Adeste Adoremus

Captain Groggy Swagger and I were having a pleasant chat in the comments to my post on Songs of Praise about whether it is appropriate for an atheist to sing Carols or say Grace.

There are some religious things that are ingrained into our daily lives that do bug me. What do you do when you sit at a dinner table and someone says grace?

– Captain Groggy Swagger

I confessed that I rather enjoy all the trappings of Cultural Christianity. I enjoy the songs, I have a nativity scene on my mantelpiece and I insist that our Christmas cards feature scenes from Luke and Matthew. I really miss not hearing sacred music played around Christmas time and the whole Frosty the Snowman and fat men in red coats thing bothers me much more than it should.

The Times picks up the trail after Richard Dawkins’ recent admission that he happily sings along to God Rest You Merry Gentlemen along with the rest of us Cultural Christians and Ceremonial Deists.

But the really fabulous news I mentioned is that Richard Dawkins, Prophet of Atheism, has said in a BBC interview that he is not against ‘cultural’ Christianity and “Yes, I like singing carols along with everyone else”. Which raises enough tantalising philosophical and ethical questions to keep us going till Christmas Eve. Dawkins sings carols? Does he sing all the words? Does he boom out lines about herald angels, holy nights, the tender Lamb promised from eternal years? Does he croon: “What can I give Him, poor as I am?” Does the polemicist who gave three eloquent pages to deconstructing the story of St Luke’s Gospel happily warble O Little Town of Bethlehem and Once in Royal David’s City? Does the man who says that religious education is tantamount to “child abuse” feel wholly comfortable crooning Away in a Manger?

Apart from the fact that she mentions my three favourite Carols in a single paragraph, I enjoyed her article because it gets to the heart of a cultural divide among atheists.

My guess is that people who have grown up around religion without ever actually believing it are typically more comfortable with the trappings of Cultural Christianity than are the former believers who had a road back from Damascus moment or the atheists who were never exposed to Christian mythology at all. Reading the comments to the Times article confirms my prejudices.

It also confirms my new belief in Ceremonial Deism as the best chance for salvation for mankind. I wonder if Dawkins would be interested in becoming our pope?

Warning: atheism can make you more tolerant!

A new study by Michigan State sociologist Ralph Pyle presented at this month’s joint meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association in Tampa, Fla., shows how all sides in the conservative-liberal religious divide have work to do in combating prejudice and promoting tolerance.

He found that moderate Protestants held the strongest anti-black attitudes. The next most prejudiced group? Liberal Protestants.

The good news for religious groups: People who go to church regularly were less likely to be prejudiced, Pyle said. The bad news is people with no religious affiliation were also much less likely to be prejudiced than individuals showing modest levels of commitment to their faith, those who attend services monthly or less.

Shurely shome mishtake?

To spread mirth…

In an otherwise excellent article, The Economist commits an error of logic.

“A few have taken to calling themselves “Brights” for no good reason and to widespread mirth.”

In fact, I call myself a Bright for a very good reason… to create widespread mirth.

Speaking of Brights and widespread mirth…the most recent-but-one Brights Bulletin wanted us to vote for a tagline. We have already agreed on a logo and a mission statement and a definition – oh, and an antonym – now we need a tagline. As soon as we have our t-shirts printed and our policy statements finalized we are going to change the world!

So, we were going to go with :

Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview

until someone pointed was like…Hey! Brights don’t elevate! They illuminate! and we were like oh yeah! We should have a vote on that. We vote on everything at The Brights. When we are not elevating or illuminating we are voting. We modelled out society on an anarcho-syndicalist commune and we have bi-weekly meetings of our executive committee.

Anyway. The choices were

  • Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview
  • Illuminating and Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview

Being a community-minded Bright and not wanting people to make fun of us (despite our mission to spread mirth, we don’t like people making fun of us), I emailed the executive committee to point out how silly the choices were and to ask what was wrong with simply illuminating and what does elevating have to do with anything.

Apparently two dozen other people did the same thing but apparently we are the stupid ones because

“Frankly, the Brights movement, properly understood, is very much a “lift up” endeavor….But the “illuminating” aspect just won’t get the job done!”

The goal of this movement is to achieve a level societal playing field for people who, living amidst society’s dominant supernatural-infused outlooks, hold onto some variant of a naturalistic worldview.

Well! Consider me educated, frankly!

The best thing about this statement of policy is that it simultaneously manages to be both humourless and very, very funny – all contributing to the goal of spreading mirth. Result!

I am seriously considering joining the ceremonial deists though.

Is Science Important?

What would America be like if science were permitted to inform decision making, and if scientific issues that concern the world’s future were a natural part of a broad national conversation?

The campaign to have a presidential debate focussed on science is gathering steam.

It’s unrealistic to expect candidates to actually know anything about science but, surely, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to know the importance of science, or how science works or how science should inform policy?

It’ll never happen of course because so many of the republican candidates (and their constituents) are anti-science…but…we can dream…

It makes me wonder: Who was the last president who was not a lawyer or a general?

Come Join Us at Dreamhost

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RewardsFirst a few words about DreamHost and how I chose them.

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The Bali Declaration

“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now far exceeds the natural range of the past 650,000 years and it is rising very quickly due to human activity.”If this trend is not halted soon, many millions of people will be at risk from extreme events such as heat waves, drought, floods and storms, our coasts and cities will be threatened by rising sea levels, and many ecosystems, plants and animal species will be in serious danger of extinction.”

“The prime goal of this new regime must be to limit global warming to no more than 2 ºC above the pre-industrial temperature, a limit that has already been formally adopted by the European Union and a number of other countries. Based on current scientific understanding, this requires that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below their 1990 levels by the year 2050.

The Bali Declaration