12/31/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Teach Both Theories

Illustration by DocMike. Podcast by Exfundie











Teaching science in fundamentalist parts of America is a challenge for educators. This podcast was submitted by an educator who is devoted to authentic education, regardless of the religious ramifications.



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12/27/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Hell is a Mixed Message!

{{Potd/2006-09-13 (en)}}Image via WikipediaBy Bill Jeffreys

If we truly love or care deeply for someone, we don't dismiss them. How could you? I do not fault people for not loving or caring for everyone. I only hold those accountable who claim to love me and don't.

To be Christ like should mean more than just words or deeds. It should mean honesty in ones actions and speech. Dishonesty is easily masked with religion. It is much like politics. Once should mean what one says and say what one means.

I think it is the one thing I have learned in my relationship....to work at being authentic and assertive. I have friends who I don't relate with as well as others. I still keep in touch. Fundamentally, I believe in keeping relationships going unless they become harmful. I am close with my brother even though we disagree on many subjects like, god, religion, politics, and gay marriage and so on. We have learned to see that these things are secondary to our love for one another and our need for relationship.

Our friendship did not come without a cost, nothing good or permanent ever does.

The Bible is a funny thing. It professes great love yet condemns those who do not believe to an eternal misery. How can one be free to love such an overwhelming threat lying over them? It is not rational. Why is it necessary to condemn people to everlasting pain for not having faith?

Another funny thing about the Bible is that is makes some things into moral causes like homosexuality or marriage. It also makes disbelief into a reason to excommunicate friends. The Bible creates many mixed messages the greatest of these is Hell.

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Hearing and Seeing What You Want

By Bill Jeffreys

Recently I have been looking into a learning theory which is new to me. It's called attribution theory. Attribution theory states that people will interpret their environment in such a way as to maintain a positive self-image. It emphasizes that a learners' current self-perceptions will strongly influence the ways in which they interpret the success or failure of their current efforts.

We know that a person's self-perceptions come from both internal and external beliefs. We also know that beliefs come from a number of areas, life experiences; culture and education are but a few. This got me thinking about the apparent need people have to maintain a positive view of their beliefs. I'm writing about this based on my conversations with some people.

No matter how succinct, factual or rational your explanation, or argument, some people hear only what supports their believe. Our beliefs are often not as rational as we'd like to believe.

Ever have an argument with a friend or a spouse. At first you think what they are saying is wrong, only to find out later you were the one who misjudged them. Beliefs are like that. They tend to narrow our perceptions so that whatever we see, or hear is first filtered through them.

It takes a willingness to suspend judgment and our first emotional response so that we may evaluate the evidence by its merit and not our beliefs. We do this so we can discover the truth of a matter.

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12/26/2008                                                                                       View Comments

12/23/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Jesus vs. Santa Clause -- The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Part 2

~ List Inspector ~Image by ViaMoi via FlickrBy Neal Stone

When I did my last post on this subject, I was informed I had started off on the wrong foot. Indeed I did as I approached Christians ministers only and forgot to ask those that post here for sources on whether Jesus existed or not, I apologize.

In the process I was given many sources including one that suggests the historian Josephus may not have existed and was nothing more than a forgery.

The more I researched Jesus, the more I realized just how complicated and and hard this was going to be. I have evidence on both sides and there is a lot of it to go through to the point it is almost too much for me to handle.

Then it hit me! Jesus is the most influential and famous person in history. Proving Jesus existed and who he was and his miracles were real is extremely difficult. Why is this? How can the most powerful, influential person in the history of mankind be so hard to prove? Why can't someone come up with solid non-disputable evidence?

The sources I went to referred me to books they have heard of or sources they have heard of, but it seems they never read these sources. But then I recall being a teenager in church and hearing all of these Christian Urban Legends that all turned out to be mostly untrue. Nobody ever research them, but was more than happy to pass them on as fact. Hmmm...

I was reminded of the four gospels and how they weren't written 50 to 70 years later and passed on verbally until then. Yeah that's a real reliable way to pass information. We all know who well this works. Each time a story is passed on the teller of the story always adds a little to the story or gets a part of it wrong. So how much of the four gospels got change over that time period?

My quest was to prove or disprove the historical Jesus. I was actually able to do that without tons of research after all. The term “Christian†means a follower of Christ. This means someone who is a Christian has Christ in them and they follow his teachings.

The challenge was to find evidence either way. I realized that that evidence was right before all of us all this time. HIS FOLLOWERS! They are the best proof you will find. This that follow Christ are supposed to be "kind and loving in all they do" and to "turn the other cheek" when attacked. If they see someone they think needs the LORD they are to reach out and help them.

Recently an individual named Evelyn reached out for help. Someone known as Sunny attacked her straight up and treated her bad. There was no love, no kindness and no reaching out to her. In fact, he was out to turn her other church. There have been others here who have professed to be Christian but acted as Sunny did. Is that the best at being Christian you can do? Apparently it's the best Jesus can do. How sad.

Based on the actions of Christians who have posted here and their comments and attitudes (anything but love) and the actions of most Christians I have met I have come to the following conclusion that Jesus cannot exist or be real. Those that follow him are going off information that is unproven and their actions and how they live compared to what they preach is proof enough Jesus is a lie.

Anyone can do humanitarian work regardless of your religious beliefs. I myself have reached out to friends, family and even people I don't know and I don't go to church. Of course I don't advertise like the Christians do, but then I don't do it for glory, but because it is the right thing to do. Yes a non-Christian can tell the difference between right and wrong.

I still plan to do a little more digging, just for curiosity.

Well ran out of steam.

Next stop, The Historical Santa Clause. Christians beware!



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The Anatomy Of Christian "Logic" ... Just For Fun

By Tim Whistorn

Buddy Jesus bobbleheadImage by _escalade328s_ via FlickrI admit it: Sometimes I just like to make fun of Christianity and those who keep the faith.

On one hand I honestly do respect a person's right to believe anything they want, and to live/practice whatever pleases them. I just don't respect the way Christianity has been used to rob the masses of their personal sense of freedom and power for centuries; nor do I respect the very real threat to human advancement this dark age religion poses through many aggressive organizations, lobbying groups, and advocacies.

And maybe I'm a little irked by the fact that most of my family and many of my friends are brainwashed to the extent that a really open conversation about the nature of life is an impossibility.

Note To Reader: If Christianity allowed it's members to use their brains in debate this content would be great for dispelling the illusion. Sadly, as we know, Christians have at least two primary fall back arguments they can use when confronted with evil tactics like reason, logic, history, science, and facts.

These primary bailouts are:

  1. It's not for man to question the mind of god.
  2. Satan is clouding your judgment.
Precautions and disclaimers aside, I'd like to share some reflections on what christian logic looks like when we peel it away from the sentience-free environment of a bible study group or Sunday school class. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. :o)

But we do it with love in our hearts...

I've never seen a grumpy old man chase little kids away from his sidewalk and then claim he did it with "love and charity". Yet Christians are CONSTANTLY boycotting, protesting, and even violently disrupting the operations of bookstores, civic groups, and other business and special interest organizations that fail to comply with Christian theology; in every case that comes to mind it is claimed the actions were taken "with love and goodwill".

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you...

If one were taking this statement at face value, one might assume Christians would leave people to find their own beliefs without interfering. On the contrary Christians, who whine incessantly about persecution and having their faith attacked, seem obsessed with undermining, downplaying, and if possible driving to ruin all competing (or even non-competing!) belief systems.

Justice lies at the heart of the faith, except for when (such as in the central act) justice totally gets thrown out the window in favor of blatant petty vengeance...

I always thought Judas got the short end of the stick. Let's replay quickly:

God decided that since he made us evil in his own image (more on this gem later), he had to subject his son to an agonizing death. For this exact reason Jesus was said to have come to earth as a man.

Fulfilling his role in the greater scheme of things, Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans/Jewish aristocracy, who crucified him. All this went according to plan because, after all the son of god wasn't going to hang himself for our sins, right?

Even so, Jesus said (paraphrase) it would have been better for Judas to "never have been born". Also in the book of Acts it is written that Judas simply falls over one day with his innards spilling out; it seems divine wrath caught up to him.

And if you're keeping score, it would appear that Judas was struck down, cursed, or whatever for being a helping hand in god's brilliant plan to have his own son whacked so you and I could be forgiven for our sins. Honestly I don't even have a catchy little line for this it's just so damn absurd and blatantly unjust.

Made in the image of god AND born wicked...

Is it red or is it green? I love a good philosophical paradox but I don't think that's what Christianity is going for with the specific teachings that:

God is perfect. God made us in his own image.

We were born evil. We'd best get to begging god to forgive us for our wickedness.

Neatly omitted is any questions as to how this ludicrous scenario can even exist. Yeah I got the memo about Eve eating the fruit and thus cursing all future generations to be born of "original sin" but that would mean she was made flawed... a bad girl in the image of god!

Merciless butchering in the name of the lord - bad when Islam does it but not a problem if the disciples of Christ do it.

Let's all get on page here: Many Christians are pleased as punch that U.S. bombs are currently destroying "radical Islamic groups". Truthfully most of the casualties are non-combatants but that's another article.

Islam is touted as a SEVERE threat. I agree that suicide bombers are incredibly warped people.

However, it's of interest to me that estimated millions of people were slaughtered during the dark ages in the name of Jesus Christ. In addition to the crusades and inquisitions, many deaths were incurred via routine law enforcement operations, i.e. killing the serfs wholesale for evil things like learning numbers or reading Latin.

Right up to the Manifest Destiny debacle the Christian god was used as an excuse to kill, rape, and plunder. To this day no real responsibility has been assumed and no plea for public forgiveness has been issued.

The protestants all blame the catholics. And frankly the Vatican probably isn't sorry about any of these horrid events.

How in blue blazes is it humanly possible to teach your kids that "Jesus loves them" in the wake of all this absolutely rampant and unrepentant bloodshed in the very name of this savior?

So much for serendipity. Here comes Yahweh...

The universe seems to be a place of beauty, and of order.

I'm not a mathematician. But I have seen the beautiful symmetry of numbers.

And we can all see the amazing correlation reflected between tiny particles moving in circular orbits around their nuclei, and massive heavenly bodies traversing their circular orbits around the stars. It's an awe-inspiring natural state of order, rhythm, and flow.

Elsewhere in the natural world we can find many examples of this rhythmic bliss. However things may have started and however they continue, life seems to emerge and move in patterns, cycles, and other predictable phenomena.

Then suddenly, out of the cosmic bliss steps a figure. I can just make it out...

It's bipedal. Goodness it does seem to be a human form!

And look... testicles. Yes there will be hell to pay - literally - if we forget those divine testicles!

I can see a face now. It's Jewish!

Hold on, god is about to speak...

Huh? Wow that was a hateful thing to say.

Oh wait he's still talking. Geez this guy has some clear and serious emotional issues.

Talk about self-absorbed and irrational. And what a childish little prick to boot.

This really takes the cake. Christianity would seriously have us believe all the order, rhythm, reason, and wonder that is our universe was manufactured by a spiteful, petty, emotionally thwarted, male Semite who lives in the sky and is really concerned about our sexual habits and whether or not we use four-letter words!

I know this kind of commentary is old hat for you guys. But sometimes it's just good to blow off some steam and I appreciate having a place to do it.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you were at least moderately amused. I'll hustle up something a bit more educational on the next run. ;o)

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12/20/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story

Moses and the Burning Bush by Nicolas Froment ...Image via WikipediaValerie Tarico interviews Dr. Tony Nugent, scholar of world religions. Dr. Nugent is a symbologist, an expert in ancient symbols. He taught at Seattle University for fifteen years in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and is an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Most Americans know how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25: The Emperor Constantine chose the date because it was winter solstice in the Julian Calendar, the birthday of dying and rising gods like Mithra and Sol. Some people also know that our delightful melange of Christmas festivities originated in ancient Norse, Sumerian, Roman and Druid traditions - or, in the case of Rudolph, on Madison Avenue.

But where does the Christmas story itself come from: Jesus in the manger, the angels and wise men?

The familiar Christmas story, including the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Scholars have pointed out that these stories are somewhat disconnected from other parts of these Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. In fact, by the time he is a young boy in the temple, Jesus's parents seem to have forgotten the virgin birth. They act surprised by his odd behavior. There is never any other mention in the New Testament of these incredible events! These stories seem to be an afterthought, written later than the rest of the gospels that contain them.

To make matters more interesting, the stories themselves have inconsistencies and ambiguities - contradictory genealogies, for example. Our Christmas story (singular) is actually a composite. Or consider the idea that Mary is a virgin. The Greek writer of Matthew quotes Isaiah as saying: "a parthenos shall conceive and bear a child." The Hebrew word in Isaiah is "almah," which means simply "young woman." But the Greek word parthenos can mean either a virgin or a young woman, and it got translated as "virgin." Modern Bible translations have corrected this, but it is a central part of the Christmas story.

That's a lot of added complications. If the rest of the New Testament doesn't refer to these stories or need them, then how did we end up with them? Where do they come from?

One part of the answer comes from Hellenistic culture. (It is no accident all New Testament books written in Greek.) In this tradition, when a man did something extraordinary there was the assumption that he did this because he was different, either divine or semi-divine. They would make up a story about how he came to be divine. Almost all Greek heroes were said to be born of a human woman and a god--even Alexander the Great, Augustus and Pythagoras. The father typically was Zeus or Apollo. The god would come and sleep with the woman, pretending to be the husband or as a bolt of lightning, or some such. Greek mythology also shows up in the book of Genesis: the gods lusting after the women and coming down and mating with them.

Why were they added to the Christian story?

Jewish Christians - the first Christians didn't believe in the virgin birth. They believed that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. Part of their Christology was "adoptionism"--they thought Jesus was adopted as the unique son of God at some time later in life. There were disagreements about when - Mark suggests the baptism, Paul suggests the resurrection.
Over time, gentile Christianity replaced Jewish Christianity. There were Jewish-Roman Wars. The Jewish Christians were marginalized and oppressed. The Gentile branch became dominant. Eventually we get the gospel of John which pushes the sonship of Jesus back to the beginning of time. This writer is at the other end of the spectrum from the Jewish Christians. But Matthew and Luke think that the Sonship of Jesus began at birth. And they want to tell a story that reinforces this point. Matthew and Luke are the source of the Christmas story as most of us learned it.

Why didn't the writers do a better job of cleaning the contradictions?

They did, some. This is called the "orthodox corruption of scripture." (Bart Ehrman article , book) . But it appears that these birth stories were added toward the end, so scripture got frozen before they could get integrated.

I was raised that the bible was the literally perfect, "inerrant" word of God, essentially dictated by God to the writers. What you are saying about the Christmas story sure calls into question this point of view.

Which Bible?! There are thousands of manuscript variations. Most biblical stories are probably fiction, not non-fiction. They are mythology in the deepest sense of the word. But we need to get beyond issue of whether biblical reports happened in the historical, physical sense to understand what they mean spiritually and mythically.

Ok. Back to Christmas. Of all the images from the Christmas story, the one that people fall in love with most is angels. The Christmas story is full of angels, beings of light. Is this because of the solstice tradition?

Actually it comes from the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish scriptures that were eventually adopted into the Christian Bible as the Old Testament. It also comes from the Jewish literature written between the Old and New Testaments that didn't get into the biblical canon. Some of these are even quoted in the New Testament, for example Enoch, from the 2nd Century BC. It's all about angels.

What are angels in these stories? Who are they?

The Bible calls them the sons of God, the Divine Council. The word used for God in parts of the Hebrew Bible, Elohim, is plural implying a family of deities. Angels are the lesser gods of the deposed pantheon of ancient Israel. They are under the rulership of Yahweh. Together with Yahweh they are part of Elohim, a plural word that we translate "God" in the book of Genesis. Elohim/God says "Let us make humans in our image." Christians understand this to refer to the trinity, but that is a later interpretation. These angels came from the ancient pantheons of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Many of these gods come from stars. There is a strong astral dimension. "Heavenly Hosts" are stars.

The Luke story focuses on one angel specifically: Gabriel. Is he the archangel? Gabriel is the Angel of the Lord. He is one of two angels who are named in the Jewish canon and the Christian canon outside of the apocrypha: Gabriel and Michael. They are the angels of mercy and judgment. Gabriel means "Strong One of El." He is first named in Daniel.

If you go into an Eastern Orthodox church you have two icons on the north and south. Michael is on the North to fight with Satan who lives there. Gabriel is on the south. He is more like what the angels originally were, which is messengers of the gods. That is what angel means. The idea that God has a special messenger is exactly what we read about in the Middle Eastern mythologies. Each of the earlier gods has his own special messenger. Enki, who becomes Yaweh, has Isimud. The goddess Inana has Ninshubur. Each high god will have an envoy or assistant, who is a lesser god. The angel of the lord is the same thing. The distinction between angels and gods came later.

Is he a star person? Or one of those semi-divine descendents of gods and women?

He is one of the gods who would come down to earth.

Why do you say that?

The offspring of the gods mating with women are called Gaborim--from the same root as Gabriel. In the second century, Gabriel appears in the Epistula Apostolorum. It talks about Jesus and these secret teachings that he gave to his apostles after the resurrection. One of the secrets is that he is actually Gabriel. After Gabriel took on flesh and united with Mary, then he becomes Jesus. The idea that Christ was an angel was extremely popular in the early church. Later we find this really strict separation between humans and angels; between gods and angels. (more)

We have time for just one more favorite Christmas story: The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi.

The Magi are astrologers. They are Zoroastrian priests. Just to the east of the Roman Empire was the Persian Empire, which was Zoroastrian. They see this star at its rising (the better translations don't say in the East). The astrologers paid a lot of attention to this. It is likely that what this refers to was a heliacal rising, which is the first time that a star appears over the horizon during the course of a year. They thought this was a sign of the Jewish messiah. Scholars speculate that they would have been living in Babylon, where there were lots of Jewish merchants. The Jews had been there from the time of the Jewish exile from Babylonia. We have cuneiform records from them.

Are you assuming that this story is historical?

Think of it as a frog and pond. The pond is real, the frog is not. They are fictional stories in a real setting. They don't always get the details of the setting right, but they are fictional characters in real places. The Magi follow their star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The author has in mind a real star that would be in front of you in this situation. There are two candidates, Canopus or Alpha Centauri. Those two stars are visible for approx 6 mo of year, Canopus from about the fall equinox to spring equinox and Alpha Centauri from about November to May.

Remember what I said about the Heavenly Host being stars? The star in Matthew and the angel in Luke are two variants of the same mythology.

My former fundamentalist head is spinning. Is there anything else you'd like to say in closing?

We need to be able to appreciate these stories as myths, rather than literal histories. When you understand where they come from, then you can understand their spiritual significance for the writers and for us.

That sounds like another interview. Thank you.

Valerie Tarico is the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelial Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth (available in the www.exchristian.net bookstore) and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.





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12/19/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Jesus vs. Santa Clause -- The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Part 1

By Neal Stone

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via WikipediaWARNING: This article contains elements of logic, reason and free thinking and may prove harmful or fatal to ones religious beliefs. Read with extreme caution.

Earlier in one of my posts I mentioned doing research on the Historical Jesus. In fact there are a few things I want to post about, I've just fallen behind. Kind of lost the writing bug for a bit. Guess the brain needs a break. All this thinking wears a guy out. (LOL)

Since this project has gotten bigger than I expected, it will be broken down into smaller blogs. It will also take a while to do the research.

The first step to researching and proving/disproving the Historical Jesus was to contact various ministers I know. This got a little interesting. Seems people get a bit concerned when you try and prove the Historical Jesus without the Bible. It's amazing how defensive religious people get when you challenge their beliefs or seek to prove/disprove what they believe.

If what you believe is true and infallible, then you have nothing to worry about. Yet you are worried anyway. Why is that?

Now keep in mind these are all ministers who have been to Bible college and have been in the ministry for at least 15 to 20 years. These aren't newbies by far! If anyone could help with this research they are the ones.

The first reply was from a friend named pastor Mark. He was pretty cool and just gave me some research sources. At no time was he defensive nor did he question what I was doing. That is pastor Mark for you. I have know him for years, and he is a cool guy.

I then got a reply from a pastor Mike. He just asked me to call him. Why call? Can't you just give me some research ideas? This is usually a cult tactic. If someone appears to question the belief system, get them on the phone or meet them in person so you can keep them from straying away from the faith. Nice try!

Then came the reply that raised serious red flags. This came from a pastor Bobby. He is a cool guy too, but his reply made me sit back and really think. Here it is below:

"Are you trying to prove this for yourself, or to someone else?"

Note the concern. Seems I may have hit a nerve?

"If you leave the Bible completely out of the equation things get a bit sketchy as far as the historicity of Jesus. Understand of course that the Bible we know is a compilation of many books. It would seem less than objective to completely discard four such reliable eyewitness accounts as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John."

Let's stop right there. Leaving the Bible out of the equation makes proof of Jesus sketchy? And we are to expect four books that can't even agree of their facts are reliable as evidence?

How can one live a religion and follow a belief that is based on sketchy evidence? This alone is a great concern with me. And four witnesses who can't agree on various facts are considered reliable? Try pulling that in a court of law and see how far you get. Now let's continue.

"Aside from these accounts we have some references (two I believe) on Josephus' work, 'The Antiquities of The Jews." There are also some references by secular people of that time-frame in personal correspondence to one named Jesus. Specifically; Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius. There is also a very interesting reference in a Jewish record, The Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a that mentions one 'Yeshua,' crucified on the Eve of a Sabbath."

OK, so I bit the hook and found these writings mentioned above. Josephus does mention someone named Jesus. Guess what? They were multiple people named Jesus that he mentions. One did claim to be the Christ and another was murdered by his brother, and that was just a couple of them. There was even a high priest named Judas. The name Jesus and Yeshua (Yeshu) were quite common back then. Some believe that Yeshua was another name for Jesus, but this is theory and not proved.

Now, proving Jesus Christ existed and proving his deity are two different things. We know Jim Jones existed but we know he was not god or Jesus.

"All in all there is actually more volume of testimony to support the historicity of Jesus Christ than Muhammad of the Koran."

According to who? I am sure Muslims will say they same thing about your Jesus.

"As you know, after the evidence is presented and weighed for credibility each person must make their own decision. One prominent man who did so was, Josh McDowell. He recorded his journey on a book entitled, 'Evidence That Demands A Verdict.' Might be a good resource for you!"

I have ordered this book. I will let you know what I find when I get it.

Each person must make their own decision? I think once the evidence is presented and weighted it should be enough to convince anybody. There should never be doubt about the truth. Shouldn't the evidence be strong enough so we don't have to go through all of this in the first place? God can control the smallest particle to the biggest star in the universe but he can't leave enough evidence to convince mankind once and for all he is real? Hebrews 11:1 says it all.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen.

EVIDENCE of things not seen!!!! Keyword: EVIDENCE! E - V - I - D - E - N - C - E

Summary: Proving the events and people of the Bible is one thing. Proving the miracles, and acts of God/Jesus is another. It's easy to take advantage of history and add fiction to facts to deceive others. For me to dedicate my life to something I need evidence it is real and worth my time and effort.

"Hope this helps!"


Yeah baby! It does!

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12/18/2008                                                                                       View Comments

A Fallen World?

By LanceThe Original SinImage by Vermin Inc via Flickr
"Of course the world is messed up. We live in a fallen world"

Or so my Christian friend says.

I used to believe this, and it was a good method for me to explain all the pain and suffering I saw in the world. Of course God had created a perfect world, and then we messed it up. It was all our fault. Even the fact that there is so much death and killing in the natural world of animals can be explained by the sin of disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. Apparently this act poisoned the entire world, magically transforming the world from God's perfect plan into the pain and death we see today. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree, all animals got along just fine, and only plants were asked to sacrifice their lives. Adam and Eve and their kids would have had a perfect existence had they not fucked it all up for themselves and the rest of us.

Yeah, right.

My friend, who made the first statement, also believes in a literal Garden of Eden, with a talking serpent, and a magical tree; everything the Bible says.

This got me to thinking -- and we all know how dangerous that can be -- what would an un-fallen world have been like? What would the world be like today if Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden? What if Eve had said "Holy fuck! A talking snake!!!" and then hit it on the head with a rock? What exactly are the underlying assumptions when someone says that we live in a fallen world?

So let's have a little thought experiment and see how the whole fallen vs. un-fallen world stands up to a little logic and reason. Of course we'll have to get out our Bibles to see what actually happened in the garden, since we have no other way of guessing about what the world would be like before the fall.

(Disclaimer: I'll be using the capitalized word God, as a proper name for a fictional character in the Bible, just as I will capitalize Adam and Eve. This does not mean I believe this god exists. Also, just because I am quoting from the Bible does not mean I believe it is anything more than a book written by humans. I'm just quoting it to show how silly it is.)

The more I look at the Bible, the more I realize it is the best weapon we have against Christianity. Let's use it well.First off I want to identify some of the underlying assumptions of the Christian world view regarding the fall of the world into sin because of Adam and Eve's transgression.

- God made everything perfect in the beginning
- All humanity would have been living in peace and harmony
- Everyone, including the T-Rex, is a vegetarian
- There was no pain or suffering (funny, but the Bible does not say this. Only that God thought his creation was good.)
- People were naked and didn't know it was wrong, in-fact they did not know anything was right or wrong.
- There is some universal standard of right and wrong that was contained inside the fruit from the magic tree

So let's see what the bible says. Gen 2:16 "And the LORD God commanded the man. 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden: but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" And Gen 2:25 "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame."

Hmmm. That is interesting. So it was not the tree of 'Let's get drunk and screw', but instead it was the tree of 'the knowledge of good and evil'. So eating the magic fruit would not have caused them to start doing evil things, but simply to know what was evil and what was not. So before this they could have done all sorts of terrible things and it would have been OK, since they did not understand what they were doing was wrong. Maybe we should look at the Bible again to make sure I'm not missing something.

Gen 3:6-7 "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked: so they sewed fig leaves together and mad coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked: so I hid.' And he (God) said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'"

I'll ignore the obvious contradiction that if they had not already eaten from the tree, then they should not have been expected to know that it was wrong to disobey God. I've heard that as a common complaint about the whole idea that God is not to blame in this situation. But my question in this rant has to do with what seems to be implied in the above verses: Namely that God did not seem to care if Adam and Eve did wrong things, but only if they knew the things they did were wrong. This brings me back to my original question. What would an un-fallen world look like?

So if we read those verses carefully we can see that a world before the eating of the fruit would not have been a world without sin, but simply a world where people did not know what was sin and what was not. We would have been more like un-thinking animals, unable to see the consequences of our actions.

Let's think about the nakedness thing. It is implied that being naked is wrong by the fact that Adam and Eve knew they were naked and then covered up after eating the magic fruit. The fruit told them it was wrong. But if being naked is wrong, then it would have been wrong even before they ate the fruit. I mean, God made the tree and the fruit, so he must have made the rules that were embedded in the fruit. So he must have made the specific rule that being naked is wrong. So being naked is simply wrong from God's point of view. And he is the boss, right?

Are you with me so far?

But God seemed to enjoy walking around the garden with his naked people. God did not seem to care if being naked was obviously wrong in his eyes, as long as they didn't know it was wrong. The Bible says that Adam and Eve did not start sinning when they ate from the magic tree, but only that they were now able to understand the rightness and wrongness of their actions. Interesting, huh?

What if we take this a step or two further? Let's imagine that Adam and Eve never ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they started to have kids, just as you would expect from people walking around naked and looking at each other. Adam and Eve and all their kids would have been walking around the garden buck naked, and neither God nor they would have cared one lick. Their sons would probably start spanking the monkey in public when they hit puberty, but no one would bat an eye. Maybe a couple of Adam's sons would start spanking each other monkeys, but again, they don't know it is wrong, so everything is cool, right? God just smiles and laughs at his cute little ignorant creations. And I guess I'm OK with that too. No harm, no foul.

But as I think a bit more, then I start to have a problem. Again, the Bible does not say there was no sin, but only a lack of understanding about it. So what happens when one of the kids pulls the hair of another kid, and the second kid starts crying? I guess God might simply smile at the two little tykes, but I'm wondering what Adam and Eve would have thought. The Bible does not say Adam and Eve are stupid. They can think and talk, and I see no reason to assume that they would have been without empathy. It was not the "tree of empathy" they ate from after all. But the Bible is not clear on this, so let's look at a couple of possibilities.

1. Adam and Eve, and thus all future humans were created without empathy (the ability to identify and understand another's situation, feelings, and motives.)

Or

2. Adam and Eve did have empathy, even before they ate from the magic tree.

Let’s imagine a world under situation #1. People hit and cry and take each other’s stuff. The strongest rule the roost, and no one cares when another is hurt. This sounds a lot like life among the lower life forms. Even the great apes are better than this amongst their own groups. But again, God would not care about all the sin that was going on, since we would have been too stupid to understand it. It would have been a messy place, and I doubt this is the un-fallen world the Christians are thinking of. Also, it does not seem realistic to me, as Adam and Eve were smart enough to think and talk, and thus could have told each other when something hurt them. I’ll rule this first situation out as one neither Christians nor myself could think of as God’s perfectly created world.

Now let’s look at a world under situation #2; a world with empathy. God might not give a shit about what people did, since we did not know what was right and wrong. But Adam and Eve and their offspring would give a shit! They would notice that it sucks when someone hit them, or took their stuff, or made them cry. Thus they would watch someone else getting hurt and would understand what the victim was going through. They would grab the perpetrator by the ear and tell him or her to knock it off. They and their kids and grand kids would end up forming their own system of ethics based on empathy and mutual self-interest.

Funny, but that does not seem any different from what we have today. Some asshole hurts someone, and the rest of us cry foul as we identify with the victim. We seem to do an OK job of creating our own ethical society; or at least as good of a job as you could expect from a bunch of hairless primates.

So if Adam and Eve had even a bit of empathy, but had never eaten the fruit, then they would have needed neither the magical tree, nor God for that matter, to figure out what was right and wrong. Human intelligence, empathy, and a concept of mutual self-interest are all that is needed.

Let me restate it just to be clear. Humans do not need a god or some magical fruit to explain to them what is right and wrong. They can figure it out just fine on their own. In my opinion, the so called holy books do nothing but to screw up any system of ethics we come up with.

So what makes more sense for explaining ethics in human society; The ridiculous story of a magical tree of knowledge of good and evil that tells people they should not be naked, or the evolution of human intelligence that eventually included empathy and language?

I think you know what my vote is.

----------------

So here is my conclusion: This so called un-fallen world as described in Genesis would not be substantially different from the world we live in today. The whole pre-fall vs. post-fall dichotomy of explaining the current state of the world is totally bogus.

The more I look at the Bible, the more I realize it is the best weapon we have against Christianity. Let's use it well.

---------------

P.S.
Here is an idea for a related rant that some of you might like to take further: Think about the fact that Adam and Even didn't need a book to tell them what was right and wrong. They just ate the fruit and then 'boom', they knew internally what was right and wrong. But Christians tell us we need the Bible to give us a basis for morality. Even the Bible itself doesn't seem to support that idea. Go figure.

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12/17/2008                                                                                       View Comments

What Child is This?

A newborn infantImage via WikipediaBy Marlene Winell

We can probably agree we don’t like the commercialism of Christmas, the stress, or the holiday angst. Yet at the center of it all there is a powerful image that speaks to all of us –- the Child. It’s fascinating to me that once a year so many people stop everything, or at least pause, to acknowledge a Child.

But who is this Child of Christmas and why does the image have such power? We have religious and secular interpretations, and I would like to suggest a third -– a soulful interpretation.

For Christians, this is a specific Child, the baby Jesus, entering the world to be its savior. This is why the angels sing and the wise men visit. God has at last fulfilled his promise, and there is rejoicing.

For other people, not Christian, the Christ Child still represents hope and renewal. As with the solstice and the new year, the Child symbolizes the promise of new life and light. Our world is so weary with struggles, we all need the healing force of hope.

We have these religious and secular interpretations, and I would like to suggest a third –- a soulful interpretation.

The Child archetype connects to each of us in a personal way as well. We were all children once and we can perhaps remember the innocence and freedom. It’s good to ask ourselves whether we still know how to laugh and enjoy life. The image of a baby instinctively raises questions, and brings up feelings.

On the deepest level, the Child connects to matters of the soul, which is the essence of how we actually experience being alive.

When new parents talk about holding a newborn, they talk of a “miracle” with overwhelming feelings. Anyone can have these feelings about a baby, and there is a tug on something deep within. What is that? This is our core, our Original Child, our personal manifestation of the archetype, alive deep inside.

This is not the Christ child or just a symbol of hope. This is the Child we all know is still present but may be lost or buried. Our life patterns, our “personalities,” our many roles, our anxieties, our regrets, our plans, our endless thoughts, all conspire to distance us from who we once were – infants with magical capability for presence and joy.

The author of the paper, “The Infant as Reflection of Soul,” William Schafer, says “Babies by their very existence call us back to something we all sense we have lost. They do not enchant us simply because they are ‘cute.’” He says infants frequently hint that they are capable of experiences we no longer commonly enjoy – original experiences of energy, openness, and joy. In early infancy, Schafer says, these are profoundly essential human spiritual experiences. The pure, calm awareness of a baby is free of internal commentary, judgment, comparison, fear, or desire.

Interestingly, in the spiritual Balinese culture, babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first year of life. They are considered closer to God than adults. In any culture, one only needs to look into an infant’s eyes to see a being that is absolutely in the present, that has no agenda whatsoever, that is open to the simple miracle of being alive. This delight is pure and plain in a smile, a look, a wriggle of total energy. The ego has not emerged; there is just being. Worries about the past and concerns for the future do not exist; the moment is timeless, endless. In Schafer’s terms, infant joy of this kind is the natural, inevitable consequence of presence.

In contrast, adults experience split-second judgments that erode the capacity for joy. If we have a bad experience, we can’t wait for it to end. If we have a good one, we want more of it and we worry that it might stop. Either way, joy—the sense of being open and drawn to our actual experience in wonder and curiosity without fear or repulsion—is veiled. We end up living lives in which most of our time is spent wanting to be in some other moment than the present one.

But if we choose, we can learn from infants. We need to see them with new eyes and let them be our teachers. We can let them remind us of what we have lost. Each of us is still innocent, life-loving, and capable of the soulfulness we see in infants’ eyes. And part of the archetype of the Child is the capability of great transformation.

So this season, let’s consider what it might mean to honor the Child – first of all in ourselves, and then in each other. We can slow down and look around. We can be gentle, making room for magic. Enjoy the pattern of raindrops on the windshield while stuck in traffic or laugh at the funny ringtone on somebody’s cell phone. We can remember that we are all connected. We can allow ourselves to feel joy for no reason. For me, I plan to cherish every chance to look into the eyes of a young Child. I expect I will learn something I can use when I look out of my own Child eyes. I will practice delight.

Reference: Schafer, W. (2004). The infant as reflection of soul: The time before there was a self. Journal of Zero to Three. National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 24: 3, pp. 5-8.

Marlene Winell, Ph.D., is a psychologist and former fundamentalist who specializes in recovery from harmful religion. She is the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Her website is www.marlenewinell.net.

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12/15/2008                                                                                       View Comments

If You Open Your Mind Too Much...



...Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)

This is from Tim Minchin's DVD, So Live.

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War on Christmas?

By DocMike

In 2005, Bill O'Reilly declared there was a "War On Christmas" because retailers were posting signs that said, "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas." Of course, the stores were simply trying to appeal to all Americans instead of a single group, in hopes that everyone would buy more stuff during the holiday shopping season. But Uncle Bill and his followers proceeded to blacklist retailers and anyone else who didn't cave in to the media pressure.

Now, three years later, Bill is pushing, "We Say Merry Christmas" bumper stickers (free with a purchase of $19.95 or more from his website), The Liberty Council and Focus on the Family have posted "Naughty or Nice" lists, identifying retailers who mention (or don't mention) the word "Christmas" in their ads, and there has been a major backlash by religious groups (and individuals) about recent billboards and signs posted by various groups.

When are Bill and the others going to realize that this is not a war on Christmas? Rather, it's an effort to include everyone, regardless of their beliefs, in the celebration of the season. Whether you celebrate The Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever, you should have the right, in a free country, to celebrate and to be acknowledged without exclusion or discrimination.

I mean, we're bombarded with Christmas messages even though most non-Christians know that it was originally a pagan holiday. You don't see non-Christian groups boycotting, having signs removed, etc. (that I know of). People of all faiths (and no faith) should be able to enjoy gift giving, family gatherings, and private and public celebrations without being demonized. And retailers should be able to advertise to the general public without being deemed "naughty".

What's really funny is the worst promotions against Christmas come from self-proclaimed Christians. See Fred Phelps's "Santa Clause will take you to Hell" promotion as a prime example.

How's that for a "War on Christmas?"


Other References:

Liberty Council Naughty/Nice List

Focus on the Family puts retailers on Christmas naughty, nice list

Atheist sign joins nativity scene, tree at Capitol

Missing atheist sign found in Washington state

"Imagine No Religion" Billboard Visits Canton, Ohio This Month!


American Humanist Association Puts Atheist Ads on D.C. Buses

Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

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12/14/2008                                                                                       View Comments

A Brief World History of Christmas

By HellboundAlleee



What does Christmas have to do with Jesus? Less than you think.

Sift through world history in about five minutes, because I know you can't sit through more than that.

If you want me to know I'm going to burn in hell, thanks, but I've been informed!

-- HellboundAlleee

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12/11/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Is it Ok to Celebrate Christmas, Even If You’re Not a Christian?

Merry CHRISTmas -  4 Reasons for ChristmasImage by Daniel Y. Go via FlickrBy Valerie Tarico

I just love Christmas!” my friend Hannah confessed recently, “even though I’m appalled by Christianity.” She sounded sheepish, as if loving Christmas somehow made her bad.

Poor Hannah. I understand her tone of apology. What Hannah is appalled by isn’t the broad range of kind, thoughtful Christians in her community, but rather the thin cruel theologies that drive the Evangelical Right. People like Bill O’Reilly have claimed Christmas for their own--deriding broader holiday traditions. “It’s about Jesus!” They cry loudly. “Jesus is the reason for the season!” “It’s a Christian holiday (and this is a Christian country)!” Who wants to be associated with O’Reilly and his minions?!

Hannah’s Christmas isn’t about Jesus, and she doesn’t want to lend power to fundamentalists by joining in something they have defined as their celebration. But she needn’t fear. Jesus isn’t the reason for the season.

Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell outlawed the celebration in England, and his prohibition against Christmas was kept by the Puritan colonies in the New World.Yes, December 25 has become the time that Christians express the joy that comes from a sense of unearned forgiveness and unconditional love. It is a time when they relish the community of believers and family, and they look forward to a future when peace and joy will reign on earth “as they do in heaven” and the lion will lie down with the lamb. And for them, this is the very heart of the holiday.

That said, the Catholic Church chose December 25th (Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar) to honor the birthday of the Christ for a very specific reason: It was already a well loved holiday – a time of revelry, gift giving, and yes, celebrating the birthdays of gods.

Early Christians recognized this: Fourth Century Bishop John Chrysostom wrote: "On this day also the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that while the heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their sacred rites undisturbed. They call this (December 25th), the Birthday of the Invincible One (Mithras); but who is so invincible as the Lord? They call it the Birthday of the Solar Disk, but Christ is the Sun of Righteousness." (The Fourth Century is our first record of a December Christ-mass celebration.)

Not only did earlier generations of Christians recognize this, some of them were offended by the holiday’s Pagan associations. Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell outlawed the celebration in England, and his prohibition against Christmas was kept by the Puritan colonies in the New World. Even Baptists in times past condemned the holiday, and to this day Jehovah’s witnesses and some other fundamentalists perceive it as contrary to Christian teachings. And not without reason.

Christmas appears to have its roots in two Roman holidays: Saturnalia (December 17-23) and Sol Invictus (December 25) Saturnalia , the feast of the god Saturn, is said to have been the most popular holiday of the Roman calendar. People celebrated with visits to friends and giving gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), that may have represented the return of light after the solstice. Natalis Sol Invictus (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) is when the births of solar deities were celebrated including Sol, Attis and the Persian Mithras (who was, incidentally, born of a virgin). At the time of Constantine, the cult of Sol Invictus was the official religion of the Roman Empire. Small wonder, then, that he pronounced the 25th as the birthday of Jesus, center of the new official religion. (Excellent article here.)

The ways we celebrate Christmas reflect the intuitive, creative ways in which all human cultures and religions borrow, blend and adapt. We find what fits and make it our own. It’s why French bread and coffee are part of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s why T-shirts are popular in Kenya. It’s why Egyptian hieroglyphs morphed into a Roman alphabet which then made its way around the planet.

My guess is that virtually everything Hannah loves about Christmas has roots that extend through and beyond the Christian tradition. Here are just a few for fun.
  • Yule log – Ancient Norse tribes used the Yule log to celebrate Thor. The term “Yule” itself may mean “wheel,” referring to the sun and its cycle of return.
  • Holly -- This plant has been special to many people. It was thought to ward off witches by Celts, and was used in Roman Saturnalia festivities.
  • Evergreen boughs -– Branches from evergreens symbolized everlasting life for Romans, Germanic tribes and Vikings.
  • Mistletoe -– This parasitic vine also known as “All heal” was sacred to Druids, because it grew in the sacred oak tree. Early Europeans left it hung in the house all year to ward off fire and lightning.
  • Decorated Trees –= Uncut, outdoor trees were decorated by European Pagans and Druids at solstice. (The custom of cutting trees was brought to America by German immigrants and became popular during the 19th Century.)
  • Twelve Days of Christmas– The sacred significance of the number twelve traces its roots back to ancient Babylonian star worship. It made its way into a 12 day Egyptian solstice festival, the early Hebrew religion (12 tribes of Judah), the Roman calendar (12 months), early Christianity (12 apostles) and –low and behold—modern star worship (12 signs of the zodiac).

So, I say to my friend Hannah: Love any Christmas tradition that is dear to you, including the ones that originated in Christian cultures and stories. And no more apologies! We all are borrowers, and especially at this time when people around the world celebrate the renewal of warmth, light, and life, we are all the richer for it.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist in Seattle and founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her book, The Dark Side, is available through the ExChristian bookstore.



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MoralMaster 2.0 Additional Questions Add-on Pack!

By TruthSurge



This is the HIGHLY ANTICIPATED set of additional questions that improve the level of accuracy of the famed MoralMaster 2.0 up to 200%!

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12/10/2008                                                                                       View Comments

I was a true believer, yes siree!

By Billy B

Hi, hello...whatever...,

I'll just shoot the run down and get through my little "all about ME" stuff...short, sweet...m-kay?

I'm a 56-year-old married w/kids dude. I'm atheist and a former "real deal" fundie. I'm also an ex-boozer and (substance) abuser. These past 18 years of sobriety have been a climb out of my hole of childhood indoctrination and baaaaad habits. Today, things are great.

Short enough? Good deal.

A Miracle...? I leave that to you to judge.

On with my rant...

How many of us ex-believers gave THOU$AND$ of hard earned dollars to the church? Speaking for myself , it was a big chunk of change. At least 10% of my income for over eight years went straight into the plate. A big enough dollar amount that I began to wonder if there might be any possible way for me to recover any... even ONE DOLLAR... of my money.

Seeing is believing...

I had a very strong hope that a "refund from God" was possible....this hope was well founded because of something that had happened to me years ago. Way back in 1981, I was a robot for Jesus. Those who understand what I mean will agree; THINKING was a seldom exercised option for us back in those days. OBEDIENCE was paramount.

(I'm gonna fly through this to keep it short. There is a lot of detail that I'll be glad to share -- if you're interested.)

Praise The Lord... indeed!

So, I'm alone one night and watching The P.T.L. Club on TV. (keep in mind that I'm a God-zombie at the time.) Ok, so, some fat-fuck-preacher starts pleading for mo money!! He sez; "Somebody out there hears the Holy Spirit telling them to send in One Thousand DOLLARS !!"

Yup....I did it.

My wife about shit the bed when I told her what I had done. Seriously, folks. It was a big deal 'cause... Well, c'mon... it was a LOT of money. It was a big enough deal that we took the situation to our Pastor's wife -- Sister Barnett.

Sister Barnett sez to me; "The Bible says 'Bring your offerings to the Lord into the storehouse.' "Billy, the LORD wants us to bring our offerings (cash) to Him at the place (church) where we are 'fed' (indoctrinated)."

In other words she meant, "Billy, you stupid idiot, you're supposed to give your money to ME!! (storehouse = Sister Barnett)

Me: Oooooh....O.K....Gee, Sister Barnett, I really messed up, huh? What should I do
to correct my stupid mistake?

S.B.: Well... hmmmm...? Maybe you should call P.T.L. and explain to them that
you have made a grievous error and see if they will return the $1,000.00?

Me: YES !! I will do that, and if they are willing to return the money, I will then be able to bring it into THE STOREHOUSE!

S.B.: (nodding & smiling) God's Will be done.

Me: Amen...

Nobody admitted it, but we ALL knew that I had already said good-bye forever to my thousand bucks. It was in God's hot little fist (via PTL) and, one way or another, He was keeping it. I was not going to piss off the creator of time, matter, and space over a thousand bones.

BTW: The TV preacherman also PROMISED that God would bless my offering and return it to me in the amount of $10,000.00. Suck on that, doubters!

I called PTL and (keepin it short) they understood the situation, and after I allowed them a $100.00/10% 'love-offering,' they actually were nice enough to send me back $900.00 buck-a-roos. In true robot fashion I promptly made a $900.00 deposit into 'The Storehouse." My (now ex-) wife never fully recovered from the ordeal...

Now I know that there might be people who won't relate to my experience. They are/were Christians, but, they weren't/aren't as convinced as some of us are/were that The Holy Bible is/was actually and factually the WORD of GOD. I know people who've gone to church for decades and hardly ever dropped a dime into the offering plate. My opinion of these folks is; they don't really believe the whole bible the way that some of us did/do.

I was a "True Beliver" -- yes siree.


My next 'refund' experience came in 2006... This time I opted to deposit the funds into MY storehouse.


Coming soon: God has no statute of limitations... Hmmmm?

To be continued...


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Santa Claus Worshipers Decry “Christification” of “Their” Season

{{nl|:nl:Sinterklaas tijdens het :nl:Het Feest...Image via WikipediaBy Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist

Across the country disparate sects of believers in the deity of Santa Claus have united in an effort to “reclaim” Christmas from those they call heretics for “continually dragging Christ back into Christmas.”

Until recently the notoriously contentious and litigious Santa worshippers, or Santatarians, have been primarily known for feuding among themselves over which of three denominations represents the one “true” faith.

Although only the most mainstream of the three, the Southern Santatarian Conference, is officially identified with the name, all refer to themselves as Santatarians, except in the Caribbean and some areas of the American South where “Santaria” is preferred (not to be confused with Santeria, often erroneously called Voodoo, which combines the worship of Christian saints and African spirits).

More than half of all Santatarians self-identify as fundamentalists, of which the majority practice Santaclostalism, speaking in tongues, or, more accurately, tongue, chanting the word Santa until they enter a trance through which they claim to experience perfect understanding of the “spiritual centrality of retail merchandising,” sometimes accompanied by visions in which Santa cavorts in the nude.

Seldom seen are the cloistered Claustrophobians, the priestly class, in whose monasteries and convents, according to ancient custom, males dress as Santa and females as Mrs. Claus. Reform movements aimed at bringing women into the Santa-suit-wearing priesthood, have thus far failed to gain traction among entrenched traditionalists who cite centuries of gender-specific costuming orthodoxy.

Not all Santas are equal in the eyes of Santatarians.

According to Nick “Santa” Wilson, a self-described “Santatoligist,” Salvation Army Santas are regarded as apostates. “The money they raise all goes to promoting Christ,” Wilson says. “They take something decent and good and turn it into a way to spread these far-fetched teachings of the Antisanta, Christ.”

Wilson explains that his group has filed a lawsuit asking that the Salvation Army be required to post disclaimers on all of their kettles stating in clear language that the proceeds go not to Santa but to Jesus. “False advertising, that’s what it is,” says Wilson.

With the exception of personal contacts during the Holiday Season, often conducted through an interlocutor or mediator in the form of a small child, all prayers (Santatarians say entreaties) are offered in the form of letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole. Santa never writes back.

“This is nothing new or unique,” agrees Nick “Santa” Fong, spokesperson for the interdenominational Keep Christ Out of Christmas Crusade. “These red-suited mountebanks have been masquerading as Santas for a hundred years. Why even have laws against fraud if you’re not going to enforce them?”

Wilson and Fong are both active in the Sant-America Movement, the campaign to achieve equal rights and recognition for what Santatarians insist is an off-shoot of Christianity.

“Santatarianism is precisely to Christianity what Christianity is to Judaism,” notes Fong. “You can’t have one without accepting the other.”

A call to the Vatican was not returned.

Each Santatarian sect applies its own doctrine to the loosely defined canon of books, films and recordings from which the essence of Santa is said to emerge. All Santatarians believe in a literal Santa, and all agree that Santa lives at the North Pole and that he, at least one night a year, is omnipresent.

Nick “Santa” Russell, the self-styled “Mayor of the North Pole,” explains, “It’s analogous to the Abrahamic notion of an omnipotent God that somehow manages to grant humans free will without sacrificing his own omnipotence. Except with Santa, he’s only omnipresent that one night.” Russell, who mans a remote one-man outpost of holiday cheer year-round in an unincorporated area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, adds, “And he definitely knows who’s been naughty or nice.”

Unlike Mr. Russell, who admits to going weeks “without seeing a single soul unless you count those girls on the Internet,” most Santatarians prefer to live near malls and department stores. And wherever there’s a Santa, supplicants are sure to show up and worship him.

“It’s actually kind of gratifying,” says veteran shopping Mall Santa Paul Brown of Bloomington, Minn. “It can be, you know, kind of hard on your self esteem to have children peeing on your leg the whole time you’re at work, that and the crying. For these folks to come to the mall and actually bow down and worship you? It’s kind of, you know, uplifting. I’d like to get my wife and kids into this religion.”

“A giant pain in the butt, that’s what it is,” says Shaker Hills Mall promotions manager Larry Holloway. “They come to worship, but they leave behind all these cookies and letters, to say nothing of the disturbance they cause while they’re here, all that chanting and genuflecting. And mall security can’t throw them out because of the First Amendment. Honestly, sometimes I wish I lived in North Korea.”

Neither Holloway nor Brown would say what becomes of the offerings Santatarians place at Santa’s feet.

Many Santatarian practices borrow from other Abrahamic religions. Adapted from Islam is “Ho Ho Hajj,” the command that every believer should attempt a pilgrimage to the North Pole at least once in their life. The Great Schism, during which Santatarianism split into its present-day sects, grew out of the debate over whether all Santas be circumcised.

The Santatarian year revolves around collective expressions of devotion, in canonical language, “Public Displays of Walking and Riding,” the most important of which is the Macy’s Parade in New York, known by Santatarians as the Procession of the Immaculate Inflatables. Christmas parades everywhere are seen as symbolic enactments of Santa’s annual descent from the North Pole.

Among the key tenets of Santatarianism are the veneration of Santa images. Especially prized as powerful talismans are large plastic yard ornaments with or without reindeer.

HIMMELPFORT, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 16:  A man dre...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeHoliday activities that most Americans regard as frivolous are regarded as sacraments by Santatarians. One example is the “Doctrine of Epistolary Entreaty,” the belief that by writing Santa letters they will be rewarded once a year with a bunch of the stuff they don’t need.

The faithful recognize closely prescribed rules regarding communication with Santa. With the exception of personal contacts during the Holiday Season, often conducted through an interlocutor or mediator in the form of a small child, all prayers (Santatarians say entreaties) are offered in the form of letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole. Santa never writes back.

“That’s where faith comes in,” says Wilson.

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