Monday, December 29, 2008

Hey, Atheists: It's all your Dad's fault!

Atheism Ascendent?

In presumed observance of Boxing Day, Citizen senior writer Robert Sibley gives us one long ad hominem argument against the New Atheists. His screed takes the "Four Horesmen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens) to task for their criticism of religion as being irrational, and encouraging of violence, extremism and inhumanity. According to Sibley, they should quit bitching, because in fact atheism has already won (!):
By all appearances atheism is deeply embedded in the contemporary mind. Modern philosophy, natural science and psychology are, more often than not, atheistic in outlook. So, too, are many of our social and political institutions. It is a virtual taboo for a Canadian politician to refer to his or her religious faith in public life. The school system teaches students about sex and drugs, but classroom prayers have largely been cancelled.
First, Sibley seems to confuse "secular" (making no reference to religion) with "atheist" (in the strong sense of denying gods). To a certain school of thought, any statement that does not begin with an invocation and end with a benediction, is ipso facto impious. But let's be honest: the party whose ox is being gored here -- whose prayers are now omitted from school, whose scriptures are no longer taught during "religious instruction" -- is not just some generic "faith", not some non-denominational "spirituality": it is Christianity (and please, don't give me any tokenistic crap about "Judeo-Christianity", just to prove that you're not really a bigot.) And that is what official secularism is for: because inevitably, officially sanctioned observances are always one party's prayer, but not someone else's; it always comes down to the government endorsing one faith over another. Several centuries of blood were spilled in Europe before we finally got the clue that government must be for all the people, not just for one group (or even a loosely-defined coalition of groups). And as for politics: while it's true that Canadians don't seem to like American-style political piety, in which candidates proclaim that they'll do what God wants, it is still the case that more Canadians believe in God than not. We may not be religious enough to suit Sibley -- but neither is atheism "deeply embedded in the contemporary mind".

(I don't at all understand where he's going with the comment about natural science. Sibley certainly isn't a fan of Creationism, as he has previously written:
Science-based evolutionists who seek "mutual understanding" with those who promote creationist doctrine as equally scientific are effectively committing intellectual suicide. The reality is that some ideas, some principles, are mutually exclusive, and to "respect" those who hold unintelligible views is to retreat in the face of fanaticism.
Whatever his motivation, science has been "atheistic" at least since Pierre-Simon Laplace found he "had no need of that hypothesis [ie. God]" to complete his Mécanique Céleste, and will remain so until someone figures out how to weigh and measure God.)

But back to the alleged triumph of atheism. Yes, Western society is far more secular than it used to be: you can no longer be jailed or worse for disagreeing with the state church on a point of doctrine; you're no longer routinely expected to be some sort of Christian (well, at least if you live in many of the large cities in the US or Canada -- there are lots of places where that's still not true); discriminating on the basis of religion is illegal. I assume that Sibley agrees all this is a Good Thing. But it hardly equates to some sort of atheist hegemony. In Sibley's world, apparently are no Christian fundamentalists trying to sneak Creationism in to school science curricula (and coming damned close to succeeding); no fanatical Muslims flying airplanes into buildings (oops -- I see he has an excuse for that, which we'll get to later); no Pentecostals from Alaska capturing the hearts of the Republican, aren't journalists supposed to be better plugged into current events than that?

But never mind that Sibley's opening premise is (to be charitable) grossly overstated: if we atheists are winning, then why are the New Atheists still complaining? In fact, why in general are atheists, atheist?

Father & Son

Apparently, it's all Dad's fault. Alluding to the writings of Christian psychologist Paul Vitz (see here for an sample essay on this topic), Sibley advances the suggestion that the trouble with the New Atheists (and indeed, with atheists in general) is that they had either absentee fathers, or bad relationships with their fathers:
Absent full-scale biographies -- or personal revelations -- it is perhaps presumptuous to apply a psychological approach to the new atheists. Still, there are tantalizing hints that psychological factors are at play in their militancy.
But even self-confessed presumptuousness isn't enough to stop Sibley from charging full steam ahead into some free-wheeling speculation that Dawkins' atheism is caused by his military father's absence during WWII (Dawkins was born in 1941). Really, this is pretty thin gruel, and his attempt to psychoanalyze Hitchens is even weaker:
Christopher Hitchens attributes his atheism to parents who avoided the topic of religion for psychological reasons of their own. "My parents did not try to impose religion," he says, noting that his father "had not especially loved his strict Baptist/Calvinist up-bringing," while his mother "preferred assimilation -- partly for my sake -- to the Judaism of her forebears."
....which says precisely nothing about not getting along with his father, only that his parents did not teach him religion. Sibley seems to have lost sight of his own argument (Vitz's "bad dad" theory) and gone off on a tangent about general parental influence. In response, I must point out that right across the board, children usually end up being of the same persuasion as their parents. While this no doubt tells us something about the psychology of belief formation, as an argument for or against religion it invalidates everyone's opinions equally. I have to wonder what he would make of my experience: raised by agnostic parents, in an intact functional family -- and I became a fundamentalist at age 15, an atheist at 44. Which conversion was in reaction to exactly which aspect of my relationship with my father?

But Sibley's excuse for Islamic terrorism takes Vitz's hypothesis in a bizarre direction. It's not too much religion, or the wrong kind, it's about fatherhood again:
It's worth pointing out that most acts of terrorism, whether the 2001 terrorist strikes on the United States or the recent attacks in Mumbai, involve young men. Is it possible that the violence atheists attribute to religious faith is in fact rooted in psychology? Is Islamist terrorism a pathological response to the weakening of the traditional patriarchal culture in the Muslim world?
OK, I'm sympathetic to explanations of extremism that supplement dogma with social factors and geo-political grievances, but this is simply the nadir of silly. I don't know, Robert -- is it in fact the case that Muslim patriarchal culture is breaking down? Did the 9-11 hijackers have bad relationships with their fathers? Either provide some evidence for your speculations, or admit you're just making it up, OK?

Vitz Fits?

Since Sibley rests so much of his argument on Vitz's ideas, his essay itself is worth a brief perusal. Near the top he lays out terms of reference which explain a lot about the Sibley article:
Before beginning, however, I wish to make two points bearing on the underlying assumption of my remarks. First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but-in a general sense- can be called psychological. I do not wish to offend the many distinguished philosophers-both believers and nonbelievers-in this audience, but I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument there are many, many more affected by nonrational psychological factors.
This is why Sibley never attempts (beyond invoking John Haught to deliver a predictable Courtier's Reply) to grapple with the first prong of the New Atheists' critique: that religion is irrational. Now in my opinion it is true that everything we believe is some combination of rational and irrational -- even the choice to use rational decision-making cannot itself be rationally justified without peril of circularity. As a matter of personal history, the stimulus which gets an individual thinking seriously about issues like the existence of God, or the reliability of church dogma, may be some entirely contingent stressor like the untimely death of a parent. But this does not constitute a license to ignore one's opponents rational arguments in favour of speculative psychologizing, as Sibley does. To do so is to commit the Ad Hominem fallacy.

To support his claim that most atheists are being irrational, Vitz uses himself as a case study, citing his experience in an academic environment where piety was frowned upon. He confesses: " is now clear to me that my reasons for becoming and for remaining an atheist-skeptic from about age 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without intellectual or moral integrity". Feh: just because he was stupid and venal, doesn't mean the rest of us are. There's this thing called projection -- as a psychologist, Vitz may have heard of it.

Vitz goes on to cite specific examples of prominent atheists with paternal issues: Freud, Marx, O'Hair, Nietzsche. But surely this is proof by anecdote? A scientific approach might, say, systematically survey many atheists and believers on their family histories, and attempt to discern correlations, not just cherry-pick a few historical examples. Isn't psychology a science?

Religion as Social Glue

Sibley concludes by citing the work of Rene Girard, who advances the idea that religion (especially its sacrificial rituals) arose as a way of mitigating violent competition among individuals, thus making orderly society possible. Personally, I'm not competent to critique Girard (read: damned if I can make head or tail of him), but he may have a point. In general, I agree with those who argue that religion played a role in expanding the "in-group" beyond the local clan, all of whom were relations by blood or marriage. This is a Good Thing, as far as it goes -- but it must be noted that the process fell short of truly universalizing the in-group; that it ground to a halt at a point where we had larger, mutually hostile groups. It's only in the past few centuries that we've begun to unravel the residue of these old rivalries -- Catholics and Protestants (mostly) kissed and made up, then they allowed that Jews maybe weren't such bad folks after all, and now they're even making nice with the Muslims (not all of whom are returning the favour, but they've got similar issues to work out themselves). And the impetus for this outpouring of tolerant brotherly love was precisely the growth of secularism (oops, "atheism") springing from the Enlightenment -- the determination to bury the theological hatchets, and seek identities beyond the denominational.

However, even if religion enabled the rise of civilization, this does not warrant the conclusion that getting rid of religion will bring back the Stone Age -- history is not so simply reversible. Establishing that thesis would require data from modern society, say on the correlations between religious belief and observance, and violence, across the Western world. And in fact, some data on that topic is available, in a paper in the Journal of Religion and Society. What it shows is that for many reasonable measures of societal health (rates of homicide, young adult suicide, teen pregnancy and STDs), there is little correlation with measures of religiosity -- and where there is correlation, it appears to be negative, ie. higher rates of belief go with worse outcomes (the USA being a prominent outlier among Western democracies -- among the most religious of the bunch, and also by far the most dysfunctional).

Sibley concludes:
So long as the seed of "resentment" remains embedded in the human psyche -- and it will so long as we remain "human" -- uprooting religion is unlikely to produce a peaceful world.
Well, no it probably won't: we humans are a cussed bunch, and have always fought over resources, if nothing else. But eliminating organized and enforced irrationality -- which frequently explicitly encourages violence -- can't really hurt, either.


Update: Dan Gardner, who is AFAIK the sole voice of rationality left at the Citizen, has posted a short-but-delicious smackdown of his colleague's piece. I was not previously aware of Dan's blog, but it's now in my RSS subs. Hat tip: Paul @ Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 12 - Merry Newtonmass

It's Newtonmass, and as is our annual tradition, we will share our favourite Newtonmass carol, with a new verse for 2008:

God rest ye merry, physicists
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Isaac Newton
was born on Christmas Day!
His gravity and calculus and "f" equals "m" "a"!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

A factor of big G - the same
for flea and giant star.
Then multiply the masses
and divide by square of "r".
The force that keeps us on the earth and orbits moons afar!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 11: Merry Kittehmas & Riddle Answered

I'll say one thing for our humans: they're persistent. Yesterday they went out again and came back with another tree! This one is different: it smells fascinating, but doesn't taste so good. I guess we won't eat this one.

That means dangling decorations! Yay!

Anyway, it's time to reveal the answer to the riddle I posed the other day: why do I like Greg Lake's song I Believe in Father Christmas? Thanks, bPer for trying, but you're not really very close. The musical clue is the instrumental refrain that keeps coming back in that song: that part is not by Greg Lake, it's by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. It is taken from his Lieutenant Kije Suite (I can't help it if everyone spells it wrong), specifically from the Troika movement, which depicts a ride through the snow in a sled drawn by three horses (unfortunately, I cannot find an online audio excerpt).

In the meantime, I see that the humans have finished hanging stuff on the tree -- time to play!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 10: Warren Christmas & Pope Maledict

OK, I get that Obama is trying to do the Big Tent thing, and getting a prominent evangelical to deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration is part of that. But: Rick Warren? The guy who endorsed California's Proposition 8, to strip gays of a right they already had? And of course, he wouldn't vote for an atheist -- 'cuz everyone knows getting hints from the Big Guy Upstairs is soooo important to a president, right? I mean, look how well that worked out for GWB on the Iraq thing.

To put it into perspective: Would it be Big Tenting, to invite a pastor who was on record as wanting to revoke the franchise from blacks, and who wouldn't vote for a Jew because, really, you need Jesus to hold your hand in the Oval Office?

But speaking of The Bigots vs. Gays game, the Pope has issued a warning of the perils of TEH GAY and, indeed, the whole notion that gender is a social construct. Apparently, blurring the lines between the sexes will lead to the "self-destruction" of humanity, just as surely as if we trash the environment:
We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as 'man' or 'woman' and asks that this order is respected.

This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God.
As a matter of fact Benny, yes it is out-of-date metaphysics: to insist that Male and Female are some sort of transcendent "natures" is Neo-Platonic horseshit, and the phrase "comes from faith in the Creator" is here synonymous with "invented out of whole cloth way back before we knew enough biology to study it properly". Male and female are facts of purely earthly biology, and inconsistent ones at that -- never mind that many organisms get along without sexual differentiation, or switch sexes as needed; even among humans there are those whose anatomical and/or chromosomal characteristics are ambiguous or inconsistent. And the specific cues we customarily use to indicate gender (and the roles we assign) are almost purely social constructs.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 9: Santa-ism

I am astonished at the vituperative comments and personal attacks over at Recursivity after Jeff Shallit "confessed" that his family does not subscribe to the religion of Santa-ism. Accusations of ruining the spirit of Christmas, destroying the wonder of childhood, and being self-righteous, dour and humourless abound.

Eamon and I were Christians (albeit fairly liberal by that time) when our children were young. The fact that, when we ourselves were growing up, Eamon's family was agnostic, and mine was secular Jewish, and neither of us had a tradition of Santa-belief probably made it easier for us. One of the main reasons we decided not to deceive our kids about Santa being real and bringing Christmas presents was because we felt that knowingly lying to our kids about Santa would cause them to doubt the veracity of other things we taught them to believe in - ie about Christianity and God. (This does seem rather ironic, in retrospect, as the 21-year-old pointed out to us recently.)

So from an early age, our kids knew that Santa was pretend. And none of the Christmas gifts we gave were "from" Santa, though when he was about 5, our younger son (who happens to have been born on December 25) decided he should dress up as Santa and give out the presents. (Oops, I guess that could not have really happened, since our kids apparently were raised to have no imagination.)

One of the commenters on Recursivity said,
You never know how a child will react to anything you do. My parents took the same approach that you have chosen to take. Santa was never real, just a story. Now that I am older and I hear the stories of my friends from when they were young and I see the joy in children's faces when they think that Santa is coming or when they are writing him a letter, I know my parents robbed me of an experience that I will never be able to duplicate.
Parents and children can have shared joy in pretending, even when everyone knows it's make-believe. There was no pretense about Santa Claus for my kids, but someone filled their stockings with candy and toys while they slept. Everyone knew there was no Easter Bunny, but someone hid plastic eggs around the house. My kids even left notes for the Easter Bunny on a few occasions.

I'll certainly stand up for the imagination and wonder with which I raised my kids against the cynicism of this commenter:
We use the fallacy of santa to control our kids. It worked when I was a kid, and it works with my kids. Soon after you learn the truth, you also learn why it is such a great tool. Kids don't have to grow up so fast.
It's this sort of attitude that results in kids being scared to tell their parents they don't believe because they think they won't get presents any more. Perhaps even worse are the kids who have stopped believing in Santa (at around 9 or 10), but they see that this myth seems to be so important to their parents that they continue to pretend. This is not an approach that fosters open communication between parents and children.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The tilt of the earth's axis is the Reason for the Season

Happy Solstice everyone. Let's celebrate the wonder and beauty of science, which tells us that the days are going to start getting longer again (even though winter has only just begun), and we didn't even need to sacrifice a goat (or worse) to convince the Sun God to come back to us.

And, in the interests of equal-opportunity celebrating whichever winter holidays we want, however we want to observe them, happy chanuka everyone. We had latkes (potato pancakes) for dinner tonight. Lest anyone accuse us of having turned into traditionalists, note that there were both white potato and sweet potato latkes, and we also had bacon. (And just how did a new world vegetable like the potato become the iconic food of a holiday that came here to North America from the Middle East via Europe?)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 7: Caturday War on Christmas

That's my slightly stupid friend Bertrand Alfred Russell Wallace North Whitehead Insufficient Delta-Vee (but everyone just calls him Russell), and he is the latest Warrior Against Christmas.

The other day, our humans decided they wanted to put up a tree. Since they didn't have one, they went out in the car (Yikes. How can anyone stand being in those things?) and came home with a box. As soon as they got the tree out of the box, Russell decided it had a flavour and started with the noms. The humans didn't like that, so they put the tree back in the box, and put the box back in the car. So: no Christmas tree. Which means no decorations to play with.

Stupid Russell. You're supposed to wait until they aren't looking.

Oh well. I still have my favorite Christmas song. (Can you guess why? Anyone? AJ?)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 6: Bah! Humbug!!

So, Tom Flynn of the Council for Secular Humanism thinks that humanists shouldn't celebrate Christmas. Not even under alternate guise as Solstice or Yule or Newtonmas (no word on what he thinks of Happy Monkey). By which he means: no tree, no lights, no gifts (I think you're allowed to eat and drink. Maybe even in excess. Just don't enjoy it.)

Flynn's reason for this Scroogism? Basically, he's trying to make a political statement: that Christmas (notwithstanding its pagan roots and modern commercial accretions) is an irredeemably Christian holiday, and celebrating it sanctions the right-wing Christian assumption of cultural dominance. Not celebrating it makes the statement that there is nothing special about this day; that you have neither interest in nor respect for the myth behind it.

Meh. I see Flynn's point, but methinks he takes himself way too seriously. I assert that there is no unique or unambiguous "meaning" to holidays, especially one as heavily syncretized as Christmas. It means whatever you use it for; there is no other ultimate authority or source of "meaning".

I find his point that Christians, seeing you putting up a tree and exchanging gifts, will assume you are also a Christian, rather weak. In the more secular parts of the world this would be a very foolish inference, and anyway so what if they did? People will always make assumptions (and often they will be wrong) about you based on what you do. It's silly to let other people's hypothetical opinions about you have that much influence on your life -- to do so is to open yourself to the Tyranny of the Busybodies. The fable of The Man, the Boy and the Donkey seems relevant here.

But I think my single biggest source of resistance to Flynn's proposal is this: I refuse to subject all my pleasures and entertainments to some sort of ideological purity test. In fact, that's exactly what I recall fundamentalists doing: Should I see this movie, or is it too immoral? What about dancing? Playing D&D? Don't go to bars -- what if one of your non-Christian friends sees you, and gets the wrong impression of you or Christians? I ditched that whole attitude when I gave up fundamentalism, over 20 years ago. Why the hell would I, as a freethinker, go back there now?

Not that we're actually planning any big celebration this year: about the best I can say is we will not deliberately refrain from celebrating Christmas -- "not bother much" would probably come closest to our holiday plans. I decided several years ago that putting up lights was too much work (like, freezing my fingers while risking my neck up a ladder at what has to be the worst time of year to be up a ladder?). Ditto a Christmas tree (and anyways, the cats would eat it, to their mutual detriment). We've got no plans to go anywhere or see any one, except my older son + GF are coming in for a few days after Christmas. We've got a couple of family birthdays next week, so gifts will change hands in various directions. I booked the next two weeks off work -- which I plan to spend cleaning up the basement and catching up on projects.

And getting that crap done gives me all the good cheer I need!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 5 - BUY, BUY, BUY!!! (part 2 - the Christian perspective)

On the new blog of the Centre for Inquiry, Tom Flynn, incoming Exceutive Director for the Center for Secular Humanism, discusses his rationale for why freethinkers should not participate in Christmas celebrations, and in fact should avoid any winter holiday celebrations, lest the evil Christians use examples of this type of participation as evidence that inflates the statistics regarding the pervasiveness of Christianity.

Fortunately, freethinkers tend to be a independent lot, and as one might expect, some are in agreement, but based on the comments, more are of the opinion that people (even, or rather especially freethinkers) should be under no constraints to celebrate or refrain based on some popular guy's say-so. More in depth discussion on this is coming up later in the war - stay tuned.

Meanwhile, one of the comments on the blog is astonishing in its geocentrism and christiocentrism. (Perhaps it is actually a parody, though I have not found any indication to that effect):

What would it be like if [Jesus] hadn’t made the journey? There would be no Christmas - the world would be in a deep economic depression. The millions of people who spend there life making toys and presents would be out of work.
So, we are to believe that Almighty Jahweh sent his only begotten son 2 millenia ago just so there would be enough stuff to buy and sell in order to our keep us from being completely swallowed up by the current depresson. It boggles the mind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 4 - BUY, BUY, BUY!!!11

I've been aware for some time that sales during the Christmas season were very important to retailers. Just *how* important was highlighted recently by a news reporter's statement that most retail establishments don't even start to make money until mid-November. So, if I have this straight: The Canadian and US economies will rise or fall based on the number of people who use money they don't have to buy gifts they can't afford for people they don't like. Somehow, there seems to be something wrong with that arrangement.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 3 - the war on salutations

Like Eamon, I have no problem being wished a Merry Christmas, though I tend to respond with "Happy Holidays". I have often seen my (secular Jewish) father offer a hearty "Seasons Greetings", accompanied by a warm handshake.

Here are some other suggestions I have run across lately (most of which are thought-provoking, even if unlikely to catch on as social memes):

"Reason's Greetings"

"Merry Xmas, Ymas, and Zmas" (our family will be celebrating Ymas this year)

"Happy Solstice" (at the risk of being mistaken for a pagan)

and, of course, the American Humanists' "be good for goodness' sake"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 2: The True Origins of the War

I have a lot of happy childhood memories of Christmas. As soon as I was old enough, it became my job to decorate the tree. I enjoyed the annual ritual of putting on a LP of Christmas carols, assembling the tree (we had an artifical one), unpacking all the baubles and lights and hanging them just so, for the best effect. My family of origin was agnostic, and the Nativity was just one cute story among several that marked the season -- the Saint Nicholas myth, Night Before Christmas, Dickens' A Christmas Carol (which as I recall, fails to mention Jesus much if at all), Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (in a televised model animation), the silly TV announcements on Christmas Eve that NORAD radars had detected Santa on his way. In those years when it was our turn to host the annual Christmas dinner for my parents' circle of friends, I got to decorate the rec room -- I recall hanging one large banner reading "Season's Greetings". Apparently, the War On Christmas goes back as far as the mid-1960s.

During my Christian period, these secular syncretisms on the whole neither added to nor detracted from my observance of the Nativity. I simply ignored the parts I didn't like (Santa Claus, for instance: far removed from his origins as patron of the poor, now transmogrified into some shopping mall deity of conspicuous consumption). On the whole, I've always been pretty good at ignoring stuff I find personally irrelevant, while being happy to allow others to enjoy it as they please.

So really, I couldn't care less what the Costco greeter (I avoid Walmart) says when I walk in the door. "Happy Holidays"; "Merry Christmas"; "Salubrious Solstice" -- it's all good as far as I'm concerned. I find labels mostly arbitrary, so I really don't care what we call this year-end excuse for eating and drinking too much, and giving a few (hopefully non-extravagant, non-tacky, and non-useless) gifts to people you care about. I don't mind calling it Christmas any more than most (Anglophone) Christians seem to mind having their other major festival named for an ancient fertility goddess. As far as I could tell, the "War On Christmas" was an invention of a few (mostly American) professional blowhards, looking for an excuse to whine about how persecuted they are.

However, I suppose I can imagine someone who explicitly does not celebrate Christmas (say, because it's not part of their ancestral culture) getting a little tired of smiling graciously while being given good wishes in the name of someone else's festival. The obvious case in point would be Jews, who have a history some 17 centuries long of trying to maintain their separate identity on the margins of an overwhelmingly Christian society. What to my secular (though ancestrally Christian) self is a greeting with no deep significance could be taken as an affront. Which brings us, as it happens, to the real origins of the "War On Christmas", as reported recently at the Daily Beast.

Apparently, it really is all about the Jews. Who knew?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

12 days of the War on Christmas - a boo and a boon for Pat Boone

The War

Yes, I know that the 12 days of Christmas really starts on Christmas day and goes to Epiphany, but after Boxing Day everybody is sick of Christmas, and cutting over to year-end retrospective mode. (And besides, why should I be bound by the rules around a syncretistic holiday celebrating the mythical birth of the theoretical son of an imaginary god?)

Now, as far as I am concerned the "War on Christmas" is entirely in the imagination of BillO and his cronies. As a matter of fact, when I was a Christian, I thought that the fact that Christmas was embraced by most of the secular western world was a Bad Idea, because it detracted from the actual religious significance of the holiday (more about that later in my "War on Santa Claus" post). But if it is war they want, I'm up for the fight, so for the next 12 days, Eamon, Kizhe and I will be warriors of words in this annually recurring epic battle.

Day One

On the first day of the War on Christmas, I will give a gift to Pat Boone!

In an article in WingNut Daily, Hate is hate, in India or America, Boone complains about protests against California's proposition h8:
The [US] Constitution says nothing about marriage, and shouldn't. Marriage is not a governmental creation; it is a time honored and biblically ordained institution that is subject not to the government but to the will of the people.
Um, ok: If marriage is not a "governmental creation", then it doesn't really belong in legislation at all, does it? So why are people complaining about how changes to broaden the legal definition of marriage affect their personal relationships?

Of course, complaining about stupid things said in WND, and/or stupid things Pat Boone says is like shooting fish in a barrel, but then Boone plays the terrorism link card:
What troubles me so deeply, and should trouble all thinking Americans, is that there is a real, unbroken line between the jihadist savagery in Mumbai and the hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly selfish goals and tactics of our homegrown sexual jihadists
My mind is boggling, so I will let the venerable Charles Babbage speak for me: I am not able rightly to apprehend the confusion of mind that would lead to such a conclusion.

But the Human Rights Campaign has an inspired (if passive-aggressive) tactic in response: People are invited to donate to HRC in Mr Boone's name.

Merry Christmas, Pat.