Quick! What the Hell is Hanukkah?

These are the things I’m ever able to remember about Hanukkah:

— It rhymes with Monica.

— It last for eight days.

— The colors are blue and white.

— Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.

— And something about a candlestick.

Listen, I’m not proud. I’ve already admitted that my brain, as Thomas Dolby so eloquently put it in the year 1988, is like a sieve. It’s no use coming down on me now. But in my own defense, what I do remember is factual — only the candlestick is called a menorah (rhymes with fedora) and “Dreidel” is not just a song but a game — and not some Kick-the-Can alley game, but a full-on poker game. Like craps. And do you know how much I like craps? Because the answer to that question is really, really a lot.

Of course there’s a bit more to Hanukkah than that — and my friend Mira (who teaches Judaism and speaks fluent Hebrew) was able to tell me all about it. (And she only laughed at my ignorance a couple-few times. Thanks, Mira.) So here it is: your friendly Holiday Cheat Sheet, Episode 4. [Read more...]

What’s the Real Nativity Story? Kid, You Don’t Want to Know

Giveaway 1Recently, my daughter was looking at a copy of The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids —  author Brendan Powell Smith’s LEGO depiction of the Christian nativity. The book is fun and funny, and I figured she’d love it. But, when Maxine got to page 11, she slammed it shut.

“I don’t like this book,” she announced.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said. “It’s not right. Mary came to Bethlehem ON A DONKEY.”

I reopened the book. Sure enough, there was Mary and Joseph walking to Bethlehem.

The Christmas Story

“Actually,” I explained, “the Bible never says anything about a donkey. That part was added in later by other people.”

“No!” she said, all pissed off. “MARY RODE A DONKEY!”

Then she slammed the book shut again.

Wow, kid, I thought. You’re going to have a hard time when I tell you the rest of it.

•••

Historically speaking, it’s highly — and when I say highly, I mean HIGHLY — unlikely that Jesus was born in a stable, or placed in a manger, or visited by three magi. Because it is highly unlikely that Joseph and Mary made that trek to Bethlehem in the first place — on a donkey or otherwise. According to scholarly research on the subject, Jesus was probably born near his hometown of Nazareth, and it was probably not in December, and the birth was probably pretty unceremonious. After all, historically speaking, Jesus didn’t rise to prominence until he grew up and started his traveling ministry. [Read more...]

A Nine-Year-Old’s Guide to Success in 12 Easy Steps

IrrationalWhen I started a book and blog about secular parenting four years ago, my daughter was 5 years old and, more or less, unaware of my writing life.  What she did know, she once summed up, rather spot-on, to a little kindergarten friend of hers.

“When I say stuff,” she told her friend, “my mom writes it down.”

Now, Maxine is 9 and all too aware of my book, which — having taken an unreasonable amount of time to finish, by anyone’s timeline, including her own — will be published in early 2015. She is pretty excited by this — largely, I had thought, because her name will be in the book and because she has a strong suspicion that the dedication may have something to do with her.

But it wasn’t until recently, while driving her home from third grade, that I understood there was more to her anticipation than that. In a series of “steps,” which she proceeded to lay out for me during the drive, Maxine described, in adorably irrational detail, a guide to our combined success as people.

Here’s what she said:

Step One: Write a book in, like, four years.

Step Two: Publish the book.

Step Three: Spread the book around the world.

Step Four: Make the book into a movie.

Step Five: Walk the red carpet.

Step Six: Get famous.

Step Seven: Die. [Read more...]

Most Christians Don’t Mind If We Take the Christ Out of Christmas

why-the-religious-right-is-losing-the-war-on-christmas

In the meantime, start your engines, folks, Christmas rancor is here again!

God, I love this time of year. When annoying Christians squabble endlessly about their right to celebrate Christmas in the way they see fit without anyone intentionally spoiling their feelings of joy by saying shit like “Happy Holidays” (The horror!),  and annoying atheists squabble endlessly about their right to enjoy every single thing about Christmas except the Christ part and, when asked about it, are sure to point out, often smugly, that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, so WHO’S THE ASSHOLE NOW, HUH?

It’s pretty exhausting, no?

Luckily, most of us Christians and atheists are not this annoying. Most Christians aren’t at all bothered by seeing “Happy Holidays” scrawled across their friends’ beautiful Christmas cards; they’re just grateful to get them at all. (And frankly, that’s just not a priority.) And most atheists aren’t at all bothered when their relatives thank Jesus for their Christmas feasts or put up nativity scenes in their front yards; just keep the eggnog coming. [Read more...]

Why Atheism is Not a Religion, Belief is Not Faith, and No One is Marrying Any Goddamn Pizza

when-i-do-good-i-feel-good-when-i-do-bad-i-feel-bad-thats-my-religion-abraham-lincolnIf you have ever been asked, or have wondered yourself, whether atheists must hold some shred of faith in order to hold that particular worldview, then please stop by Neil Carter’s blog, Godless in Dixie, where he pretty well puts this issue to rest in a post titled, “Do Atheists Have Faith?”

“This assertion” that atheism requires faith, Carter writes, “doesn’t irritate me because it’s clever or insightful; it irritates me because it’s nowhere near as clever or as insightful as it sounds.  In fact, it’s a logical fallacy called equivocation.”

Equivocation, incidentally, is the type of ambiguity that occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous — not for grammatical reasons, but rather because the phrase, taken as a whole, has two distinct meanings. Carter explains it better:

Equivocation happens when one’s argument hinges on a single word that has different meanings in different contexts, but one uses the word as if it has only one meaning for all situations.  Remember in third grade when you would say “I love pizza” and your friends would reply with “Well then why don’t you marry it?”  They knew good and well what you meant.  The word “love” means different things in different contexts, and they were capitalizing on the ambivalence of the meaning in order to make a joke.  The words “faith” and “belief” work the same way.  If I say that I believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun, it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as what you mean when you say you believe an invisible spirit made them.  They are both beliefs, technically speaking, but they are not both faith—not, at least, in the usual sense of the word.  One of those beliefs is based on empirical observation and science while the other is based on, well, something else. [Read more...]

Curse You, Pottery Barn Advent Calendar! (Or Maybe Not)

Two years ago, I did that thing where you see something in a Pottery Barn catalogue that makes your heartbeat quicken because it is perfection and you want it — no, you NEED it —and while you are picturing what it might look like on Instagram, your credit card number is flying into your computer (along with the expiration date and your three-digit code on the back), and the Thing That Is Perfection has arrived in a much-too-large box on your doorstep, packed by people who are absolutely not out to protect the environment.

That’s happened to you, right?

IMG_5870Anyway, in this particular case, the perfect thing was a hanging Advent calendar with pockets of various sizes in which to put toys and trinkets for your little one to find during the month leading up to Christmas. Joy!

After receiving the rolled-up bit of fabric and disposing of the refrigerator-sized box, I started scouring my surroundings, and the Internet, for terribly cute little knick-knacks and what-nots to wrap in terribly cute paper and arrange in terribly cute little pockets.

The result was all, well, pretty terribly cute.

My daughter loved it. I Instagrammed it. All was right with the world.

But, by the time Christmas arrived, I was sort of over it. [Read more...]

It’s Not a Contest. But Young, Single, Secular Women Are Winning Anyway

Thank God I'm an Atheist

Let’s hear it for the girls!

According to Women Give 2014, a study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, young women who are both single and nonreligious are beating out their male counterparts, their middle-age counterparts and, most significantly, their moderately religious counterparts when it comes to charitable giving.

According to the study, young, single women who identify as having no religious affiliation:

• give roughly twice the amount to charity than do young nonreligious men.

• give more than two and a half times the amount to charity than do middle-age and older nonreligious women.

• give roughly twice the amount to charity than do women who are religiously affiliated but do not attend church frequently.

The last bit is interesting because for years it’s been assumed — and rightly so — that religious people are, on a whole, more charitable than nonreligious people. Makes sense. In most religious communities, helping the less fortunate is a priority, a necessity even. One could argue that giving to charity is part of their faith. [Read more...]

5 Reasons Not to ‘Fake Religion’ for the Kids

PlaceboI once read a blog post on mommmish.com under the headline, I’m Not Religious, But I’m Considering Faking It For My Daughter. The writer, Lindsay Cross, explained how she felt guilty about denying her 5-year-old “the chance for faith.” She wrote: “I feel bad thinking that she won’t grow up with the community and the support of a church. Even though I chose not to follow that path as an adult, I want her to be able to make that choice on her own and when she’s ready.”

Cross, a former Presbyterian married to a former Catholic, said she lost her faith but still appreciates the role religious institutions play in her community, particularly for children.

“… churches provide moral outlines and community structure for children,” she wrote. “There are studies showing that children who attend church get better grades. Other research says kids who attend church are better behaved. Still more shows that religious teens are less likely to use drugs.”

I was thrilled to see Cross write so openly about this. I think “faking religion” is far more rampant than people let on. Parents who believe that their children might benefit from the perceived comforts of God, or worry their non-belief will confuse or even harm their children, are more likely to give religion the old Silent Treatment or even take active steps to mislead their little ones — at least in the beginning. I recognize the complexity of the situation and don’t wish to make anyone, least of all Cross, feel bad. We’re all in this together. And each person’s situation is unique.

That said, faking belief is not the answer, and here’s why.

1. We must model the behavior we want to see. Honesty is a basic building block of morality. Lying or intentionally misleading kids about important subjects is not the example we want to set. Eventually, the truth will out, and our kids might get the impression that honesty is negotiable in our eyes. We lie to them now. They lie to us later. We mislead them now. They mislead us later. Trust me, it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a lie — now or later. [Read more...]

Evangelical Authors Buy Their Way onto New York Times’ Bestseller List, Giving Poorer Authors Moral High Ground

BYKO9MACYAAFM8w.jpg-largeOne Sunday, about a year ago, I read the New York Times’ Bestseller List for advice and how-to paperbacks. It wasn’t just a passing glance. At the time, I was trying desperately to finish my own advice book for secular parents and wanted to see what was winning people’s hearts and minds in that particular category.

What I found was sort of devastating. Five of the top six slots belonged to Christians authors with Christian books: David Jeremiah (No. 2); Joel Osteen (No. 3); Theresa Caputo and Kristina Grish (No. 4), Pam Grout (No. 5) and Billy Graham (No. 6).  That’s when I knew: Barring a miracle (and obviously I don’t believe in miracles), I would never see my book on that list. As in: never ever. So I did what any bummed-out author would do. I tweeted about it:

Writing a book for secular parents? Do yourself a favor and DO NOT read today’s Bestsellers list. 

Fast forward to this morning, when I read a headline in The Daily Beast: How the Religious Right Scams Its Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List.

Wait. What?

According to the article — which was written and reported by Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton — there has been a trend among some evangelical authors (not all, of course) to buy their way onto bestseller lists. They do this, allegedly, through marketing firms that buy a particular title (or pay others to do so), thereby boosting that book’s ratings and allowing “New York Times Best-Selling Author” to appear before the writer’s name until the end of time. (Lucky bastards.)

But the jig is up. Or is headed in that direction anyway. According to Throckmorton: [Read more...]

‘I Don’t Know if I Believe in God. That’s My Religion.’

For many reasons, I’ve been loath to label myself according to my lack of religious beliefs. Atheist certainly fits, but it’s not a label I feel reflects who I am as a person, so I don’t go around flaunting it or anything.

When it comes to my daughter, I’m even less likely to want to label myself — partially because I’d rather she not categorize herself too quickly. It’s fine if she wants to adopt a label, of course, but it should come from her own feelings and not from a desire to belong to one tribe or another.

For a long time, my husband and I didn’t even mention the various tribes. When we talked about matters of faith, we just used the term “beliefs.” (“Some people believe this… Some people believe that…) But, as time has gone on, we’ve begun to label various religions a bit more often, pointing out that people do use their beliefs to identify with others.

At 9, Maxine now fully grasps that different families belong to different religions. And luckily, she has friends from various religious groups — Catholics, Christians, Jewish and Hindu — so she doesn’t appear to feel “left out” of any one faith.

But apparently she has been thinking about the whole idea of “having a religion” because, a few days ago, I overheard her talking to her 5-year-old cousin Jack about it. Jack’s Dad is Catholic and sometimes Jack attends Mass, though his parents are careful not to label him, either. [Read more...]


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