Sunday Sermonette: Happy New Year

Here’s a poem by the brilliant Digital Cuttlefish, who can be found over in the Freethought Blogs. He called it,

Arguing God in the New York Times

We can’t disprove a God, you know,

Cos God can’t be defined.
The God you claim cannot exist
Exists within my mind

My God cannot be fathomed, and
Will never be undone
Each heart perceives Him differently
But God is only One.

We disagree on details, like
His numbers, or His name,
But clearly, all believers know,
Their Gods are all the same

(What’s more, divine diversity
Is clearly heaven-sent:
Whatever God you just disproved
Is not the one I meant!)

A Godly game of whack-a-mole;
Forever un-disproved;
Each time you bring the hammer down
Too late! Cos God just moved!

A question, though, occurs to me—
I find it rather odd—
Why label this cacophony
“A shared belief in God”?

Sunday Sermonette: The Baby Must Die!

One of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s best books was Hogfather. The 20th book of his sweeping Discworld series, It’s the story of an annual winter festival remarkably like our own. Pratchett reminds us on the first page, “But it was much earlier even than that when people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood.

The very oldest stories about Solstice holidays are always to do with blood. Something, or somebody, will leave his blood on the snow in propitiation to the sun god. Something, or somebody, has got to die so that life will return to the dead and frozen earth.

We’ve become more civilized and sophisticated. In place of slaughtering a bull or strangling some unfortunate and unloved member of the tribe, we use red and green colors to symbolize death and rebirth. We make up elaborate stories for children about a magical man from the North Pole who rewards good children with presents. (At least the children of more well-off families. Santa seems to conflate poverty with naughtiness.)

And we tell the story of the birth of a child in a manger 2000 years ago, visited by shepherds and magi from the mystic orient, heralded by angels and a magical star.

The important thing about Jesus isn’t that he was born, or the irregular nature of his conception. The important thing for Christians is that roughly three decades after that birth, he was tortured to death to propitiate a bloodthirsty deity. Just like the stories that went before.

The very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood.

Pratchett didn’t believe in gods, but he did believe in people, especially in their endless search for meaning. He puts his most profound words into the mouth of Death, who always speaks in capital letters. This conversation is between Death and his granddaughter, the skeptical and rational Susan.

“All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."


"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"


"So we can believe the big ones?"


"They're not the same at all!"


"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"


Children can’t really distinguish between magic and reality until age 6 or 7 - about the time they figure out the truth about Santa Claus. But the holiday time is still fun and the stories are still meaningful even when you no longer believe they are literally true. You don’t have to be a child to enjoy Christmas.

There may never be peace over all the earth, but there’s peace where we live, and it’s pleasant to simply enjoy it. I’ve no idea if a babe was born in a manger two millennia ago, but there was a babe born in the night who may well save the world. It doesn’t take a grisly sacrifice to appreciate love, contentment, and the knowledge that all winters melt eventually into spring.

Happy holidays to all. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Yule, and Happy Hogswatch!

Sunday Sermonette: Be Our Guest!

It is hard to be a Christian. Those who follow the Gospel are the most oppressed people on earth. They are persecuted, scorned, and insulted just as their Lord was, and they know that someday an ignominious cross awaits them. That day draws ever closer.

Last week, Christianity suffered its greatest defeat since the Fall of Constantinople. It didn’t make the front pages - what do you expect of the atheist liberal media - but it was right there in the Religion section, assuming your godless newspaper still even has one. It wasn’t the War on Christmas. Bill O’Reilly declared victory in that struggle earlier this holiday season. No, this is an attack on the fundamental pillar of faith itself: the Holy Bible.

Two lines of the vast Marriott Hotel organization will no longer place Gideon Bibles in their nightstands.

Marriott used to be such a good Christian (OK, Mormon) company. JW Marriott started out with a root beer stand; his son Bill commanded a hotel and motel empire. Since the early days of chain hotels and motels, traveling salesmen were the most faithful customers. From the turn of the twentieth century, Gideons International. a Christian evangelical group, has tried to meet the perceived spiritual needs of men far from home by placing a Bible within easy reach. The Gideons used to distribute New Testaments to school kids. And everyone has seen their Bibles in hotel rooms.

Like complementary shampoo, Scripture was just another service. As recently as twenty years ago, Anne Curtis, communications director for Choice Hotels in Silver Spring, Maryland (a Marriott brand), said tradition has created an innate demand for the Bible in its 3,000 U.S. hotels.

"People check into a hotel and expect to find a Bible, and not just a Bible but a Gideon Bible," Curtis said. "We are in the business of providing rooms; the Bible is a nice extra."

But the Marriott family no longer runs the chain. The CEO is now Arne Sorenson, a registered Democrat who favors LGBT civil rights and openly opposed North Carolina’s disastrous transgender bathroom bill. And now he’s taking the Bibles out of bedside table.

In fact, Sorenson, child of Christian missionaries, is a Christian of the old-fashioned sort, the kind who paid attention when Jesus warned about public displays of piety. It’s been getting harder to find a hotel room that has any holy scripture in the nightstand. They used to be universal - Bibles, Books of Mormon in the Marriott chain, the Teachings of the Buddha in the Nikko chain, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in places where Christian Science had influence, even a Scientology tract by L. Ron Hubbard. Now you can’t find a religious book in more than half of American hotels and motels.

It’s not a sneaky plot to secularize America. The vast majority of religious texts are never touched. Why would you bother? If a guest wanted the Bible, or the Buddha, or the Bhagavad-Gita, they’re as far away as the smart phone in their pocket or the tablet in their carry-on luggage.

Five years ago, the Marriott chain eliminated adult movies from its in-room service offerings. Religious groups tried to take credit, but Marriott made it clear that the decision was based on economics and technology. More guests access adult content on their mobile devices rather than pay for premium adult channels.

The things we now expect in a hotel is quiet, a comfortable bed, and good WiFi. If we need religion or porn, we all know where to find it.

Sunday Sermonette: Io, Saturnalia!

It’s a very busy weekend, and I just don’t have the time to compose a Sermonette. Here’s an oldie but goodie I’ve dusted off and tuned up a bit.

Io Saturnalia, citizen!

In a few short days, the Northern Hemisphere will be at its furthest angle from the sun. We know this because of a Greek named Eratosthenes who lived long ago. The Greeks themselves say it was from somebody from even further back: Pythagorus or Aristotle. Their ideas about how they ought to govern themselves are ridiculous, but I'll say this for them, they're an educated people. 

Everybody in the Empire has a holiday to mark the Winter Solstice. The barbarians in Trans-Alpine Gaul believe that the sun is going away, and so they encourage it to come back by lighting bonfires and holding great feasts with much singing and drinking and wenching. I talked to one barbarian who told me they didn't really believe the sun would go out, but it was a fine excuse for a good party. Barbarians aren't stupid, you know. The cider that was put by in October has developed into a pretty decent tipple, and there are other potent beverages as well. Animals that they don’t want to keep through the winter are slaughtered and smoked, salted, dried, or roasted. The offal is minced for sausages, puddings, and pies. The deep midwinter is coming, and not everyone will make it through to spring. What better reason for a feast do you want?

Our brave soldiers have their own big feast at this time. They say it's to celebrate some god from Persia, a good warrior god who is probably just another guise of Apollo. A centurion told me that the Persians had a crazy old prophet named Zoroaster who preached there were two forces in the cosmos: light and darkness, good and evil. The light was the light of some god named Ahura Mazda and the darkness was a demon named Ahriman, and the two forever contend for dominance. But that's all theology. The important thing is that the sun is the life-giver, as virile as a bull, and represented by a god called Mithra. Mithra was born from a virgin, said the centurion. Those who are baptized in the blood of a bull received special blessings, and there's plenty of roast meat and wine at the festival of the Unconquerable Sun.

Those aren’t the real Roman holidays, though. The real holiday, as we all know, is dedicated to the god Saturn. There is a sacrifice to the god at his temple and a great public feast. We give gifts to each other, especially to the children. The Divine Augustus liked it so well he extended the holiday to a whole week. Gambling is legal, the songs and the wine flow in rivers, and the girls…  There will be many a swelling belly come spring, I can tell you. Ah, it is truly the greatest of festivals. The celebrations of the barbarians are but pale imitations.

But now I hear of a cult of Jews and slaves who are trying to take Saturn out of Saturnalia. They don't believe in the good Roman gods like Apollo or Augustus or even that Thunderer from the northern provinces. They refuse to offer proper sacrifice to Jove and the emperor and the gods who protect the City. They say there’s only one god, except that he had a terrorist son who we executed for rabble-rousing. They're atheists, that’s what they are. Why, only yesterday I was walking in the Forum, and what did I hear some filthy little fish-sauce merchant say? Not a proper seasonal greeting like "Io, Saturnalia!"  No, it was “Merry Christmas." 

Look, this is a Roman nation, and we worship Roman gods. If the Christian atheists don't want to celebrate Saturnalia, let them exile themselves back to the Provinces where they came from.

Sunday Sermonette: It Was Never a White Christmas

The first volley of the American War on Christmas was fired not far from where I'm sitting. In 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed:

For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offense five shilling as a fine to the county.  (Since spelling was optional in the 17th century, this is edited for readability.)

We'll have no "Merry Christmas" here, declared the Puritans. It's a work day like any other.

There’s no mention of Christmas in the Bible. Sure, two Gospels have a birth narrative, but there’s no description of any sort of feast or celebration to mark the event. That idea came from the pagans and the papists.

In 1681, following the liberalization of religion in Britain under King James II, the Governor of the Massachusetts Colony, Sir Edmund Andros, lifted the ban on Christmas. Puritan preacher Samuel Seward sourly noted in his diary that mere secular authority couldn’t force him to celebrate Christmas.

Carts came to town and Shops open as is usual. Some, somehow, observe the day; but are vexed, I believe, that the Body of the People profane it, - and, blessed be God! no Authority yet to compell them to keep it.

But only two years later, the War on Christmas was declared lost by the Reverend Increase Mather (he of Salem Witch Trial fame). People were celebrating, a thoroughly un-Christian thing to do.

The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those holidays (as they are called) after an holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth …

To be sure, Christmas was a time of riotous excess. Gangs of men and boys went “wassailing,” which involved banging on doors demanding alcoholic beverages, fueling further disorder. You can still hear traces of it in the old carols. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that Christmas became a family holiday, with adults giving presents to children rather than carousing in the streets. This was due in no small part to the most popular poem in American literature, A Visit From Saint Nicholas, written by Clement Moore in 1823. Moore invented the version of Santa Claus we still know. Illustrator Thomas Nast drew upon Moore’s poem to give us the indelible image of Santa - a jolly fat man with a twinkle in his eye, a pipe, and a bagful of toys for children.

According to Pat Robertson, it is this happy family time that the grinchy atheists are trying to destroy.


It's utter bullshit, of course, as is all of the ginned-up "War on Christmas" malarky. We'll see protest buttons to "Remember the Reason for the Season!" (pro tip: it's axial tilt) and hear from Fox News how some heartless atheist has sued to keep a municipal government from erecting blatantly religious displays in front of Town Hall. And we'll hear more from preachers complaining that their particular form of holiday greeting is not being given enough public lip-service, which might annoy Bruce Banner God. You don’t want to make him angry.

Christmas is entirely manufactured. Everything about it is based on myth and folk-tale, from the fictional Gospel stories about a man and his pregnant wife being compelled to travel to the village of an ancestor who’d been dead for a thousand years to answer a world-wide census that Caesar Augustus never decreed during the time when Herod the Great (died in 4 B.C.) was king and Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D. - 12 A.D.). I won’t even get into the trip into Egypt to avoid the mass infanticide which no one but the author of Matthew records.

The latest outrage in the War on Christmas occurred in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Mall of America hired an African-American Santa this year. Newly emboldened by the Trump election, white supremacists are incensed at the suggestion that a mythical character based on a Turkish bishop and intended to celebrate the birth of a swarthy Middle-Eastern Jew isn’t white.

By the way, the holiday favorite “White Christmas” was written by a Russian Jewish refugee fleeing the Tsar’s pogroms.

Merry Christmyth to all!

Sunday Sermonette: To Be or Not To Be

Atheists are not the most popular people. To the religious, we’re fools (it says so in the Psalms - twice!) who push God off his throne so that we may supplant him. We lack morals and deny God so that we can sin without let or hindrance. Even the moderate accuse us of arrogance, though we’re not the ones making claims to be besties with the Creator of Universes. By considering only natural evidence, we are called closed-minded to the possibility of undefined supernatural evidence. Let’s face it, they don’t think we’re very nice people.

But according to a study published last year in the Social Psychology and Personality Science journal, the real reason atheists are unpopular is that we remind them of their impending deaths.

Humans have the unique (so far as we know) ability to comprehend and anticipate our own mortality. There will come a day when we will cease to be, when everything we ever were or hoped to be will vanish save in the memory of our friends and loved ones, who will themselves die not long thereafter. This prospect of utter annihilation terrifies most people - it’s called Existential Dread. As a race, we have created cultural myths that reassure us that we are valued and important beings living in an ordered and meaningful universe. Some of these myths involve us being reborn into another plane of existence, or another life, where we would life forever. The afterlife must be wonderful, because so few people ever come back to complain.

A team of researchers assembled 236 American college students, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews, as well as 34 self-proclaimed atheists. Two groups were formed. The first were asked to write down, as specifically as they could, what they think would happen to them physically when they die, and describe the emotions the thought of death aroused in them. The second group were given a similar task, but instead of death they were asked to consider extreme pain.

After a brief distraction, all were asked to rate on a 1-100 scale how they felt about atheists or Quakers, how trustworthy they thought each group was, and whether they’d allow a member of either to marry into their family.

Atheists were viewed more negatively than Quakers, but the negative reaction was more pronounced among people who had written about their own deaths.

The second experiment involved 174 students. Two thirds were asked to write how they felt about dying or extreme pain, the remaining third were asked to write down, as specifically as they could, what atheism meant to them. They were then given a test to determine whether they had mortality on their minds with a word completion test, where the word fragments could be either death-related or neutral. COFF** could be completed as COFFIN or COFFEE, e.g.

Those who had been considering their own deaths were more likely to think of mortality-related words than those who had written about pain. Oddly, the third of the group that had written about atheism were also primed to come up with death-related words.

Atheism = death, apparently. Our very existence raises doubt about the comforting belief in everlasting life.

I remember a similar study on homophobia back in the Seventies. It found that gay people were frightening in part because they weren’t seeking vicarious immortality by having children. It’s interesting that as lesbians and gays have become mainstream, marrying and either having or adopting children, they have become much more accepted in the broader society.

Sadly, the only way atheists will become more accepted is if our comforting religious myths lose their appeal. I’ll probably be long dead before that happens.

Sunday Sermonette: Happy Holidays

We spent Election Night in the home of a dear friend. She’s transgender, liberal, a lawyer, and an excellent hostess. She made a vegetarian lasagna and we brought some snacks. After dinner we settled down to watch the returns come in.

As it grew later and states we thought were would quickly turn blue stayed resolutely “too close to call” or worse, our spirits sank and the light veggie lasagna weighed heavily in the pits of our stomachs. How could we have been so wrong?

I dealt with it by reassuring myself that I lived in a liberal blue state. No matter what happens to ObamaCare, we will still have RomneyCare - it’s been the law in Massachusetts for over ten years. We’ll still have marriage equality - that’s been the law for over 12 years. We live in one of the more liberal enclaves.

We had choir practice on Wednesday night. Getting together with a couple dozen friends to sing always makes me feel better. A couple days later, a friend lit a fire in her back yard pit and invited a bunch of us over to sing old folk songs. We had a couple guitars, a mandolin, and a ukulele between us, some great kale soup, and Tom Paxton’s “Lament for a Lost Election.” It’s pretty simple, you may have heard it. Sing along with me now: “Shit!”

I began to think that we might get through the next four years.

But I was quickly reminded that I’m an financially comfortable old white cis male in a heterosexual marriage. I’m always wearing my big invisible cloak of privilege. I learned that a few of my LGBT friends have already been harassed, right here on the Cape, in what we like to call the big city of Hyannis. Our transgender neighbor who made the lasagna was followed around Home Depot by a couple of unpleasant people making unpleasant comments. The Unindicted Co-Conspirator’s old boss, one of the top lawyers in the country and a dignified Asian-American gentleman, was hassled in a gas station near Boston.

If the newly-emboldened deplorables, the racists and homophobes and xenophobes and misogynists, the so-called “Alt-Right” white supremacists, feel they can vent their hate with impunity here in liberal Massachusetts, what must it be like in redder states? If a wealthy and powerful older man can be the target, what hope do the kids have? At times, this feels like a foreign country, and not one of the nicer ones.

This was the first post-factual election. Facebook and Twitter provided a megaphone for distortions, slander, and outright lies. A truly appalling percentage of what came out of the winning candidate’s mouth or Twitter feed, or spoken by his surrogates, was demonstrably false. By the time you managed to fact-check, assuming you were one of the minority who did, people had moved on to the next outrage.

Many of us atheists know from personal experience how easy it is to be fooled, and how easily we fool ourselves. We know the first casualty is trust in objective facts. We were taught that they were less important than relying on an invisible and ill-defined higher Truth. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” as it says in Proverbs 3:5. Without facts, we cannot be free. If we accept things as True rather than confirming they are in fact true, then there is no basis to criticize those in power, because Higher Truth always seems to be on their side. “If nothing is true,” wrote Professor Tom Snyder of Yale, “then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

It’s going to be a tough four years. For some of us, it’s going to be a tough four days, as we face the prospect of Thanksgiving dinner with triumphal family members steeped the resentful conspiracy theories of Breitbart and Fox. Arguing with relatives is not necessarily speaking truth to power. We’re all going to need kindness to get through this. We all have more that unites us, no matter what the divisive demagogues say.

Although it’s a crass commercial advertisement, I cannot help but enjoy the sentiment of the following.

Happy holidays!

Sunday Sermonette: Now Boarding

Sooner or later, any conversation about religion comes down to faith. Faith is a virtue. Without faith, it is impossible to be saved. Church leaders and saints are praised for their great and unshakeable faith. The apostle who required proof is disparaged as “Doubting Thomas.” Jesus told him, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

I was a believer for decades. I had faith in God. I prayed to him, joined my fellow believers in worshipping him, taught about him, and gave money to support his church. Doubt? Sure, I had doubts just like everyone else, but I was taught to believe from birth, and taught the mental control to derail any train of thought bound for Infidel Station. Besides, there were all these other believers around to lend me their strength. The Nicene Creed begins with “WE believe in one God,” not “I believe.” Faith is sustained in community.

What exactly is meant by “faith”? Do non-believers have faith in science? Is faith the same as trust? Do you believe in love? (Cue autotuned Cher.)

This is where we get into equivocation: playing games with the meanings of words. Science is not a static thing, it is a method by which knowledge is organized in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural world. It requires no faith in gravity to see that every time I drop something, it falls to the ground. One testable step at a time, scientists have built on that observable fact to explain and predict the movement of galaxies. The practice of science is the very antithesis of taking things on faith.

Faith is not trust, because trust is usually justified by experience. If you received an email from a person claiming to be the widow of the late Nigerian Finance Minister, asking your help to commit international bank fraud, would you trust it? Of course not. People who do are pitied as incompetent to manage their own affairs. Trust without experience is seldom given for anything important. “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel first,” goes the old Arab saying.

I have faith that my wife loves me. Again, this is not the same sort of faith. I see it in her face, and experience it in her acts. If you want to be clinical, love can be detected in our internal neurochemistry.

What exactly is meant by “faith”? Simply this: Faith is believing in something without proof. Mark Twain may have said it best. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Is there any other area of life in which belief without proof is considered a good, sensible, or praiseworthy thing? Any at all? “I believe the water in this quarry is deep, therefore I will perform an amazing high dive,” says the future paraplegic. “I believe this warm egg salad that’s been sitting in the sun all day is perfectly wholesome,” says the person who’ll be spending the next couple days in the bathroom. “I believe the smiling guy who promises a 50 percent annual return, so I’m investing my life savings,” says the incipient pauper. “I believe Trump will be defeated by an overwhelming majority,” said a whole bunch of us last Tuesday.

We have words for people who believe things without proof. Sucker. Dupe. Gullible fool. Except when the faithful start talking about God. But only their God. Zeus does not exist, he was a myth. Ba’al does not exist, he was a legend. Thor does not exist, except in comic books. But my God is an awesome God who reigns forever.

Why? Because we believe, that’s why. That’s enough.

It’s not enough, and believers know it better than anyone. Asserting that a proposition must be accepted without reason is simply intellectual bankruptcy. So believers don’t think about it. We tell ourselves that it’s not wrong to doubt - after all, Thomas doubted, and he was an apostle - but it’s a sin to dwell upon it to the point of unbelief. We sing louder, pray more fervently, and join the rest of the congregation in Not Rocking the Boat.

No one reading this is going to say, “Ah, now I understand. I have been wrong to accept things without proof. Maybe there is no God.” There is no blinding light on the road to Damascus for atheists. Reasoned argument and scientific facts can be - and are - presented every day, and yet most people still claim faith in a God. But every now and then, a question gets through. A train of thought begins. It might not make it all the way to Atheism Junction, but it gets further than before, clearing the tracks for another question, and another.

So here’s a question: If someone you trusted told you that a soldier killed in Afghanistan and buried in Arlington National Cemetery rose from the dead, would you have faith? Or would you, like Thomas, demand proof? Was Thomas wrong to insist on evidence? Why or why not?

All aboard!

Sunday Sermonette: Voting and Vice

The Roman Catholic Church has been a powerful political bloc in this country for decades. Cardinals and archbishops are often considered kingmakers. Just look at the Al Smith Dinner in New York, or the annual Red Mass that begins the Supreme Court session. The Catholic Church does not think highly of the idea of a wall of separation between church and state.

Here in Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has contributed almost a million dollars to defeat a ballot initiative that legalizes recreational use of marijuana. I’m having a hard time figuring out why.

The Prohibition of alcohol under the 18th Amendment was the result of efforts by Protestants: Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. The Catholic Church was (and is) the church of immigrants: Irish and Italians who liked their wine and beer. They were against Prohibition, and indeed may have worked to undermine it. Grape production in heavily Catholic California increased by 700 percent during Prohibition. Altar wine was exempt, but only priests partook of the chalice. The laity received the Eucharist only in the form of the host, the blessed bread wafer. We can only assume that priests were saying Mass far more often.

Marijuana is also associated with Catholic immigrants. Americans knew the drug as cannabis, and used its tinctures in patent medicines. Politicians, aided by the media, whipped up public fear of immigrant Mexicans and their disruptive ways, including their use of “marihuana.” Mexicans became the scapegoat of the 30s, and draconian laws banning “marihuana” was the instrument used to control and deport them.

But for some reason, the Roman Catholic Church has joined with the establishment, regardless of those anti-immigrant laws. Perhaps they fear a threat to their monopoly on being the opiate of the masses.

In heavily Hispanic San Diego, the Immaculate Conception Church took politics one step further. In the weekly church bulletin, parishioners found a notice last Sunday. "It is a mortal sin to vote Democrat," the insert read, with the words underlined and bolded. "If your bishop, priest, deacon or other parishioners tell you to do so, you must walk away from them. Your immortal soul and your salvation are at stake." Despite the fact that the Republican ticket is headed by a thrice-married adulterer, self-confessed assaulter of women, self-confessed tax cheat, and foul-mouthed xenophobe, they threaten anyone who votes for the other party with everlasting hellfire. The reason is that the Democratic platform is pro-choice.

Bishop William Murphy of Long Island was more circumspect. “Support of abortion by a candidate for public office, some of whom are Catholics, even if they use the fallacious and deeply offensive ‘personally opposed but . . .’ line, is reason sufficient unto itself to disqualify any and every such candidate from receiving our vote.”

It is, of course, illegal for a tax-exempt organization like a church to promote partisan politics, but it’s unlikely that the IRS will pursue the matter, since they have failed to do so in the face of open provocation from several Evangelical pulpits. The Republican candidate has been anointed as God’s Chosen One by politicians and preachers such as the wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and disgraced Jim Bakker.

Come to think of it, Bakker gave up on his PTL Club ministry after he was imprisoned for fraud and conspiracy. His new racket is selling powdered food in plastic buckets to survivalists. According to NBC News, sales of “long term foods” have tripled in recent days. Preppers do not agree on whether they’re stockpiling against the revolt of the urban poor and race riots in the cities if Trump wins, or World War III if Clinton prevails.

I hope the recreational marijuana bill passes. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

Sunday Sermonette: People Who Need People

If you ask me what my religious beliefs are, I will tell you I am an atheist. I do not believe in the existence of god(s), nor of the supernatural. This is not a positive belief that there are no gods or phenomena that might be called supernatural, this is the lack of belief. In the thousands of years of human civilization, no one has offered compelling evidence to support supernatural claims. In the scant hundreds of years of the Enlightenment, we have found nothing that admits of a supernatural explanation. There’s nothing of which we can say, “We used to believe this had a rational, material explanation, but now we think it’s magic. I simply see no reason to believe, but I’m perfectly willing to entertain any facts you might have.

If, on the other hand, you asked me where I go to church, I’d tell you I’m a member of First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist. Why on earth would an atheist join a church?

The fabled criminal Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Church is where the people are. I don’t believe in gods, but I do believe in people.

A little over two years ago, I sold my dwelling of twenty years and bought a condo 100 miles away. Shortly thereafter, I retired. In those two moves, I lost virtually my entire social network. Having good friends and neighbors is one of the key ingredients for a long and happy life.

There are many ways to meet people, but some of them are harder than others. There’s the local pub, for example. Americans don’t have the pub culture of Ireland or England, but convivial places can be found. Trouble is, pubs are usually where established friends hang out, not where you go to meet new friends. There are affinity groups - you could meet people around a common interest, like yoga or stargazing. provided of course that you like twisting yourself into a pretzel or own a telescope.

A couple friends recommended the Unitarian Universalists as a good group of people, so I checked them out. I found some very nice people who I wanted to get to know better: liberal, intellectual, tolerant, welcoming. Some of them were atheists, some neo-pagan, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and so on. And they have great music.

I’m very fond of choral singing. I’ve sung in chorales and choirs most of my life. The difference with this choir is that the music was so eclectic - from classical to Broadway to the Village People. The choir director is a delightful and talented musician, and there are about two dozen singers - eight in the bass and tenor sections alone, which is remarkable.

The thing that makes choir different from more professional vocal groups is that it is made up of people who like to sing, not just the highly talented or professionals. Not everyone necessarily reads music (though it’s a big help), and not everyone has a perfect voice. There’s an alchemy of group singing where the whole of blended voices is greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s a lot more going on at First Parish, but the choir is enough for me, at least now. I’ve met a lot of wonderful folks. People who, like me, believe in people.

“I believe we’re all one family and need each other in times of grief and gladness. And I believe in the power of human ingenuity and people of goodwill to make a difference in the world. This is my credo as a Unitarian Universalist. It’s what Superman and I have in common.”
— Christopher Reeve