Monday, December 20, 2010

The important secular contribution of Christmas

The U.S. Census Bureau presents some interesting facts about the Christmas Season (December 2009):
  •  Sales at department stores rose 45% over November
  • Bookstore sales were up 98%
  • Jewelery store sales increased 135% over the previous month
  • $30 billion in sales for on-line and mail order shopping, more than any other month in 2009
  • On-line and mail-order shopping consisted of 21,895 businesses (as of 2008), employing 332,405 people 
And here in San Diego County, retail sales are 9% ahead of where they were last year:
Since the beginning of September, retailers have added 3,700 workers, compared to 1,100 last year. By November, there were 500 more workers at retail stores than the previous November, marking the first year-to-year gain in monthly employment in the retail industry since August 2007.

      Sunday, December 12, 2010

      San Diego's Holy Men at work for the Season

      Back in 1984, San Diego Chargers defensive back Miles McPherson used religious faith to help overcome drug addiction, and then entered the ministering field himself in the early 1990's.  First he founded an evangelical organization called "Miles Ahead", and then in 2000 he created The Rock Church.   The first service drew over 3,000, and the nascent church quickly found a place in the modern megachurch movement.  Today The Rock Church boasts an average weekly attendance of around 12,000.  Fun Fact:  The Rock Church facility on Rosecrans Street is 443 feet long and 45 feet high, just like Noah's Ark (300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits tall, with a cubit about 0.5 m).

      Like other modern megachurches, The Rock Church presents a positive message and a focus on good works without much political commentary.  Yes, at base they are trying to believe in tales that are as made up as Star Trek (but with less applicability to the modern world).  But they are also able to motivate large charitable campaigns, such as park clean-ups, involving thousands of person-hours of work.  And this week was their annual Christmas-themed event of giving away 10,000 toys and 60,000 pounds of food.  So good for them, and let's hope that they can keep their beliefs in place.  As Humanists, however, we can also see that religion is bound to take over more and more of one's life and interfere in society.  Also, just as the religious feel compelled to proselytize, we can argue for the need to use secular reasoning when setting policy.

      Thursday, December 9, 2010

      Your representatives at work

      In 2005 a group of Congressional Representatives gathered to form the Congressional Prayer Caucus, which lists among its goals as protecting our dwindling right to pray and the acknowledgment that the history and laws of our country have a basis in the Divine.  Among its 68 members is California's own Gary Miller,  representing part of the in-land Los Angeles metropolitan area. 

      Now this group has issued a letter with 48 signatures of Representatives (although not Gary Miller's) to chide President Obama for his lack of religious content in his speeches.  In particular, Obama called the national motto "E pluribus Unum" rather than "In God we trust".  Then he left out "Creator" when reciting a line from the Declaration of Independence.  As the letter points out:

      “Once may be a mistake. But twice is a pattern. These omissions and inaccuracies are a part of a larger pattern we are seeing with the President where he is inaccurately reflecting America and undercutting important parts of our nation’s history,” said Forbes. “Trust in God is embedded into the fabric of society and history in the United States. If we allow these threads to be pulled, we will begin to unravel the very freedoms that birthed America.”
      This group could be merely exercising personal choice and freedom to worship as they please.  But leaving religion within personal boundaries is rarely achieved.  That they would state that religion and the right to pray is under attack in itself is evidence that they see a more central role for religion in society and law.

      Wednesday, December 1, 2010

      Confidence or arrogance?

      An atheist group has put up a billboard with the image above in New Jersey, prompting some accusations of insensitivity.  In response a Catholic group has placed a billboard nearby this one stating "You know it's real, this season celebrate Jesus."  Most passing drivers take little notice:

      The Post found a few motorists who actually paid attention to billboards enough to have an opinion. One woman said, "We agree, Jesus is the reason for the season," but a Catholic man said he wishes the Catholic League didn't get into this pissing contest. "It doesn’t need to be plastered on a billboard," said Michael Gerber. "I should be able to celebrate in my own way. And if it’s tit for tat, it defeats the spirit of Christmas."
      Are atheists becoming arrogant?  Are they the mirror image of fundamentalist believers?  All religions are implicitly (or explicitly) calling all other religions incorrect.  And the religious would say that atheism is yet another belief among many, and while it may believe itself to be special, is not.  An atheist would counter that atheism is not a belief but a lack of belief. 

      The Humanist position is mostly outside of this argument.  Humanism looks to secular reasons upon which to base law and society.  People can still have their beliefs in revealed thruths if they find comfort in them.  Some of the religious find this position unacceptable;  all of society must follow the precepts of their religious truth.  This is what leads to the "mostly" in the previous statement.  Whether arrogant or not, or even if a particular religion turns out to be true, Humanists work to keep religion from encroaching into secular areas.