Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Longest Day...

Today is the 21st of June. Yesterday was the summer solstice and it went by without much fanfare. Years ago it was referred to as Midsummer and there were celebrations and parties. A celebration of the longest day and a the promise of continued happiness for the year. It was a time for merriment and outdoor fun. Then the Christians came.

The Christians hate astronomy. They always have. Maybe it is because they did not want anyone looking up there and seeing there was no God. Maybe they saw it as too close to astrology and that was a competing meme so they crushed it. Maybe it was all the non-religious study and the great minds being allowed to think about something other than God. As time went on they became afraid of a heliocentric solar system and the proof that the bible was wrong. In any effect, they hated astronomy.

Eventually Christianity, to conquer some Pagan territory, had to accept a midsummer-ish festival. Like they did with Christmas but the other side of the year. Problem for the prissy Christians is that Midsummer was a time of dance and debauchery and that was hard to beat out of the Christo-pagans. Saint John's Day (or the Feast of St. John-as in John the Baptist), the Christian/Catholic attempts to co-opt Midsummer failed and never picked up a lot of steam. If you do wish to celebrate it I have heard that it is still a good sized party in Voodoo and celebrated in New Orleans. So, good luck with that.

Aside from Voodoo, who celebrates the summer solstice in the modern era?  The Neopagans sometimes celebrate Lita, Some Atheists and Scientific Pantheists, like myself, experience it as a celestial marker and offer it respect. Many cultures and countries have held on to the holiday more loosely, Canada celebrates their independence on July 1st and the US follows on July 4th (week and a half and 2 weeks following solstice). French Canadians in Quebec actually celebrate the Feast of Saint John and it is a Holiday. Across Europe (old Christendom and old Pagan-dom) people still have little celebrations usually more reminiscent of pre-Christian Pagan festivals than the Church's attempted replacement; huge bonfires and all night parties. Naked dancing and revelry and the like.

So, the solstice is the longest day for earth, right? Well, no.

Firstly, there is a Northern Solstice and a Southern Solstice. The one we North Americans and Europeans celebrate is the Northern one. The Southern hemisphere has theirs at Christmas time.

Secondly, it is not the day at all. It is a time. This year it was June 20th at 07:09 Universal Time (UT). UT is basically just Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)but more accurate. For our purposes it is the same. For anyone who does not know GMT is the time on the Prime Meridian or zero degrees longitude. No surprise that the English, when they conquered the world, named a city in England as point zero for all geography.

The summer solstice is when the axial tilt of the Earth (or any planet for that matter) for a given hemisphere is more inclined toward the Sun (or other stat) than at any other moment throughout the year.  Earth's maximum tilt at the solstice (north or south) is twenty three degrees twenty six minutes (23° 26'). During the solstice the sun reaches it's highest point in the as seen from the north or south poles.

As we know this occurs between June 20 and June 22 each year while the summer solstice occurs between December 20 and 23. The winter solstice is just the other date as I am sure you know but probably do not think about. Imagine that it is the shortest day and the beginning of winter in Australia.

I wrote this because I was thinking about the summer solstice and thought you might be too. Happy Belated Solstice folks!!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Why can't these parents teach their children how to think

Father’s Day.  Like Mother’s Day, it is just another in a long string of Hallmark holidays meant to get all the children of the world to buy a card and a gift for one of the two most important people in anyone’s life, their parents. It always makes me think of my own father, who passed away 4 years ago, and all the things that he taught me. Now, a lot of people say that, that they thank their parents for all they taught them however, I would say for some people, maybe most people, that’s a bunch of bullshit.
                Most people simply don’t think, were never taught how to think, and when it comes to their children they certainly aren’t teaching them to think, either. When we are living in a world where one of our greatest sources of entertainment is watching some kids on the New Jersey shoreline take shots until their clothes come off,  I start to worry about the state of the world. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that only dumb people don’t show their children how to think. Smart people do it too, all the time. Take, for instance, baby-proofing.
                Everything about raising a child now is focused on safety, safety, safety. I recently baby proofed my home since I now have a toddler who is into absolutely everything. There is a safety device for, literally, every item in my home…literally. Front door? Handle Lock. Stove? Oven door lock, knob locks, burner guards. Refrigerator?  Door lock. Toilet?  Lid lock.  Every door in my home?  Finger guards and knob locks. Cabinets?  Cabinet locks. It’s ridiculous. I found myself asking as I was walking through the official ‘be afraid’ section of the store, “What happened to us simply teaching our children not to touch the stove?” It all made me think that this all simply proves that 1) parents are now too lazy/busy to actually discipline and teach their children and/or 2) we are way too overly obsessed with safety.
                Now, I’m not Jeff Foxworthy, and I’m not suggesting you simply watch your kid pull the TV on their head or put the penny in the light socket “He’ll learn”, no, I’m simply saying that we should be focusing on teaching our children to think not simply take away their ability to hurt themselves. That day in the safety section I only bought cabinet locks, to keep him out of the chemicals under the sink. I will eventually get a knob lock for the front door once he can reach it so that he doesn’t sneak out of the house in the middle of the night (I’m assuming my son will be smart enough to decipher the door lock). Other than that, I can handle teaching him not to do everything else that someone wants to sell a product to me to protect against. Eventually, he will be able to decide for himself what is safe and what isn’t due to proper guidance from his parents. I’m dedicated to my kid not being the toy swallower and paste eater. Although paste is incredibly delicious (or at least it was when I was 6 or 7. Rubber cement is also one of the best smells on Earth) so, I kinda don’t blame paste eaters.
                Show your kids how to make choices. Let them get into some trouble to learn lessons. They will bump their head a couple times, they will take tumbles, they will pull things over. That’s how kids learn. If we simply put bumpers all around their world how will they ever become adults who can avoid danger? If we never allow our children to make decisions and choose to avoid something, with our guidance of course, then how will they ever learn to think for themselves?
                The purpose of parenting is to produce a functioning and successful member of the human race. To produce one who has the potential to make a difference in the world. In my opinion, coddling and protecting to a fault doesn’t help produce this effect. Coddling and over-protection produces someone co-dependent who is ready to be a sheep. My goal is to help shape an independent and rational man someday when my little boy grows up. For now, I will kiss his boo-boos to make them better but I will not stop him from playing and exploring for himself just because he got a bump or a bruise. Bumps and bruises are part of growing up. Our scars all taught us something and in that process we also learned how to make decisions, how to understand our environment, and how to avoid that boo-boo in the future. We learned how to think. We should all have that as a goal; children who can think and consequently a more rational set of adults in about 10-20 years.

-Colleen Amos

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Atheists get religion all wrong

I recently found this article on the information superhighway. It was titled Atheists get religion all wrong. The crux of her argument is that people are bad and hurt others and we would do this with or without religion. To this, I agree. Religion does not cause the horrors of the world. The horrors of the world are caused by humans, fear, anger, greed, and desperation. See religion is not one of those causes. There you go, she is correct. Fellow Atheists, please vilify me.

If only things were so very simple. The above is, in my humble opinion, correct. It is not complete though. We have patriotism/nationalism, racism and xenophobia, but the granddaddy of them all is religion. These are the tools we use to make it ok to slaughter whole groups of people. Generally countries need an impetus to convince them that chopping up (or more recently bombing the hell out of) whole towns is important we need to make it clear that those people are evil. They can't be reasoned with. They need to be wiped out.

Japs, Sand Ni@#ers, Commies, Krauts, Drug Lords (the war against Columbia). Sometimes it is just the name; The Jew, The Nazi, The Muslim, The Protestant, The Catholic, or The American. We humans need to make our foes evil or at best sub-human. During the first World War there were French Propaganda posters claiming that the Germans were cannibals. I kid you not.

This works very well for those who gain money and power from these wars. Not that they are committing some vast conspiracy to justify their wars on the poor who do the fighting. They justify this to themselves using the same mind game.

"They threaten our way of life" or "our freedom." That is what we say about the Taliban. That is what we said about the Soviets. That is what we said about the Nazis. A better argument is that they are Evil and threaten our souls. This one has been used for a few thousand years. This is the horror of religion.

Conflicts start about any random thing. Lets take land, for example. My group wants to annex your country. You could be Sunni Muslims, or the Canaanites, or the Cherokee. It does not matter. Slaughtering humans is a rough deal for a civilization. If we can make the argument that you are metaphysically evil then we can justify sending our poor young men off to risk death and kill. Kill kill kill. We begin the propaganda campaign. "Sunni Muslims follow a false prophecy. They are not real Muslims." "God ordered us to wipe the Canaanites from the holy land." "These pagan savages need to be Christianized."

But once we start the propaganda campaign we have no mechanism to stop it. If GOD said these people are evil how does an enlightened leader convince the populace that their GOD was wrong or changed his mind? It took the Holocaust for Christians to change their minds about Jews. Prior to WWII there was almost as much antisemitism in the states as there was in Europe. Following that act we had to co-opt Jews into the fold. Barring that there is little that has worked.

We can change political alliances, or economic systems but it is really hard to override the will of a GOD. That is how it is different. When the religion says it it is metaphysically true. The Israelis and the Palestinians have an existential hate. Not based in religion. Based in politics and economics. Fueled by religion. Made powerful and permanent by religion. Made more horrible by religion.

If I can walk back to the article which began my little rant... I agree with the (uncredited) author. Whoever that may be. Religion is not the problem. Religions provide a social contract for every member to agree to. With the age of enlightenment, we were able to do so with out magic mumbo-jumbo.

But this is a good thing religions have done. No doubt. Whats bad is what we give up to accept the religious contract. We give up reason, critical thinking, and real responsibility. We give those up and we trade them in for Faith. Faith, the antithesis of reason. Faith, our blind acceptance. Faith, that which makes parents pray instead of going to doctors, bomb abortion clinics, play with poisonous snakes, accept sexual abuse of children, kill others for falling in love.

Well, I have no problem with religion. I hate faith. I hate it in spirituality. I hate it in politics. I hate it in science. I hate it in culture. I hate it in medicine. Fuck faith! Faith is a dirty word. Faith is belief without evidence. Faith is turning your back on thinking. Faith is a killer of gays, Christians, Muslims, intellectuals, children, parents, friends and those we will never meet because we have smart bombs. Faith stops vaccinations, lynches people, destroys peoples ways of life and destroys whole cultures.

People of faith are bad human beings. They chose stupidity and blindness over thought and judgment. They chose to be slaves. Fuck them all.