Axial Tilt

axial tilt is the reason for the season

Axial tilt. The reason for the season.

Happy Solstice, everybody!

(Image created by Lore Sjöberg.)

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

The Great Gruesome Christmas Carols

I’m reposting some of my previous holiday posts, as part of my holiday tradition thing. Enjoy!

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…]

White Wine in the Sun

For the 5% of you who aren’t familiar with it, here is Tim Minchin’s lovely and touching atheist/ humanist Christmas song, “White Wine in the Sun.” I repost this every year, as part of my holiday tradition thing.

Okay, yes, these days I personally would much rather break bread with Desmond Tutu than Dawkins. But I love the song anyway. This is the animated version of the video, which I’m very fond of. For those who celebrate it — have a happy Christmas! And for those who don’t — have a happy End of December!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Baby, It’s Consensual Outside

I’m reposting some of my previous holiday posts, as part of my holiday tradition thing. Enjoy!

I’ve been seeing discussion about the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s unsurprising, what with (a) it being the winter holiday season, and (b) there being a lot of discussion of rape culture. Yes, the song is troubling at best and rapey at worst (more on that after the video). 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. But the main thing I want to say right now 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 (below the jump). [Read more…]

A Modern Over-thinking of the Sexual and Relationship Ethics of “The Cherry Tree Carol”

Cherry Tree Carol Jacket 200Okay. Ever since I heard this song, this has bugged me. I know I’m over-thinking this, but I’m being entertained by my over-thinking, so I decided to share.

Do you know “The Cherry Tree Carol”? There are different versions, what with it being a folk song and all (here’s an MP3 of a pretty one), but here’s the basic storyline.

Joseph and Mary are walking in a cherry orchard, and Mary asks Joseph to pick her some cherries, because she’s pregnant.

Joseph gets angry, since he knows the baby isn’t his (they haven’t had sex — in most versions of the song they’re not yet married). He says to Mary, “Let the baby’s father pick the cherries for you.” (Some versions of the song call his words unkind; others say they’re angry.)

Jesus then speaks from out of Mary’s womb, and commands the cherry tree to bend down and give her cherries. Which, of course, it does.

Mary says to Joseph, “See? I have cherries at command.” (In other words: “The baby’s father is God, and I didn’t cheat on you.”)

In some versions, Joseph then begs forgiveness, says he’s not worthy, wallows in guilt, hopes God won’t smite him, etc. In other versions, Mary’s “In your face, douchebag” is left as an implication. (In some versions, Mary then asks the baby Jesus to predict the future, either after he’s born or from inside her womb — which he does. Damn, theology is weird. That’s not relevant to this particular story, though.)

Okay. So here’s the thing:

It is entirely reasonable for Joseph to be pissed.

How on Earth was Joseph supposed to know that the baby was the supernaturally-conceived son of God? Why would he imagine that, even for a second? Think of Joseph’s arc in this song. “Gee, I was such an unkind jerk for not considering the possibility that your pregnancy was supernatural, rather than the result of perfectly ordinary human sex. I mean, that’s only been the case in EVERY SINGLE PREGNANCY THROUGHOUT HISTORY.”

Assuming you accept that monogamy is a reasonable relationship arrangement (which I do, although I certainly don’t think it’s the only one), it’s reasonable to be pissed off when your partner breaks that agreement. It’s especially reasonable to be pissed off when your partner breaks their monogamy agreement, gets pregnant with someone else’s kid, and then just assumes that you’re going to parent this kid.

Okay, yes. “I’m ticked off, I don’t feel like picking cherries for you right now, let the baby’s father do that” isn’t the best response to this. It’s definitely on the sarcastic side. But as responses to “I cheated on you and got pregnant” go (which, again, is the entirely reasonable conclusion for Joseph to come to), it’s pretty mild. And Mary didn’t exactly tell him in the most sensitive way, either. “Hey Joseph, can you get me something to eat? I’m hungry — because I’m pregnant, with a baby that you know perfectly well isn’t yours. Now, make with the cherries.”

In fact, I would argue that in this story, Mary is being a total drama queen. If she can talk to the baby Jesus in her womb and get him to do telekinesis, couldn’t she have done that before this little incident? “So, Joseph, you’re probably not going to believe this, but I’m pregnant with God’s baby. I know, you have every reason to think that’s bullshit — but here, I’ll show you. Baby — bend that tree!” Instead, she manufactures this passive-aggressive little drama, where she gets to be the martyr. “Oh, Joseph, I’m so hungry, because I’m pregnant with someone else’s kid. What? You’re angry? You don’t trust that I kept our monogamy agreement? Oh, I’m so hurt. But I’ll prove it. Baby — bend that tree! See, Joseph? The baby’s father is GOD! In your face, douchebag!”


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 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, made up entirely by me (you can make up your own rules for your own list):

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…]

The Santa Delusion

father-christmas-santa-claus-200If you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? And how did you feel about it?

I vividly remember the Christmas I figured it out. There were three main clues:

1) The writing on the tags on the Santa presents was the same as my dad’s.

2) The wrapping paper on the Santa presents was the same as the presents from my parents.

3) On Christmas morning, our stockings (mine and my brothers) each had a tangerine. Later that day, I noticed that there were only two tangerines in the fruit drawer, where the night before there had been four. (I was kind of obsessed with tangerines. Still am.) This, for some reason, was the final “A ha!” moment.

Okay, so obviously my parents weren’t trying very hard.

I wasn’t at all traumatized. I was actually really proud of myself for having figured it out. I was proud of myself for having outsmarted the adults, and having seen through their ruse. I wasn’t mad at them, though: generally I wanted them to be honest with me, but I think I saw Santa as kind of a game. You hide things and keep secrets and deceive people in games — you don’t start a game of Go Fish by showing everyone your hand — and while I didn’t think of it this way consciously at the time, I think that’s more or less how I saw it.

I don’t remember telling my parents that I’d figured it out, but I didn’t do that thing of pretending I still believed so I could keep getting presents. It seriously never occurred to me — but not because I wasn’t a materialistic little shit, I totally was. It’s just that the presents were obviously coming from my parents, and I figured they were going to keep on coming from my parents. It didn’t occur to me that they’d stop. (Which they didn’t: my folks kept giving about the same amount of stuff after the Santa game was up.)

So if you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? Did you figure it out on your own? Were you told by siblings, parents, schoolmates, someone else? And how did you react? How did you feel about it — and who, if anyone, did you tell?

And if you didn’t ever believe in Santa, but you knew about it — how did you deal with it? Did you keep the secret? Did you tell? How did you feel about it?

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Godless Perverts Raises Over $900 for St. James Infirmary!

st james infirmary


Wow, wow, wow.

On Saturday December 12, Godless Perverts hosted a benefit party for St. James Infirmary, the San Francisco health clinic run by and for sex workers. We just finished tallying up the numbers — and we raised over $900! ($901, to be precise.)

This was our first big fundraising event, and we’re delighted that it went so well. Everyone at the party had a grand time — the silly icebreaker game was a big hit, as it mysteriously is every year. We had a wonderful spread of yummy food and beverage. The fraudulent Tarot readings were eerie and hilarious. And very importantly — between donations made at the event, and overflow from our online fundraiser, we raised over $900. St. James Infirmary is an important and valuable resource: they provide sex workers of all genders with health care and counseling of all kinds, including primary care service, gynecological and urological medical care, STI testing and counselling, needle exchanges, and support groups. We were delighted to be able to pull together the energy and resources of the Godless Perverts community, to support the clinic in such a tangible way. We’ll definitely be doing this sort of event again!

We want to extend a huge “Thank You” to everyone who helped out. [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…]

On Not Taking “No” For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun

(Content note: I’m mostly not talking about sexual consent and the violation of it — but I do mention it. I also talk at greater length about alcohol abuse, food issues, social anxiety, and refusal of non-sexual consent.)

wine pour 200“Oh, come on. Have another drink. It’s a party!”

“Have another brownie. Life is short!”

“The game really isn’t that hard. I’m sure you’ll love it! I’ll pull you up a chair. Here’s how you play…”

“Come on — dance with us! Everyone’s dancing! No, really — you’ll have fun!”

There’s an idea that’s very prevalent in our culture. (Well, my culture, anyway.) It’s the idea that not taking “No” for an answer, that pressing people to do things they’ve said “No” to, is jolly good fun.

I’m not talking here about sexual consent, and pressing people to do sexual things they’ve said “No” to. I do think that can be part of this pattern: there’s a very similar idea when it comes to sex, that pressing people sexually is part of a fun cat-and-mouse game of coyness and seduction. (It can be in consensual, negotiated situations — but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) And I think that the general, non-sexual trope of pressuring people in the name of jolly fun does affect our shitty culture of sexual consent. But it isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about general, non-sexual or not-particularly-sexual social situations. I’m talking about the idea that the key to a lively event is pressing people into having fun. I’m talking about the idea that when you invite someone to do something you think they’d enjoy, and they say “No,” the cheerful, jovial, sociable response is to brush off their objections, and persuade them to do it anyway.

And it’s an idea that needs to die in a fire.

We need to understand five things here. [Read more…]