Threads of 2016

For many reasons, 2016 was a year that most of us would like to forget. But there are some good things too that are worth an annual wrapup, and so we begin with...Family MattersIn September, I became a parent. I wrote about how child-raising cries out for communal effort and the lessons humanists should take from that. I also listed 20 life lessons I'll teach my son when he's old enough to appreciate them.Later in the year, some old family albums inspired me to contemplate the … [Read more...]

Lord of Misrule

Before the Christian church renamed the day Christmas and tried to co-opt it with their own rituals, the winter solstice holiday was traditionally a raucous pagan festival. One of the old customs, which persisted into the medieval era, was called the Lord of Misrule. A person of low social standing, like a peasant or a servant, was chosen to be king for a day and to conscript everyone else into debauchery:Presiding over these rowdy celebrations of Christmas-tide, held over the twelve days … [Read more...]

The Ashes: A Humanist Sermon

For those of us who believe in liberality and human progress, 2016 has been a terrible year. Our hopes for positive change, which for a time blazed so brightly, have collapsed into cinders. Now we're faced with the prospect of a cold and dark season to come.This year was a painful reminder that there's no narrative to history, no inexorable trend toward redemption. History isn't a smooth arc, but a jagged sawtooth, with dramatic drops and plunges. Atheists, especially, ought to know that … [Read more...]

From the Mailbag: Activism Makes a Difference

As you can imagine, I've been feeling pretty pessimistic since the 2016 election. It's seriously undermined my positive and optimistic view of America's future.But I've always believed that minds are changed one at a time, and as slow and difficult as that is, it's the only way to bring about lasting transformation in a democracy. This week, I got an e-mail that reminded me of that. It's from Patrick, a high school senior:I became non-religious (or, as I would call it now, atheist) in … [Read more...]

New Channel, Same Old Atheism

You may have noticed a change here at Patheos. All of us secular bloggers used to be grouped under the Atheist channel, but no longer. We're now the Nonreligious channel. Here's the official announcement on the Secular Spectrum group blog.To reassure some people who were worried: there was no pressure from above to expunge our blogs of the dreaded term "atheist". It was an internal channel decision, proposed and discussed among ourselves. There was considerable debate, but there was no … [Read more...]

Friday Night Music: The One Moment

The rock band OK Go is famous for their high-concept music videos (like the amazing zero-gravity dance video I mentioned once before), but this might be one of their cleverest ideas yet. It's 4 seconds of high-speed video, slowed down to 4 minutes: … [Read more...]

Getting Off the Carousel of Consumerism

As holidays go, I've always liked Thanksgiving better than Christmas. It's not because one is a secular holiday and one is religious - really, both are secular holidays that have been layered over with religious propaganda - but because, of the two, Thanksgiving has only things I enjoy. It's all about togetherness, gratitude, and great food. I'm up for those things any day. Christmas has those too, but it has one other aspect I dislike: the expectation to buy things.I hate shopping, I always … [Read more...]

“Because of Politics”

I was reading "Life in Obamacare's Dead Zone", about poor Americans stuck in a coverage gap that arose because the Supreme Court made it possible for red states to refuse the Medicaid expansion. I'll get to their stories, but first, I have to vent about the appalling subhead:"Excluded from the Affordable Care Act because of politics, thousands of poor Americans grapple with the toll — physical and psychological — of being uninsured."Whether the author meant it this way or not, the phr … [Read more...]

Generations

I was at a family gathering last weekend, and after dinner, we were looking through some old photo albums that had been discovered in the attic of my grandparents' house. My attention was grabbed by this one, a picture of my great-grandfather Hymie, which is in excellent condition considering it's over a hundred years old:Born May 10 1890 Romania Came to US Nov 1907 Picture taken 1908This one is a little more faded, but here he is together with my great-grandmother … [Read more...]

I Get Religious Mail: St. John’s Folly

I'm continually surprised by what people are willing to declare a "charitable" cause and ask others for money for. This week, I got a solicitation in the mail that pushes those boundaries even further:This letter is asking for money to help pay for the upkeep of St. John the Divine, a huge Episcopal cathedral on the upper west side of Manhattan. Ironically, I know this building well - it's right down the block from where I lived in Morningside Heights when I was in Columbia. … [Read more...]