Pwning Bill O’Reilly’s Christian Philosophy

This hit the interwebs today

Now, this is not the first time Bill O’Reilly and Dave Silverman have met up to create fireworks.  Remember the tides thing?  I do not know how much of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air personality is an act, or if he really believes what he says in segments such as these, but the things he says are believed by many people, perhaps (in some cases) because Bill O’Reilly says them.

So, O’Reilly claims that Christianity is not a religion, but is a philosophy instead.  This is no different than the dozens of times I have heard Christians claim that their relationship with Jesus/God is not a religion, because religion is man-man and this is the truth.

Let’s start by granting that mere philosophical symbols and ideas are fair to display in government space.  Much of what the Framers of the Constitution were doing, after all, is political and moral philosophy.  Go to the Jefferson memorial and read the walls; that’s  philosophy.  Seeing images and carvings of Plato, Aristotle, or even religious and historically significant characters (such as Moses or Hammurabi) on government buildings is commonplace, because these figures play a part in our culture’s history—but so does religion, right? So what’s the difference?

A Buddhist Christmas?

OK, so let’s consider a non-Christian ideology such as Buddhism, which is fundamentally philosophical in many respects but also has many of the characteristics of a religion, especially where it is mythologized and supernatural components are included.  Would an image of the Buddha, with some quotes from his attributed sayings, be fair game on government property? More relevant here, would Bill O’Reilly have an issue with such displays?

I do not knows what O’Reilly would think here, but my guess is he would be OK with it so long as it does not get in the way of his traditions.  So long as Buddhists were not trying to usurp his holiday traditions, I don’t think he’d care.  But should secular-minded people care? Should I care?

This is tricky, because the distinction between philosophy and religion is thin in many traditions, Buddhism included.  I would say that insofar as any message on government property is not giving privileged or unequal support for any of the mythological, ritualistic, and supernatural aspects of any philosophy or religion, then there is no problem from a secularist’s point of view.  That is, so long as Buddhisms presence in such spaces leans towards its philosophical roots, and not its specifically religious traditions, then I don’t think there is an issue.

But we’ll worry about that when Buddhists start becoming anything near a majority.  So, probably never.

Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity is clearly a religion.  Yes, it contains elements of philosophy, but I am not sure any religious traditions do not include philosophical ideas.  But the essential component to the overwhelming majority of Christian theologies is the relationship between humankind and “God.”  Christianity is not a mere collection of rational concepts or methods about finding what is true, beautiful, or wise, it is a set of metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe which has many traditional rituals, stories, and moral teachings.

The major distinction here is the presence of theology.  Theology is a type of philosophy–the religious kind–and so if a tradition has a theology it is clearly a religion.

To claim that Christianity is a philosophy is to amputate a significant portion of what it does for believers.  Where a thinker such as Plato used logic and dialogue to make propositions and criticisms about ideas, Christianity does this but it does so much more.  To imply that Jesus was just a philosopher is to say he was just a man with mere ideas about the world.  This view removes the divine messages including the metaphysical significance of the (supposed) sacrifice and makes concepts such as eternal life, eternal punishment, or even ultimate meaning impotent.

Wait…does that mean that this segment of his show reveals that Bill O’Reilly does not believe all of the mythological and metaphysical components of Christianity? Does that make O’Reilly some sort of humanist?  Because if he does not think that Christianity is not religious (thus has nothing to do with supernatural claims) then why all the god-talk?

Again, I think this claim that Christianity is a philosophy is part of a set of cultural/apologetic moves to distinguish Christianity from mere religion.  It usually takes the form of “I have a relationship with Jesus/God, and religion is a man-made lie!” In this case, O’Reilly seems to be doing something similar.  “Christianity,” he might say, “is not a man-made mere religion, it is the true philosophy given to us by god.”  Well, if so, Papa Bear, then that makes it a religion.

I don’t think Bill O’Reilly has thought this through, so let’s consider him appropriately pwned.

Adventures in Therapy: An Eye on the Prize

Around the time when I really started having to interact with peers, I imagined a fantastical version of myself hoping that someday I would figure out how to be it.  The Gina of the future would be confident and no nonsense.  She would not take everything personally, and if she had a problem with someone or something, she would handle it head on, honestly and directly.  She would be her own person regardless of the expectations of others and especially regardless of the insecurities of others.  She would defend herself and others when needed.  She would be amazing. This started when I was 5, so the language then was perhaps not so flowery or sensical, but it evolved into that as I grew older and the dream seemed more and more out of reach.

I viewed it mostly as a fantasy because I couldn’t imagine ever being able to actually do any of these things well.  Over the years I learned how to act the part often.  People have often viewed me as confident and level headed, original, unique, no nonsense.  But it has, for the most part, been a façade.  In life, you do what you have to do to be successful, if you are able.  There were many times when this ability waivered horribly making things like excelling in college extremely difficult.  I had the desire for a comfortable life and did what I had to do to achieve that, but I was a mess at the same time.  In the moments when I was not a mess, I would condemn myself for not being like that all the time.

Recently the problem became prevalent because I found myself living the life that I wished to live and was still a mess.  I had managed to rid myself of toxic people. I live in a beautiful house filled with wonderful people who love me.  I have a career that can be fulfilling if I apply myself.  I make music in a band with my best friend.  I really can’t ask for more.  And yet anxiety and sadness fill my days.  When left too long to my own devices, my mind becomes flooded with awful thoughts about things in the past and fears about the future. I have invented realities that don’t exist, and in them I am the loser.  Negativity is the norm and positivity is an uphill battle.

Coming to terms with the idea that I suffer from a mood disorder was difficult.  I assumed that the only people who were medicated were people who had Real Problems.  From my view, I functioned well enough…I just wasn’t happy.  I thought it was greedy of me to seek help this way. “Who do I think I am? Someone who can have everything?”  I found myself calling it a First World Problem because I had so much and was still not alright most of the time.  But each time I lost it again, each time I found myself out of control with grief and anxious madness, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I’m not the worst off in the world.  Refusing to get help because I didn’t feel I deserved it as much as someone else was just another symptom of the disease and wasn’t a reason to continue to suffer.

Before I had my appointment to get a prescription, I read this post about how to get people you care about to seek help on JT Eberhard’s blog.  His writings about his struggles with his own mental illness are powerful and brilliant.  And though he was writing for people who would try to help someone else, I was comforted by the familiarity of the entire thing.  I had this same struggle within myself.  I had all kinds of reasons not to try medication, but one very important reason to do it: Misery does not have to be my general state.  My entire life does not need to center around keeping myself afloat.

So I started Zoloft and the first couple of days were terrible.  Then something miraculous happened.  For three days I was that incredible woman that I imagined all those years ago. I had occasion to deal with three potentially very stressful situations in a row and found myself able to navigate them beautifully.  Without the anxiety, I was suddenly aware that anxiety was always with me before.  Everything I did or said carried with it some level of fear.  To be without it felt like being finally free of some kind of demon that possessed me and suddenly I felt fully like myself because it was who I always wanted to be.  I was euphoric.  I thought for a second that the bad side effects were over with quickly and that all that was left was perfection.  I basked in it.  I felt like life could finally begin with gusto!

On Saturday I woke up feeling anxious and sad. I didn’t like that, but figured it would pass if I got myself moving.  I started going through the motions of the day and then noticed that the kitchen sink drain wasn’t functioning very well.  A little while later, Shaun emerged from the shower and told Ginny that the shower wasn’t draining. I went and involved myself (something I didn’t need to do right away) and immediately starting getting really stressed out as things we tried didn’t work.  I went to Home Depot and bought a drain auger and Draino and then attempted to fix the problem when I got back.  I was turning into a mess.  I was upset and angry.  I made Wes help me.  Nothing we tried worked.   He went to take a shower.  I fell apart in the back yard.

I sat on the back steps of the yard and cried for a while.  I cried because I felt like the three days before were just a big tease.  I kept saying out loud, “Please…why won’t this go away? Please, just go away!” Somehow I thought that I had found something that would help me not have to work so hard all the time and it abandoned me.  I felt like I would never be free of this bullshit ever.

I went upstairs to talk to Wes and he reminded me that I would never be able to stop working but that things should even out over the weeks.  I had no other desire except to curl up in bed, so I did.  We had plans to go see Rise of the Guardians (which I loved, by the way) and Wes tried to help me but I was being frustrating, unwilling to admit why I was upset and condemning myself as stupid and crazy instead.  Eventually he got me out of it and made me get up and move.  I went downstairs and Jessie was there to talk some real sense into me.  I told her I was upset because I had what I wanted so badly and then it went away.  I told her that I thought I had finally figured out how to be easy on myself and not work so hard every second.  And she said a wonderful thing.  She had her arm around me and explained that I might have to fight still, but that I don’t have to do it alone.  And this time she didn’t just mean that I was surrounded by people who love and care about me.  She said that it won’t just be me alone with a sword on the battlefield…Zoloft would be next to me with a bigger sword and lasers shooting out of its eyes.

I, of course, started laughing at the image and was able to get myself over the hurdle at the moment. And told Wes again how happy I am that Jessie is in our lives.  I often don’t know what I’d do without her.

I often don’t know what I’d do without any of the people close to me.  One of the things that my outburst showed me on Saturday is that a lot of my motivation for getting help has been to be less of a burden to the people who love me.  It made me aware of how I still view relationships as transactional.  If I take too much without giving back, everyone will tire of me and leave.  It was one of the things I had to admit out loud and Wes reminded me that my value to people is not in what I do for them.  He also reminded me that the people who love me now loved me before I took big steps to improve.  Clearly my emotional issues were not a deterrent to Wes 9 years ago, or Shaun a year and a half ago.  I was worse then.  I am better now.  I have to remember all of this.

I didn’t feel very good for the rest of the day.  We had to call Roto-Rooter to deal with the drains ultimately and they didn’t get to the house until 8pm or something.  It was Saturday and it was expensive.  Shaun had spent all day cooking for the dinner we had with his mom and Wes’ mom and all in all I would say it was a success, despite the plumbing ridiculousness.  But I had a hard time being present because anxiety aside, I was dealing with other side effects again too.  I was a little stoned, and a little crazed, and had no appetite, and all that fun stuff.  I calmed down more when the plumbing was fixed, but I knew that it wasn’t just about that.

I am hoping that in the next few weeks I will find a middle ground, an evened state of being that makes it easier to stay stable.  I know that I can’t expect for the issues to not be there at all ever, but I want to be better equipped to handle them when they arise, which is the point of Zoloft ultimately.  I was so excited by the early results that I was using the meds as a crutch to not center myself in the face of stressful stimuli.  I forgot the rational promise I made to myself before starting (and after talking to friends who have dealt with this too): The medication doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming.  It just makes it easier to deal with them.

On Sunday I upped my dose because I was supposed to, so I’m evening out again.  I will say that though I still wake up anxious and can have battles with badness, I think that it is actually starting to work because I’m not anxious all the time anymore.  This morning it took me two and a half hours to get to work due to public transit crap and I got depressed near the end after dealing with the ordeal alone for a long time.  Initially, I was fine, and I stayed fine for a while.  That’s an improvement and I’ll take it.  And the awesome days last week show me that days like that are possible, and I’ll take that too.

It’s cliché, but I have to take this one day at a time still.  I remember when my ex’s grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at the same time.  He was on a bunch of different medications but for the most part was not present anymore.  My ex mentioned that there were miraculous days when all the medications would click just right and he would be him again for a little while.  I didn’t really understand it then, but now I think I do a little.  In this life there are good days and bad days.  It is what we do with them that counts.  While I’m getting used to this stuff, there will be good days and bad days.  The bad days are not a punishment for being too crazy even for pills.  The good days are not proof that everything is solved forever.  None of this is absolute, but it’s all progress.  It’s making my happiness and mental health a priority in my life.

I appreciate the people who have been reaching out to me, sharing their experiences with this kind of thing.  I think it’s important to know that none of us are alone.  Everyone’s experience is different over all, but with some common themes and it’s really good to know that there are people to bounce ideas off of, to ask the “is this weird?” question, or to simply rejoice in the ups and work through the downs with.

Happiness runs in a circular motion.  Love is but a little boat upon the sea. Everybody is a part of everyone anyway.  You can have everything if you let yourself be. -Donovan

Abolishing Resolution 58-10 (Winter displays in West Chester, PA)

Commissioner Terence Farrell

There is a public meeting in West Chester tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM where people will be able to speak on behalf of abolishing Resolution 58-10.  Here’s the information:

313 W. Market St.
West Chester, 19380

6th floor

Margaret Downey has just sent out a request for help concerning the issue of displays, including the Tree of Knowledge, at the West Chester courthouse.  Here is her request:

We have one and a half days to flood the office of Commissioner Terence Farrell with messages asking him to abolish Resolution 58-10. He is voting on Thursday afternoon so we need people to immediately request that he allow other displays on the grounds of the Chester County Courthouse. We want the Commissioners to give us back our Free Speech Zone.

Here is the contact information for Commissioner Farrell who is the swing vote. Please contact Farrell’s office — no matter where you live. Say that if a Tree of Knowledge display was allowed back on the grounds, you would travel to West Chester to see it. This will bring money into the community and proves that the Commissioners understand the diversity of the community! Get passionate about your rights and freedom of expression. Please act now.

Commissioner Terence Farrell
313 West Market Street
Suite 6202
West Chester, PA  19380
610.344.5995 (fax)

Carol Everhart Roper has an article up about this as well, which also links to  the petition (which is now closed).  Still, we have an opportunity to change some minds, if we act now.

Jonathon Haidt on preferences and morality

Saying ” because I don’t want to” is a perfectly acceptable justification for one’s subjective preferences.  Yet moral judgments are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong.  I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you’re doing.  I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is our moral reasoning.  We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

This is from page 44 of Jonathon Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind which I am currently reading.

This idea is central to how I have been thinking about morality in recent years, at least in conjunction to ideas very much like those in Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.  I take it as axiomatic that preferences exist as the basis for much of our opinions, whether they be about politics, sex, religion, etc.  I realize that our values are not chosen, but are the result of fundamental emotional/pre-conscious processes which we don’t have immediate or easy access to.

But when it comes to things like public policy, especially when it comes to things like sexual orientation, I recognize that there is a significant burden on those who seek to limit personal freedoms which derive from our fundamental preferences and desires.  Religion is a devastating vehicle for such preferences—preserving and sanctifying them—but it is but one example of the great-grandparent of all vehicles for such things; culture.  Culture is not good or bad, per se, but it carries traditions and concepts which we put there, often without knowing why.  Culture is the storage space for all of our un-chosen fears, hopes, and everything in between.

It may be one of the great ironies of the human condition that we have to be willing to reject the specific preferences that we have for the sake of personal rights of others.  I say it’s ironic, because those same sets of preferences are the bases by which we rationalize morality at all; our personal preferences are the bases for enlightened self-interest, the golden rule, etc.  If we didn’t share the universal sets of personal preferences, then morality would not be relevant because we would feel no compulsion towards any particular action, let alone compassion.  It is because we care about our own preferences that we can, and feel compelled to, care about the preferences of others.

I cannot change, and did not choose, that I am sexually attracted to women rather than men (overwhelmingly, anyway), any more than another person cannot change that they are attracted to men, all genders, etc.  Thus, the same desires I  have to create various levels of intimacy and commitment with women are analogous to the desires that gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and even sapiosexual people have for the subjects of their desires.  My preferences are mine, and their preferences are theirs.  When put next to each other and looked at inter-subjectively,  no subjective preferences have a privileged status and all must be given equal initial weight (my like of John Rawls will be apparent here).  Thus, gay marriage is as much a right as any other form of marriage between consenting adults, because my preference for women is no more inter-subjectively valid than a preference for men and so forth.

Cultural tradition (specifically religion), the storage space for those bigoted fears, disgusts, and shames concerning homosexuality, are not sufficient reasons to create discriminatory policies against some forms of those desires for intimacy and commitment.

We have our preferences, but those preferences cannot inform, on their own, how we create policies that affect other people, at least in cases where no non-consenting victim exists.  And we have to keep in mind that as we dig into our minds (in the sense of Nietzsche’s concept of being archaeologists of the soul), we may find that preferences can change, and that we may grow new ones as we grow and learn.  Because while we may not choose our preferences, we can at least expose our mind to new ways of seeing issues which may alter the way our unconscious mind prefers to react.

Pay attention to your immediate and unconscious reactions.  Be mindful of feelings of disgust, shame, and fear in the site of things which we cannot find reasons to feel disgusted, shameful, or fearful of.  Sometimes interesting facts emerge while probing our preferences.  And sometimes our preferences, and thus our values, are actually just wrong and will need to be replaced, if that’s possible.

For the sake of our species I hope that values can be replaced.  But if not, I hope that we can at least convince people who have those damaging preferences that they should accept that their preferences will not become laws to govern all.



Charlie Jane Anders Should Read More Atheists

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



Charlie Jane Anders, a writer for one of my favorite nerd blogs, io9, wrote a post today called Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction. The post, to be as charitable as I can, is total crap. Anders starts out by saying

You can’t be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean. People who can’t just profess that they don’t believe in God — they have to taunt religious people for believing in “fairy tales.” Or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science… and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.


The first problem here is that Anders is attacking an attitude without citing any examples, just saying “you know what I mean.” This is an almost guaranteed straw man, as it relies on the detractor’s characterization of the offending behavior with no room for interpretation.

The next problem, just with this paragraph alone, is that Anders characterizes equating religious belief with belief in fairy tales and/or the Tooth Fairy is “smug.” The problem is that religious belief is no more reasonable or supported by evidence as is belief in those other “ridiculous” things. In some ways, it makes more sense to believe in the Tooth Fairy, as parents often specifically set out to provide evidence for its existence. Anders just throws this out there like it’s obvious, instead of providing an argument or any reasons why religious believers shouldn’t be mocked for their ridiculous beliefs.

Third is the classic agnostic fallacy – we “simply have no data, one way or the other.” Wrong. We have a ton of data disproving a ton of religious beliefs. The only way you get to “we have no data” is by reference to a vague, squishy idea of “a higher power” which doesn’t necessarily do much of anything. Any time you get more specific than that, chances are there is some evidence against your belief. But that also ignores a central idea behind all reasonable thought – belief without evidence is unjustified. If we have no data for or against a proposition, the reasonable thing to do is to disbelieve it. The strength of a belief should be proportional to the strength of the evidence. If there is no evidence, there should be no belief, and anyone who has a belief is being unreasonable. Anders continues

A lot of the best science fiction includes a sense of wonder at the hugeness of the cosmos — and the flipside of that is a sense of our own smallness. And the humility that goes along with that. If you want to feel a real sense of quasi-religious awe, don’t think of the world as being 6,000 years old — think of its actual age, measured in billions of years, and the huge timescales of the universe before and after our world. And think of the vastness of the cosmos, whose mysteries we’ve only just begun to glimpse in the past century.

What now? Anders sounds like most of the often-called “smug” atheists I know of in this paragraph. Is Anders trying to suggest that atheists lack a sense of wonder at the universe? I’d say that Anders ought to take a look at The Magic of Reality before making unsourced assertions like that. Anders’ next point:

There’s a common plot in science fiction — particularly media SF — where someone is “seeing things” or having experiences that can’t be easily verified or quantified using technology. Like a sense of “deja vu,” or hearing voices, or seeing the missing-presumed-dead Captain Kirk floating around. And a huge problem in these stories is that nobody can really know what another person is experiencing, or whether it has any validity or is just a hallucination. Thus it is with religious experiences — other people can speak about their profound experiences of the divine, which seem immensely real to them, but may sound like a crazy delusion to the rest of us.

Is Anders seriously suggesting here that “smug” atheists aren’t aware of stories in which people seem crazy, but are later vindicated? Of course we’re aware of those stories. The reason we don’t immediately draw parallels to the people we know who seems crazy is that THESE ARE WORKS OF FICTION! Seriously, how dense do you have to be not to understand that? One of the common criticisms that “smug” atheists level at believers is that they can’t tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Anders seems to be proving that point. Anders closes with this:

Still, it’s great to be atheist — and I strongly support arguing publicly and loudly in favor of atheism as a point of view. Just, you know, don’t be smug about it. You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us, and the universe is a much stranger, more bewildering place than any of us can really begin to grasp, and the only thing that would be surprising is if we stop being constantly surprised. If you don’t believe me, just read some science fiction.

This is the paragraph that inspired the title of this post, in that it seems to me that Anders just doesn’t know any atheists. Almost all of the atheists that I know agree wholeheartedly that the universe is a strange, bewildering, and ultimately unknowable place. Our frustration is with religious believers who claim to know things that they cannot possibly know, based on holy books or intuition. It’s the atheists who are insisting that the universe is a giant mystery, and the believers who claim that they have it all figured out. Atheism is nothing more that the belief that the idea of “god” is unsupported by the available evidence. Anders should actually speak to a few atheists before painting them with such a broad brush.

Dan Savage Agrees With Me!

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



UPDATE: Dan Savage quotes me in Slog


From the latest Savage Love:

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is “a poly,” just as there’s no such thing as a person who is “a monogamous.” Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns. There are only people—gay, straight, bi—and some people are in monogamous relationships, some are in open relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships, some are in monogamish relationships, some are in four-star-general relationships. These are relationship models, PP, not sexual identities.

As I’ve been saying for a while, polyamory is not a sexual orientation:

There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.

Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.

A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.

Sounds like at least one high-profile member of the GLBT community doesn’t like the comparison any more than I do.

Meaning of the Jesus Story; History v. mythology

I was just catching up on some blogs this morning and read Jerry Coyne’s thoughts on the virgin birth, the resurrection, and their importance in Christian (specifically Catholic) faith.  Towards the end, he says this:

…as has always been clear, the things that to Christians are non-negotiable “truths” of the Bible are those fables on which their faith rests most heavily. Therefore they can dispense with the parting of the Red Sea and the curing of lepers, [but] not with the Resurrection, which is the most important fable that Christians must accept as literal truth.

But if that’s the case, then why not treat Adam and Eve likewise?. For without the Original Duo, and Original Sin, the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus would make no sense (as they say, “Did Jesus die for a metaphor?”).

It is a set of points that I have thought about (and probably written about) myself over the years.  But it got me thinking; How do we approach the significance of an idea depending on how historically reliable it is? How do we think about the meaning of an act if we think it really happened versus if it is a mythological metaphor for something? How do the standards of import differ in contrasting history from mythology?

If a friend took off work to do you a favor, that would be appreciated and would have some real import.  If a person were to push you out of the way of a car, saving your life and sacrificing theirs, that has more import.  For many, Jesus’ sacrifice, is seen as the superlative sacrifice.  Further, it transcends the mere saving of a short mortal life, and becomes the transformation of an eternal life.  We are all doomed to death/separation from god/whatever and Jesus steps in to take the bullet.  And many believe this really happened, and is not merely a metaphor.

But our litany of stories from various religious, philosophical, and cultural sources contains a multitude of stories with moral, social, and philosophical import, many of which attempt such universality.  And it is clear, at least to me, that these stories are myths, even if they contain some historical truth to any extent.  They are, in essence, products of our imagination.  The complicated morals, literary structures, etc that such stories convey, and often contain high moral and philosophical import, are fancy fabrications.

And while reality may occasionally, accidentally, resemble such fabrications in terms of narrative complexity, moral import, etc, the rule is that the design of mythology is better at creating meaning and import than reality.  A narrative with more complex interwoven philosophical themes, governing more broad area of impact and importance, is more likely to be mythology.  The story of the New Testament, with its universal import and intended (but ultimately failed) sacrificial plot, is a good example of a story which is clearly mythological, even if potentially based on historical facts.


So, the essence to my question today foes something like the following.  If I believed that the Fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the resurrection, were literal things that happened, does that mean that the import of the acts involved have more impact than if they were mere stories about the human experience? Would the fact that these actions really happened give them greater impact, emotionally and philosophically, than if they were mere stories?

Consider my example of someone taking off of work to help you with some problem; imagine that this story were part of a religious canon, rather than a thing that really happened to you.  If you found this story in the New Testament or the Koran, would you be impressed by it? Probably not.  But if someone really did this, for you or someone you know, it would have some importance and meaning, even if it were a small amount of such.  The fact that it is real gives it more import to your life, even if the act has less moral and philosophical complexity than mythology.

The thesis is that when things really happen, their personal and social importance is greater than if they were mythological.  Mythology has to be exaggerated, embellished, or at least rare to survive as a story of significance.  It may be that extraordinary real events inspire such mythology in some cases, but such stories always take on legendary status the more they are told and re-told, because story-tellers have to sell the story.  Thus, we will microfy the import of a story which is mythological because we understand that it is embellished, whereas reality, which sits in front of us, is not.

So, a story about a sacrifice, in order to be held as ultimate import, has to become embellished.  Religion, then, is part of our story-telling nature, and only stories with universal themes and import can survive to legendary status.  And while these stories sit behind our lives as an influence for our behavior and beliefs, reality continues on and we continue to act in less than superlative, but meaningful ways.

And many religious apologists argue that this is what makes religion great; it stands as an example for us and helps preserve our cultural norms and values in narrative form.  And for those that believe the stories are true, there is a greater amount of reverence towards those acts (and those who perform them), beyond mere inspiration.  But, for those people who don’t believe the literal truth of these religious stories,such stories can still remain as inspirational narratives, even if the non-historical nature of the story takes something away.

Of course, by not believing they literally happened, one can also criticize the import and morality of the lesson.  It seems more appropriate, for many, to criticize a story rather than a real act.  If we see Jesus as a metaphorical example, and not literally a person (or god) who “died” for our sins, then we can hold him up as an example (even if not a great one) of what humans can do for one-another.  But if he was (and is) god, then that fact puts the story on a level of import which dwarfs any mere myth.  The same story, depending on whether it is true or not, has different import.

But here’s the problem; if stories such as the all and the resurrection are literally true, including that a god is behind it all, then the distinction between mythology and reality breaks down in this respect.  The basis for real actions having inflated import is that such things occur within a real of minimal control over the circumstances, whereas in a story the composer has, well, god-like control over the circumstances.  A friend taking work off to help you is only in control of their own actions (taking off work and helping you), not the circumstances which led them to have to make that choice.

The story of Jesus, if we saw him as a mere human who acted in the real world, could be of great import as an inspiration towards sacrifice and love (assuming we ignore the non-loving stuff in there, of course).  But as an intentional creation of an all-powerful god, the Jesus story is designed, and poorly, because a better story could have been designed.  The world could have been different, the sacrifice unnecessary, and a greater story could have been written.  The more true the Bible is, the less powerful its story ultimately is; the more control the author of the story has, the less impressive it is.

As a set of inspirational stories, the New Testament has some philosophical and moral import on their own, but if Jesus was real and did a lot of the stuff in the gospel accounts, then the import increases because a person actually did those things, rather than them being idealistic narratives of some authors.  But if God is real, and god designed and orchestrated the whole thing, then I’m not impressed, because I think that I could write a better story than that.  God didn’t just compose the narrative of Jesus, but he also composed all of the circumstances which allowed them to be necessary.  In short, God is a terrible composer of stories (and universes).

The Bible, as a collection of stories, is a work of human minds and hands.  It takes the nature of the world, indifferent and often unpredictable, and comes up with a set of narratives which offer some consolation and moral import.  Bu those imports are inflated, exaggerated, and as a result they take on universal import through hyperbolic fabrication, rather than by being real.

We, with our imagination, intelligence  and articulate genius have come up with narratives which make reality look pale in comparison.  Our stories tell us about our dreams and nightmares, hopes and fears, and our height and depth of philosophical notions.  But what ends up mattering are the real acts, the non-miraculous human decisions,  which have a real effect on our lives.  Mythology might inspire,but it can only do so via exaggeration, by figurative flashing lights and shiny objects.

And, what’s worse is that the mythology, the meaning, of the essential Christian message is flawed and many subsequent stories have surpassed them in many ways.  Not only is the Christian message not truly universal, it isn’t even good.  So, not only should we not believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection, we should not even be inspired by such things.  Fabricated acts have no real meaning in the world; they only can attempt to make reality seem pale in comparison, but often merely succeed in making themselves look artificial, forced, and Platonic.

So, while stories are fun and inspire the imagination, what ultimately matters is reality.  Give me friends and lovers over a million Jesuses (Jesi?) any day.

Adventures in Therapy: Wherein Things Get Real

I woke up on Saturday morning excited. I had big plans for late in the morning.  I was finally going to see a psychiatrist about getting some medication to help me.

A few months back I was talking to a friend about how open I am about myself and everything that’s going on with me on the internet. Zie didn’t like the idea of having so many profoundly personal details about hirself documented in the public sphere.  Once it is out there, it never goes away.  In the internet age, anyone can find you with a simple Google search and they will know everything that you share and will judge you for it.  In the era when employers search people’s lives for potential dirty laundry before choosing the best candidate, the dirty laundry they see is the items you choose to hang out in the air.

I had mentioned that in a recent recorded interview, I admitted that I had started therapy.  My friend said that he never would have admitted that because then it’s there forever.  And while the comments stayed with me for a long time, filling me self doubt and fear that I have done everything wrong and that my choices to be so ridiculously honest and open about my trials and tribulations, interests, beliefs, and relationships in the world where everyone could see with a couple of simple key strokes are putting my family and me at undue risk, I stood fast.  I’ve already shared so much…what’s one more thing.  What harm is there now putting a face and voice to the next adventure in both living a life less ordinary and a life very ordinary for people all over the world.

The psychiatrist’s office was in a lovely part of Jersey, nestled between a couple of farm fields.  It was a calming and beautiful.  I was already happy to be there and I was happy to be taking a very big step towards finally being well.  The doctor was pleasant and caring.  She asked a million questions to really get to the bottom of what I struggle with every day.  At the end, after listening to me closely, she gave me a prescription for Zoloft with instructions and warnings.

I left feeling positive, feeling like I made the right direction.  I need more help than just talk therapy.  I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t listen…if I constantly have to fight waves of difficult emotion and anxiety, the conversation with myself can’t be productive.  And I had grown tired of walking on eggshells around myself when I felt an unsettled simmering beneath the surface.  And I had grown tired of being overwhelmed, with losing control, with being disinterested in anything I used to really like doing.

I filled the prescription and got my hair cut short.  I went home and dyed my hair red.  New stage, new costume.  The next morning I took half a pill and went to visit my parents.

I was not prepared for such immediate effects.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt in a haze.  I was numb and though I was angry about something that had happened, I wasn’t having a complete break down over it as has been the norm as of late.  These effects grew stronger as the evening progressed and by the time we threw a movie on I felt stoned.  I fell asleep during the movie, like I do, and then after it was over, I bolted awake.  I was completely awake and alert and completely anxious.

And so I was for the whole night.  I don’t know when I actually slept.  I laid awake in bed trying to calm myself down but doing a lousy job of it.  Poor Wes had to endure me tossing, turning, weeping, going nuts.  I was thinking obsessively about a few things and got myself completely whipped up into a tizzy and finally after writing an email I kind of wish I didn’t, I calmed and sat quietly in bed.  I think maybe a got a couple of hours, but I have no idea. My alarm went off and I was already awake.  I cried and Wes said he would take me to work.  I got to work feeling the effects of the second half pill settling in.  I sat at my desk, feeling an odd numbness, but it was not impenetrable to outside stressors.  I encountered one and for an hour did not know if I would be able to stay here for the day.  But it passed and I am still hanging in.

It is only Day Two and I am committed to at least giving this a fair shot.  Friends have told me that it can take a couple of weeks for things to even out.  The doctor said that it takes 4 weeks to really start working.  So I will be patient.  After having some issues today, I guess I am not much worse off than I already was, but this time I know that there is something at work chemically trying to set me right.  It may not be the correct ingredient, but I can’t know until I test and observe.

This is hard.  This is scary.  This means that I have to put some things to the side so that I can get my brain in order so that I do them well and happily.  Even though I feel completely bizarre right now, I find peace in the fact that I am taking steps to tackle this in a real, concrete, lasting way.  Good brain chemistry facilitates an environment where rational, productive discussion can happen and there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about taking that step.  There is nothing stranger about handling this like handling a case of gout. When you have a chronic issue, you treat it.

And so it is out in the world and no one is worse for it.  I look forward to finding some balance in my mind so that I can finally fully appreciate this amazing life I have built.  I am so tired of seeing it through a fog.

Tree of Knowledge Event December 1st in West Chester, PA, with some historical context.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…Discrimination?

Margaret Downey helping to decorate the Tree of Knowledge in 2008

Over the least few years, the Freethought Society, led by Margaret Downey, has been involved in an effort to include atheists, humanists, and other secular people in the public holiday display area of the West Chester courthouse.  It is this very courthouse that, in early 2002, I first met Margaret Downey during the court case of whether the 10 Commandment plaque  would remain displayed there.  It still remains in place, due to it being historical since it was on the wall for 80 years.  In other words, nobody complained for many years and so it became a part of the building’s history.  What I learned from this was to complain more about violations of the church/state separation, so that this squirmy legal reasoning cannot become valid.

Starting in 2007, The Freethought Society has tried to maintain seasonal inclusion by participating in the placing of holiday displays on the court grounds, and for some years we were allowed to participate in the mostly conservative county.   The tree’s lights were vandalized a few times that first year, but it ultimately remained and the new tradition was continued the next couple of years.  In 2009, some interviews sprung up about the event, which include some video about how the tree was decorated and a little more about the history of the idea.

2010 Human Tree of Knowledge

But then in 2010, the Commissioners rejected the request to be included in the displays, and so Margaret got to work on an alternative plan; a human Tree of Knowledge, which doubled as a protest and momentary display.  The same thing happened in 2011, and now in 2012 we are left in the same situation.  The Commissioners still refuse to allow a Tree of Knowledge on the courthouse grounds, while still including the traditional Christmas and Hanukkah displays.

So, because of this continuing discrimination in West Chester, PA, Margaret Downey and many members and friends of the Freethought Society will be gathering on Saturday, December 1st 2012 in order to create a human Tree of Knowledge.  The courthouse is in the middle of West Chester, at 2 High Street, and the event will start at 3:00 PM.  

I plan on being there, and we would love to see as many people as possible come out to show your support for a great organization and to protest a discriminatory decision by the West Chester Commissioners.

Atlanta Poly Weekend, March 15-17 2013

As many readers may know, I lived in Atlanta for a little while a couple of years back.  It was where I met Ginny! While living down there, I participated in the polyamorous community down there and made some friends.  Some of those people still read this blog, and because of my awesomeness, have invited me to participate in their annual orgy polyamory-themed event in Atlanta, Atlanta Poly Weekend.

Know that I had the option of putting a picture of a sexy woman here dressed for St. Paddy’s day.

It will be the middle of March of 2013 (you know, because the 2012 Mayan calendar thing is bullshit), winter will be starting to give way, it will be St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and Atlanta will be warming up! Also, lots of smart, sexy, poly people gathering for workshops, presentations, and possibly a few drinks after we solve all the world’s problems with said workshops and presentations.

You can take a look at the list of presenters to get an idea of who will be there, and they look like a fantastic bunch! I am looking forward to meeting them all in March, and I hope to see some of you there as well.

So, the skinny is this:

The What: Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013

The Who (no, not the band!): you, and all your awesome friends (who will be permitted to listen to The Who, if that is your kink.  The Kinks will also be acceptable).

The When: March 15-17, 2013

The Where: 

Holiday Inn Select Atlanta- Perimeter/Dunwoody
4386 Chamblee Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30341
(770) 457-6363
(770) 458-5282 (Fax)

The Why: Because it will be awesome!

The How: That is for you to figure out, because I don’t know who you are or where you are coming from.  If teleportation doesn’t work, try a car, train, plane, or penny-farthing.