Review of Sarah Palin’s “Good Tidings and Great Joy”: the Ugly

Review of Sarah Palin’s “Good Tidings and Great Joy”: the Ugly December 18, 2013

Sarah Palin’s Christmas bookLet’s conclude our look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in Sarah Palin’s book about the War on Christmas, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas (read part 1 here).

In a book by a Tea Party figurehead, you’ve got to expect a nod to conservative values, and Palin nods like a bobblehead. We hear about Nancy Pelosi’s outrageous budget and the “Lamestream media,” how guns are great, how abortion and the ACLU are terrible, that “under God” must stay in the Pledge, how the secular Left has little but a failed welfare state as its legacy, that Obamacare sucks, and isn’t it great that Chick-fil-A said what had to be said about same-sex marriage?

The heartbreak of “Happy Holidays”

Palin is primarily outraged at two things, that non-Christians protest government promotion of Christian holidays (discussed in part 2 here) and stores saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

After a long discussion of the anguish this causes Christians, she declares victory by quoting a Wal-Mart spokesperson:

[In 2006,] we’re not afraid to say, “Merry Christmas.” (79)

Whew! That takes care of one the items on my Top Ten list (and I’m delighted to see that this problem has been resolved for years). If we could get World Peace figured out, that would be the icing on the cake.

The naughty list

I’ll conclude this over-long review with a partial list of errors in Palin’s book. There are too many to discuss in detail, but they are too important to let pass without a quick response. These mindless talking points can rally the troops but only if those troops have no interest in thinking through the issues.

  • Declaration of Independence. “Our Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our ‘Creator’ with our rights.” In the first place, the Declaration makes clear that “Governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” not God, and in the second, the Declaration doesn’t govern the country, the very secular Constitution does. More here.
  • 9/11 Cross. American Atheists protested putting this piece of cross-shaped rubble (that wasn’t actually found in the Twin Towers site) in a publicly supported museum and notes that God “couldn’t be bothered to stop the terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name.” Palin is offended, just like those thin-skinned atheists. (I discuss this issue more here.)
  • Here’s why no one likes you. “There’s a reason why voters don’t necessarily like voting for an atheist. Voters don’t want to give power to someone who doesn’t believe he or she will someday have to answer to the Ultimate Authority.” And should that apply in a country governed by a secular constitution that rejects any religious test for public office (see Article 6)?
  • Hey, gang! Find the error in this sentence! “Our Judeo-Christian heritage is the source of the very freedoms [the atheists] so angrily use to denounce Christ and to rid His very mention from the public square.” Wrong again. The freedoms we see as fundamental—democracy, trial by jury, no slavery, freedom of religion, and so on—are the last things the Bible would have encouraged. More here.
  • Objective moral truth? “Without God as an objective standard, who’s to say what’s wrong and what’s right?” Nope. God doesn’t ground laws made in this country. Laws are made through secular means—think back to high school Civics class. More here.
  • Charity. “Studies show Christians are America’s most generous givers.” Not really. Remove giving to churches (which are no more charities than country clubs) and you see a different story. More here.
  • Gee, how does evolution work again? “I bet Charles Darwin never understood this. If the world could be described as truly ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would people collectively be stricken with a spirit of generosity in December? … It doesn’t make sense.” Do you even understand what “survival of the fittest” means? Read a little more broadly, and you’ll discover that nice qualities like cooperation and trust can make a population fitter. More here.
  • What would baby Jesus think? In any book on the War on Christmas, abortion is always relevant. “A culture that reveres our Creator and respects the sanctity of innocent life does not condone killing its own children.” Since “our Creator” ends half of all pregnancies, I don’t see why baby Jesus should cry about abortion. More here.
  • Morality. “No matter how much the liberals protest, there’s a relationship between Christianity and a healthy civilization.” Yeah—a negative relationship. Researcher Gregory Paul compares European countries and the U.S. and concludes, “Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators, the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S., scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1.” More here.
  • Morality is deteriorating. Social change can be stressful, but we must ignore the headlines of the moment to look at the big picture. In fact, U.S. violent crime has plunged more than 70% in the last twenty years. Red states have higher crime rates than blue states. In the year since the school shootings at Sandy Hook, Republican legislatures have helped make the majority of new gun laws loosen gun restrictions. This isn’t quite the picture of morality Palin’s book suggests. She seems to imagine the America of her childhood as a 60s sitcom world, where the problems were small and everyone got along. But when she was born, the Civil Rights Act that outlawed much discrimination by race, gender, religion, and national origin hadn’t been signed. Laws prohibited mixed-race marriage in 17 states. Laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation were decades away. Social change isn’t easy, but some has been good. Think more deeply before concluding that things are going downhill. More here.
  • How’s that atheism workin’ out for you, Comrade? “Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism.” That’s true, but that’s because Communism saw the church as competition, not because atheism created Communism. “Atheism’s track record makes the Spanish Inquisition seem like Disneyland by comparison.” Oh? Show me just one person killed in the name atheism. Let’s be clear on cause and effect: Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator, not vice versa. More here.
  • Christianity’s fight against slavery. Palin quotes Thomas Sowell, who says that business, religion, and Western imperialism “together destroyed slavery around the world.” It’d be nice if that were true. Slavery was made illegal but it wasn’t eliminated, and there are an estimated 27 million slaves today. That’s almost forty times the number of Alaska residents. In absolute numbers, slavery is bigger today than it’s ever been. Yes, Christians were important in the war against slavery, but they were on the other side as well. That’s because pretty much everyone in the West was a Christian, and the Bible gives powerful support for slavery. More here.

Palin’s book is much ado about nothing. She’s determined to feel offended and see injuries to Christianity everywhere she looks. Unfortunately, she misses an opportunity to use her credibility within the conservative community to point out that Christian-only displays on state-supported property are both unfair and illegal.

Palin has embraced what I’m still having a hard time with: “Can’t we all just get along?” doesn’t sell.

Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded.
And, the atoms in your left hand probably came
from a different star than your right hand.
It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics:
You are all stardust.
So, forget Jesus.
The stars died so that you could be here today.
— Lawrence M. Krauss

Photo credit: Photo Dean

"Your god doesn't know the difference between stars and meteors?"

Silver-Bullet Argument #26: Jesus Was Wrong ..."
"epeeistYou are still being pedantic. It's boring. You know why we have paragraphs.The subject under ..."

How Much Faith to Be an ..."
"It's hilarious that the totalitarians among the religious think they can stop the stampede to ..."

How Much Faith to Be an ..."
"You think maybe he was talking about a meteor shower rather than the stars? The ..."

Silver-Bullet Argument #26: Jesus Was Wrong ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • RichardSRussell

    In some alternative reality, perhaps everything Sarah Palin says is absolutely true, and she’d be hailed as a deep-thinking philosopher and lucid moral exemplar.

    I wish she’d go there.

    • The “most helpful” Amazon reviews are pretty hilarious.

    • She certainly exemplifies the post-journalism political world we now inhabit. After McCain was saddled with her as his running mate, she was on the cover of every magazine and appeared to enjoy every minute of her celebrity. Later she claimed to have been exploited by the media. The religious right has spent the better part of a century characterizing teen pregnancy as the legacy of liberal permissiveness; however, when her critics pointed out the irony of a right-wing holy roller like Palin raising a daughter who got knocked up as a teen, Palin accused them of hypocrisy. When the details of her abuses of power in Alaska were confirmed in the Troopergate scandal, she insisted that she had been exonerated. And most recently, she feigned outrage when a talking head made a nasty comment about her, never acknowledging that the comment was in response to a crass statement that she herself had made.

      Maybe the problem isn’t that Palin is stupid, it’s that she thinks everyone else is stupid. Considering her abiding celebrity, she may be right.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Palin is the perfect example of the hypocrisy of the wealthy. The Republican party seems intent on only appointing pretty politician puppets to the highest office in our country. “It always Howdy Doody Time” with them.

        They pretend to follow their own platitudes, but are actually putting the work off on unpaid, or underpaid people (including their children), with whom they surround themselves.I don’t know how many noticed that her special needs child was constantly being “mothered” by her daughter. Not herself, and not her husband, the presumed father of the child.

        • JohnH2

          The people nominated for President and Vice-President are only nominally important. The real power doesn’t come from the talking head reading from a cue card, but from the people that write and decide what to is to be written on that cue card, the people that pay for the cue card and the talking head, and the people that actually administer the government.

          We have to hope that those people choose a talking head who is not an idiot and won’t mess with the operation of government too badly; and that is usually best done by putting someone that is part of the actual power structure in as the talking head. Sarah Palin was decidedly not chosen because she was part of the normal power structure but due to other assets that were thought to be desirable. She serves as a distraction.

        • My understanding is that her purpose was to deliver the Evangelicals, and she did so. So even though many think of her as a fiasco on many levels, her choice kinda did what it was supposed to do.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Certainly helps to cement my disregard for the reasoning of Evangelicals.

  • Since she quit her post in Alaska, Palin hasn’t run for public office but still plays the part of politician who calls her constituents “fans.” What exactly does she do other than essentially proposition her self and image to the highest bidder? Sounds like Sarah is America’s highest paid escort! See how down and dirty she’ll get for the money at

  • JohnH2

    I bet Charles Darwin never understood this. If the world could be
    described as truly ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would people
    collectively be stricken with a spirit of generosity in December? … It
    doesn’t make sense

    She should ask the Romans that, among others. There is this thing called the Solstice that surprisingly happens in December (with Christmas being placed so as to be *Not* a Solstice holiday, being a few days after the Solstice and having nothing to do with when pretty much anyone thinks that Christ was actually born). For most of the world through most of history the solstices were really big deals, as were equinoxes (or in the Jewish case the first moon after the equinox) and cross quarter days such as Groundhog Day, May Day, Halloween, and Lammas.

    Better question: where are our holidays around the summer solstice, the summer cross quarter day, and the fall equinox? Have we just shifted those holidays to be for us Memorial day, Independence day, and Labor Day or are we short a few holidays?

    • busterggi

      I believe you’re right about the shift. Ritual feasts, invocations to god, etc are definately part of the 4th of July.

      I have no idea why this is in italics.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The god that said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the source of our religious freedom?

    The god who set up a priest caste and orders slavery is the source of our (supposedly) democratic government?

    The god who commanded Jubilee gave us the “freedom” to be capitalist jerks?

    • Ah, yes. God works in mysterious ways. It’s not surprising that your finite brain can’t handle it. God’s is infinite, remember?

  • smrnda

    Slavery is over? Tell that to the people working in China or Bangladesh. They may not be formally owned, but they are only *free* in the most meaningless sense. Slavery *by some other name* is probably a lot better, since controlling people through economic power and their desperation is going to work better than some contract of ownership that can be revoked or abolished by a law. If Thomas Sowell thinks western imperialism did the job, he should sign up to make iPhones in China and tell me about the wonderful freedom business, the market and imperialism has brought to China. Same as under an Emperor and pretty much close to what used to go on under Mao.

    • Y. A. Warren

      The lack of enforcement of our immigration policies and our religion-based opposition to free and available birth control continue a “legalized” form of slavery in the United States. There is no adult human who can support him or herself, much less a family, on $7.25 an hour. The religious right continues to support creation of more minions through encouraging the importation and births of the poor.

      • smrnda

        Excellent points. If you’re an illegal immigrant, you can also be held in bondage by threats of deportation, or because your employer can make false accusations against you that might be believed by police.

        I wonder what minimum wage would be if a rule were passed where any elected official could only make minimum wage both while they were in office, and for 10 years afterwards, with all previously acquired assets being held until the expiration of the 10 years. Might change their attitude about who isn’t taking responsibility.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Good luck on getting anyone who believes that “all leadership comes from God” to support any action against the wealthy and powerful.

          Prosecuting those who use and support illegal immigrant, slave, and drug trafficking would certainly be more effective than prosecuting the low-level providers. The wealthy, educated, and powerful have no reasonable excuse for their breaking of our laws.

          An easy fix would belief if each person who believes him or her self to be moral and employing another pays a truly living wage and benefits to every person in his or her employ.

          Another easy fix would be free and easily accessible birth control for all, and forced conception control for all who have already presented us with the support of a baby, not of our choosing or making. these measures would dry up the sources of “slave labor.”

        • Itarion

          Even just while in office, with extra assets being frozen until the term expires.

          Although, I think that is rather excessive. Give them the average American income for their household. Same idea, but you won’t lose out on people who would have extremely better prospects elsewhere.

  • UWIR

    ” In the first place, the Declaration makes clear that “Governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” not God, and in the second, the Declaration doesn’t govern the country, the very secular Constitution does. ”

    So, you quote the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” part, you quote the “describing their just powers”, but you don’t quote the “That to secure these rights” part? Here the whole quote:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

    The argument that “Creator” didn’t refer to the Christian God is a solid one. The argument that this Creator is not linked to rights is not. The DoI clearly says that the purpose of the governed granting their consent is to secure their rights … rights with which, per the DoI are endowed by their Creator.

    • Is there a point here? Yes, the DoI says that rights come from a (deist) Creator.

      • UWIR

        I think my point was rather clear. You are be selective in quoting the DoI. To take something that says “Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed to secure the rights endowed by their Creator” and to quote it as saying “Governments derive their powers from the consent of governed”. and say that claims of religious foundation are therefore baseless, is disingenuous.

        • Whew! Good thing that wasn’t my point.

          My point was from the opposite direction: that the claim that the DoI is saturated with Christianity is false. That’s why I gave the counterexample.

        • UWIR

          If you were engaging in Active Listening, you would repeat back what your understanding of what you think I was saying your point is, and then say say that you say that that is not your point. While I don’t expect people to constantly engage in Active Listening, simply writing “That wasn’t my point”, without any explicit antecedent for “that”, is foregoing an opportunity to aid communication, and I do feel like a pattern is emerging of lack of concern and/or awareness regarding communication rather than merely expressing disagreement.

          If you were intending to merely assert the extremely weak claim that the DoI is not completely saturated with Christianity, you did a poor job of making that clear. You directed your response towards Palin’s claim that ” “Our Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our ‘Creator’ with our rights.” “, not at a quote from Palin in which she asserts that the DoI is “saturated” with Christianity. And then you talked about “God”, not “Christianity”. This is in fact not a counterexample to the claim that the DoI involves God, as the reference to the Creator is an integral part to the portion that you quoted. It is part of one thought: people grant powers to the government to secure the rights endowed by the Creator. Quoting just the “people grant powers to the government” part is selective quoting.

  • MNb

    “Read a little more broadly, and you’ll discover that nice qualities like cooperation and trust can make a population fitter.”
    You don’t really expect Palin to be familiar with the research of Piotr Kropotkin, do you, even if Alaska has been Russian in the past?

    “Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator”
    Stalin was an atheist who didn’t mind getting deified. “Daddy Stalin” (in Kremlin) isn’t that different from “Our Father in Heaven”. He persecuted christians not because he was anti-religious but because he was anti-everything potentially threatening his basis of power.
    Some support for this interpretation from an unexpected side:

    “According to Juche, there is no god but Kim Ilsung, the country’s “Eternal President”, which makes North Korea the world’s only country governed by an embalmed dead body.”

    I have visited the official site of North Korea two or three times and found the religious overtones striking.

    Instead Sarah Palin would like to turn the USA in a country governed by the disembodies soul of someone who was crucified almost 2000 years ago. Once again I fail to see any fundamental difference.

    “She’s determined to feel offended”
    Well yes, christians getting persecuted is an integral part of it’s myth of origin.

    • smrnda

      Stalin certainly had a cult of personality, but Kim Il-Sung is flat out being given supernatural powers at times, on par with some Roman Emperor. I heard that anti Kim Jeong-Il pamphlets were once dropped on N Korea, but some people would not read them because they thought their hand would disintegrate if they touched a picture of him.

  • KarlUdy

    Bob, I’m not so interested in what Sarah Palin says about anything, but your statement here intrigued me:

    Let’s be clear on cause and effect: Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator, not vice versa.

    Are you saying that being “a dictator” has a causative effect in being “atheist”?

    I’m intrigued for a couple of reasons. Firstly the standard atheist line is that “Stalin was a mass murderer because he was a dictator, not be cause he was an atheist. Secondly, if being a dictator is a cause for atheism it raise the question of how, and none of the options seem positive for atheism.

    Now it may well be the case that you wanted to write the standard atheist line, and wrote it in error, in which case I’m sure the secret atheist police will take you away for a period of re-education and alter what you have written to reflect what it should have (and of course always did.) 😉

    • smrnda

      Plus, we’d also have to account for dictators who did not become atheists, as there are plenty of those. The Czars were certainly dictators, and I do not recall them being atheists. Peter Stuyvestant seemed like a nasty little dictator in the colonies, and he was certainly a pious man, eager to take others to task for the sin of religious toleration towards Quakers.

      I kind of don’t necessarily think the religious beliefs of dictators are necessarily that revealing, given that dictators tend to be opportunists, quite willing to say they believe anything if it happens to have the right effect.

    • Stalin’s atheism-of-personality validated itself through testable predictions concerning famine and incarceration.

    • Kodie

      I really don’t get what you’re asking. I don’t think atheism is a natural outcome of rising to dictatorship, it is just one strategy – to take religion from the people. Atheism does not certainly lead to dictatorship. Most, if not all, of us here are rather fond of the ideal of religious freedom, that one’s private thoughts are not bound to what one leader deems best.

      Stalin could not and did not erase religious thought – he merely suppressed religious expression. He pronounced a one thing, in his case, atheism – lack of belief in a god or gods – to be the public policy. You might even call that a kind of theocracy. USan atheists do not want our government to pronounce or express favoritism to atheism OR Christianity. Palin is actually looking for a dictatorship. Non-Christians are not free in the government policy that Palin is aiming for. We can still be atheists in thought, but she wants a governmental preference for (her kind) of Christianity. That would mean it is dangerous to proceed with a grievance against the government if you are not a Christian.

      Think about it this way – pretend that a single church is our government, and although that church allows other houses of worship to exist and doesn’t prohibit attendance or belief, when you have a problem, you have to go to that other church and file your complaint. If that church is the law as well, how might your complaint be received? How are you truly free if that church is also your government? How are you truly free if your government is a puppet of a particular church?

      • The Soviet Union was an interesting experiment: what happens to Christianity if you strongly suppress it for several generations and then make it acceptable again? Religious belief is tenacious; it popped back fairly well.

        I’d be interested to learn how modern Russian Christianity looks compared to (1) what it was during the time of the Czars (I hear the last Czarina was ridiculously religious/superstitious) and (2) Christianity elsewhere in the world.

        • MNb

          “if you strongly suppress it for several generations”
          That’s a bit of a stretch. Christianity wasn’t that suppressed overall; only by Stalin. During WW-2 even he relieved pressure.
          Christianity was almost completely robbed of official leadership. All in all as long as the believer was loyal to the state and the party, ie didn’t pose a threat (real or imaginary) he/she was left alone.

          Like I wrote underneath: persecution of christianity in the SU was in the first place a matter of political rivalry.

        • That raises the question then, how much of an experiment in a modern religion-free country was the Soviet Union? Maybe not so much, is what I’m getting from you.

      • smrnda

        Actually, during WWII restrictions against religion were weakened since it was seen as good for morale. Churches were reopened and services held. Even Stalin was pragmatic enough to use religion at times.

    • Pofarmer

      In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile
      to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting
      his abuses in return for protection to his own.

      -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17,

      • Nice. I need to add that one to the list.

        • busterggi

          Aha! You admit you have lists!

        • Just two–one labeled “Naughty” and one “Nice.”

      • In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting
        his abuses in return for protection to his own.

        These days, of course, we could say the same thing about the scientist. Even in times of austerity for the common folks, there’s always plenty of funding for scientific academia and research. But are they working on ways to make public transportation safer and more efficient? Or better tracking systems for drones?

        • Pofarmer

          My guess is all of the above. And somebody is likely working on it in their garage as well.

        • Sure. Just thought it was fair to point out that oppression and technological advancement have a pretty cozy relationship too, both philosophically and fiscally speaking.

        • Pofarmer

          Technology itself is nuetral, and tends to be in the advancement of mankind. For instance, drone technology may lead to interesting delivery services or? Or look at all the myriad spinoffs from NASA programs. Sure technology may be used by humans to control other humans, but Theology ALWAYS is.

        • Sure technology may be used by humans to control other humans, but Theology ALWAYS is.

          Technology’s share of government budgets would make even theology jealous.

        • Pofarmer

          Religion in the U.S. is multi billion dollars.

        • According to you, religion can’t be used for good and that’s a problem. However, if technology is used for bad things, that’s not a problem.

          If religion gets tax breaks from the government, that just proves it’s evil. If the government pours billions into defense technology, that’s not a problem.

          Double-standard much, amigo?

        • Pofarmer

          I don’t think I made that statement at all, at least not in this context. My point is that both religion and technology can be used for good and bad things, but religion is the one that is always used to control other people, pretty much by definition. Technology by itself tends to advance us, almost like evolution!

        • My point is that both religion and technology can be used for good and bad things, but religion is the one that is always used to control other people, pretty much by definition.

          Rule 1 of the Internet: Generalizations are always correct!

          Technology by itself tends to advance us, almost like evolution!

          I’m sorry I don’t share your Pollyanna view that technological advancement can be divorced from the drive for material wealth and political control that produces it. If you consider the Koch Brothers’ subsidies of PBS and NOVA a necessary evil, that’s fine. But to pretend like there’s nothing problematic about it seems a little naïve.

        • Pofarmer

          The drive for material wealth and technology has provided more good for humankind that religion ever will.

        • The drive for material wealth and technology has provided more good for humankind that religion ever will.

          “I’m Charles G. Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, and I approve this message!”

        • Pofarmer

          Don’t make me bring up George Soros.

        • Or Bill Gates. Or Andrew Carnegie.

          Anton is right that there’s some destructive craziness behind some powerful capitalists. But you’re right that that’s not all of them.

        • MNb

          “However, if technology is used for bad things, that’s not a problem.”
          How about addressing what people actually write? The double standard is yours, dude.
          It’s a pity, because here I’m mostly on your side. I don’t even think theology is always about humans controlling other humans. Heck, I don’t even think that religious organizations a priori have this control tendency stronger than non-religious organizations.
          But I do think that skepticism a la the scientific method helps a lot to enable people to resist such attempts to get controlled. That’s another reason why science always wins when theology conflicts.
          In the end that may result in deconverting people (mostly young ones), but I have no idea if non-theists will ever be in the majority in any society. It’s conceivable though, as I know of one society where theism is totally absent.

        • TheNuszAbides

          i generally liked Anton’s delivery and am sad there was no response to this.

        • Last time I checked, donations to religious nonprofits were $100 billion per year in the U.S.

        • You could be right, but technology delivers (at least, that’s the goal). Theology is much less tangible.

        • You could be right, but technology delivers (at least, that’s the goal). Theology is much less tangible.

          It might not be their goal, but they both appear to have value insofar as they deliver the illusion of control over phenomena. Though technology is generally shinier.

        • OK, good point.

        • TheNuszAbides

          [first off, i know this was years ago and that none of us is in the same mood every day. just seemed like a decent opportunity, on a fewer-than-a-thousand-frigging-comments thread, to riff:]

          Sure technology may be used by humans to control other humans, but Theology ALWAYS is.

          the take-away for me remains that control freaks will be control freaks, and the more cynical any particular specimen gets, the fewer scruples they will have about what means they utilize to exercise control. from that, arguably technology is or has become a more efficient and/or reliable means of control than theology. (which might be a more interesting hypothesis if we were to delve into comparison of differing populations.)

          and to unpack “Theology ALWAYS is”: i wanted to ramble about the chicken/egg notion along these lines elsewhere, but here will do nicely …

          let’s say there was a first/original Priest, as in someone who explained _____ as necessitating the propitiation of a supernatural personality, and was not motivated by prior ‘traditions’ because such things hadn’t been invented yet. (skip the available-at-the-time empiricism and/or lack thereof related to identifying/suspecting said forces, for now–and presume with me that this New Idea of attribution to personified Greater Power was preceded/surrounded by innumerable habits/’traditions’ which yielded clear practical/gratifying results.)

          was this Original Thought Leader motivated merely by Power Over Others? Wanting The Best For Its People? why not some of both? were motives simpler before we constructed complex sentences and put them to clay/stone/papyrus?

          for another step i will easily concede as apparent that the abstract distance from which the comfortable gentle Process Theologian may project [his] preferences onto Bog is immeasurably enabled, with or without [his] permission, by fire/brimstone/sword-wielding predecessors.

          and to clarify, i’m not doing this to persuade you to backpedal; i just want to bounce these ideas around with you/others because they’ve been stuck in my head while crawling through a more recent but too massive thread, and i still can’t figure out why Adobe product installation does nothing but hang for days on my desktop …

        • Pofarmer

          Well, certainly the Cruz and Trump campaigns used technology remarkably well.

    • Stalin wanted power, but so did the church. Solution: make the church illegal (or mostly so) by making the country atheist.

      • JohnH2

        Better solution, unite church and state and claim control of not only the peoples bodies but their souls (and potentially have them accept this willingly).

        • MNb

          That’s the policy of China.

        • smrnda

          Regions of China have permitted religions, so China has not yet taken control of souls, mostly since, as official party doctrine, the ‘soul’ is superstitious nonsense. Where my brother lives they recognize and accept the practice of a number of religions, but they must be State approved. They even have mosques in that area. I suspect that if you tried to start a new religion without State approval, they’d not be happy.

          That’s probably because of the old Taiping Rebellion, where a man who decided he was the brother of Jesus Christ started what’s possibly the worst civil war in history. They may be naturally apprehensive about new religions. I’m not suggesting it’s right, just understandable given the history of China.

        • Y. A. Warren

          It is not only avowed atheists who see the dangers in the unity of church and state. Both prefer to rule by fear; it is so much easier to control minions brainwashed since birth than it is to argue with educated free citizens in a democracy.

        • smrnda

          True. You can see that where more authoritarian religions like to persecute more egalitarian and democratic ones. I suspect that’s the reason why the largely pacifist Quakers were persecuted so viciously in the colonies : their more egalitarian model threatened the power of those who wanted a more authoritarian religion to be dominant since it could keep people in line.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I am cheering every time I hear the rise in percentage of those declaring no religion. I am hoping that the value system of justice prevails in the world.

        • Wikipedia says that 10 of the 55 recognized ethnic groups within China are Muslim.

          I hear that Christianity is flourishing, but they have to be part of the official Chinese version. House churches are illegal, but I don’t know what the eagerness to have them is. That is, what’s wrong with Chinese Christianity? Just that it’s not quite one’s favorite flavor, I guess.

        • busterggi

          That was the solution of the Russian royalty that the revolution overthrew. The Russia had to wait until its citizens largely forgot that before Putin could reinstate it.

  • Kodie

    Gee, how does evolution work again? “I bet Charles Darwin never
    understood this. If the world could be described as truly ‘survival of
    the fittest,’ why would people collectively be stricken with a spirit of
    generosity in December?

    Peer pressure.

    • busterggi

      Hence I am not struck with a spirit of generosity in December.

  • I have to disagree on this part once again:

    “How’s that atheism workin’ out for you, Comrade? “Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism.” That’s true, but that’s because Communism saw the church as competition, not because atheism created Communism. “Atheism’s track record makes the Spanish Inquisition seem like Disneyland by comparison.” Oh? Show me just one person killed in the name atheism. Let’s be clear on cause and effect: Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator, not vice versa.”

    It isn’t that simple. Marxism was always atheist, because it was based in materialism, and Marx famously felt religion was the “opiate of the masses.” He said that religion would disappear once communism had been implemented and people had what they needed. Some of his followers went further, seeking to eliminate it by force (not just as it was competition, although I’m sure that helped).

    It’s true that Marxists killed many more people than the Spanish Inquisition did, and necessarily they were atheists too. Now, this doesn’t mean they killed people “in the name of” atheism-they did it “in the name of” Marxism, or specifically anti-theism when we’re talking religious people.

    Stalin was also an atheist long before he was a dictator (however he was also once a seminary student, something that isn’t mentioned very often by Christians).

    None of this says we atheists (and materialists) are to blame for what the Marxists did, even if we in fact agreed with that ideology (this isn’t the only possible interpretation of Marxism). I don’t agree with it anyway. However, if we insist on linking every bad thing Christians have done to all other Christians, retorts such as this must be expected.

    • MNb

      “or specifically anti-theism when we’re talking religious people”
      Now I haven’t checked every single communist country since 1917, but in the constitutions of the Soviet-Union and China was/is freedom of religion “guaranteed”. Nobody was ever prosecuted “just” because of religion. Law definitely was/is unjust in both countries, but as long as you didn’t break it (by celebrating mass without state permission for instance or by belonging to bourgeoisie, whatever that meant) you could remain religious indeed.

      • Their constitutions “guaranteed” a lot of things, which didn’t amount to much, since those governments would just ignore them in practice. From what I’ve read, people were indeed killed or sent to gulags solely because of their religion (mostly clergy in Russia). Albania is the only communist state that outright banned religion, though all of them persecuted it to some degree.

        • MNb

          “From what I’ve read, people were indeed killed or sent to gulags solely because of their religion (mostly clergy in Russia).”
          Then you have read the wrong stuff. Especially the clergy was seen as part of the bourgeoisie, ie class enemy, like kulaks, business entrepreneurs, social parasites. You won’t find any bill of indictment with only the accusation of being religious. The Soviet prosecutors went at great lengths “proving” (by means of torture) that the victim was “guilty” of treason, cooperating with the enemy, being a class enemy or whatever.
          This doesn’t make it any better, but it seems to me that you’re victim of the usual christian propaganda.

          The Soviet-Union was anti-everything that was a real, potential or imaginary threat for the Party. It was possible to be religious and not being a threat.
          China has taken another course: in addition to fighting these threats it also has organized religion under the umbralla of the Party.

          This is pretty much the same as the Investiture Controversy from the Middle Ages.
          I don’t know about Albania.

        • Yes, I’m aware they were viewed as class enemies. My point is that merely being a member of a religious order would be sufficient for persecution or even murder. I also wouldn’t expect the Soviet authorities to openly admit in formal charges that it was the reason. Many people were not formally charged at all though, and even if they were, trials were a sham.

          Most of these clergy were no threat, especially since openly resisting would have been suicidal for them, but received persecution nonetheless. Obviously these were not the only targets-anyone deemed potential or real enemies was targeted preemptively.

          The Russian Orthodox Church was taken over by the Tsarist government in the 1600s. After the first Russian Revolution in February 1917, it briefly became a self-governing institution once again, with the patriarchal chair being restored. Then the Bolshevik persecution began. It ended up under control of the government again in the Soviet Union. The Spanish Inquisition was a government ministry as well, from beginning to end.

          In Albania, religious services were outlawed, religious institutions were closed or converted to secular use, clergy disbanded, people or locations with religious names were made to change them, and possession of religious literature was made a crime. It was the only state to ever declare itself atheist. None of the other communist governments ever went that far.

        • Mongolia was the second country to become communist.

          Traditional Mongolian art has a Grandma Moses-style of painting called “A Day in Mongolia,” where you see people making felt here, caring for sheep there, putting up a ger somewhere else, and so on.

          I was there roughly 10 years ago. Now that communism is gone, there is a museum documenting the horrors of the takeover. To the communists’ credit, the Buddhist fraction of society was enormous–about 1/4 of the men went into the priesthood, which meant a big drag on the economy. But the communists’ approach, documented in the naif style of the “A day in the life” paintings, was pretty horrific–priests being tortured and killed.

        • Which part shows priests tortured and killed? I couldn’t make it out from the painting. Communist Mongolia isn’t one I know about-it seems to be mostly overlooked.

        • Sorry–I wasn’t clear. This is one of the traditional ones.

          The scary one (same style, much darker theme) is something else. I couldn’t find it online, but it was in a museum in Ulan Bator.

        • Oh, gotcha.

        • MNb

          “the communists’ approach was pretty horrific”
          Once again: I never argued that the communists’ approach was any better than persecuting believers for their religion. I argued that it was something else, equally or even more horrific as far as there is a scale of political horror. Look, when the nazi’s unleashed Barbarassa in 1941 several deeds of the NKVD managed to shock seasoned SS-ers, as Richard Overy describes in Russia’s War. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all its offspring pales to it. But always the motive was eliminating a real, potential or imaginary threat to the Party, never eliminating religion for the sake of it.
          It would be nice if people didn’t assume that I try to picture Soviet-Communism any better than it was. I don’t.

        • “It would be nice if people didn’t assume that I try to picture Soviet-Communism any better than it was. I don’t.”

          Yep. I never thought you did.

        • TheNuszAbides

          I was [in Mongolia] roughly 10 years ago.

          just curious — what was/were the motivation(s) behind that trip?

        • It was a fund-raising trip for Mercy Corps. We gave them money, and they toured us around to show the work they do.

    • smrnda

      On the opiate of the masses, the fact that nations that have a high standard of living tend not to be religious seems to make that seem true, but these nations get where they are going through reforms rather than revolution, and by implementing a comprehensive welfare state and regulating capitalism rather than overthrowing the existing order and starting over.

      • Absolutely. That is proof itself that in practice Marxism didn’t offer the standard of living they needed to give up that opiate. It’s a sign of the Marxists’ failure that they tried to abolish religion.

        • Itarion

          This doesn’t mean that the Marxist ideal is fundamentally wrong. The purpose of society is to meet the basic needs of most-to-all individuals within that society. To this end, historically both unfettered capitalism AND unfettered socialism have failed. Marxism alone isn’t sufficient, because one of the basic needs of humans is competitions. We need somewhere to rise, but also the chance to rise.

          Although really, what communism ended up as was, to my view and others, a far cry from what Karl Marx originally intended. “If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist.” The “that” to which Marx is referring is the intentional incitement of rebellion and revolution. [In France rather than Russia, but the point stands. Marxism is not revolutionist, but reformist.]

        • MNb

          “This doesn’t mean that the Marxist ideal is fundamentally wrong.”
          It is because of a slightly different reason, already pointed out by Mikhael Bakunin. As a result he got kicked out of the First Communist International, The Hague 1871, by Marx himself. You can’t establish a classless, peaceful society via any dictature, not even a dictature of the proletariat.

          “Marxism is not revolutionist, but reformist”
          That’s flatly incorrect.

          “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and … the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, … a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”

          Marx’ prediction of a revolution was based on his Immiseration thesis. When this didn’t seem to happen at the end of the 19th Century two things happened:
          a) people like Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein became reformists like you are thinking of;
          b) notably Lenin developed the idea of a revolutionary vanguard party.

        • “Marxism is not revolutionist, but reformist”

          That’s flatly incorrect.

          Probably a tangent, but Thomas Jefferson said,

          “God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a


          “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

        • It isn’t wrong in the sense that a better standard of living brings down religiosity. However, it’s wrong that a state-planned economy provides that. You’re right-a third position, with markets but also social safety nets, seems to be the best.

    • Marx famously felt religion was the “opiate of the masses.”

      And he meant that in a good way. His point was that religion treated the symptom of social problems; it didn’t solve the problem. When you’re in pain, opium can be a really good thing.

      if we insist on linking every bad thing Christians have done to all other Christians, retorts such as this must be expected.

      I think we’re on the same page. I heartily agree that a crime done by a Christian doesn’t come back to hurt Christianity unless the crime was motivated in some way by Christianity. When a rapist just happens to be Christian, one can’t conclude that Christianity makes you a criminal.

      • Kodie

        If the same person is giving you pain and opium, I’m not sure opium is a good thing. Religion is used to manipulate people or distract them from fighting for their rights.

      • I don’t think it was meant in a good way. He didn’t blame people for turning to religion, but thought it should fade away.

        I’m glad we agree on that. So in future I suggest that be the reply on the “atheists killed millions” smears, along with pointing out that it’s far more complicated.

        • I’m pretty confident in my analysis above about Marx (though I can’t point to a reference at the moment). I’ve written more here.

      • TheNuszAbides

        His point was that religion treated the symptom of social problems; it didn’t solve the problem.

        that’s a better way of phrasing my learned distinction between ‘treatment’ and ‘cure’ (or ‘treatable’ and ‘curable/cured’) than i think i could muster the last time i brought it up. 🙂

    • RichardSRussell

      Stalin was a murderous asshole. So was Mao. Both were atheists. But it’s telling that a whole lot of their victims were also atheists. Christians, like religionists in general, prefer massacring people who don’t share their particular belief set. (Tho, for an eye-opening counter-example, read up on Arnaud Amalric.)

      • Amalric sounds like guy who knows how to pa-a-artay!

      • Amalric is only alleged to have said that secondhand, but it does seem to sum up the Crusaders’ attitude.

      • MNb

        It should be noted in this context that the first victims of the Tsjeka, the predecessor of the KGB, after the Bolshevist Revolution were anarchists. These were not exactly christians.

    • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

      I haven’t read through Marx’s Manifesto myself, but it’s been observed often enough that Marx did not advocate the totalitarianism of Lenin, much less the violence of that turd Stalin. If so, I would not dignify either with the word “Marxist”!

      • It’s been claimed, but I’m not convinced of it. Marx was deliberately vague about what his ideal society would be like in practice, but from the policies advocated in the Manifesto, it seems totalitarian: state ownership of all land, communication, transportation, a ban on inheritance, persecution of emigrants and rebels, abolition of the family (yes, really), etc. Lenin sought to implement all of these (although the steps toward abolition of the family didn’t last long), and Stalin went on from there, with horrible results. Of course, Lenin had deviated from “orthodox” Marxism, and Marx certainly didn’t like all “Marxists” but that is to be expected in any ideology. Despite that, I don’t think say he never wanted anything of the policies they implemented, going by the above.

  • Urbane_Gorilla

    As and adjunct, many liberals are religious. How is it people like Palin and Bachmann can paint all liberals as atheists, or anti-gun. It just isn’t true. These types of broad stoke characterizations just serve to fan the flames of idiots.

    • Itarion

      These people like Palin and Bachmann have made their careers on fanning the flames of idiots. Sad but true. If these fires went out like normal fires, we’d be fine, but these people are especially skilled at restarting, and refueling said flames.

      • The problem is politics, IMO. Christianity is useful, so politicians push Christians’ buttons in the service of their political aims.

        • Itarion


  • RichardSRussell

    Those atheists who question why we have to spend any time or attention at all on holidays at this time of year, simply because the Christians make such a fuss over the season, may take heart in knowing that they’ve got an ally in Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, who treats Dec. 25 like any other day and advocates having no holidays at all. He lays out this thesis in his 1993 book, The Trouble with Christmas, which I have summarized here.

    • Kodie

      He especially disparages the idea of celebrating the solstice (a pagan
      holiday) or made-up alternative holidays like Festivus, because he says
      we’re fooling nobody; everyone knows we wouldn’t be doing it if it
      weren’t for the big fuss being made over Christmas.

      That’s all I’m saying.

      Now that I have said this, I generally understand the principle behind celebrating a holiday. Time is set aside for just about everybody to do things they wouldn’t otherwise have time to do. It is organized so that communities may have time off from labor to get together to celebrate communally, as we often like to do – eat a meal together, usually. In the winter, it is with our families over a home-cooked feast, or in the summer over a barbecue with neighbors and friends. Most holidays are social occasions and not just appreciated as “a day off” the way vacation time or personal days are taken. It allows the community to take a break – together – to eat, see a parade, or do something else together, like organize a volunteer effort.

      It is not merely a day set aside to, for instance, realize suddenly we have a mother or a father or a family or a beloved one or are Irish or American or Christian, etc. We all have a birthday as well, and some like to keep the day special in some sort of way, but it’s not like we couldn’t or shouldn’t make any other day special.

      I actually, in theory, like Christmas very much.

      “If the world could be described as truly ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would people collectively be stricken with a spirit of generosity in December? … It doesn’t make sense.” (Palin)

      Why wouldn’t we be collectively stricken with a spirit of generosity the rest of the year? Perhaps it is just too costly. I rather like the idea of seeing something someone I know would like, and getting it for them, and not saving it for Christmas gift exchange. I give it to them because it is what they like or need, at the time, and I don’t wait, and I don’t expect something in return – I don’t expect them to go fish out a generic present I don’t really want from their closet just to be able to reciprocate. What I hate about Christmas is it’s the time to just start thinking about people we know and then go out looking for the thing that’s just there, and buying it because we’re pressured to have something in hand for them. Some people are very organized, but I am not. But that’s really only one thing I hate about Christmas. I would really like for people to not be obligated to give gifts nobody really needs or wants and really just wait until they see something that hits the bullseye. Because when people know each other, they know what they like. When people don’t know each other, they have no reason to give or expect a gift. Food is a good gift if you don’t know what someone likes (because they can throw it out and pretend to have used it), but it’s unnecessary.

      I like my family. We’ve come a long way, and it’s like that now, I guess. I visited them 4 times already this year. I talk to my dad regularly and we have pretty good talks. Both my parents do a lot for me, and I have nothing to offer. I made a concerted effort this year to be more sentimental than usual and going to see them for special occasions, and I had a good time seeing nieces and nephews after quite a while and connecting. What I don’t like is the special pity about the date of Christmas and if I don’t come home, I’ll just be all alone that day. I don’t know what I have to say to get out of it. I have not for a long time felt like Christmas with my family was a winning combination. It normally ends up in tears, so why force it? When it’s just some other kind of day, things naturally go ok. But because it’s Christmas, expectations are too high and unmet by far, and it’s a complete movie cliche. This might have something to do with my own tension this time of year. Why do people care that I’m alone on Christmas when I’m alone most of the time, and I love it.

      So basically what I’m saying is Christmas is fine, it’s just a burden to me in December. People can’t afford it to be Christmas every day (the way it is) just like they can’t afford to get married every day. And some days, you just have to be practical and get to work. But it can be Christmas any time you want it, if you really want it. My experience is that people don’t really want it. They shoot their entire wad in December, and can’t wait for it to be over so they can go back to being “normal,” which seems to be to lack a generous spirit and go back to nurturing a self-involved one. Christmas is so depleting. It could be a nice, special time to spend with people you love, as relaxed as a nice Labor Day barbecue, but it’s way too much all at the same time. Honestly, what for?

      All cultures can celebrate Christmas, whatever they want to call it. I want to finish this up with something a wise person said to me: “every day is New Year’s Day.”

    • Kodie

      The young Queen Victoria was wildly popular in England and set
      many social standards. A descendant of the German House of Hanover, she
      and her family celebrated the holiday with an indoor tree. “In 1847 few
      English households had trees; by Christmas 1849 trees were everywhere.”
      The silvacide has continued unabated ever since.

      In a neat little follow-up, I have a nice little collection of vintage ornaments. Last time I bought a tree, I went on the bus (before I had a car) to buy one at a nursery, and brought it home on the bus. All in a day’s whatever. When I was almost home, a young woman looked me in the eye and asked me how old my children were. That is the question she asked me. I said I don’t have any. A couple stops went by, and when we got to hers, she stood up and put a card in my hand before getting off – fucking Mormons.

      Later that winter, I eventually had to buy a saw because I was embarrassed how late my tree stayed up and how I was going to get it out unnoticed. It is honestly a lot more trouble than it’s worth, and I get a little upset seeing “dead tree alley” the first week of January. I mean, sometimes you want a dead pine tree in your apartment, and then suddenly, it’s a piece of shit to you and you have to get rid of it. I resolved then not to get another tree. I know I will eventually forget the past. Trees are reasonably priced, and I have a stand and nice ornaments passed down to me, just sitting in a box up in my closet.

      • Plutosdad

        That darned Queen Victoria, first getting us to spend tons of money on white wedding dresses, and now we’re spending on Christmas!

  • Itarion

    According to this checklist, you a have post due on the subject of atheists in office. Well done on the rest of it, though. You, too, could have a future in predicting the future.

    • Atheist politicians are in the closet–in the U.S., at least.

      • Itarion

        There was one recently came out in Congress. [And by one, yes, only one.] Pete Stark. So there’s a start…

        What’s your policy on guest posts? No current intentions, just curiosity.

        • There was one recently came out in Congress. [And by one, yes, only one.] Pete Stark.

          I like Stark a lot. He was one of the most reliable anti-war voices in Congress during his tenure. Unfortunately, he has been out of office since January.

        • I’ve had a couple of guest posts. If you have an idea, I’m open! Contact me via my About page.

  • Plutosdad

    I am amazed at people who get angry at Happy Holidays. It’s like saying “how dare you be nice to others and think about their feelings! You should not care about anyone else but meeeee!” Do they really think that is a good or Christlike attitude?

    • In the current culture war, the person who feigns the most outrage wins.

  • MNb

    In the meantime many more Dutchies are beginning to enjoy the spectacle called War on Christmas:

    Potsierlijk means clownesque, but is more negative. It refers to Palin’s book. The first line of the article refers to the Dutch “War on Zwarte Piet”
    which is equally fierce.

  • BoBecca Ball

    Thank you for suffering through this book so the rest of us don’t have to. You’re a true American hero 😉