Fonder Hearts

Growing up, I had the unfortunate experience of disliking most of my friends.  I suppose this sounds highly peculiar, but if you had known the people that I spent most of my time with, you would understand.

As a kid I didn’t move around a lot.  I lived in the same house from the time I started kindergarten to the time I graduated highschool, and my parents still live there today.  The theater that my mom owns and operates on the first floor of the building is celebrating its 25th anniversary this very month!  As such, I made a handful of friends who became my “best friends” at the young age of 5.  The thing about being 5 is that you are so naïve about people and before you know it, you are attracting passive aggressive, manipulative awful people who help you have fun sometimes.  You don’t know any better!  Well, maybe that’s just me, but that is what always happened.  And when you make friends that young in your area, and you all happen to be pretty smart, well, long story short I didn’t get rid of these people until I was 18-19 and bitter.

I spent most of my formative years, I enjoyed finding excuses to not have to spend time with these people outside of school.  I had convinced myself that I was an introvert because being around them sapped my energy.  The very thought of bumping into them on the street left a nervous lump in my stomach.  Whenever I see a “buddy comedy” or any movie about a group of young friends who spend all their time together, I have a lot of trouble relating.  I feel a sense of loss for all that time I spent trying to keep these people happy while I was so unhappy myself.  I was too worried of judgment and repercussions to ever really be honest, to ever really get mad and show it, to ever say “Why do we even hang out?  We don’t actually like each other, do we?”  In turn, my parents were pretty much my real best friends and I spent a lot of time at home with them, avoiding phone calls and amusing myself with various projects.  I spent a lot of time in my room, coming out to visit my parents at various points.  They were almost always there, so I wasn’t ever really by myself.

Did I mention before that I was miserable for most of the time before I was in my 20’s?

The result of all this was that for all that time, I never missed anyone.  I was generally relieved when life circumstances made it so that I didn’t have to deal with someone anymore.  I remember when a close friend of mine decided to transfer to a different highschool.  People with healthy relationships would have been sad about this, but I was relieved.  When people drifted out of my life, I didn’t particularly care.  To me it felt like a burden on me was being lifted.

A lot of this had to do with the feeling that I was generally pretending most of the time.  As a teenager, I often felt like a shell of myself amongst my peers.  I can’t say for sure what I was hiding (I don’t think it was all conscious) but comparing myself today with me then, I can definitely say that I was holding back.  I would say that the only friend who really had any concept of who I was and what I was about was Peter (note: He is the only person from then who has a significant place in my life), and we have often laughed about how much we hid from each other about our problems back then.

In highschool, I got my first long term boyfriend.  We dated for 4 and a half years.  During most of that time, I didn’t have to miss him because I could spend as much time with him as I wanted.  At 19, we moved in together and by the time he went away for a while and I should have been missing him…well, the relationship was falling apart and I was cheating on him and it was all a mess.

When I started dating Wes, we got close really fast and spent most of our free time together.  We moved in together after 9 months of dating and we’ve been lucky enough to spend very little time apart in the 8 years we’ve been together.  The times when we were apart though introduced me to something I was unfamiliar with: Missing someone.

During a lot of this time too, though, I was/still am/always will be working on my own issues.  They were more severe when Wes and I got together and when you are riddled with insecurities and other emotional problems, you tend to be a bit self absorbed.   I missed Wes when we were apart, but it was often coupled with various other issues.  I needed Wes’ help all the time to get through things and when I was alone, his absence magnified my inability to cope effectively with things.

Aaaaaaand then we decided to become polyamorous.  As I have mentioned, this decision led to me kicking my efforts to improve myself into high gear.  Happiness was the goal and to achieve it, a lot of shit had to be dealt with.  And when I successfully worked through so much crap I found something amazing.  I was more in love with, more committed to Wes than ever before.  When we are apart my missing of him is pure.  Wes is one of the people who brings out the best in me.  I don’t have to hide when he’s around.  He inspires me to be myself and being without him leaves me without a source of activation energy.  I can maintain, but as time without him progresses, I will inevitably move toward lump-hood, feeling as though a piece of me is missing.

Yeah, yeah, get out your barf bags.  You’re going to need them.

So, I didn’t particularly expect to find a connection like that with anyone else.  But I realize that mental and emotional work that I did to accept and embrace Wes’ polyamory (I didn’t know if I would ever personally participate) changed my perspective on it in general and, well, it changed my heart.  Basically, I had a Grinch experience where my heart grew to an enormous size and it felt like I had an infinite capacity to love and care for people.

And then I gave back Christmas and sat down to some mighty fine roast beast in Whoville.  Or something.

So, I married Wes and then we asked to move in with us because Wes and I agreed that the house was so much better with her living in it than otherwise, and then I started dating Shaun, and a little while after that, Ginny and before I knew it I was the happiest creature on the planet.  I was surrounded by so much love and felt like I had the ability to give so much of myself because of it.

And now I have myself a strange double edged sword.  It is wonderful and beautiful and sometimes painful and sad.  I miss all of them when I am apart from them.  The business trip I went on recently was awful for various reasons, but the worst of it was that I was away from home for two entire days, alone, without these people who honestly make me feel whole.

Yes, yes, I see you’ve filled your barf bags.  There’s a trashcan over there.  NO! Don’t use the waste paper basket!  Can’t you see it’s full of holes?  Ugh.  You can’t find good, responsible, puking audience members these days.

As I mentioned on my other blog , I slipped into dazes while traveling home (which took me forever due to my connection and layovers) and when I would emerge from a plane, I kept expecting to see them all there.  When I would awake from my loneliness induced haze, I realized that this is always what I want, all things being equal.  I always want them all there.  A couple of days without them doesn’t ever seem right.

Of course, what I want in my delirious hazes isn’t always realistic, so in the mean time, I miss them.  And while the feeling of missing people you adore isn’t what I would call pleasant, it seems to me that it is a kind of fantastic unpleasantness.  For a person that spent so many years hoping that everyone I was close to would disappear, I would say that having people I don’t want to live without, even for a couple of days, is a vast improvement.

I write these things about polyamory so that those who question us might better understand why it’s worth it to us.  One thing I hear a lot is, “Ugh, I can barely maintain one relationship…more than one would be impossible!”  I was afraid of that too.  But I found that there was nothing to be afraid of here.  Yes, poly means that there are more people for me to miss and when I am having some general emotional problems (as I have over the last few weeks) it can be intense, but I miss them because they are awesome why would I trade having requited love for an existence without it, just to spare me that less than pleasant feeling.

Anyway, that’s my lovey dovey post for the week.  Just be happy I spared you a picture of a Danielle Steel novel or something to illustrate the Depth of my Feelings.

I guess I should call the janitor.  Yeesh!

Family Dinner: It’s All Bunnies and Rainbows Around Here

Easter was a first for me in the world of polyamory.  I went to have Easter dinner with Shaun and Ginny at Shaun’s mom’s house.  This would be my first time meeting his mother and I was nervous.  Meeting parents is one of those odd things in dating and usually, if you find yourself in a long term relationship, you only have to do this once.  Polyamory means the possibility of more than one serious partner and that means having to go through the dance of meeting parents more.

Yes, yes, get your laughs in about the fact that everyone writing for Polyskeptic had Easter dinner plans yesterday.  Wes and Jessie went to a party that involved an egg toss and an Easter egg hunt.  The eggs were filled with cash.  This is awesome and really in the spirit of the season.  Easter: One of the many days you get kids sugared up and tell them bizarre stories about rabbits and dye chicks green.  Also, something something Jesus.  In my house, Easter has always been an excuse to get together.  I like coloring eggs because I’m a dork and I figure, the older I get the more skilled my creations become, so why stop?  Jesus never enters into the conversation.  Pagans do and my dad usually takes this time of year to say something about Druids being cool and how Christians killed them all or something, but generally, the whole holiday is just an excuse to eat a ham purchased with grocery store points.  Shaun’s family seemingly uses the holiday for the same excuse.  No Jesus, just hanging out eating something you don’t eat the rest of the year.

So, yes, I was going to meet Shaun’s mom.  Earlier in the week she had called him worried that we were going to be obnoxious about our polyamorous ways in front of her neighbors.  I think she had this vision of us standing on the dinner table pontificating about the value of polyamory and then, I don’t know, making out in the kitchen and everywhere else.  I went further to assume that she pictured me, being the Homewrecking Harlot(registered trademark) in this scenario, arriving in some slutty get-up, a giant hairdo and, I don’t know, smoking Virginia Slims? I would walk in while Ginny looked depressed and slur out, “Hi! Where’s the booze?”

I say this mostly in jest, but this fear of what and who she assumed I was got to me a bit.  It was silly because I am lucky in that I can be pretty personable and most people generally like me upon meeting me, but I felt like I was going to have to be some odd version of myself to get through the day.  I assumed also that these neighbors she was afraid we would offend would be terrifying and would be the bigger challenge.  So, I baked an apple cobbler.  Homewreckers don’t bake cobblers, right?  Of course not.  Then I put on a nice skirt, shirt, blazer combination with heels.  “I am a wonderful person.  I am totally professional and appropriate!”  Before Wes took me to Shaun and Ginny’s, Jessie gave me a pep talk and it went something like this:

“Gina, you are awesome.  Anyone who doesn’t see that can go fuck themselves.  Shaun loves you and thinks you’re awesome too and will agree with me about what they can go do if they don’t like you.”

That’s a paraphrase, but that was basically the sentiment.  I really appreciated it.  On the ride over, Wes helped to psyche me up too talking about various psychological choices people make about liking people.  If they find that they actually like you, it’s difficult for them to think of you as bad.  It’s called the “Halo Effect”.  Yes, we are nerds.

We awaited our ride and Shaun entertained Ginny and I by dancing around the kitchen.  When our ride got there, we piled in the truck and were immediately offered Smarties and we drove down to her house 2 hours away.  The guy driving was her ex and didn’t seem to care who I was (and apparently doesn’t particularly talk to Ginny either).  The ride was soundtracked by a 1960’s satellite radio station and this basically made the whole thing start out as absurd.  The ride was pretty quiet.  I had tried to say a few things to our driver, we’ll call him Bob, but he didn’t really seem to be listening.  He engaged Shaun in conversation but generally ignored Ginny and me.  In general, everyone was reserved, which is always weird to me.  At one point, we stopped for gas and Bob got out of the car.  Shaun turned around and looked at me and I said, “It’s going to be a looooong day.” And with that, a switch was flipped and everyone was silly…for exactly the amount of time Bob wasn’t in the car.

His mom lives in a standard sprawling burb.  Getting there added to the absurdity.  Little did I know that the absurdity would grow.  She basically lives where Edward Scissorhands took place, but with less interesting shrubbery.  I had a Doctor Who moment upon entering the house and seeing how pretty it was and how much bigger it was than I thought (yes, indeed, it was bigger on the inside).  Within minutes, Shaun got his mom to find some snacks and things were jovial enough.  I wasn’t getting weirdness from his mom.  Bottles of wine were opened.  Shaun was being Shaun, which Ginny and I are both entertained by and then his mother said,

“See, I think Shaun is Jim Jones or something.  He’s got you both thinking he’s funny or something and he’s not.”

I had a lapse in memory about who Jim Jones was and when his mom left the room, I asked Shaun and he reminded me that Jim Jones was the founder of The People’s Temple, responsible for the deaths of 909 children and adults either through violent coercion or brainwashing.  He orchestrated the largest mass suicides in history.  It’s a delightful story, really.  So…his mother was suggesting that her son had brainwashed us into thinking that he’s funny or something and that he has tricked us into liking him…next step: Kool-Aid.  My eyes widened and I started cracking up.  “Wow!” I said, “That is AWESOME!”  She came back into the room and Shaun poured me some of the red wine that his mom likes, which is hella sweet.  She made another Jim Jones comment and then actually said something about Kool-Aid and I just couldn’t resist. “Hmm, well I’m drinking this wine which is basically Kool-Aid.  Maybe he learned it from you!”  She was good humored about, reiterating that it was her son doing the brainwashing.

She brought out her iPad and showed us this app that she and Bob were kind of obsessed with.  It was an animated cat that you could talk to and it would repeat back what you said.  You could scratch its belly and various other things and it would purr and get into crazy shenanigans.  Periodically, an animated dog would come into the frame and fart loudly, thus offending the cat.  They showed it to us and we found it mildly amusing.  When the fart noise occurred, I admit to laughing harder, but it was just as much about the absurdity of being in poly-law’s kitchen watching her poke at an iPad that is making fart noises.

The neighbors arrived after an hour or so and were…delightful!  All I knew about them leading up to this meeting was that they were Jewish and that these were the neighbors his mom thought we might offend with our decadent, inappropriate lifestyle.  As it turned out, they were wonderful people with that wonderful New York Jew lilt to their voices.  I was helpless against picking up the cadence of their speech as I spoke to them.  It was like talking to the extended family on my mom’s ide.  The husband used to run a headshop in Harvard Square in the 60’s.  Apparently, back then, this also included selling massive amounts of weed out of the shop.  He told me stories about it and said that he stopped drugs all together when he had a trip while driving home in which he saw his own heart beating on the dashboard. ..for three hours.  That was the end of that.  They were great, laid back people who didn’t mind dropping curse words around and had excellent senses of humor.  They didn’t ask about who I was and didn’t seem to care (the theme of the day, really), but we’re pretty sure they would have been fine knowing the truth about our relationships.  Still, there wasn’t any particular need to bring it up.  Our thoughts on this was that if someone asked, we wouldn’t lie.  Simple.  No one asked.

This part of the day was pretty great.  I felt much more comfortable to be myself and I opened up and was cracking jokes with the neighbors the whole time.  Dinner was served and it was delicious.  Shaun made a couple of dishes that were awesome and everyone was impressed that he could cook.  Ginny said something about how this was the reason she was marrying him.  I had things I would have said, mostly of a smart assed tone (“It’s the reward we get for putting up with his ridiculousness!” or “Well, I try to pay him back when I can…but he’s such a connoisseur”), but I stopped myself not wanting to be too familiar.  I couldn’t really snap out of the mindset that to show indications of our relationship was inappropriate in this environment.  It was very difficult and very draining to do.

Shaun and I are relatively affectionate in public.  I like that he brings that out in me and in doing so, I have become more like that with Wes (it’s something we both never did much of, but Jessie brings it out in Wes like Shaun does for me).  In our regular lives, this isn’t anything in particular, but yesterday I made certain work of stifling it as much as possible.  Yes, this was probably unnecessary, but Shaun and I figured it would probably wise to keep it to a minimum.  I took cues from him and we spent the day being a little bit like highschoolers in class.  It was cute, I guess, but ultimately draining because it was us hiding things to keep up appearances, and that’s never fun.  Not to mention that I was hiding my relationship with Ginny too, which of course, always has the double whammy for people with delicate sensibilities.  The advantage here though is that people expect women to be a bit more affectionate with their friends.  We found ourselves cuddling a bit of the couch while Shaun attempted to understand his mom’s entertainment center set up and the adults played with the farting dog app in the dining room.  At this point, I was laughing hysterically while watching Shaun try NOT to throw things out the window (and watching he and his mother communicate with each other, which is basically like watching two people speak completely different languages to each other) and listening to the fart noises and meows come from the other room.  I was sending Wes commentary via text and Ginny was laughing right along with me.  I was really glad she was there because I likely would have gone insane…much quicker.

Another thing that is draining to do is to hide my liberalness from people anymore.  I’m just starting to come out of my shell and call people on ignorance and once you start it’s a hard thing to stop.  As dinner drew to a close, somehow Bob got inspired to start telling ethnic jokes.  It’s was Shaun’s mom’s idea to start with I think and I think I encouraged it because the way the jokes were brought up was in a bizarre way.  I can’t remember how it happened, but Shaun’s mom said something about how all of his jokes are about Italians and he said, “Yeah, but you can substitute Jews in easily”.  My eyebrows went up and my eyes widened again.  Not only were two of the people at the table Jewish that he knew about, I raised my hand and said, “Oh, this ought to be good.  I’m an Italian Jew!”  The jokes boiled down to Italian and Jewish women being ugly.  I was tempted to allow the evening to devolve into a fit of you “Yo’ mama so ugly” jokes but resisted the urge.  Then Bob started talking about Hitler.


He said something about how Hitler would have been way more successful had the Jews not been so organized.  I almost feel out of my chair and could simply say something like, “Oh, so the facists WEREN’T successful?” and managed to stop myself before saying, “I guess 6 million constitutes as failure these days, you know, for genocide. It’s all or nothing, baby!”  I think everyone was of the mind to not let anything go anywhere significant.  There was no way that could have gone well had it continued.

We had dessert and discussed why cobblers are called cobblers.  I made some smart assed comment about using a real shoemaker in my recipe and then said, “I would assume it has something to do with cobblestone roads”.  The iPad made another appearance, but not for farting dogs this time.  Instead, Wikipedia came to the rescue and it turned out I was right.  Then we discussed suet pie and Spotted Dick and then retreated once again to the couch.  Shaun got the Wii working, but by this time I think the stress of the day had gotten to me and I wasn’t feeling too hot.  There would be no Wii tennis for me.  Shaun had regaled me with tales of his Wii tennis prowess a few days earlier, saying that he used to be able to play sitting down with a simple flip of one hand…while debating a Creationist online with the other.  Show Off.  Ginny was knitting and I was simply starting to curl into a ball on the sofa.  It was about 7pm.  We had been there since 2pm and I had been up since 8am at which time I was gardening with Wes.  The neighbors left around 7:30, while Shaun and his mother were having an epic Wii Bowling battle.  Shortly after they left, Shaun looked at me on the couch, asked if I was alright and I said, “Eh, I think I’m just done with this”.  We were beholden to Bob as our means of getting home and he had disappeared somewhere in the house.  Then Shaun’s mom disappeared and we had no clue when we were getting out of there.

At some point, we figured out where they were because they were fighting.  The fight moved around various areas of the property, the most exciting part being in the kitchen right next to us.  The argument was loud, repetitive (as fights usually are) and relatively easy to follow with little context.  Basically, neither of them were listening to each other and were having two different conversations.

The goal of leaving started to resemble a video game to me.  We would achieve various mini goals that contributed to the ultimate goal, like collecting items in an RPG.  Instead of useful keys, we were achieving things like asking his mom what the plan was, then watching her wash a dish and discuss what food we would be taking with us, then putting our coats on and standing in the foyer.  Each of these levels was interrupted by more fighting or other nonsense in which none of us were involved.  My favorite was an argument about light switches.

At about 9pm we found ourselves in the truck ready for departure.  I was in a daze about the entire day.  Bob started the car and the radio started up too, piping in Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”.  I lost it in a fit of hysterical laughter.  Bob was unfazed.  We got home an hour and a half later and I curled up in a ball on the Shaun and Ginny’s bed.

What I just described above was a typical family holiday.  Family joy and family dysfunction don’t change when you’re polyamorous and as in most things, the dysfunction rarely has anything to do with the polyamorous thing at all.  It seems common place that going home to visit family is generally a game of hiding things and self control.  Being Shaun’s girlfriend in this context was almost a non-issue.  We didn’t bring attention to it and there were so many other things to distract.  A family’s issues never really change.  In this case, polyamory helped because of the wonderful support structure it gives.  Ginny and I could confide in each other about everything when Shaun was pulled away.  Shaun had both of us to run to when things got too ridiculous.  And I could share quips about what was happening with Wes who was there for me via phone.  His support was there in spirit.

I was expecting the day to be hard, but for unique reasons.  I thought the day was mainly going to be difficult due to people’s discomfort with polyamory, and yes, there were elements that were related to that.  But it was harder for such standard reasons that everyone deals with when you go home to your parents’ house as an adult.  This lends itself all the more to the idea that polyamory isn’t really all that strange.  You encounter everything you encounter in a monogamous relationship, you just have more people to exchange horrified or knowing looks with.  My experience with Shaun’s mom was apparently a lot of Ginny’s experience with Shaun’s mom.  Poly means getting to this awkward thing more often but at least you have more people to share in it, and honestly, to me having more people to point out the absurdity of life to is always worth it.

Sunday, Bloody Easter

Jesus had a bad weekend for your sins.

Listen, I don’t accept the crucifixion and then the story of how Jesus rose on the third day for a second.  There is simply no corroborating evidence for it, it parallels too many pre-Christian stories, and the oldest Gospel, Mark, didn’t originally contain the story of the resurrection.  There is a lot out there to read about the issue of the resurrection, and I am certainly no expert (although I know one person who has expertise in related academic fields), so I will leave it to them to address that particular issue in more detail.

But if I did accept the story, that is, the bare facts that some guy (let’s call him Jesus, Yeshua, or Frank for all I care) almost 2000 years ago was wandering around with 12 dudes while preaching about some messianic Jewish story or how the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, or possibly within you, was arrested, detained, questions, tortured, crucified, and then buried only to appear, alive, a couple of days later…. Well, so what?

Let’s say that I was willing to grant that this happened.  It does not have to mean I have to accept the interpretation of those who claimed to have been witnesses.  I don’t have to accept the dominant narrative that evolved into the Gospel stories nor the earlier Pauline accounts, via his letters to other people who started worshiping this guy around the Mediterranean Sea, do I?.  In fact, this historical fact, if assumed true, does not address the existence of any gods at all, necessarily (nor does it address whether that person was a god, let alone THE god…or at least one of three hypostases of god…whatever).  It would be a mysterious situation that would pique my curiosity (and skepticism), but if it happened then we would have to deal with it as a real event and figure out how it might have heppened.

The problem is that we are so far removed from the historical events, blind to essential details, that the type of necessary investigation would be impossible.  There is nothing to do with the facts other than wonder about them.  So, what does this type of story have to do with god, religion, hundreds of years of violence, repression of scientific and intellectual freedom to advance, and hierarchical infrastructures of people whom are generally automatically revered because they apparently know this guy who rose from the “dead”?

In a word; nothing.  At least it shouldn’t, if we were being rational about things.

Many Christian apologists have claimed that what makes Christianity unique is the fact that it is based upon not mere mythology, but historical fact.  Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians famously said that

15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

and for many Christians this is the crux (lol) of the matter.  For them, the “miracle” of the resurrection is the fact that defines their faith.  And despite the fact that I (as well as many other people) do not think that it happened, this is irrelevant because even if it did actually happen it does not lead to the salvation story that many Christians want it to tell.



What happened to Jesus, if it happened at all like it is portrayed in Christian orthodox theological terms, was not a sacrifice.  If Jesus was god, or at least one with god, and if Jesus knew this, then it is not a sacrifice because he suffered no actual harm and no real loss,.  It is a bad couple of days, a stubbed toe, an inconvenient breeze in the face of eternity as a freaking all-powerful god! It would be less of a sacrifice than the sacrifice of effort and time it would take to flip a switch within arm’s length in order to save people from certain death by some killing machine, created by some super-villain.

Except in the case of Christianity, God is not only the switch-flipper, but God is also the mad super-villain who created the killing machine as well as the switch itself.  I simply cannot find meaning in this Easter story beyond metaphors for all sorts of themes surrounding rebirth, which are used by most religious traditions and which don’t imply that we are all evil sinners worthy of eternal torture for being what God made us to be so that he would have to send himself to have a bad couple of days to make up for lack of good planning concerning the fate of billions of people throughout all of history.

Yeah, that’s the story of Christianity, people.

Ok, so what if Jesus was a man, albeit a unique and important one? What if Jesus was a man inspired by a true god, or at least the chosen messenger of god, whose efforts in delivering said message would be rewarded with eternal paradise on the right hand, or even down the street from, the real God of the universe(s)?  Then it is merely a form of substitutional atonement; an awful event, morally, if ever there was one.  I’ve heard the apologetic responses, but the story of the atonement, or the replacing of the sacrificial sheep with Jesus (the most unblemished of sacrificial lambs) is absurd.  How does another person dying do anything for my imperfections? The level of theological rationalization around this issue is frankly staggering, and we need to see it for what it is.  The idea simply makes no sense, whatsoever, and it robs us of our personal responsibility for our own misdeeds.

Jesus dying for our sins, whether as god or man (or as some weird genetic cross-breed of god-man), is quite simply absurd and silly.  It appeals to us emotionally and can be rationalized into some meaningful pulp, but it has no nutritional value whatsoever.  It is irrational, un-skeptical, and even immoral in nature.

If anything, it’s just another old religious metaphor for the rebirth of the world, in Spring, from the death that is winter, with the addition of theological concepts which absorb us in self-deprecation and is ultimately anti-life.  You know, like symbols reminiscent of life, birth, and youth but bathed in blood and depressing self-hate.

It’s too bad we don’t have anything this time of year which is like that without all the blood, death, and anti-humanistic rhetoric built-in.

Oh, right, yes we do! Symbols of fertility, birth/rebirth, and youth surround our more secularized version of Easter.  Pagan will try to take credit, and they do deserve some of it, but this is simply human behavior; we want a way to symbolize and celebrate the return of life to the world.  Our history and literature is replete with such symbols and celebrations, and Christianity has (once again) seized them and used them as their own.

But in this case, the thieving Christians, specifically the Catholic Church, didn’t even have the common decency to re-name the holiday! Easter? really? EASTER?

I mean, come on, people? It’s bad enough that Christians stole Christmas, but at least in that case they chose an original name, right?

So, here is Ostara (she goes by many names, but essentially she is Ēostre/Easter.  Check the link if you want to know more about the pagan mythology and history of celebrations and rituals surrounding her and this time of year.  But if you don’t, at least take home with you the idea that this holiday is not merely Christian, and insofar as it is Christian it is not the story that the Pope or your pastor tells on Easter morning.

Please, learn your history.  If you are a Christian, please learn where your ideas came from.  Try to understand the context, the subtleties, and even the blatant cultural influences which shape how you see the world.  View the Jesus story as a metaphor, a metaphorical narrative, and possibly not a very good one, which tells you something about our psychology and needs, but not about historical or metaphysical truth.

Jesus, if such a person existed and died via crucifixion, is not the solution to your sense of ultimate personal lacking.  Your imperfections, misdeeds, and falling short of some ideal morality cannot be solved by a person dying, nor subsequent rising from said death, nor from some contrived ‘God sacrifices himself to himself to make up for a law he made about a piece of fruit that nobody ever actually ate’ theology.  You must take responsibility for yourself, toss aside this metaphysical concept of sin, and stop sacrificing this life for some promised other life.

This life is all we have, and we must do what we can to make it all that we want it to be.  So stop bowing to a pseudo-sacrifice and start living in a world which is currently blooming with things wonderful, terrible, and worth working for now

Happy Easter, everyone.

Individualism, association, and atheism

A recent post on Camels with Hammers about intellectual temptations atheists must avoid voices a lot of my thoughts better than I could. Fincke generally allies himself with the New Atheists, but often speaks out against the cruder and less thoughtful instances of New Atheist thought, in a way I really appreciate (since I’m basically in his position as well.) #6 in his list is one I’ve thought about a lot, and want to expand on somewhat here.

Atheists, on the whole, are a pretty individualistic bunch. Relative to the rest of humanity, they feel okay going against the grain, risking social pariah-hood, and rejecting customs that exist for the sole purpose of making humans feel more connected to each other. This makes sense: to adopt a position so counter to cultural norms, a person needs to have a pretty thick skin toward social disapproval. Individualism is a self-selecting quality for atheists in this day and age.

What I see happening a lot is that atheists conflate this individualistic personality trait with superior rationality. They care less about social approval and social bonding, they see that other atheists feel similarly and that people subscribing to all kinds of woo and religion care more about it, and they assume that caring about social approval and social bonding are in themselves less rational. So any time an attempt is made to incorporate community, ritual, and institutions which prioritize social bonding into an atheist frame, you get some voices pooh-poohing the attempt as worthless and meaningless and anti-rational. When someone confesses that they have difficulty leaving religion because of the inevitable social isolation, this is seen as a sign of weakness.

This point of view “I’m individualistic and rational, if you were rational you’d be individualistic too” ignores a basic fact of humanity: we are social animals. We were social animals before we were intellectual, inquisitive animals, and the rise of curiosity and higher-order intelligence did not erase that part of our nature. The social impulse is as valid a part of our humanity as the truth-seeking impulse, and to try to weed out either is to try to change the fundamental nature of humanity.

Humanity is greatly indebted to the individualists: they ask the questions no one else will ask, they think of things no one else has thought of, and they create new ways of being when no one else dares to try. But in doing this, they must also remember that they are statistical outliers: that if the rest of humanity is going to follow them, we’re going to transform the vision into something that meets our common need for connection and social order. This will always happen: this is the kind of beings we are.

I hear some individualists say, “Well, of course I understand that it’s hard to risk social rejection… I struggle with it too.” Yes indeed… individualism and the need for association are not mutually exclusive, and nearly all of us have elements of both. But what I would like more individualists to understand is that their need for association, while genuine, may be far less strong than another person’s. What, for you, was hard in the way running a marathon is hard, might for another person be hard in the way that climbing Mt. Everest is hard. We’re all calibrated differently; we all have different threshholds of need for different human necessities.

And yes, depending on social connection can be a bar to rationality. Of course it can. I’m a good example: several months after my initial deconversion, I was desperately searching for a way back into Christianity. Eventually I found a definition of “faith” I could accept, and I went with it, and continued calling myself a Christian for several years. It wasn’t until I began dating an atheist that I could call myself an atheist again, and that’s not a coincidence. I wanted back in because I was lonely. Because all the people who loved me were Christians, and I felt hopelessly cut off from them — even though they still loved me, I needed a sense of belonging. I couldn’t hack it as an atheist on my own. My need for social connection guided my intellectual investigations, and biased me towards one conclusion.

So, a need to “belong” can influence and distort rational thinking. You know what else can influence and distort rational thinking? A need to be smarter and more correct than other people… a personality trait that self-selecting atheists are overall in no shortage of. The wise, mature ones acknowledge this tendency, recognize how it can bias them, and find ways to minimize its effect. Similarly, I’ve come to acknowledge my profound need for social connection, recognize how it can bias me, and find ways to minimize its effect. One thing that doesn’t work is deciding to care less. That only leads to self-deception.

There are a lot of people who are socially dependent to a degree that cripples them, that cuts them off from acknowledging truths that would improve their lives. A LOT of people. But the way to self-improvement, for many, is not to become diehard individualists, but to become more thoughtful and choosy in the ways they form and maintain their social bonds. The diehard individualists would do well to remember this.

The ends of unhealthy relationships

Ever been in an unhealthy relationship? Ever had that relationship go bad and have it end in flames, the coldness reminiscent of the deep vacuum of space devoid of warmth or corporeal presence, or perhaps a little bit of both? I have.  It is awful, painful, and ultimately liberating.  But before your experience traverses the totality of the immediately previous triad, there is often a moment when the reality of it clicks home, a time when all you are capable of feeling is hurt.  The anger and loneliness will come (again), but at that moment all which exists for you is a cognitively-blinding pain which compels a futile grasping towards the emptiness around and, seemingly, within you.

In time, will be the reflection and evaluation through sadness, anger, and even laughter as you remember what was good haunts you for days, weeks, and possibly longer.  Eventually, you will begin to understand that the relationship was unhealthy.  Sure, the relationship didn’t seem so at the time; the sex was good, you had fun with them most of the time, and there were some really good aspects to the person you cared for and with whom you built something important.

Even though sometimes they would be a little bit crazy or unbalanced.  Perhaps they had some strange ideas, insisted upon them, and didn’t seem to allow you the freedom to express your ideas without complaining about being persecuted or somehow oppressed.  Perhaps they had a bad history with relationships which you ignored for various reasons.  Perhaps the relationship afforded you professional, social, or even political benefits which would be difficult to attain without the associations provided therein.

Or perhaps you thought what was good about them outweighed what was bad.  Perhaps you rationalized that the bad was not even really bad, but merely misunderstood quirks and intricacies of the person you loved; things which illuminated their love for you…or something.  Rationalization asserts more sense during its subjective composition it than it does through its dissemination.

But when the relationship ended, it hurt.  It didn’t matter that the reason it ended was probably something that should make you feel better about getting away.  It didn’t even matter that if you stopped to think about it rationally (that is, if you were capable of such a feat under the circumstances), you would realize that you will be much happier removed from such a relationship.  The separation from an established relationship often brings forth sadness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.

It does not even matter if the intimacy of that relationship was fictitious, or perhaps merely one-way.

Breaking up with god

Anyone who has left religion might be noticing some analogs here.  This is, obviously, intentional.  The reason I am drawing some parallels between leaving religion and a break-up from a bad romantic relationship is that I think that there are some interesting comparisons between them.  In fact, my experiences with unhealthy relationships has not only taught me a lot about relationships, but I think it gives me a glimpse of what losing religion might be like, since I never had a religion to lose.

To start with, I suspect that many people stay in bad relationships, and religion, longer than the relationships provide actual happiness.  I think that much of what keeps people in religion is a combination of habit and the comfort of familiarity.  I think that many people stay in relationships whether they are abusive, neglectful, or simply poor romantic matches for similar reasons.  It takes a lot to leave a relationship we are invested in, and even knowing that we need to do so does not make the process easier.

Secondly, I think that people stay in such relationships longer than they should because they don’t recognize how unhealthy the relationship actually has been.  I imagine that the full comprehension of this is never fully known until much later, in many cases.  People often don’t recognize the difference between (co-)dependency and real intimate affection and concern, and this inability perpetuates unhealthy relationships all to often.  The feeling of needing someone, especially if that needing reflects some feeling of possession, ownership, or obligation, is not healthy.  The fear of loss (often in the form of jealousy), or basic insecurity of uncertainty, is not something to be held aloft as the basis for love, let alone “true” love.

And this is the type of relationship which religion instills; a fear of loss, of being owned, and even of feeling obligated to remain in relationships which are unhealthy.

 Healthy relationships

Relationships need to be built upon things like trust, transparency, and honesty.   We do not own our partners, we must be open about what we do, what we want, and what we can and cannot handle.  We need to do the personal work to make sure that we know what we want, to make sure that we have exercised our ability to perpetually grow emotionally and intellectually, as well, in order to make sure never to prematurely cut off what we can handle to some too easily reachable goal which will stagnate who we could be if we challenged ourselves more.

And in terms of our relationship with the universe, our society, and even the “truth,” we need to make sure that we are continuing to challenge our boundaries, presuppositions, and to keep communicating with people with whom we disagree.  The universe is massive, complicated, and often beautiful as well as terrible.  We would be temporal thieves of potential experience, understanding, and perspective by not allowing ourselves to see as much of that beauty—and terribleness!—if we didn’t pursue the world with full thrust towards such potential.

We need to approach people and the reality which we all share with an open mind, open heart, and unbridled willingness to hear the world calling us on our bullshit.  If we do these things, we will be better off in all our relationships, whether they are the two-way relationships of traditional monogamy, multi-faceted relationships of less traditional polyamory, or the one-sides intimacy of our own self-respect or the respect for reality.

For reality cannot love us back, but that does not stop us from finding it beautiful, compelling, and worth our effort to get to know it as intimately as our limited cognitive ability allows us.

Oh, If They Only Knew

I am sitting in a generic sports themed bar in the Atlanta airport drinking a class of kind of awful cheap red wine that tasted horrid when I started drinking it, but has since improved with each sip.  The music is Top 40 stuff I have never heard, but its beats per minute suggest that I should be inspired to dance.  I am waiting for a late flight back to Philly alone and the loneliness threatened to overtake me earlier, but I have kept it at bay by thinking about the Lost City of Atlanta episode of Futurama and also David Cross’ bits about porno mags in airport news stands and the Light Up Atlanta Festival.  I just want to be home.  This has been a particularly stupid business trip.

I won’t get into why as that’s a bit unprofessional to talk about on a public blog and would likely get me in more trouble than all this deviant sex and non-belief I talk about here.  I think that’s progress somehow…

So instead I will share the following conversation I had yesterday with the gentleman I was traveling with.  I don’t remember how we got into such a conversation, but at some point I was talking about based on Jewish rules, I’m totes Jewish, as in my mother’s entire bloodline is Russian Jew and I definitely would have qualified for a birth rite trip to Israel a few years ago (and a place in their terrifying military!).  I then said,

“So yeah, I am technically Jewish, but, well, whatever, I’m an atheist so anyway…”

I tried to continue telling my story but the guy would have none of it.

“Waaaaait a minute.  You don’t get to say something like ‘i’m an atheist and think I’m going to let it go.  You know I’m a big Christian, right?”

“And I can let that go!  For the purposes of this conversation.”

“Oh, can you?  Well, I’m going to worry about you now…being an atheist…”

“No need, really.  Also, I’m just trying to be out.  We’re trying to that now…be out and shit.  So, yeah, I’m an atheist and I don’t really feel like being saved.”

“Well, I was raised in the church, so…”

And that was basically the end of the conversation.  It was strangely undramatic, and I suppose having a Christian worry about my soul is better than just hating me.  As we have discussed, worrying about an atheist’s soul shows way more actual belief and commitment to a the theoretical message of Jesus than saying “man oh man, I can’t wait for the revelation, ’cause fuck all of ya!”

But I suddenly found myself wanting to come clean about everything.  Polyamory, burlesque, my utter disdain for religions as a whole.  I gave him a giant speech about the insidious nature of sexism and racism in the world today and how he as a white, Christian, wealthy(ish) man can not possibly understand what it’s like to walk the Earth as anything else.  He said something about black people as a whole being more prejudiced than whites today and that things are so much better than they were and I actually said, “That’s privilege talking.  Just because black and white people can sit in a diner together and not murder each other, just because no one is turning a high pressure hose on a black person having the audacity to want a sip of water at the wrong fountain anymore does NOT mean racism is dead.  Just like the fact that I’m a chemist doesn’t mean I don’t encounter weird episodes of sexism on a stupidly regular occassion.”

One thing is for certain: I am not only out as an atheist, but also as a thinking, intelligent person who is slowly but surely attempting to fully extract my head from my ass.  I hope that everyone starts to list this as a goal in life.

More wine, dagnabbit!

Lies, to protect the relationship

I have been actively polyamorous for a while now.  As a result of this I see the world of sex and relationships in a different way than most.  I see the world with polyamorous eyes.

And while I remember being monogamous earlier in my life, I’m not sure if I can exactly remember how I saw the world differently.  I must have seen it differently to some degree, right?  Perhaps not, but I’m no longer sure.  Perhaps I was always saw a lot of what I now see, just not as clearly.  Again, I’m not sure.

If there has been any perspective shift, it is one of a heightened one; a view from above.  It is the result of a consciousness-raising, where I can see many of the assumptions and behavior patterns of relationships. 

It is not unlike how I see religion, faith, and unskeptical thinking in other avenues (such as politics). It is a view from the outside, being able to see much of what happens within and feeling some sympathy for the experience.

It’s not that I see everything.  It is not even that what I do see I fully understand.  An analogy would be to say that I am seeing more sides, or even dimensions, to our sexual and relationship behavior than those caught in the mire of cultural normalcy.  And what new sides I see makes most of our cultural and psychological tendencies just seem funny and sometimes absurd.

Watching monogamous individuals and couples deal with relationship dynamics, for me, is sort of like a comedy where you, as the audience, know something about the play that the characters do not.  The absurdity of their behavior, the obvious conflict of their desires and what they do, and the oversights of simple solutions missed due to ignored needs and lack of transparency in the relationship.

And usually in the name of maintaining the ideal of monogamy.  Yes, people do unhealthy relationship things, like lie about what they really want, what they really do, and what they are really comfortable having their partners want and do, in order to protect the relationship.

I cannot think of any higher ironic comedy than that.  And is see it all the time, and I am convinced that most monogamous people do it all the time, and that they usually don’t even realize they are doing it.

It is, after all, part of the dating world to lie.  So when people commit, either with marriage or just exclusivity, many of those lies are smuggled in.  After a while, they may not even feel like lies anymore.  They become self-deceptions.

To protect the relationship.

And There Shall Be a New World for All

When I was a kid, I was fairly certain I was going to be an artist.  My best friend (at the time) and I were always the “artists” in class when we were young.  It was strangely competitive between us.  She had a very good handle on realism, which is a set of skills that non-artists really respect.  If you could copy a picture line for line by hand, you were considered the great artist (to untrained, untalented hacks, of course).  But it was generally accepted that while my skills in realistic duplication were sub par, my interpretation was superior.  I put much of myself in every drawing.  She drew the perfect fish to see, I drew the fish you could identify with.

I thought that there was a place for my genius in the artistic world, but alas, I was (and have often been) ahead of my time.  I held on to the idea for some time, but one day something changed.  I have spoken about it before on here.  A substitute teacher came in and demanded that we draw a picture of what we thought God looked like.  Being an atheist even then, I was offended, but instead of lashing out, I chose to make a statement about my view of these types of things. I drew a picture of the solar system.  My statement: There is no god, only the universe and all that is in it.

I was very advanced for a child, I will admit.  And perhaps that was threatening to this man.  What I didn’t tell you before, because it was too painful to remember, was that he completely rejected it. He called me a fool!  And then he told me, a child with a fragile sense of self, that I was worthless as an artist and should never torture anyone with my depictions again.

I was a child and knew no better than to listen to what adults told me.  I believed that he was right and gave up my dreams of being an artist.

That’s right.  A Christian destroyed my childhood dreams, and ultimately, a Christian took away my childhood.  How could I ever go back from that?  How could I trust again?

I forged ahead as an atheist, turning my entire life towards science.  As I grew older, I realized that truth could be only found in science’s cold, unfeeling clutches.  As I was exposed to more and more Christians, I saw them trying to undermine this truth and make the world into something that further destroyed my sense of identity and dreams.  Every time I had a conversation with a Christian about some kind of important fact of everyday life, I find myself being able to blame them for all these years of pain and hardship that I have had to endure.  I began to develop ideas that simultaneously shocked and calmed me.  I was shocked that I was genius enough to think of such things.  I was calmed because they made so much sense during a time of such chaos.

But, I am civilized and realize that my radical opinions would alienate me from those close to me.  I struggled with this for a long time, but as I found people who were like minded, I felt more comfortable being who I am.  I didn’t feel like my heart was black, or that my ideas were crazy.  I felt that I was exactly right, but as long as I had a small community to make me feel safe, I could keep them to myself.

So, imagine my surprise when I open this blog today to find that Shaun and Ginny have…become Christians.  Not only did they sacrifice a goat without inviting me (something we had often talked about doing as an exciting evening out), but they converted to Christianity and publicly DUMPED ME because of the very things about me that I have thought they loved.  I read the words.  My heart was torn asunder.  I collapsed into a wailing ball of tears and whimpering.

And then I woke up.

Once again, Christianity has caused my dreams of happiness to be destroyed.  Once again, my heart has been stomped on by the likes of Christian ideology.  And with Christianity’s one last assault on me, clarity was mine.  I will no longer be quiet about the things brewing in my mind.  They must be spoken and THEY SHALL BE HEARD.

I am working on a draft of a new book about my struggle.  And you must understand that my struggle is YOUR struggle just the same.  Our hopes and dreams, our self worth, everything that we are has been under constant threat by the Christian hordes.  In it I will outline my vision of the perfect future.  In brief, the perfect future will involve a government led by cold, hard, unwavering reason.  Only the smartest and purest of mind shall be parts of this government, and then, by nature of evolution, by natural selection, the populace shall become the same.  Reprogramming attempts shall be made on those who do not initially fit the mold.  Those who can not be reprogrammed shall be eliminated, but not before their feeble minds can be used for something worthwhile in the world of science.

It is my hope, and it is my assumption that science will INDEED replace god in the hearts and minds of all who call themselves citizens of Earth and I shall be at the forefront of the revolution.  All will know my name and those who have chosen oppose me now will certainly learn to regret it.

So, Shaun, I thank you once again for providing me with own Great Awakening.  You have unlocked my potential, and soon all others will be awakened to the truth as well.  Mark this day, April 1st, as the day the world became aware of the glorious future.  Won’t you join me on this great journey towards ultimate enlightenment?  The journey starts with this single step today.

Sense which pleases the Lord

Yesterday, Ginny and I spent a fair amount of time editing a new post for today.  We had wanted to make sure that we got the wording just right, trimmed it down enough to not be overwhelming (I do have a tendency to go on and on…), and were almost done….

What I almost did

So, firefox crashed.  The crash message was there so briefly before the window disappeared that I don’t know the nature of the crash, but crash it did.  “No problem,” I thought.  “WordPress saved most of the work, and it’s fresh in my mind.”  But no.  The work was gone, irretrievable, dead. I had never seen firefox crash in this way before, and that it happened right then was extremely irritating, as if some intelligent force were at work.

I was angry.  Ginny came back into the room and was annoyed too.  I considered re-writing the post, but I was too frustrated, tired, and didn’t have the heart for it.

That was the problem, I didn’t have the heart….

So Ginny came over to me and held me and we grieved together briefly and then, well, something else happened.  This time this new thing happened to both of us, in apparent unison.  A feeling of assurance and understanding washed over both of us and looked at each other in coterminous understanding.

It occurred to both of us that perhaps that strange crash, at that moment, was not mere accident.  Why would it happen then, as we worked on a post together for the first time (sort of like a preamble to our coming wedding vows), rather than any other time? What was the significance?

What if some power, some force, or even some intelligence saw this as the right opportunity to reach out to us.  I have been saying for some time that if a god existed, I’d want to know.  Also, I have said that this god would know how to make itself known to me.  Apparently, god was waiting for the right time.  He surely does work in mysterious ways.

What happened next was too sudden, too intense to record.  Most of it was a blur.  There were tears, prayers, and we had to go out to get what we needed in order to complete the right ritual.  We didn’t have time to call a priest or consult the book, we had to get moving before God smited us.  Of course, finding a goat so late at night would be hard, especially without a car.

We totes have to get one of these...makes great BBQ!

But eventually we found a supermarket that had some goat meat which was open all night, and proceeded to acquire it.  It was not much of a “sacrifice,” but it was all we could do under such short notice.  The meat department were nice enough to supply some goat blood too, as that would be necessary.

We burnt it on an altar to the Lord, as is demanded by Him, and left it for the high priests.

Of course, not having our own altar, we had to go to the local Jewish temple.  But their altar was probably inside, and the door was really hard to get through, so we stopped trying and instead used the front steps and left it there for them.  They will be so happy to know that people are returning to the old ways.

Our offering, before the burnt part

I know, I know…I’m new to this, OK? I have not read Leviticus in so long that I just sort of winged it.  It came from the heart.  That’s all the Host of Hosts demands, right? Later today I will re-read the chapters and do it right, but I thought that the attempt was enough to please the nose of the Lord at the time.

It did smell pretty good.  That YHWH sure loves BBQ.

In any case, we then walked home and prayed loudly in the streets for all to hear and enjoy, sharing our new-found relationship with the true god, the King of Kings, with all who were out sinning in the Babylon which is downtown Philadelphia on a Saturday night.  By this time, the bars were near to closing and we were getting nowhere with the people coming out of the bars drunk on their own dirty sin.  So we just had to try and go in and spread some more good news.

This guy asked for some "help" with these 3. I told him I already had the 3 I needed...

Most people were friendly, but they were not in the mood for helping us find an unblemished male goat for a morning ritual.  Plus, the blood all over us from earlier was apparently off-putting.

If these unforgiven Sodomites and Gomorrah-dwellers would only read Leviticus, they would understand that we hadn’t just slaughtered a room full of children, but in fact had been trying to please the God they were ignoring.

But they were too busy ignoring His Throne in their drunken orgy of Baal or whatever.  Hey, I read the gosh-darned book years ago, it’s not exactly fresh in my memory!If not Baal, it was one of those false idols, like Vishnu or something.  That false god loves drunk people.

So, after getting a few hours of sleep (I slept on the couch, not being married to Ginny yet and all), we woke up for an early church service at the local Baptist church, where we tried to show them all how to properly sacrifice a dove (OK, pigeon.  We were short on time, again).  But they were not interested and asked us to leave.  So we left them to their luke-warmness and proceeded down the street.

These guys followed us all the way back to our house, yelling at us. Sinners!

We were lucky enough to catch the start of a Presbyterian service, and since they were already started we quietly sacrificed the pigeon in the back rows, which seemed to offend a few people.  Perhaps they were upset because we did it at the wrong time? I’m not sure, but I don’t remember where the scripture tells you precisely when to do these things, so perhaps they were yelling at us for no reason except that they preferred to sacrifice birds after the communion.

Apparently, our timing was really bad, because they kicked us out too, a few of them following us down the street.  Something about returning a “collection” plate, whatever that is.

But before trying to catch the noon Mass at the Catholic church, we decided that we should share our good news.  Also, sorry Gina and Wes, but we can no longer take part in your sinning lifestyle.  I guess we can still hang out and stuff, so long as you see the light.  You do have a good back yard for burnt offerings, after all.  However, if you don’t see the truth, we don’t want to be associated with people who will burn for eternity.  And no, it’s not classism, whatever kind of Commie talk that is!

We will also have to take the website down soon, or at least change it to (if that’s available!).  But right now we have to get to Mass!

They’ll be so glad we brought our own sheep!