December 16, 2017

The Secularization of Christmas Marches On

christmas tree 2004In many ways, Christians have to be credited with contributing to the secularization of Christmas. The more they have pushed to have their religious symbols adorn government buildings, the more they have opened the door to having to share the space with other religions (and with those of us who are not religious). The more they have insisted on "Merry Christmas," the more they have highlighted the problems associated with Christian privilege and led many to prefer "happy holidays." And of course, many Christians have fully embraced the sort of consumer culture that has effectively stripped Christmas of whatever religious significance it might have once held.

Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote a post at Religion News Service in which she reports on some recent evidence that the secularization of Christmas is continuing in the U.S. According to Grossman, a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that Christmas remains popular, with 9 in 10 adults celebrating it. No real surprise there. What's interesting about the Pew study is that it suggests that there has been a shift away from Christmas as centering around the Jesus story.

December 15, 2017

Australia's Royal Commission Singles Out Catholic Church for Child Sexual Abuse

Australia relief map.jpg
By Виктор В - Australia location map.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
After hearing over 8,000 testimonies from sexual abuse victims during their five-year inquiry, Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has concluded that institutions (e.g.,  churches, schools, sports clubs) "seriously failed" to protect the children with which they were entrusted. The commission directed some specific recommendation to the Catholic Church, including changing their celibacy rules and ensuring that Catholic clergy who fail to report abuse (even when they learn of it during confession) face criminal charges. That is, the are recommending mandatory reporting requirements.

As for why the commission decided to single-out the Catholic Church in this manner, some Catholics will undoubtedly allege anti-Catholic bias of some sort. I'm looking at you, Bill Donohue. But this is a case where I suspect the truth may be far simpler than any sort of bias of anti-Catholic conspiracy.

December 14, 2017

Pressure Congress to Save Net Neutrality

net neutrality
As you've undoubtedly heard by now, the FCC did what everybody expected them to do today and repealed net neutrality. If this stands, we will likely end up paying our ISPs more for less. I don't know about you, but I think we already pay far too much for abysmal service.

But what really worries me about this is the possibility that it will end the level playing field we've been enjoying on the Internet. Under net neutrality, the "little guy" with a website has been able to compete with the "big guys," at least in terms of things like access and speed. As a "little guy" with a website, I'd like this to continue.

And for anyone who belongs to a marginalized group (e.g., atheists), I think this is especially important. Just think about how much the open Internet has helped us to learn about atheism and connect with other atheists. It is difficult to imagine where we'd be today without it.

December 13, 2017

Alabama Looks Good Today

Doug Jones Trees
Doug Jones for Senate [CC BY-SA 4.0]
It was great to see that Doug Jones upset Roy Moore in Alabama's special Senate election. It seems like a rare bit of good news amidst all the bad. In some ways, it might even reaffirm the notion that basic human decency can sometimes triumph over tribalism.

There will be plenty of opportunities for those who are so inclined to attempt to extract lessons from this election. As for me, I just want to note that the outcome of this special election makes the state of Alabama look good.

Maybe this will strike some as an odd thing to say, but I think we can agree that a Moore victory would have harmed the state's image. It would have reinforced many negative stereotypes about the state and the majority of those who live there. Fortunately, Alabama voters decided to go a different route. By rejecting Moore and electing a Democrat, something the state has not done in roughly 25 years, deep red Alabama showed us that they were able overcome tribalism. I think this makes Alabama look good.

Obsessed with Heritage

family tree
It is not difficult to understand why some people are interested in learning about their family history. While I won't pretend that this is something I've ever had much interest in, I have known a few people who got into the idea of trying to trace their history back as far as they could. For most, it was little more than a temporary hobby. It was something they enjoyed but not the sort of thing that altered their lives in any appreciable way.

I have been seeing a lot of television commercials recently for DNA ancestry services. You know, the sort of thing where you send them a DNA sample, they test it and provide you with a report about your ancestry. From what I can tell, "ancestry" in this context primarily refers to one's ethnic makeup and the regions of the world from which their ancestors most likely originated.

Here's what the most prolific advertiser (AncestryDNA.com) says on their website:
Your AncestryDNA results include information about your ethnicity across 150 regions and identifies potential relatives through DNA matching to others who have taken the AncestryDNA test. Your results are a great starting point for more family history research, and it can also be a way to dig even deeper into the research you've already done.