The pretend Vatican State at the UN

Vatican Postbox by Dear Barbie (cc)The Vatican is by far the smallest State in the world, being just over a hundred acres in size. It plays at being a real State by issuing its own stamps, but it has no proper citizens (just transient employees of the Catholic Church), few public services (Italy provides it with police and water) and no real economy (though it does have a novelty ATM machine that issues instructions in Latin).

But that does not matter, because the toy Vatican State does not generally interact with other real States. Instead, an entity called the Holy See, which is the central government of the worldwide Catholic Church, masquerades as a State and deals with actual States from its base in the Vatican.

This distinction is very important. It is the openly religious Holy See, and not the theoretically civic Vatican State, that swaps diplomats with actual States, and that has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations and other bodies. But the Holy See does not have any citizens, or any defined territory, and all that it governs is the religious affairs of some citizens of actual civic States…

The unelectable atheist President of the USA

The White House by David Paul Ohmer (cc)An atheist running for President of the United States today faces roughly the same level of prejudice from voters as a female candidate would have faced in the 1940s while women workers were being sacked to make way for returning soldiers.

Or as a black candidate would have faced in the 1960s while Martin Luther King was delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech. Or as a gay candidate would have faced in the 1980s while many of the straight community were blaming gay men for an AIDS epidemic…

Is Mathieu Ricard the World’s happiest man?

Matthieu Ricard

When Tibetan Buddhist monks meditate for many years, they gradually change the molecular structure of their brains. MRI scans show that they experience more activity in the left pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain that is associated with happiness, and less activity in the right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts.

And Matthieu Ricard, the 62-year-old French interpreter for Tibet’s Dalai Lama, has happiness levels that are literally off the scale of the measuring instruments. That’s the conclusion of American neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who has spent over fifteen years testing these theories…

But will it make you happy?

California by Scott Klettke (cc)

Why do people believe that living in California would make them feel happier than people who do live in California actually are? And why do people, who are afraid of being rejected, want more drugs than people who have actually been rejected? There are several reasons.

If you are a typical human being, you are bad at remembering why you felt happy in the past, good at knowing how happy you feel now, okay at predicting roughly what will make you feel happy in the future, but bad at predicting how happy you will feel if specific events happen. That’s the conclusion of scientists who have researched this fascinating area…

Why I am an atheist

Unicorns - photo by Erika Hall (cc) I am an atheist because I reject the idea that gods exist, in the same way and for the same reasons that I reject the ideas that that the earth is balanced on the back of a sea turtle, that homeopathy is more useful than a heart transplant, that Rapunzel wove her hair into a ladder or Rumpelstiltskin wove straw into gold, that stepping on a pavement crack will break my mother’s back, that a deposed Nigerian prince wants to email me several million dollars, that Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind, that I am in danger from vampires or zombies or broken mirrors, or that I am protected by angels or leprechauns or horseshoes….

America’s top two elected atheists

Pete Stark, United States Congressman Ernie Chambers, Nebraska State Senator

Americans elect a lot of public officials – over half a million, from the President down to school district level. If atheists and other nonbelievers were represented fairly, you would expect about 50 in the US Congress and another 50,000 at State and local level.

In 2007, the Secular Coalition for America tried to find them. They found only five. And the two most senior – US Congressman Pete Stark and Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers – were both in their seventies, much closer to the end than the start of their political careers…

Where to live a long happy life

Switzerland by Francisco Antunes (cc)The best six countries to live a long happy life are Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Austria, Sweden and Australia. If you live in one of these places, you can expect to have sixty or more ‘happy-years’ of life. ‘Happy-years’ are calculated by multiplying happiness levels by life expectancy.

Denmark, Switzerland and Austria have the happiest citizens, describing themselves as eight out of ten in satisfaction with their lives. Japanese citizens live longer than any other nation – almost 81 years on average – but have a low happiness score of six out of ten…

Why atheism is important

Pantheon of Gods - photo by Grizzli (gnu)The idea of gods is bad for society, because it spreads irrational dogma that causes good people to do bad things. This affects three practical areas of our lives: the quest for knowledge, treating people fairly, and civic society.

Rational thinking makes the following more likely: Enquiry: an ongoing unbiased quest for knowledge and truth. Empathy: adult ethics, based on relating to other living beings. Equality: a secular society that protects everybody’s rights.

And irrational dogma makes the following more likely: Creeds: accepting, as truth, imaginary answers to big questions. Commands: childish ethics, based on orders, desire and fear. Control: unjust laws that are influenced by religious dogma…