By Rev. David McMahan
Tis the season again, for two months of pain and misery that fill me with rage and bitterness for every Jesus lover out there. I hate this holiday and anything related to it. This is the king of all holidays, which pretty much starts the day after Halloween and doesn’t stop until 2 weeks after New Years Day. I used to love the holiday, I even have white christmas lights (due to lack of another name) up in my room year round, I like the way snow looks, etc… I hate this holiday for many reasons which I will now list for you.
1. the religious aspect:
A. It takes the original pagan holiday “Yule” and turns it into something the catholic/christian church finds acceptable.
B. The holiday seems to be more about Santa Claus than about the birth of the deity of the religion that bastardized it in the first place.
C. It lies to children, I hate liars (although it does give us a great piece of ammunition when people say god exists, equating him to Santa).
D. It’s just another way for them to rub their religious beliefs in your face. Also to any atheist here that say “merry christmas” what is wrong with you? Stand by your religious disbeliefs and say happy winter solstice or something similar because I’d at least rather like to hear that out of you than what has been pounded into your skull by the theists.
2. the corporate aspect:
A. The holiday does nothing anymore but encourage you to shop and buy buy buy and spend every dime you have on people who won’t appreciate it or remember what you got them (unless it’s REALLY good). These days I ask for nothing, and when they won’t comply (they seriously won’t comply) I ask for money because at least then I can use it for something I really want then get something I’ll hate and find fault with. They still get nothing, and maybe one day they’ll stop giving and I can be truly happy. I hate mandatory gift giving and would rather get something home made and random if anything, not because a holiday requires it and a store offers it.
B. Shopping for the holiday now starts in August, which you can imagine how annoying that gets. Still the advertisements are at least reasonable until November.
C. The spirit of giving is crap, what are you a communist? You give to charity, you give because you’re told to, hell you even give because you HAVE to in taxes. No one saves any money and therefore everyone goes broke. People go into debt over this holiday and THAT ruins lives, just so they seem like good friends/relatives or to keep up with the Joneses.
D. I don’t need a stupid holiday to show someone I care about them. If I care I’ll buy them dinner or get them something at random if and when I think of it. The people I care about already know I care about them and that’s what counts the most.
So to sum it all up, not everyone believes what they do, so they need stop shoving it in everyones face because it’s all just a bunch of humbug.
(I will say however it’s pretty awesome that I get the Grinch’s theme song as my ring tone on my friend’s phone, that was neat and really thoughtful on his part and better than any actual gift to me).
By Faith Hamby
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment I went from a Catholic-raised schoolgirl to something more.
When I was younger, I was so affected by the stories told during Catholic services that I’d often cry when I thought of the pain Jesus had gone though. I know now it wasn’t because he had sacrificed himself for my sins, but because he had always seemed like a real person to me, God’s son made flesh, true, but no less human because of it. He was, on a basic level, a man who had died horribly for his beliefs. Beliefs that, regardless of Catholic doctrine, set him aside as a kind, decent person—someone who looked out for those who couldn’t look out for themselves. Whether his teachings were moral or ethical, in my mind, he stood for what was right, and he was willing to suffer greatly for it.
As I got older, though, I couldn’t understand why there was so much suffering preached in the Catholic mass. Jesus wasn’t the only one to suffer; we all did. And we had caused his suffering. Despite this, or perhaps, because of this, the relationship I felt toward Jesus began to intensify until he was someone I felt I knew in my heart, someone who eased suffering, but who didn’t encourage it. I began to move toward a more personal understanding of God. Maybe a childhood of emotional and physical abuse helped. I wanted to hold to the omnipresent image of God as a Father to all children, and I cherished a plaque on my wall that showed God’s outstretched hand, holding a child safe within His care.
It wasn’t until I became familiar with Emily Dickinson that I began to understand that I wasn’t the only one who had developed a personal relationship with God, something the Catholic Church didn’t condone. But even as the Catholic Church couldn’t understand me, Emily Dickinson did:
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least —
I’m going, all along.
It was this specific poem that cemented for me the idea that I saw God everywhere around me, not just within the confines of a pew and a church. The miracle of nature struck a strong chord with me. I began not just to question what I’d been previously taught, but I also came to a quiet acceptance that I could believe and appreciate God in other ways. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t mind attending a Jesuit college. Of all the different approaches to Catholicism, the Jesuits believed that it wasn’t just okay to question their religion, it was necessary, and it was an approach that I, for the first time, could respect.
Being at a Jesuit college, however, I was forced to take two theology classes: one on both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I was lucky to have a Jewish professor with a unique perspective. She left me flabbergasted and excited when she first pointed out that the Bible was not meant to be taken literally, that it was a historic document, written over hundreds of years, and not even by the same authors, though they often shared the same names. For an English major, this made sense. The Bible consisted of stories. Moral stories, but stories none-the-less. They were no different than fables or myths or legends. They taught lessons that were useful—but not doctrine.
Since then I’ve spent a great deal of my life studying subjects from philosophy to psychology, and I’ve even delved into the shamanistic religions of the American Indians, trying to find spiritual connection in their respect for the Earth and all of its creatures. Eventually, I became engrossed in Joseph Campbell’s work on Jungian archetypes, comparative religions, and comparative mythology. And what I found there thrilled me. Regardless of race or religion, we all tell the same stories. We all have the same questions about why we’re here, how the world works, and what our purpose is in life. Our gods are our myths, the moral of the stories our attempts to answer the profound questions that all people ask.
And so it was easy to move from the idea that the Catholic religion I grew up in was not the only religion, or the right religion. In my reading, I began to feel as if the question was more important than the answer. Answers, like my relationship to God when I was a child, were personal things, revelations of self. Even as religion and science began to occupy an overlapping place in the world, they began to occupy a similar space in my mind. Both asked hard questions, and both tried to answer them in their own way. One relied on faith, and one relied on facts. But both seek.
Given this understanding, it might seem sensible that I would become an atheist, eschewing religious doctrine as outdated. But in truth, I think it holds an important place in the educated psyche. We must connect to the stories that run through our collective unconscious as humans. This is often most visible in our religious beliefs. And yet, we have to be open to the scientific answers that become clearer and clearer with each discovery made. To my mind, there has to be understanding and balance.
For this reason, I consider myself an agnostic. Not because I can’t choose a side, but because I find value in both sides. Religion is our past. It’s our subconscious. It’s where we go to find an understanding of the human condition. Science is the study of the world around us. It attempts to answer the questions we have always asked. The answers make the questions no less valuable. And yet, even science has its limits. Every day we learn more about the world around us. Once we thought the earth was flat. Now we know that the universe is so fluid it’s almost impossible to grasp.
Who is to say that someday science and myth won’t connect, or that myth holds in itself concepts that science has yet to prove or find words for. With so much further to go in our understanding of the universe, I think it would be a form of vanity and ego to claim that what we can’t see might not be there. We’ve only begun to see further into our galaxy. We’re only now beginning to understand subatomic particles, things we couldn’t even see 100 years ago. There’s no guarantee that the future doesn’t hold a more definitive answer for us. And until then, I’ll continue to believe that I can’t know whether there’s a god or not, whether god is an idea or a scientific principle we have yet to understand.
The single most important thing to me is that I remain open. There can be no new discoveries if our minds are closed to the endless possibilities of our world.
By Rev. Chris Andersen
Throughout the course of my wanderings, the subject of religion and government has occasionally reared its head in discussions with friends, family, classmates, etc. While talking about the merits and negatives of including “In God We Trust” on our currency, I noticed a common statement: “It’s just four words. What does it matter?” The same is said concerning the phrase “One Nation Under God” in our pledge. On the surface, I may agree. My worry is that it will not end at just four words. So where will it end?
Hmmm, time for a brief history lesson:
A Gospel Minister, Rev. M. R. Watkinson, sent a letter in November 1861 to the Secretary of the Treasury. This was a time when religious fervor was en vogue during the Civil War. In the letter, Rev. Watkinson pleaded his case (from one Christian to another) that U.S. currency should recognize all mighty god in some form.
An excerpt from his letter:
“… no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.”
Within seven days of the original letter, the Secretary of the Treasury set about the process of devising a motto to include on the nation’s coins. In God We Trust first appeared on U.S. coins three years later in 1864. The motto’s appearance on our coins came and went… and came and went… and well, you get the point. That changed during the McCarthy period when in 1956 the President approved a law passed by Congress which made IN GOD WE TRUST our national motto. Beginning the following year, our new national motto would be printed on U.S. currency… coin AND paper.
The passing of this law came on the heels of another landmark event. Congress added the words “under god” to the pledge of allegiance two years earlier in 1954. One of the arguments of the day was that reasonable people should not object to the addition of just two words (sounds remarkably similar to what the reverend had said nearly 100 years earlier).
A decade later, government and religion were back on the front pages. The non-theist population started asserting its voice. An Atheist mother was enraged that her tax money was being used to buy bibles for public schools. Worse than that was the mandate that her son would take part in bible readings and prayer while attending school. When her son opted out, he was beaten by his classmates while the school officials turned a blind eye. The mother brought suit against the board of education. In a nearly unanimous decision (8-1), the Supreme Court agreed that mandatory bible readings and school prayer were unconstitutional.
In the years since, many have argued that the establishment clause of the constitution either does not exist or does not apply because of past precedent. What precedent you may ask? You guessed it… Government endorsement of religion on U.S. currency, Government endorsement of religion through our national motto, Government endorsement of religion in our official pledge of allegiance.
People who want religion integrated more into our government / education / society often claim that a few liberal judges have hijacked the legal system and are legislating from the bench. This argument just doesn’t hold water. Judges have pointed to the establishment clause consistently over many decades. These are not isolated cases involving a few radical judges. The dual protections of the first amendment have been cited by dozens of courts and judges over a sustained period of time. Both liberal judges as well as ultra-conservative judges have pointed to the constitutional protections in their findings.
By keeping phrases such as “in god we trust” and “under god” in our official government psyche, we keep the door open for fundamentalists to claim precedent. The fight is ongoing to bring organized prayer and bible readings back into public schools. If the religious wing manages to get that through somehow, do you think they will be satisfied? They weren’t satisfied with having coins minted with “in god we trust”. They weren’t satisfied with having a religious national motto. They were not satisfied with making every citizen in the country acknowledge a god in order to pledge their allegiance to this nation and its flag.
If they gain momentum, what will be next? Will they once again start banning any books that are not in agreement with the bible? Strike classes from school curriculum which do not conform to biblical stories? This is not much of a stretch, but what will be next? Will we start enforcing more laws from the bible? Start snuffing out any atheistic movements as well as Wiccans and Satanists? After that we may move on to tell Muslims that they have their own countries they can live in. After all, this is a nation founded on CHRISTIAN principles. If we do not stay vigilant in the protection of the separation principles of the first amendment, we could end up like the people of England before the settlement of America; being forced to adhere to a narrow religious interpretation. This may not include Mormons. It may not include Jews. It may not include Protestants if the government happens to follow catholic principles instead. It is in everyone’s — religious or not — best interest to maintain a strict separation of church and state. By allowing religion into the government business, we allow government into religious business. I don’t think anyone really wants that.
I would like to thank everyone for their contributions, it was really difficult to decide the winners. In the end, we decided to pick our favorite atheist article, our favorite agnostic article, and a seasonal humor article. The winners are Rev. Chris Andersen, Faith Hamby, and Rev. David McMahan. Winners should contact firstname.lastname@example.org with their mailing address in order to receive their prize. I will be posting a winning article each day, in no particular order, for the next 3 days. Check back to read the winners!
Author and Reverend CJ Werleman, an ordained minister here at our church, has written a book: God Hates You, Hate Him Back. It will be released on November 23rd. He has generously donated 3 copies of his book for us to give away, so we’re having a contest! Simply write and submit an article for our blog, and the best 3 entries will be awarded a copy of his book. This contest is open to everyone, ministers and non-ministers, theists and atheists alike.
What should you write about? Well, just about anything you can think of! I’ll give you some ideas. The First Church of Atheism just celebrated its second birthday on November 9th, so you can write about how the church has affected your life since its inception. Or maybe you’d like to write about how religion, or lack of religion, played a role in your childhood. Did you “come out” to your friends and family as an atheist? What was that like? Maybe you’re a theist, and you would like to tell us what you believe and what you think of our church. Or maybe you’d like to go with the theme of Rev. Werleman’s book, and discuss the fallacies of the bible with us. Basically, anything goes.
There are no right or wrong articles. Every submission will be judged without bias, based solely on its readability and prose.
Entries are due by midnight (EST/NY time) on Friday November 20, 2009. Winners will be announced on the release date of the book, November 23. Good luck everyone! For more information on Rev. CJ Werleman’s book, visit: http://www.godhatesyou.net/
email your submissions to: email@example.com