Gnosis


In the last week or so, I’ve begun a project of going through the emails, blog posts, and private journal entries I wrote throughout my deconversion from Christianity. There are a lot of them, and I may pull them together into a book project in the near future, but for now I want to comment on some thoughts they’ve provoked.

One advantage to having detailed personal records like this is that they guard against hindsight bias and retroactive interpretation. I haven’t looked at most of these writings for years, and I find, looking back, that the story I tell now about the trajectory of my deconversion isn’t entirely accurate. When I want to give the short version of my history with religion, it goes something like this: I was raised in a conservative branch of Christianity and accepted it pretty much without question for the first 25 years of my life. Around the time I was 25, I began seriously questioning my faith, and actually stopped believing in God,  although I wasn’t happy about that. I was basically an atheist, though I didn’t use that word, for about a year and a half, then I found a definition of “faith” that allowed me to go back to calling myself a Christian, although never with the same kind of faith as before. Then, around my 29th birthday, the last reasons I had for clinging to Christianity fell away, and I became a full-fledged atheist.

That’s the short version, and it’s broadly accurate, but in retrospect I missed a lot of the complicated nature of that in-between time, between “Yes I am definitely a Christian” and “Yes I am definitely an atheist.” For those who have never had God-belief as an element of their psyche, it might be difficult to understand exactly what was going on there, and it certainly muddies the definitions of “belief” and “knowing” that I’ve been using in the last couple of years. So let me try to explain it.

During part 1, the Christian part of my life, I absolutely believed in God. I would have found it impossible not to. Even if someone had rationally convinced me that there was no good reason to believe in God, I’d have been nodding along and saying, “You’re right, there isn’t a good reason to believe,” and wondering the whole time what God thought of this conversation. It was not something I was consciously maintaining or defending: it was just there, in my brain, a part of the way I thought about the world. To say “I don’t believe in God” would have been a lie, even if I had wanted to disbelieve and had every rational cause for disbelief.

At this time in my life, nearly the opposite is true. If evidence for a god’s existence started springing up all over the place, that internal state of belief still wouldn’t appear in my brain, at least not immediately. I could acknowledge, “Yes, given a Bayesian probability analysis it seems overwhelmingly likely that a deity is the cause of these things we are witnessing,” but in the back of my head I’d still be thinking, “But there can’t really be a deity… let’s keep looking for other explanations!”

It’s important to note before I go further that neither of these belief-states are unchangeable: as evidenced by the fact that my first one did eventually change. I’m no neuroscientist, but my guess is that these belief-states are simply strong neural patterns, habits of thinking that can’t be changed instantly, but only worn away over time as new patterns are developed and rehearsed.

The middle state, that transitional period of 3-4 years, is where things are weird. The things that were going on in my brain at that time don’t fit into a simple category of belief and knowing. The moment that really kicked off that whole transitional phase of my life was a moment where my rock-solid, undeniable belief in God was removed: and my emotional response was anger at God for removing it.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I stopped believing in God, and I was angry at God for making me stop believing in him. Clearly, then, on some level I still believed in God, and interpreted even my unbelief through a theistic worldview. But something very significant had changed in my brain, and the best way I could put it to myself was that I had lost my belief.

This state continued, by the way, even after I reclaimed a “Christian” identity. My state of belief didn’t change very much during this time; instead I changed my definition of “faith” to give myself a way back in. My reasons for doing that belong in another post, but from the point of view of mental states of belief and knowing, I didn’t change very much during those 3-4 years.

In atheist circles there’s been a lot of buzz recently about the difference between knowledge, belief, and certainty (prompted mostly by Richard Dawkins’ “shocking” revelation that he wasn’t 100% certain that no god existed, which anyone who’s actually read The God Delusion already knew (actually, anyone who’s read the subtitle of The God Delusion should have known: the word almost is there for a reason, people)). The relevant ground has been pretty thoroughly covered (and is being added to by Shaun even as I write… we’ll see which of us posts first! (I have a parenthetical addiction, by the way; I try not to use at all, because when I start it gets hard to stop)), so all I want to add is my own experience, and how it fits or doesn’t fit into the tidy “atheist/theist” “gnostic/agnostic” categories.

At no point in my life have I been 100% certain that my beliefs about God or gods were accurate. Even aside from evil genius / brain in a jar / Matrix scenarios, I recognize that my foundational assumptions about what constitutes a good basis for knowledge are just that: assumptions, that could be incorrect. I do the best I can with what I have.

I don’t use the word “know” a lot with reference to theism, just because its meaning is too ambiguous. Some people use “knowledge” synonymously with “certainty” (in which case I am an agnostic atheist), some people use it in less absolute terms (in which case I might be a gnostic atheist, depending on how severely you draw the line), and some people equivocate (in which case I’m not playing.)

Belief, now, is a harder question. I don’t think belief is a simple idea, based on my own experience. If all I’d ever experienced were those two states of initial full belief and present full unbelief, I probably would think it was simple. But my transitional phase leads me to think that there are several different strains or mechanisms of belief, which in most people (perhaps) are concordant, but which can also be conflicting. With part of my brain I believed in God, and with part of it I did not, and that was a very different mental state from the ones that came before and after.

Next up: digging a little deeper into the anatomy of that in-between time.

100% certainty and atheism


So, there has been some discussion all over the web, especially the atheist blogosphere, about Richard Dawkins’ recent revelation that he is not 100% certain that god does not exist (actually, this has been his consistent view for many years, as many have already commented).

Much has already been said, so much of what will follow may be redundant, but in an email exchange today on a local email list, someone said the following:

I’m 100% certain god doesn’t exist as well. I’m also 100% certain that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and I’m 100% certain that gravity is not the cause of microscopic or invisible elves that apply glue to the bottom of my feet….

He went on, but this is the important part.  I responded to him and wanted to post that response here, because while it is not comprehensive of all the relevant issues, it addresses something that is overlooked by many atheists who claim more certainty than they can chew.

Here is my reply:

The problem with this 100% certainty is the meaning of the term ‘god’ there.  If you mean, by that generic term, the specific god as described in the Bible (for example), then you are on pretty firm ground.  But the term itself does not point to any specific god, but to the larger metaphysical/theological concept with many possible referents.

While it may seem trivial, I can point out that in history certain political figures have been thought of as gods.  The Sun has been considered god to many cultures as well.  You may argue that the definition of god does not allow such things to be meaningfully called “gods”, and there is some room for argument there, but my counter to most of them would be to say that the more transcendent, incomprehensible, etc concept of god that we think of today is basically a theological pull-back to vagueness as a response to the advance of empirical knowledge about the world.

What I mean by this is that while gods were once commonly thought of as either real beings which people could interact with (Zeus liked the ladies, for example) or general forces in nature which were directly responsible for events in the world, our understanding of nature, exponentially increased by the evolution of the scientific method, has pushed those concepts further and further from physical things which were super-human to completely transcendent and supernatural in nature (if that sentence can even be sensible at all…).

And even given the arguments against the supernatural in general (at least in terms of its ability to interact with nature and still be transcendent), there are still concepts of gods still used which either could not be dis-proven and which are also compatible with what we understand about the universe (therefore there is no way to be 100% certain of them not existing) or they are actualy physical things, like people, idols, etc which can be demonstrated to exist, even if we don’t think of them as being worthy of the title ‘god’.  It is not for us to determine what the definition of ‘god’ is for believers; it is for us to ask “what do you believe, and why do you believe it?”  Let semantics stand aside.

I am guessing that your certainty is pointing to very specific, and probably Abrahamic, definitions of gods.  If so, I will say that those concepts are logically incoherent, assuming you take all scripture to be equally valid.  Because if you consider some scripture more relevant, then all you need to do is decide which descriptions from scripture you like (based upon some logical criteria, say) and use those verses to define what god is.  And depending on how one does that, they could believe in a god which is logically coherent but which has no evidential support.   And many theologians do just that.

To such gods, all you can say is that “I have no proof that such a being does not exist, but I also see no reason to accept any claims that it does exist.”  That is what being an agnostic-atheist is; not 100% certainty, but lacking belief (whether due to lack of evidence or otherwise).  By making the broad statement that you are 100% certain that god doesn’t exist, you have not allowed for the possibility that the person who hears that phrase has a logically coherent concept of god which, technically, cannot be dis-proven. Therefore, claiming certainty of that level would seem unjustified to that theist.

And that seeming, by that theist with their logically-coherent god, would be correct.  Because even while they still have the burden of proof to demonstrate such a god, you then claim the ability to demonstrate that their god certainly does not exist, which you cannot do in every case, especially theirs.

OMG, Burlesque!


Hello!  I meant to write earlier today, but seeing that I had the work day from hell (hell being other people…demanding that I do a lot annoying, time consuming, stress inducing, curse yielding, insanity producing tasks) I had barely a second to myself to use company time to blog.  As such, I am updating this with the magic of mobile technology while waiting for the train to go into Philadelphia, because I multitask like that.

Do you notice that the word multitask has tit in the middle of it?  SO DID I!

Speaking of tits…

See what I did there? I totally left out the hyphen to make a joke in bad taste for the purposes of promoting my burlesque show tonight!  That’s what we in the biz call clever writing.

I’m not sure what business I’m talking about.  Probably used car dealer ad writing.

Many months ago, Shaun wrote a post introducing me to his audience.  In it, he stated that I’m a chemist, am in a band, do a lot of theater stuff and “other things that might not be appropriate to mention here”.  I’m assuming he wasn’t talking about my bisexuality (as he, nor I really, knew about that yet).  And I also assume that he wasn’t talking about that I think nuclear holocaust jokes are funny…in the right context…which is usually in the context of zombies and the fact that my grandfather has a sliderule used to calculate the number of megadeaths that would be caused by a blast.

No, likely he was talking about the fact that last July I officially became a burlesque dancer.  In fact, we consider our anniversary to be the evening of my first performance when he couldn’t help but show his interest.  There’s something to be said for a woman you like saying “yeah, it’s been nice talking to you.  Would you like to come see me strip artfully in public?”

Tonight I am doing my second ever performance, along with my husband, my husband’s girlfriend, my girlfriend (who happens to also be my husband’s other girldfriend and Shaun’s fiancee) and a few other people who haven’t managed to join our fabulous polyamorous web of fabulousness.  Also, Shaun’s running lights and sound.  It’s family affair!

Some day I’ll draw you a diagram.

Burlesque is a wonderful thing.  Yeah, at it’s heart it is stripping, but because it comes from the days of Vaudville, it is truly the art of the strip tease.  There is an artfulness to it and it is most certainly theatrical.  It is generally enjoyed by boys and girls alike.  It is empowering!  When you do a burlesque number, you are dancing because you want to…and the audience is privelaged to get to see it.

I adore it.  It makes me feel sexy and confident and puts me in touch with a strong feminity that I generally deny myself on a day to day basis.

Anyway, if you’re local and would like to check it out, swing by the Shubin Theatre (4th and Bainbridge) tonight and tomorrow at 8pm!

This shameless self promotion was not only authorized but requested by Shaun, so send your complaints to him!

Sex+ Questionnaire (via Laci Green)


I’m just answering the questions already answered by Laci and others.

Sex+ Questionnaire For: Shaun McGonigal
Age: 34
Sex: Male
Location: Philadelphia, PA

Sexual Awakenings

1. How did you learn about sex?
I attended a very liberal Quaker school in Philadelphia, where sex-ed was pretty good.  Thus, by 5th grade I had a pretty good idea about what sex was, and in 8th grade we dealt with more advanced questions about STIs, pregnancy, etc that most people don’t learn until later (if ever).  In terms of learning how to do it well, that took practice.  Lots of practice.

2. Were you able to talk about sex with your parents?
Somewhat, but because of good education in school it was largely unnecessary.  I am pretty open now, and have been for most of my adulthood, and now my parents and I can be pretty open about jokes, discussions, etc (so long as they don’t get detailed).

3. Do you remember your first kiss?
Yes.  I was playing truth or dare.  I chose dare (and dared!).  I was about 11, maybe 12.

4. Tell us about an embarrassing moment you’ve had with sexuality/a partner/etc.
Huh…many   Getting caught several times by both parents (mine and my partners) or almost caught.  One time, while with a girl for the first time (it was her first time ever), she looked down and said “I think you’re in the wrong hole” which led to me pulling out and almost falling off the bed.  She was just messing with me (a joke to lighten her anxiety, perhaps), but I was really humiliated nonetheless.

5. How old were you when you made your sexual debut? Were you ready for it?
19, and yes I was.  I waited, passing up a couple of opportunities when I was 14 and 17 or 18, and I suppose I am glad I did.

Relationships

6. Are you in a romantic or sexual relationship?
Yes, two of them (they are both sexual and romantic)

7. Would you prefer being in a relationship or being single? Why?
There have been times when being single was necessary and preferable, but I am extraordinarily happy with my relationships currently.  The joy, opportunity for growth, and intimacy I get with my partners is irreplaceable and wonderful.

8. Would you ever consider a polyamorous relationship?
Have, and am in one.  I am engaged to be married in a few months and my girlfriend and I consider ourselves long-term partners.  Polyamory is amazing.

9. Have you ever cheated on a partner?
Unfortunately, yes.  Worse, I lied about it once.  I learned that honesty is better than not, and eventually discovered taht I can have more sex without having to sacrifice relationships.

10. What was your longest relationship? Your shortest?
Longest was about 3 years, but it was a little off and on.  Mostly on.  Shortest? What is the definition of “relationship”? Because the answer could be “an hour” or ” a couple of weeks or so.”

11. What do you look for in a partner?
Intelligence, authenticity/honesty, lack of faith (IOW, skepticism), sex-positive attitude, and somewhat nerdy/geeky personality.

12. Do you have any “deal breakers”?
Deep religious conviction or lack of intellectual curiosity.

Sexploration

13. What is your favorite way to ask for consent?
“So, I am attracted to you; would you like to have some kind of sex?”

14. What is your favorite position?
Depends.  I love a woman on top, moving how she likes and watching her enjoy herself.  I prefer to finish while on top, especially from behind.

15. Would you/have you had a one night stand?
I have, and would again under the right circumstances.

16. What’s your favorite place to be touched by a partner?
Ears, nipples, penis.

17. Is there anything that you’ve wanted to try sexually but haven’t (yet)?
Not really.  I have had the opportunity to explore fantasies, and very little is left unexplored.  I’m pretty vanilla, overall, and am comfortable with that.

18. Would you/have you had group sex (3+ people)?
I have, many times, and will again, many times.  Most so far (with full penetration, anyway) was with 5 people.  I’ve “fooled around” with around 7 other people before, as well.

19. Would you/have you practiced BDSM?
I have, a little.  i would again, but it would be pretty tame.

20. Would you/have you done role-play?
I have.  Not my cup of tea.  I have trouble pretending not to be in reality (hence the atheism)

21. What is your biggest turn on?
watching someone cum, especially if I’m helping make it happen.

22. Biggest turn off?
being messy, dirty (literally, not metaphorically), or surrounded by excessive clutter.  Scat play is right-out!

23. How often do you masturbate?
Once or twice a week.  Mostly, it’s not necessary, but sometimes it’s just what I want.

24. What do you think is the most erotic part of your body?
right ear or my penis, depending.

Self Love

25. What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
My ability to challenge myself to be better than I have been, and to overcome the struggles I have been handed.

26. What’s your biggest accomplishment in the last 3 years?
Surviving an awful relationship which brought me to Atlanta, left me abandoned, and coming out stronger than I’ve ever been.

27. Tell us one goal you have for yourself.
I want to one day actually become the person I see myself as when I’m feeling confident (some say arrogant, but whatevs…)

28. How do you take care of yourself?
By being honest with myself, opening up to people I love when I need help, and by writing.

Hot Topics

29. Do you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion if she accidentally gets pregnant?
Yes.

30. Do you think prostitution should be legal?
Yes.

31. If you had a baby boy, would you have his foreskin removed (circumcise him)?
No.

32. Should same-sex marriage be legal?
Any legal arrangement between consenting adults should be legal.  So not only should same-sex/gender marriage be legal, but so should polyamorous marriage.

33. Should comprehensive sex education be given in high schools or abstinence only?
Comprehensive, and much of it before high school.

To Infinity, and Beyond

34. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A good husband, boyfriend, and (perhaps) father.  I want to be respected (and I want to earn that respect) and look back with as few regrets as possible.

35. Do you want to get married?
I am getting married (to a wonderful woman)!

36. Do you want to have children?
Almost certainly.  The question will be whether I want to have children with more than one person or not.  Time will tell, I suppose.

37. What do you want to do for others before you die?

Help them see what they are capable of if they rid themselves of there stupid fears.  We are all capable of much, but are held back by so little.

Hello! And Thanks for All the Odd Looks


Hello, good readers of Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics!  Gina here, of The Martinelli Variety Hour fame!  In an exciting turn of events, Shaun has invited me to contribute on here, since I’m one of those atheist, polyamorous skeptics he’s always going on about.  And since I am the author of a blog being officially followed by a whopping SIXTEEN people, you know that I’m going to really jazz up this place with the celebrity that I bring to the table.  I also happen to be dating him and his fiancee.  These things are unrelated…I think.

What’s that? You have not read my blog?  You are not one of those sixteen people?  Oh…well…fine.  I know.  I’m not particularly famous, but one time one of my posts got a lot of hits and I was on the news many, many years ago for walking around in an American flag unitard on Independence Day.  It was back in the days before YouTube, so you probably missed it.  But let me just tell you, as a five year old, I made this country look good with the power of patriotic spandex.

Mental note: Patriotic Spandex would be a fabulous name for a band…possibly for an ironic Tim McGraw tribute band.  Or, like, a hair metal band that sings songs about missing the days of McCarthyism.

Second Mental Note: I will write a song called “You Have Been Blacklisted from My Love”

So…yes, Shaun wanted me to start contributing here because these types of brilliant observations are what I offer as a blogger.  For the most part, I will be writing on my own blog and cross posting here when the subject is relevant.  I write about polyamory, atheism, and feminism a lot over there.  I also write a lot about toilets and other subjects not appropriate for this blog over there, so…take that for what it’s worth.  But if you’d like to know about me, my family and my super sweet personal life, feel free to check it out.

Anyway, as an intro to my presence here, I wanted to talk about something relevant that happened to me recently.  Warnings: I am kind of long winded, and I like to curse.  The F-Bomb is one of my favorite words to use, especially when surrounded by really good vocabulary.  Full disclosure: I also really like the word F-Bomb.  Anyway, onto my story.

Generally in my life, the subjects of polyamory, atheism and feminism are sort of separate things.  Sometimes, two of them intersect.  It is a rare thing when all three intersect, but it has been known to happen.  Take, for example, my recent experience at an atheist meetup in the area.

So, if you read this blog or generally any blog dealing with the skeptic community, you might have noticed that there is an ongoing debate about the low amount of women at skeptic events.  Apparently, this is a subject of great controversy because women sometimes speak out about wanting to feel comfortable and accepted at events they attend and therefore they are cunts…or something.  I don’t know.  I think a bunch of other things were said, but that’s ultimately the conclusion a lot of people seem to come to.  Other people like to be apologists about it and say that you should just be better at being comfortable in uncomfortable situations because dudes are dudes, yo, and you are totes hot.  Don’t you like being told that you are hot?  Other people still find it necessary to ask the question, “Why are women uncomfortable in the first place?”

So, I show up to the meetup.  Days before I had expressed an interest to Shaun because I thought that starting to be a presence at the local meetup would move the whole “women feeling cool about being places with men” thing forward.  His immediate response was, “You know you’re going to be hit on constantly, right?”  Later, he invited me to the next one and I asked if it was going to be horrible and he assured me that most of the people were nice.  So, I get there and find that the meetup consists of a long table with about 12 people sitting at it: one woman and a bunch of dudes.

What I experienced was not what I expected (me getting hit on relentlessly).

I sat down next to Shaun and was promptly not acknowledged by anyone there (except Shaun, of course).  I had met a couple of the other people there before, so I took the initiative to say hello, shake hands, whatever and that’s fine because it’s not everyone else’s job, necessarily, to get me to be social.  But, no one else, for several minutes looked at me, made eye contact with me or said a word to me.  At some point, the other guy sitting next to me turned around and introduced himself.  He happened to be in his 50’s and polyamorous and was clearly a hippie back in the days of hippies.  He was pleasant and I enjoyed talking to him.  The people sitting directly across from me refused to acknowledge my existence for most of the time I was there.

Then this other guy started talking about how when he goes to a bar, he likes to go up to women and treat them like crap so that he can figure out how much they can handle…because he’s an asshole apparently and wants women who put up with assholes.  I guess there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this strategy, but I found it strange that he chose to start talking about basically verbally abusing strange women in bars for the purposes of sex right around the time I got there.  As in, he started this story a few minutes after I sat down as though on cue.  I remember making a comment like “Cool idea, bro!” but I think I said it pretty quietly.

After a few minutes he began to tell us a tale of how he picked up this woman at a bar once who invited him back to her place.  Shaun would tell me later that this guy identifies as polyamorous.  This an important point to, um, point out.  Anyway, the guy goes back to her apartment and upon entry into the bedroom, he sees a men’s suit hanging on the door.

“Yo, are you married?” he asked.

“Yeah, but he won’t be back for another hour,” she said.

“Whaaa?” He…um…gurgled.

“He doesn’t mind.”

The guy went on to say something like “Oh yeah, I’m sure, har har” and I piped in, “Well, you don’t know.  You don’t know what their rules are or what the structure of their relationship is.  She wasn’t necessarily lying.”

The guy sitting next to him, who had managed to not talk to me at all even though I said things directly to him says, “Yeah, he might be into cuckolding.”  And they laughed because (A) how absurd and (B) there are no other possibilities.

I was sitting on a beer and almost spit it out everywhere while Shaun laughed and reminded me that this was an atheist meetup and not a polyamory meetup.  But the one dude was poly, so…I don’t get the point of his story.  All it really did was serve as a way to kind of mock nonmonogamy and objectify a woman and paint her as a probable liar.

Finally, as a few people started to leave the meetup, I was able to engage in conversation with some people, but only after really being outgoing and talkative myself.  I made a lot of effort to get into the whole thing and was met with minimal results.

So, I’m telling this story because my experience was benign but typical.  I am telling this story because I think it answers the question why a lot of women don’t feel like getting more involved.  No one called me names or hit on me or anything like that, but my presence wasn’t valued.  By some of the people’s reactions it is possible that my presence was intimidating either because of the simple fact that I was female and making eye contact or because I was confident and outgoing.  Whatever the reason, I left feeling like the whole thing had been sort of a waste of time, except that I got to hang out with Shaun and a few of his close friends.  That was, of course, enjoyable.

Will I go back?  Yes, probably.  I will go back, not because it was a particularly great way to spend an evening for me, but because by continuing to be a presence there it could turn into a great way to spend an evening and me being there could start to make it more comfortable for other women to be there too.  It is a simple step towards something important and it’s something that I can be a part of.

So hello out there.  I hope you enjoy whatever I might put on here.  Let the games begin!

polyskeptic.com


So, I have been considering doing this for a while, but today I did it.  I have a new domain, or a new URL, or a new web address (depending on your familiarity with internet lingo).

What does this mean to you, dear reader? Well, it means that if you were to link, surf, or otherwise browse to shaunphilly.wordpress.com, you will be re-directed to polyskeptic.com, automatically.  But it also means that you can update your links, bookmarks, etc if you like.  The blog will still have the same title (although I did change it to Atheist, Polyamorous, Skeptics recently after inviting my fiance to blog here, which she may from time to time).  Why did I do this?  Well, it’s easier to remember (telling people how I spell my name makes telling people about my blog cumbersome).  And if I decide to make a T-shirt to wear taht advertises my blog (with some awesome slogan, of course), I will have an easier domain to print on the back.

So, here goes owning my own domain!

 

The Blindness of Christian Privilege


“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” [Matthew 15:13-14]

So, I’ve been reading Nietzsche again.

See, I went and got myself a Kindle.  And I was getting free copies of all these books I already have (and will be donating many books at some point in the future to make shelf space for…something).  And I downloaded a copy of The Antichrist which I have not read in many years.  It is a fascinating book that makes many points that would be familiar to many gnu atheists.  I have thought more than once of sending a passage to Jerry Coyne, Eric MacDonald, or even PZ Myers because they all have reminds me of things Nietzsche has said in this little book.

So, then the other day, on the way home from work, I read section 32 of said book.  Before quoting and commenting, I want to point out that Nietzche does not identify as an atheist*, although his views seem pretty consistent with how the term is used today.  I think it is fair to consider him an atheist for the purposes of simple categorization (as if Nietzsche could be easily categorized!) but recognize that he didn’t self-identify with the term.

As an introduction to today’s thought, allow me to make an observation.  Many atheist writers, especially ones I read, talk about how Christianity, or theism generally—perhaps merely the concept of faith itself!—is philosophically and even methodologically opposed to basic critical thinking, skepticism, and secularism.  There is a real worldview difference between the very religious and the essentially secular culture which surrounds it.  Some call it a culture war, and this label is as good as any I suppose, but it is at bottom (one is tempted to say de Bottom) it is a difference of perspectives, whether those at odds see the underlying methodological distinctions or not.

I think part of Nietzsche’s point in section 32 of The Antichrist to point out that the faith of the Christian is incapable of seeing this perspective for what it is—a privileged perspective.  But before he can make any such observations, he has a few necessary bushes to beat around.  He starts the section with the following:

I can only repeat that I set myself against all efforts to intrude the fanatic into the figure of the Saviour: the very word impérieux, used by Renan, is alone enough to annul the type. What the “glad tidings” tell us is simply that there are no more contradictions; the kingdom of heaven belongs to children; the faith that is voiced here is no more an embattled faith—it is at hand, it has been from the beginning, it is a sort of recrudescent childishness of the spirit. [links obviously not in the original]

Nothing surprising yet.  Nietzsche several times observes the child-like attribute of Christian faith, not that this observation should be surprising at all given that this idea is native to the New Testament.  For example, in the book of Luke, chapter 18:15-17 (NIV):

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” [emphasis mine]

But Nietzsche seems to see a significance to this childishness which I think many gnu atheists either miss, or is no longer largely true.  Nietzsche continues:

The physiologists, at all events, are familiar with such a delayed and incomplete puberty in the living organism, the result of degeneration. A faith of this sort is not furious, it does not de nounce, it does not defend itself: it does not come with “the sword”—it does not realize how it will one day set man against man. It does not manifest itself either by miracles, or by rewards and promises, or by “scriptures”: it is itself, first and last, its own miracle, its own reward, its own promise, its own “kingdom of God.” This faith does not formulate itself—it simply lives, and so guards itself against formulae.

Now, in light of the history of Christianity, the evangelical nature of Christians throughout their history (and no sign of it slowing!), and the various formulas by which sects argue (with atheists and with each other), one might think that Nietzsche is being either naive or ignorant here.  But Nietzsche is quite aware of the history and character of Christianity, and seems to be saying such to raise your eyebrows here, in order to set you up.

So, given that he is certainly aware of the objections rising in your mind, let us follow his bread-crumb trail to see where it is leading:

To be sure, the accident of environment, of educational background gives prominence to concepts of a certain sort: in primitive Christianity one finds only concepts of a Judaeo-Semitic character (—that of eating and drinking at the last supper belongs to this category—an idea which, like everything else Jewish, has been badly mauled by the church). But let us be careful not to see in all this anything more than symbolical language, semantics[6] an opportunity to speak in parables. It is only on the theory that no work is to be taken literally that this anti-realist is able to speak at all. Set down among Hindus he would have made use of the concepts of Sankhya,[7] and among Chinese he would have employed those of Lao-tse[8]—and in neither case would it have made any difference to him.—With a little freedom in the use of words, one might actually call Jesus a “free spirit”[9]—he cares nothing for what is established: the word killeth,[10] whatever is established killeth. The idea of “life” as an experience, as he alone conceives it, stands opposed to his mind to every sort of word, formula, law, belief and dogma. He speaks only of inner things: “life” or “truth” or “light” is his word for the innermost—in his sight everything else, the whole of reality, all nature, even language, has significance only as sign, as allegory.—

In writing this, Nietzsche is pulling you in, especially if you are prone to seeing an ecumenical nature to religion.  He seems to want to sketch the humanity of Jesus in order to create a larger picture, a larger historical and ideological contrast, of Christianity.  Nietzsche here seems to be addressing the character of the ‘Saviour’ as a foil for the church which he sees as degraded and stagnant (“Oh how repulsive is this falsified light, this stake air!”).  He is seeing the humanity hidden under ecclesiastical religion, a humanity too-well hidden by the finery of its tattered garb.

Here, Nietzsche the philologist comes through clearly.  He is seeing the Gospels as a picture into a life lived by a man who stands prior to the dogmas of the church as they would become.  It is here that the liberal believer, the ecumenicalist, and in general the respectable atheist can step up and try to claim Nietzsche as their own, as a representative of those for whom standing up and proclaiming that religion is a part of our humanity (even if it is not true), and we gnu atheists who despise and degrade it (as if it needed our help for that) ought to be ashamed of ourselves.  But it’s not quite that simple.

Nietzsche continues:

Here it is of paramount importance to be led into no error by the temptations lying in Christian, or rather ecclesiastical prejudices: such a symbolism par excellence stands outside all religion, all notions of worship, all history, all natural science, all worldly experience, all knowledge, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art—his “wisdom” is precisely a pure  ignorance[11] of all such things.

Hermann Hendrich's 'Parsifal'

And it is here we see the first strong glimpse of what Nietzsche is enlightening us to.  From a purely formal point of view, Nietzsche’s cloaked criticism of Wagner here (the phrase “pure ignorance” is from Wagner’s Parsifal, which was largely responsible for Nietzsche’s turning into the greatest critic of his former friend) is perhaps an analogy of his criticism that lies beneath it.  That is, this cloaked criticism is itself a clue that Nietzsche is not here cuddling up with the Gospels, but is rather creating a caricature, again a foil, of both the Gospel and its subject in contrast to the Christianity which we find ourselves faced with in modernity.

Nietzsche continues:

He has never heard of culture; he doesn’t have to make war on it—he doesn’t even deny it…. The same thing may be said of the state, of the whole bourgeoise social order, of labour, of war—he has no ground for denying “the world,” for he knows nothing of the ecclesiastical concept of “the world”…. Denial is precisely the thing that is impossible to him.—In the same way he lacks argumentative capacity, and has no belief that an article of faith, a “truth,” may be established by proofs (—his proofs are inner “lights,” subjective sensations of happiness and self-approval, simple “proofs of power”—). Such a doctrine cannot contradict: it doesn’t know that other doctrines exist, or can exist, and is wholly incapable of imagining anything opposed to it…. If anything of the sort is ever encountered, it laments the “blindness” with sincere sympathy—for it alone has “light”—but it does not offer objections….

This observation lies in stark contrast to one of the sharpest criticisms of religion by many new/gnu atheists today; that religion and faith are anti-life, anti-science, and ultimately anti-reality.  And while it is true that religion is all of these things, what I think Nietzsche is pointing out here is that this is a perspective that can only be seen from the outside, from one who looks at faith from the outside, and not from the inside of Christian faith.

(Remember, one does not need to have faith to look at it as if from the inside.  This is the essence of accomodationism)

The Christian worldview, insofar as it is child-like, is not against the world or its various useful methodologies, technologies, or philosophies; it is unaware of them.  A young child does not misbehave because it is against the rules of behavior and social interaction, the child cannot conceive of them yet.  The child is just being child-like, yet to become aware of the society in which it is swimming, just like the proverbial fish.  In much the same way, one whose entire world is lived within the simplicity of faith, worship, and promised salvation cannot see the conflict inherent with those who do not live with them in that world.

They see the world outside as rejecting this simplicity, and cannot comprehend why those outside would reject it.  They see us secularists as the source of the conflict, and whine about persecution and oppression of simply living their lives according to the values (not their values, because that would require awareness of another possible value).  They cannot see that their own worldview (if they are even aware that theirs s a worldview!) is in conflict with reality—they have no concept of “reality” as those who are methodologically aligned with science are!

In the end, it is just another privilege.  In this case it is a religious privilege which blinds them to their own ignorance—they are ignorant that they are ignorant.  As Christopher Hitchens pointed out many times, they are in chains and glad of it.  They do not see their imprisonment for what it is, and they act in ways that look like whining children to the rest of us.  They demand special privilege, undue respect, and don’t understand why we don’t give it to them.

It’s for the same reason you don’t allow a small child to do whatever it wants.  That child has not yet learned to be an adult, and so we protect it and sometimes find it adorable, but we don’t allow it free reign lest it destroy itself and the things we value.

*Consider the following:

“God”, “immortality of the soul”, “redemption”, “beyond” — Without exception, concepts to which I have never devoted any attention, or time; not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been childlike enough for them? I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: It is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers — at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!

(Ecce Homo)

Objectification and polyamory


There should be no doubt that unhealthy relationships exist.  Hell, I have been in a few in years past (and I was not always the one at primary fault, even despite my struggles and past failings).  And the causes of such relationships are varied and attributable to too many psychological, cultural, and communication-based issues to cover here to any sufficient degree.

But I obviously want to address some of it, right? Otherwise I would not be posting anything.  So, a rather cynical and, perhaps, true thought occurred to me this morning while on the subway.  The thought immediately brought to mind real potential examples, from acquaintences of mine, of this thought.

What if one of the reasons that many people could not be polyamorous is simply due to the fact that many people are not in love with (and possibly incapable of such a thing) their partner?  What if the fact that their partner, spouse, etc is a mere object to them (a trophy, for example) and that they cannot imagine what it would be like to love two or more people openly because they can’t really do it with one?

With some such people, their partner is just a sort-of space-occupier.  Yes, this partner has certain attributes which the person likes, but ultimately they are pretty swappable or replaceable And perhaps they go about town being non-exclusive behind their back because, well, sometimes you just want a different flavor.  Afterall, when your spouse is from Stepford, what’s the difference, right?

OK, so some of that is pretty extreme and cynical, but not completely useless to us here. So, for the sake of this idea, imagine relationships which are not very deep, open, or are merely primarily shallow or political in nature.  What sense could polyamory mean to such people? Relationships for such people are not really about deep and meaningful connections made in an effort to complement ourselves, so what sense would it have to talk about doing more of this?

Such people might comprehend swingers better (which is not to put swingers down; they are not always shallow and scared of sharing intimacy), but their world is not dominated by thoughts or practice of authenticity, honesty, and quality (which is not to say that all poly people are seeking such things; I know quite a few who certainly aren’t).

Such a large segment of our culture seems to be about finding some arm-candy, a sugar daddy, or just someone who appeals to us right now rather than a truly good personal match.  Part of this is the fact (it seems pretty true to me, anyway) that many people lack a true ability to find what they like, want, and are capable of.   Finding a good match necessitates some level of self-awareness, which takes work and some courage to attain. 

And since our culture is fairly unaware of itself, many relationships tend to be co-dependent, co-objectifying, and shallow.  Polyamory, to such a culture and to the people which inhabit it, simply would make no sense.  The only sense it could make is having more hot bodies to touch and enjoy, which is not bad in itself but is limiting on how we can see potential partners.

Yes, sometimes another hot body to enjoy is what we polyamorous people want and what we find.  But ultimately I find it much more worth-while to find people I really like intellectually, emotionally, and sexually.  If some people are not looking for all of that with their one (ideally) exclusive partner, then of course polyamory makes no sense to them.

This only leaves why people who do want all that are unwilling or unable to share the wonderful people they find.  Sounds selfish, possessive, and silly to me.

Santorum spreads stupidly


So, it’s no secret that I despise people like Rick Santorum.  I mean, the guy is pretty clueless, homophobic (but I repeat myself!), and the couple of times I met him he creeped me out as few have.  He’s smarmy, slimy, and pretty consistently socially conservative.

I’ll give him credit for at least being pretty consistent (in today’s political climate, that actually is a virtue), and being conservative is not necessarily bad in itself…right?

So, in reading a post on Friendly Atheist today about a speech Rick Santorum recently gave, I bumped into a quote by the man himself that went as such:

I always say that if your faith is true and your reason is right, you’ll end up at the same place. Why? Well because God created us, created the universe, created reason. And, of course, why would God create something where your faith would bring you one place and your reason would bring you another if your faith is true? Right? [Scattered applause.]

I also believe as a public official that you have a right to speak to people of faith and no faith. You have to present a reason why you want to advance a certain public policy. Not just because, “that’s what my faith teaches me and that’s why I believe it.” That’s fine, but from the standpoint of public policy, it’s insufficient, because you need to appeal to people who may not share your faith.

That is actually quite an interesting idea.  I think I agree…with Rick Santorum.

Of course, he goes the opposite direction as I do with how we implement this idea, but at least he recognizes that if reason goes a different direction than his faith, there is a problem.  Also, many people seem to believe that their faith is sufficient for implementing policy.  You would be surprised (or not, if you have been around religion enough) how uncommon that point of view is.

So, I don’t want to address specifically what he says about public policy and religion per se.  I just want to say a few words about the relationship between faith and reason, and perhaps a few things about intelligence and conservatism.

I don’t think Rick Santorum is stupid.  I also don’t think he’s particularly intelligent, enlightened, or has a good grasp of sufficient perspective in order to be a good leader for either the United States or any group of people.  His views on Islam are pretty extreme (which is fine; so are mine I suppose), but he seems to fail to recognize that much of what he says about Islam could be said about Judaism and Christianity.

I don’t know specifically what his “reasons” are about Christianity, nor how he meshes reason with his faith, but it is clear that he disagrees with me about how religion and faith relate.  Where I see them at necessary odds, he seems to think that reason and faith do lead to the same conclusions (or at least can do so) as he is a practicing Christian who said the first paragraph above, where he implies that reason is a good tool to employ.

I am skeptical at his ability to think critically, as well as many of the other conservative candidates, and I wonder whether the vast majority of his fans are not, well, complete idiots.  The ones I have talked to seem to be just that, despite my desire to believe that most people are basically smart if not misguided and ignorant.  Sure, I’m sure a few fairly intelligent and educated people like him, but they seem to be an exception rather than the rule.

So, what of intelligence and political conservatism? I mean, there has been some talk of it recently (here is a quick post by a colleague of mine about the recent studies hitting the news), and if there is any legitimacy to the idea that bigotry, low intelligence, and right wing politics are significantly linked then, well, should liberals use this?  Is it truly arrogant to think of ourselves as better educated, intelligent, and therefore more likely to have better opinions if we are liberal-leaning skeptics who know something about critical thinking?

Or is it just more ammunition for people calling us arrogant jerks?

Personally, I don’t care if people think me arrogant.  If I’m wrong, demonstrate that I am wrong and I’ll try and change my views accordingly.  But in conversations with racists, libertarians, and conservative theists over the years I have found myself feeling smarter, better educated, and better informed than my interlocutors.  Is this bias or is it something different? Is it a little bias, but mostly difference in intellect and education?

I just don’t know.  And if Hamby is right in saying that

When the science demonstrates that liberals are in fact more intelligent and tolerant, they sheepishly retreat to their labs, unwilling to publicly admit the characteristics that made them skeptic scientists in the first place, and virtually unmovable in their refusal to admit the logic demanding more intelligent liberals in office.  Far from a “liberal conspiracy” to take over the country, there is arguably an unspoken agreement to cover up the growing body of evidence that there is a scientific difference between the parties.  It’s far too boorish and elitist to point to our own studies demonstrating how smart we are.

well, then perhaps we liberal-minded skeptics should not be quiet about feeling smarter than bigoted conservatives, right? I mean, if it is true that conservatives simply think themselves superior (due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps) and so they barge through our culture with ignorant and simplistic ideas which do damage while cautious skeptics sheepishly pull back, unsure of our own adeptness, then this spells disaster for our culture.

It means that the truly intelligent and capable people tend to be self-critical and shy while less capable and less intelligent people charge through the world leaving destruction and stupidity in their path.  Destroying educational institutions, insisting upon their privileged religious worldviews, and calling any skepticism of their power, authority, or conclusions oppression, lack of patriotism, or treason.  What a nightmare!

If all this is true (and it is indeed a colorful example of liberal porn), then it amounts to a real problem for our political landscape for many years to come.

All I can say is that I hope that this view is not accurate.  I hope this is but pure fear-mongering, hyperbole, and another example of the polarity of our political climate gone mad.

But if it’s true, that uncertainty above is just another intelligent, educated, and capable liberal pulling back rather than trudging forward in the fight against the dangers of conservative politics.

My head hurts.  I’m going to go read some Nietzsche or something….