10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy! This piece was originally published on AlterNet in 2010.

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

The rules:

Vierge_au_Chapelet_1 Songs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus, angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin. This is the key, the raison d’etre of this whole silly game. I’m not going to start making exceptions just so I can sneak in the “Boar’s Head Carol.” And yes, this rules out “Good King Wenceslas.” Hey, I like it too, it’s pretty and has a nice (if somewhat politically complicated) message about how rich kings should help poor people. But come on, people. It’s about a Christian saint with magical powers. No can do. (I will, however, grant a “saints with magical powers” exemption to Santa.)

Gay_Mens_Chorus_of_Washington_DC Songs must be reasonably well-known. Yes, this rules out some truly excellent stuff. Many of my favorite Christmas songs, atheist or otherwise, are on the obscure side: from the grisly, gothy, paganesque “Corpus Christi Carol” (I do love me some gruesome Christmas songs), to the simultaneously haunting and peppy “Patapan,” to Tim Minchin’s funny, touching, pointedly godless “White Wine in the Sun.” But it’s no fun singing Christmas songs by yourself. For a song to make my list, a reasonable number of people at your holiday party should be able to sing it… or at least chime in on the first verse before trailing off into awkward pauses and “La la la”s.

Weird al No song parodies. It hurts like major surgery for me to make this rule. Some of my very favorite Christmas songs of all time are song parodies: my friend Tim’s hilariously on-target Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Christmas Rhapsody”; the entire “Very Scary Solstice” songbook from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; every Mad Magazine Christmas carol parody ever written. Song parodies are an excellent way to redeem a pretty Christmas tune from cringe-inducing lyrics, and many are just excellent songs on their own. But the idea here is that atheists can have a completely heartfelt, non-snarky love for Christmas music. So to make it onto my list, songs must be entirely sincere. (I will, however, give bonus points to classic Christmas songs that have spawned good parodies.)

Thumbs up Songs have to be good songs. A subjective judgment, I realize. And for the purposes of this game, one that is to be made entirely by me. Deal with it. I don’t care how secular it is: “Suzy Snowflake” is not making it onto my freaking Christmas song list.

Bonus points: A song gets bonus points for not mentioning the word “Christmas.” It’s okay if it does — I don’t think the word has to mean “Christ’s Mass,” any more than “goodbye” has to mean “God be with you” or “Thursday” has to mean “Thor’s day.” But songs that have become widely accepted Christmas carols without even mentioning the concept get bonus points: for chutzpah, if nothing else.

And songs get bonus points for being written more than 100 years ago. I’m not a reflexive hater of modern Christmas songs; in fact, some of them I quite like. But some of the best stuff about Christmas music is the old, old, tunes: the soaring, haunting melodies and harmonies that resonate back through the centuries. If a song can do that and still not mention the baby Jesus, I’m sold.

So with these rules in mind, here are my Top Ten Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love.

White-Christmas 10: White Christmas. This is a funny one. I don’t even particularly like this song: it’s kind of drippy, and it lends itself far too well to unctuous lounge singers. But come on, people. It was written by a freaking agnostic. A Jewish agnostic at that. And it’s become one of the most classic, wildly popular entries in the Christmas music canon. How can you not love an entirely secular Christmas classic written by a Jewish agnostic?

Jingle_Bells 9: Jingle Bells. A bit overplayed, I’ll grant you. But it’s cheery, and it’s old, and it’s fun to sing. The second through fourth verses (you know, the ones nobody sings or has even heard of) are all about courting girls, racing horses, and getting into accidents, so that’s entertaining. And the thing doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” once. Heck, it wasn’t even written as a Christmas song; it was written as a Thanksgiving song. You can happily teach it to your kids without worrying that you’re indoctrinating them into a death cult. Plus it’s spawned a burgeoning cottage industry of children’s song parodies, in the time-honored “Jingle bells, Batman smells” oeuvre. (Tangent: Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?)

Sleigh ride 8: Sleigh Ride. For those who like jingling bells, but are a bit sick of “Jingle Bells” after all these years. Relentlessly cheerful. Lots of fun to sing, except for the weirdly tuneless bridge about Farmer Gray’s birthday party…. but then you get back into the sleigh bells jingling, ring- ting- tingling too, and you’re back in business. And no God, or Jesus, or even Christmas. Just snow, and singing, and pumpkin pie, and friends calling “Yoo hoo!” A trifle saccharine, I’ll grant you — a bit too nostalgic for a Norman Rockwell America that never really existed — but still good, clean, secular fun.

Silver bells 7: Silver Bells. I’m sure I’m going to get roundly hated on for this one. Lots of people truly loathe modern Christmas songs, especially the ones in the drippy lounge- singer category. (See “White Christmas” above.) But I have a genuine soft spot for this one, for a very specific reason: It’s one of the few Christmas songs that celebrates the urban Christmas. Most Christmas songs sing the bucolic joys of sleigh rides and forests and holly and whatnot… joys that are entirely outside of my own experience of Christmas. My own experience of Christmas is shopping and crowded streets and lavish decorations and electric light displays that could power a goat farm for a year. The very joys that “Silver Bells” is celebrating. And the tune is really pretty. Also it’s in 3/4 time, which means you can waltz to it. So thumbs-up from me. If you sing it in a peppy, up-tempo beat, you can avoid the whole lounge-singer vibe pretty easily.

We wish you a marry christmas6: We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I was going to include at least one wassailing song in this list. Wassailing songs are among the finest secular Christmas traditions, and the general concept is familiar to a lot of people, even if the specific examples of it aren’t. But alas, every single one of them either (a) is entirely obscure outside folk-nerd circles, or (b) mentions God at least once. Even if it’s just in an “And God bless you and send you a happy New Year” context. I couldn’t find even one completely secular wassailing song that’d be familiar to anyone who doesn’t go to Renaissance Faires. So I’m letting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” stand in for the “going from door to door singing and begging for food” wassailing genre. It’s reasonably pretty, it’s fun to sing, a lot of people who don’t go to Renaissance Faires know it. And it celebrates two great Christmas traditions: pestering the neighbors, and eating yourself sick.

Let it snow 5: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Another in the “Christmas songs that are really about the entirely secular joys of snow and winter” oeuvre. I like this one because it’s not about mucking around in the actual snow, so much as it is about staying the hell out of it. Canoodling in front of the fire where it’s warm and dry — there’s a Christmas song for me! Plus it’s about being in love at Christmas, which is a lovely theme… and one that, like the urban Christmas, is sadly under-represented. And it’s another classic Christmas song written by Jewish songwriters, which always tickles me. Thumbs up.

SantaBabyEarthaKitt 4: Santa Baby. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to gripe about the commercialization of Christmas. I griped about it myself, just a few paragraphs ago. But it’s hard not to love a song that revels in it so blatantly, and with such sensual. erotic joy. Cars, yachts, fur coats, platinum mines, real estates, jewelry, and cold hard cash, with the not- so- subtle implication of sexual favors being offered in return — the reason for the season! Plus it has the class to get the name of the jewelry company right. (It’s Tiffany, people, not Tiffany’s!) And the only magical being it recognizes is an increasingly secular gift-giving saint with an apparent weakness for sultry, husky- voiced cabaret singers. (And who can blame him? Faced with Eartha Kitt batting her metaphorical eyes at me, I’d be pulling out my checkbook, too.)

Carol of the bells 3: Carol of the Bells. A trifle hard to sing in parts. But it’s awfully darned pretty. No, strike that. It is stunning. It is lavishly, thrillingly beautiful. It has that quality of being both eerie and festive that’s so central to so much great Christmas music… and it has it in trumps. It is freaking old — the original Ukrainian folk tune it’s based on may even be prehistoric — and it sounds it. In the best possible way. It is richly evocative of ancient mysteries, conveying both the joy and the peace that so many Christmas carols are gassing on about. And it does it without a single mention of God or Jesus or any other mythological beings. Just a “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.” I’m down with that.

Winter wonderland 2: Winter Wonderland. Yes, I know. Another modern one. Hey, what do you expect? Christmas got a whole lot more secular in the last century. But I unabashedly love this song, and I don’t care who knows it. It has a lovely lilting saunter to it, a melody and rhythm that makes you physically feel like you’re taking a brisk, slightly slippery winter walk with the snow crunching under your boots. It gets bonus points for being a ubiquitous, entirely non-controversial Christmas classic that doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” even once. And it’s another Christmas love song, which always makes me happy. I get all goopy and sentimental whenever I hear the lines, “To face unafraid/The plans that we’ve made.” Sniff.

And finally, the hands-down runaway winner, the no-question-in-my-mind Best Atheist Christmas Song of All Time:

DeckTheHalls200 1: Deck the Halls. It’s totally gorgeous. It’s unrepentantly cheerful — jolly, one might even say — with just a hint of that haunting spookiness that makes for the best Christmas songs. It celebrates all the very best parts of Christmas: singing, playing music, decorating, dressing up, telling stories, hanging around fires, and generally being festive with the people we love. It’s old as the hills: the lyrics are well over 100 years old, and the tune dates back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Absolutely everybody knows the thing, and even the folks who don’t can chime in cheerfully on the “Fa la la la la” part. It’s ridiculously easy to sing without being boring. Plus it’s spawned one of the finest song parodies ever: “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie,” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, a parody that’s almost as beloved as the original song.

And it doesn’t mention God, or Jesus, or angels, or virgin births, or magical talking animals, or redemption of guilt through blood sacrifice, or any supernatural anything. Not even once. Heck, it doesn’t even mention Christmas. This is a Yule song, dammit — and proud of it! If there are any gods at all who inspired this song, they are entirely pagan pre-Christian ones. Totally, 100% made of atheist Christmas win.

Honorable mentions. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Up on the Housetop. Over the River and Through the Woods. Jolly Old St. Nicholas. The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Frosty the Snowman. Jingle Bell Rock. O Christmas Tree. All these fit all my criteria, and would be perfectly reasonable additions to your secular Christmas songbook. They just didn’t quite make my Top Ten.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season So Merry Christmas, to everybody who likes to celebrate it! Enjoy your decked halls, your ringing bells, your food, your hooch, your snow, your staying the hell out of the snow and fooling around, your sleigh rides, your expensive jewelry, your neighbors who you’re pestering with endless Christmas carols… and above all else, the people you love. There’s probably no God — so stop worrying, and enjoy Christmas!

“Coming Out Atheist” Resource Guide – Crowdsourcing

So I’m putting together the resource guide for Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How To Help Each Other, And Why, and I could use your help.

Here’s the Resource Guide as it is in the current draft of the book. It’s a list of atheist/ humanist/ godless organizations, communities, support groups; online forums support networks and other online resources; blogs, videoblogs, and podcasts; and books. It’s largely pulled from the Resource Guide of Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless? I’m updating it for the new book, and I’d like to know:

a) Is there anything missing from this list? (In particular, I want to make sure I have international resources, and resources for atheists from other marginalized groups.) I don’t need to include every atheist book every published or every local atheist group in the world, but a lot of stuff has been happening in atheism since Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless?, and I’d like it to be reasonably thorough and up-to-date.

b) Is there anything on this list that shouldn’t be here? Organizations that have shut down, etc.

c) Is there anything on this list that needs to be changed? Updated URLs, etc.

Please post your suggestions in the comments here, or, if for some reason you don’t want to make them publicly, email them to me at gcgreta (at) doubtfulpalace (dot) com. And please don’t feel shy about self-promotion: if you think your organization/ book/ blog should be in this book’s Resource Guide, please let me know. I don’t promise to include all the suggestions made here, but I do promise to take them all seriously. Thanks! [Read more...]

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

pi plateJust in time for Santamas! This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is insanely simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.

The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday a couple of years ago (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.

CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE
INGREDIENTS
1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a tic.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)

chocolateA quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy… but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth-feel is insufficiently creamy… but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.

Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes at 450 degrees, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)

That’s it.

No, really.

I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.

I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)

EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE

Make the exact same recipe above, but when mixing the filling, add:

white pepper1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

This experiment has been a big success. It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth. But it also makes it less purely chocolatey. A lot of what makes this pie so yummy is its “pure essence of chocolate straight to the hindbrain” quality, and you do lose that with the spices. You be the judge. You can always make two — one classic, one experimental — and switch back and forth between the two until you explode. I’ve now served both the straight-up chocolate version and the spiced version several times, and opinions are deeply divided as to which is better. My suggestion: Make one of each. Why the hell not?

BTW, if you wind up making this pie and come up with your own experimental variations — let me know! Cayenne might also be good — I love me some chocolate with cayenne — or maybe rosemary and almond. And I’m considering using vanilla vodka for the crust instead of regular vodka. (I’ve tried adding alcohol, and it didn’t work that great: if you add enough to get significant flavor, the texture gets goopy. I’m going to stick with dry spices from now on.)

Speaking of which:

NOTES ON PIE CRUST

For years, I made this pie with store-bought pie crusts, mostly because one of the things I liked best about it was how easy and fast it was, and making my own pie crust would defeat that purpose. Also, pie crust was one of those cooking tasks that for some reason I found scary and daunting. And it’s true that if you get a decent quality store-bought pie crust made with butter, it will make a perfectly fine pie.

pie crustBut I was recently taught how to make pie crust by my upstairs neighbor, Laura the Pie Queen… and it is one of the refinements that has elevated this pie from Perfectly Good to Ambrosially Exquisite. I have now become a complete convert — a snob, one might even say — and will have no further truck with store- bought pie crust. And while homemade pie crust is definitely both more time- consuming and more difficult (it reduced me to near- hysterics the first couple of times), like most things it gets easier and faster with practice.

Here’s the recipe Laura gave me. Some of the reasoning behind it: Crisco makes pie crust flakier, butter makes it more flavorful… which is why I like this recipe, which uses both. And using vodka to moisten the dough makes for a flakier crust, as it evaporates during baking. (You want to use as little liquid as you can to make the dough hold together, since more liquid makes the crust tougher: the vodka facilitates this.) This is a recipe for an entire two-crusted pie; since the chocolate pie is open-faced, halve this recipe if you’re making just one pie, or make it all if you’re making two pies. Which I usually do. We will never get leftovers if I don’t make two pies.

2 – 1/2 cups (12 – 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 – 1/2 sticks) cold butter (frozen is good)
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (Crisco or equivalent)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka

pie crust 2Sift dry ingredients together. Cut butter and shortening into smallish pieces, add to flour. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break butter and shortening into smaller and smaller pieces covered with flour, until the little floury fat-balls are roughly pea-sized. Sprinkle in the water and vodka, enough to make the dough hold together and roll out, without making it too sticky. (You may wind up using slightly more or less liquid than the recipe calls for, depending. Don’t ask me “depending on what.” Just depending.) Sprinkle more flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out. Place it gently in the pie plate, flatten the edges over the lip of the pie plate, and prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Proceed.

In general, you want to work the pie dough as little as humanly possible while still making it a coherent whole. Don’t overwork the dough while breaking up the butter and shortening; use as few strokes as possible to roll it out. And everything that can be cold, should be cold.

Like I said: The pie crust is 9/10th of the work. It’s totally worth it, though. If you can’t bear it, go ahead and buy a crust from the store. Better yet, get your upstairs neighbor to make it for you. (Thanks again, Laura!)

If you make this pie, let me know how it turns out. If you make an experimental variation that you like, let me know what it is. Happy eating!

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. For those who aren’t familiar with the famous essay, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” which this piece is satirizing/ commenting on/ replying to, here’s the original. Enjoy!

santa claus 1“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.

santa claus 2And far more importantly: You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

santa claus 3Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! And that would be excellent. That would be exactly correct. Fairies don’t exist, either. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, and if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? A fair amount, actually. The Santa hypothesis claims that Santa comes down chimneys on Christmas Eve and gives presents to children: if every chimney is carefully watched on Christmas Eve, and nobody sees anybody coming down any of them, that’s very strong evidence that the Santa hypothesis is incorrect. Nobody sees Santa Claus — and that’s a good sign that there is no Santa Claus. There are certainly some things in the world that we can’t see directly — atoms, black holes, radio waves — but we can see or hear or otherwise detect the effect they have on the world. The most real things in the world are those that children and adults can see, or hear, or otherwise detect. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not. Nobody has. Nobody has seen any fairy tracks, or fairy nests, or any signs of fairies whatsoever. And that’s pretty good evidence that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But we can try. In fact, trying is one of the finest human aspirations there is. We may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside — and if we do, we might get a better understanding of how the rattle works. And in doing so, in understanding how this one small rattle-shaped part of the universe works, we might gain a better understanding of the universe as a whole. But there is no magical veil covering an unseen world. And not the smartest person, nor even the united intellect of all the smartest people that ever lived, has ever given us any good reason to think that there is.

Fancy, poetry, love, romance… all of these are delightful, incredible, hugely important parts of human life. But they are part of the physical world. They are processes of the human brain, developed through millions of years of our evolution as a creative, exploring, social species. That doesn’t make them any less magnificent or wondrous. In fact, many people think it makes them even more magnificent and wondrous. Many people look at the fact that, out of nothing but rocks and water and sunlight, living beings have developed with the capacity for fancy and poetry and love and romance… and we’re knocked out of our seats by how marvelous that is. But there is no supernal beauty and glory beyond the natural world. There is only the natural world. Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

And it is completely messed-up to say that faith — i.e., believing in things we have no good reason to think are true — is in the same category as fancy, poetry, love, romance. Fancy and poetry and love and romance connect us with reality. Faith tells us to ignore it. Faith cuts us off from it.

santa claus 4No Santa Claus! That’s right. He doesn’t live, and he never did. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will still not exist — and no amount of fatuous, manipulative bloviating will make him real. And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.

(Oh, and while we’re at it: Your Papa is high. If you see it in the Sun, it is not necessarily so. Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. Including this one.)

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-men

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

It’s beginning to look a lot like fish-men
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people’s gill-slits showed…

I still think that Christmas Rhapsody is the best Christmas song parody ever. But this is a damn close second. My only problem is that I find myself humming or whistling it jauntily, and people think I’m whistling the Christmas song, and they have no idea that what I’m humming to myself is, “As I try to escape in fright/ To the moonlit Innsmouth night/ I can hear some more.”



Courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Enjoy!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time, Saturday December 14!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time banner

On Saturday, December 14, the Godless Perverts are having have our very first Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time! It’s the most blasphemous time of the year! Save the date for the sexiest and most sacreligious holiday party in the Bay Area! Come celebrate/ desecrate the midwinter holiday of your choice — whether that’s Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, or some “return of the sun” holiday we’ve never heard of. Or just have a good time for no good reason other than that the weather is getting cold and dark and crappy, so feasting and forming social bonds is not a bad idea. Axial tilt — it’s the reason for the season!

We’ll have food, drink, entertainment, and adorably stupid icebreaker games (entirely optional). Plus we’ll be giving away door prizes of atheist books, dirty books, and porn from Greta’s years as a porn reviewer. Blasphemous costumes, sexy costumes, awesome combinations of the above, and other festive garb are encouraged, but by no means required.

The Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is happening at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), on Saturday December 14, starting at 7:00 pm. It’s a benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture. Admission $10-$20 OR a yummy holiday treat to share. We’ll provide food, but we’d love to add your holiday specials to the buffet. No-one turned away for lack of funds or cooking skills. RSVP for the event on the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup calendar if you like to RSVP to things. Hope to see you there!

Also, save the date for February! On Saturday, February 1, 2014, the Godless Perverts Story Hour returns to San Francisco — livestreamed as part of the Freethought Blogs Con online conference! This reading/ performance event will feature Juba Kalamka, Dana Fredsti, Virgie Tovar, Simon Sheppard, Kate Sirls, and hosts David Fitzgerald and me me me! The format’s going to be a little different from our usual story hours — we just have a two-hour time slot for the online conference, so we’ll have seven performers in a row… followed by a Q&A with all seven, taking questions from both the online and the live audiences. It’ll be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). Festivities start at 7:00 pm ***SHARP*** (again, this is being livestreamed as part of the online conference, so none of this “we’ll wait for stragglers to come in and actually start at 7:10″ nonsense, if you’re not there by 7:00, you’ll miss the start of the show). $10-20 sliding scale donation; no-one turned away for lack of funds; benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, or follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including the Godless Perverts. Hope to see you there!

Activist Burnout, Prevention and Treatment: Greta’s Talk at Skepticon 6

The talk I gave at Skepticon 6 — “Activist Burnout, Prevention and Treatment” — is now up on YouTube. Topics include taking care of your health, carving out an identity separate from atheist activism, taking breaks, getting a life, saying “No,” and more. Plus it features one of my rare uses of props in a talk — an analog PowerPoint slide!

Many thanks to Rob Lehr of Hambone Productions for the excellent videography, and for the Herculean marathon of video work he does every year at Skepticon.

Christmas Rhapsody – My Favorite Christmas Parody Song Evar

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

queen bohemian rhapsodyIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

And it’s time, once again, for my annual plug for my candidate for the Best Christmas Song Parody Evar: Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

Alas, there’s no good video. Which is a shame, since I think this thing has potential to go seriously viral some year if there were a good video to go with it. Interested videographers should contact Tim through his Website. In the meantime — enjoy the song!

And if you like that, Tim has even more holiday music on his site. My fave: Down in the Forest, described as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Have fun!

Godless Perverts Story Hour at Skepticon 6 – VIDEO!

If you weren’t lucky enough to go to Skepticon 6 — or if you were at Skepticon 6, but for some inexplicable reason you missed the Godless Perverts Story Hour that we held there — we have a treat for you. Thanks to Rob Lehr, videographer extraordinaire of Hambone Productions, the event was captured on video, and you can watch the whole thing right now! Well, if you’re at work, maybe not right now…

Organized by David Fitzgerald, Chris Hall (sadly in absentia at Skepticon), and me, the Godless Perverts Story Hour at Skepticon featured David Fitzgerald’s naughty naughty porn about an atheist’s seduction of two Mormon missionaries; Heina Dadabhoy’s sexy, thoughtful, funny piece about trying to reconcile her horniness with her now-vanished Muslim faith — and about Western men simultaneously fetishizing her and trying to rescue her; my own bad self reading my porn about a religiously guilty gay man hooking up anonymously in rest stops; Rebecca Watson’s uproarious memoir about her hookup with an ex-Mormom with some unusual ideas about sex; and the always-hilarious Keith Lowell Jensen’s weirdly sweet, weirdly unsettling stand-up comedy piece about (among other things) being a horny teenager at Christian camp. Enjoy!

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, or follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including the Godless Perverts. We’re having our first holiday party, the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time, on Saturday December 14; our next Social Club (the casual meetup/ munch thing) will be on Tuesday January 7 at Wicked Grounds; and our next performance event, the Godless Perverts Story Hour, will be on Saturday February 1 — and it’ll be broadcast live via the Interwebs as part of the next Freethought Blogs Con online conference. Hope to see you at the next thing!

Baby, It’s Consensual Outside (Updated)

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion in the last few days about the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Unsurprising, what with (a) it being the winter holiday season, and (b) there being a lot of discussion of rape culture lately. I don’t have a huge amount to add to the conversation, other than, “Yup, the song is troubling at best and rapey at worst,” and, “I don’t care that Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt reversed the gender roles — men deserve to have their sexual boundaries respected just as much as women, ignoring boundaries and treating it like a flirtatious game is fucked-up no matter what the genders are.” The main thing I want to say is this:

Have you heard the consensual version?

There’s a really cute, sweet, funny parody version of the song on YouTube by Chase Gregory, titled “Baby It’s Consensual Outside,” in which the guy respects the woman’s boundaries. I thought some of you might enjoy it.

I’ve transcribed the lyrics, for the deaf and hard of hearing:

BABY, IT’S CONSENSUAL OUTSIDE
by Chase Gregory

I really can’t stay
Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go ‘way
Remember, it’s cold outside
This evening has been
Thanks, baby, for stopping in
So very nice
Was wonderful, to be precise
My mother will start to worry
Oh, then you’d better hurry
My father will be pacing the floor
Let me walk you out to the door
So really, I’d better scurry
That’s okay, please don’t worry
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
Only if you’re really quite sure

The neighbors might think
Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink?
I’ll pay for your taxi fare
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break the spell
And here’s your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no sir
Say it, we’ll end up closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
It’s okay, I’ll take it in stride
I really can’t stay
Baby I’ll hold out
And it’s cold outside/and it’s cold outside

I simply must go
Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no
Oh good, I think that’s your ride
This welcome has been
I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm
Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious
Don’t want to seem malicious
My brother will be there at the door
Waiting for the girl I adore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
Man, this feels repetitious
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
Say “when,” so I know what to pour

I’ve got to go home
Baby, don’t freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb
It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand
I totally understand
But don’t you see
I know it isn’t up to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
Here’s some gloves you can borrow
At least there will be plenty implied
It’s not really mine to decide
I really can’t stay
I trust you, there’s no doubt [may be mangling the transcription of this line a bit - GC]
And it’s cold outside/and it’s cold outside

*****

UPDATE: In response to the commonly-voiced objection that the woman in the song doesn’t really mean No, that she wants to say Yes but is worried about social disapproval (voiced here in these comments as well as many other places), I have this to say:

1: When women want to say say No (or indeed are saying No and not having it accepted), they often place the blame on others. We’ve been socialized to think that saying No to what other people want is rude and mean and selfish — so we place the blame for the No on others, “I’d love to stay at the party, but I have work tomorrow.” Etc. As A. Noyd said @ #7, “If a guy is pressuring a woman for sex/companionship and she doesn’t want to stay with him, she often has to bring up other reasons, such as disapproval from family members making her life difficult, when her wishes alone aren’t being listened to.”

2: It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what the reasons for her objections are. No means no. If she were saying No because she thinks sex will make her nose turn blue or that space aliens will invade if she says Yes — she’s still saying No. Over and over and over again.

3a: Yes, there probably are some women — and some men — who say No as part of a flirtatious game, to get their pursuers to pursue them. That is also part of rape culture. The idea that you really know someone wants you when they ignore your boundaries and keep pushing past your objections… this is also part of rape culture. (It’s also really sex-negative, reinforcing the idea that it’s bad and wrong to enthusiastically say Yes to sex when you want it.) I don’t like it when pop culture encourages, celebrates, and reinforces this idea.

3b: When pop culture reinforces the idea that ignoring boundaries is part of a flirtatious game, it doesn’t just encourage the recipients of attention to say No when they really mean Yes, and to think that if someone takes No for an answer it means they really don’t like them. It encourages pursuers to think that No means Yes, or that it means Maybe, or that it means “I want you to keep trying.” And that makes them more likely to push past someone else’s boundaries.