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Why do people “hook up”? August 24, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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In other words, why do we fuck each other?

Now, this is not my question.  It is, in fact, the question of Christian author Donald Miller.

He has recently posted questions to both women and men.  If you look at some of the responses, you will see that there really is some feeling among the readers, likely to be Christians, that are not what I call “sex positive.”

Now, I added my response (awaiting moderation), and I will be interested to see what kind o response it gets.  In any case, I said this:

Because sex is fun, and it feels good (this is the same answer my fiance gives, btw). The question assumes a sort of sex-negativity that I find a little amusing and a little more disturbing. Why is this question necessary? Isn’t it obvious that men and women genuinely enjoy sex?

Now, my fiance and I are open and proud sluts. We love sex with each other and our other lovers (we are polyamorous). But in addition to the fact that sex is simply fun, it also allows us to experience human intimacy, which is beautiful.

For those that are not hooking up (and who have the physical desires to do so), why are you denying sometimes so pleasurable and intimate? Do you really believe that it is wrong? Do you really think (if religious doctrine is the reason) the creator of the universe cares what you do with your “naughty bits”?

What would you have said?

(H/T Hemant Mehta, AKA the Friendly Atheist)

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Skepticism versus the intelligent design of irrefutible complexity August 22, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Thesis: Theological apologetics becomes more complicated in the presence of skepticism.  In other words, arguments which theists make in defending their religious beliefs become more and more convoluted sophisticated (and again) the better our questions about those beliefs get.  But, of course, I have written about this topic before.  Nonetheless, I have a few more things to say.

Thousands of years ago, some metaphysical ‘genius’ could proclaim that the universe was all fire, water, or made of god stuff and we, a very young intellectual species, would not have had the tools or understanding to question such claims without it turning into a ‘he said, she said‘ affair (assuming a ‘she’ would have been permitted to say anything).  That is, there was once a time when truly there was no significant epistemic distinction between religious and skeptical claims.

Because there was no established skepticism.

Phaedrus

But with many of the ancient urban societies where philosophical ideas were born–China, India, Greece, etc–came questions of how we know things.  Eventually, intellectuals would begin to question the bases of religious thought, and would become subsequently revered and sometimes chastised by contemporary religious and governmental institutions.  Here in the West, Socrates is the most well-known example of this.  With this infancy of philosophy, but more specifically epistemology or the study of knowledge and how we know things, traditional knowledge became subject to suspicion.  For an example, here is Socrates (well, Plato at least) when asked by Phaedrus if he believes in the myth of Boreas seizing Orithyia from the river bank upon which the members of the dialogue sit.  Socrates replies:

I can’t as yet ‘know myself’ as the inscription at Delphi enjoins, and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters.

This early form of questioning would lead to more direct skepticism, of course.  And with it, theistic philosophers would be forced to do more than merely assert their positions.  (Well, ideally it would lead to this, but the fact is that much of apologetics, even from the revered William Lane Craig, is full of bald assertions).  And as history marched along, theology became a serious philosophical topic.  What’s the phrase? That philosophy is the handmaiden of theology.   Well, for centuries that was true, as to be a philosopher in Europe was to be a member of the church.  No other intellectual institution was very influential for many centuries; no competition was allowed to survive, where the church had the power to stop them.  Consider the Cathars, Giordano Bruno, and Galileo Galilei for starters.  The Inquisition was not a period of increased curiosity, after all.

Duns Scotus

So, with the basic epistemic questions posed, the tools of logic and inquiry developed.  The tools of skepticism were sharpened both by the luminaries of orthodoxy who defended the faith of their particular institution as well as those who quietly (or not so quietly) harnessed doubts.  There is no doubt that Thomas Aquinas, an orthodox philosopher if ever there was one, was a genius.  But let’s not forget such thinkers as Peter Abelard, William of Ockham, and Duns Scotus who, who were not in any meaning of the word ‘atheists’ but were openly skeptical of many orthodox theological ideas.

With the advent of the empirical methods which would lead to what we know today as the scientific method, the world of theological apologetics would receive a vital blow, even if it would not be felt by most people even now.  The fact is that many people do not understand the implications of this methodology on theology, which is the basis for this argument between accommodationists and people such as Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and of course humble ol’ me, is a testament to how little most people think about complicated matters such as philosophy.  But it has always been that way, I suppose.  But for those of us who consider such matters, the opposition to theology and theism in general is not mere distaste (although it is that too), but one of realized philosophical implication.  Theological apologetics simply does not have the rational justification to stand up to the power of the scientific method.

This is not a debate over mere conclusions, but one about methodology and therefore justification.  One method is simply superior to the other.  When religion is subjected to empirical testing, almost none of is survives.  Not even the happy and progressive liberal theology survives, even if it tends to be more accepting and friendly.  it’s sort of how you prefer people who are nicer, even if they have radically different lifestyles or beliefs than you.

Recently, one of the buzz terms in the blogosphere in which I swim is “sophisticated theology.”  The basic idea is that we atheists and skeptics are not sufficiently educated in the complexity, subtlety, or profundity of modern theological thought.  Of course, every time we run into some deep thoughts a la theologian, all we get is either postmodern word salad or bold assertions without philosophical or empirical justifications.  Here is an example of the sort of thing I am talking about which I discovered a few weeks back via WEIT (also via the link above)

The bottom line here is that skepticism has put theology up against the metaphorical wall, and theology is flailing around in an attempt to save itself.  Now, the metaphor is not really apt, because skeptics are not figuratively (or literally) threatening theologians or apologists with harm, but we are merely tapping them on the shoulder and asking hard questions.  Sometime, when they agree to sit down with us and debate or discuss the issue, we ask those hard questions in bold ways.  And, of course, when we skeptics talk to each other those hard questions often are paired with humor, frustration, and flabbergastion (that isn’t a word, is it? meh…).   And this, to them, looks aggressive.  And in many cases it is aggressive, because we are frankly fed up with pseudo-intellectual crap and the fact that they have so many credulous people to believe them.  It does not bode well for humanity.

Like  someone who will say anything to not be harmed when they feel threatened, assertions will lash out like fists and feet, adrenaline takes over, and survival supersedes truth.  It just may take centuries for the disease’s symptoms to be noticeable to everyone, but they are already felt by many.  We skeptics, like doctors of the body of humankind, can already see the theological cancer spreading over the body of humanity and have made our diagnosis; it is malignant.  If we as a culture and a species are to become healthy this cancer needs to be treated, and possibly removed.  If it isn’t, we may survive, but we will continue to be  infirm and weak.

But in the mean time, the arguments of assertive theologians will continue to maintain influence on millions of people.  Their claims will continue to be complicated, intelligent, and profound-sounding.  This, of course, will not lend their ideas actual justification, but that will not matter because it will still compel many.  And the more complicated, in-depth, and meticulous these rationalizations are, the harder skeptics have to exercise their sharpened tools to demonstrate the lack of reasonable foundation of such beliefs.  It is a game where those who care about influence over truth have the advantage over those that genuinely care about what is demonstrable.

And then the sharper skeptics make their criticisms, the deeper theologians dig themselves into the rabbit-hole of complex and erudite obfuscation.

Thus the viscous cycle, the intellectual ‘arms race’ (Richard Dawkins would be proud, perhaps), continues.

But the complexity and obfuscation don’t make theological arguments better, they only make them harder to follow.  It allows them to live in their worlds where they pat each other on the back for being clever, but never actually demonstrate anything.  They just become more convoluted, intricate, and find themselves tied in knots that nobody else wants to try and untie because it is a waste of time and we can see that.  Then they can make the easy rhetorical point that we don’t understand sophisticated theology.

It’s all just silly, like games children play where they make up the rules along the way and then declare victory.

Intelligence is needed to compose such sophisticated theology, but it is intelligence applied to rationalizing a conclusion and not in utilizing or improving the best methodology we have at our disposal.  For theologians to do that would be suicidal, and they must know that to some degree.

When pressed against the wall, survival supersedes truth.

Multiple loves August 20, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I’ve been doing some work to put together a future lecture or discussion about the relationship between the atheist and polyamory communities, especially as they intersect via skepticism.  What it will look like when done I cannot say, but I thought of a quick analogy (parable, perhaps) that might make the point for some people.  It is an analogy I intend to use in some form, and wanted to share it here.

Let’s say there is some physicist.   They always had an inclination towards science, despite many other interesting fields of study available to them (some early fascination with computer programming just wasn’t a good experience in the end, but they learned a lot from it).  So, after some searching around for what to do with their life, they got a degree in physics, found a job at a respectable lab, and paid little to no attention to other subjects.  Yes, they were interested in politics and perhaps baseball, but there was just no real love there, and they really didn’t have time to make a real commitment to such things.  These things were just friendly interests, things they talked about to unwind after a long day, or whatever.  But always they wake up to and and go to sleep with physics on their mind.

They may see other people dabbling a little in chemistry here, a little in journalism there, but these people (our physicist thinks)  just can’t settle down into something real.  Their commitment to physics gives their life meaning, structure, and goals which their meandering cohorts simply cannot understand.  Our physicist, you see,  can’t imagine any other subject being as interesting to them, even if the tedious day-to-day maintenance of their work is not always exciting.  They made a commitment, and that means that they cannot afford to get caught up in other interests.  They may occasionally think about other things, fantasizing about what it would be like to take a short vacation learning how to make pottery or maybe look up some information about computer programming to see how it has changed over the years.  After all, it was fun for a while.  perhaps it could be again.  But no, our physicist has moved on.  They are, indeed, a physicist.  They must leave aside thoughts of pottery and nights of staying up all night programming.

Then one day, perhaps because they got locked in a room with nothing else to do, this physicist ends up reading, say, some Russian literature.  Maybe it’s Dostoevsky, maybe Tolstoy, but it really does not matter.  And upon doing so, they find that they just love reading this Russian literature; they find that it complements their life in such a way that they want to read more, and their life becomes more rich and more enjoyable. They find themselves thinking about the characters, the plot, and they just want to dive into a book and just live there for a week.  They cannot help themselves in desiring to explore more of what has been written, and to they find themselves excited in a way they have not been excited in a while…but they still love physics, of course.   Despite this, they want to read chapters over and over again.  They are, in a word, smitten with this new topic they had not been familiar with until now.

Now, let’s say that this scientist looks back at their years of study of physics, their job, and their daily life as a physicist.  They look at their job, and they say to themselves “oh, how can I do this to physics?”  They wonder whether they should bring their literature to their lab, to read during lunch, or whether they should give up their new interest since it may effect their ability to do physics work.  They wonder whether their love of physics can survive, or whether it will wither away into cold resentment in the blinding light of this new excitement about some other intellectual endeavor.  And so they consider leaving their job, considering eschewing any thought of particles, gasses, or even obscure formulas and instead seek to go back to school to study Russian literature so they can dedicate their lives to the reading, teaching, and enjoyment of Russian literature.  Physics would be left behind, for to have two loves is, well, wrong.  Or it’s just hard.  It’s just not for me….

A ridiculous story.  But why is this kind of thing ridiculous when it is applied to careers or personal interests, but not to relationships?  Why does it seem so strange or even inconceivable that we can share our love with more than one person, when it seems so natural that we can love both knitting and bike-riding? What is the fundamental difference?

I have answers to this question.  But they are not quite formulated yet.  I will leave it for you to ponder, and to comment if you wish, but will not address this question here and now.

Marriage, commitment, and polyamory August 15, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Awwww....

So, Ginny and I are engaged.  That’s right folks, marriage! That ancient institution of property-arrangement designed to let everyone know that this woman is mine.  If you want her, too bad; I have obviously paid her father some bride price (or she has paid me some dowry) and so she is spoken for.

Oh, wait, that’s right! The concept of marriage has changed.  Those valued ancient traditions that defined our culture and gave the sacred institution of marriage meaning have been radicalized and re-defined by social progressives (probably feminists and socialists) in an attempt to destroy the traditional concept of marriage.  And as a result, women are no longer property by which men can get their jollies and also continue their genetic line (the legitimate ones, anyway).

Now, marriage has come to mean the willing entrance into a committed and potentially life-long relationship by 2 or more adults.  It’s an arrangement which gives each adult who has entered into it certain legal rights concerning decisions for and access to their spouse(s).  It has changed from being a property arrangement not unlike owning a cow to being a decision to bind one’s life to other adults in emotional, financial, and legal ways.

Oh, wait, I got ahead of myself.  We are still somewhere between that traditional marriage and what actually makes sense to emotionally mature and intelligent adults.  We still live in a culture where the idea of marriage has not yet evolved past the transitional stage of a civic union between one man and one woman.  We live in a culture with such a bad sense of history, genuine adult relationships, and full of conservative fear that we still think that commitment is defined by an arrangement between two people who have no obligations of love, intimacy, or time to other people.

I keep forgetting that the vision of actual human emotional achievement and popular maturity only exists in my head.

*sigh*

What is commitment?

Commitment is not the same thing as exclusivity.  To be committed to something is not to eschew consideration to other things completely.  It does not mean that comparable relationships are forgotten.  Go ahead, look up the term.  There is nothing about commitment that necessarily implies that to commit yourself to a person (or to a cause or idea) means that you give up any effort towards others.

And yet, if you hear someone say that they are in a committed relationship, it is understood to mean that they are unavailable for romantic and/or sexual relationships with people other than the person to whom they are committed.  It does not imply that perhaps that relationship is of mere primary (or at least very high) importance to them.  It does not, in ‘polite’ society, mean that any further arrangement of relationships must consider the impact to that existing relationship.  It does not mean that that relationship is something of great importance to their life, and that perhaps, if things work out, you may be able to share some of that importance with others as well.

That would be silly.  Except that it wouldn’t be silly at all.  It would be pretty awesome, actually.

I am committed to Ginny.  I intend to keep her as a primary part of my life, and to grow and love her as long as I am able to do so.  All decisions that effect my life will have to consider her and how it may affect her.  All further relationships, whether with Gina or anyone else, will have to be weighed in terms of their implications for my relationship with Ginny.  And since Ginny and Gina get along so well, it means that the continued existence of my relationship with Gina (which is young but relatively strong considering its youth) is preferable for all involved.  So, not only does my relationship with Gina not threaten my relationship with Ginny, it may actually complement my commitment to Ginny.  It may actually add value to that other relationship.  Isn’t that awesome?

This is a concept that I think more people in our culture need to understand.  In the same way that many friendships can complement other friendships, romantic relationships can also add to the ones we have already.  Jealousy, resentment, and pain are not the only result of your lovers knowing about each other.  There are also wonderful things, like friendship (and occasional new lovers) that can be derived from this.  If you love someone, the qualities that you love just might be noticed by the other people you love.  Crazy, I know!

What is the meaning of Marriage, if it does not mean commitment?…oh, wait….

Are you getting it yet? In the same way that being committed to one-another does not have to imply romantic and sexual exclusivity (although it can also mean that, if the people involved desire that for whatever reason), marriage does not have to imply exclusivity either.

But further, in the same way that 3 (or more) people could possibly find a way to arrange commitment and share each other emotionally, sexually, etc, there are times when those same 3 (or more) people can find themselves all ready to commit their lives to each other in ways that walks, sounds, and acts like marriage.  What sense is it to have (for example) 3 people living together, sharing a bed, finances, and activities together and say that this could not be considered potential marriage for more than 2 people?  How does polyamorous marriage not make sense for those for whom such arrangements are desirable?

But much more basically (and more personally relevant to me right now), how is my marrying a woman who I love, despite the fact that I love another woman (openly and unashamedly), not marriage?  How does my being in another relationship de-legitimize any meaningful use of the term ‘marriage’? Well, frankly, it doesn’t.  But many people seem to think that it does, and I think that this is an obvious point of needed re-consideration by our culture generally.  We, as a society, need to re-evaluate our values about relationships, marriage, and commitment.

Gay and polyamorous marriage are really about the same thing

I believe that those who were once considered liberal and open-minded, the radicals of the past, are in some ways tomorrow’s conservatives.  We, as humans, get so caught up in the definitions and causes that our cultural ancestors fought for that we forget that it is the continued struggle for freedom and choice that is the fight, not the updated definitions of things like marriage.  Less than 50 years ago I, as a US citizen, marrying a black woman would have been illegal.   Those who now take that for granted have now accepted the new conservative definition of marriage which is problematic for both gay couples and polyamorous groups who desire the same rights.

Granted, there are issues related to the abusive treatment of women in polygamist religious groups, such as the FLDS organizations and Moslem societies which support such things, and I do not want these women to keep experiencing this abuse, when it is abusive.  I want marriage to be a consensual and informed decision among adults, not one controlled by religious ideology in an abusive and patriarchal culture.  Marriage, at bottom, is NOT a religious institution, but rather a civic one.  Religion cannot tell us what marriage is any more than it can tell us what morality is.  They have not earned the right to have an authoritative position on such things.

In conclusion (a message of loves)

I love you Ginny, and I look forward to a life of sharing how wonderful you are with other people, because to do otherwise would be taking too much away from the world.  You are brilliant, beautiful, and as authentic a person as I could hope for.  And Gina, I love you too. You are talented, you make me laugh, and seeing you happy brings joy to my days.  I hope that our relationship will continue to grow into something meaningful and enduring.

Take that, convention!

Kirk Cameron on marriage: The blind leading the blind August 10, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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*headdesk*

Ow, that hurt,  But not as much as reading this:

Woman with a Mancard: My Night at Kirk Cameron’s Marriage-Strengthening Event

Now, I’ve found Kirk Cameron’s Christian antics annoying for many years.  Since my friend Brian Sapient debated him and his Sith master Ray Comfort back in 2007, I have found him to be a pretty dense tool (almost as bad as Tof Friel, really), but this recent event just makes me want to scream with frustration.

Now, I want to write more substantially about the concept of marriage in the next day or so (mostly because I just got engaged to the lovely Ginny), but for now I want to say a few quick things about the idea of marriage, relationships in general, and the role of men and women in them.  I want to say these things because I think that the current model of marriage in the evangelical Christian community is poisonous for both men and women, advocates an immature way for men and women to communicate and interrelate, and just generally sucks giant troll balls.

And what’s worse, it informs many of our ‘traditional’ definitions of marriage.

Kirk Cameron advocates a model of marriage with the man (and there always will be a man, as marriage is defined as an institution between one man and one woman of course), is supposed to “play the role of Jesus Christ to your wife.”  There is no equality, no real sense of compromise, and certainly no meaningful feminism here.  The man is unambiguously in charge of his wife.  This is not a relationship of equals, but one of a power relationship.  Just as we are to obey God, the wife is to obey the husband.  Sure, if he has “crossed the line” (meaning, is emotionally/physically abusive) then he is not “protecting her” (because that is part of his job, of course) and is not doing his job well. But I doubt that divorce would be an option, as god ordained these marriages, and only we can fail in them;  not god.

This is but one of the many aspects of current Christian trends that makes me feel sick.  It promotes clearly obsolete gender roles, places people (specifically women) in a place of subservience (and not in the fun and kinky way that some women like, although I’m sure there is some overlap), and (again) it promotes vigorous suction on the balls of the troll which may or may not live under the bridge near your house.  His name is Ted.

The irony for me is that many people in our culture, even less batshit nutzoid people than Kirk Cameron, think that gay marriage or polyamorous marriage (not to be confused with the often harmful polygamous marriage) is unhealthy while finding this version of marriage proposed by evangelicals to be relatively healthy.  At least (they may say) they are really committed to each other.  Or they may say that at least it is the way god intended marriage to be.  This is an indication of a fundamental disease at the root of our culture when it comes to thinking about marriage and gender roles. There is no wonder that divorce and teen pregnancy rates are higher among so-called red states; it is these areas which are more prone to this unhealthy model of marriage.

I love my future wife.  I love her in a way that a man who sees himself as the master of his wife simply cannot.  I am genuinely interested in seeing her free, fulfilled, and treated as the equal that she is.  I cannot, not would I try, to “put my foot down” or to make a proclamation about what will be what.  It may be hard, we may disagree, but we will communicate openly about all of our desires, fears, and joys. Further, she loves me (this I know, for the Bible…wait, never mind…).  She desires me to be fulfilled, free, and will allow me to be who I am, genuinely, inside.  Neither of us has to pretend.  We don’t have to strive for some fantasy ideal or deny aspects of our selves in sacrifice for our relationship, because our relationship is about a celebration of our selves.

I will put my relationship against that between Kirk Cameron and his wife any day of the week.  Any man who sees his wife as subservient, who plays off of old cultural roles for each spouse without any hint of skepticism towards their ideological merit, or who gives men “man cards” which their wives are not even allowed to see is a weak and cowardly man.  His worldview is weak and cowardly, and it is a conservative worldview whose influence stretches beyond the evangelical Christian world, but surely dominates that world.

I know too many people, men and women (they are really boys and girls, even in their late 20’s or 30’s) who are inexperienced sexually, relationship-wise, and therefore emotionally stunted.  They see this ideal life and marriage set up before them and do not relent even as they fail over and over to find it’s reality.  They believe that Jesus will provide for them, and cannot see their own blindness.

And many of these “values” seep into mainstream culture, where (outside of the educated upper middle class generation I grew up around) these ideas are still held with reverence.  Heteronormative monogamous male-dominated marriage is more the norm than I think many of us educated and elitist types want to admit–and possibly more than we realize.  This idea of the traditional marriage, which is not even traditional if we want to be truly historical about it, is what is doing damage to real human relationships.  Not gay marriage.  Not polyamorous people who are married and who may want a legalized polyamorous marriage.

It is the closed-minded version of what god wants, what is right, what is ‘Merican even, that will destroy our relationships.

[/end rant]

Controversial lifestyles and maintaining friendships August 8, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I have been an out atheist for many years.  I have been open about being polyamorous for some time as well.  I don’t hide who I am because I feel it is important to be a face for things that are controversial, because I feel like our culture is not ideally healthy, and controversy often comes from the sickness rejecting some remedy.  There have to be people willing to take the social stigma away, over time and with patience, so that future generations will not have to consider the balance of social stigma to living fulfilled and authentic lives.  Granted, this balance will probably always be a part of the human experience. but if we can mitigate the actual discrimination due to alternate worldviews and lifestyles, it will be a step in the right direction.  I want a future where the argument that keeping quiet is better for your career, social life, and family life is rare. I want atheists, poly people, and other “abnormal” people to feel less insecure about being who they are, openly.

All of this implies that their still remains a cost to living openly as an atheist or as polyamorous.  I have certainly experienced this in my life, and it has effected relationships with people I know.  Now I’m not going to pretend that the alienation I’ve experienced from friends and family is always due to my being an atheist and being polyamorous.  I have made mistakes in my life which have strained relationships with people I once thought of as friends, but it is also true that having strong, outspoken opinions about people’s beliefs makes you come across as unfriendly, overly-critical, and perhaps even a dick.  I accept this outcome, because I understood the ramifications of living as I do.  And while I do sometimes lament what I have lost, I am also finding that there are positive things gained that may have otherwise remained unfound.

One thing that happens, and I believe this to be a common observation that all people notice as they begin to mature, is that the people who stick around even after we make poor decisions, come out as some socially awkward minority, or proclaim some controversial opinion consistently and loudly are your friends.  They are especially your friends if they tend to disagree with you.  I don’t want all of my friends to merely be people with whom I agree, after all.  Further, the people who shy away from you in times of stress and courage to stand firm in the face of such social stigma are not your friends.  They may remain as acquaintances, but it is often best to cut off your losses with people who abandon you with nothing more than a passivity of intercourse.

But those people I still call friends (and this is not a word I use lightly), are people who know me as I am.  They may not agree with me or understand me completely, but they are willing to live among my life without it affecting our relationship.  And as I ride this thing called life I occasionally meet people with who I can ride along with; people who have qualities which complement mine and with whom I can enjoy my time.  The friends that you meet after finding what has meaning to you are different kinds of friends, but nonetheless friends they are.  Alternatively, the people I knew as a child, the friendships that I maintain that are decades old, are special and important because we know each other well in a way that transcends specific adult interests.  And while not all of those relationships have survived the journey, the ones that have are especially meaningful.  They are people who will be friends for life, most likely, and they keep you tied to where you came from, even we drift further from the safe shores of mainstream culture.

And family is similar.  As I ponder the reality of marriage, which implies a wedding with guests, I ponder the realities of family seeing me as I am, not as they knew me as a child.  They will see a ceremony devoid of god-talk, vows devoid of promises of exclusivity, and assuming my new relationship survives until then (and I truly hope it will dwarf that time-period in length) they will see two people marrying each other while being in love with other people with whom we shall dance, kiss, and celebrate with at our party.  And they will not understand.  And they will judge.  And they will think us lost, perhaps.

They will miss the unrelenting beauty of reality that we dance upon with genuine joy and appreciation.  The beauty of a world devoid of gods, but full of complexity and wonder beyond our ability to comprehend.  They will miss the depths of love and intimacy which is shared beyond the artificial limitations of monogamy.  They will miss the wonder that is my life, even as it sits before them, beautified and smiling.

And yet some will understand, even at a level that is not quite articulate even to their own ears.  And this is the reason I live the way I do; many will not see, but some will.  I live my life to experience the many joys of reality, and reality is awesome.  I will not apologize for it.

Somebody likes me! August 3, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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So, if you have not been paying attention lately, I have been seeing someone new recently, and therefore exercising my Bacchus-given polyamorous rights, and we have been having a wonderful time.  So, today she wrote another post on her blog that made reference to me by name today, and so I thought I’d like, you know, prove that I read it and stuff by linking to it and making a few references to it below.  Because that is what a supportive partner does

Gina is truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, and we keep each other very entertained while one or both of us should be doing more constructive things, like work.  And to boot, she s talented, smart, and you know, like sexy and stuff.  She is a singer and guitarist for the local Philly music thingy called Arcati Crisis, does some theater stuff that may be awesome or super awesome (the jury is still out on that), and she does some other stuff that might be inappropriate to post here.  Nobody wants to read about dead babies.  Those last two sentences were completely unrelated.

On top of how great we get along, she and Ginny talk extensively as well and seem to like each other a lot.  It is hugely advantageous for your girlfriends (I never really like the terms boyfriend/girlfriend that much either), significant others (meh, that is hardly better), or partners (what, are we starting a business?) to get along well with each other.  Can I just call them my bitches and still call myself a feminist?

Probably not.

So, I love my life right now, and I think it has great potential to get better and remain in a stable state of great friends and lovers.  Ginny is awesome, Gina is awesome, Wes and I are apparently the same person, and then there is Jessie (Wes’ other girlfriend) who I have not yet gotten to know well.  Add another currently unnamed girl who I have been seeing more casually and my life is complicated (awsomplicated?) with people, but I’m loving it.

So yes, ain’t life grand?

Big relationship steps and Google August 2, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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We have a sort of road map for relationships in our culture.  There are stages in a relationship which are delineated by certain events which make clear to the world that the people involved have taken a step.  In monogamous culture, these steps convey a level of seriousness in the relationship; levels of commitment and usually exclusivity.  If they are just seeing each other, then it may not be out-of-bounds to ask tone of them out yourself.  If she’s got a ring, then back off boys (and girls) because she’s spoken for!

Of course, depending on how old fashioned (read, prudish) people are, this might amount to “going steady” or “casual dating” or “fuck buddy,” but the labels and correlated events convey something about  the nature of that relationship which indicates levels of seriousness.  It is not my intention here to analyze these stages, as they really have nothing to do with my freaky life, being all non-monogamous and stuff.  Those normals can have their boring stages, because I don’t want them anyway.

Now, within the poly world, the same rules don’t apply but there certainly are some common themes which could be talked about.  Strictly speaking, there are not any real universally accepted “rules”, but there are certainly some sets of common tendencies and some common markers which tell you the relative seriousness of a relationship.  Perhaps the starkest distinction between the monotonous…I meant monogamous, my apologies…and the polyamorous worlds is that there is a significant decline in likelihood of a level of seriousness between people implying that this person has become off-limits.  Temporarily perhaps, especially if they are so into their new partner that they just have no inclination to see you right now, but not in principle and not generally. And since the general lack of exclusivity implies that one might have to manage one’s time better, this can mean logistical puzzles to solve, and this is where technology comes to the rescue.

One of the markers that has become common in the last few years for poly people is the sharing of Google calendars.  When you get to the point where you want to manage your time better so that you can make sure that you have time to see your new loved one, as well as make sure to fit yourself into their busy schedule (after all, since they are so awesome everyone else wants some time with them too!), then you are declaring that this is more than just some temporary fling, probably.

So, the other day when I was opening my Google calendar settings so that I could add my new lady friend, Gina (she has subsequently given me permission to use her name, which I interpret as permission to gush about her publicly in great detail 😉 ), I also discovered that I had been continually giving permission to 3 ex-girlfriends from the last few years.  Apparently, my usually organized mind does not think to un-invite people who were once important parts of my daily life from this relationship stage, probably having something to do with finding this sharing option only when you are looking for it, thus I simply forgot that I was still sharing with them.  Suffice it to say, the oversight was taken care of.

My guess is that they has simply deleted my calendar information a while back, and not that they had been stalking me.  I assume that because for the most part I have not heard from any of these 3 women in some time.  Hell, even in polyamory breakups can often still lead to people losing contact and moving on.  Sometimes even when one of them lives in your parent’s house and sleeps in your old bedroom (long story).

But in any case, I now have a newly organized calendar with two of my significant others’ information adding color to both my calendar and my days.  I have me a Ginny and a Gina! (I swear that was not intentional, it just sort of happened that way).  Of course, now my calendar tells me that I won’t be able to see Gina until Friday.

Stupid calendar.

When it rains it pours July 24, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I am just in a great mood! I had such a wonderful weekend, and I want to share it with the world.

Being polyamorous with someone as wonderful as my dear Ginny is amazing in itself.  I feel very lucky to have someone who fits me so well, who is so beautiful inside and out, and who I can expect to spend a fun, nurturing, and challenging (in the good way) life.  But recently we met a couple who just got married, and since they are also polyamorous (and they are not exactly a couple; there is a third in there), we started to spend some time with them over the last couple of months or so.  And just this last few days it blossomed into a great situation where I find myself beginning what I hope will be another intimate and meaningful relationship.  Of course there is no way to know at this point whether it will be successful or not, but my instincts are good.  I am able to be objective enough to know that intense emotions can cloud judgment and foresight, but I have every reason to believe that all the ingredients are quality, the chemistry is right, and our desire to create something awesome is mutual.

In other words, I met someone I really like, and am feeling really positive about it.  (I have not asked her if I can use her name here, so for now she will remain nameless).  In fact, not only has my fortune been good, my fortune hit the jackpot and doubled.  In addition to the one nameless (girlfriend? Hmm, I guess we have not discussed titles yet) woman I just left less than an hour ago, I have also started to see another woman who I clicked with very easily.  Just yesterday (Saturday) I had a fantastic first date with someone I had met a couple of years ago (before my brief stint in Atlanta), but she recently discovered me on OKCupid (where all the awesome poly peeps are, apparently) and we went out and have a fantastic time.  That on top of seeing my new lady friend both Friday and tonight…I’m a little worn out, I have to say….

And on top of that, Ginny is having a great time with her new boy toy…ok, I don’t know what to call him either.  I suppose all that will work itself out in time.  We are just happy and evolving little poly family here, and I am loving every minute of it.

For those of you who think that this polyamory thing cannot work, that it is destructive and can only lead to hurting people, all I have to say is bullshit! I am happy to see Ginny happy and enjoying herself with another person, and she is happy to see me happy and enjoying myself with another person.  (This phenomenon is what is referred to as compersion, or sometimes as frubble.  Google is your friend).  We love each other, are affectionate and open with each other, and we have other people we care about and have sex with.  And, while ultimately I just want people to find what makes them happy, fulfills their desires, etc I think that many monogamous people who say that they could not do this are really missing out on something awesome.  But, again, I’m riding high on emotion and am, perhaps, not seeing it all clearly at the moment; I just know that right now I am feeling the poly high.

So, now that I am on the verge of finding a way to build three relationships (of varying significance and intensity), I find that I’m looking forward to it.  What more could a person want than more love, friendships, and hot, hot sex with sexy people?

Life is good.

 

Atheism over humanism: why we must philosophize with a hammer July 20, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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[EDIT: I want to add a quick note to this article because of some confusion that became obvious to me in conversation.  I am not creating a dichotomy between atheists and humanists; I am commenting on the differences between people who prefer one title over the other.  In my experience, which term a person primarily identifies with tells you something about how they view the issue of how to deal with religion.  Do we take an oppositional stance or do we focus on our positive values which may overlap with religious values?]

Today, on facebook, I ran into this:

The ‘humanist’ label is a fine alternative to one of the hundreds of religious affiliations. It is certainly finer than ‘agnostic’ or ‘athiest’, as they define thenselves against something rather than for something….

Now, many people in the greater community of reason, of which I and the other atheists are a part, prefer the term humanist to atheist.  Others prefer freethinker, rationalist, or….Bright (I dislike that last one very much, as do many others I know).  I prefer atheist for a number of reasons.  Now, this does not mean that I’m not a freethinker, a rationalist, or that I’m not bright (Oh, please stab me with a spoon!), but it means I prefer the term over others such as humanist.

Hammer of the Gods?

But the technical fact is I am a humanist in many ways.  The humanist ideals and values are things I generally agree with.  The Humanist Manifesto, for example, demonstrates ideas that are largely similar to my own ideas, and where I might quibble or disagree it does not lead to a drastic difference of opinion.  For the most part, I find the manifesto to be pretty bland and uncontroversial; its liberal and progressive Christianity without the Jesus, Reform Judaism without YHWH, unitarians without…well, it’s sort of like them, actually.  My disuse of the term humanist is caused by the same basic reason that I don’t attend unitarian services; I simply have no need for it and I often feel like its just a little too much like theistic religion.  As Nietzche put it, it is really a matter of taste–to much stale air!

Therefore, I don’t think that the quote at the top of this post is sufficiently convincing to change my attitude towards the primacy of atheism over humanism in my self-reference.  The reason has everything to do with the quote above; I define myself as being against theism primarily.  It is a value of mine to be against this idea of supernaturalism, not as a mere rebellion, but as a matter of recognition that it has more reach than humanists give it credit for.  It has worked its tendrils into just about every concept, value, and sector of our culture in ways that make our attempts to be “for something” a difficult task if we value truly escaping the clutches of theistic thinking.

While I am not opposed to, and often support, the creation of new values and ways of life other than that created by our largely religion-infused western culture, the fact is that the predominance of that culture necessitates a defensive position in many cases.  That is, the ubiquity of religious ideas, even where there is no actual supernatural belief present, is so suffocating that new values become unwitting atavisms.  Humanist values, often thought of as being new or at least different, are usually mere secularized religious ideas, mostly due to the fact that religion usurped them millennia ago. But religion did not merely adopt these values in those ancient days, it changed them by infusing them with the anti-life message of sin, depravity, and shame.  The stain is old and hard to remove even by those humanists who seek to become reborn out of religion–an image surely evocative of something.

Wait, not THAT Hammer….

Even among atheists, the acculturation of a religious ideas has infected the minds of people to such a degree that even when they reject the theology, they often still hold onto much of the structure of the morality and behavior.  Atheists may not believe that we were created by god to live such a way, yet they still often hold onto archaic sexual norms, conventions of respect for people’s personal beliefs, and cultural definitions of relationships (such as marriage as being between two people of opposite gender).   I have heard atheists who still suffer from discomfort with their own sexuality, try to shame me into not criticizing religion openly, or who actually argue against gay marriage or polyamory.  Only the stain of religious thinking can be responsible for this (at least I’ve heard no good arguments which are not based upon religious ideas, ultimately).  Thus, when people leave religion and create new ways to think, like secular humanists do, often their actual lives are not in any way truly new or revolutionary in any way.  They just drop the problematic metaphysics and declare that the rest of their values are their own.  I am somewhat cynical of this claim; I think their new values are often still pretty traditional and even conservative.  But at least its an improvement over pure theistic religion, in any case.

I don’t think enough people in our culture are prepared for new values yet.  I think too many people are incapable of conceiving of new values, and simply replace their old ones with new personas, while still the same deep down.  Many pagans, wiccans, and other alternative new age religions are guilty of this.  They hate or at least dislike their old religion, and so they replace the mythology with another, while keeping the scars of their religious foundations intact and very influential; they often don’t actually grow, they just change clothes.  And many people still value the words, and what they see as the personality, of Jesus Christ.  They don’t believe he is god, but they see his message as good.  This is the essential problem; Jesus’ words were often insane, non-pragmatic, and dangerous.  He is not the highest of moral teachers, he is a character of his time who idealizes for us bronze-age morality which we should have out-grown by now.  The whole and central moral message of Christianity is perverse and vile, and it is holding us as people, as a society, and as an influential culture, back from truly growing and transcending ourselves.  And while humanism is not trying to accomplish this atavism–or at least the slowing down–of our growth, it often achieves it anyway.

To truly create new values, we must do philosophy with a hammer (as Nietzsche suggests in his Twilight of the Idols).  We must utterly destroy the values which we have before us.  And if we find, after everything has been

Hmm, not really what I had in mind either…

smashed, that we create new values that look a little like those smashed idols, then so be it.  But we, the atheist community, are still trying to teach new people how to wield their own hammers.  And until all is questioned and all corners of our culture analyzed with the skeptical tools of science and logic and we are able to think more clearly about our history as a world of freethinkers, humanism will be a premature step for many people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want the humanists to keep up their program.  I want those who have trashed their own cultural houses to keep building, but I want them to remember that there are many other people still smashing, as well as many more protecting their idols from those of us who want to hand them hammers.  So, humanists, while you are attempting to build values for yourselves and for others to adopt when they are ready, remember that you still may have missed an idol or two, probably in the attic, basement, or perhaps you didn’t notice that you were clutching it.  Also, remember that we new atheists are with you (in spirit), but someone needs to keep handing out hammers.  And the title for such a person must still be “atheist.”

Happy smashing!