Putting Christ in Xmas

Thanksgiving is over, so now begins the holiday season (for anyone not Hindu who celebrated Diwali in October).  It's time now that we start seeing social network statuses being updated with remarks about Black Friday shopping and the war against Christmas.  Only the war on Christmas doesn't actually exist.

Yes, lets keep Christ in Christmas because Christmas has always been about Christ, and when you wish someone a happy holiday, it's a blatant attack on Christianity, isn't it?

Well, sure, if you consider Christianity to be a close-minded and self-absorbed belief system, then it's an attack on Christianity.  In reality, "happy holidays" is an inclusive way to wish someone happiness in whatever holiday they may be celebrating this time of year.  Christmas happens to be one of those holidays included.  It's what people say when they recognize that Christianity isn't the only religion in the world, so there's no need to assume that the person you are talking to is also a Christian.

Seeing these posts, blogs, and social network statuses that declare you must say "Merry Christmas" or we must keep the "Christ" in Christmas are simply another example of what playing the persecution card is.  It's kind of hard to be persecuted when your religion is the majority in a nation, and has so much influence over the government and lawmakers at the dismay of anyone who doesn't believe in such a specific and particular mythology.

Some pretend to get offended at the use of the "X" in Xmas.  I say pretend because I really believe that these kinds of people just look for any reason to get upset at something.  What's funny about this is that the "X" is a Greek abbreviation for "Christ" and not the anonymous character used by illiterates to sign contracts in Daffy Duck cartoons.

When I normally talk about Christmas, I do type "Xmas", except when blogging, because I tend to abbreviate less when I blog.  I do this not because I'm some sort of anti-theist trying to make a statement, I do this because it's shorter to type.  If I tell you in person, and I already know you're a Christian, then of course I will wish you a merry Christmas, but as for my sentiment to the world as a whole, I wish them a happy holidays

If you're the kind of Christian that still asserts that we should all only wish people a merry Christmas, despite the religion (or lack thereof) of the recipient of the sentiment, then I can only conclude that you are a part of the Christian war against other holidays.

How anyone could have something against wishing everyone happiness and not see the problem with that is simply mind boggling.


One Way Religion Hurts the Economy

Let me first start off by emphasizing that the name of this blog is The Layman Skeptic.  Layman is the key word here, so by no means am I an expert at many things, including economics.  However, I'd like to explain how I speculate that a particular religious ideal, if no longer practiced, could help boost our economy.

If you work an office job in the United States, such as administrative assistant, customer support, or reporting, chances are your schedule goes from Monday to Friday every week, starting in the morning, and getting home in the afternoon each day.  For many years now, we've seen Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, whether you consider both days at the beginning, at the end, or the week beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday.

Have you ever pondered why we've chosen these particular days?  After all, they are merely names we've assigned to each day in a 7-day cycle.  A day is one rotation of the earth.  A year is one revolution of the earth around the sun.  A week, however has no cosmological significance.  There's simply nothing in the sun-earth-moon relationship that happens on a 7-day cycle.

Have you ever wondered why we still go by a 7-day week?  If you'll notice, there's also never a complete number of weeks in a year.  There's 52.1 weeks in a common year and 52.3 weeks in a leap year.  Granted the fact that we bounce our months around between having 30 days and 31 days (and 28 for February, except for leap year when it's 29 days) doesn't seem as efficient to me as simply making all months 30 days, then adding or removing a day on a necessary cycle to account for the date drift (I'm too lazy to calculate my version of the leap year at this time, so don't ask).

The days of the week, although named after gods in Roman and Norse mythology, are cycled based on the Judeo-Christian biblical creation.  As the myth goes, God created the universe in 6 days, and rested on the 7th.
The weekly Sabbath is largely a Judeo-Christian practice.  It's a day set aside strictly for worship, where, depending on how strictly you follow your doctrine, many otherwise daily activities are prohibited.  Such things as cooking, house work, entertainment, leisure, and going to work at all may be on the list of things the almighty doesn't want you to do on his day.

The Jewish tradition is that this special day starts at sundown on Friday and ends when three stars appear on Saturday.  I'm not sure how they handle things like overcast and light pollution nowadays.  Seventh-Day Christians are similar, but believe this holy day goes from midnight Friday night to midnight Saturday night.  First-Day Sabbath Christians believe it goes from midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night.  Since the First-Day camp seems to have made up the majority in American and European history, guess which day banks are closed on today?

Now think of the last time you might have gotten a check from someone or had an appointment with the doctor.  You likely had to run this errand on your lunch break, take time off work, or fight the weekend traffic on Saturday (you may have had until noon or 1pm to get to the bank if you're the lucky person with a check, too).  Your doctor isn't going to likely offer you a Saturday appointment, unless he doesn't own a set of golf clubs and doesn't mind working 6-day weeks on salary.

Some businesses, like Chik-Fil-A and liquor stores would make a killing if they were simply open on Sundays.  Chik-Fil-A at least closes on the Sabbath by choice so it's their own stupid fault, but in many states and cities in the country, it's actually against the law to sell alcohol on Sunday.  Why?  Because it's the Sabbath, of course.

Luckily, it's legal everywhere in the U.S. to sell food on Sundays, which many Asian restaurants take advantage of.  Unlike The International House of Pancakes, which has the advantage of being a large chain with lots of employees, the simple independent Chinese take-out joint is commonly family-owned and operated, so it would be exhausting working 7 days a week, year round.  This is why many of these businesses choose another day to close.  Since Tuesday is statistically the slowest day for business, many Chinese restaurants are closed on Tuesday.  Ironically, places like Denny's, IHOP, and Bob Evans make a killing on Sundays, especially around noon -- because that's when and where all the people that go to church for their Sabbath go to eat after service.

Financial institutions can actually be open on Sundays if they wanted to.  There's no law stopping them, at least as far as I know.  They, like IHOP, could easily afford to staff branches and customer service hotlines all 7 days a week.  In fact, it seems to me that companies like Chase or Bank of America could probably afford this much easier than IHOP or McDonalds.  How many late fees do you think could be avoided if the banks were simply open all the time and getting customers 7 days a week?

Of course, the NYSE closes for the weekend as well, which would make it difficult for banks to report their numbers -- but then why does Wall Street have to shut down for the weekend?  Wouldn't traders have more opportunity to make more money all week long?  Wouldn't it make more sense to be running at least on Sundays to play the market after the busiest shopping day of the week (Saturday)?

Our government has no business basing the day the post office shuts down on the bible either.  It also can't be considered constitutional to prohibit the sale of alcohol on the same basis.  I would venture a guess that there's far more drinking on the weekend that on weekdays.  Road construction is done at night or on weekends in some places, but it's rarely done anytime other than when everyone else is trying to get to and from work on weekdays.

Think about the bar scene.  Those places get slammed on Friday and Saturday nights, and sometimes close on Sunday.  Their level of business is extremely dynamic throughout the week.  Many bars are so crowded on Saturdays, that patrons have nowhere to sit, and the establishment misses out on a customer for the night.  It's off to the gas station (probably a 24/7 one) to pick up a 12 pack or cheap beer and just make it a night in with pizza instead.

What need is there to deem the weekend the week's end, exactly?  Would there not be more business transactions if business transactions were easier to make if companies changed their operating hours and days according to when they get the most business?  What purpose is there in shutting your doors once a week on a day because some guy thousands of years ago read it off a stone tablet and credited the rule to his mythological friend?

I'm not suggesting we all make Tuesday the new day off because there are many options that would differ according to what kind of business you run.  Different companies could decide on different weekends, or stay running all week by managing their own schedules.

We're in the 21st century now, so why are we still doing this Sabbath thing if it's so counterproductive and hurts business?


We the People...

We the people of the United States of America were treated to a small glimmer of hope fairly recently.  The White House decided to start taking petitions online.  This meant that our voices would actually be heard much easier than before.  All one would have to do is create a petition and get enough signatures, and said petition would be considered for review.

Sounds great, right?  Well, as many of us were expecting (as skeptics), this addition to the White House website would be little more than a waste of time.

Deep within the bowels of atheist web forums such as Reddit, a couple petitions were spawned and quickly met the minimum required number of signatures.

Both of these petitions addressed secular issues.  One, a request to remove the unnecessary "under God" from the pledge of allegiance.  The other petition was a motion to remove "In God we trust" from our currency.

Who cares?  Why is this important?

It's important because our country is comprised of more than just religious people.  In fact, 15% of Americans identify themselves as not being religious.  Simply not being religious is not the opposition of religion, it's merely the neutral position.  According to the First Amendment (and Treaty of Tripoli in regards to Christianity), the government isn't supposed to make any law respecting an establishment of religion.  Thus, to include references to such an ambiguous and generic "God" goes overboard, by considering all and any gods that anyone could think of.  Yet, there would be no consideration for those who don't subscribe to any of such myths.

This is why, when thousands of people received their canned response from the White House, saying that the president supports the mention of God in our pledge and on our currency, they were thoroughly disappointed.    What's worse, is that nobody seems to have an answer for what to do when a petition fails, even when it's had enough signatures to be heard.

 Let's not forget that the mention of God in our pledge didn't come about until 1954.  It took 6 years of theists pressuring the White House to have it added.  Unfortunately, it's already taken much longer, and may take many years to come to remove it.  My only suggestion is to keep trying.

I signed both petitions.  I was one of many Americans to receive the letter you see below, twice.  Both letters were essentially the same for each petition.  They may want to consider removing the top right letterhead in future correspondence.

On a side note, according to the constitutions of the Carolinas, Massachusetts, Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, you have to believe in some form of deity to hold a position as an elected official.  Perhaps I shall run for governor in Maryland and declare the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my higher power.


5 Essential YouTubes (Part 1)

There's a whopping community of skeptics, atheists, and people that are just plain practical.  While many of them may not agree with each other, there's a lot to learn from these channels.  I've put together a list of some of the channels that I enjoy and find relevant.

I've considered making my own channel, but I just feel like I'd be putting a lot of effort into something that not many people would bother watching.  Plus, my only webcam is very old and very crappy.

Nonetheless, here are some wonderful YouTube channels that I subscribe to, with quick descriptions.  This is far from a complete list, so I will drop some more in later blogs.


Probably among the most popular in the YouTube atheist community, Thunderf00t is a bonafide scientist with an apparent contempt for stupidity.  He's most known for his series, Why Do People Laugh at Creationists.  While many of the videos in this series are a response to the incredible claims of another YouTuber and creationist VenomfangX, it provides material for solid rebuttals and debunkings of incredible claims.  Thunderf00t has gone head-to-head with the infamous banana man himself, Ray Comfort at least twice in person, and has even paid the hateful territory of the Westboro Baptist Church a visit.  "TF" is also a regular host of the Magic Sandwich Show, along side other prominent YouTubers, AronRa and dprjones.


Don't let the scary, long-haired, biker dude in the videos scare you -- he's one of the smartest and wittiest people on the planet.  As a parent of a Texas middle-school student, AronRa is one of my heroes.  He's attended panels with the Texas Board of Education on numerous occasions to fight the encroachment of creationism and other religious beliefs on our public school system.  AronRa has an extensive knowledge of biology, including the demonized Theory of Evolution.  I've probably learned more from him about biology than I have in school.  I've attached the first in his most notorious series, The Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.


On the lighter side of things, DarkMatter2525's usual content consists of hilarious animations, often laced with profanity, basically bringing the absurdity of religious claims to light.  Kick back and enjoy the exploits of Yahweh and his sidekick, Jeffrey as they try to create and manage the universe, or enjoy this one below which will introduce you to a slew of additional prominent YouTube atheists.


One of the funniest channels belongs to NonStampCollector, so named because of his hobby of not collecting stamps, in comparison to his religion of atheism.  The sharp, rapid-fire wittiness, and bladder-shrinking humor make you overlook the crudely-drawn slideshow animations.  NonStamp is notorious for using the bible to fight the bible.  If you want endless examples of biblical contradiction that you can barely read through your tears of laughter, this channel is a must.


A.k.a. the Bible Skeptic, Brett is well versed in both the bible and reality.  The Bible Skeptic has video series' debunking anything from the ethics of God sending bears to maul taunting children to the existence of the  nephilim (evil giants in the bible).  These videos are split in to 10-30 minute segments for easy watching.


A Call to Rally Christians to Save the Souls of Millions

Most atheists require evidence for incredible claims before the plausibility of such claims will even be considered.  In fact, it's the very definition of a skeptic.  When someone quotes the bible and claims that scripture is evidence in of itself, most atheists won't accept it.  This is because the only thing that confirms the bible is itself.  However, Christians do consider the bible as irrefutable evidence, so I can only conclude that the following request for assistance will be taken seriously.

The following is a request to save millions of souls from damnation and, at the same time, a test that should be effective in demonstrating the existence of God.

The bible says many times that prayers will always be answered.
Matt 7:7 - Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you
Matt 21:22 - And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
John 14:13,14 - And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
Now, of course, there's a problem with me doing the test myself, as I don't have faith, even according to the bible:
John 9:31 - Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
However, there are many people with at least a little faith, and those here with a very strong faith would be at an unnecessary advantage, because all you need is the amount of faith of a "mustard seed."
Matt 17:20 - And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Now, given the obligation of many Christians to spread the word of God, one would think that you're also obligated to show an unbeliever like me the way.

So, my proposition is for any Christian here to move Mt Rainier. Ever since I used to visit my grandparents in Washington, I've love Mt Rainier. It's simply beautiful. I'd really like if it was with me here in Ohio, but since we only need to perform a test, I will be satisfied with moving the mountain, say, 50 feet in any direction (except up, because I'd hate for people to be killed when it came back down).

I know that despite Jesus making very clear that prayers will be answered, that he doesn't just answer the whim and demand of everyone. You need a good selfless reason for praying for it to be answered, correct? How about saving souls from eternal torment in hell? Wouldn't that be sufficient reason?
Matt 28:19 - Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
The reason why this should work is because you wouldn't be doing this to prove it to yourself or any selfish reason, but to potentially save the souls of millions of atheists around the world, not to mention theists of other religions. Praying to move a mountain and actually have it happen would save so many souls from eternal torment, especially those who depend on logic. It would be considered by most to be conclusive evidence that prayer does work and God does exist, and that the one you worship is the only one and the right one.

I hope you understand that I can only consider anyone who takes this post as mockery as lacking faith. Additionally, anyone who says "this is impossible", obviously doesn't trust their word of God and would not be ideal to carry out this experiment. However, being that there are many Christians in the world, many of whom are exceedingly devout, I imagine that there would be many people available to pray simultaneously. This should greatly increase the effectiveness of the prayer.

I am dead serious here, but suppose I am being a smart aleck. Suppose I am guilty of mocking. Wouldn't it be worth simply doing a prayer to save millions of souls from hell, even if I don't take it as proof?  I can only see your participation as a selfless act of kindness, even if you assume I'm trying to be offensive.

So, simply put, the test is to pray to move Mt Rainier, or any mountain of your choice, using the power of prayer alone. My hypothesis is still that God does not exist, so anyone with at least a mustard seed of faith, please help me carry out this test.


God Bless the Children

Exodus 20:12
Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God gives you.

Leviticus 26:29
And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.

Psalm 137:9
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Genesis 22:1,2
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Judges 21:10
And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children.

With that out of the way, here is some suggested reading.  Yes, it's a boring research paper, but very eye-opening and on topic.


They're Made Out of Meat

The following is a story originally posted in the April 1991 issue of Omni Magazine, which I used to have a subscription to when it was in circulation.  It was written by Terry Bisson.  I thought I'd share it with you.

     "They're made out of meat."
     "Meat. They're made out of meat."
     "There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
     "That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"
     "They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."
     "So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
     "They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
     "That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
     "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat."
     "Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."
     "Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long. Do you have any idea what's the life span of meat?"
     "Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."
     "Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."
     "No brain?"
     "Oh, there's a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat! That's what I've been trying to tell you."
     "So ... what does the thinking?"
     "You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."
     "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
     "Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"
     "Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."
     "Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."
     "Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?"
     "First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual."
     "We're supposed to talk to meat."
     "That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.' That sort of thing."
     "They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"
     "Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."
     "I thought you just told me they used radio."
     "They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."
     "Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"
     "Officially or unofficially?"
     "Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."
     "I was hoping you would say that."
     "It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"
     "I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"
     "Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."
     "So we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe."
     "That's it."
     "Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You're sure they won't remember?"
     "They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."
     "A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."
     "And we marked the entire sector unoccupied."
     "Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"
     "Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."
     "They always come around."
     "And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone ..."