Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Fools!

Bit late, but what do you expect when everyone is doing April Fools pranks? Some times you have to be careful. I'm still finding various pranks, and some are downright unavoidable. You know what I think the biggest prank of all was? Easter being in March! Certainly threw me for a loop. I knew it moved around a lot, but I've never actually seen it outside of April. Now that I'm old enough to pay attention, I realize it can jump around in a time span of more than a month! Which leads me to a question that has come up lately.

"What do Atheists know about Easter?

A great deal, actually. It's amazing what you can learn online when given enough initiative. For starters, it's not just one religious holiday, it's several rolled into one.

During the 7th century, the Roman Empire, back before they were catholic, would conquer neighboring countries. In order to better adapt their new citizens to their forced occupation, the Romans altered their own religion and their holidays to better match those of the religions they wiped out. This led to many combined holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Easter, at this time, was probably known as Pascha, the Latin word for Passover.

When the Catholic church began the dominant religion, they, too, incorporated this idea of merging religions to adapt to shifting citizens. That's when Christmas came to be. This is also when Easter was combined with the resurrection of Jesus. With Jewish calendars being Lunar, as opposed to our own which is Solar, the day of Easter was placed onto the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Since our Solar calendar now has this date set firmly at March 21st, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21st. Unless, of course, you are from the other Christian factions who follow a different Solar calendar in the east, who place it about a week or so farther along in the year, with it still jumping around just as much.

Being stuck with the Gregorian calendar here in the USA, we had to buy our eggs and bunnies VERY early this year. However, why did we buy eggs and bunnies? What do they have to do with Jesus or Passover?

Current versions of the Easter celebration actually take their cue from the German Passover holiday, Eostre, in celebration of their pagan goddess, Ostara. Their Easter was based around spring, renewal, and new life. As such, the imagery commonly found at these celebrations happened to be symbols of fertility, including eggs and rabbits.

So, now you know more about Easter than most people in America. Go ahead and spread the word, especially to your Christian friends. You'd be surprised just how many of them will actually be pleasantly surprised by this information and thankful to receive it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Roman Atheism

In a recent debate, I was thrown an interesting curveball, an argument I had never heard before and had to look into. I was accused of using a "fake" definition of Atheism, the definition I've been giving on this blog, and that my definition could be used to define anyone. Here is, generally, how the accusation was phrased.

"The Romans called Christians "atheists" because they didn't believe in their gods. Doesn't this prove your definition is fake?"

So, after that was lobbed at me, I had to look it up. Turns out, the first sentence is accurate. The Romans did call Christians Atheists because they didn't believe in their gods. During their persecution of opposing religions, they mistakenly believed that Theism only accounted for "true" religion. And since their religion was the "true" religion, they were the only Theists and all others were Atheists.

Shortly after this time, everyone, including the Romans, agreed that Theism didn't account for which, if any, religion was correct, only belief in one or more deities. As such, their understanding of Atheism also changed to match the original definition, not belief in deities.

Since I wasn't using that definition of Atheism, and it's be proven wrong anyway, this would seem to settle the question, as the Romans even admitted to their mistake. However, for the sake of argument, let's assume the Romans were the inventors of the word and they decided that Atheist meant "one who does not believe in the correct gods." There would certainly be a conflict. Not only would this definition assume Roman gods to be the "correct" gods because of them creating the term, but any who did not believe in "particular" gods could be labeled as those without any belief. This would indeed include Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and true Atheists.

This new definition would also destroy the label itself, as it was built in original latin. A-The-Ist is a combination of "A-" (negative form) "The-" (theos, gods) and "Ist" (personal belief) and cannot be defined any other way. The negative form of a personal belief in gods is simply "Not a personal belief in gods." As such, the Romans would have been wrong, even if they created the term. They would either be wrong about the definition or wrong about the word itself. One of those two would have to change simply for the sake of consistency.

To use a more modern example of how this misnomer would and should be avoided, let's say someone hates a chair. They love the chairs they use, but hate this one specific chair for some reason. It's gotten to the point that they don't even consider it a chair, more like a torture device. There are other people who love this chair and don't consider the chairs that person likes to be a chair at all, more like a table with a back on it. So, this group of people decide that this person must not believe chairs exist and they call him an anti-chair person. In truth, he is not an anti-chair person, as he loves chairs, just not those chairs. And they are also using the term "anti-chair person" incorrectly, as an anti-chair person would be someone who hates all chairs, not someone who doesn't believe in chairs.

So, hopefully I have properly explained how the above argument simply doesn't work. The Romans had no idea what a Theist was, let alone an Atheist, and even if they had made the definition it wouldn't apply to the words used for the term. There is no possible way it makes the definition most commonly used today, the original definition, fake or fraudulent.

All dictionaries agree, there is also no definition of Atheism that can be applied to anyone who has any belief in any deities.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stories of my Life

Everywhere I go it seems someone has a story they want to share. A nice little tale that proves their point and makes them feel all warm and cozy inside. While the story about the racist woman on the plane being told off or the soldier who survived a terminal illness might make you feel good when you read it or hear about it, what are the odds of it being real?

"Doesn't this story prove my god exists?"

I'm sure you've seen stories online, probably on Facebook, that tell a tale of a student proving an Atheist teacher wrong, or a soldier who drives a jeep without an engine after praying. While these are nice stories, do they actually have any merit on whether or not gods exist? Unfortunately, the short answer is "No."

While stories tend to have an element of truth to them, not all stories are true. Take the first example of a racist woman on a plane. In the story there is a racist woman who doesn't want to be seated next to a black man. Upon hearing this, the stewardess apologizes to the black man and moves him into a vacant seat in first class, basically telling off the racist in the process. A simple search on Google can tell you that this is an old story that actually started off on a bus. It's been passed around and upgraded and localized so often, there's no telling how much of the original tale exists, or if there ever was any event such as this one when the story was originally written.

This is why websites like exist. They look up facts about stories and scams to help those who don't have the resources needed to confirm a story. Even they will tell you that 99 out of 100 stories spread around are not true. So, if they are false, why do they spread so much? Because people want them to be real. Everyone knows someone like one of the people in the story. By bringing the story home, it sits in their mind, especially if the story ends in victory. So, they pass it around to have others feel the same way. For a similar, yet opposite reason, stories about hardships and vengeance are also spread around the internet, usually faster than the truth that follows it. Strong emotions move faster than facts.

So, what if the story is true? If you can't prove that it never happened, why not assume it did? And if it did happen, wouldn't that be proof of a god?

Not exactly. Assuming the story is real and did happen exactly as stated, it is still just a story. Even assuming the events all took place as described, that doesn't automatically mean a deity had to be involved. It simply means the people in the story could not explain what happened or counter the argument given. Even if it does turn out to be a deity at work, why does it have to be the one you worship? Why can't it be a deity from another religion, or one that we are not at all aware of?

The bottom line is, there are far too many unknowns with these stories to be considered evidence, let alone proof. In order to allow them to be evidence of anything, you have to assume or provide evidence that they are real. Afterward, you have to assume or provide evidence that the events really happened as described and were not a product of human imagination. Then you have to assume or provide evidence that something outside of nature (supernatural) was involved. After that, you have to assume or provide evidence that this supernatural force was caused by a deity. Finally, you have to assume or provide evidence that it is the deity that you believe exists. Only after all of that can you call it evidence for your deity of choice.

So, go ahead and feel good about the stories you read on Facebook and other such websites, but don't use them as your arguments for your god. It just doesn't work.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2,013 reasons to care

Another year, another apocalypse.

It really is one of the few things the majority of us can agree upon, isn't it? Whether or not the world is going to end sooner or later, with a bang or a whimper, from a comet or a plague, most of us agree that we won't know when that day will be. And until that day arrives, we all agree that we need to help our fellow human beings as much as we can. Which brings me to the answer of this month's question.

"Why do you Atheists never help anyone? All you do is argue!"

Not true. In fact, there are many secular organizations that are heavily atheistic, though not exclusively.

AU (Americans United [for Separation of Church and State]) is a secular group, with many Atheists in it, that is trying to keep church and state separated, so no religion gets an unfair deal and no citizen is forced to worship or believe in any particular religion. Fun fact about this organization: It is actually lead by a minister who believes his religion would be better served by keeping the government out of it.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is a great example of a humanist group. It tries to stay out of political and religious grievances and focuses primarily on giving medical care where it is needed. It was started "by a small group of french doctors and journalists who believed that people have the right to medical care regardless of race, religion, creed or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national borders." ~ Wikipedia

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is a nonpartisan non-profit organization. It was started to defend and preserve the rights of individuals as stated in the Constitution. Going farther beyond AU, ACLU covers everything from Freedom of Speech to Gun Ownership to Women's rights. The ACLU is responsible for combating police misconduct toward Native Americans, defending the rights of Japanese Americans during WWII, and even various communists during the Cold War.

This is just a small sampling of organizations that don't push Atheistic world views, but are furthered a great deal by Atheists. Even those who don't join these groups tend to fight along side them, fighting for the rights of individuals, the well-being of their fellow humans, and even the freedoms of local religions to not be controlled or regulated by government.

So, the next time you see an Atheist who is arguing loudly, and fruitlessly, remind them that there are organizations dedicated to helping humanity overcome their differences and their struggles. You may be surprised at how much they are already doing to help, and how much surprise you will get from them when they realize you're not such a bad person.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here's hoping the new year is always better than the old.