What Is Atheism?

Not believing or believing not?

Having read a little about Atheism, by both Atheist and non-Atheist writers, I am still somewhat mystified about exactly what the definition of Atheism actually is. Opinions seem to differ even within atheist ranks.

Atheism could be:
1. believing there is no god?
or:
2. not believing in God?

Believing there is not and not believing is not the same thing. If atheism is the first possibility, this appears to be a dogmatic position like Atheists accuse Christianity and other religions with a deity of holding. Believing there is no deity denies all faith in any religion, whether Christian, Judaism, Islam, Hindu etc. etc. 

Observant readers will note that in the religions I included above, I did not mention Buddhism. Although Buddhism is sometimes referred to as a religion, I disagree. I think that Buddhism is a belief system but since it is without a deity, is not a religion. I have not studied Buddhism but from the little I know of it, it’s five basic precepts do not appear to conflict with any religion.

1. Refrain from taking life (Though shalt not kill) 
2. Refrain from taking what is not given (Thou shalt not steal).
3. Refrain from the misuse of the senses (Thou shalt not commit adultery).
4. Refrain from wrong speech (Thou shalt not bear false witness).
5. Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.

Extrapolating the first suggested possibility; it is ironic that believing there is no God is in itself a belief. And a belief or faith even of a negative has many of the characteristics of a religion? Of course Atheists would never believe that.

If atheism is the second suggestion, it does not deny others’ faith. It is tolerant of those who don’t hold the same belief as atheists, which is true of other religions that believe in God, a god or gods.

Do atheists believe in spirits, ghosts and/or the supernatural? I suspect that some do. This means of course that they believe in something that cannot be proved or verified by any measurable or scientific means. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

It is also interesting to note that whenever completing a form on a respondent is asked to state his or belief or which is included, Atheism is not differentiated from the religions listed, as if it were a religion itself.

Christmas Is Over

Or is it?

For Christian’s Christmas finished on the day of Epiphany, 6th January or on the nearest Sunday to that date. On the day I write this, which is the Sunday nearest Epiphany, in my own church the music still included Christmas carols. For other people Christmas ends on the day they take down their Christmas Decorations, which for many is, I think, the 1st January. Of course some people keep their lights and decorations up for a much longer period of time.

And then, completely unrelated to lights and decorations there are the people for whom Christmas doesn’t end for weeks, perhaps even months. The people I’m referring to are those whose Christmas is paid for on their credit card, or some other form of credit.

The credit card Christmas is a gift to companies like Visa, Mastercard and American Express. They love people to use their cards to finance Christmas and take months to pay back. That 30% plus interest the companies charge is their Christmas profit from the people who do not or can not repay the debt in January.

If your Christmas is financed by credit card, or any other form of loan, your Christmas is not over until the debt is repaid. Think about who really benefits from Christmas on tick. It’s not you, its the credit/loan companies.

The Wisdom Of Mr Scrooge

Is Dickens’ miser quite the villainous, unsympathetic character he is painted?

Updated December 2021after re-reading Dickens’ original text.

Ebenezer Scrooge, portrayed by Alistair Sim in the 1951 film adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Ebenezer Scrooge, portrayed by Alistair Sim in the 1951 film adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

In Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge is described as a miserly, tight fisted fellow and certainly on a personal level, it is had to argue with that description. Is Scrooge quite the old scroat he first seems to be, or does he possess touches of wisdom that are worthy of consideration? Might he be a more sympathetic character, even before his transformation in Dickens’ story, than first impressions suggest?

Dickens’ story has been filmed for cinema and TV many times, which is where I suspect most people today will have been introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge. The most memorable adaption to film is, in my opinion, the 1951 black and white film with Scrooge played by Alastair Sim. That film, with one exception, is probably the most faithful to Dickens’ original story. The exception is the inclusion of the character Mr Jorkin, who does not appear in the original novella.

Leaving aside for a moment Scrooge’s apparently personal grasping, penny-pinching nature, he seems to have been a good, practical businessman. It would appear that his business affairs were dealt with in an efficient (in relation to the era) manner and he enforced his contracts rigorously. He understood his own business well and did not, apparently, try to interfere where he had no expertise, as he noted to the gentlemen collecting for the poor who visited his office saying “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not interfere in other people’s”. Most people of today, except perhaps politicians, would agree with that sentiment. In the case of professional interference, it can make the difference between profit and loss and sometimes staying in business.

We must also remember that as a businessman of his time, Scrooge’s own personal fortune that was at stake if his business did not prosper. Today’s commercial money lenders risk their customers’ money not their own. The business’ directors frequently seem to be rewarded even when their performance has been poor. In other limited companies too, directors are not personally liable for company losses. Scrooge would be out of pocket.

There is no suggestion by Dickens that Scrooge was dishonest, though he clearly enforced his contracts rigorously. By contrast, there have been numerous twenty first century news reports about potentially illegal practices of our modern bankers and businessmen. When they are honest, today’s money lenders load their loans with an array of charges for such things as administration, money transfer and, seemingly, anything else they can think of that might wring another penny out of the borrower. The money lenders of Scrooge’s time, and so I assume Scrooge too, charge an interest rate and nothing more; their loans were far simpler to understand than today’s.

Scrooge was a hard nosed businessman, with high acumen in his profession which made his commercial enterprise very successful. How is this different to our modern financial institutions when they seek to enforce a debt, perhaps by repossession of a family home? Scrooge held people to their contracts; I see nothing wrong with that. Today’s money lenders, principally the banks, do exactly the same.

Scrooge had to enforce his contracts personally, today’s banks do it with a computer generated letter. I find nothing wrong with holding someone to a loan agreement they have signed, with a bank or other financial institution then or today.

Scrooge also had at least one piece of wisdom on a personal level, as well as business, when we consider how many people today are determined to have a bigger, better Christmas celebration than they can actually afford. At Christmas time, even people who manage their money carefully throughout the rest of the year can get carried away with the persuasion to spend; spend on presents, spend on food, spend on drink.

The cost of gifts in particular seems to get higher every year, outstripping the general inflation rate. Advertisers deliberately try to make us feel ‘Scrooge like’ if we don’t ‘love’ enough to buy a big, expensive gift for someone. Scrooge noted to his nephew “What’s Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money”. In modern parlance, we might equate this with a ‘credit-card Christmas’. Is it really a good idea to spend so much money on a single day that we spend months paying for it?

Scrooge’s nephew says of Christmas, and most people answering on a personal level would probably agree, that “it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket”, however that does not make it a good idea to go into debt for it.

What might Scrooge have made of twenty first century commercial practices for Christmas, that constantly strive to persuade us to dig deeper into our pockets and spend more, offering us bigger loans and more credit if necessary to get our money? Scrooge was thought a miser but today faceless corporations who behave the same way call it efficiency. It might be dressed up with glossy advertising and ‘have it now’ slogans but businesses make significant profit from people who get into debt. I rather think the old miser might have approved, don’t you?

Bah, humbug.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #9 (Last)

This is the last letter, I can’t see any more at the bottom of the excavation, so here is the 9th and final letter between pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary-Lizzy Letter 09

 

Previous letter.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #8

The 8th letter between pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary-Lizzy Letter 08

Previous letter.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #7

I’ve found another one, there can’t be many more now: the 7th letter between pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, whose son becomes John the Baptist:

Mary-Lizzy Letter 07

Letter #6 here.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #6

It’s amazing how I keep discovering the letters in the correct order: the 6th letter between, pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, whose son becomes John the Baptist:

Mary-Lizzy Letter 06

Letter #5 here.

A Sleepless Night

A poem inspired by a post from Christmas 2019, A Night In The Stable.

After sunset the door slams back,
Two strange young people enter my little shack.

The door slams back and in they come,
A young couple, and she’s got a big, round tum.

Behind the couple the donkey that brought them,
From Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Later that night a cry fils the stable,
The girl cries out until she’s able.

To birth who boy who will be king,
Announced when a choir of angels sing.

Later still some shepherds bring ,
A lamb to the babe who will become king.

Next come three magi from afar,
Come to see the new Morning Star.

They arrive with in their hands’ gifts,
For the boy sent to heal humanity’s rifts.

And who am I this sleepless night,
I am the donkey who,
Shared his stable with,
Those just passing through.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #5

I keep digging and I keep discovering them; the 5th letter between, pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, whose son becomes John the Baptist:

Mary-Lizzy Letter 05

Letter #4 here.

Mary and Elizabeth; The Unread Letters #4

I’m not really sure how many letters there are to find but this is the 4th I’ve managed to unearth between, pen-pals Mary, mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, whose son becomes John the Baptist:

Mary-Lizzy Letter 04

Letter #3 here.