Is god the product of our brains? A new documentary film seeks the answers.
Is god the product of our brains? A new documentary film seeks the answers.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Hell, it’s not even November yet and he’s talking about Christmas.”
Well, it’s because of the publication of a new book: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas edited by Ariane Sherine. Here’s the description from Amazon:
42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers give their funny and serious tips for enjoying the Christmas season. Last year, Guardian journalist Ariane Sherine launched the Atheist Bus Campaign and ended up raising over GBP150,000, enough to place the advert ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ on 800 UK buses in January 2009. Now Ariane and dozens of other atheist writers, comedians and scientists are joining together to raise money for a very different cause. The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a funny, thoughtful handbook all about enjoying Christmas, from 42 of the world’s most entertaining atheists. It features everything from an atheist Christmas miracle to a guide to the best Christmas pop hits, and contributors include Richard Dawkins, Charlie Brooker, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre, Jenny Colgan, David Baddiel, Simon Singh, AC Grayling, Brian Cox and Richard Herring. The full book advance and all royalties will go to the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
So, a worthwhile cause and a fun read. Yet it probably won’t be enough to satisfy one group of people apparently intent on being confused by the idea that atheists celebrate Christmas at all. Yes, I’m talking about journalists. According to a recent bulletin from the British Humanist Association:
The BHA has started getting the yearly media calls about humanists at Christmas. Many journalists seem utterly confused by the concept that someone can have a turkey (or nutroast) dinner, decorate a tree, see family and friends and give and receive gifts yet still be non-religious … we try to explain to journalists is that there is nothing hypocritical about enjoying oneself over a certain period whilst at the same time believing that we are not celebrating the birth of anyone’s messiah.
Let’s face it, for the majority of people – particularly in Western Europe – the religious significance of Christmas is nominal at best. The nativity is a great story, that we can all enjoy at the level of a fairy tale. And we can all have a wonderful time singing carols while knowing that the message they convey is an ancient fiction.
We each decide what Christmas means for us. For many people, it’s about getting together with family. For others, it’s about having a holiday with lots of good food, booze and gifts. I’ve even known non-religious people attend Midnight Mass (I did it once myself, at Truro Cathedral: an amazing spectacle but I found it deeply creepy). And, being humanists, many of us will take the time to reflect on those less fortunate than ourselves and do something about it.
And even if you’re a Christian, it doesn’t pay to dig too deeply into the genuine meaning of Christmas. I’m sure we’re all aware by now that its origins are pagan – a celebration of the Winter solstice and the rebirth of the year.
And many of the symbols of Christmas – Xmas trees, yule logs, Santa – are pagan, too. Or Roman. Or Victorian inventions. As a festival, then, what we’re celebrating is largely the Christian theft of an older ritual.
So let’s forget about all that silly supernatural nonsense. And why not buy The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas as an Xmas present for someone you love – someone intelligent who will appreciate the irony.
Update: For some more excellent atheist reading this Xmas – and the perfect gift ideas for the humanist in your life – check out our Top 6 Books for Atheists this Xmas.
New York atheists are taking their message to the streets with a poster campaign. The signs will read: “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are You?”. The campaign was inspired by a similar one in the UK, backed by the British Humanist Association, in which posters on buses read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.
It will be interesting to see how long the New York posters last. Elsewhere, the atheist message is coming under attack – and in a very unchristian fashion.
The American Humanist Association has had a poster defaced. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this particular graffito was its complete lack of wit or intelligence. But perhaps it was too much to expect anything more than mindless vandalism.
More worrying, perhaps, is a concerted Distributed Denial of Service (DoS) attack on atheism websites in Australia. The Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Global Atheist Convention were both knocked offline.
In both cases, the attackers may have no religious axe to grind: it’s possible they’re simply vandals who happened to pick on atheist targets. Let’s hope so: this is hardly turning the other cheek, is it?
The UK arm of the Alpha organisation has a poll on its website’s home page – does god exist? And when I visited the site, the response was pretty overwhelming: 96% of the 87,602 voters had said … NO.
And that’s surprising, because Alpha is a Christian organisation dedicated to getting people to believe in god. It’s an evangelical outfit with a soft voice, which uses low-key indoctrination techniques to suck in the vulnerable and credulous. It’s love-bombing for the iPod generation.
I’ve no doubt that, soon, the poll will be taken down or, um, ‘adjusted’ somehow. But just so you can enjoy what I experienced, here’s a screengrab (I’ve enlarged the relevant bit to ensure it’s readable):
Meanwhile, the ‘Belief’ section of The Guardian newspaper ran a poll (due to close on 22/10/2009) which asked the question, ‘Can you be good without God?’. With one day to go, the results were that 93% said ‘Yes, of course. You don’t need religion to be morally driven’. So much for ‘no morality without religion’.
Update 23/10/2009: The number of votes is up to 154,500 and the percentage of No votes has increased to 98%! Looks like the Alpha people have their work cut out…
Ludovic Kennedy, who died today aged 89, was a great freethinker who championed civil liberties and campaigned against the harmful influence of religion.
His book, All In The Mind: A Farewell To God, published in 1999, detailed the harm he believed Christianity had done to society. The book was developed from his Voltaire Lecture, given in 1984 for the British Humanist Association – an organisation for which he was a staunch advocate.
‘Ludo’ was also was also frequently in the front line in fighting against miscarriages of justice, and believed that the adversarial approach used by the UK and US legal systems inevitably leads to corruption and errors.
He was a skilled journalist and TV presenter, and outstanding writer and, above all, an outstanding humanist. He will be missed.
Evolutionary studies have brought some bad news for certain types of evangelical Christian. According to new research, large broods lead to low-quality offspring, who then seek out low-quality mates.
Clearly, this is bad news for the Quiverfull movement. Adherents of this conservative, evangelical lifestyle promote large families as a way of populating the world with more Christians. Alas, it seems that what they may actually achieve is an increase in the world’s supply of idiots. Whether this is a good or bad thing for the continuation of the Christian faith will depend on your point of view.
The results of the research – which involved zebra finches – surprised the researchers, too. Scientists always believed that females of any species would always seek out the best possible males with which to mate. It turns out, however, that the female finches tended to mate with males of their own level. Low-quality females went for low-quality males – birds whose songs weren’t quite up to scratch or whose plumage was maybe a tad tatty.
Large broods have a tendency to result in larger numbers of low-quality females, because of the competition between siblings.
So where does this leave Quiverfull? Given that members of extremist cults tend towards intra-sect breeding, if not actual inbreeding, can one expect an inevitable decline in IQ levels among these Christian families?