The Holiday (oops! I mean Christmas!) That Keeps On Giving (me a headache)

I thought I was done talking about “The War on Christmas” but the crazy just keeps on coming. PZ Myers posted a nice little entry about the new level of insanity in the “War on Christmas”. It seems that Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is all up in arms because a YMCA in New York replaced Santa Claus with Frosty The Snowman.

Bill had this to say about this outrage against Christmas:

        “Christmas is not about Jack Frost; it’s not about snowmen,” fumed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

        ”We’re not talking about some secular organization that has no religious roots. If they can’t celebrate Christmas, then they should check         out. What a bunch of cowards.””

I thought that Santa Claus, or as he is sometimes known, St. Nick, was seen by most people as a secular Christmas figure. Ok, sure, he does have ‘Saint” in front of his name, but I think most people would agree that he is not a religious figure. So what is Ol’ Bill getting is panties in a knot about here? I would have thought he’d be demanding that the YMCA install a nativity scene instead of Santa Clause.

My good friend Maria and I were chatting last night about this issue and she brought up a good point. Are people like Bill Donahue so insecure in their faith that they can’t stand to hear the slightest criticism of their beliefs? It certainly seems that way. What is going on in their heads that cause them to go practically insane about something as simple as substituting Frosty The Snowman for Santa?

Personally, I think it has a lot to do with cognitive dissonance. People like Bill Donahue have a hard time when their beliefs are questioned because part of their mind can see that the evidence is against them, but they have so much of their personal identity wrapped up in their religious beliefs that this causes them emotional pain, and a common reaction to pain is to lash out.

Of course, I’m no psychologist so I could be completely wrong, but what I do know of cognitive dissonance would indicate that I’m at least on the right track.

I’m sure this isn’t the last I’ll be writing about “The War on Christmas”. Stay tuned over the next few weeks. Lets see if the crazies can continue to top each other in their lunacy.

BTW – I put “The War on Christmas” in quotes because I feel that it is a term invented by the Christian leaning media to sensationalize a non-story. Christians, like Republicans (aren’t they the same thing? LOL), are very good at propaganda and love nothing better than to find victims to vilify in order to keep their misplaced sense of privilege intact.


It’s That Time of Year Again for Christian Hubris and Wanton Douchebagery

I have already posted about how billboards can be used to communicate religions as well as atheistic messages here and here. What I want to talk about today is Christian hypocrisy as regards these billboards in particular and general criticism of Christianity in general.

There have been plenty of attacks by Christians against atheists because they dared to actually speak their mind and offer up an alternative to belief in god on one billboard in New York City. The same is true in the supposed “War on Christmas”, where Christians claim that Christmas is under attack and in grave danger from the godless mobs. Both issues contain the same basic hysteria and hypocrites.

Christians claim that atheists are trying to ruin Christmas just because they ask people to consider that maybe the events surrounding Christmas as taught in the bible might not have happened. The atheists aren’t insisting that Christmas be banned, they aren’t trying to outlaw Christianity or any other religion, but from the vicious and hysterical reaction of many Christian, you would have trouble believing that this wasn’t actually the case.

Even crazier is that many prominent Christians in the media are claiming that they are actually being persecuted! I’d like to suggest that these people look up the word “persecuted” and tell me if the reality really fits the definition.

The fact is, the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Christians are able to proclaim their religious beliefs publicly and, in cases of politicians, they are virtually required to do so if they want to get elected. Christians can, and do, invoke their god and his blessings (or warn of his wrath) on T.V. shows, the radio, in the media and even in popular song, and hardly a person ever seems raises any objections. Christians have the privileged of having their religion’s prays said at the beginning of sporting events, the opening of state legislatures, and other such events. They put up messages from their god on billboards numbering in the hundreds across the country and nary a person complains.

But, if other Americans try to express their non-belief in god in public, suddenly they are called spoilers, heathens, miscreants and evil. They are demonized and vilified simply for taking a contradicting view from that of the Christian mainstream. It is virtually impossible for an atheists to get elected to public office in this country. Many atheists feel the need to keep their views to themselves for fear of, not offending, but of being criticized and ostracized. Some have even lost their jobs once their views have become known.

For American Christians to say that they are being persecuted is hubris of the highest order and is an affront and insult to groups around the world who really are being persecuted. Maybe they should go to the Middle East and explain to the Christians there how terrible they have it here in the U.S. I have a feeling that those Middle Eastern Christians, people who have laws keeping them from many professions, and who have been physically attacked, had their churches and homes burned and, in extreme cases, been killed, won’t be particularly sympathetic.

Christians in the country have more power, money and political clout than any single other group. For them to claim any kind of injury, beyond hurt feelings at being criticized, is ridiculous and absurd. It makes them look like a bunch of whining little children who didn’t get their way. So, not everyone believes in your magical sky man or his Jewish zombie son. Waah! Get over it and move on with your safe, privileged lives and let the rest of us get on with ours.

Cognitive Dissonance Revisited

I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.

Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.

We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.

In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.

I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.

How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.

I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.

Facebook Comment Followup

Bob responded to my last post here. He felt I was being rude in not responding to him. Here is my response:

Bob Santaniello: OUCH!! Thanks for short changing my comment and the artificial sincerity of your first response. Off to work in the ‘magic’ kingdom.

Jay Walker: Bob, you are right. I was rude not to respond. I apologize. My response is basically what I said in my blog post. I just think you are picking and choosing to suit what makes you feel good. You see the things that you don’t like in the Bible and rationalize and justify them away.

This is called cognitive dissonance, which is when you are faced with information that contradicts your beliefs. This can cause great mental discomfort and even pain. You can either give up your beliefs in the face of evidence or find a way to rationalize the evidence away to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

I believe you are rationalizing these threatening ideas away because to admit that the Bible, with, according to you is the word of God, actually teaches terrible things would mean that possibly none of it’s true. Or it means that your god is a vengeful, sadistic god. In either case, you would have to admit that the foundation of your belief system is gravely flawed.

I Get Facebook Comments

Facebook has been a very good source for examples of magical thinking and the interesting conversations that can ensue. Here’s another one between me and Bob:

Jay Walker: Biblical guidance on how to deal with rape, a graphical view:

Bob Santaniello: Good thing God’s people aren’t living under the ‘law’ of the Old Testament.

Jay Walker: So how do you decide what parts of the “Old Testament” to believe and which parts not to? I thought the whole bible was the word of god? I’m not asking to be sarcastic, I’m honestly curious.

Bob Santaniello: It isn’t a decision; I believe as you said, all of the Old and New Testaments is the true word of God as given to men by the Holy Spirit. The deciding part is to hermeneutically figure out to whom the different parts were written, why thing…

Can you say, “I always rationalize my cherry picking.”? This is such a great example of how believers can find ways to throw out all the things from their supposedly divinely inspired holy books that make them uncomfortable yet hang on to the things that affirm their personal values.

Reading things like that actually makes me almost respect the hard core fundies who insist that every word of their holy books are true. At least they are being consistent. After all, if you truly believe that a book is divinely inspired by a god who can get mightily vengeful when you don’t listen to him, you really want to make sure you follow every lesson and admonition in that book. Of course, anyone who relies on one book as a guide to living every aspect of their lives has more serious problems than a magical sky man who will rain down fire and brimstone onto them when he’s been pissed off.

I haven’t responded to Bob yet and I’m not sure I will. His entire life is literally dedicated teaching and living, as he says, “The word of the one true God.” I seriously doubt that anything I say will have any effect on him what-so-ever. Instead I will use our conversations, like this one, to highlight the irrational lengths believers will go through to try to resolve the cognitive dissonance that is surging through their brains. Hopefully my dear readers will be able to take something valuable away from it.

Happy Thanksgiving! May You Roast In Hell With Your Turkey!

From this Facebook comment thread:

Jay Walker Turkey is in the oven. I love the smell of roasting turkey! If there was a heaven (which there’s not) It would smell like roasting turkey.
Bob Santaniello You leave yourself wide open for this, but there is an afterlife location that will have the smell of burning flesh.
Well, Happy fucking Thanksgiving to you too! What a nice image to conjure up on a day we are supposed to be thankful for the good things we have in life. So now your jebus friend is going to magically turn my turkey into the burning flesh of some poor sinner? I can’t think of a more hurtful and hateful thing to say to someone, especially on a day of Thanksgiving.
Well, here is something I’m very thankful for: That I don’t have to live in fear of a place of unspeakable torment created specifically for us by a sociopathic, vengeful deity who on the one hand is all loving and merciful but on the other is willing to submit us to never ending torment.
Sorry Bob, but I’m going to enjoy my Thanksgiving Day turkey, despite your Jewish zombie’s threats of eternal damnation. And, unlike you, I am going to send my honest, heartfelt and sincere wishes that you and your family have a wonderful day.

Skepticon 3 – Day 2 – Personal Report

I’m going to report on the cool experiences I had outside of the convention itself. I need to go back and review the videos of the talks to really do justice to a review of the conference and speakers.

I went to the hotel’s breakfast buffet. I got my food and was looking for a place to sit, but all the tables were taken. I heard someone say, “You look like a man who needs a place to sit”. I introduced myself and found out her name was Christy. She saw my American Atheists pin and figured that I was there for Skepticon as well. She was a fascinating person. We talked about the gun show next door and she told me that she used to work gun shows and also worked technical support for a gun company. She mentioned that how brave she thought I was to wear my American Atheists button in public. I explained that it took me a while to work up the courage to do it, but that I felt like I had a moral responsibility to. She said that she went through the same thing when she came out transgender.

She had this wonderful story about how a woman called support and asked how far away she had to be from her husband to avoid power burns! It was a really cool conversation.

At the party the night before, I was drinking screwdrivers. The vodka they had tasted like turpentine (and yes, I have tasted turpentine by accident). So, at the dinner break, I drove up the street in search of Stolichnaya vodka. I found it. It was $23.00 a bottle but worth every penny!

We were back in room 201 again. The gracious host, who’s name I unfortunately forget, and I had a great conversation about a variety of topics. What those topics were are lost in the foggy, glowing haze of inebriation, but trust me, it was a stellar conversation!

I spent some time talking with David Fitzgerald, one of the speakers I missed on Friday morning. He gave me some great tips on writing and getting my message out there.

I then met the sparkling, engaging and lovely Kaleena Menke. I wish I could remember exactly what we talked about, but once again, the vodka must have zapped the brain cells that were meant for those memories. I can tell you that she made a really wonderful impression on me as someone who is fun, smart, witty and totally awesome.

I got to back to my room after 4:00am and was up the next morning at 8:00am. I felt great! But, I do think this does explain my creeping exhaustion at this moment. 🙂

Coming tomorrow, Skepticon 3 – Day 3 – Personal Report.