Monday, June 30, 2014

Authenticity: Reflections on Why I Lied to Myself About the Existence of God




I recently watched a video by the philosopher Peter Boghossian about being authentic. 

By being authentic he means being honest with yourself as well as others, being honest with what you can know and the limits of your own knowledge, not obfuscating just to cover up the fact that you may not know, and admitting uncertainty when you simply don't know instead of making shit up.


The lecture got me to thinking about how religious people often deceive themselves when it comes to their faith. But instead of pointing out all the obvious lies of staunch religionists and Christian apologists, I want to look back at my own self-deception.

First off, let me just preface this with the disclaimer that I fully understand why people continue to believe. Just because I believe they have told themselves a fib and bought into it doesn't mean I think all religious believers are excessive compulsive liars. 

The main thing to realize is that we are often inculcated and indoctrinated into religion. The lie is already in place, and as children we believe it because this is what we are taught. We simply do not know any better.

The deception is already in place. But the self-deception comes later. The self-deception arises when we become capable of reasoning on our own, as thinking individuals and adults who have entered into the age of reason. 

A young mind, needless to say, cannot escape the constant bombardment of beliefs they are told to accept until they can honestly evaluate those beliefs for themselves. Once one enters into the age of reason however, it is at this stage where self-deception enters the game.

For me it probably began when I entered college. I was late entering into the age of reason because high school was fun and games, and lots of church. It wasn't until college that I became open to learning. It wasn't until university life, away from my secluded small town in a conservative red state, that I finally learned about things like science, including physics and biology, philosophy, including other worldviews that differed from my own, and on top of all this I read a whole lot of literature--that is, I was a full time English Lit. major doing a second degree in Asian Cultural studies at the same time. The university library became a second home to me.

Looking back, I realize I had amassed enough information to come to the atheistic worldview on my own, yet I hadn't. I wouldn't stop believing in God until I was 30 years old. So what kept me a devout practitioner of the faith for three long decades?

Was it compelling evidence?

No.

Was it compelling apologetic and theological arguments?

Nope.

Was it my environment? (Well, till a degree, perhaps, but not since I was attending a secular institution).

Not really.

Was it my experience with God?

No, I stopped attending church functions to double down on my studies.

So what exactly kept me a believer for so many long years?

I think Peter Boghossian's point about being authentic reflects what is probably all too common among those who are raised in the faith. We learn to lie to ourselves because we've been told lies about reality since we could barely walk and talk.

I was simply lying to myself. Denial, after all, is the best reassurance there is! God is real! When I was in doubt, I'd just repeat the prayers in my head like a mantra, until I started believing what I was saying in my mind represented some aspect of the truth.

But it wasn't true. It was all in my imagination. In fact, I think I knew that. I often would begin my prayers with, "God, if you're hearing this..." or "God, if you're really there..." 

But this only forced me to my knees to pray even harder. And after long spells of focusing all my heart, mind, and soul on God... I felt relieved. God always was there for me, watching out for me, and Jesus was willing to take long walks on the beach just to wait for me to ask why there was only one set of footprints in the sand--and why had he abandoned me. 

The Jesus in my head echoed the words of the overly sentimental poem, there is only one set of footprints in the sand because that is when I carried you. But did anyone actually carry me? Did divine intervention lift me up and pull me out of my moments of desperation? No. Strange looking back that it never occurred to me that the footprints were my own, and that the voices in my head were my own as well.

Like many believers, I was good at convincing myself that there were signs. I wanted God to be real, so I always kept an eye open for those mysterious works of his. Then when I saw some positive reward in my life, well, I attributed it to God. It was a miracle! You see, that lie boosts one's confidence that God really is watching out for them and theirs.

But it was still a lie.

It was learning to be authentic, with myself and certainly with others, that led me to finally admit I couldn't keep pretending that I had answers or signs from God. These were all my imagining. At the end of the day, I simply had to admit that I didn't have all the answers. 

And that was scary. Scarier still, I didn't know what would happen if I stopped telling myself the lie. In fact, I think this fear actually drove me away from admitting the truth for quite some time.

I didn't want to admit I was wrong about my beliefs, because so many believed and how could so many be so wrong? It seemed impossible. 

What's more I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and friends, all devout Christians. So many held me up as a fine example of a good Christian and told me to soldier on. I jumped in the deep end and there was nothing you could say or do to get me out of the water, I was on fire for Christ, I was a Jesus Freak, I was all about Interfaith ministries, fellowship with other Christians, Bible studies, Christian charities, and so on and so forth. But what I didn't realize was that I was slowly drowning myself in the lies I told to myself.

I had devoted so much time to practicing my religion that I wasn't growing as a person. But that didn't matter, because at the time my goal was to grow in my relationship with Christ, not grow as an individual.

As often happens, it stunted my mental and physical growth. I've mentioned before how my pious religious beliefs made me a miserable virgin, inexperienced with women, but worse than this, entirely fearful of sex. So much so that it gave me anxiety attacks just to think about pretty girls whenever I masturbated. And sex and masturbation was simply Satan's way of trying to tempt me away from Christ--that was the lie I told myself. And I believed it. And it made me miserable.

But still, I couldn't give up my religious beliefs.

They were my beliefs!

I had these beliefs that others shared, and being a part of something, that felt good. Being Christian, being part of the team, that made me feel that I could do no wrong. After all, I was a weak, broken, sinner in need of saving, and only Jesus could save me from myself--at least that was the lie I told myself.

Fellowship reinforced my Christian beliefs, and so I became that more entrenched in them.

It felt good.

For a long time I just wanted to keep that comfort blanket that my religious faith afforded me wrapped tightly around me. With the armor of God, armed with his Holy Word, I felt as if I could face any challenge in the world--at least, that's the lie I told myself. In all honesty, I was ill-prepared to face anything in the real world. 

But then I went out into the world, and it shook me to my core, and somewhere along the lines I had to learn to grow up. Never-Never Land was just a myth, and the time had come to leave childish things behind me.

My life in Japan played a large part in my deconversion and ultimately into shaping the person I am now. 

But the change that occurred in me was something more than that as well.

It was finally realizing that I could be honest with myself--and that I wouldn't go to hell for not admitting absolute certainty in what I believed. I was free to have doubts! Free to question. Free to look back on my beliefs and ask myself if they had any semblance of truth. Furthermore, I could be honest about what I knew. And the more I realized how much I didn't know the more humble I became by this acknowledgement.

So I stopped pretending to know what I couldn't know for certain.

And I started searching for the answers.

I still am.

But at least now I have no pretenses about what it is I believe and who I am as a person, and I'd like to think that as I've matured over the years I've gradually grown more authentic and more comfortable with admitting I don't know instead of coming up with the best possible lie to soothe away my fears.

It was a long time coming, but I've finally learned to stop lying to myself, and that feels liberating beyond belief.

Now when I talk about these things people who knew me then say I was never a real Christian. Or they say I am rebelling against God. Or that I am overly confident in my own intellect.

But I never fell away, per se. I never turned my back on God, as I've so often been accused of doing. I just grew up.

And I never rebelled. I've never been the rebellious type. I simply learned to think for myself--which is also part of growing up.

Finally, I wasn't instructed or told what to think and believe. I was free to forge my own philosophies, find my own beliefs, and that much is half the battle right there.

At least I no longer have to pretend to know things I can't possibly know just to feel good. 

Now my eyes are wide open to the world, and I am curiously gazing out at the universe as if for the first time, and I see now that I wasted so many years lying to myself about what I thought I knew.

Now I begin with a clean slate. At least now it's a slate of my own writing.

Better late than never, I suppose.  


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Naturalism: Is it Defensible? I think so. Here's why.


Over the course of debating with theists online, I find there is a world-weariness that plagues many theologians and apologists. Some theologians, like Alvin Plantinga, feel that Ontological, or metaphysical, Naturalism is invalid, even incoherent (which professional philosophers responded to in kind). In a recent discussion over at Mike D's blog the A-Unicornist, a theist raised the common criticism of Naturalism, stating that

"No amount of empirical observations can derive the proposition that the natural world is all that exists. This jump can only be made by metaphysics. Similarly, it is only metaphysics that can lead us to theism."

This is a true statement. But it's also sort of beside the point. I tried to explain why in my follow up response. I wrote:

The naturalist doesn't have to operate on the assumption that the natural world is necessarily all there is. Merely that it appears to be all there is.

Whether this is an illusion and there is an underlying supernature, or whether this requires metaphysics to get off the ground, is beside the point. As it appears, it appears to be foundational. At least it is falsifiable, unlike many of the super-nature propositions I hear about--since you can't falsify claims or propositions that aren't properly defeasible and which there is no evidence for and which no demonstration can be made.

Saying nature appears to be all there is fits with what we can observe, since we don't observe any super-nature or super-realties. Thus the burden of proof is on someone who makes the positive claim that there is a super-nature undergirding the nature we observe, since that is a positive claim about the function of super-natures, i.e. to give rise to the nature we observe, as far as we can tell.

Now, you could claim that metaphysical realities merely overlap with and do not prop-up or give rise to our natural world, but then you are back to square one of having to demonstrate a super-reality beyond this reality (one which fits your assumptions) in order to justify the metaphysics your are trying to invoke which has no relevant relationship to the reality we observe, merely to the theism you wish to describe (a conceptualization).

As to the question of whether or not there is anything of a super-nature, on the other hand, requires a kind of evidence and demonstration which would show that nature couldn't explain or predict things which a super-nature could, and that these claims and predictions could be shown true beyond a reason of a doubt. I don't see this to be the case.

Whereas nature could be foundational, as nature does seem to allow for explanations and predictions that can be verified as true, hence lending credence to the reliability of metaphysical naturalism.

Therefore it appears to me that metaphysical naturalism is warranted on far fewer presuppositions than theism. So it seems to me naturalism is a more reasonable conclusion to derive from the observation of nature as we observe it in reality than theism is, regardless of the metaphysics involved.

Proposing super-realities, or super-natures, to justify suppositions about super-entities defies Occam's razor as none of these assumptions are warranted in the same way presupposing naturalism is warranted based on the reality we observe.
I grant you that it’s a viable alternative model, but it’s problematic because it would need to have some utility beyond the mere presuppositions it makes in order to be warranted in the same way naturalism seems to be warranted.

The fact that naturalism requires an underlying metaphysics doesn’t change the fact that it appears to be foundational (i.e., relying on weak foundationalism and externalism). Again, it appears to be justifiable because the assumptions made from it allow us to make claims and predictions which accurately describe systems within nature as to give us a reliable model of reality (what philosophers call systematic dependency relationships).


If there are other metaphysics beyond this, they would need to prove themselves in a similar way whereby systematic dependency relationships can only be identified via reason, but under this Kantian view *reason should also be capable of detecting other forms of valid systematic dependency relationships between reality as experienced and other forms of metaphysics. However, in my opinion, no other such systematic dependency relationships have been established beyond the ones existing between naturalism and the reality we experience and observe.

Although it appears Naturalism does boil down to metaphysical assumptions, that's perfectly okay because it appears to be the case that metaphysical naturalism is reliable and can be demonstrated as such via the predictions it makes about nature and the observed reality we experience.

The mistake it seems many theists are making is because Naturalism rests on metaphysical assumptions they think, for whatever reasons, that their form of metaphysics must also be true. This, of course, is incorrect. There are various competing forms of metaphysics. The only way to know if anyone represents an accurate view of reality is to hold them up against that reality and test how reliable they are in terms of the sorts of predictions they make.

Such demonstrations are easier said than done, and it is one of the reasons I feel Naturalism has a likely probability of being correct. It can be demonstrated, at least to a degree, which comports with reality. If other proposed metaphysics succeeded in the same way I would be inclined to take them more seriously.

A few books on Naturalism and its implications:

Mario De Caro
Naturalism and Normativity

Essay's on naturalism and normativity. I recommend reading the first chapter, on the section called "The Doctrines of Scientific Naturalism" and "The Doctrines of Liberal Naturalism" to get a good overview of what philosophical naturalism entails.

Graham Oppy
The Best Argument Against God

An argument on why naturalism defeats theism by a well known professional philosopher.

Richard Carrier
Sense and Goodness Without God

Several good sections on metaphysical naturalism and related moral considerations / consequences.

Bas. C. van Fraassen
The Scientific Image

Fraassen  raises solid objections to scientific realism, which have consequences for scientific naturalism.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Theology Driven Apologetics is Bankrupt Because It's Still Apologetics!





As I edit my response to Christian theologian and apologist Randal Rauser, I have come to the conclusion that ALL forms of apologetics are bankrupt.

When I first set out to read Randal Rauser's book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails, I was hoping that a theologian might offer something in the way of a more sophisticated, perhaps even original defense (or apology) for his faith. 

As it turns out, the only main difference is that Randal Rauser can obfuscate twice as well because he has a wealth of theological terminology to pull from. But even so, that doesn't change the fact that poor reasoning is still poor reasoning. 

Consider these two examples from his book:

It seems Randal is confused about atheism. In his book The Swedish Atheist he has his fictional atheist say:


"Atheism is simpler than theism. We can explain everything in the world without positing the existence of a magic sky God."



To which Randal responds, “I don’t accept that.”

Really?

How on Earth can anyone say that atheism is, in fact, NOT simpler than theism?

We can explain nearly everything in the world using science, hence we have no need to posit the existence of a magic sky God. But to say that positing a magic sky God is (somehow) as simple as not positing a magic sky God is just baffling.

Another example of Randal's "stellar" reasoning. In his book The Swedish Atheist he states:


"Even though we know that perception is shaped by our culture and experience, we don’t thereby cast doubt on all our perception."



Well, naturally. But he goes on, just a few lines later to ask:

"Couldn’t they [religious beliefs] be generally trustworthy even though they too are shaped by culture and environment?"


What?!

No! You see, doubting our perceptions and having confidence in the reliability, or trustworthiness, of religious belief are two different things.

Randal's blog is far worse. I mean, with his books he at least stops to take time to think about what he's saying--yet this is what we have come to expect from Randal Rauser.

Seriously, the dude isn't fooling anyone but himself.

As for my own book, The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver, and Working the Rabbit's Foot, I address many of Randal's arguments head on and cut through the theological nonsense. But not being a theologian myself, I will be contacting a well known theologian to check over my arguments and point out where I might have blundered. Something I wish Randal would have had the foresight to do with respect to the areas where he talks about, and completely murders, science in his book.

If you're interested in my book, it's on schedule for a November (2014) release. Stay tuned for further updates!



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blasphemy Laws


My essay on blasphemy has been published on the Human Rights For Atheists & Agnostics blog! Apparently it's the first one to have been selected too. Kewl beans!

I hope you will all check it out, as it is a very important movement. In the essay I point out things such as:

[I]n a world without religion there would be no such thing as blasphemy. In fact, the very notion of offending religious sensibilities can only be erected under the umbrella of religious faith. Outside of religion, however, blasphemy is by and large a meaningless concept.

Also, please sign the petition to abolish anti-blasphemy laws if you haven't already. Many people, both religious and secular have already signed it.

You can find the Human Rights for Atheists & Agnostics on Facebook here (after the jump).

Here's the main site:


Thanks!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why I Changed My Mind About Marriage and Monagamy, and Why Open Marriage Makes More Logical Sense

I am a huge fan of the hit television series Elementary. It stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York City of the 21st century. His partner, Joan Wattson, is played by the elegant and sexy Lucy Liu. The show is quite brilliant, and I prefer it to Steven Moffatt's gimmicky Sherlock, even though I love Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

At any rate, there is a great speech made by Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes in the second season where he rants about the cultural tradition of marriage. He completely dismantles how artificial it is, how culturally contrived, and how it is analogous more to a prison sentence than any kind of genuine expression of love. At the end of his speech I literally jump up out of my seat and cheered.

Not that I don't like a good wedding. Weddings are fun. I like the festivities of it all. I, unlike Sherlock Holmes, like the unabashed expressions of love. But that doesn't change the fact that monogamous marriage practices, traditionally speaking, are designed to restrict the lover's rights with respect to the types of relationships they may partake in and do little in the way to recognize any expression of love beyond the pomp and circumstance of the wedding. There are so many cultural restrictions to traditional monogamous marriage that it seems far too limited (or too limiting) to be a good representation of the most excellent forms of marriage possible. 

Feel free to disagree if you like, but please hear me out first.

***

Being raised a Christian, I was taught that things like virtue and chastity went hand in hand. One true love was supposed to be the ideal notion of romantic love, one man and one woman, and there was no room for cheating or any such betrayals, and the act of infidelity was akin to some kind of unforgivable crime.

I even thought this way for a time after my own marriage. But gradually, over the eight years I've been married and the ten years I've been with my wife, I began to see that marriage was wholly  predicated on outmoded practices such as on ownership rights, dowries, and the patriarchal tradition of a man accepting the wife as chattel. In fact, the modern notion that marriage should be about love rather than ownership and family inheritance rights is actually a fairly recent concept.

Over time, the idea of one man belonging to one woman, and vise versa, has been interpreted as one heart belonging to another. But I find this likely to be little more than a reformulation of the same monetary values placed on the ownership of another which has simply been updated to fit with our modern sensibilities, since we know ownership of another is technically a bad thing. So why should we uphold such a notion as the ideal sort of romantic love? Pop music is laden with lovers saying I belong to you and you belong to me, and quite frankly, it makes me sick. Not because it's overly sentimental, but because it's morbidly archaic.

In my mind, our hearts shouldn't be limited to one, or even that restricted to a sense of ownership over the object of our affection, but we should be open and free to practice an unlimited and unrestricted kind of love. But I'll come back to my reasons why I feel this way now in a moment.

***

The idea that marriage should be between one man and one woman largely stems from the teachings of the Christian Bible, which in turn influenced much of Western culture's marriage practices, but it's not the only marriage practice out there. Even though Muslims believe in the God of Abraham, many Muslims practice polygamy. So did American Mormons for a time. Most of northern Africa practices polygamy today. Certain areas, like the nomadic tribes in Nepal still practice polyandry (where the woman takes on many husbands). Then there is polyamory, or group marriage, which is frequently practiced among the tribes people of Australia, including the Kurnandaburi, the Wakelbura, and the Kurnai.

Needless to say, however, because many countries were founded by Christian settlers, along with the widespread influence of Christianity, many of the customs and laws reflect the Christian mindset regarding marriage practices.

It's why polygamy is illegal in the U.S. (Edmunds Act of 1882), for example, even though there is no logical reason for such a law in the 21st century. More recently the constitutional scholar Richard A. Vazquez has argued that the anti-polygamy laws in the U.S. are unconstitutional because the infringe on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Vazquez concludes that

"The judiciary has historically done an unsatisfactory job in building up a record based on public policy interests in order to sustain criminal bigamy laws against Free Exercise challenges. Instead, the courts have relied on a "public morality" rhetoric to justify the criminalization of polygamy."

Although the Free Exercies Clause does seem to be infringed on the religious practice of polygamy, for example, none of the charges brought against the practice seem to definitively demonstrate that, as a alternative to monogamy, it does any harm. The harm comes from other aspects of the religions which have traditionally practiced polygamy, like not educating their women or confining them to specific religious dress codes and taking away their rights. But as a alternative form of marriage, there is nothing that had shown polygamy or polyandry bad, or inferior, marriage models. It is only because of the Christian mind-set of "one man, one woman" that Christians oppose alternative marriage models on "moral" grounds--which is to say anything that doesn't conform to the Christian standard of morals is automatically regarded as bad.

Over the past three or four years I have come to see that open marriage models are perhaps better for married couples. Allow me to explain.

***

The entire notion that you want only one person for all time, likely a byproduct of the "love" chemicals clouding your brain, fails to take into consideration that sometimes people change, and that sometimes people fall out of love. Love is only forever in the fairy tale stories, but in real life genuine love undergoes constant change, and maintaining it proves a lot more difficult than people anticipate when they are in the throes of twitterpation.

As Kayt Sukel observes in her book Dirty Minds, "The chemistry [brain] changes as you move from being in the first throes of passionate love to a committed relationship."

Yes, our brains literally change. And sometimes they change back. Call it chemical ebb and flow, if you will.

Traditional, monogamous marriage doesn't prepare you for the shock of infidelity, since under the model of "belonging" to each other infidelity is the senseless notion that love is everlasting doesn't prepare you for that time when love stops being about passion and romance and the person goes off and finds that love elsewhere, in a new relationship, and therefore is viewed as an act of betrayal, because you're not supposed to "belong" to anyone else, after all.

That nobody belongs to anybody else should somehow be a shocking revelation is beyond me, but in the realm of love and war, well, it seems this myth of "one man, one woman" belonging to one another is artificially buttressed by archaic marriage practices which stress an unyielding monogamy.

But not everyone is naturally monogamous. There are promiscuous types too. And all kinds in-between.

In Kayt Sukel's investigation into the subject, she found that human monogamy was much less strict than people think it is, and that overall humans tend to be much more promiscuous. Without cultural restraints, it is assumed that human societies would be more promiscuous than not. In fact, this is represented quite well in chapter six where Sukel shows that our brains our fine-tuned for porn (and that we--both men and women--literally desire the act of sex with others, even if we merely fantasize about it, regardless of how monogamous we may think we are).

Additionally, a recent study from New York University and Cornell University has shown that promiscuous types enjoy casual sex more readily, and that casual sex actually has far more positive benefits than people commonly think--so much so that the positive outweighs the negative--making it highly likely that engaging in casual sex is good for you as it impacts your life in positive ways.

An open marriage model would allow for these positive benefits from enjoying casual sex whereas stricter monogamous marriages would not.

***

Further problems with classic monogamous marriage models, other than the unhealthy notion that people can actually belong to each other, is the fact that monogamy actually creates and environment where jealousy can thrive and flourish.

When you are under the notion that your lover "belongs" to you, or should remain committed to you, their promiscuity, flirtation, and perhaps even cheating will send many into an irrational rage.

Under the paradigm of monogamous relationships, someone who breaks their vows has broken a 'sacred' contract, and this sets up the married couple for a world of emotional stress and heartache. Needless suffering, I might add--all because of the artificial restrictions of cultural monogamy. Because under the open marriage model, and honest couple, who allow for a certain agreed upon promiscuity, flirtation, and perhaps even flings wouldn't necessarily have anything to be jealous about.

Another problem with monogamous marriage relationships is that they put expectations on the other person, and yourself, expecting you never to have a moment of weakness. You must be true to your vows, no matter what! But if you get caught cheating even once, well, you are seen as a scumbag by the other person, their friends, your peers, and you can risk being ostricized. Moreover, you may risk severe depression by feeling that you have let yourself, and your loved ones, down.

Here's the thing though, if you have an open marriage, cheating isn't necessarily cheating. If the partners agree to and allow for additional relationships, within whatever that agreed upon context may be, so long as you continue to honor your basic obligations in the domestic areas of your marriage then there is no such thing as infidelity--at least not in the sense we are familiar with.

This open marriage model allows for both parties to have extra-marital relationships, therefore neither one would be in danger of succumbing to the pure pressure placed on them by society, by their friends and family, and by anyone who expects them to, stay true to only your significant other. You are free to have many significant others, and this, I feel, ought to be viewed as a good thing.

Another thing that gets under my skin about traditional marriage is that it makes it seem as though your human, biological instincts are a aberrations. Lusting after others isn't viewed as your sex drive alerting you to the fact that you're still alive, but rather, is viewed as something of a perversion.

Such devaluing of our basic human nature is unnecessary, and even absent, in open marriage models which celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of our biological sex drives.

Monogamous marriages also seem to boo-poo the idea that humans are, in general, more or less promiscuous. It seems to want us to go against our natures, and then, if we can't abide by impossible standards, it convinces us we are weak for not having met those impossible standards.

Now, not everybody is promiscuous, mind you, and there are certainly those who are more promiscuous than others, but acting like everyone should exhibit the exact level of promiscuity is nonsensical. Everyone is different. Different needs have different requirements.

The problem arises when you try to hold promiscuous people with extremely high sex drives to this standard model of monogamy. The two simply aren't compatible. If monogamy works for you, then great, but it's not for everybody. And I have come to the conclusion it is certainly not for me.

***

I know what you're all thinking. Well, what does my wife think about all this? Well, we've talked on the subject, and as it turns out she is much more monogamous than I am. But this doesn't mean we aren't compatible or that we can't allow for each others unique quirks.

The trick is learning to communicate well with your partner. If you put it on the line, and come out as a promiscuous type, then you can discuss what the next step will be.

There is always a chance that your partner will leave you because they cannot accept you for you, and well, that would be wise because if they cannot accept you then they could never fully, truly love you.

But there is also a chance that they haven't gone mad from envy and actually have an open mind. They may even let you, within reason, have your additional relationships, knowing that's what you need. Then again, they might not, and that could lead to unwanted tension.

Another misconception about open marriages is that the spouse is relegated to something akin to a used up old rag. But just because you are free to have consensual adult relationships with others doesn't mean you stop loving your primary partner

Some people think that if you have an open marriage you are this sex-crazed person who will go around catching STDs all over the place. That's simply not true. Being a promiscuous type doesn't automatically also make you into a moron.

But those in open marriages who may have more than one sexual partner do have to stay extra safe and be smart about their choices, especially since there is more than just yourself who will be impacted by your choices.

***

It goes without saying that open marriage models aren't without their faults either. 

One problem which arises with an open marriage model is when one of your ancillary relationships becomes quite serious, and the person you may have been having a casual relationship with suddenly wants to become a more integral part of your life. Due to certain laws (usually based on models of monogamy), however, they aren't allowed to (at least not in the U.S.--sort of depends on your geographic location).

This inevitably leads us to a conversation about polyamory, and having multiple intimate relationships with people who may also form multiple intimate relationships. People think of polyamorous relationship models as one giant orgy, but this is completely the wrong way to think about them.

Polyamorous relationships are more like relationship networks than they are a free-for all love fest. After all, this is about adult relationships, intimacy, and close bonds we are talking about here--not just sex. Although, to be fair, most mature adult relationships also incorporate sex as an integral aspect to the intimacy quotient. 

Like any other social network polyamorous relationships, or group relationships, allow for highly intricate exchanges and numerous types of personalities and relationships. The only problem I find is if someone disrupts the network, then they can cause problems for everyone. 

Usually these people will get shunned or booted out of the group, and the person who was in the relationship with that person will have to make the hard choice to either go along with them or else let them go and maintain the structure of the relationship network.

Again, like open marriage models, polyamorous relationship models aren't perfect either. Polyamory undergoes more change, where structural relationships shift, bonds of closeness form and are reformed on a person to person basis, and lends itself to a more organic style of relationship types. If you've ever had a best friend in grade school, and a few years later your best friend changed to someone else, only to have this happen again in high school or college is slightly more representative of how polyamorous relationships may shift within the group. 

Of course, this type of relationship model isn't for everyone either, as some people need a more structured, more simplistic systems to form meaningful relationships in. Needless to say, polyamory is a much more complex and involved relationship model.

Which brings me back to the open marriage model. Even though it's not quite as open or fluid as polyamory, even though it's not ideally suited for the same level of intimacy in forming close knit bonds, it's still much more flexible than monogamy. 

In my opinion, monogamous relationships actually compound negative emotions, like jealousy, one's sense of ownership over others, the notion that being cheated on is a disgrace instead of a common occurrence, and the idea that you're a no good failure should you get caught cheating, and so on and so forth.

Under the open marriage model or group marriage model, there is relatively little to none of this negative cultural feedback.

I once had a conversation with my brilliant friend Kaede Matsushima, who was a leading AV Idol in Japan for a considerable time, regarding the subject of marriage and her thoughts toward it. I asked her what she thought about open marriages and she informed me that she wouldn't even agree to marry any partner who didn't agree upfront to have an open marriage with her. 

Wow! I thought this showed a lot of foresight and open mindedness on her behalf. She still wants to marry someone she loves, but she also happens to realize she is the promiscuous type. And instead of breaking some fool's heart, she is prepared to be up front and honest about her relationship needs, expectations, and requirements.

At any rate, this isn't a definitive case for open marriage or polyamory, rather I have just listed some considerations that I have had during my reflection on the cultural restrictions of traditional monogamous marriage models which, ultimately, lead me to change my mind and lead me to reconsider the validity of alternative relationship and marriage models.

There are of course many more reasons why I think open marriage and polyamorous relationships make more sense logically, but perhaps this will be a discussion for another time. Until then, what are your thoughts about alternative relationship styles and marriage models? Should they be illegal? Or should they just be allowed as alternative practices, as seen in the SyFy channels Battlestar Galactica spin-off series Caprica--where polyamory was heavily featured? Let me know in the comments section down below. 





Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunshine: Why It’s a Great Science Fiction Film



My brother-in-blog Mike Doolittle took a break from writing on religion and philosophy for a day to talk about the science fiction feature Sunshine, directed by Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle (Slum Dog Millionaire, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, etc.).

Mike’s article, The (pseudo) science of the film "Sunshine", nitpicks the minor scientific blunders of the film. He claims that:

“…in the case of Sunshine, the science was butchered so badly that it actually affected my suspension of disbelief. Some of it goes back to long-overused tropes, like freezing almost immediately when you're exposed to the vacuum of space, or a big whooshing decompression that sucks everyone into space. My good friend and comrade in blog, the mighty Tristan Vick, remarked that he loved Sunshine and told me it was ‘the most scientifically accurate movie I've ever seen.’”

Mike then proceeds to list all the scientific flaws he could detect in the film. He lists approximately 14 major scientific blunders, informing us that “the entire premise is both impossible and implausible.”

What Mike is referring to, of course, is the premise of the sun dying. He goes on to explain that it wouldn't die in the way the film depicts. But is the premise really both impossible and implausible?

Well, I have two things to say on this. First, this is actually the McGuffin of the film. We’re not supposed to know exactly why the star is going out, only that it is, and so as the McGuffin of the story we needn't have a nailed down explanation. The mystery of not knowing why the sun is dying adds to the mystery and suspense of the film.

That said, I pointed out to Mike that the science consultant on the film, the one and only Dr. Brian Cox of the LHC at Cern and famous for his BBC series Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System, states in the special features that there is, in point of fact, a plausible (although perhaps not possible) scientific explanation for the sun’s faltering in the film. It’s something called a Q-ball.

Needless to say, the plot of Sunshine does not revolve around the sun dying in the typical sense of a star’s normal heat death and collapse, which seems to make Mike’s objections here irrelevant, since everything he argues for is a standard star’s death. Instead of a normal star death, our sun has been infected with what is called a "Q-ball" - a supersymmetric nucleus, left over from the big bang - that is disrupting the normal matter at the star’s core. This is a theoretical particle that scientists at CERN are currently trying to confirm, one which Brian Cox actually bets his colleagues in the special features interview that they *won’t actually find. At any rate, the film's bomb is meant to blast the Q-ball to its constituent parts which will then naturally decay, allowing the sun to return to normal.

So it appears the McGuffin which drives the plot in Sunshine actually is scientifically plausible, at least theoretically. Whether it’s possible or not actually depends on what the real scientists discover about Q-ball theories.

Another point Mike contends is the airlock scene, where the astronauts have to jettison out into the vaccum of space. As he explains it:

“In one scene, a few of the astronauts have to decompress an airlock and shoot 20 meters through space to another airlock — but only one of them has a suit. When the airlock is blown, they're sucked out in a big whoosh. This would not happen. If a spaceship decompressed, the force of decompression might suck out some loose objects, but you'd just sit there and die of vacuum exposure. This is especially true in an airlock, which doesn't contain nearly enough air to create much of any force.”

I was a bit fuzzy on this part of the film, so I popped in my Bluray and jumped to the scene in question (see the 50:50 mark in the film). After a violent malfunction and collision, the Icarus 2 informs them that the Icarus one that they have a hull breach and are venting atmosphere. At the same time, the decoupling has torn the Icarus one’s outer airlock to shreds. Mace even says, “The airlock is ripped in half, once we break that seal how are we going to repressurize?” (48:40 mark)

So the astronauts have only one attempt to launch themselves out into space and try and get through the open, still functioning, airlock on the Icarus two. As fate would have it, they have one suit, which they give to Capa, since he’s the brains of the operation and they need him to operate the payload. As such Harvey and Mace will be going it without any protective gear, while Searle will stay behind.

It informed Mike that they were not shooting out of simply an enclosed airlock but that they had the entire pressure of the Icarus 1, or most of it--the part Searle hadn't closed off at any rate--launching them over to Icarus 2. 

I agree with Mike, however, that a single airlock wouldn’t contain enough atmospheric pressure to shoot them across the void, but its seems to me that nearly the entire pressure of the ship behind them might do the trick. At the very least it is more believable, from a scientific standpoint, even if it’s not perfect science.

As for the impromptu spacewalk itself, Mike says this is all wrong. He informs us that

“After Chris Evans' character is exposed to the vacuum of space and survives, he just goes on with the suspenseful progression of the film. In reality he'd need to spend time in a barometric chamber. He'd have joint pain and move slowly. And he'd have horrible burns from cosmic radiation.”

Although the barometric chamber thing is true, there cosmic radiation would only burn them horribly—for that short amount of time—if they were fully exposed (naked), and only if they were in direct contact with dangerous cosmic rays, in this case the cosmic rays coming from the sun. But remember, they are behind the Icarus 1 and 2’s heat shield, so many of the cosmic rays of radiation are being blocked by both ships massive heat shields. The freezing to death isn't entirely true either, as it would likely happen over a long period, as Mike correctly observes. But this is the stuff of science fiction movies—and Sunshine isn't the only one to play on this freezing to death in space trope.

But what really would happen if you were exposed to the vacuum of space? Well, I’ll let Hank at SciShow explain.



So there you have it.

Although the vacuum exposure scene in Sunshine isn't wholly accurate, it’s not completely inaccurate either. Mace wrapping himself up in the protective foil and insulation not to be exposed to radiation or cold is quite accurate. The fact that he only is exposed for 20 seconds and is in the vacuum for 45 means he could more than likely survive the ordeal, since it happened with the 1965 test subject at the Jonson Space Flight Center as mentioned by Hank in the above SciShow video . 

The popped blood vessels in Mace’s eyes and skin once he gets back on board Icarus two are also highly accurate of what would be the consequence of such an exposure (the fact that they are completely gone in the briefing room scene is just a continuity error where the scientific tracking failed in favor of carrying the drama—but since this is a dramatic film, that only makes sense. No movie is going to be 100% scientifically accurate 100% of the time).

In the comments section of Mike’s blog I mentioned to him that

“[Y]ou seem to neglect to look at all the science they get dead on. Which is a lot, actually. The reason I say it is one of the most scientifically accurate films is not for the amount it gets wrong, which is no more than any other big budget scifi, but for how much it actually gets right, which is way more than nearly every other scifi film out there.”

Mike replied by asking me:

“What does it get right? I mean seriously, aside from them wearing spacesuits in space and requiring a spacecraft to travel in space, I don't really see what they got right.”

Well, lots and lots, actually. Let me create a list.

1. The gold suits and the gold heat shields of the ships. Polished gold is the best heat shield possible given our current technology.

2. The joint, international venture of a massive space program like this would require astronauts from all the major countries which supported and funded this particular space program, just like our real life International Space Station. Which is why the director Danny Boyle wanted an multi-racial cast, to more accurately depict how real science organizations and real scientists would be working together at an international level to get such a large scale project off the ground (literally).

3. All the lighting in the Icarus is done as self-contained on the set. That is, all the lighting in the movie is real lighting from the Icarus set, not stage lighting.

4. The space sounds in the film are real space sounds received from space that were captured by a Midwestern university were incorporated into the sound design.

5. Aside from the freezing in space bit, the airlock scene is actually much more accurate than Mike gives it credit for.

6. The actors all went through basic astronaut boot camp including zero gravity flights on an acrobatic plane. Danny Boyle also took the cast onto a nuclear submarine to they would know how to move about crammed spaces and living quarters. This helped the actors make the zero gravity scenes and life aboard the Icarus 2 as realistic as scientifically possible.

7. The design of the Icarus 1 and 2 are done realistically using all of the technology available to us today.

8. The corpses of burn victims in the film were modeled on the Pompeii victims from the Mount Vesuvius eruption, to be as scientifically accurate as possible to those burnt alive by extremely high heat exposure.

9. The original storyboards depicted that the artificial gravity on the ship was due to the massiveness of the bomb, and when they were on Icarus 2 all the gravity pulled in the direction of the payload. This idea was scrapped however, because it would have made filming too difficult to maintain such scientific accuracy throughout the entire film. The fact that they included it up till shooting, however, shows that the filmmakers were aiming for better scientific accuracy than typically seen with other films of this genre (which seems to disprove Mike's feeling that they weren't trying with the whole artificial gravity thing).

10. Having a psychologist on board a long duration space flight is something NASA has considered necessary for long term space travel (it is also one of the required accademic requirements for astronauts).

“Behavioral, social, environmental, and industrial psychology can make valuable contributions to space missions. The challenge lies in applying the accumulated knowledge of these disciplines in new and more intense ways. The fundamental space program objectives include: (1) ensuring the physical safety of a space facility from human error or aberrant behavior, and (2) maximizing individual and group productivity. Psychology already has made a remarkable start in the direction of assuring more effective human performance in a variety of applied settings by precisely manipulating schedules of reinforcement and punishment (4).” (See full article here)

11. Captain Kaneda getting fried like an ant under a magnifying lense on a sunny day was fairly accurate. Especially considering he was getting fried by the sun from every which way, thanks to the heat shield’s reflection and amplification of the sun (sun death x2).

12. Capa’s initial sense of claustrophobia seems something even experienced deep sea divers experience from time to time, so his constant struggle with it seems not only accurate to the environmental conditions he had to endure, but to his human psychology.

13. The idea of the terrarium, using plants, for not only food but as an oxygen producer and natural filter for the long duration in space, whether on interstellar missions, space stations, or moon bases was highly accurate to proposals made by NASA.

I could go on listing the things Sunshine gets right. But I think I’ve made my point clear. Although it gets some science wrong, and which science fiction doesn’t(?), it gets a whole lot right.

Finally, I want to address one of Mike’s complains about Captain Pinbacker turned Mr. Crispy. Mike says:

“Nobody could survive for seven years with second- or third-degree burns all over their body without intensive medical care. The surviving captain is portrayed not only as having burns all over his body, but apparently having super strength, a horrifying ghostly deep voice, and cannot be seen clearly for reasons that are unexplained. The effect is without a doubt very cool and it works from a dramatic standpoint, but it's like Danny Boyl (sic) couldn't decide whether to make the film a believable science fiction movie or a supernatural horror flick. It casts shades of Event Horizon, but at least that movie had a clear explanation for why shit was getting scary.”

Here it seems that Mike may simply be chasing down another McGuffin. It’s not clear what Pinbacker has become. Like Searle, Pinbacker may have simply become obsessed with the sun. Clearly, he is crazy. When Capa stumbles upon him in the observation room, he turns around and asks Capa if he’s an angel. 

This spooky moment puts it into our minds that this religious nutter has completely lost it, and body mutilation isn’t anything new in the realm of radical religious sects. Burning his own body seems to be part of his new found faith, and as for how he could survive for seven years, well, the terrarium remained functional, and it seems Pinbacker has shut down all of the ship’s functions of Icarus one except for life support and the terrarium. So he obviously went vegan in space.

Is it that hard to fathom? I mean, he is mental, right? He believes God speaks to him, and he believes the Sun is God. He doesn't want them to destroy the Sun, because it’s his God. So, Pinbacker knows another mission will come, so he holds out for seven long years, waiting for that day when he will have to stop those pesky scientists from destroying his God.

Another interpretation, since the filmakers leave it up to the viewer (which I really like), is that Pinbacker's God actually is real, and Pinbacker has been granted eternal life. Sure, that may lessen the 'realism' quality of the film, but it's a perfectly valid interpretation. It would also explain how Pinbacker survived for so long in his condition, his weird fluctuation powers, and how his voice changed to something demonic.

I saw this entire part of the film as one giant metaphor for the battle between faith and science, and the fact that our scientists come across a religious zealot willing to sacrifice the fate of all humanity simply to see his religious beliefs through to the end—was chillingly prophetic. Pinbacker represents the threat of the Supernatural, literally, and then on the other side we have--science. And the fact that Capa, our lone protagonist, a lowly physicist, foils Pinbacker’s evil plan with the help of his fellow scientists, and overcomes the insanity and saves the sun and so too planet Earth—using science—gave me such a sense of inspiration and hope.

So ask me if I care how Pinbacker could have survived for those seven years, and I’ll tell you that you're missing the whole point of the film.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Brief Reflection on Death


I am reposting my response from Mike D's (The A-Unicornist) article "On Death and Dying," which is worth a read. 

The reason I am posting it again here is because it captures, in brief, my thoughts and feelings on the subject of death (you know, just in case you were wondering). It also fits with the last two posts which have been about Japan's influence on my spiritual journey and worldviews, from when I was still a practicing Christian till now, an ardent atheist.


Having spent so much time in Japan, one of the things that I find fascinating is how much the concept of death, especially related to Buddhist observances, makes up such a profound part of the cultural identity.

Even the beloved picnics under the fading cherry tree blossoms is a sanguine reminder that our time on earth is fleeting.

In fact, this notion is so ingrained in Japanese culture that the ancient samurai would embroider the patterns of cherry tree blossoms into their armor and ceremonial garb as symbols of a swift, fleeting, life. It was viewed as a glorious and noble thing to be born, live well, and die. It was what put such a precedent on living a life of virtue, of being upright and just, and not wasting a single moment--for every moment is fleeting--every moment is slipping through the sands of time.

None of this everlasting life nonsense.

It is why, I think, funerals in Japan are larger than weddings. Funerals can cost upwards of 20 and 30 thousand U.S. dollars. It's a massive ceremony. It's the only time you will see all of your relatives. It's important to remember the lives of those who have passed through the veil into the unknown darkness that lies beyond.It serves a reminder that although our memory may live on after we are gone, we certainly won't.

I find it consoling, because it lessens the fear of death by making it something beautiful--a part of the journey--a nice book end to a life, rather than the beginning to some new life I never asked for or wanted.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Would I Still Be a Christian if I Hadn't Come to Japan? Part 2: How ANew Perspective on Life and Love Helped Set Me Free




In my personal testimony about my deconversion, of which you can find an extended version of in my recent book Beyond an Absence of Faith (or which you can read the short version on this blog by clicking here), I talk about meeting my Japanese wife and how it was through her that I learned that the Christian beliefs I have elevated as paragons of holiness, reflecting the love of Jesus Christ and God, were in point of fact entirely and wholly inferior to the love expressed through the worldview of a Japanese woman who was raised in a secular Buddhist home and who didn't believe in any God or gods. 

Needless to say, this revelation shocked me deeply. Which is why I stated that


Learning to respect other people's beliefs is often the catalyst which forces you to re-examine your own. It's only after you have stepped outside of your inherited worldview, and experienced a differing worldview, can you truly begin to see it for what it is. This can be a daunting task, because you may come to discover that everything you thought you knew was merely an illusion.

Meeting my wife was the thing that forced me to see that my Christian beliefs were not as loving as I thought they were. In fact, when properly examined they proved to be the opposite. When I made it known among my religious friends and family that I was marrying an non-Christian, there were  a spattering of warnings about being unequally yoked with a nonbeliever, as per 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, and that if I continued on such a path that I should try to convert my non-Christian wife, which is the advice given by most Evangelical institutions

But I found both notions equally un-loving. 

Certainly both positions lacked genuine empathy. Non-believer, you say? Convert! CONVERT!

There is no understanding to be had in this. And if you cannot understand the other person, you cannot empathize with them, and so you cannot sympathize with them.

My Christianity preached a malformed notion of love. A love which wasn't about loving others for who they were, it was about forcing them into the same mindset as me. It was a way to dictate how others should think and act, according to what my religious beliefs deemed proper, simply so I wouldn't have to endure the discomfort of checking my worldview for two seconds and contending with other, equally valid worldview, since after all, this way lays doubt.

Anything that challenged my religious worldview was automatically bad, because I presupposed my Christian worldview was automatically right. Looking back, I cannot express how foolish such a notion is, but it is one I held to nonetheless.



One example that comes to mind is when my wife talked to me about all the fun charity activities she had undertaken while she was abroad in China. 

At the time, I had a little trouble wrapping my head around it. Every bit of charity work I had ever experienced as a practicing Christian was part of missionary work designed to bring the saving message of Christ and the word of God to those in dire need of saving. Although it was never stated outright, it almost seemed as if the need to do missionary work wasn't to help others so much as it was meant to save them from sin, save them from themselves.

The sort of missionary work I did as a Christian certainly wasn't about walking a mile in another persons shoes. It was more about handing them some fancy new shoes and telling them to walk like me.

But according to my wife's worldview, the charity and aid work was simply about helping those in need, first and foremost! 

What a novel idea, I thought.

It never even crossed her mind to use the aid work to manipulate the downtrodden and the unfortunate with acts of service and kindness, so they would feel indentured enough to their benefactors that they might suffer to sit and listen to the sermons which accompanied the free Bibles we handed out. 

For my wife, it wasn't about pushing any belief system. 

It was about saving people, not from imaginary damnation, but from real world suffering!

What a novel idea, indeed.

After hearing her take on things, I looked back on my own missionary aid work with a new found sense of embarrassment. Although I helped build shelters for the impoverished and handed out food to the less fortunate, it was always accompanied with Bibles and Bible studies--prayers, and calls to walk with Christ, and live a Godly life--all of what you might consider a not so subtle brain-washing scheme. 

Although the charity was well received, and the aid work necessary, the latter part--the unabashed proselytizing--was wholly unnecessary. 

In fact, the whole reason missionary work seems to be mainly targeted as developing nations is because their worldviews are relatively simple, uninfluenced and uncomplicated by the multicultural worldviews of the modern world. Additionally, when a people are in need, they will look toward anything that can lift them up, and when you spend as much time and energy (and let's not forget the $$) helping the downtrodden as the Christian church does, only to tell them they have God to thank for their new blessings, well, they start to believe it. So, let's not pretend it isn't extortion, brainwashing, and quite the opposite of loving others without prejudice. Every bit of Christian missionary service reeks of prejudice--the prejudice which accompanies the dominant world religion trying ever so desperately to remain the dominant world religion.

My wife taught me that this was the wrong way to think and be. 

The lesson was simple: to think that my beliefs were more important than anyone else's was egotistical, arrogant, and conceited. To expect them to change for me, or for what I held to be true while dismissing their position, was unloving.  

She taught me humility. She taught me that being caring, loving, and having genuine empathy for others, regardless their beliefs or their culture, is what was needed, not lip service to some archaic deity.



After proposing to my wife, she had the foresight and the wisdom to suggest we live together a year before marrying. I reluctantly agreed, but I was glad I had postponed the wedding for that incremental year, as we really learned the truth of whether we were compatible or not. 

Additionally, the slate of small domestic problems which plague first year couples were ironed out early on, a practice which seems to be direly missing among the majority of today's Christians, as is evident from their extremely high divorce rates they seemingly have. 

During that year, which we spent planning the wedding, I had received a spate of warnings against following through with it. I received numerous emails of concerned friends, strange phone calls from firmly faithful family members, and a passive aggressive sounding letter from an ex-pastor of mine, in which he claimed I had strayed from the flock. What? For loving the woman I was going to marry? Good thing, then, I'm not a goddamn sheep, I thought!

Yet nobody had anything bad to say about my wife as a person. Everyone who met her saw how intelligent, sophisticated, and kind she was. There wasn't a single excuse they could make as for why I shouldn't marry her other than she was raised differently, in a different culture, and consequently had different beliefs, but that argument simply didn't hold any water. 

And then there were the little, more subtle challenges to my faith as well.

I won't deny it. Sex, was one of them. 

When I met my wife, and we had started dating, I had informed that I was still a virgin. I was twenty-three at the time. She felt that my holding off until I had found the right person was a noble act, regardless of whether it was religiously motivated. But here I was, finally, with the right person. And then the whole question about pre-marital sex raised it's ugly head.

I felt horribly conflicted, because I wanted to express my deepest felt love for this woman who had won my heart, but was to afraid to go the distance due to the fact that I was, since childhood, told that sex before marriage was a sin, that it would lead to temptations away from Christ, and that Satan could use it against me as a tool of manipulation. 

At first it began with a reluctant blow-job, because I felt that at least this wasn't full on sex, and I found a way out of the whole premarital sex. A loophole, so to speak. Oral sex didn't count, because the Bible had nothing to say on it. It only condemned actual, full-on, sex. That's how I justified it anyway.

But as our relationship grew, and we became closer, it became increasingly hard for me to deny myself the pleasure of falling into someone wholly and completely--of giving my mind, body, and soul to that person and it was only a matter of time before I broke and gave into my baser desires. At least, that's how it felt at the time.

You see, my religion had made me ashamed of sex. Instead of being free to openly enjoy the person I was with, instead of being free to express my love in such an intimate way, it came with it the stigma of sin, of failure, and of weakness.

Instead of viewing sex as a strong chemical and emotional bond which would strengthen my relationship to the woman I loved, I viewed it as a tarnishing blemish, a blotch, a stain on my spiritual progress. 

After my first time being with the woman I loved, I returned to my abode and shook with teary eyed sobs for my horrible failure as a Christian. I was that entrenched into the belief system that I didn't separate my personal identity from my religious identity. To me, they were one in the same thing. I defined myself according to how good of a Christian I was, not how good of a person I was.

So, feeling I needed to repent for that grotesque act of engaging in premarital sex, I got down on my knees and prayed to God for forgiveness for what I viewed as a huge failure. I had sinned. And being in Japan, I had nowhere to turn to reinforce my Christian faith, no Christian church to go to so that I may be consoled, no Christian pastor to reprimand me to set me straight, so I did the only thing I could do--I fell to my knees, hands clasped, and grovelled like a good Christian sinner. I begged for my redemption from this unfortunate set-back, this trespass into temptation and lust, this stomach churning act of licentious disobedience. 

But then, nothing came of it except for a wonderful experience. In fact, I began to feel less guilt because I felt better about myself. Engaging in sex opened my eyes to the fact that it wasn't some ugly, sinful, act that would make Jesus cry, but something quite beautiful and life changing.

My relationship with my future wife grew stronger, and then pretty soon I had pushed the notion that premarital sex was a sin completely out of my mind. The rationale was simple. I felt that if loving somebody utterly and completely was a sin, then God couldn't truly be a God of love. In other words, I came to realize that to withhold the true, and ultimate expression of love, sex being a part of it, would itself be an unloving act--and to me that seemed distinctly un-Christian-like.

Wedding plans went on without a hitch, until we finally got hitched (if you'll pardon the pun), and the fact that I had grown as a person, mentally, culturally, and bodily helped me to re-think my spiritual journey as well. And here's the hitch! 

All these experiences led me to the inevitable conclusion that sex as simply another part of the journey, a part of my own personal story, and it wasn't as bad as I had been brainwashed into believing it would be. In fact, it was quite wonderful. It was quite frabjously life changing.




Although, to be honest, it's only in retrospect that I realize all this. At the time, I was a mental train wreck. I kept feeling my life as a devout Christian was being challenged at every turn. I felt spiritual peril, I felt as if my very salvation teetered on the very brink of no return, where it could so easily slip off into precarious sin and I'd end up in eternal damnation--working the corners of the red-light district as a two dollar American gigilo (well, perhaps not exactly that but that's how it felt).

Naturally, I was shaken by an overwhelming degree of cognitive dissonance, because everything I learned from my wife, and the experiences I have had with her, taught me that this conception of sin simply wasn't so. That everything I thought on these concerns had, indeed, been wrong. I felt a huge relief come over me when I finally let go of that superstitious notion--and matured into a thinking adult who was more concerned about real-world concerns, like truly helping people, rather than the absurd notion that sticking my pecker into a beautiful, exotic, Asian woman would make Jesus cry.

I struggled for three long agonizing years with this unneeded spiritual turmoil, and it wasn't until I had finally relinquished my faith that everything became calm, tranquil, and pleasant again. 

It wasn't until my atheism that I could embrace love making as a part of love, regardless of whether or not I was married, and even then, it took me some time to realize that sex could be done out of sport, just for fun too, and needn't expressly be tied to concepts of love. 

Post-faith, I saw that kindness and genuine empathy for others demonstrated a more authentic compassion than I had ever experienced in the throes of my most potent religiosity. 

Finally, I came to see that I could love others in an unbridled fashion which wasn't beholden to any religious rules, regulations, or standards. It was a pure unadulterated love--truly without the diminishing factors of a morbid theology which attempts to wrap the concept of love up into a straight jacket of its own design. No, I left all that behind. I was finally free to love my wife, love others, have real lasting empathy, and I was able to love myself again without the constant feeling that I was a disappointment.

As an atheist, I came to see that I was free to love with all my heart, mind, and soul. Something most Christian know nothing about because their entire concept of love is so tangled up with their religious notions, concepts, and ideologies that they actually experience a type of religious interference to the kinds of love they may experience. 

And I never would have learned that if I hadn't come to Japan and fallen in love with a girl who had shown me what it truly meant to love.



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist