for law, it’s hard to beat the basic 10 commandments. To pretend that everybody will be “capable of intrinsic morality” without some pretty strong external guidelines is just George Hamilton woo…

  128. cookies

    Any comment on Bill Maher getting the Atheist Alliance International Richard Dawkins Award?

    To me that says that Atheists are anti-religion but not necessarily pro-science. Which would be fine if clearly stated.

    Orac makes a good case for the weirdness of giving Maher a science award.
    scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/here_are_those_inconvenient_questions_fo.php

  129. Big Al

    Harrison, not Hamilton. Sorry, “senior moment”.

  130. Lawrence

    128. Big Al – one doesn’t need a religious basis to build a moral structure. Knowing it is wrong to steal, kill someone, hurt others, etc shouldn’t have to be wrapped in the trappings of religion (sin, going to hell, etc) when it can be done in a completely secular way and get the same results.

    Religion and religious beliefs have too often been perverted by those in positions of power as a means of control. Point the Christians at the Muslims (i.e. Crusades) for the actual protection or conquering of trade routes to the Far East, etc. Much too often, it is an excuse to hate or discriminate against those with different beliefs. That’s the major problem that I have with it.

  131. gopher65

    I celebrate Hogswatch. It’s way better than Christmas.

    ;)

  132. David

    128. Big Al — How is religion a good tool to base morality on? You say this as if Religion never had its chance. History has if anything shown us that Religion or belief in anything infallible is a horrible tool to base morality on.

  133. tacitus

    Big Al. Your first couple of comments appeared to be a riff along the lines of “if there was no God then what’s to stop people from going out and raping and murdering.” I see from the later comments that you position is more like “if it wasn’t for religion then there would be more people going out and raping and murdering.”

    I certainly agree that religion has been as an effective tool to shape people’s morals, but I disagree as to its necessity. There are now several majority non-religious free societies (i.e. not including places like China, Cuba, or N. Korea where religion is suppressed) like the Scandinavian countries and Britain, and there is no sign of any societal breakdown just because religion no longer holds sway. In fact, Denmark is often regarded as one of the best places to live on the planet in terms of contentment.

    What [church] did do for me is instill a sense of right and wrong.

    More so than your parents and your school? I find that hard to believe. Parents far more important than the church in instilling the moral values of a society in young people. One glance at the backgrounds of young offenders will tell you where most of the problems stem from — broken homes, parental abuse, absentee fathers, etc. etc. I would bet that not one of those reports says anything like “did not go to church.”

    If nothing is wrong internally, then what keeps people in line? Force does.

    To some degree, yes. But atheists are not just refraining from doing bad things just because they might get caught and punished for it. They refrain because intellectually they know that an ordered society benefits them as much as it does others and because emotionally our innate empathic abilities mean that we don’t like to see others getting hurt by our actions.

    God doesn’t have to be real to derive societal benefits from behaving as if he might be.

    That’s true, but nor does God have to be real to for religion to have a detrimental effect on society, which is just as important to consider.

    And as a basis for law, it’s hard to beat the basic 10 commandments.

    Please. Only two of the Ten Commandments are Constitutional in the United States (do not kill, do not steal) and a third only in certain circumstances (do not bear false witness). And as I said above, parents are far more important when explaining to children why they should not steal and kill (and they rarely have to resort to religious reasoning to do it). Children quickly learn to abide by a set of rules in home, in the classroom, and elsewhere, no religious commandments required.

    To pretend that everybody will be “capable of intrinsic morality” without some pretty strong external guidelines is just George Hamilton woo…

    Nobody is pretending that. It’s just that you are overlooking the fact that for the vast majority of cases, people obtain the external guidelines from parents and other secular authority figures when they are kids.

  134. Big Al

    China is a great example of a moral society. The state gets to dictate how many children you can have, what job you will do, what medical care you will receive, and if you have a belief that doesn’t fit in with that of the majority, then it gets to decide what re-education camp you get to attend (if you survive the ritual head-thumping). Yeah! Lets hear it for the People’s Republic. All hail.

  135. tacitus

    Huh? I explicitly excluded China from my examples. Try reading what I said and not what you think I said, and then perhaps we can have a real discussion, instead of you just snarking uselessly into the ether.

    Sweden and Denmark are estimated to be anything up to 85% non-believers. If you can tell me where the re-education camps are in those countries then perhaps you might have a point.

  136. @ Jack (#94), if you can find me. ;)

    Big Al, you seem to be suffering from a misconception that runs deep amongs theists: http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismatheistsmorals/a/AtheistsMoral.htm

    And I would be frightened to live in a society based on biblical morals: http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl.htm

  137. Big Al

    Sorry Tacitus, I read too fast, misunderstood the exclusion (that happens to me when I do this on the job). Never mind on the China comments. Anyway, I see we’ll have to agree to disagree on the utility of religous values versus secular rules. Anyway, I enjoyed the argument.

  138. JoeSmithCA

    Does anyone else think Anne BToklas sounds a lot like Mrs. Carmody from Stephen King’s “The Mist”?

  139. Mark Hansen

    @winkyeah (15)
    Perhaps you could make use of this:

    ———————————————————————————-
    Dear Sir,
    Your website does not fulfill my expectations of either Bad or Astronomy. I have informed my lawyers and they tell me that you are in breach of advertising standards. Please increase your levels of Bad and Astronomy or legal action will be taken.
    Thank you
    ——————————————————————

    I’ve repeated it on other threads ad nauseum but…
    If you like the astronomy threads, WTH don’t you post in them?????

  140. Floyd

    I’m an agnostic, and know Rod Molise theough an astronomy discussion group. I agree with his comments.

    I celebrate Christmas, not because I worship Jesus (or anyone else), but because Jesus tried to get people to follow the Golden Rule (which is found in most decent ethical systems). Much of the rest of the stories in the Gospels seem suspect (as in Jesus really was more a rabbi than a miracle worker).

    Unfortunately most of his followers misinterpreted what he was trying to say, and we got the various confused western religions from what is now called the New Testament.

  141. Gary Ansorge

    107. Big Al

    We derive our “morality” from simple biological realities,ie, no matter how big and strong your are, 10 smaller,weaker folk with rocks and clubs can still cut you down to size. Even chimps understand when something isn’t fair and will work to ensure that a cheater gets his just deserts. Morality is simply an abstraction of basic biological principles. We evolved to be both competitive and co-operative, because those qualities help us to survive better than just competition alone.

    All those rules engraved in stone by Hammurabi were abstract statements derived from observations of what worked to enable people to live together in groups larger than the tribal family, but the tribe derived their survival rules from biological principles.

    I will note that statements about love are formalized abstractions of something we feel,ie, “love your neighbor” is intended to extend the tribal awareness of close family members to much larger, disparate, unrelated groups.

    I don’t need no stinking god to tell me the best way to live. I can figure that out for myself, thank you.

    GAry 7

  142. Ramel

    I realise most people have moved on from this discussion, but ad from amazon today made me smile:

    “Greetings from Amazon.co.uk,

    We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing Hoax (Bad Science) by Philip C. Plait have also purchased The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas by Ariane Sherine. For this reason, you might like to know that The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is now available. You can order yours for just £8.44 (35% off the RRP) by following the link below. “

  143. Big Al,

    Theistic does not equal moral.

    You seem to suggest that the problems in the world are due to atheists. Please provide some evidence that the people brought up with religion are better behaved, more law abiding, or more moral than those brought up without religion.

    Atheistic does not equal amoral.

    Also, atheistic does not equal anarchic. Would the opposite of this be that theistic equals totalitarian?

    You seem to draw conclusions that are only based on your suppositions. Do you have any evidence to support your beliefs?

  144. @33 The Chef,

    Expressing a lack of belief, as contradictory as it may sound, is a belief in itself (because when you make a conclusion about something for which there can never be evidence for or against, that is expressing a belief).

    I’m not superstitious.

    Only theistic people seem to feel the need to define themselves by what they believe in. Just because you define yourself that way, does not mean that I need to define myself by any of the countless beliefs that I do not have any interest in.

    I’m just not superstitious.

    Until I see evidence to the contrary, why should I worry about whether a full moon leads to a busy night with a lot of patients (it has been studied a lot – no supporting evidence), whether stepping on a crack will break my mother’s back, whether having a black cat cross my path will lead to bad luck, whether not knocking on wood after mentioning something unfortunate will result in that misfortune (ditto for saying God forbid), whether one of the thousands of religions is the answer to everything, whether there are aliens at Area 51, whether forwarding an email to a bunch of people will stop something bad from happening, or any other superstition?

    In the absence of evidence, are any of those superstitions worthy of my time?

    I don’t need to define myself as atheistic, or agnostic, or anything else based on what I don’t believe in. You could say that I am an empiricist, which I would define as avoiding superstition as much as possible. Reality is enough.

    I like reality. That is not evil.

  145. Peter B

    Anne B Toklas said: “…and one day, EVERY head shall bow, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…and that means yours as well…every single one of us.”

    Do you say this to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or people of other religions? What do they say in reply?

  146. Vangelis

    The Atheist’s rationale is mired by dogmatism and is not intelligence based because only fools exclude all possibilities.

    One must feel pity for anyone who fanatically tries to disprove something they don’t even believe exists.

  147. agnosticism FTW!

    Probably no God? There is no evidence either way therefore making it equally probable that there is a god. Now when it comes to a subject like this you just can’t know whether there is a god or not; it’s impossible. Of course I am a biased agnostic but everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, right?

  148. StevoR

    @ the person or people here who mentioned attempts to ban Christmas :

    Look at the case of Oliver Cromwell who tried to do exactly that in England circa the 17th /18th century. This was post chopping off the head of King Charles I. Cromwell was a puritan who thought Xmas was too pagan & not (puritanical) Christian enough. I think? (Speaking from memory here.)

  149. Astroquoter

    @ 118. Carey Says:

    “…Yes, there are militant a-hole atheists. But they are very few and far between. Can we stop perpetuating this stereotype?”

    Ask Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens – they’re theones making atheists look like a-holes by slandering religious folks and using strawmen.

  150. dangeraardvark

    Did Big Al just cite the 10 commandments as a good basis for law? The FIRST COMMANDMENT is an ego trip by the creator of the universe and only 1 of the 10 are actually against the current law. Jesus-nonexistent-Christ, how about some quiet reflection before you hit “submit”?

  151. Damon

    Ariane is a hottie!

    Also, religion is not intrinsic to morality, just as morality is not intrinsic to religion. Far more damage has been perpetrated on humanity in the name of religion than it has in its absence. This is not even debatable. Religion is regressive, superstitious pap that we would all be better off without. Everyone knows it, whether they can admit it or not. That is why people lash out so harshly in defense of their crooked faiths; deep down they know it is all a fraud.

    Human society can sustain itself just fine without bible-thumpers or fire-and-brimstone bullshit. It is every human being’s duty to learn as much as they can about themselves and the universe to attain enlightenment, not pick an answer that was indoctrinated into them as a child and run with it, refusing and rejecting objective fact because it’s inconvenient. That’s ignorance. That’s failure. That’s weakness.

    I’ve had to dump one-too-many girlfriends when I found out they were infected with faith. Some of them genuinely harmless, innocent types, never tried to push it on me at all. But I just can’t concern myself with people who demand that everyone walk on eggshells for them whenever the conversation gets too deep and philosophical and especially scientific just to respect their stupid beliefs. Drove some of them mad. But then, that sort of self-reflection on their part is kind of the point. Being cold and alone and friendless inspires self-reflection.

    I think religious people in the world today, despite being an apparent majority, are extremely lonely and isolated in their own ways, from themselves and each other, by their existential ignorance.

  152. Peter B

    Vangelis said: “One must feel pity for anyone who fanatically tries to disprove something they don’t even believe exists.”

    Do you feel the same pity for atheists who doesn’t bother to disprove the existence of God?

    Believe me, most atheists don’t go around constantly repeating Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy – we just don’t think about God at all.

  153. Peter B

    Agnosticism FTW said: “Probably no God? There is no evidence either way therefore making it equally probable that there is a god.”

    No, hang on, that doesn’t sound right. Are you saying that any thing for which there’s no evidence still has a 50% chance of existing?

  154. Oliver

    I think you have to get this book via amazon.co.uk Sounds like it’s worth it though. Very positive reviews so far

  155. Pisces

    I’m sorry, but am i the only one who finds the God debate to be time consuming and fruitless? While there is no real evidence of any all powerful supreme being, there is no way to prove otherwise. You cannot “know” that there is no god…..you can only assume that he doesn’t exist.
    I assume that there is no monster under the bed….but until i look there is no way to be sure. Of course, if he is an invisible monster….i may never know. How convenient that all of man kind’s gods are invisible :<)

  156. RickK

    Agnosticism said: “Probably no God? There is no evidence either way therefore making it equally probable that there is a god.”

    And about God, Chef says “there can never be evidence for or against”

    By that logic, both God and the incorporeal dragon in my garage (thanks Carl) have equal validity.

    And to say there is no evidence against YOUR god, Chef, is absurd. Whatever YOUR god is, most of the world doesn’t believe in it. And we have the evidence of thousands of gods left abandoned along the road of human history – evidence that can quite appropriately be used to challenge the existence of YOUR god.

    Claims of alien spacecraft or working witchcraft or ghosts have failed scrutiny so many times, that it is natural and appropriate to view such claims with extreme skepticism.

    Failed claims of divine intervention VASTLY outnumber the above examples, so any claim of divinity should be greeted with disbelief by any rational person. The claims of god/gods have been replaced with natural explanations time and again, but the reverse has NEVER happened.

    The Sun – was a God, now explained by science
    The Moon – was a God, now understood by science
    The stars – were God, now science
    The tides – were attributed to God, now science
    The seasons – attributed to God, now science
    Earthquakes – were God, now science
    Lightning – was God, now science
    Rain & drought – was God, now science
    Health & disease – was God, now science
    Schizophrenia – was demonic possession, now science
    Epilepsy – was divine possession, now science
    Origin of species – was God, now science (evolution)
    Identity & personality – was the soul, now neuroscience

    To equate belief and non-belief as equally valid starting positions is to ignore history and surrender rationality.

  157. agnosticism FTW!

    @ PeterB

    OK that was ignorant of me. I just think it is pointless, and rather stupid, to claim that there is or is not something when you have no evidence to back it up! Maybe the world would be better without religion; maybe it wouldn’t be. We can’t know until we’ve had it both ways. If somebody wants to start some sort of movement to abolish religion be my guest but think if it really would be better.

  158. Nigel Depledge

    Pisces (157) said:

    I’m sorry, but am i the only one who finds the God debate to be time consuming and fruitless? While there is no real evidence of any all powerful supreme being, there is no way to prove otherwise. You cannot “know” that there is no god…..you can only assume that he doesn’t exist.
    I assume that there is no monster under the bed….but until i look there is no way to be sure. Of course, if he is an invisible monster….i may never know. How convenient that all of man kind’s gods are invisible :<)

    You may have a point here. We can never know for sure. However, we can look at the universe and say: “We observe natural processes. These natural processes have outcomes, and give rise to an illusion of design. They alone are able to account for everything that we observe in the universe (allowing some room for stuff we have not yet discovered or fully worked out, like quantum gravity). There is no need to attribute any of this to a divinity.”

    Thus, applying the principle of parsimony, it is only logical to assume that there is no god unless we discover evidence to the contrary.

    So, while we cannot disprove that there is a god (which is pretty much an impossibility – after all, could one ever hope to prove that there are no swans with pink feathers?), we can know that belief in a god is irrational (and, alas, therefore only too human).

  159. Nigel Depledge

    Astroquoter (151) said:

    Ask Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens – they’re theones making atheists look like a-holes by slandering religious folks and using strawmen.

    You seem to be using the exact technique that you aim to criticise. Perhaps, before making claims of slander and strawman arguments, you should actually quote what these people have written to demonstrate that you argument holds water, rather than simply (and rather naively) assume everyone will choose to believe you because you say it is so.

  160. Nigel Depledge

    Agnosticism FTW (149) said:

    Probably no God? There is no evidence either way therefore making it equally probable that there is a god. Now when it comes to a subject like this you just can’t know whether there is a god or not; it’s impossible. Of course I am a biased agnostic but everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, right?

    Of course you’re entitled to your opinion, and others have already pointed out how illogical it is.

    However, you seem to have misunderstood the meaning of atheism. To an atheist, religion and god are irrelevant. Whether god exists or not is irrelevant (unless someone discovers meaningful evidence to bring to the issue). Atheism is living without religion, not a professed disbelief in god (although many atheists do believe that there is no god, this is not the definition of atheism).

  161. Nigel Depledge

    Vangelis (148) said:

    The Atheist’s rationale is mired by dogmatism and is not intelligence based because only fools exclude all possibilities.

    One must feel pity for anyone who fanatically tries to disprove something they don’t even believe exists.

    You also have demonstrated a misunderstanding of atheism. See my previous comment.

    I would guesstimate that 99.9% of atheists have never tried to disprove the existence of god, mainly because it doesn’t matter to them.

    If you go back and carefully re-read what prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers actually write (instead of the propaganda written by the Christian right about what they’ve written), you will eventually notice that they also have never tried to disprove the existence of god.

  162. Nigel Depledge

    Rogue Medic (146) said:

    I’m not superstitious.

    . . .

    I don’t need to define myself as atheistic, or agnostic, or anything else based on what I don’t believe in. You could say that I am an empiricist, which I would define as avoiding superstition as much as possible. Reality is enough.

    Very well said!

  163. Nigel Depledge

    Big Al (128) said:

    I’m not saying religion is “the answer”. I’m saying it’s a good tool for basing a society’s core beliefs on. I grew up in a church, and occasionally still visit it, but it doesn’t stop me from being rational. What it did do for me is instill a sense of right and wrong. If nothing is wrong internally, then what keeps people in line? Force does. God doesn’t have to be real to derive societal benefits from behaving as if he might be. And as a basis for law, it’s hard to beat the basic 10 commandments.

    OK, much of this has been addressed already, but I’d like to chuck in my twopenn’orth…

    Religion is no better as a tool for morality than any other systematic structure of rules. Children start to learn right from wrong at around age 2. Most often, this is along the lines of “don’t do that – it’s not nice” or “how would you feel if other people did that to you?”. It’s not until later that they are capable of being taught about god and the rest of that, and they’re really not capable of understanding the 10 commandments until much later (in particular, could you explain the meaning of “thou shalt not commit adultery ” to a 4-year-old?).

    The commandments are a terrible starting point for a moral society. Rule 1: thou shalt have no god but me! Rule 2: thou shalt not worship false idols, i.e. see rule 1. Egocentric much?

    You only get useful moral values when you get down to the bottom of the list. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is a good one. It’s a shame that one gets ignored so often by the religious right, isn’t it?

    You say that, in the absence of some internal guide to right and wrong, force keeps people in line. Well, I say this is rubbish. Force does not really work. Or, more specifically, force alone can never work. Look at India in the few years after WWII. Instead, what works is fair and equitable rules applied the same to everyone, with transgressions of those rules punished in some fashion. What works is giving everyone the opportunity to own a stake in the system. Mostly.

  164. Alfster

    Never liked Christmas. It just makes going shopping more difficult for people.

    I really wish in supermarkets, around Christmas, they had ‘athiest only’ tills so I don’t have to wait for 20minutes behind people with enough food feed a nation in their trolleys or baskets when I’ve only got a few things to buy.

  165. “parents are far more important when explaining to children why they should not steal and kill (and they rarely have to resort to religious reasoning to do it).”

    Thanks for making that what-should-be-obvious point. When my kids were little we were still Christians (I would call myself an agnostic now), but it never occurred to me to invoke religion to guide their behavior. Rather, I used simple reasoning (yes, you can reason with very small children, they are capable of understanding much more than they are given credit for), like this:

    If you lie and cheat, people won’t trust you and good honest people won’t want to be around you. Do you want to be surrounded by people you can trust, or people who lie to you? What kind of people do you want to be around? What kind of person do you want to be?

    It’s not a difficult concept at all for a child to grasp, and my now adult children have many very nice friends and, perhaps more to the point, are loved and welcome in the homes of their friends’ parents.

    The problem with any reward-and-punishment approach to child-rearing, whether it employs religion or stickers and time outs, is that it teaches the child to fixate on the reward or the punishment, rather than on the fundamental question, what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of community to you want to live in?

    We create our own heaven or hell right here, right now, regardless of what we may or may not believe about supernatural beings and an afterlife. Or Christmas, for that matter, coming back to the original point of this post. I rather enjoy Christmas, but then I don’t go to the malls or the supermarkets (at any time of year), so I don’t encounter the crowds and unpleasantness. I shop at the co-op for food and little independent shops for gifts. It’s all quite pleasant.

    Just sayin’.

  166. This Ariane sounds like one awesome character!
    If you want to know what’s really sucky, try being Jewish on Christmas (in the US). It’s like everyone else is having a big party and you’re just looking through the window.

  167. Jasonspsyche

    You think being Jewish sucks – at least you have Hanukkah.

    Try being a Jehovah’s Witness – we couldn’t even celebrate birthdays!!

    Now that I’m an atheist, I’ll celebrate whatever I damn well please, thank you.

  168. Flo

    I still have no idea why Christmas is some kind of required holiday. Most of the people in the U.S. only celebrate Christmas in order to give and get material things. Jesus and God aren’t even talked about in stories anymore, especially not in the news. Christmas is merely a holiday for retailers. It’s their great God.

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