Colorado Public Radio interview: Ryan Warner and Buzzy Jackson

cpr-logo-square I was interviewed a few days ago by the gracious and charming Ryan Warner on his show, Colorado Matters, on Colorado Public Radio KCFR 90.1. You can hear the full interview here. Not only was it fun to chat with Ryan about The Inspirational Atheist, but I got to meet an amazing climate scientist, Diane Thompson, from Boulder's National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Colorado State Historian, Bill Convery, while we waited nervously in the green room. Diane is now on her way to the Galapagos Islands to study coral for a month. It is 3 degrees Fahrenheit here in Colorado right now.

The Best Christmas Music: Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun"

[embed]http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q?t=1s[/embed]

Like Tim Minchin, I'm not religious but I love Christmas. I love Hanukah, too! Neutrality has its rewards.

 

And there is no better "I'm-an-atheist-but-I-still-love-Christmas" song out there than Minchin's funny and sweet "White Wine in the Sun." Apart from the often-skipped first verse of "White Christmas," it's the only warm weather Christmas song I know. Minchin is from Perth, Australia, and this vision of a midsummer Christmas depicts that Antipodean holiday reality: Christmas on the beach.

But it's not a song about summertime or even Christmas; it's about family and loving one another. I cannot get through it without crying, not even once. Can you?

If you haven't seen it, watch it now. Lyrics are below, because they're just too good not to read twice.

xo BJ

WHITE WINE IN THE SUN

by Tim Minchin

I really like Christmas

It's sentimental, I know, but I just really like it

I am hardly religious

I'd rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest

And yes, I have all of the usual objections

To consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion

To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian

Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer

But I still really like it

I'm looking forward to Christmas

Though I'm not expecting a visit from Jesus

I'll be seeing my dad

My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum

They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I'll be seeing my dad

My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum

They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don't go in for ancient wisdom

I don't believe just 'cos ideas are tenacious it means they're worthy

I get freaked out by churches

Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are spooky

And yes I have all of the usual objections

To the mis-education of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,

Are taught to externalise blame

And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong

But I quite like the songs

I'm not expecting big presents

The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate's is just fine by me

Cos I'll be seeing my dad

My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum

They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I'll be seeing my dad

My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum

They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you, my baby girl

My jetlagged infant daughter

You'll be handed round the room

Like a puppy at a primary school

And you won't understand

But you will learn someday

That wherever you are and whatever you face

These are the people who'll make you feel safe in this world

My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if my baby girl

When you're twenty-one or thirty-one

And Christmas comes around

And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home

You'll know what ever comes

Your brothers and sisters and me and your Mum

Will be waiting for you in the sun

Whenever you come

Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles

Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum

We'll be waiting for you in the sun

Drinking white wine in the sun

Darling, when Christmas comes

We'll be waiting for you in the sun

Drinking white wine in the sun

Waiting for you in the sun

Waiting for you...

Waiting...

I really like Christmas

It's sentimental, I know...

The Eleven Commandments of Atheism

My new book, The Inspirational Atheist: Wise Words on the Wonder and Meaning of Life (Penguin Random House) will be published in late December.

In the meantime, here's a little sample of some of the wisdom found inside... The Eleven Commandments of Atheism, each one drawn from a quotation in the book (a version in LARGER TEXT is at the bottom.)

May The Force - or whatever - be with you. Enjoy!

11 Commandments of Atheism text Buzzy Jackson

 

The Ten Eleven Commandments of Atheism

from The Inspirational Atheist

  1. Do unto others twenty-five percent better than you expect them to do unto you — Linus Pauling
  2. Do not destroy what you cannot create – Leo Szilard
  3. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. —Tim Minchin
  4. We should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. — Michio Kaku
  5. I think a man’s duty is to find out where the truth is, or if he cannot, at least to take the best possible human doctrine and the hardest to disprove, and to ride on this like a raft over the waters of life. —Plato
  6. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me. —Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  7. You cannot save people, you can only love them. —Anaïs Nin
  8. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. —Roger Ebert
  9. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love. –Cheryl Strayed
  10. Well, it’s nothing very special. Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. —“The End of the Film,” Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
  11. There are far too many commandments and you really only need one: Do not hurt anybody.—Carl Reiner

One nation, not exactly under God.

Eye

 

NATURE’S GOD: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic by Matthew Stewart (W.W. Norton, 2014), 566 pp. This review was originally published in the Boston Globe BOOKS section, July 19, 2014.

“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” So begins Article XI of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which was read aloud in the US Senate and ratified unanimously. Our second president, John Adams, who detested the “spirit of dogmatism and bigotry in clergy and laity” and regarded the resurrection of Jesus as “an absurdity,” promptly signed the treaty into law. It was no big deal then. So why does it all sound so surprising now?

Matthew Stewart’s enthralling and important new book, “Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic,’’ argues that we misremember the philosophical and religious origins of the American Revolution. Stewart, who holds a PhD in philosophy from Oxford University, is the author of previous books on the history of Western philosophy, and once again he happily rips into the original sources of Enlightenment thought, this time discovering a radical and profoundly humanistic worldview underlying the American Revolution.

The book is a pleasure to read, its often surprising conclusions supported by elegant prose and more than 1,000 footnotes. Stewart’s erudite analysis confidently rebuts the creeping campaign of Christian nationalism to “ ‘take back’ the nation and make it what it never in fact was.” The next time someone like Jerry Falwell asserts that the United States is “a Christian nation,” he’ll have to answer to “Nature’s God.’’

The United States, Stewart writes, was in fact founded by a “club of radical philosophers and their fellow travelers” who were known as deists in their day and today would be called “humanists, atheists, pantheists, freethinkers, [or] Universalists.” “America’s revolutionary deism remains an uncomfortable and underreported topic,” writes Stewart, and in his view the Revolutionary leaders — famous men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as well as “Forgotten Founding Fathers” such as Thomas Young, one of the organizers of the Boston Tea Party — are themselves partly to blame, since for the most part they veiled their religious unorthodoxy for fear of condemnation.

Franklin, for example, urged his friend Ezra Stiles not to “expose me to Criticism and censure” by making his deistic beliefs known. George Washington, who refused to kneel in church or to take communion, simply declined to answer when asked by clerics whether he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. “[T]he old fox was too cunning for them,” his friend and fellow freethinker Jefferson noted approvingly.

Does it matter in what or in whom the men who wrote our nation’s founding documents believed? After all, we still have the documents; surely those speak for themselves. Yet over 200 years later we are more absorbed with questions about original intent than ever, and the debate in particular over religious freedom — and freedom from religion — grows louder every day. “Nature’s God’’ makes significant new contributions to our understanding of what the founders had in mind.

As Stewart points out, the “broad plurality of people in America remained active and observant within some variety or other of relatively orthodox religion,” and the radical humanism of the Revolutionary leaders “was simply not representative of its people in this respect.” Jefferson nevertheless believed that the Declaration of Independence would inspire people “to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.” His views on religion may have differed from most of his countrymen, but in the end he was the one planning and writing the Declaration.

It was Jefferson, too, who invoked “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence’s first sentence. But this was not “the fictitious, meddling deity of the religious imagination but . . . nature itself or the universe comprehended as a whole. It is a way of talking about God long after God is dead.” This is Nature as God, the “presiding deity of the American Revolution.”

To uncover the origins of this revolutionary philosophy, Stewart embarks on a deep investigation into the history of ideas. Just as Stephen Greenblatt argued in 2011’s historical blockbuster, “The Swerve,’’ Stewart cites the the “revival of Epicurean philosophy that followed upon the rediscovery of Lucretius in early modern Europe” as “the decisive episode in the history of modern thought.” He then follows “Epicurus’s dangerous idea” to the 13 Colonies, where its inherently secular, materialist message focused on the importance of attaining a peaceful, happy life during this lifetime, not after death, and inspired a vision of a nation founded on reason, not on faith.

He finds ample evidence of Epicurean influence in the writings of known intellectuals such as Jefferson and Franklin and in some unexpected places, too. “Oracles of Reason’’ (1784), the almost completely forgotten philosophical manifesto of the American revolutionary Ethan Allen, “testifies to the presence in the remotest regions of revolutionary America of modes of thought that have almost universally been regarded as too old, too radical, and too continental to have played a role in the foundation of the American republic.” The thrill Stewart feels upon its discovery is infectious. “Opening its pages,” he exults, “is like discovering an empty bottle of whisky on the moon.”

When he stepped down from his position as commander of the Continental Army in 1783, Washington made a point of reminding his countrymen: “The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition.” The question “Nature’s God’’ implicitly asks is whether we ought to take Washington at his word.