Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa and Jesus Myths

Santa Claus           

Watching my grand kids indulge in the Santa myth is truly a fun and amazing thing to see. Last year we redesigned the basement turning it into an art studio. The parents and I led them to go down the stairs and Rocky, the youngest, said, “What if he’s still down there?” A frightening thought indeed! He turned to his older sister and said, “Let’s listen for a ‘ho ho ho . . .’. Precious.

This year Lucy being 6 is a little more excited and organized by things. She went to great lengths to write Santa a thank you note for last year’s presents. Santa of course left a note in return telling her what a great kid she was. Santa also ate most, but not all, of the cookies the kids left for him (and the reindeer ate the carrots). What more proof could you ask for?

The Santa myth is a great example of how programmed by evolution young children are to believe what the elders tell them. Their brains are wired for belief of authority. You can see how survival might depend on that early on. ‘Get in the cave NOW or you WILL be eaten by a saber tooth tiger! No time for arguing on that one and similar.

So we can indulge in the Santa myth for the kids’ and our own enjoyment. The preciousness of seeing someone truly believe that this rough old world houses a kind old gentleman who gives you presents and asks nothing in return. Yeah you’re supposed to be ‘good’ to get that but all kids know that Santa keeps the bar pretty darn low.

Is it a little sad when they grow up and get the idea from other kids or all on their own that the Santa myth just won’t hold water any longer? Really the whole world? One night? Every kid? Of course when you’re young and Santa is magical (and you certainly want him to come to YOUR house) you easily suspend disbelief and even invent ways for it to work. This year Lucy told me that if you should happen to see Santa at work he will lose all his magic and that’s why no one ever sees him as proved by the fact that everyone continues to get presents. Usually the sadness is short lived as its now fun to be in on the ruse and embellish for the enjoyment of younger siblings and friends. And so the myth happily marches on.

It is because youngsters are so wired to believe the adults that it is important to start taking them to church and telling them the Jesus myth at the same age you start telling them the Santa myth. So why does the Santa myth vaporize while the Jesus myth takes off and becomes a life directing idea for many people?

There is the same amount of evidence for the existence of both guys. Probably more for Santa! I mean the cookies are EATEN! While getting around the world in a day via sleigh and flying reindeer challenges our credulity at some point why doesn’t rising from the dead, walking on water, turning water into wine, dying for our sins, and being born to a virgin also challenge our credulity? And look, you actually GET something by believing in Santa - presents. You get nothing by believing in the Jesus myth except promises that can only be collected after death.


Somehow belief in an unprovable idea as been equated with being good. Being a good person. “He’s a man of faith”. A phrase we hear often. If it were spoken, “He is a believer in an invisible magic person”, it doesn’t sound so hot. Well, at least not to me.

So very many of us are locked in to a fear of un-belief. Fear of death. Fear of hell and damnation. Worst case, Santa skips you one year. Worst case for Christians, you burn in hell for eternity!

And big organizations like the catholic church have a vested interest in people NOT questioning. The whole thing collapses in a heartbeat if you see that you are believing in something as childish (but not quite as harmless)  as Santa Claus.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. - 1 Corinthians 13:11

But we don’t when it comes to the Jesus myth itself.

I’ll never understand this.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Capturing Miracles

Recent post from Friendly Athiest...

I think this article really cuts to the heart of the difference between healthy skepticism and blind belief. The World Religion News assumes that miracles MUST be happening so just go out there and use social media to capture them. What would this even look like? How do you show/capture that something happened miraculously?

Miracles you hear about:

Face of Jesus or Mary (sorry Joseph) appearing in toast, tree roots, pizza, etc.

One time in Chicago a stain appeared on the side of an underpass on the Kennedy Expressway that looked like the Virgin Mary. It was a fucking stain! Sure enough people started bringing candles, building a makeshift shrine,  and praying to the stain.

This is a well known phenomena: Pareidolia. We are wired to look for people. We naturally see faces where there are none. I always find it interesting that the images of these holy people are recognized even though no one actually knows or had recorded what they looked like. How sad if the real image of Jesus was popping up on toast the taco shells all over the world but no one recognized the short bald Jewish guy!

Someone recovers from a serious illness. It was a miracle. 

The theist attributes an unexplained event as miraculous. The skeptic says, not explained yet. The lack of an instant logical explanation does not then automatically point to the divine. Sometimes people do just get better. However as  Hemant points out, no one has yet grown back a limb or had a tumor magically disappear.

Escape from a disaster

This one should really piss more people off. A tornado goes ripping through a town leveling houses and killing numerous people. But not all. A survivor staggers out of his crawl space with neighbors houses flattened all around him. He looks around and says, "Well I guess God was just watching over us". Asshole. What about your dead neighbor? Are you so pathetic that you have to look at your survival as evidence that somehow you are more special than your dead neighbor?

Why is it so hard to understand that the highly random violence of a tornado is going to kill some and leave some alive. Period. No miracle is needed to explain what you are seeing.

An expert does what they are trained to do and it is called a miracle.

"Miracle on the Hudson".  Sullenberger actually trained hours for just such a landing on water. He knew the key was keeping the wing tips out of the water and did just that. I think the fact that some would call this expert performance a miracle because they are not expert at anything. They can't understand what it means to dig in and really master something. When you keep explaining the world by saying a miracle happened you just show your lazy thinking. This turns another way. Feeling so inept and then covering that with a blanket of theism forces a whole group of people to even deny that a really clever thing happened. Namely, the moon landings. The fact that people got together to be THAT clever is upsetting to the uneducated believer so deny, deny, deny.(1)

The whole thing about looking for miracles, ghosts, Big Foot,  or the Bermuda fucking Triangle is that they all represent a-priori thinking. That is, one assumes that there are (ghosts, miracles, etc) up front and then sets out to find them and find them you will because you already assume that they exist. A track in the mud - could be Big Foot. A bump in the night - could be a ghost. This is the opposite of skeptical thinking where you have no reason to assume that a thing exists until evidence presents itself. A bump in the night - Let me list all the things it could be... If it turns out that a phenomena can have several logical explanations and one miraculous one then there is no reason to jump to the miracle.

I used to live on a sailboat which means repairing the damn thing on a daily basis. When the water pump wouldn't pump water to the galley sink here was the process:

Is the pump running? If so will it pump water out of a bucket. Yes? then why won't it pump water out of the water tank? Tank empty? NO? OK, is the pump trying to pump water up too high? Lower the pump nearer the water source? Work now? Yes! Install pump in this position.

Notice that it would have done me no good to posit, "Maybe there is an invisible gremlin living in the pump that magically forces it to not work". What would I do about it anyway? Magical thinking is a dead end. It can make one feel smug and secure as if they had actually figured something out. It's lazy thinking and it is encouraged and taught by the church.

Another tack - Let's assume that a miracle had occurred. Let's say that Jesus actually brought Lazurus back from the dead. If it happened there was a WAY that it happened. What is the process by which the Lord performs miracles? How did he rearrange the atoms in Lazurus to get them going again. How were dead cells reactivated? Does he emit some sort of ray? Could this curing ray be detected independently? Could we then build a deivice to duplicate this process and bring everyone (ick) back from the dead? Moreover what extra organ does Jesus possess that he activates to perform the miracles? Is Jesus' body different from ours? If you say, no, he just channels the power of God, then you get to ask how THAT works. What is that process.? Is there a communication? Can we detect it independently and so on.

The whole idea of a miracle though is that it doesn't have a process. It just happens. We skip over any step by step and just blink (like I dream of Jeanie) or wiggle your nose (like Bewitched) and reality itself is just changed. That would be a miracle! 

(1) I don't know that the moon landing hoaxers are also theists. I'm speaking more to the idea of being intimidated but someone being more clever than you so you deny that they even did it.