Monthly Archives: December 2009

Decade’s Worst Ideas

As you know, End-of-the-Year Top Ten lists are ubiquitous in North America. This year, we also get to mark the end of a decade, which doubles the fun. In fact, it marks the end of the first decade of an entire millennium (although, having written that, it doesn’t look as impressive in print as it sounded out loud). The Washington Post has published its Worst Ideas of the Decade. The grim introduction to the list opens thus:

When the best you can say about a 10-year span is that Y2K was overblown and that at least our downturn wasn’t a Depression, you know it was hardly the best of times.

Since the WaPo list isn’t numbered, I can’t figure out if they started with #1 and worked their way down to #10, or with #10 and worked their up to #1. It probably doesn’t matter either way, so, without further ado, I give you the Washington Post’s Worst Ideas of the Decade.

Vaccine scares
The Battle of Tora Bora
Television Dancing Competitions
The BlackBerry
The Torture Memos
World-is-Flat Movies
Compassionate Conservatism
The Endless Sports Season
Housing Prices Always Rise
The Prosperity Gospel

What do you think? Do you agree with the WaPo’s selections, or would your list differ? As always, you may share your opinions in the comments.

UPDATE: If reviewing a mere decade is too limited for you, you may find The Onion’s Top Ten Stories of the Past 4.5 Billion Years more to your liking.

– the chaplain


Posted by on December 20, 2009 in history, society


The Twelve Days of Myth

I came across an interesting item regarding the origin of the popular Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. A legend that apparently has gained some traction in Christian circles is that images in the ditty are actually codes for Christian doctrines. The legend states that English Catholics devised the song to pass on their religious beliefs during a period of persecution by English Protestants. According to the legend, the twelve gifts refer to the following:

1 Partidge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch”, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

This information alone is fascinating. But, the story doesn’t stop there. In fact, there is evidence that the account cited above is not true (scroll down the page a bit in this link to read more about the following):

The Austin Public Library research department found information in the book Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History, by Leigh Grant, ISBN 0-679-74038-4. It says the words from this song first appeared in a book titled Mirth without Mischief. That book came out in 1780 (or 1783) in England. The tune apparently dates back much further and came from France. That 1780 book describes “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a “memory and forfeits game” played by children at that time. The leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and this continued until someone missed his or her verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” became popular at the “12th-night parties” that took place in the Christmas season.

The ever helpful Snopes has much more information. I encourage you to go to that site and read the whole post. You may find this particularly interesting:

Snopes’ conclusion on the matter is also worth considering:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is what most people take it to be: a secular song that celebrates the Christmas season with imagery of gifts and dancing and music… Nonetheless, plenty of writers continue to expound upon “the beauty and truly biblical and spiritual meanings locked away in this wonderful song that puts Christ into Christmas where he doesn’t appear to be. Perhaps those who consider this to be “beautiful” and “inspirational”…should consider its underlying message: That one group of Jesus’ followers had to hide their beliefs in order to avoid being tortured and killed by another group of Jesus’ followers. Of all the aspects of Christianity to celebrate at Christmastime, that doesn’t sound like a particularly good one to emphasize.

If you catch me grinning the next time I hear this song, you’ll know that the source of my mirth is the knowledge that this weapon in the War on Christmas backfired.

– the chaplain


Posted by on December 17, 2009 in religion, society


Free Will

I stumbled across this tidbit this morning:

Any thoughts?

– the chaplain


Posted by on December 15, 2009 in religion


Losing Religion

I haven’t finished reading William Lobdell’s Losing My Religion yet (my Kindle tells me I’m 75% of the way through it), but I wanted to share his description of what letting go of God was like for him. Much of his experience resonates with the process I went through.

I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded in logic and reason, requires a leap of faith.  Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t.  It’s not a choice.  I used to think that you simply made a decision: to believe in Jesus or not.  Collect the facts and then decide for yourself.  But it’s not that simple.  Faith is something that is triggered deep within your soul – influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences and desires….

Christians often talk to those who have fallen away from the faith as if they had made a choice to turn away from God.  But, as deeply as I missed my faith, as hard as I tried to keep it, my head could not command my gut….  Faith can’t be willed into existence….

At first, experiencing doubts about my faith, I acted like one of those frightened beachgoers who swim madly against the current, trying to get back to what I thought was the safety of Christianity.  But the current of truth had me and wasn’t going to let go of me.  When I decided to stop fighting it, I felt relief – even serenity.

While I agree with Lobdell that religious belief requires a “leap of faith” that takes one outside of (believers may prefer the term “beyond”) the realm of logic and reason, I don’t agree that faith is a “gift.” The language of “gift” brings one back around to the question of who gives the gift? God? My current thinking is that some people may be more predisposed to exercise faith than others are. In that case, faith is a manifestation of a personality trait rather than a “gift.”

I agree with Lobdell that faith is “influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences and desires,” but, since I have no reason to believe in an immaterial “soul,” I disagree that faith is “triggered deep within your soul.” It may be triggered within one’s psyche, but that’s a different thing from a soul as religious believers commonly use the term. Initially, I didn’t like Lobdells’ use of the word, “trigger,” but, since he converted to Christianity as an adult, I can see how that metaphor may accurately describe his conversion. In the case of one born and raised in Christian faith, as I was, I see my former faith as something that was cultivated rather than triggered. The important thing that I take away by comparing Lobdell’s experience with my own is that everyone’s experience is unique. The “trigger” metaphor captures his experience, the “cultivation” metaphor captures mine; there is no one-size-fits-all experience for either believers or nonbelievers. People who deconvert from religion have many similar experiences, and they also have experiences that are unique to each of them. Finding the points where experiences converge and diverge are part of what fascinates me about deconversion stories.

Lobdell’s description of a commonly held Christian understanding of deconversion as a choice resonates with me. When I was a Christian, I held the same belief. I never in my life dreamed that I would lose my faith in God and I certainly didn’t choose to do so. The peak of my deconversion process was more painful to me than the deacon’s was to him. My impression is that Lobdell’s deconversion was much more painful to him than mine was to me. Many Christians don’t seem to understand that losing faith hurts. A lot. It hurts like hell. Many deconverts struggle, usually in silent isolation, to retain their beliefs. Lobdell’s image of swimmers struggling against rip tides to get back to the serene shores of Christianity is an excellent metaphor.

I’m intrigued by Lobdell’s statement that his head could not command his gut. That tells me that, somewhere in the back of his mind, he had lost faith long before he was able to confront that fact and say it. I think my experience was similar. Looking back, I think I spent a long time labelling my inchoate unbelief as doubt. But, once I unpacked my doubts, lined them up on a shelf and examined them closely, I realize that I didn’t – and couldn’t – believe in God. “But the current of truth had me.” I know believers will disagree with this; they will say that people like Lobdell and me were deceived, or followed our rebellious wills and passions, and other things like that. On the other hand, nonbelievers may understand Lobdell’s experience.

Lobdell’s experience of relief and serenity upon giving up his struggle mirrors my own experience. Once I accepted my atheism, I saw exciting new possibilities ahead of me. I know that many believers can’t believe that arriving at the end of the faith-to-no-faith journey can possibly bring one to a destination of peace, contentment and joie de vivre. All I can say is that it does. The deconversion process is painful, but the endpoint is worth the struggle. That is something about which Lobdell, I and other deconverts agree.

– the chaplain


Posted by on December 12, 2009 in atheism, deconversion, literature


Holiday Irony

Earlier this week, a Christian boss reminded all of his employees that “Merry Christmas” is the only holiday greeting they are allowed to give to customers throughout this holiday season.

Later that day, the company held its Christmas party at a local catering establishment. I imagine the boss was less than pleased when he saw the placard outside the room that had been reserved for the event:

[Company Name]
Holiday Party

– the chaplain


Posted by on December 10, 2009 in humor


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