“It levels the playing field”: Sixo Kyu on “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God”

In spite of my familiarity with Greta’s previous work, I still found myself concerned that this would be a book filled with wishy washy philosophies as to why death isn’t scary, but I was also secretly hoping that maybe it would have some sort of information that helps assuage the fear of death human beings experience…

…this book does neither of those things, and thankfully so! Because what it does do is even better. It levels the playing field when it comes to Theist VS Atheist ideas surrounding the topic of death.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPGGot a nice, thoughtful review of my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God (now available in ebook), from Sixo Kyu on the Atheist Analyis blog. Here’s the full review. Thanks, Sixo!

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

Here’s the description of the book:

*

If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?

Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.

Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life. [Read more…]

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. I’m reposting as part of my holiday tradition thing.

grinchIt’s often assumed that the atheist position on what is politely termed “the holiday season” is one of disregard at best, contempt and annoyance at worst. After all, the reasons for most of the standard winter holidays are supposedly religious — the birth of the Savior, eight days of miraculous light, yada yada yada. Why would atheists want anything to do with that?

But atheists’ reactions to the holidays are wildly varied. Yes, some atheists despise them: the enforced jollity, the shameless twisting of genuine human emotion to sell useless consumer crap, the tyrannical forcing of mawkish piety down everyone’s throats. (Some believers loathe the holidays for the exact same reasons.) But some of us love the holidays. We love the parties, the decorations, the smell of pine trees in people’s houses, the excuse to eat ourselves sick, the reminder that we do in fact love our family and friends. We’re cognizant of the shameless twisting and mawkish piety and whatnot — but we can deal with it. It’s worth it for an excuse to drink eggnog with our loved ones and bellow out “Angels We Have Heard On High” in half-assed four-part harmony. (In fact, when it comes to the holidays, atheists are in something of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. If we scorn them, we get called Scroogy killjoys… but if we embrace them, we get called hypocrites. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So today, I want to talk about some of the reasons that some atheists love the holidays: in hopes that believers might better understand who we are and where we’re coming from… and in hopes that a few Scroogy killjoys, atheist and otherwise, might be tempted to join the party. (If not — no big. I recognize and validate your entirely reasonable annoyance at the holidays. And besides, Scroogy killjoys are an important holiday tradition.) [Read more…]

“Joy, tranquility, truth”: Brianne Bilyeu on “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God”

“@GretaChristina new book transcends merely “enjoyable.” Joy, tranquility, truth – I feel these while reading it.”

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPGGot a nice Tweet about my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God (now available in ebook), from Brianne Bilyeu of the Biodork blog. Thanks, Brianne!

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

Here’s the description of the book:

*

If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?

Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.

Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life. [Read more…]

The Great Gruesome Christmas Carols

Reposting this, as part of my holiday tradition.

christmas carols bookAnd now for something completely different.

I’m one of those freakish people who actually likes Christmas carols. Not the gloppy, cutesy, “Suzy Snowflake” modern variety so much (although I do have a soft spot for “Silver Bells”), but the soaring, haunting, gorgeous classic ones. “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “The Angel Gabriel,” that sort of thing.

And one of the things I like about them is how totally freaky some of them are.

There’s this annual Christmas party I go to every year, at which the singing of Christmas carols and other seasonal and not- so- seasonal music is a centerpiece. A few years back, I went on the Internet and pulled together a lyric sheet, so we could actually sing all the songs all the way through instead of tapering off pathetically after the first verse.And you know what I found? Some Christmas carols are truly gruesome. Startlingly gruesome. Freakishly and hilariously gruesome.

So I thought I should share with the rest of the class. [Read more…]

“I want to show it to all my friends who are dealing with death”: Greg Epstein on “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God”

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPG“Reading this book felt like one of those moments, standing in a dark and silent room, when glass powder strikes red phosphorous and turns a little of it into white phosphorous, which causes a match to light up in a warming flame. I want to show it (the book, not the match) to all my friends who are dealing with death, which is of course all of my friends. Thank you for writing it!”
-Greg M. Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University

Got a nice blurb for my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, now available in ebook. Many thanks to Greg Epstein! I’m really touched.

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well); the Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble; and the Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99. (The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30; plans for a print edition are in the works.)

Here’s the description of the book:

*

If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?

Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.

Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life. [Read more…]

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

Recapping this for the holiday season. 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, published in 1897. 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. [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Social Club, Thursday Dec. 18! Topic: Sex and Secular Mindfulness

sex-secular-meditation-banner

The next Godless Perverts Social Club is this Thursday, December 18. I’ll be hosting the discussion this time! The discussion topic: “Sex and Secular Mindfulness.” Meditation and mindfulness techniques have been taught in religious settings for thousands of years. But now they’re being researched and taught in entirely secular, evidence-based settings. How can meditation and mindfulness work for atheists? And how can these techniques and philosophies be applied to sex?

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers — and the Godless Perverts Social Club is our socializing/ hanging out branch. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever-you-want-to-call-it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us — we meet at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s renowned BDSM-themed coffee house, 289 8th Street in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), the first Tuesday and third Thursday of every month. Our next meeting is this Thursday December 18!

We’re doing slightly different formats for the two clubs. Our Third Thursday Social Clubs are Topical Thursdays — we pick a topic ahead of time, have a moderator/ host who leads the discussion, maybe even get special guests to guide discussions on particular topics. In December, that’ll be Thursday December 18. Once again, I’ll be hosting the discussion, and the topic will be “Sex and Secular Mindfulness.” [Read more…]

10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

This piece was originally published on AlterNet in 2010. I’m dragging it out again for the holidays.

carol singingWhat 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. 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:

mary and baby jesusSongs 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.)

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.

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.)

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. [Read more…]

“Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God” – Ebook Out Now!

My new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, is now available in ebook!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 550 JPG

The Kindle edition of the ebook is available on Amazon. (That’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well.)
The Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble.
The Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords.
All ebook editions and formats cost just $2.99.

The audiobook version is scheduled for publication on December 30. It will be available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. I’ll post another notice when the audiobook is released. And yes, I did the recording for it!

Plans for a print edition are in the works, but there’s currently no publication date scheduled.

Here’s the description of the book:

*

If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?

Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.

Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life.

“In this book Greta Christina tackles the subject of death with the insight of a philosopher and the relaxed candor of a friend — that really cool, intelligent friend who understands and cares.”
-David Niose, author of Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason

“Required reading for anyone alive. Greta Christina’s clear, bold, gentle and endlessly thought-provoking writing style constantly reminds me why I love her. She provides elegant proof that the even the hardest truths can be as beautiful, wonderful and uplifting as any other facet of our existence.”
-David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion

“When I was very young, I lost someone close to me in a car accident. Almost more painful than the loss was the way by which those around me attempted to find meaning in the senseless death of a young person. This is the book that seven-year-old me needed instead of the endless religious tracts that assured me that everything happens for a reason.”
-Heina Dadabhoy, Heinous Dealings blog

“Reading this book felt like one of those moments, standing in a dark and silent room, when glass powder strikes red phosphorous and turns a little of it into white phosphorous, which causes a match to light up in a warming flame. I want to show it (the book, not the match) to all my friends who are dealing with death, which is of course all of my friends. Thank you for writing it!”
-Greg M. Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University

“Bravo, Greta Christina. Your book is a feat of logic, wisdom, compassion, insight, humor, and lived experience presented in the most accessible way. Your ideas are compelling and I wish your words could be made available in hotel rooms everywhere, tucked into the drawer of the nightstand, in addition to hospital waiting rooms, train and bus stations, airports and classrooms. Death is certainly a Big Deal but humanism and non-belief have plenty of comfort to offer, as you so eloquently have put forth. In short, ‘What she said.'”
-Nina Hartley, author of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex

“Greta Christina continues to provide unique advice and information to the growing community of seculars. We all need to consider our mortality and learn positive and productive ways to deal with our inevitable deadline. Thanks for this little book of wisdom. Christina has written a handbook we can all use. But it should be in the hands of every hospital and military chaplain, every hospice care giver,even ministers, etc. No secular person should be subjected to supernatural ideas and wishful thinking when they are dealing with death, dying and grief.”
-Darrel Ray, founder, Recovering from Religion

“Atheism frees us to craft our own meaning for life, but we must still confront the specter of death. In this brief-yet-essential volume, Greta Christina presents an array of humanist perspectives that provide very real comfort and meaning in the face of death.”
-Neil Wehneman, Development Director, Secular Student Alliance

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

With the winter holidays imminent, I thought I’d bring out my famous recipe for chocolate pie. 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 absurdly 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 moment.
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 [Read more…]