Wednesday, November 12, 2008

humanist Metro bus posters

The following questions have been asked in response to the humanist Metro bus posters:

Why not believe in a god?

  • There’s no universally agreed-upon definition of God, description of what God does, or list of things God wants humans to do. Different cultures, faiths, religious denominations, theologians, and ordinary people have held wildly varied beliefs for centuries. In fact, people aren’t always talking about the same thing. So it’s difficult to know where to start any rational or useful exploration of the subject.
  • Most definitions of God aren’t scientifically testable. They are philosophical abstractions, logical contradictions, imprecise spiritual notions, or subjective feelings. So there appears no way to show that this or that particular god idea is true or false, or even makes much sense. Moreover, most people don’t even want their god idea to be scientifically testable, since that might result in it being falsified.
  • Those definitions of God that are scientifically testable, such as the very humanlike and limited god ideas of children and ancient peoples, have always lacked evidence. The Santa Claus idea also falls into this category.

Without a god, why be good at all?

  • Because you know you want to, anyway. Unless you were born a sociopath or had your natural sensibilities destroyed in childhood, you have the same general sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, just and unjust, kind and mean that people have all over the world.
  • No matter whether people are raised Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, humanists, anything else, or nothing in particular, they all have the same sorts of ethical notions and feelings. Thus, except in extreme circumstances, they all can compare notes with each other and appeal to one another’s moral sensibilities. No specific belief is necessary for goodness.
  • Human beings are social primates. So they have basic feelings of empathy and sociality built in, just as do other social primates like chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, baboons, and the like. These animals don’t get their social behavior from Scripture and neither do you. Morality finds its roots in human nature.
  • Human beings are also conceptual thinkers who have a sense of cause and effect. This allows for refinements of nature’s promptings through a better understanding of short and long-term consequences. And it allows humans to learn from experience so their natural inclinations can be made to work better for them.
  • Humans are also communicators. They share their thoughts and experiences with each other and across generations. This builds up a lore of ethics that further refines human notions of morality. And it allows people to apply their discoveries in evolving systems of law, religion, community standards, social organization, business ethics, etiquette, and the like.
  • If you want to look further into this subject, we’ve provided a research page here.

Isn’t Christmas really about Jesus?

  • The holiday season comes from the winter solstice, the first day of winter, which is the shortest day of the year. Usually falling on December 21st, it has been celebrated in the northern hemisphere since prehistoric times. It was marked as the beginning of "the return of the sun" because, after that, the days start getting longer.
  • The ancient Hebrews referred to the winter solstice as the rebirth of light, calling it Nayrot, the festival of lights. When Judah Maccabee defeated the Greeks and captured Jerusalem in 164 BCE, he rededicated the temple shrine during Nayrot, renaming the holiday Hanukkah. But because the Jewish calculation of Hanukkah is based on a lunar rather than solar calendar, Hanukkah can begin almost any time in December.
  • The ancient Romans held their festival of Saturnalia, the feast of Saturn, at this time. It featured wild parties, gift giving, and halls decked with laurel. However, they miscalculated the solstice date, seeing it as falling variously on December 23rd to 25th.
  • When Roman Catholicism replaced ancient polytheism, the Church found it practical to adopt the old Roman holiday, renaming it Christ’s Mass. But this popular move, made in the third century, didn’t meet with complete approval. Christians in the Middle East viewed their European brethren as idolaters and sun worshippers for repackaging this pagan festival as the birthday of Jesus.
  • As Christianity spread across Europe, the various “barbarian” cultures added their own pre-Christian solstice practices to Christmas. Thus the evergreen tree was introduced by Germanic peoples; holly and mistletoe, sacred to the Druids, came from the Celts; and the Yule log and caroling were provided by the Anglo-Saxons.
  • But some Christians condemned these trappings, especially the Christmas tree, citing Jeremiah 10:1-5 in the Bible: “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen . . . for one cutteth a tree out of the forest. . . . They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
  • In the early American colonies, most Protestants wouldn't celebrate Christmas, viewing it as a Catholic holiday. This was why George Washington's largely Protestant troops didn't object to crossing the Delaware on Christmas night to attack the Catholic Hessians the next morning. It was just another day to them.
  • Only in the 1800s did the holiday begin to gain wider acceptance. Northern European customs were introduced into the United States by the flow of immigrants. So numerous individuals set out deliberately to fashion a secular celebration of the season that would be acceptable to Protestants.
  • American cartoonist Thomas Nast created the secular Santa Claus out of the varied European "Old Man Winter" folk images (having their roots in the Norse god Odin). Some fabled attributes of the Catholic Saint Nicholas were added. As for the colors of Santa's suit, they were quite varied until codified in the twentieth century by Coca Cola through its advertising.
  • The song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” featuring the line “so be good for goodness sake,” was written in 1934 by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie as a holiday children’s song. It became instantly popular when Eddie Cantor sang it on his radio show that November.
  • Because of all this, humanists know that they too can rightly enjoy the winter holidays. To learn how many humanists are celebrating in a specifically humanist way, go to

Thank you for your deeper interest in our 2008 holiday campaign!

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