A conversation about paganism, monotheism, and science

For anyone who is interested, I am having a conversation with another (Pagan) blogger about the relationship between science and religion.

It was in response to some comments made by him about the recent video about loving Jesus and hating religion.  The post is entitled Why I Like Religion (But Hate Jesus), and it is an idea I have heard before from people many times (it is even and idea I used to espouse) and which which I have a little sympathy.  Very little.

I don’t often talk with pagans about religion and science, mostly because I don’t run into many, but find it a different environment for discussion than talking with Christians, Jews, or Moslems.

If you are interested in the discussion, you can find it in the comments here.

I love Mr. Deity

…and so should you.  If you are not yet familiar with the show (what have you been doing? living outside the atheist community?) then you should catch up here.

And if you are aware of it, are you aware that the first episode of season 5 just came out?

Here it is!

Now, I have enjoyed the show very much over the last few years, but since I have not been financially secure for much of that I have not been able to support the show.  I am about to change that, and I urge you to do the same.

Click here to donate to Mr. Deity in any way you can.  We need to support talent where it is, so that it can reach larger audiences.


Polyamory, self-improvement, and mainstream conservatism (oh my!)

I was pexting (poly texting.  Alternate ‘ptexting’.  All rights reserved.  That’s right folks, I share partners but not patented phrases) with Gina earlier and we started talking about how being in the relationships she is in is providing motivation to be a better person.

Specifically, she was talking about how awesome I am by saying…well, I will let her own words express it:

I know…becoming addicted to you has resulted in me becoming more responsible, more organized and more committed to a positive lifestyle.

And I was all like, that’s awesome.  I like being with people who are into self-improvement and all that stuff.  And I appreciate how being with her has a similar influence on me.  She and Ginny, together and individually, inspire me to persist in my own project to grow and mature further.

She capped it off by saying

My love for you makes me do dishes


See, for those of you that don’t know me well, I’m a bit on the tidy side.  I’m not crazy about it, I just do dishes after cooking (the vast majority of the time), put away clothes rather than letting them stay on the floor etc, and do things like organize my various objects.  The other people in our little polycule (I can’t claim that term as my own invention), not so much. 

But that has improved, largely due to my influence as well as their genuine desire to make me a part of their lives.  You see, I clean because to be around significant clutter makes me viscerally uncomfortable and anxious, which they know about me.  And because they want me to be calm and relaxed in the space we share, they (often, but not always) make an effort to make themselves more organized.

As demonstrated by these positive attributes, there is a general sense of wanting to actually grow as people among the people in my life.  There is a desire to actually improve ourselves intellectually, emotionally, and sexually.  It is a result, I believe, of having the right attitudes towards relationships and the world.

These attitudes are not unique to polyamory, of course, nor are all polyamorous people actually good at such things.  But in my experience, having these complicated networks of relationships with people of various strengths, weaknesses, and different levels of experiences exponentially increases your own relationship experience and makes it more likly that we will mature faster.

Either that, or like natural selection it will eliminate those who are not capable of such lifestyles and those people will usually return to monogamy because it is easier and less emotionally challenging.

My experience with polyamory has opened me up to people of quality (and some not so quality who have returned to either normality or to unhealthy poly relationships), circumstances of personal challenge, and the freedom to truly be myself in ways that I don’t often see in mainstream culture because of the conservative and restrictive nature of hetero-normative monogamous culture. 

In many ways, self-improvement is a progressive trait, even if most ‘progressives’ are too conservative in other ways to see what I see as regressive sex and relationship norms.  it’s my belief that the progressives of today will largely be the conventional and mainstream social conservatives of the next few generations.  As the current conservatism dies out, it will be replaced with a less crazy mainstream conservatism.  As gay marriage becomes mainstream, polyamorous marriage will become radical and eventually progressive, for example.  Time will tell if I am right.

But back to today….

Having now surrounded myself with people whom I actually like, as well as a more recent attitude to only spend personal effort with people I think worth the time, means that I will likely find new challenges and see new possibilities for more substantial personal growth.

My polyamorous lifestyle creates motivation to make myself a better person.  It has contributed significantly to this effort that is, frankly, invisible to much of the world.  When you live in abnormal lifestyles and have abnormal opinions, the abnormality is most of what the world sees, even the friends you have had for years but whom you don’t see every day.

I wish more people could understand what both skepticism and polyamory have done to improve my life.  Sadly, most of the people I know and see only rarely have only a superficial understanding of it all, and usually avoid talking with me about much of it.

Its a consequence of being weird, I suppose.  So, thank you, weird people in my life, for getting it.  May we continue to be weird together.

I am no Islamophobe, I am anti-Islam

There has been a bit in the news over the last week or so about Islam.  There was an incident in London recently where a planned meeting was cancelled due to threats by a Moslem with a camera phone, for example (I’m mobile, otherwise I would link that story).  And today there is some talk about what Karen Armstrong has said about Islam, one example can be found at Jerry Coyne’s blog website.

A word which is often used in such conversations is Islamophobia.  It has been a politically charged word for years now, especially after 9/11, and pops up again with the perpetuation of Islam in the news, especially in the context of violence, oppression of women, and issues surrounding sharia law and secular laws.

A few years ago, for example, the lovely man that is Rick Santorum (gag) came to speak at the University of Pennsylvania (at the Hillel building, if I remember correctly) during some “Islamophobia week” (or something like that) in order to speak about the horrors of Islam and the wonderful alternative of the truly peaceful and wonderful Christianity.

(I threw up a little in my mouth while I typed that)

During the Q&A, I challenged Santorum on this distinction by pointing out that Jeebus (I may have actually said “Jesus” as to not confuse him) and Allah were both the God of Abraham, and by pointing out that the god of Islam was so awful, he was ignoring not only that it is the same basic god concept as JHWH/Jesus, but much of the Bible demonstrates the equality of atrocity of his own god.  How could he justify the harsh criticism of Islam given the relatedness to his own god and similar attrocities in his own scripture?

Let’s just say that this question was not received well by Mr. Santorum.  He became visibly flustered and angry and both challenged me to argue such a “ridiculous” case while not really allowing me to do so nor answer the question at all.  He rejected the premise of the question and called me an idiot or something similar  It was pretty much what I expected.

So, back to Islamophobia.

See, I don’t think this is the right word, at least not from my point of view.  I am not afraid of Islam.  I am concerned what Islam may do if it is allowed to influence policy and law in the West (its influence in the Middle East and elsewhere is already problematic).  But I am not afraid of the religion nor its adherents.

What I have is an extreme dislike of Islam, bordering on hate.  I find it an ignorance-perpetuating, women-oppressing (men-oppressing, as well), violence-causing, and ultimately dangerous ideology.  I hate what it has done to much of the world, creating a repressive and restrictive way of life for millions of people.

It is a faith, much like Christianity, which asks people in the age of technology and science to believe ancient superstition on pain of not mere death, which is infinitely more humane than that which it does offer, but on pain of eternal torture.  It is a disgusting and anti-human (anti-life!) ideology not worthy of our reverence nor our tolerance.

Yes, people have the right to be Moslems.  And rather than hate them I feel pity for them.  It too often makes women into cattle, men into misogynists, and all of us into slaves–Islam means ‘submission’ after all.

So no, Islamophobia is not the right word.  We should not fear Islam, we should see it as our enemy.  Not in the way that we make war with Moslems (the Ummah), but in the way that we don’t allow its doctrines, superstitions, or laws creep any closer to the rest of the world.  The people under Allah’s metaphorical thumb are victims, and those who seek to expand Islam are the most affected by this virus.

I am anti-Islam. I fear it not, so I am no Islamophobe.

Where profession and lifestyle meet

The other day I was watching one of the older and more experienced teachers deal with several 3-year-olds with practiced skill.  It occurred to me that the skill of knowing what children are likely to do, how to respond to them in groups, and generally how to work with groups of children has analogues to poly relationship skills.

We, as teachers, can tell a lot about parenting tendencies by watching their children.  And it is clear that some parents surely are taking their responsibility with more or less…let’s call it wisdom.  And I imagine that many parents might make different decisions if they had more experience with children.

Its not unlike us more experienced polyamorous people watching younger and less experienced people in relationships (whether they are learning about polyamory or are monogamous).  We see mistakes, or the seeds of mistakes, arise.  If only they had more experience!  (And if only we could have the experience we will have, but have it now).  We always have more to learn.

I have identified previously the fact that maintaining multiple relationships simultaneously forces you to become better at communicating, dealing with interpersonal and psychological problems, etc.  Well, in many ways working in childcare is similar in that it shows you many ways children can behave, and how groups of them illuminates their character as they learn about themselves and the world.

Just like polyamory.

Its hard to hide your inner demons and imperfections in the more difficult circumstances of your partners and their partners interacting in ways that may irk you or make you uncomfortable.  And spending a whole day (or weeks!), through garious changes in mood and environment, with children is similarly illuminating.

So, people who have children surely know a lot about their own offspring (hopefully, anyway).  But to understand children in general takes experience with groups of them, especially if they all have different home lives from which they draw their worldviews.  Similarly, people with one partner know a lot about how to maintain a relationship with that person (again, hopefully).  But to be good at relationships, that either requires having had many relationships either serially or in parallel.  I have had both.

And, to tie this to religion, having more experience with different ideas about the universe and the supernatural leads you to a perspective where you are able to see the nature of religion and how it interacts with our psychology and society.  Knowing more about different religions leads you to start seeing what makes them all-to-human enterprises, rather than divine.

Inexperience leads to perochial perspectives.  Diversity in experience leads to a broadening of perspectives.  My academic background in religion, culture, and philosophy has lead me to the broader perspective that religion is largely unjustified and harmful.  My experience with my own desires and with relationship leads me to the conclusion that monogamy, at least as a natural and default relationship structure, is a deception and a lie of tradition.

Objections to polyamory

I have had a number of conversations about relationships, sexuality, and exclusivity over the years.  I’ve heard many proposed reasons why polyamory cannot work for people in general or for specific individuals.  But what are most interesting are the objections which are intended as critiques of polyamory, but if analyzed they turn out to be apologies for remaining jealous or possessive.  

Now, I’m not quite an evangelical for polyamory, although I believe that it would be the inevitable outcome of people being honest with what they wanted, assuming they are willing to do the necessary work to mature and be capable of maintaing healthy relationships.

But what many people who argue that polyamory is not for them or is not ideal (or sinful or some other equivalent to it being wrong) seem to be doing is romanticizing poor relationship attributes.  That is, there is a difference between saying that you are happy in your exclusive relationship and saying that you could not be polyamorous because you are jealous or possessive.

Further, many arguments against polyamory could be viewed as arguments against relationships in general.  This is true especially when people ask me why I’m getting married if I’m polyamorous.  The assumption seems to be that to marry is to sacrifice through exclusive commitment, which somehow makes it more meaningful.  Perhaps it is a reminder that marriage’s origins (as a cultural institution) are ultimately derived from a property relationship.

Essentially, much of our modern concepts about relationships are based upon the model of marriage, or at least engagement, which are ultimately derived from property relationships.  And so when people argue for the conservative idea of monogamy, they are stuck in a cultural tradition forged in the fires of seeing our romantic partners as our possessions, rather than true equal partners.

Yes, I think that’s it.  Much of the romanticization of exclusivity are essentially about thinking about other people as property.  How many “love songs” talk about belonging to each other, being mine, etc?  The myth is that the closeness of that special exclusive bond creates something which is unattainable or at least cheapened by non-exclusivity.

And being in two serious, intimate, and loving relationships, I can safely say bullshit.  Much like there are many myths about the worthiness of faith, love of god, etc there are myths about relationships.  And much like faith being irrational and unhealthy, assumed exclusivity in relationships, which is ultimately derived from property relationships historically, is unhealthy.

Your lovers and romantic partners are not your property.  You are not sharing what is yours in being polyamorous, you are just recognizing the reality that they will love other people and are grown up enough to not demand that they ignore this fact.

Lamarkian theology

It struck me today that one of the reasons that so many theologically-minded writers are so enamored by teleological thinking when it comes to evolutionary theory—whether it be Intelligent Design, theistic evolution, etc—is that they are so accustomed to thinking teleologically.  What I mean is that because theologians seem to simply make stuff up*, they have the freedom and malleability to fit whatever environment they find themselves in, so they are always thinking about designing their ideology to fit the world.  This, on the surface, might seem like what one should do, except they also hold onto the core nonsensical propositions while doing so—while reinterpreting them!

The very process of doing theology is exactly backwards to how science works, which is part of why the conversation between theologians and scientists often goes so wrong; their methods are in opposition.  The idea of theistic evolution (that god created the world and subsequently guides evolution) is at odds with scientific ideas about how evolution works.  There is no need for guidance for it to work, so (for example) the official Catholic Church’s acceptance of evolution as a fact, though guided by god (an idea shared by many people as well) is not the scientific concept accepted by evolutionary biologists.  Similarly, Intelligent Design, the cultural political attempt to sneak creationism into us with the guise of “science,” has similar themes underneath.  It all is about keeping the idea of design or purpose in a mechanism which needs none in order to work.

And what this reminds me of, this predilection for shaping oneself into the hole it finds itself sitting in, is Lamarkian evolution.  You see, early in the development of evolutionary science, there was some debate about how changes in species occurred.  One idea, which is now rejected by the scientific community since we know how genes, mutation, and other forces work, was that some organism would change according to the environmental pressures it finds itself in and passes along those changes to the next generation.  A common example used to illustrate this is a giraffe that finds its neck too short gets a longer neck (or at least the idea of one), and passes this change onto its offspring.

Natural selection, of course, works nothing like this, but theology does work this way.

If some theological idea does not fit with the world, a newer theologian comes along and proposes a new way to see things; a new way to “interpret” the scriptures or the tradition in order to fit better.  And as the progress of science has marched along, theology has followed and changed its spots to fit to not be too egregiously out of style with the current scientific consensus.  But it is done in such a way as to just change enough to not be noticeable to most people.  It changes slowly, little by little, such that the theological concepts talked about seriously now in universities don’t seem to most people to be absurd or too far from their original tradition (which they define, of course).

But take a sophisticated theologian from 2012 (happy new years, btw) and send him to even a comparatively liberal and open-minded seminary from 1000 years ago, and they would be cast out as heretics, unbelievers, atheists even!

But it isn’t really their fault; they have to change to survive.  It’s just a shame that they can’t get rid of the core absurdities of their theologies.  You know,m stuff like gods and other supernatural crap.

I’ll say it again; theology is intelligently designed, but not intelligently enough.



*”Some time ago, when Jerry Coyne was preparing for his debate with John Haught, I recommended a book of modern theology in which a number of different theologians explained the very different ways in which Christian theology is done nowadays. The result that I hoped would derive from reading the book is what happened to me when I read it: that it would become obvious that theology in fact makes things up; that there is no basis for agreement between theologians, and that the bases for theological positions are as diverse as the positions themselves. That is, there is no basis for doing theology. Theology is like a mood that people have in the presence of sacred texts and the history of thought about them. It has no rational ground.”  –Eric MacDonald (source)

“And all Religion’s true”

So, I was one of the many people who saw Cee-Lo Green (who I had not heard of until someone named him at the party last night) singing John lennon’s anthem Imagine, which has always been a favorite among many humanists, including myself.

I didn’t notice the change in words mostly because the room was singing the correct words in unison, and the noise overwhelmed the audio from the feed.  In any case, if you are unaware, he changed the words in the second verse from “And no religion too” to “And all religion’s true,” supposedly in an attempt to be inclusive and accommodating.

But seriously, all religion true?

H/T Hemant Mehta

Is Cee-Lo Green not aware that this idea of all religions being true, rather than be all nice and lovey-dovey,  would be a disaster of epic proportions?  Rather than be inclusive and respectful, as his apology via twitter seems to indicate was his itention, this idea that all religions being true is not only dangerous but impossible.

Imagine a world where all the religions were true.  This would not be a paradise of love, compassion, and peaceful diversity.  If the sacred texts of the world were representative of what was real, then it would mean that there are real supernatural powers at odds with one-another.  It would be like the ancient Greeks of Romans, except some of the gods think they are all-powerful and demand that the other gods and their followers be converted or slaughtered.  It would amount to real total warfare on a global, even cosmic, scale.

No, Cee-Lo, this is not a beautiful dream you imagine in your lyric-changing.  It is a representation of your ignorance of what religion is.  We already have a world where, in many places, you can believe what you want and practice your religion as you want.  That is not the same as wishing all religions true, however.  We are permitted, here in the West especially, to believe as our conscience and philosophy leads us, but I hope to the FSM and IPU the that all religions are not true.  I would rather live ina universe which does not implode via logical paradox or by universal supernatural warfare.

That’s why Lennon’s original lyric was so profound; because it saw that religion was a cause for strife, not tolerance and peace in our world.  Next time, just sing the damned song as John Lennon wrote it!