Ask A Humanist, Vol. 7: Isn't It Hypocritical For A Non-Believer To Celebrate Christmas?

As a non-believer, I've heard many a wisecrack from my Christian friends as the holidays approach. They're all in good fun. There are good ones about decorating the 'Darwin tree,' singing science carols, or toys being delivered by Sagan Claus.

While these are just friendly jabs between friends, they say a lot about society's attitudes on religious rituals, customs, and appropriation.

We have all witnessed the War on Christmas that erupts each year (mostly fabricated by Fox News and the Christian right). We have all been beaten over the head with Black Friday commercialization and the ensuing endless stream of secular Christmas specials devoid of any mention of Jesus (save for good ol' Charlie Brown).

There is a sentiment felt by many Christians that non-Christians shouldn't be able to join the party. For a long time in America, it was the Jews who sat on the sidelines while Santa delivered sack-loads of toys to their Christian neighbors. Now, as the non-religious population has become a sizable demographic (the so-called 'religious nones'), many Christians are dismayed, and perhaps bewildered, to not see them sitting on the sidelines as well.


Just as non-practicing Jews often participate in the rituals associated with their heritage, many non-Christians who grew up in Christian households still find comfort in the rituals associated with their Christian heritage.  We do, after all, come from Christian cultural roots.

I grew up in a religious household. We celebrated Christmas each year in the same way that most Christians do. We decked the halls, wrote letters to Santa, decorated a tree, hung wreaths, lit candles, baked cookies, opened Advent calendars, set up a table-top nativity scene, sang carols, wrapped gifts, and reflected upon the birth of Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas.

My parents participated in these same rituals and customs growing up, as did their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. I imagine that my family's Christmas customs are nearly as old as the customs themselves.

Like non-practicing Jews who light the Menorah at Hanukkah, the customs associated with Christmas are important to who I am and where I came from, whether or not I personally accept Christianity's claims. (I don't -- and this conclusion was not arrived upon easily.)


I have wonderful childhood memories of Christmastime. It is a time of wonder and joy for any child who experiences it. Some of these memories are as powerful, and as comforting, as any memories I have.

It is no coincidence that retailers infuse the air with the smells of cinnamon, pine, and cider during the Holidays. We are psychological beings, and our memories carry deep associations with sights, sounds, and smells of our experiences. Just as we might like playing a particular song that connects us with a specific joyous experience, partaking in the sights and sounds of the holidays can elicit many of the feelings we experienced at a simpler, more innocent time in our lives. We also find pleasure in sharing these memories, and making new memories, with our own children.

Participating in the customs and rituals associated with Christmas, despite our religious conviction (or lack thereof), is a beautiful way of appreciating and strengthening our bond with the past, of passing this gift of heritage along to our children, and of extending these bonds into another generation. Whether or not the next generations choose to believe in the tenets of Christianity is up to each of them. I don't wish to deprive them of that opportunity.


So, sure, all this sounds great, but still, isn't it just a case of having your cake and eating it too?

If participating in the customs of my ancestors despite lacking the same beliefs is wrong, then a whole lot of customs we participate in each year are wrong as well.

The Christmas narrative in and of itself has many similarities to other religions that pre-date Christianity, suggesting that elements may have been borrowed. Jesus was not the first miracle-worker born to a virgin who would later be crucified and resurrected.

The date of Christmas was chosen to coincide with winter festivals that pre-date the holiday. The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia featured gift-giving, visiting with friends and loved ones, the lighting of candles, and a feast. Pagan Scandinavia celebrated Yule, for 'a fertile, and peaceful season,' with customs such as the Yule log, singing, and the Yule boar (reflected today in the Christmas ham). Koleda, an ancient Slavic ritual celebrating death and rebirth, featured a custom of roving from home to home singing songs and receiving gifts. Christmas customs related to greenery, lights, and charity pre-date Christmas and were likely adopted from Roman New Year celebrations.

Anyone with a knowledge of religious customs throughout the ages would agree that there are not many Christmas customs that did not exist prior to the holiday's origin.

Despite the mixed religious roots of Santa Claus, he is largely a secular phenomenon, along with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and other recent staples associated with the season. Puritans, in fact, opposed celebration of Christmas at all for nearly two centuries because of its secular and pagan associations.

We can point to any number of holidays that Americans participate in despite not really 'deserving' to celebrate them. We don't need to be religious, or Irish, to wear green and drink a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day.  We don't need to be Mexican to have nachos and a Corona on Cinco de Mayo. We don't need to believe in pagan supernaturalism to dress up on Halloween and trick-or-treat. The eggs and bunnies associated with Easter (named, of course, for the goddess Ä’ostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism) are customs that millions of non-pagans enjoy each year.

So, really, this business of appropriation is nothing new. As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (although I'm sure it was said before), "There is no new thing under the sun."

The Message of Christmas Is A Good One

Just as one doesn't need to be African-American to acknowledge the importance of what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for, one needn't be a Christian to acknowledge the importance of the philosophies associated with Jesus.

You really couldn't ask for a greater message: Love everyone, regardless.  Extend kindness to all, even those who you may feel are undeserving. Always strive for justice and peace. Be charitable, and be forgiving. 

Whether or not I actually believe that a historical Jesus preached this message, and whether or not I accept that this figure was born of a virgin, was the son of God, worked miracles, was crucified, was resurrected, and ascended bodily into heaven, the philosophies associated with Jesus are certainly worthy of observance.

We could do much worse than spending a portion of our year with a heightened sense of awareness of these sentiments. These philosophies are certainly not unique to Christianity, nor were they new philosophies at the time Jesus would have lived, but his message, as well as his story, was a big part of my family's heritage and was a big part of my own childhood. Acknowledging this through the the observance of long-practiced family customs and rituals is anything but dishonest.

Doing What Works

There are many Humanists and non-believers who choose to refrain from participating in religious holiday traditions. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. There are degrees of non-belief.

While I may reject supernatural and religious dogma as a basis for morality, I don't reject religion as a whole. I don't discount the benefits many receive from religion, and I certainly understand and accept the concept of sacredness.

I am lucky in that I live in a society that holds dear the right to religious freedom. In my home, we exercise this right by participating in customs associated with a variety of religions. Our kids love to play dreidel for chocolate gelt during Hanukkah. They have lit the Menorah. They learn about the vast array of religious customs and observances around the world, and throughout history, and some interest them more than others.

A religiously literate child will not grow to be a xenophobic exceptionalist. She will very likely grow to be tolerant, charitable, kind, and will likely value peace and justice.  Much like this Jesus person that is celebrated this time of year.

More 'Ask a Humanist' entries...

Skulls And Peace Symbols? Get Off Pat Robertson's Lawn!

Is your child going to hell?
Pat Robertson has increasingly become a parody of himself. He's so out of touch with society that you'd think he were an SNL invention if you didn't know better.

Just last week he was asking if mac & cheese was 'a black thing.'

This week, a viewer asked Pat if she should speak to her children about the symbols that she's seeing on her kids' clothing: peace symbols and skulls.

Of course, Pat responds, peace symbols are 'broken crosses' and skulls are 'symbols of death.'

Drop A 3 Dollar Bill In The Salvation Army's Kettle & Give To A Non-Discriminatory Organization Instead

You may want to think twice before dropping money into the ubiquitous Salvation Army red kettles this holiday season. Sure, the organization has been doing wonderful work for decades, and their army of bell-ringers makes it incredibly easy to give while out and about, but you might not know about the organization's history of actively discriminating against the LGBT community.

3-dollar bill, y'all.
According to the Salvation Army's own position statement:
Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.
That seems pretty clear. However, possibly due to criticism, the organization then backpedals with the tired old 'love the sinner, hate the sin' routine:
Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline.
At face value, that statement might make many feel better about the whole thing. But the statement appears to be more PR than anything.

Bil Browning writes at The Bilerico Project:
On its webpage, the group claims that "the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation." While the words are nice, their actions speak volumes. They blatantly ignore the position statement and deny LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services "open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline." In other words, if you're gay or lesbian, you don't qualify.

The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies - including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal.
The following are five examples of active assaults on the LGBT community by the Salvation Army (via Bilerico):
  • When New Zealand considered passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986, the Salvation Army collected signatures in an attempt to get the legislation killed. The act decriminalized consensual sex between gay men. The measure passed over the charity's objections.
  • In the United Kingdom, the Salvation Army actively pushed passage of an amendment to the Local Government Act. The amendment stated that local authorities "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." The law has since been repealed, but it led many schools and colleges to close LGBT student organizations out of fear they'd lose their government funding.
  • In 2001, the organization tried to extract a resolution from the White House that they could ignore local non-discrimination laws that protected LGBT people. While the commitment would have applied to all employees, the group claimed that it needed the resolution so it "did not have to ordain sexually active gay ministers and did not have to provide medical benefits to the same-sex partners of employees." After lawmakers and civil rights activists revealed the Salvation Army's active resistance to non-discrimination laws, the White House admitted the charity was seeking the exemptions. 
  • Also in 2001, the evangelical charity actively lobbied to change how the Bush administration would distribute over $24 billion in grants and tax deductions by urging the White House deny funding to any cities or states that included LGBT non-discrimination laws. Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, issued a statement saying the administration was denying a "regulation sought by the church to protect the right of taxpayer-funded religious organizations to discriminate against homosexuals."
  • In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close all their soup kitchens in New York City to protest the city's decision to require all vendors and charities doing business with the city to adhere to all civil rights laws. The organization balked at having to treat gay employees equal to straight employees.
So, until the Salvation Army decides to evolve, you may want to consider sending a message to the organization. What better way than to drop $3 bills into their red kettles. Click here for a pdf of full-color $3 bills containing the statement, "When the Salvation Army ends its policy of religious bigotry and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, then, and only then, will this be a real dollar bill." (Courtesy of Irregular Times)

There are many other fine organizations that you can give to this time of year. Find a local secular charity, or choose one of the wonderful organizations below that do not discriminate against the LGBT community:

The Red Cross
Habitat For Humanity
Doctors Without Borders
Foundation Beyond Belief


Joseph Farah Wants To Limit Muslim Immigration, Fears Halal Turkeys

Joseph Farah, the nut-job in chief over at World Nut Daily, believes America has been over-imbibing at the Muslim Immigration Saloon, and he'd like to cut us off and close out the tab.

Joseph Farah and moustache
In a post titled 'Time To Limit Muslim Immigration,' Farah writes:
I say it's time to strictly limit Muslim immigration into the United States to avoid the kinds of disasters we're seeing in Europe.
Of course, Farah first mentions that he's an Arab-American man. But we have grown to understand that after someone proclaims, "Now, to be clear, I have gay friends," we can expect them to say some pretty nasty things about gays.
America doesn't owe anyone – no foreigner anywhere – an engraved invitation to be part of our national covenant and community. We've been far too lax in allowing anyone and everyone who flouts the rules entry to this country. That has to stop immediately. The very next step we need to take is to determine what kind of people will help our nation stay true to its Constitution and other founding principles – and what kind of people will not.

America's No. 1 national objective should be to ensure that we as a nation remain committed to the Constitution...We should not consider bringing in foreigners who seek to transform America into France or England or Iran. America remains a unique, though faltering, experiment in self-government because of its Judeo-Christian heritage. And, if we ever forget that and treat all other belief systems as equal to the worldview of Judaism and Christianity, the America we have known for 235 years will cease to exist.

But we need to do more than just require immigrants seeking entry to the U.S. as visitors or citizens to swear allegiance to our Constitution. We need to put the burden of proof on Muslims to demonstrate their desire to leave the world of Shariah behind them, to renounce its principles as well as to take a formal oath to uphold and affirm America's national covenant.

Furthermore, we need strict national quotas on immigration by Muslims – even those willing to renounce Shariah and swear an oath to the U.S. Constitution.
What is Farah so scared of? Well, he seems to be drinking from fellow WND islamophobe Pamela Geller's egg nog. It's those damned halal turkeys.
There are still more Jews in America than Muslims, though the gap is narrowing quickly. Yet, Jews do not use their influence to ensure that Jews and non-Jews alike are forced to eat according to rabbinical kosher rules. However, it is increasingly difficult for non-Muslims in America today to buy a Thanksgiving turkey that has not been ritually sacrificed to Allah. Most of the meat sold in Costco is also halal.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to eat meat sacrificed to Allah. With Islam a tiny minority religion in the U.S., it seems perverse that people like me have to be careful not to eat food ritually sacrificed to this god of the few.
Listen, Joe. I promise you that no incantation, blessing, or sacrificial slaughter will affect your turkey's deliciousness, and it certainly won't change your religion.

You also might want to check to see how the Native Americans feel about letting any more Christian Europeans into the country. After all, it's pretty hard for them to find a meal that has been prepared in accordance with their belief system, and they've been here for a little longer than 235 years.


Faith Healing: Six Die After Church Tells Them They No Longer Need HIV Treatment

At least six HIV patients have died in Britain after their evangelical church leader told them they were cured and no longer needed treatment.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations, based in London, holds a prayer line once a month where people from across Europe come to be healed of all kinds of illnesses, Sky News reported Friday.

During the prayer line, pastors shout over the person being healed for the devil to come out of the body, while spraying water in the face.

Pastor Rachel Holmes told Sky News the church has a 100 percent success rate.

"We have many people that contract HIV. All are healed," Holmes said.
If we are to accept Holmes' miraculous claims at face value, the obvious next question would be, 'Why did those six people die?'
The church goes on to claim people who were not healed did not fully accept God would heal them.

"We must have a genuine desire if we come to God. We are not in position to question anybody's genuine desire. Only God knows if one comes with true desire. Only God can determine this," the church said.

"That is why, if anybody comes in the name of God, we pray for them. The outcome of the prayer will determine if they come genuinely or not."
The below video, from a Sky news broadcast, contains footage from the church's 'healings.'

This sort of evangelical 'healing' is an example of the many ways in which faith can impede progress, and even kill. This is only one in a long string of recent deaths related to 'faith healing.'

Each of these could have been prevented by simply taking the child to the doctor rather than relying on a supernatural intervention.

A recent study by the University of California at San Diego and a Sioux City, Iowa, group called Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, concluded:
Four of every five sick children in the United States who died after their parents put their trust in faith healing could probably have survived if medical treatment had been sought, according to a study published yesterday in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report, which examined 172 child deaths in faith healing families from 1975 to 1995, concluded that 140 of the deaths, or 81 percent, were due to conditions that had a survival rate exceeding 90 percent with treatment.

Eighteen other children would have had better than a 50 percent chance of living with treatment, and all but three children would have benefited from medical help, the report said.
We live in an age where medicine and technology have rendered obsolete the primitive and barbaric treatments of Biblical times. The germ theory of disease has displaced the 'need' for exorcisms, bloodletting, and trepanning. We would be fools to favor prayer over the use of antibiotic ointment in the case of a simple scratch.

And yet:
In one case cited in the report a child choked on a banana and showed signs of life for nearly an hour while her parents reacted by calling people to pray.


Occupy Plymouth: Thanksgiving, American Mythology & The Suppressed Speech Of Wamsutta Frank James

America is short on memory. However, for its relatively young age, it has an abundance of mythology. Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed -- these all reside in a place somewhere between myth and reality for many Americans.

George Washington chopping down the apple tree, Ben Franklin and the kite, Paul Revere 'ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells.' We don't often know what really happened, or if it really happened -- and to many, it seems it doesn't really seem to matter.

As Americans, we tend to roll the opening credits sometime around that day on Plymouth Rock, circa 1621. Just as we often don't appreciate the vast history of our planet before human beings evolved, we often don't appreciate the history of  American soil prior to its colonization by European settlers.

Pundits argue over whether or not America has always been a Christian nation, or whether our Founding Fathers would have wanted it this way or that way. It's easy to forget that there was a time and a place, and a people, before we came along and made such a racket.

Most Americans will go about their Thanksgiving in the usual way: sitting around the table with relatives, eating too much, watching football, and giving thanks. Many of us will be surrounded by children's art, decorations, and TV ads which retain the mythical notions that pilgrims wore buckled shoes and hats (they didn't), and that they feasted on turkey and corn (no corn, and likely deer) with the Native Americans in a bountiful and peaceable celebration (it wasn't).

While mythical narratives certainly serve a purpose, often that purpose is to re-write history, to bury guilt, to fashion a burden that we can bear, and to fashion a story we can bear to tell our descendants.

While I will be doing what most Americans do on Thanksgiving: gorging myself on turkey, drinking spirits, and reflecting on life's blessings with my family, I'll do it with the somber understanding that this comes at great cost.

I have made it part of my yearly personal Thanksgiving ritual to read the suppressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag, which was to be delivered at a public Thanksgiving event sponsored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Plymouth, MA in 1970, until planners decided that what James had written wasn't exactly what they wanted the people to hear.

It's important that we not be afraid to look reality head-on. While we may not be able to reverse history, and while each of us have done no direct injustices, we don't gain anything by turning away. As Wamsutta Frank James stated, "What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail."

While most of America will likely spend at least some of their Thanksgiving discussing the Occupy Wall Street movement (certainly to be an interesting dinner conversation this year at multi-generational, partisan gatherings), it wouldn't hurt us to reflect on the original American occupation for perspective. As we discuss the pepper-spraying of college students, we could do worse than to reflect on much greater injustices that were inflicted on an entire people who had done nothing wrong.

Wamsutta Frank James' speech below, and the accompanying introduction, can be found at UAINE (United American Indians of New England):
Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their "American" descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however , asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James' views — based on history rather than mythology — were not what the Pilgrims' descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration. If he had spoken, this is what he would have said: 
Wamsutta Frank James
I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first - but we are termed "good citizens." Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises - and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called "savages." Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch."

And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.

The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and abilities. They let him be only a seaman -- but never a captain. Time and time again, in the white man's society, we Indians have been termed "low man on the totem pole."

Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives - some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man's way for their own survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known they are Indian for social or economic reasons.

What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did they live as "civilized" people? True, living was not as complex as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily living. Hence, he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.

History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his "savageness" has boomeranged and isn't a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!

High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!

Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.

Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting We're standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.

We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.

You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: the American Indian.

There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.


September 10, 1970

Bianca's Story: 'God Is Going To Punish You For Being Gay'

Bianca is what she describes as a triple threat: Latina, queer, and a woman. She is an activist, an artist, and does theater in LA. She is also co-founder of Legalize Love, "an organization that empowers the oppressed through critical pedagogy."

One might think that such a strong, energetic, creative, and self-assured individual would be the product of a compassionate and supportive family. And while that is partially true (Bianca's brothers have always been supportive, and call her a hero), Bianca's journey was anything but smooth, and she almost didn't live to tell her story.

As part of an ongoing series of videos (below), An Honest Conversation, Bianca relates her story, one that she says is not so different from other LGBT Latinos.

"My grandmother won't talk to me. She comes from El Salvador. Religion, for her, was a survival...that's how she got by. But she's using God in a way to hurt me. She openly says she's ashamed. She says, 'God is going to punish you for being gay.' She even told me once I would end up with AIDS."

"Whether you go to church every Sunday or not, it's part of the culture in a way. A lot of the Latinos in LA -- they're first generation, so they come from places where religion plays a huge role."

At a post at Cuentame, Bianca states:
Now, I come from a very conservative family, I mean I went to catholic school from the age of 4 up to 11 so I completely understand how religion and the Latin culture can keep someone in the closet for fear of losing their families...my dad doesn’t fully accept me. I mean he says he’s going to love me regardless, but the fact of the matter is he doesn’t.

He still thinks I’m going to grow out of it, and refuses to meet my girlfriend, not to mention no one from the family is to know about my choice, and lastly he refuses to talk about it. I mean who is he to judge me, he cheated on my mom and broke a marriage, however he is an out and proud republican who believes gays should not have the right to marry because it breaks the sanctity of marriage, ironic right? Parents please don’t cause that pain to your kids, what you think of them, means more to them than you may think. They need you because we live in a tough world, and if you don’t fight for them, well who will?

I know it may be hard for you, but remember (especially you moms) you gave birth to them, and when you first held them you loved them for being your child, and being queer is nothing more than being a boy or a girl, it’s who they are and it can not be changed.
Her story is unfortunately too familiar. But thankfully, as more and more young people like Bianca open up and share their stories, we can erase the shame that is brought on by religion-based bigotry, culture, and ignorance.
As I set out to help others, I really ended up helping myself. There are too many kids out there taking their lives and self-injuring because they feel like they are sinning and enough is enough! We all need to come together and speak up for them because if we don’t, who will, you know? In Lakesh, which is Mayan and means, you are my other self.

The reason why I bring this up is because has corny as it may seem we are all connected, and that is why I decided to be in the series, because I hope that my struggle can open hearts and perhaps prevent someone from being shunned, bullied, or perhaps even beaten. We are all each others keepers, and once we beginning practicing what is truly preached in the churches, we can start to move forward as a whole, and stop this taboo of queer being wrong. I understand that many latino families have their beliefs, but we can not allow for our beliefs to break our families or to take lives.

Why Not? Evolution, Videos & Rockstar Scientists

The below guest post was written by Matt Shipman, a science writer and father of three who lives in Raleigh. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ShipLives or connect with him here on Google+. 

Evolution shouldn’t be controversial. But, in some circles, it is.

That point was driven home earlier this year via, of all things, the Miss USA competition. This year’s competitors were asked whether they thought evolution should be taught in schools. The majority of them either said no, or that creationism should receive equal time in the science curriculum.

Many girls look up to young women like the Miss USA contestants. So when these role models overwhelmingly speak out against evolution education, that’s a problem.

Normally, I would have shaken my head and moved on. But I made the mistake of posting a flippant remark on Twitter. Something to the effect of: “Someone should do something to respond.” I got called on it.

An acquaintance of mine named Dave Wescott agreed that someone should respond. Then he said that someone should be us. I saw my future free time evaporating.

Within hours we had found a small group of scientists and science communicators who were also interested in being involved. Ultimately, there were me and Dave (P.R. guys), Kevin Zelnio, Jamie Vernon and Andrea Kuszewski (scientist/science communicators). We came up with the idea of creating a video, featuring scientists, which would explain evolution and why it is important to teach evolution in schools. We wanted to avoid divisive behavior and name-calling. Instead, we thought we could convey the fact that evolution is an amazing, uplifting discovery that has served as the genesis of countless advances in many fields of science.

Then someone, I think it was Jamie, suggested that we focus exclusively on female scientists. This was a great idea. In addition to talking about evolution, we could highlight positive role models, showing that women can be scientists and researchers, as well as beauty queens.

We contacted tons of great researchers from around the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Most of them turned us down. They’d never heard of us and, after all, they were all successful scientists (which is why we contacted them). But some of them – amazingly – said they’d participate.

After months of collecting video and editing, here it is. It’s the product of a small group of people, working on their personal time, with a budget of zero dollars. It wouldn’t work at all without the videos submitted by brilliant, generous and well-spoken scientists in fields ranging from genetics to anthropology to marine biology.

It’s not perfect, but we did something good here. We did not just roll our eyes.

It’s a good reminder that creative responses to challenging problems don’t come from other people. They come from you, when you stop making excuses and decide to actually do something positive.

So check the video out. And pass it on.


Thanksgiving Terrorism: Halal Turkey!

Thanksgiving can be a stressful holiday for many. There's all the traveling, the cooking, and those awkward conversations with ideologically incompatible relatives.

As if this wasn't enough, conservative blogger Pamela Geller has issued a warning: Eating turkey may turn you into a Muslim.

America needs to wake up from their tryptophan-induced slumber, stop worrying about their creeping waistline, and start worrying about creeping Sharia.

Writing in American Thinker, Geller writes:
Did you know that the turkey you're going to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day this Thursday is probably halal? If it's a Butterball turkey, then it certainly is -- whether you like it or not. 
In my book Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance, I report at length on the meat industry's halal scandal: its established practice of not separating halal meat from non-halal meat, and not labeling halal meat as such. And back in October 2010, I reported more little-noted but explosive new revelations: that much of the meat in Europe and the United States is being processed as halal without the knowledge of the non-Muslim consumers who buy it.

For those who are unfamiliar with the word "halal," it is a term designating that a particular food (or object, action, etc.) is seen as permissible under Islamic law.

Whether you like it or not, Butterball has issued a fatwa on your fat ass.

Geller continues her holiday horror story:

A citizen activist and reader of my website AtlasShrugs.com wrote to Butterball, one of the most popular producers of Thanksgiving turkeys in the United States, asking them if their turkeys were halal. Wendy Howze, a Butterball Consumer Response Representative, responded: "Our whole turkeys are certified halal."

In a little-known strike against freedom, yet again, we are being forced into consuming meat slaughtered by means of a torturous method: Islamic slaughter.

Halal slaughter involves cutting the trachea, the esophagus, and the jugular vein, and letting the blood drain out while saying "Bismillah allahu akbar" -- in the name of Allah the greatest.

This is shocking, folks. When little Tommy and Sally fight over that last drumstick, they are unwitting terrorists in training. I don't even want to think about what that wishbone is capable of doing.

Still others refuse to do so on principle: why should we be forced to conform to Islamic norms? It's Islamic supremacism on the march, yet again.

Non-Muslims in America and Europe don't deserve to have halal turkey forced upon them in this way, without their knowledge or consent. So this Thanksgiving, fight for your freedom. Find a non-halal, non-Butterball turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. And write to Butterball and request, politely but firmly, that they stop selling only halal turkeys, and make non-halal turkeys available to Americans who still value our freedoms.

Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified -- who wants that, especially on a day on which we are giving thanks to G-d for our freedom? I wouldn't knowingly buy a halal turkey -- would you? Halal turkey, slaughtered according to the rules of Islamic law, is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.
You got that, America? We can't let the turkey Taliban wage jihad on our day of thanks.

I mean, right?

Well, come to think of it, I have certainly eaten my share of Hebrew Nationals, and I haven't started sporting a kippah.

It's at times like these when it pays to stop for a second and think like a rational person (i.e. not Pamela Geller).

As my friend Stu said, "If you cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165, it'll kill any Sharia that gets into it."

The GOP Thanksgiving Family Forum Debate: The Giblets

Bachmann, displaying GOP-approved gender role
On Saturday, six Republican candidates testified, wept, and proselytized in Des Moines Iowa as part of the Thanksgiving Family Forum 'debate.'

The Family Forum was billed as a "family discussion with the Republican presidential candidates." The event was sponsored by right wing organizations Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Iowa based Christian conservative organization, The Family Leader.

Two candidates did not attend the forum. The Mormon guys took a pass, and understandably so. In 2008, Focus on the Family's CitizenLink pulled an interview with Glenn Beck because of his Mormon faith.

The Deseret News reported:
James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry has pulled from its CitizenLink Web site an article about talk show host Glenn Beck's book "The Christmas Sweater" after some complained that Beck's LDS faith is a "cult" and "false religion" and shouldn't be promoted by a Christian ministry.
And so, here in America, where there is no religious test for office, the six non-Mormon candidates sought to win over the Evangelical vote by out-weeping, out-witnessing, and out-pandering the competition.

Here are some of the more memorable quotes from the event:

  • "I’ve poured a lot of water in my time." (Michele Bachmann, submitting to the female duty of pouring water for the male candidates.)
  • "Go get a job. Right after you take a bath." (Newt Gingrich, to Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of which have jobs, and many of which are protesting the lack of available jobs)
  • "It was George Washington that added those last four words, ‘So help me god.’" (Michele Bachmann, once again serving up dubious history)
  • "A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have. Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare." (Newt Gingrich, thrice married, and the only Speaker of the House to have been disciplined for ethics violations.)
  • "Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law." (Rick Santorum, opposing a theocracy, while calling for a theocracy)
  • "In every person's heart, in every person's soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ." (Rick Perry, gunning for presidency of a country that is home to Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc.)
  • "That person terrifies me because they completely misunderstand how weak and how limited any human being is." (Newt, former Speaker with eighty-four ethics charges, who cheated on his wife while she was fighting cancer, on an atheist becoming president)
  • "Probably the boldest statement since Lincoln’s first inaugural took on the Supreme Court over the Dred Scott decision." (Newt, on a paper that Newt wrote and published on Newt.org)
  • "I always wanted to be a veterinarian ... and then He introduced me to organic chemistry, and I became a pilot in the United States Air Force." (Rick Perry, clearly becoming more skilled in debates, on God's plans.)
  • "Somebody's values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States in going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell ya, it needs to be our values -- values and virtues that this country was based upon by the Judeo-Christian Founding Fathers." (Rick Perry -- and by 'our values' he means not yours)
  • "I've been driven to my knees multiple times as the governor of the State of Texas, making decisions that are life or death -- have huge impacts on people's lives. The idea that I would walk into that without God Almighty holding me up would scare me to death." (Rick Perry, on how God helped him execute over 230 people)


Sam Harris: What If We're Born In The Wrong Place, To The Wrong Parents, In The Wrong Culture, Given The Wrong Theology?

In the following video, taken from a debate with apologist William Craig, Sam Harris offers a thought-provoking view of religion from the perspective of circumstance. It's something that I have thought about often.

So many of us believe that our religion is true. We believe this with so much certainty that we don't hesitate to characterize other belief systems as incorrect.

A great majority of us are born into a religion. We are indoctrinated into our religions, whether we want to admit it or not. If we had somehow been born to a different family across the globe, in another culture, we would very likely have been indoctrinated into a completely different religion -- one which we would feel to be the one true religion. All other religions, including the one in that alternative scenario, would be false.

Beyond childhood, the religions that we are born into are further reinforced through worship and the reading of scripture. Each of us are further assured that our religions are true, because each of our holy books commands us to believe that they are true.

How are we to reconcile this? Many argue that, if a religion is true, it will find its way to us no matter where we are. We need to remember, that billions of people believe the exact same thing.

Although Harris does not delve into it, I have often extrapolated, considering the probability of Darwinian life elsewhere in the cosmos, that there are unlimited religions currently in existence -- not to mention those discarded, or yet to be conceived.

Fischer, Citing Quran, Calls For Military Ban On Muslims, Apparently Forgetting All That Bible Violence

Bryan Fischer, douchenozzle
If I didn't know any better, I would suspect that The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer is an invention -- brilliant comedy-slash-performance art for the ages, joining the ranks of Tony Clifton and Neil Hamburger.

His anti-LGBT, xenophobic, extreme Christian Right views are so ridiculously over the top, you'd be crazy not to wonder if he's simply an elaborate hoax.

If his extreme ideology wasn't enough, Fischer also lacks any hint of self-awareness, spouting blatant hypocrisy at every turn.

Take his recent post at World Nut Daily, in which he doubles down on his belief that Muslims have no place in the US military.
To my knowledge, I was the first voice in America to call for stopping the practice of Muslims serving in the U.S. military. I did so the day after the Fort Hood shootings in November of 2009.

I endured a withering firestorm of criticism from friend and foe alike, and was summoned to both CNN and the Alan Colmes radio show to explain myself.

Now a prominent Tennessee legislator, Rep. Rick Womick, is joining me in this call. Said he, at a Sharia-awareness-event over the weekend, "If you believe it (the Quran), you are commanded to kill anybody who will not convert to Islam."

And of course he is right about what the Quran teaches the followers of Muhammad and Allah. There are 109 verses in the Quran, by one count, that call for violence against infidel Christians and Jews. One example will suffice: "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them" (Sura 9:5).

What part of "slay the idolaters wherever you find them" do brain-addled idolaters not understand? Muslims have been ordered by their god to kill you! What about that do you not get?
Further on:
Arresting, besieging and lying in ambush is exactly the kind of thing the United States military does to our enemies. Who are Muslims obligated to do that to? Who are the enemies of Islam that devout Muslims are ordered to arrest, besiege and ambush? Why, their fellow soldiers who believe in the God of Christianity.

It would be one thing if this ideology were covert and we were just finding out about it. But it's right there in their holy book where it has been for 1,400 years, where everybody, including our next commander in chief, can read it. It is sheer lunacy not to take this seriously.

In fact, I would suggest that I am showing more honor to Muslims than anyone else, because I am taking their religion more seriously than they are. I believe what Allah said through his Prophet, peace be upon him, that his followers have a sacred duty to slay infidel Americans. It shows a shameless lack of respect for Islam not to believe what their holy book says about their own religion. I have too much respect for Muslims and their sincerity and devotion to make that mistake.

That last paragraph is classic Fischer: Pure unadulterated hatred slathered in smarmy, patronizing righteousness.

While he is certainly correct in that the Quran is not in short supply of violent rhetoric and barbaric ideology, he seems to not also be aware that his Christian Bible is also not in short supply of the same violent rhetoric and barbaric ideology.

If Fischer wishes to ban all adherents of one religion based on the barbarism of its holy book, and the actions of some of its most extreme followers, then he might want to just call for a ban of Christians and Jews as well.

In a comparison of the Quran and the Bible for NPR, religion historian Philip Jenkins stated:
"Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible," Jenkins says.

"By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane," he says. "Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide."

It is called herem, and it means total annihilation. Consider the Book of 1 Samuel, when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: "And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them," God says through the prophet Samuel. "But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."

When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom.

"In other words," Jenkins says, "Saul has committed a dreadful sin by failing to complete genocide. And that passage echoes through Christian history. It is often used, for example, in American stories of the confrontation with Indians — not just is it legitimate to kill Indians, but you are violating God's law if you do not."

Jenkins notes that the history of Christianity is strewn with herem. During the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Catholic popes declared the Muslims Amalekites. In the great religious wars in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, Protestants and Catholics each believed the other side were the Amalekites and should be utterly destroyed.
Let's have a look at some of the passages from Fischer's Bible:
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant; And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you. (Deuteronomy 13:6)

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15)
Surely, Fischer would be the first to state that the above passages are out of context, relate to a particular time and place in human history, and don't represent modern Christianity.

Most Muslims would say the same thing about the passages Fischer has cherry-picked from the Quran.
Violence in the Quran, [Jenkins] and others say, is largely a defense against attack.

"By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane," he says.
And certainly, Fischer has a point when he points to some of the sensational stories of Islamic-fueled violence in recent times. We also must understand that these acts are a whole other animal, and most modern Muslims are far less extreme in their religious views than is Fischer.
That may be the popular notion of jihad, says Waleed El-Ansary, but it's the wrong one. El-Ansary, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of South Carolina, says the Quran explicitly condemns religious aggression and the killing of civilians. And it makes the distinction between jihad — legal warfare with the proper rules of engagement — and irjaf, or terrorism.

"All of those types of incidences — [Sept. 11], Maj. Nidal Hasan and so forth — those are all examples of irjaf, not jihad," he says. According to the Quran, he says, those who practice irjaf "are going to hell."

So what's going on here? After all, we all have images of Muslim radicals flying planes into buildings, shooting up soldiers at Fort Hood, trying to detonate a bomb on an airplane on Christmas Day. How to reconcile a peaceful Quran with these violent acts?

El-Ansary says that in the past 30 years, there's been a perfect storm that has created a violent strain of Islam. The first is political: frustration at Western intervention in the Muslim world. The second is intellectual: the rise of Wahhabi Islam, a more fundamentalist interpretation of Islam subscribed to by Osama bin Laden. El-Ansary says fundamentalists have distorted Islam for political purposes.

"Basically what they do is they take verses out of context and then use that to justify these egregious actions," he says.

El-Ansary says we are seeing more religious violence from Muslims now because the Islamic world is far more religious than is the West. Still, Jenkins says Judeo-Christian cultures shouldn't be smug. The Bible has plenty of violence.

"The scriptures are still there, dormant, but not dead," he says, "and they can be resurrected at any time. Witness the white supremacists who cite the murderous Phineas when calling for racial purity, or an anti-abortion activist when shooting a doctor who performs abortions.

In the end, the scholars can agree on one thing: The DNA of early Judaism, Christianity and Islam code for a lot of violence.
Pot, meet kettle.

Further reading: 30 Reasons Why Bryan Fischer is Dangerous and Must Be Stopped


Interactive Feature: In-Depth Look At USA's Religious Beliefs, Practices

USA Today often takes a beating for being America's McPaper, but every now and then, they serve up some pretty interesting stuff.

Take, for example, their 'In-Depth Look At USA's Religious Beliefs, Practices' interactive flash feature.

The graphics allow users to slice and dice data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's US Religious Landscape Survey. While the Pew Forum's site does have some neat interactive features (and is certainly worth checking out), the USA Today graphics serve the data up a bit differently, with breakdowns of survey responses broken down by religious affiliation, as well as a compelling topography of American faith. Users can view data for each state by clicking the state on the map.

The results often serve to confirm stereotypes: The southeast contains a large population of Evangelicals, the Northeast and the West coast have the larger 'unaffiliated' populations, and Utah is full of Mormons.

Also worth checking out are USA Today's interactive feature on shifting religious identities and their test on religious knowledge.

Screenshot below. Click here for the interactive feature.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone On New Atheism: Don't Be Dicks

Trey Parker and Matt stone, creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon, think Richard Dawkins is a dick.

Dawkins, on 'South Park'
In an interview by AJ Jacobs in Esquire, the due discuss their equal-opportunity offender approach to their work. Since South Park first aired in 1997, Parker and Stone have skewered Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Mormonism, and dozens of other belief systems, political ideologies, and conspiracy theories. They have even skewered non-belief, specifically the so-called New Atheism of Richard Dawkins.
One of South Park's best episodes featured Dawkins as a substitute teacher who ends up having kinky sex with the boys' creationist teacher, Miss Garrison (formerly Mr. Garrison, pre-sex-change-operation). The show ended five hundred years in the future, when Dawkins-worshipping atheists are at war over whether their religion should be called the "United Atheist Alliance" or "Unified Atheist League."
Stone had this to say about Dawkins:
"He's such a dick," said Stone. "You read his book and you're like, 'Yeah, I agree with that. But it's the most dicky way to put it... I think the neoatheists have set atheism back a few decades. And I'm a self-described atheist."
It is apt that the two were interviewed by Jacobs. His very funny memoir, The Year of Living Biblically, takes religion head-on. There are plenty of laughs, and some have certainly been offended, but at the end of the day, Jacobs realizes that he is a 'reverent agnostic.' In a Q&A session, Jacobs stated, "Whether or not there's a God, I believe in the idea of sacredness—that rituals can be sacred, that the Sabbath can be sacred, and there's great importance to that. So I'm still agnostic, but a deeply different kind of agnostic."

Parker and Stone seem to share this reverence for religion, despite their own personal beliefs.
"I'm concerned about people being happy," said Stone. "With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it's true if it makes you happy?"

"As storytellers for fifteen years, we started looking at religions for their stories," Parker said.

Stone illustrated the idea with the Parable of the Hipster Coffee Guy. Recently, Stone was at a New York hotel that was trying very hard to be cool. It had stuffed animal heads on the walls and exposed brass pipes. "I don't know if Luddite is the right word, but it was back-to-basics. The guy making the coffee had a beard and tattoos. And I'm sitting there going, 'What the fuck. I'm too old for this. This is not my scene.' And then I drank the coffee, and I'm like, 'Holy shit. That's amazing.'

"And it made me think there's something about dressing up and playing the part. To me, that's religion. You can write down how to make the perfect cup of coffee. But to make it really good, you have to play something fictional, you have to dress up, you have to think, This is the most important thing."
Read the full interview at Esquire.


What Is Tolerance?

November 16 is International Day of Tolerance.

The UN General Assembly invited UN Member States to hold the day for observance, with the goal of advancing "human welfare, freedom and progress everywhere, as well as to encourage tolerance, respect, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples."

I once stumbled across the UN's Declaration on Principles on Tolerance. It's probably as fine a document as you will find on the subject.

Many of us have certainly run into a scenario in which we have been called 'intolerant' for denouncing the beliefs of others. If one is self-aware, such an accusation does not fall on deaf ears. Progressives are often pointing out the hypocrisy in others as a means of highlighting the need for reflection or reform. It would make sense that accusations of hypocrisy and intolerance would give pause to one who is combating intolerance.

The UN's declaration addresses this issue, and does a great job of explaining that tolerance does not require that one be tolerant of social injustice. This is where the rubber meets the road.

When we denounce beliefs which cause harm to others, we are in no way in conflict with the concept of tolerance. Tolerance, in part, is "the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments...The practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions."

It wouldn't hurt us to give more attention to this day. There sure seems to be a lot of confusion as to what tolerance really means.

Here is the UN declaration:

Declaration of Principles on Tolerance

Proclaimed and signed by the Member States of UNESCO on 16 November 1995.


Bearing in mind that the United Nations Charter states: 'We, the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, ... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, ... and for these ends to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours',

Recalling that the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, adopted on 16 November 1945, states that "peace, if it is not to fail, must be founded on the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind",

Recalling also that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" (Article 18), "of opinion and expression" (Article 19), and that education "should promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups" (Article 26),

Noting relevant international instruments including:

  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  • the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,
  • the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
  • the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and regional instruments,
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
  • the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
  • the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,
  • the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities,
  • the Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism,
  • the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights,
  • the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Summit for Social Development,
  • the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice,
  • the UNESCO Convention and Recommendation against Discrimination in Education,

Bearing in mind the objectives of the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, the World Decade for Human Rights Education, and the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People,

Taking into consideration the recommendations of regional conferences organized in the framework of the United Nations Year for Tolerance in accordance with UNESCO General Conference 27 C/Resolution 5.14, as well as the conclusions and recommendations of other conferences and meetings organized by Member States within the programme of the United Nations Year for Tolerance,

Alarmed by the current rise in acts of intolerance, violence, terrorism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion, marginalization and discrimination directed against national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, refugees, migrant workers, immigrants and vulnerable groups within societies, as well as acts of violence and intimidation committed against individuals exercising their freedom of opinion and expression - all of which threaten the consolidation of peace and democracy, both nationally and internationally, and are obstacles to development,

Emphasizing the responsibilities of Member States to develop and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, gender, language, national origin, religion or disability, and to combat intolerance,

Adopt and solemnly proclaim this Declaration of Principles on Tolerance

Resolving to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

We declare the following:

Article 1 - Meaning of tolerance

1.1 Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

1.2 Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

1.3 Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

1.4 Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.

Article 2 - State level

2.1 Tolerance at the State level requires just and impartial legislation, law enforcement and judicial and administrative process. It also requires that economic and social opportunities be made available to each person without any discrimination. Exclusion and marginalization can lead to frustration, hostility and fanaticism.

2.2 In order to achieve a more tolerant society, States should ratify existing international human rights conventions, and draft new legislation where necessary to ensure equality of treatment and of opportunity for all groups and individuals in society.

2.3 It is essential for international harmony that individuals, communities and nations accept and respect the multicultural character of the human family. Without tolerance there can be no peace, and without peace there can be no development or democracy.

2.4 Intolerance may take the form of marginalization of vulnerable groups and their exclusion from social and political participation, as well as violence and discrimination against them. As confirmed in the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, "All individuals and groups have the right to be different" (Article 1.2).

Article 3 - Social dimensions

3.1 In the modern world, tolerance is more essential than ever before. It is an age marked by the globalization of the economy and by rapidly increasing mobility, communication, integration and interdependence, large-scale migrations and displacement of populations, urbanization and changing social patterns. Since every part of the world is characterized by diversity, escalating intolerance and strife potentially menaces every region. It is not confined to any country, but is a global threat.

3.2 Tolerance is necessary between individuals and at the family and community levels. Tolerance promotion and the shaping of attitudes of openness, mutual listening and solidarity should take place in schools and universities and through non-formal education, at home and in the workplace. The communication media are in a position to play a constructive role in facilitating free and open dialogue and discussion, disseminating the values of tolerance, and highlighting the dangers of indifference towards the rise in intolerant groups and ideologies.

3.3 As affirmed by the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, measures must be taken to ensure equality in dignity and rights for individuals and groups wherever necessary. In this respect, particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups which are socially or economically disadvantaged so as to afford them the protection of the laws and social measures in force, in particular with regard to housing, employment and health, to respect the authenticity of their culture and values, and to facilitate their social and occupational advancement and integration, especially through education.

3.4 Appropriate scientific studies and networking should be undertaken to co-ordinate the international community's response to this global challenge, including analysis by the social sciences of root causes and effective countermeasures, as well as research and monitoring in support of policy-making and standard-setting action by Member States.

Article 4 - Education

4.1 Education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance. The first step in tolerance education is to teach people what their shared rights and freedoms are, so that they may be respected, and to promote the will to protect those of others.

4.2 Education for tolerance should be considered an urgent imperative; that is why it is necessary to promote systematic and rational tolerance teaching methods that will address the cultural, social, economic, political and religious sources of intolerance - major roots of violence and exclusion. Education policies and programmes should contribute to development of understanding, solidarity and tolerance among individuals as well as among ethnic, social, cultural, religious and linguistic groups and nations.

4.3 Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning.

4.4 We pledge to support and implement programmes of social science research and education for tolerance, human rights and non-violence. This means devoting special attention to improving teacher training, curricula, the content of textbooks and lessons, and other educational materials including new educational technologies, with a view to educating caring and responsible citizens open to other cultures, able to appreciate the value of freedom, respectful of human dignity and differences, and able to prevent conflicts or resolve them by non-violent means.

Article 5 - Commitment to action

We commit ourselves to promoting tolerance and non-violence through programmes and institutions in the fields of education, science, culture and communication.

Article 6 - International Day for Tolerance

In order to generate public awareness, emphasize the dangers of intolerance and react with renewed commitment and action in support of tolerance promotion and education, we solemnly proclaim 16 November the annual International Day for Tolerance.