Thoughts on Hitch

December 18, 2011

Richard Dawkins helped me understand why religion is incorrect. Christopher Hitchens helped me understand why it is evil. If Dawkins was my motivation to finally declare myself atheist, Hitchens was my inspiration to enter the fight against religion’s dehumanizing effects with vigor.

Millions of words have been written this weekend in memory of Christopher Hitchens, who died Friday following a long fight with esophageal cancer. One of the original “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheist movement, Hitchens, along with Dawkins and fellow authors Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, launched a veritable revolution among the godless. Their popular books brilliantly expressed centuries of atheist thinking in a way that was not only accessible, but also catalyzing for members of the most reviled minority in America. Hitchens’ work is one of the primary reasons millions of atheists are mad as hell, and not taking it anymore.

Hitch’s contribution, “God Is Not Great” was the second of the four books I read. At the start of the book, I still harbored the ex-believer’s common warmness toward religious stories — Jesus seemed like a pretty nice guy, and the Bible still seemed to contain much that was commendable, even if I didn’t believe it was true. By the end of “God Is Not Great,” I wanted to punch JC in the face. He laid bare, in a single volume, the moral horror that religion entails when it places dogma over human needs (which is to say, always).

Quite apart from his work on behalf of rationality, the thing I’ll miss most is Hitch’s inimitable writing style. He was an absolute master of the high-brow put-down. In a time when smug cleverness is often mistaken for wit, Hitch showed what the latter really meant, simultaneously delivering both seriousness and humor that gave an intimidating glimpse into the mind of what must have been one of the most well read people alive. Even if he was writing on a subject about which I knew little, I devoured his columns just for the pleasure of reading some of the best writing on the planet.

We’ll miss you, Hitch. There’s not another like you.


This topic already?!

September 1, 2011

Kids get on weird kicks all the time, where they want to talk about the same thing incessantly.  Since we moved from the city to the burbs, my kid’s thing has been death.  And farting.  My kid’s two things have been death and farting.  And peeing outdoors.  Among my kid’s many weird things have been death, farting, and peeing outdoors…

But I digress.  We were talking about death.  And have been,  a lot.  This comes up in 2 main contexts: squished or no longer moving insects, and warning him against doing dangerous things that could, in his words, “make me dead.”  When a family friend’s mother recently died, it became slightly more concrete with people.

Because we don’t believe in an afterlife, I don’t want to shield him from the idea of death.  I’m hoping (in an age-appropriate way) to help him understand what it means, and that it’s a natural part of life.  Our current working definition of death is “sometimes someone gets very sick, or hurt, or just old, and their body just wears out and stops working.  When that happens, they can’t do anything anymore.  It’s like going to sleep and not waking up.”

So far, this has sufficed to explain things without visibly terrifying him.  But, man, do I feel like we’re walking a tightrope.  I want him to understand the basic concept and its implications enough not to do reckless things.  But no one wants to get a preschooler preoccupied with the idea of dying.  That kind of stuff can really haunt a kid.

I think back to my religious days, when it would have been so easy to say “our friend’s mommy went to heaven.”  Easy, but so much less honest.  And, in a real way, so devaluing of the loss.  When you accept that there isn’t another world beyond where we’ll be reunited, it makes the finality of death horribly tangible.  But it also challenges you to value the one and only life the deceased had to live, and how they lived it.  And to live your one and only life as richly and presently as possible.

Sneaky, sneaky

April 10, 2011

The Little Atheist has been collecting coins in a couple of piggy banks, most recently as rewards for potty training success (in case you’re wondering, the going rate for a poopy is 2 cents).  His banks were getting heavy, so we decided to open them up, empty the contents, and start a savings account for future money-teaching purposes.  Imagine our surprise when, among the legal tender, we encountered this:

I googled the image, and it is indeed a “guardian angel” coin.  We have no idea who put it in there.  I strongly expect My Very Catholic Mother-in-Law, but there are certainly other possibilities – my mother, a babysitter, a good friend who dog sits on occasion.







I was a little irritated at first, but now it’s just amusing.  The religious are, almost by definition, fairly superstitious, but this just takes it one step further.  Do they really think the spirit or essence or something of an angel is held within a cheap little coin?  Or does one have to bribe guardian angels to come near with pretty, shiny objects?  The whole thing is just too silly.

Bringing the creepy

October 12, 2010

My Very Catholic Mother-In-Law sent me this gem earlier in the week.  And you thought a guy nailed to a tree was creepy…

From  one pumpkin to another!!!!!!!

A woman was asked by  a coworker, ‘What is it like to be a  Christian?’

The coworker replied, ‘It is like being  a pumpkin.’   God  picks you from the patch, brings you in,   and  washes all the dirt off of you.    
Then  He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky  stuff.  He removes the seeds of doubt, hate,   and  greed.   Then  He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside  of you to shine for all  the  world to see.’

This was passed on to me by another  pumpkin..   Now  it’s your turn to pass it to other pumpkins.

I  liked this enough to send it to all the pumpkins in my  patch.

Just a few thoughts:

1) “He cuts off the top”?!?!?!  I used to be a Christian, and I can’t find a theological analogue for what this is supposed to mean.  He removes your brain (with thinking for yourself being “yucky stuff”)?  A veiled reference to circumcision?  WTF?

2) He apparently is kind of sloppy with that spoon, because there are as many “seeds of … hate and greed” in Christians as there are in anyone else.

3) Personally, I like a few “seeds of doubt.”  They tend to make the world a little more palatable.  Especially when toasted in butter and sprinkled liberally on the spice cake of irrationality that religion feeds people.

4) “He carves you a new smiling face” puts me in mind of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

I’ll think twice before ever calling my kid “pumpkin” after this.

God, Grilled Cheese, and Glee

October 6, 2010

Fox’s hit TV show Glee waded into the fraught waters of belief and disbelief last night, with mixed results.  Three separate storylines focused on the faith or lack thereof of the characters.

Story #1: Most prominent was the story of Kurt, the gay son of an auto mechanic.  Kurt’s dad has a heart attack and goes into a coma, and we subsequently learn that Kurt is an atheist when his friends begin to offer religious assertions as comfort.

The Good: Kurt is unapologetic and consistent in his disbelief.  When challenged that he “can’t disprove God,” he gets in a zinger involving Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot (although Kurt jazzes it up a bit by putting a dwarf that shoots lasers from its boobs inside the teapot).  The show closes with a great human moment when Kurt tells his dad that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in their family.  I thought it was refreshing to have a character so openly profess his disbelief, and NOT be converted by the end (and I was nervous at a few points it might go that way).

The Bad: Kurt violates the Phil Plait rule, and sometimes comes off as a dick.  He calls the class “mental patients” for believing in God, and tosses several of them from his dad’s hospital room when they show up to pray.  (I defend him on this point, though.  If you make your views known and people shove their religion in anyway, I think you’re entitled to be pissed.)

Story #2: Finn, the dim but earnest football player, makes a grilled cheese and, due to a fluke of the George Forman Grill, ends up with Grilled Cheesus.  After carefully excising the half of the sandwich without the lord’s countenance (because Finn was, after all, really hungry), Finn begins praying for various selfish things: to win a football game, to get to second base with Rachael, to become quarterback again.  Every wish comes true, and every time Finn expressly gives credit to Grilled Cheesus.  It all unravels, however, when Finn realizes all that happened was for completely explainable reasons, and his newfound faith dissolves with a rendition of “Losing My Religion.”  And the consumption of Grilled Cheesus.

The Good: First, it’s just funny as hell to watch Finn pray to a grilled cheese.  Best line: “I never went to Sunday School, so I don’t know if you’re like a genie and I get three wishes.”  Also interesting to show a shallow but common form of Christianity, what Kurt called “Santa Clause for adults.”  Nice scene when Finn gives credit to god for his romantic success with Rachael, and is reminded that Rachael let him touch her, because she cares about him.

The Bad: Not much to complain about here.  Finn’s a nominal believer, then an earnest but selfish believer, then decides it’s all crap.  Works for me.

Story #3: Cheer coach and villain extraordinaire Sue Sylvester gets wind that the Glee Club is singing religious songs and takes Will to the principal’s office for violating the separation of church and state.  We also learn that Sue prayed as a child for her sister, who has Down’s Syndrome, to “get better,” and when her prayers weren’t answered and people treated her sister cruelly, concluded that “it wasn’t that I wasn’t praying hard enough.  It was that no one was listening.”

The Good: Sue is also unabashed about her disbelief.  And it’s one of the “sincere Sue” moments.

The Bad: She comes off as a “bitter atheist.”  Her disbelief seems more of an angry reaction to her sister’s situation than a considered position.  Toward the end, she appears to soften toward belief for no other reason than her sister offering to pray for her, which again makes her disbelief seem shallow.

All in all, I think the show offered a mostly fair portrayal of atheism and atheists.  Despite his snippish moments, Kurt is sympathetic and grateful for his friends’ concern, even if he doesn’t share their beliefs.  Sue provides a genuine emotional critique of religion, if it is isn’t all that philosophically sophisticated.

And Finn? Grilled Cheesus.  Hee hee.

What, no guns?

September 27, 2010

Spotted in the window of a Philly bible bookstore.  Kinda speaks for itself.

A month of nonsense in 4 panels

September 11, 2010

Leave it to Jesus and Mo to settle the hottest issues.