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 ..."


The End is Nigh! (or: 2012 Simplified)

You may remember Harold Camping’s prediction better than Harold Camping himself.  Camping was the minister and head of the Family Radio network that touted May 21, 2011 as when the rapture would happen.  Well, this day has since passed, and so has Camping.  Some of his followers still insist that May 21 was merely the date God silently judged all of humanity.   

Yep, it’s already been determined who’s going to hell and who’s going to heaven when the world actually ends on October 21, 2011.  Except, I guess, anyone who’s been born since May 21.  Oh, and I guess anyone who’s converted to or de-converted from Christianity in that time.  Well, I guess it’s complicated.

There have been many predictions about the devastation of the human race or the end of the world as we know it.  I can recall a few in my lifetime, including “some time in 1998” because, 1,998 divided by 3 is 666. 

 Nothing happened.

Then there was Y2K, which had less spiritual foundation, and more paranoia of technology behind it.  Power was supposed to go out world-wide, planes would drop out of the sky, and the entire world economy would be wiped clean because we foolishly programmed our computers everywhere to only use 2-digit dates.  Before computer programmers were concerned, even Prince sang how we should party like it was the end of the world.

 Nothing happened then either.

Perhaps the star of the show, thanks to History Channel documentaries and a Hollywood blockbuster, is the December 2012 prediction.  On December 22, 2012, the world is supposed to end.  Exactly why or how, nobody seems to agree.  Reasons from planetary alignments (which there aren’t any to happen on that date), to solar flares (largely unpredictable anyway) are deemed to be the cause.  Whatever actually is alleged to cause the destruction, the date has been picked because the ancient Mayans made a calendar that ends exactly on that date, and that somehow means that it’s also the end of the world.

Only, that’s not when the calendar ends, and if it was, what would that have to do with the end of the world?

credit: bizarro.com used without permission

The Mayan calendar goes in cycles.  Similar to how we have years, decades, and centuries, the Mayan calendar (or more accurately, the Mesoamerican calendar) has cycles called tun (360 days), k’atun (7,200 days), and b’ak’tun (114,000 days).  December 22, 2012 marks the end of the 13th b’ak’tun.  The next b’ak’tun will end another 394 years after, on March 26, 2407.  Hopefully we’ll be smart enough that far in the future to know that any paranoia over that date is also hype.

Now, this Long Count calendar is also a base 20 (vigesimal) calendar.  Today we usually count using base 10 -- that is we count from 0 to 9 and start over in the tens with 10 to 19, and so on (we call it decimal).
The b’ak’tun is the largest cycle of time on the calendar, but only goes up to 20, before starting over in a new cycle, which, I personally haven’t found the word for.  Regardless, if this was the end, the 20th b’ak’tun won’t happen until July 11, 4378.   
So if we want to assume the end of the calendar means the end of the world, we have plenty of time.  Of course, all that happens in July 4378 is the start of the 21st b’ak’tun… which doesn’t end until October 13, 4772.

In actuality, the truth is there is no “end” to the calendar at all.  It may be that’s the highest we’ve ever seen a Mayan artifact count the date, but that doesn’t mean anything.  You probably won’t be able to buy a 2013 Gregorian calendar (the one most of us use today except Muslims and some Jews) until fall of 2012. 

I suppose as long as we continue to print calendars each year, we’ll be okay.

Below are the Wikipedia articles explaining the Mayan/Mesoamerican calendar.


Today is Blasphemy Day

Started by the Center for Inquiry, on Blasphemy Day, the idea is to raise awareness of blasphemy laws which still exist in the laws of a number of the United States and European countries.  Blasphemy Day started in 2009 and is celebrated on September 30 of each year.

The day also marks the anniversary of the original drawing of the Muhammad cartoon in a Denmark newspaper which was responded to by Muslims with violent protests, death threats, and terrorist attacks.

In some countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, blasphemy can be punishable by death.  Many anti-blasphemy laws have been overturned since their conception, but many still remain in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, and the Netherlands.  Still shocking, such laws still remain in Michigan, South Carolina, Oklahoma (2, 3), Pennsylvania, Wyoming (§ 1-29-106), and Massachusetts (which is actually the first state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage!) -- though these laws are rarely enforced.

For obvious reasons, blasphemy laws are a violation of the 1st amendment.

So, please raise awareness of these laws so future generations won't think we take them seriously.

Jumping black baby Jesus on a lubed up pogo stick, and a happy Blasphemy Day to you!


"Macro-Evolution" With Color!

We all can agree (save for the severely color blind) that this text is red.

We can also similarly agree that this text is blue.

If we have red text and decide to change it by just a small amount, the change might be barely noticeable, but still a very small change. This, we will call our micro-evolution. Every word up to now can be considered red, with very minute changes in the hue. If I keep typing long enough, would anyone be able to tell me, just by looking, at which word or letter is this post no longer red, but actually purple or blue? All this micro-evolution keeps occurring in the text, with it's tiny changes in hue, but ultimately, I end up with a completely different color. It's actually the difference between what one would consider red and what one would consider purple (or a whole new species, in this analogy) which is macro-evolution. See, the common misunderstanding is, that macro-evolution means a dog being a direct offspring of some other different canine-like species, or even more stupidly, a cat coming from a dog. Well, that's not what macro-evolution is. There is really only one distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution, and it's the same distinction between their prefixes: micro and macro. Just like if something is microscopic or if something is macroscopic. Microscopic usually requires a microscope to see it because it's so small, but the macroscopic are things large enough to be seen by the common human eye. However, things of both size are completely visible and plainly exist, and there are many things in this universe between both general sizes. So as you read this, can you tell me the first word here that is blue, and not purple? After all, every change in color since the first word in this paragraph has only micro-evolved from the color next to it, but we've managed to macro-evolve through 2 colors. This, hopefully, will illustrate how it's illogical to believe that macro-evolution doesn't happen, even given time for enough micro-evolution to occur.

So tell me -- what was the first purple word in the block of text above? What's the first blue word? Remember, if macro-evolution simply can not happen then you're saying the words you are reading now are still red.

Breaking the Light Speed Barrier

This is a blog about skepticism, so it's about time we address something to be skeptical about.

A story that's been in the media lately has gotten a lot of attention in geeky web forums everywhere.  Science fans everywhere are excited about a recent experiment, collaborated between OPERA and CERN, where a few thousand neutrinos have been caught breaking the universal speed limit.  Until recently, it was generally thought that nothing could exceed the speed of light in a vacuum.

The truth is, as far as scientists are concerned, that is still the case.

One thing to remember is that this occurrence is the first and only experiment where this has happened.  It usually takes much more than one experiment to change a scientific theory.  In fact, Antonio Ereditato, a physicist and spokesperson involved in the experiment clearly points this out, saying it takes more than one experiment to prove an extraordinary claim.

Whew!  Something smells credulous.
There are many more factors why the experiment could have been inaccurate than there are factors that could disprove our current understanding of relativity.  For example, there could be a mis-calibration somewhere in the equipment.  Since the facilities at OPERA and CERN are the just barely the only ones to experiment with these particles with this level of accuracy, it might be a while before we see another experiment to challenge or support this recent discovery.  There are other labs that are already seeking to challenge the accuracy of the experiment, including Fermilab, MINOS, and an international collaboration at the J-PARC facility in Japan called the T2K experiment.

Another factor is that the tests between OPERA and CERN, in layman's terms, basically involves shooting particles from Switzerland to Italy, through tons of metal and rock.  It's been argued that the oft-quoted value of C is actually the known speed of light traveling in a vacuum.  So one possibility, as I see it (remembering that I'm no scientist) is that it wasn't that neutrinos broke the speed limit, but that the light in the experiment was "slowed down".  Perhaps some physicist out there would like to correct any misunderstandings I might have on the subject?


God, No! Autobiography, Yes!

My work is within walking distance to a Barnes and Noble, so on a slow day I decided to go for a stroll.  I came back with Penn Jillette's new book, God, No!  Signs You Might Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.  My copy of Dawkins' God Delusion sitting on my cubicle desk has already blended in, with no reaction from would-be fundie co-workers.  I suppose it's a bit "troll-ish" of me to leave something like this out, in the open, but so far, I seem to be surrounded by mature people that just don't care (or notice).  I probably don't get any comments because I already know what my response would be, and that it would include pointing out the Footprints calendars and Holy Bibles on other peoples' desks.  I've still yet to perfect the art of being an asshole, apparently.

God, No! is a short read, and a much thinner book than my other choice, Christopher Hitchens' Arguably.  I wanted some atheist reading material, however, and I think the Hitchens collection of essays might have served that purpose better.

Penn is very much an atheist, and the book does discuss the topic in some places, but if you're looking for something on the level of Harris or Silverman, you won't find it.  God, No! is a great autobiography, full of honest and hilarious tales, but not magical, and nothing that would indicate whether the reader may or may not be an atheist as the full title suggests.  Of course, being one who's enjoyed Penn and Teller since childhood, I realize this was probably the point.

I don't complain about language.  You can say "fuck" as if it is the only word in your vocabulary for all I care, but I did get the feeling that Penn's vocabulary liberation on Bullshit! may have influenced his writing style just a tad.  I love the word "fuck", but the profanity was seemingly forced according to my co-worker whom I let borrow the book.  She did not like.

I did, though.  I appreciated the honesty in the painful adventure with the hairdryer and could totally see something like that happening to me.  I can relate his field trip to the bath house with my trips to the gay bars.  Hey, when your gay best friend challenges your open-mindedness, how can you not accept the challenge?  Both Penn and I didn't return from our outings as homosexuals, nor would we consider it a problem if we did.

Some people may be able to finish God, No! on a lunch break, but it doesn't diminish it's entertaining factor.  Penn is, after all, an entertainer.  His partnership with Teller has always seemed to be about being honest and showing people reality, and that there is no magic (only tricks), and doing so in a way that will make you laugh or cringe.  This book epitomizes that experience very well.

As a book on atheism, or determining whether or not you might be an atheist, it likely won't do the job.  As an autobiography, it get's a high score from me.  I just need to figure out if I want to come up with a rating system of my own.

Sexism is Not an Atheist Problem

The stuff of American feminist nightmares...
I respect PZ Myers as a prominent figure in the atheist activist community, however, even the best make mistakes.  In a recent blog, and as I understand it, he implies there is an inherent sexism in the atheist community.  This I can see, considering there is sexism in nearly all communities, including feminism itself.  However, to say that atheism has a sexism "problem", seems to ignore the definition of what an atheist is.

I make sexist jokes, sure, provided that I can asses that present company can understand that it's just a joke.  Who doesn't like a good kitchen joke once in a while.  If anything, I see it as poking fun at the absurdity of sexism itself and not women.  I may be guilty of assuming my friends are all intelligent enough to see it that way, of course.

Atheism is nothing more than lacking deistic belief.  Since it's not a religion and doesn't follow a dogma, atheism certainly make no claims regarding the equality or superiority of one gender over another.  Any atheists who do make such claims are only guilty of sexism on their own individual accord.  This is why when I see the argument made that we should criticize ourselves with the same scrutiny we apply to religious establishments, I can only shake my head.  We have no 1 Timothy 2:12.

Neither is sexism a feminist problem (other than as a problem they face, of course).  By this,I mean they don't own the monopoly on addressing sexism (there is more than one sex, after all). Every group has their extremists, and there are some feminists that seek female superiority, albeit I've only known them to be a minority.  Sexism does go both ways after all.  I can't agree that "behind every great man there is a great woman" any more than I could agree with the saying vice versa.

There are also those who simply look for sexism where there is none.  I remember the hubbub about Rebecca Watson being asked out for coffee in an elevator and it getting blown out of proportion.  Wouldn't her fear or being creeped out by a guy politely asking for coffee be sexism on her part, and if not, why not?  Watch the video yourself.  The way she describes the guys approach sounds polite, yet admittedly awkward.  Wouldn't that make pretty much anyone who shyly starts up a conversation with another person of the opposite sex at risk of being guilty of sexism?

Sexism is a social problem apparent in all groups and community, and only more so in those communities that are indoctrinated to believe it's the cultural norm.  Perhaps PZ only meant the blog title entry to merely be an "attention grabber"?

Additionally, he mentioned a bonus question he proposed to his students asking to name one female scientist.  Isn't that sexist itself?  Most of his students either didn't answer or wrote down Madame Currie.  The first name that came to my head, after thinking for a minute or two, was Jane Goodall.  My stalling wasn't evidence of sexism, but rather the opposite.  I never bothered to think of the gender of scientists -- as it simply doesn't matter.  I don't think of Tyson as "Neil, the male scientist", so why would I think of Goodall as "Jane the female scientist"?  Wouldn't actively considering someones gender as relevant to their work in science actually be sexist?

Yes, PZ, I agree with you most of the time -- just not this time.  As I understand it, feminism is about giving women the same respect as men, not about calling out people and communities you think might possibly be  chauvinist.  Yes, there is sexism in the atheist community, as with any community, but it's regardless of the atheism of the community.

Sexism is a problem in general, it's just not an atheist problem.


My Deconversion Story

Semantically speaking, I just want to point out that nobody directly decides to just stop believing.  You can decide to remain in blissful ignorance or you can decide to question the validity of what you've been told.  Your belief or lack thereof is a result of how you assess what you've learned.

I went to church and Sunday school as a young kid with my grandmother, though I wouldn't say she was super-religious.  In fact, she was barely religious at all.  I think she just did it because she perceived it to be part of a normal, emotionally healthy lifestyle.  It also likely had something to do with the death of my youngest uncle when he was just 2 (we would be the same age today if he didn't drown).   Technically she isn’t my biological grandmother either, but my mother’s stepmother.  Otherwise, she’s every bit of a grandparent as the rest of my grandparents and then some.  She was, and still is, the grandparent that I feel is closest to me and my brother.

Looking back, I think her parents were actually Buddhists -- at least they collected Buddhas and rubbed their bellies for wishes.  I never saw them pray to the Abrahamic god in any fashion.  As far as I could tell, even my Memaw wasn’t raised in a religious home.
I remember, even at 4 years old, asking the Sunday school teacher questions that she would get annoyed with and I don't know why.  I would ask my grandmother the same ones, and she would say "I don't know, sweetie." when she didn't know.  Sometimes I wonder if the questions that I asked caused her to question her faith.

I've mentioned it here before, but one example question I remember asking was "Memaw, which is higher?  Clouds, space, heaven, or Carebears?"  I was 4, so I wasn't being a smart-ass.  I just wanted to know where the Carebears fit in with the rest of the layers of magical things above us.  I saw on TV, that they live in the clouds and I just wanted to know how high up they actually were. She explained that Carebears are pretend, because they are a cartoon, and do magic.

"Jesus does magic too, though, and he's real, right?"

I really don't remember the conversation beyond that.  She might have said nothing, or she might have said "I don't know", but I know if I was in her shoes, I could see how it could also plant a seed of doubt.  After all, there is that saying about wisdom from the mouth of babes.

My mother never indicated she was ever really religious, and the subject of god simply never came up as far as I recall.  My mother is extremely care free and has always seemed to be more concerned with living in the moment, enjoying the company of others, and having fun.  She and my father divorced when I was 3, and when I was 8, I lost my father to skin cancer.  I remember crying, and seeing my mother cry.  I don’t remember her bringing up heaven or God at all.  Knowing my mother all my life (as many people do), if I were to ask her if my father was in heaven, she would probably say “he probably is, if that’s what happens when you die.”  My mother’s attitude toward religion and spirituality has always seemed to be apathetic or largely unconcerned, though she’s not exactly skeptical either.  She still sometimes watches ghost-hunting shows on TV and tends to not necessarily believe it, but not disbelieve it either.  She still puzzles me at times, and even argued with me once that “there’s no way the guy on the show moved the chair with his foot off camera.”

My brother and I lived with our mother and her boyfriend Gary (not his real name, but we’ll just call him that).  Gary, as I remember, was Christian.  He was also racist.  I’ve met Gary’s father a number of times, and I could clearly tell that’s where he got it from.  Gary’s father was apparently a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan.  I also think if my mother had known both Gary and his dad were racists before they started living together they never would have never moved in together in the first place.  Gary was with us from the time I was 3 until about 17.  We didn’t like him.  My mother stayed with him while she went to college so she could afford to go on her own, but she didn’t love him.  As big of an asshole Gary was, he still supported all of us through most of our lives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he used that as some sort of leverage.  I saw my mother finally going to school as an act of defiance, even if it took her 10 years to enroll.  I don’t know the whole story, but that’s just how things unfolded.

Gary started out being physically abusive, though not sexually as far as I can remember.  I can recall specific incidents of violence while not being able to remember if my mother wasn’t there or if the just let it happen, or was too scared to do anything about it, or if she didn’t see it as abuse at all.  I don’t mean for this to sound like my mother was neglectful, as she was raised in a moderately abusive home as well, and probably thought it was normal.  Whatever the case, for over a decade, there was a usual pattern of Gary getting angry, getting violent, then coming in the room to sob and apologize some hours later.  “I never mean to hurt you and I won’t do it again.” He would say.  What he really meant was he wouldn’t do it again for a couple weeks or a month.

When I was a teenager, and doing pretty well in Tae Kwon Do, we all went to family counseling. Gary then resorted to what I can only describe as mental abuse.  Whether it was because of the counseling, or because I was now physically capable of burying my heel deep into his cranium, I can’t say.  Maybe it was a combination of both.  Unfortunately, one of the things they teach you in martial arts is discipline, so while I would regularly fantasize about whether or not I could crack his skull with my foot, I was well behaved enough not to test the hypothesis.

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” – Douglas Adams

My grandmother stopped taking me to church and Sunday school at a very young age.  I only recall Sunday school as being a very short period of time in my life.  I have a few half-second memories of Sunday school.  I remember making a Santa Claus out of a paper plate, some felt, and cotton balls for the beard.  I also remember the teacher explaining our solar system – the geocentric version.  It sounded reasonable to me at the time (again, I was 5), though it never occurred to me to compare it to the heliocentric version my kindergarten teacher went over with us in some playful children’s song in class.  The two versions just never occupied my mind at the same time to confuse me…  Until I was visiting my father one weekend and the subject of outer space came up.

My dad was raised in a religious home.  His parents were (and still are) fairly successful, Republican Christians.  I never knew if they’ve ever attended a church, but they definitely do believe the whole Jesus story and say grace before each meal.  They’ve never told me anything that suggested I had to do the same thing.  When I remember my father, I think he might have been an atheist, but I also don’t think my grandparents on that side realized it.  Or if they did, they didn’t talk about it much in front of me, but knowing them all my life (again, as many people tend to do), I know it would bother them.

I didn’t know it until I grew up to be a lot like him, but he was apparently a really huge nerd.  He was a fan of Doctor Who (4th doctor), loved to program cool-looking graphics and games on the Commodore 64, and even gave me his (and then, later mine) most favorite astronomy book.  I don’t know if I’m interested in all the same kind of things he was into because he exposed me to a lot of it, or if it’s just coincidence, but if he was still around today, you bet your ass we’d be having beers together doing Trek movie-marathons on a regular basis.  I didn’t realize how much I really looked up to and loved my father until after he was gone and I grew up.  I didn’t even realize he was a nerd like my until after I grew up earlier, and remembered him doing things like teaching me how to play the Close Encounters theme on the piano with one hand and doing the Curwen hand signs with the other.  My father was one cool, nerdy, motherfucker.

I remember mentioning that my teacher told me that we have night and day because the sun and moon go around the earth.  My father chuckled and quickly corrected me.  I even remember my religious grandparents being shocked that I had learned such nonsense.  My father said something to the effect of “I hope that he’s just remembering this wrong.  I don’t think a school teacher should be teaching these things to children in kindergarten.”

I then explained that my kindergarten teacher taught me the earth goes around the sun and that it was my Sunday school teacher who told me the wrong version.  That was the moment both storied had occupied my train of thought and allowed me to compare them.

This may have been why I ended up no longer going to Sunday school.  Perhaps my father let my Memaw and mother know the kind of stuff I was learning.  I don’t imagine my Memaw would have been offended in the slightest.  In fact, if this is the reason why she stopped taking me, she probably did it in the attitude of “Oh, my, I had no idea.  I’m sorry.  I guess I won’t take him there anymore.  If I would have known…”  That’s just her personality.

So, for nearly a decade afterward, when people would ask me if I believed in God, I would still say “yes”, and if they would ask me if I was Christian, I would still say “yes”.  I saw the word “Christian” as simply being synonymous with “good person”.  From the time I was questioning my Sunday school teacher onward, I never really believed the whole story about Christ born of a virgin, on the cross, and the resurrection.  It was just pretend, like Santa Claus or the Carebears.  I figured everyone knew that it was every bit of inspiring moral-story metaphor as the story of Noah’s Ark was supposed to be.

I did believe in a God, but I never really thought a lot about how I defined God until I was a teenager.  I had a friend who called himself a Druid, who had another friend that was a Unitarian Universalist (UU).  He was a lot smarter than I was (and still is) and I trusted his knowledge on what those things meant.  He explained Druidism, using some example like having the ability to squeeze water out of a rock if it was ever a desperate necessity, but that he couldn’t do it to show me because he wasn’t dying and it could also cause a drought somewhere else in the world.  This sounded like bullshit to me, so I asked him to explain what a UU was.  UU made absolute sense, and I realized, that by incident, right there, that that’s exactly what I was.  I was a Unitarian Universalist.

For those not familiar with Unitarian Universalism, the simplest explanation I can give for it is a congregation of all walks of people and all types of religion, gathered together for the sole purpose of seeking enlightenment.  It represents a complete tolerance of all religions, and even includes atheists as well.  We’re talking about a church that, if you happen to go to their church (you don’t have to go to be one), has Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and atheists sitting in the same place, talking about why they believe what they believe (or don’t) without any arguing or debating.  Basically it’s an open forum where a Muslim can get up in front of the diverse congregation and tell the story of why he or she believes what they do and the people in the pews can decide for themselves if it sounds reasonable.

I’ve still never been to a UU church in my life, but the idea sounded perfect.  I’ve always strived to be tolerant, and admittedly often felt pretty damn self-righteous about it as well.  I believed in a god, and I was now all about learning why and how other people do.  I wanted to tell other people why and how I do as well, only the problem was, I didn’t know why and how I believed in a god.

It wasn’t until I was about 17, that for the next 7 or 8 years I would be constantly looking for ways to define what a god was or what it would be.  As a UU, I felt that it was my responsibility to understand religion and seek out enlightenment in any place I could find it.  This involved reading the Christian bible (both NIV and KJV) and the Koran.  I made some effort to understand Hinduism, but found it to be a bit complicated, probably due to the cultural difference, but I got the general gist of it.  I learned the difference between Judaism and Christianity, the differences between Catholic and Protestant, and the reasons why Muslims and Jews seemed to dislike each other.  Buddhism also seemed inconsistent, in that it seemed like some times it was a religion, and other times it was just a set of secular values to live your life by.  

I also really enjoyed science.  I held on to that astronomy book my father gave me as a kid for as long as I kid until it was utterly destroyed by a family pet one day.  I got lousy grades in high school, even in science, and even though I absolutely love everything about science and its blunt and honest truth.  I loved when the Discovery Channel used to actually have stuff about science on it, and it would air things Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  I loved how the scientific method seemed to be this fool-proof way of getting the truth about anything, whether you liked that truth or not.  In short, you make an educated guess, find a way to test it in a manner that anyone else could, and if it fails the test, you try something else.  If it passes the test then you’ve found the truth.   

The best thing about the scientific method is that if you started with a hypothesis with a preconceived notion on anything that isn’t proven, then it would likely fail the test.  I saw this in contrast to religion where, if you have a preconceived notion of nearly any sort, you can almost certainly back it up with any holy text.  If you wanted to show that killing large numbers of people to spread your beliefs to the rest of the world, the bible and the Koran can pretty much back you up on that if you wanted them to.

When I was about 20 years old, I had the pleasure of meeting a very hot, geeky, and sexy, “punk rock” chick (we’ll call her Jillian), who would later become the mother of my beautiful, geeky, and adorable, daughter.  She was the first person I was in a relationship with to ever express interest in what I believed with regards to god and an afterlife.  I had already began learning about various religions and pursued science knowledge in community college before she asked me one night, while teaching her how to drive a standard transmission vehicle, if I believe in God.

Out of habit, I said “yes”, and we parked the car and talked for hours.  The moment she asked me about my beliefs, a script was running in my brain, attempting to make sense of everything I had learned up to that point.  Moments later, my mushy cranial computer spit the results out my mouth.

I was a pantheist.

I didn’t know that was the word for it at the time, but that’s very plainly what I was.

I explained that according to most religious people, God is everything.  God is everywhere and controls everything.  I didn’t believe there was a separate antagonist like Satan or Beelzebub, but that there was one spiritual entity that was responsible for it all because it was all.  Anything that was part of the universe was also a part of God, from the stars, trees, animals, and rocks, to the cigarette butts in my ashtrays and un-flushed turds in the toilet.  I explained that mankind will never know everything through science, because the possibilities of things there are to know in the universe is infinite.  I had right then and there, assessed that God was the conscious form of the universe.

I thought of the time I heard Carl Sagan say, “We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
Many atheists in the activist community today might chastise me for saying this, but I think when Carl Sagan said this on camera, he too, was a pantheist, at least at the time.  Whether or not he may still have been later on and up until he passed away, I couldn’t tell you.  All I know is, as I understand that quote, it suggests a pantheistic Carl Sagan.

This quote to me suggests that we are a part of the universe, just like our brains are a part of us.  If our brain knows something, that means we know it.  Our personality, after all, resides completely in the brain.  Likewise, what we know, so does the universe.  The personality of the universe, therefore resides completely in the collective minds of all the living, thinking, things therein.  I concluded that the universe therefore has a consciousness and a personality, albeit very vast and complex when compared to a single human.
I have no idea what Jillian’s beliefs were before that night, as she responded a lot with “I don’t know” when I asked her if she believed.  I suppose she was just a flat out agnostic.  Again, at risk of being corrected by a swarm of huffy atheists, I consider a plain agnostic anyone who still says “I don’t know” when you ask them if they actually believe.  She wouldn’t even say she didn’t believe as a result of her not knowing.  Just “I don’t know”.  Maybe she was trying to figure it out then and there as I was talking to her.  So, just let me call her an agnostic at that time and deal with it.

After we were done talking, she seemed to be wowed.  She may have even been impressed.  It made me a little smug when it seemed like after that night, I had somehow enlightened someone with the knowledge of god, and who and what it was.  Thirteen years later, I have her friended on Facebook, and her religion says “Pantheist”.  Mine doesn’t.  Mine says “atheist”.  Maybe it’s my ego getting away from me, but I think I might actually be the reason she’s a pantheist.  Because of this, I feel like if we ever found ourselves having another talk about god in the future, it would be my responsibility to tell her I’m no longer a pantheist.  What I’ll probably do is just show her this story instead.

So there I was: a pantheist.  I would pray during hard times, sort of.  It was more like talking to God through telepathy, but I just called that praying.  I mean, if I was a part of God’s thoughts, that’s how you’d most effectively communicate, right?  You think it, and it’s automatically what God is thinking.  It made sense to me at the time.  Only, as time went on, I’d go through good times and hard times, praying and not praying, until I began to realize the complete uselessness of prayer.

After some time living my life as a pantheist, it allowed me to experience the success rate of prayer, which seemed to be about 50%.  The success rate of things just so happening to go the way I like without prayer was 50%.  “Well,” I thought to myself, “this doesn’t mean there’s no God, right?”

I reasoned that the almighty is going to do what it’s going to do.  God’s not even going to ever give evidence of his existence.  So if the world and the universe just happen and carry on the same way with or without a god, then how can I even know one exists?  It’s not like I lived my life any differently than if there wasn’t a god at all.  If this universe was just completely natural and existential on its own, then what would it matter anyway?  Why would a conscious, vast, universe even care if the entire tiny spec called earth believed in it’s own consciousness, let alone whether or not little ol’ me believed in it.

I found myself about 29 years old, and an agnostic pantheist.

I wasn’t scared of being an atheist.  I just simply didn’t consider myself one.  I thought that there might be a collective consciousness to the universe, but there was no way science would ever be able to figure that one out for sure.  I imagine that with all the knowledge mankind has amassed over his existence, it’s a laughably small amount of knowledge regarding what there actually is to know.  We know about the big bang, but we’re still fuzzy or don’t know the nature of its origin.  I’m sure when we find out (if we manage to do so before going extinct)  there will simply be another hurdle that will take years or centuries to overcome.  I imagine it will continue to be this way for billions of years.  I don’t think we’ll even be able to stop at the idea of 10 (or 11) dimensions.

I didn’t feel like my life and the universe around me would just cease to lose meaning if I considered myself an atheist.  I just recognized that I still yelled “Goddamnit!” when I painfully jammed my hand hard against the cylinder head while working on my car.  I still recognized that I said “Bless you” when people sneezed, and still said “I hope to God” when I hoped for desired results.  I simply assumed that because I did all this, I apparently still inherently believed in a god, even though I didn’t do so actively.  I didn’t know and neither can anyone else.  It’s not even within mankind’s capability, so I was agnostic.  If god existed, then I would define it as the pantheistic one.

I still pursued learning about religions, as was the habit I had maintained since my days as a UU.  I still find a tiny thrill in it to this day.  I realized that I had never bothered to learn more about atheism.  I knew exactly what an atheist was, so what more could there possibly be to learn about atheism.  They just don’t believe there’s a god – period.  What I wasn’t sure of was whether or not they hung out in any kind of groups, or had meetings.  What the hell would atheists do?  They surely wouldn’t go to a anti-church or bizzaro-mosque to revel and chant things like “there is no god, there is no god.”   That would just be stupid.  I got the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster thing was to poke fun at the creationist claims of religion, but surely they didn’t see that as some sort of idol to fill a missing gap that the brain might require to stay sane.  That would also be stupid.

So I began looking for forums and videos all over the internet.  Atheistforums.com was where I started.  Then I found myself subscribing to Youtube channels.  Thunderf00t was the first, then others:  AronRa, dprjones, Coughlan616, Brett Palmer, DarkMatter2525, Lacy Green, HappyCabbie, and many, many more.
I became addicted to a public access show that aired in Austin, Texas, and also uploaded to Youtube, called The Atheist Experience.  

What I did find, is that the many atheists today do actually meet in groups, but there’s no chanting.  They meet in groups for the same reasons gay people might get together.  Even though I’ve personally never had the impression that an atheist is the worst possible thing a person could be, I discovered that an embarrassing number of people in the world do see atheists this way.  These gatherings were conventions and rallies that would promote reason.  I hadn’t previously considered that we would need rallies to promote people to just fucking think, but yes, there is a staggering amount of ignorant people in the world, and all these people wanted was for these people to just fucking think.  I’m all for that!

I was shocked to learn that, in some states, you can’t even hold a public office if you don’t believe in some kind of deity.  It is in the Texas constitution, that an atheist can not become governor.  I was totally unaware of this!

Still, I didn’t drop my pantheist title simply because I had passion for these people.  I mean, I go to gay bars with my gay best friend when I fly out to visit him, and I get pissed off when religious nuts piss on his rights just because his gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be gay, despite my having a strong compassion for gay rights.

Nope, I started to realize I was an atheist when I saw that most of these atheists held logic, reason, and truth, as virtues.  This wasn’t even any part of the definition of what an atheist is, as far as I know.  The activist portion of the atheist community simply held these values and virtue by pure incident.
It started when I would occasionally drop the fact that I was an agnostic pantheist, and an atheist would respond with “Why?”  Whether I said “I don’t know” or tried to explain why, they typically did a very good job at pointing out that, despite my beloved affinity for logic and reasoning, I just wasn’t being logical and reasonable enough.  I was able to concede in online debates and arguments, and I was shown to be wrong about a lot of what I thought, and I loved everything about that.

Agnostic?  Nope.

What I discovered about myself, was that the whole time, I was clinging on to an imaginary security blanket.  I’ve always had an appreciation for the vast wonders of the universe, but I never realized that I was trying to add something to it that wasn’t there.  The fact that the universe is every bit as grand and wonderful as I’ve always thought it was, and still a heck of a lot simpler.
Our universe can only be what we can possibly know about it.  There is nothing supernatural or not understandable about the universe at all.  It’s here and it’s all available to us, we just haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

There’s never been any evidence of any god or anything supernatural anywhere.  In fact, do you know what we call something that was supernatural that actually has evidence for it?  Natural.

There is no god, and there is no afterlife.  Birth and death are simply the book ends to your finite life, so do what you can with it and make it as important and fulfilling as possible, not just for yourself, but for others as well.  We’re all but a blink in time in the universe, and that adds far more value to us than if we actually went on for eternity.

How could I possibly imagine adding something to it all?  How could I add anything to this universe and appreciate its worth and the worth of life?

I am an atheist.