Friday, December 30, 2011


This is my first holiday season since coming out as a not-christian and non-religious person. It probably would have no impact on my impressions of the season if not for the fact that I have new friends and acquaintances online who are very openly atheist (and even anti-theist, as one woman likes to put it). So I find myself puzzling over the question of whether or not the use of the word "christmas" is a big deal.

On the one hand, let's admit it; this country may not be an explicitly christian country in legal wording, but in population and history it often may as well be. This is, in my opinion, rather unfortunate, but unavoidable nonetheless. I personally do not think it should continue to be one, but that isn't the debate I want to focus on right now. The real problem in the question of the use of the word christmas is that in a country that claims to offer its citizens freedom of religion there seems to be a very special preference for the judeo-christian brand of religion. Because obviously the history of christianity in this country is the reason that christmas is a federally recognized holiday.

On the other hand, though, there is no mandated religious expression associated with the celebration of the holiday. For the most part government buildings and institutions are still prohibited from showing a christian preference through nativity scenes or other depictions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and company. In American christmas mostly means trees and lights, presents and food, family and time off of work (none of which are strictly religious observances; indeed, many of them have roots in paganism). So is it a problem to celebrate christmas? Is that somehow caving to some social pressure, to agree to call our American holiday by a name rooted in religion (Christ-mass; take that protestants!).

Perhaps I'm just too much of a chicken to touch this fight, or perhaps it's because christmas has always been a secularized holiday to me, but I really see no reason to mess with it. I mean, if people really want to be P.C. about the names of everything, we might want to rename the vagina too. After all, the word basically means sheath, which is kind of a degrading name for a woman's genitalia (especially non-hetero females). One could come up with a nearly-endless list of names that ought to be changed because of their history at some point or another. So, perhaps a better solution would be to continue to change the meaning of the words through our practice than to try to force everyone to use different words. At the least, it seems like a good choice in the interim between now and whenever it would be possible to institute a wide-range use of whatever new word one had in mind.

So on that note, merry christmas, happy hanukkah, have a good kwanza, a great new year, happy solstice, merry whatever-holiday-you-celebrate, and just a great happy holiday season.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In Preparation (Atheism Pt. 1)

Yes, I anticipate several intense and long conversations in the next week or so (probably longer). While I feel certain that these debates (discussions? conversations?) will maintain an amicable and friendly tone (because I know my Dad and I can tell his passionate/excited voice from his mad/personal voice) I still would like to be prepared for some of the questions we will be discussing. While I have done and intend to continue to do research on the subject of atheism v. theism, I find it helpful to write down (or type out) my thoughts before hand to sort things out into neater categories in my head. So here goes (this may turn into multiple posts, FYI).

First, the question of whether atheism is just another religion. Man, I could probably do a whole blog just on this subject. Well, to begin with, it is very hard--nearly impossible--to sum up the beliefs of a demographic of people who believe widely differently from each other. And I certainly do not claim my opinions to be indicative of the entire group. With that digression aside, we plunge ahead.

Also, sorry if I sound like I'm from another century. I grew up on Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Doyle, etc, and I just can't help myself sometimes.

Ahem. Atheism is really only a belief when viewed through the lenses of those who are not atheists. It's kind of insulting to tell atheists that they just have a different set of beliefs or follow a different cult or religion because to atheists, that simply isn't true. Atheism is about not believing for most atheists. This is really hard for people who believe in any sort of religion to understand, because to them if god is real than not believing in god is an active belief choice. To atheists, this is like saying not believing in santa, the tooth fairy, or the smurfs is an active choice and belief. To atheists, this is simply facing the facts of life; nothing more and nothing less. To an atheist not believing in god is like believing in germs, atoms, canine biology, and the fact that the rent is due next week.

Now, part of the problem with this is that atheists are labeled by what they don't believe. This does present an awkward problem, as it gives the idea that atheists are all about what they don't believe (which, as any of the many christian denominations can tell you, quickly becomes a religious-type belief). And the argument can be made that some atheists--and certainly some of the most visible and vocal of them--do tend to define themselves by their disbelief and make it their mission to "de-convert" as many people as possible. Of course, even this, from an atheist perspective, is not a religious thing, but a saving-the-world-from-the-horrors-of-religion thing. But, to be fair, it can look very much like evangelical atheism. But to get back to the main point, why are atheists labeled by what they don't believe, and is this non-belief a central non-belief for most atheists?

According to Wikipedia's page on atheism (I know, I know, wiki-haters are bashing their keyboards right now) the word originated as a pejorative term (read, insult) to those who did not worship the gods every one else did. In fact (still according to Wikipedia) no one really referred to themselves as atheists until the 18th century (1700s, for those who get confused). And, it isn't hard to believe that back in history when everyone believed in and worshipped some kind of god, that atheism would be used as an insult (think godless, godlessness, paganism, heathenism; all insults at one time or another). And, if one continues to read the etymology section on atheism at Wikipedia, one will discover that some atheists feel that the word atheism isn't even necessary. So, arguably, the only reason we need the word or use it (for now) is because people who do not believe in the existence of god or gods are so rare and many or most religious followers feel a need to classify them somehow into an other.

The idea that atheism doesn't need a name makes perfect sense from an atheistic perspective. After all, to an atheist, we are born with no notion of god, and it is only as we are raised in a religious environment that we begin to have some concept of a divine being existing. Arguably, though, from an atheistic perspective, this adoption of religion is a disturbance of the natural state of non-belief. It's a bit like not believing in the existence of the evil overlord Fwim and his minions of urglems that rule the moon and are planning on taking over our planet in the year 2309 (and I apologize if I've accidentally referenced some scientology or new-age belief; I was trying to make something up). One simply isn't born believing or disbelieving in something that does not exist, so it makes more sense to make a name for those who believe in imaginary things than for those who don't believe in imaginary things.

Now, naturally in a world mostly populated by people who are religious or spiritual to some degree, it is impossible that this lack of faith or belief could go unnamed. Impossible. And this can put atheists in an awkward spot. To call one's self an atheist is to bow down to the ruling ideology that not-believing is "weird" "different" and often inferior in morals, attitudes, behaviors, and of course numbers. It is admitting to being a minority in a world and a country where minorities do not receive the warmest of welcomes. But, on the other hand, in a world and especially a country that values individuality, the self, beliefs, and values (yes, even the religious tend to value these things to one degree or another) it feels false not to stand up and identify as not being mainstream.

In other words, the point of identifying as atheist isn't to say that the most important thing in the world is that god continues not to exist. The point is to refuse pressure to conform, to fit in, or even just to stay silent. The point is to speak one's opinion on a subject where individual non-conformist opinions are not very welcome. The point is to say, "that may be the most important thing in the world to you, but that doesn't mean I have to agree." The point is freedom to live however one wants to live as whomever one wants to live as. And, for many, the point is to live as one's self in an authentic way that can hopefully lead to finally finding community that understands (rather than having to live one's entire life in a community where all one has to offer is dumb silence and dull nods).

So, while I'm sure many--if not most--atheists would be up for a re-branding (or un-branding) for now I think that the term is heavily affixed in our culture and the best thing we can do is remember that no matter what a person believes, that person is still first and foremost a fellow human being. Have a marvelous day, fellow persons!

P.S. Thank you to for being an excellent source of quick knowledge any time I need you. BFFs! ;)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Was I Really Like That?

I just had an awkward facebook debate with a man I barely know. I wasn't going to get involved, except that he was kind of rude to a friend of mine, and those of you who know me know how I get when people are rude to a friend of mine.

It was about love, of all things, but love seen through the spectacles of the "christian religion." I already knew I wasn't going to win, and I didn't have any intention of winning. I guess mostly I have this idea of solidarity and not letting people barrel down my friends and family in conversation without at least putting up a fight (argument rather). This is not to prove a point to the bulldozer in question; they are usually blind to such points unless you are as rude back to them as they were to begin with (something I would rather not do). No, I stand up for my friends to let them know that someone else sees what happened and appreciates the breach of etiquette. I sometimes question this philosophy of mine, but that hasn't stopped me yet.

But back to the debate in question. It was about love, as I said. The original statement, one I agreed with, was that saying "I love you" in response to an "tangible action" seems (and this is in my own words here) insincere at best, manipulative and lying at worst. And I think we can all agree that "love" that has to be earned isn't really love at all, but praise and reward for behavior (kind of a behavior salary, if you will). My friend replied to this in agreement and affirmation, and then at the end said something to the effect of, "of course, tangible actions do demonstrate love." Also, in my opinion, a true statement. She did not say that "if you love, you have to do x, y, and z." She just said that tangible actions can and do demonstrate love. This vital word may have been missed or confused by the original poster, who basically replied to her saying that Jesus's action in dying on the cross for us was the best way to show love, and then said she was wrong. Which, frankly, confused the shit out of me.

You agree with her by saying that a tangible action was the ultimate gesture of love then tell her she was wrong? What the fuck, man? Are you on acid or something? Your own statements do not agree with each other! Now, he tried to say something about "since life is not tangible, Jesus gave us the coolest [implied untangible] gift." Okay, I'm sorry, but life is tangible and measurable. Unless you are talking about "eternal life." In which case, why are you switching topics? You started the topic about "people who..." and suddenly it's "Jesus who..." which would be okay if you believe Jesus to be a person, but you changed topic from people to god to make a point? That's low man.

Especially considering he then proceeded to argue with all of my statements as "ignoring his original statement." Which, I'll admit, was partially true, as I was trying to defend my friend from his rude reply to her, not from his seemingly harmless original status. (Btw, for those concerned for my mental health in regards this person's annoying status; to avoid further altercations I unsubscribed from his facebook feed. Future problems solved).

But, I'm going to skip over the silly word games he played to argue with every defense I had and go right to the completely insane bit at the end. After he claimed that I had "given him the victory" by "ignoring his original point" (a completely rude and arrogant way to try to take back a conversation) I attempted to soothe the troubled waters by saying, in essentially, "You're both right. You are right, love should not be given for actions, but freely to people, but she was right that true love is often demonstrated and manifested in actions." Then I went to the spousal example. If my husband never acted lovingly to me, how would I know that he loved me?

I will have to give his reply verbatim (ish) to give the full effect, partially because it's so full of male ego and partially because I had trouble deciphering what the hell he was talking about.

I would ask this next. Why does he have to do anything? He married you? That's add ferry social problem. People expect things. You shouldn't expect anything. But when it's done you should be grateful and humble enough to admire the action.

Yeah. If you can figure out that bit in the middle about "ferry social problem" let me know. I googled it and got nothing. But really?! "Why does he have to do anything?" Because it's a fucking relationship! That's how they work! If you never talk, never do things for each other and with each other, never communicate with each other, then you don't have a relationship! If you're going to say you do, well then I guess you have a relationship with every person who is or ever has been on this planet (good job, that's pretty damn impressive). And really? I should just "be grateful and humble enough to admire the action"??? Maybe that's how your relationship with your god works, but in a marriage that's called an abusive relationship. Women (and men) who actually behave that way in relationships typically are walked all over and treated like dirt. And while I can see the argument for being that way with an all-loving god, who is not going to walk all over you and treat you like dirt, you don't do that with people! Have a little self-respect! Have some expectations!

Oh, yeah, that was the other thing. "You shouldn't expect anything"? Really? I shouldn't expect my husband to do things like listen when I talk, respond in a loving and respectful way, do his fair share around the house (except when his hip is broken), accept me for who I am, be honest with me, not cheat on me, spend time with me? Really? I should settle for a marriage that doesn't have any of those things "if I really love my husband?!" Well, you know what, maybe if I really loved my husband I would, but if I really loved my husband and myself I would know that it is not good for either one of us to be in that kind of relationship.

Oh, and the kicker. When I said, in response, that people need to see physical, tangible manifestations of love because we can't psychically experience love, do you know what his response was? "That's so sad." Wow. Because my husband can't psychically make me feel loved while being a complete slacker husband this single guy feel sad for me?! I feel sad for you, mister, as you clearly have never been in a healthy, functioning romantic relationship that lasted more than two dates.

I wish christians would stop feeling sorry for me. They're wasting their time, because I'm pretty damn pleased with my life right now, and pretty damn happy. Don't even get me started on the woman married to the drug- and sex-addict who feels bad for me because I "lost my faith." Sigh. Oh well, no skin off my back.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What's Wrong With the Christian Religion

I would like to just some up, partially for myself, the major flaws within the christian religion. I will be specifically relating to the ways that religion creates dysfunction in its members. So, here goes.

1. Sexual dysfunction. This is largely reinforced by the "virgin worship" that protestants like to accuse catholics of, but really are just as guilty of themselves. No, really, I don't even know how much I need to argue about this one, because we all know how christians feel about those little whores with their birth control, abortions, and live-in boyfriends. The real problem, though, is that this leads to an idea that all sex is bad, and even though marital sex is obviously encouraged for reproduction, it can lead to less enjoyment (and yes, I do know plenty of christians for whom this is true, if you would like some sort of citation here). While I, myself, managed to escape feeling this way about my sex life, per se, that was only because I was prettty much outside of christianity by the time I married. Yes, I did wait until I got married. But I certainly felt a lot of shame and guilt for my pre-marital sexual desires and self-exploration/pleasuring. (Now might be a good time to mention to the sexually-prudish that they may want to stop reading my blog entirely; no, seriously). And let's not even get started on homophobia. Seriously, people.

2. Family dysfunction. Okay, I know everyone has dysfunctional families to some degree, but let's be honest; a system that encourages that one person in a group have all of the power and leaves the rest disenfranchised generally does not work well. On a larger scale we call it dictatorship (and I don't know why we don't call it that on a smaller scale to). Even in the most benevolent christian families (and yes, I know some) it just leads to buildups of resentment in the hearts of the ruled because no one can stand up to the dictator. And if the dictator is human (which I'm pretty sure most fathers are) they are bound to mess up sooner or later. Probably with some regularity. And when no one can tell them that they have, several things happen: 1, the wrong never gets corrected; 2, the leader never learns from his or her mistakes; and 3, anger and resentment tends to build up and also never get dealt with. I mean, come on people! Women and children are people too!

3. Intellectual dysfunction. I can't even tell you how many debates I have had that seem to fizzle out right about the time certain phrases or quotes are introduced into the debate. They include some of the following; "god's ways aren't our ways," "god wants us to have faith," "our minds are too small to understand god," "god doesn't want us to know/we're not meant to understand." I mean, really, if god didn't want me to know/understand/demand intellectual integrity in my beliefs then why the hell do I have such burning curiosity and intelligence that demand answers? Why would god create a universe with questions and creativity if god didn't like them or had no intention of answering them? The only way that I ever managed to have faith and intelligence simultaneously was by keeping the two of them far apart. Otherwise they would start fighting and my intelligence would get the upper hand and then I would have to put her in time-out for a while until she calmed down and my faith had time to heal her bruises from the quarrel. In other words? It didn't work out too well.

4. Emotional dysfunction. Oy. There are so many illustrations of this, including the aforementioned sexual dysfunction. Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and lonliness are so fucking pervasive. Wanna hear something really special? When I was a kid I used to feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough about my sins. True story. I never felt as much need to repent, to pray to god for my sins and apologize, and I used to feel guilty thinking that that made me extra prideful or something. Bear in mind, I was a really fucking well-behaved kid. Oldest of six, got nearly all A's through school, almost never fought with my siblings (except when they were breaking the rules), I helped around the house, babysat, and I was the most religious of all my siblings. In many ways I was the standard my siblings were held up to (which I, and I think my parents, regret). Then of course there was the worry, because everything that happened was somehow part of god's plan and we had to figure out what god wanted us to learn or do in that situation. Outside on a beautiful day? Time to contemplate god's beauty. Driving through the rain? Time to pray for god's providence and learn to trust god. Late for work? God wants you to learn patience (ha ha). Friend betray you? Probably means god wants you to trust that god will always be there for you and protect you, or maybe god's convicting you of betraying the christian cause and not being enough of a "Jesus freak." This obsession/compulsion to always attribute god to everything that happened in life made it impossible to actually enjoy most moments because I always needed to know exactly what I was supposed to be enjoying, or I should be enjoying it as much as humanly possible because it's god's gift to me. After all, if I don't enjoy this sunset enough then I'm not grateful enough to god so I'm going to spend the next thirty minutes trying to work myself up to enjoying it as much as possible! And now that I've worked myself up to an emotional frenzy...the sun is already down. You see what I mean? Then there's all the worry about the afterlife, what it's going to be like, what if my friends and family don't make it in, etc.

Have to go to work now, but I hope this gives you a general idea of why I was so fucking happy to officially declare on facebook that I am not christian!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Did It (For Definition of 'It' Read Last Post)

I did it. I came out of the a-religious closet and into a bright, glorious future of no longer having to try to be non-religious without actually denying or accepting religion (a bizarre and unpleasant tightrope to try to balance on, for those of you with no personal experience). I didn't receive quite as much flack as I thought I would (yet). In fact, mostly I received pity, sympathy, and lots of "we're praying for you." Ugh. If I wanted your prayers, if I thought I was just 'doubting' christianity, I would have asked for them and said that, respectively.

The toughest part, though, are the people closer to me who are genuinely worried that I might be giving up on god entirely. While, as a person who strongly, genuinely, and emotionally pursued the christian god for many years, I can understand that, it has led me to the question, what reason is there for me to believe in a god, any god? And, of course, its sister question; what reasons are there for me not to? So far, I'll be honest, the answers I'm coming up with aren't impressive. But I'll share them anyway.

First, and honestly, the hardest one to get past, is the past, tradition, familiarity, whatever you want to call it. One time I put it to my friend like this; "When you are raised with religion, no matter how much you reject it later in life, it kinda feels like you're married to god, and you know how god feels about divorce." While I was mostly jesting in this statement, in many ways it's true. I spent most of my life being afraid of god's disapproval, god's wrath, god's judgment, hell, the afterlife, and 'losing fellowship with god.' Even when I deliberately remove myself from christianity, these fears and concerns still haunt me, no matter how much I argue with myself that they are a load of bullshit. And I find myself struggling to believe in god, ultimately, because of the fear I was raised with (which is a shitty reason to believe in anyone or anything).

Which brings me to my second point; I was indoctrinated to believe that if your god doesn't match up to the god of the bible then you are delusional at best, blaspheming at worst. This means that I often end up feeling like believing in god is an either/or proposition; either you subscribe to all of christianity, or you are an agnostic/atheist. I don't really see a lot of middle ground. As someone raised as a christian, anyone who believed in god without christianity was probably in a 'cult.' Well, hell, I don't want to be in a cult. So I find myself see-sawing back away from religion and even god.

Then, of course, there is the double-edged sword of my 'religious experiences with god' that I have had in the past. Arguably, these could either have been genuine experiences of god, or products of the emotional environment that encouraged these kinds of responses to god (i.e., moving music, religious services, the fervor of others, the beauty of the natural world, etc.). I honestly couldn't give you a good reason to definitely label them one way or another, so for right now these 'experiences' are weighing in pretty much as a neutral. Yes, there were times that I cried for god and praised god and thanked god and loved god and felt close to god. But those were always the 'good times' that probably would have felt good to me with or without a firm faith in a god. And the other times, the times when I cried out with an aching heart for a god that didn't seem to hear me, the times I couldn't reconcile myself with the god that was supposed to be and the god that made sense to me, the times that I thought my heart was going to explode (not in a good way) those could be seen as being evidence for my firm belief in god or evidence that god doesn't exist. The problem with the question of god is that no matter what you belief everything comes down to confirmation bias. We pick our position and then pretty much everything defends it.

And, of course, closely related to the emotional experiences is the whole "creation echoes god's majesty" argument, which is said about people, nature, music, art, math; hell, even science sometimes. Quite frankly the argument is so non-compelling to me that I don't even have much of a rebuttal for it. I will point back to my confirmation bias above, and move on.

A large part of me wants to believe in god; I am familiar with the concept of god, it is a comfortable one. The idea of leaving something behind that has been so integral to my life for such a long time is, quite frankly, a terrifying one. But, surprisingly enough, the idea of there not being an afterlife does not scare me. To me, if there is an afterlife it will be so very different from this life that it would be an entirely different life and existence, and consequently the me I am now and the life I have now would cease to exist anyway. So it really makes little difference to my life now if there is or isn't an afterlife. Everything dies, everything ends, we just make the most of this beautiful, crazy, random life that we have now.

Mostly I want to believe in god, I want a reason to believe in god, because I can't imagine my life without it. I have been reared since my infancy to attribute supernatural meaning and significance to my life, to believe that there is never a moment that I am alone, to feel that I always matter and I am always infinitely loved. While I feel that I can actually satisfactorily achieve most of these things without a god (who, quite frankly, feels just as absent from my life as any human most of the time), I still feel like I need god or I'm supposed to have god. Which is weird, because I don't know if I actually believe it; I just feel it.

I'll be brutally honest here though; my other big reason for wanting to be able to continue to believe in god is that I honestly don't know what it would do to my spouse and my marriage if it didn't. Oh, I have no doubt that he would still love me, and I really don't think it will lead to a divorce or even a lessening of intimacy, but I know that it would tear him up inside. Now, I would never lie about who I am for the sake of someone else's peace of mind (at least not someone I want to have the deepest intimacy with) but at the same time, I really wish I could just believe the things that would make him happy. Fortunately, though, I don't think he wants me to give up who I am for him any more than I want to. It's just hard to realize that your path can really shake the foundations of someone else's life.

But right now, I just can see no reason, no evidence, no argument, no statement that makes me believe in god. I don't actively disbelieve in god (i.e., I am not convinced that we can be certain of the non-existence of a deity). But I see no reason to believe that god is actively pursuing a relationship to me, especially when the only 'evidence' for it that I can see are self-manufactured emotion experiences and biased opinions on science and art. No one who believes in god can give me an unbiased opinion on why I should, and no one who disbelieves in god can give me an unbiased opinion on why I shouldn't. It's all really quite frustrating. In this age of science, reason, logic, and information it's really annoying to just have to arbitrarily pick your position and defend it, with nothing but your own convictions to defend you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Coming Out (of the Proverbial Closet)

Yes. It happened today. I know it's a pretty small step, considering the relatively minuscule e-footprint that I have, but I needed to do it anyway. For me. So I took a deep breath, clicked the keys, and hit enter.

I am not a Christian.

I think my twitter peeps already know (how could they not?) but then I have always been very selective about how I follow (and consequently allow to find me) on twitter. I don't want to be known by my facebook friends on twitter. They're all Christian. I don't want to have to defend every other tweet I send out into the twit-o-sphere.

But I digress. I tweeted it, and as of this writing I've had one 'like' and one kindly worded message inquiring further into my brief status update. I really want to have the conversation, to get it all out there with many of my Christian friends and relatives, but it seems like the more and more I try to put myself out there the less people pay attention to me. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen after coming out of the a-religious closet is not confrontation, but abandonment.

I'll update more if I do get any more conversation from this status update (well, if it's interesting anyway).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Censorship and the Subconscious

For those of you who missed it, congress is currently attempting to pass an under-the-radar internet censorship bill. For some reason--completely unfathomable to me--this has gotten little or no media attention. How on earth something of this magnitude, something this far reaching can go relatively unnoticed, I don't know. But anyway.

I personally am against internet censorship. For those of you going, "hey, wait, but don't we want to keep our kids from running into porn?!" just hold your horses, please.

First of all, a vague name like "internet censorship" not "pornography censorship" gives me cause to worry. If they really only intend on censoring porn, not just "the internet" then why don't they say that? And if they intend on censoring more than just explicit sexual content, well I'm not in favor of signing that kind of bill.

Secondly, with a Republican majority currently in power, I'm a little nervous that the "internet censorship" laws will look like they do in conservative countries like Singapore , i.e. censoring "immoral" behaviors like homosexuality (see link for cited article at end). I am totally, utterly, and completely against that (unless of course it simply means censoring sexually explicit homosexual behaviors, but then why say homosexual if you mean all sexual behaviors).

My third point is most likely my most contentious point (since any religious or conservative readers I have may drop out before I finish this paragraph). Censorship for all things sexually explicit seems to me to be mostly a knee-jerk reaction to sexuality. But we need to think about a couple of things when considering internet censorship. First of all, why sex? Has anyone actually done studies to prove that exposure to sexual behavior causes more problems than, say, exposure to explicit violence or hatred or intolerance? It appears to me (and I may be wrong) that the push to protect our children from sex springs from this subconscious idea that sex is wrong or dirty or less good than "sexual innocence" and that somehow our children have been ruined, broken, or despoiled if they are exposed to sexuality at an "early" age.

Now, I'm not saying I think we should let five year old kids look at porn, because I do believe that it's not age-appropriate. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn't care about what our kids are watching, doing, or being exposed to when they are still kids. But, on the other hand, let's be realistic; it's going to be almost impossible for the FCC or anyone else to completely block any and all explicit content. Some of it is still going to be there.

But what I am saying is that this archaic attitude that sexual knowledge or sexual experience makes one dirtier or less "clean" and "pure" than someone without it is a load of bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. Sex is sex. Yeah, it's important and for many of us a confusing and divisive subject, but let's not give it more power than it has. Only in a universe where--true to the Christian belief--the ideal is to live "like Jesus" with nary a sexual thought or desire, only in that universe is sex truly bad or wicked.

And, let's also be honest about something; porn does not exist to trap innocent little kids into a lifetime of slavery to sex. That's not why it's there. Porn is there for us adults. More specifically, porn is there for the adults who want it to be there, and the only reason there aren't more of them actively protesting the censorship bill is because porn is heavily stigmatized in our culture (I'm not trying to say it should or shouldn't be, just that it is).

And, realistically, even in countries like Singapore the majority of college students surveyed said that they had been exposed to explicit sexual content (again, see link at end). If a conservative country with these kinds of strict censorship laws in place for years cannot keep its constituents from viewing censored content, then what is this legislation going to be able to achieve. Realistically speaking, probably not much.

I'll admit to having expressed an opinion more than once of wishing that there was some way to censor pornography, to make it less accessible on the internet. And I'll also admit to wishing that much of the hateful, intolerant, and bigoted attitudes that are often spewed across the internet could be reigned in somehow. But, honestly, a vague bill probably won't do much. And a bill that decides "it's better to err on the side of caution" when it comes to internet censorship probably isn't much better (see citation again; yep, same article still). I don't want to live in an over-censored society. Quite frankly, I'd rather live in one that was under-censored than one where the religious attempt to legislate the morality of the masses. No thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Letter

To my father-in-law,

I am sending you this to ask for an apology and a retraction. You had no right to say what you did to your son, my spouse. If it was true, it was not your place to say it, and certainly not in such an impersonal method as an email. Even if it was true, he is a grown man and it is not your place to tell him when he is doing bad and doing good. His life choices are just that; his choices. If you claim to believe in free will, if you believe in personal moral responsibility, if you believe that "God wants him to make the right choice" then it is your duty to back off and let him make that choice. For himself. It is between no one but himself and God (and me, as his spouse).

But the real issue is that what you said, the accusations you made, were not true. They are not true. You can bluff and bluster, posture and pose all you want, but the things you said were nothing but a bunch of hot air. Your son is not lazy, nor is he a quitter. True, he is not of the same personality as you or I, but not everyone was made to be forceful and strongly opinionated. There is nothing about him that makes him less of a man than you. You are completely and utterly wrong if you think he has to be stubborn as a mule and strong-willed as an ox to be a real man. You have missed the point entirely if you think your sons have to be you to be real, grown adults.

And as to the charge that he is just quitting because it is hard, let me just tell you that you haven't a clue, not a clue what has been going on with our life lately. And do you know why that is? Because we don't tell you. None of your children really let you in on all of the intimate details of your life, because all of them (and their significant others) know the truth about you; you will impose your will on their (and our) lives if you can help it. I don't know if that is what you mean to do, but that is definitely what you have done, and what it appears you are still doing. You can tell me that as their father you are responsible to God, or that you only have their best interests at heart, and I'm sure you really believe that. But the God of the bible does not force people to turn their hearts or to repent or to "do the right thing." The God of the bible waits patiently for repentance, offers up nearly unlimited opportunity to turn and make the right choice, and wants people to turn to the light of their own accord, of their own free will. If you want to believe in a God that is controlling, short-tempered, vengeful, impatient, and full of wrath, that is your prerogative. But you may not impose such a God on your son or on me any more. This ends now.

In case you took that statement to mean something drastic, like we're going to cut you out of our lives forever, please don't. Your son loves you with all of his heart, and I love you too, and we would never wish to end a relationship with family members. But it is because your son loves you that I must insist that you no longer name-call to get your way. You may not ever, ever tell him he is incompetent, lazy, a quitter, weak, or anything else. I forbid you to even imply it. He is my family and I am his. We don't need you to tell us what to do. All we need from you is love, unconditional love, and support. If you can't do this, if you can't resist the urge to control, manipulative, and wound his heart, then I will have to insist that you do not contact him until you can. We will continue to Skype you, but no emails, no letters, no one-on-one phone calls if you cannot behave as a loving, caring, concerned father.

Please do not try to argue with me about this. I don't care if you think I am right or wrong or just off on a few points or a controlling heartless bitch. I am not sending this to ask you a question or debate the finer points of fatherhood. I am sending this to tell you that I will not take this any more. I will not tolerate having to soothe your son's wounded heart every time you drop a heartless word here, or send a mean email there. He deserves better than that email you sent, and I demand it for him.

Your daughter-in-law, with love and hope

Not sure if I should in fact send this to my father-in-law, since I think my spouse might not like it, but I am very upset and seriously considering it. No one deserves to be treated like offal by their parents.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


You get used to it after a while, I suppose, the knowledge that you are eating your own skin. I can see it floating in my cup, even if I just washed my cup and filled it with fresh, clean water from the tap. I can't usually see it in my food, but I know it's there, no matter how quickly I wolf down my breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. I try not to think about the fact that licking my fingers means devouring my flesh.

I sleep in it at night, piles of my own epidermis heaped up under me. Even if I just washed my sheets, but the next morning they feel gritty, dirty, gross. I wear oversized clothes, hoping to keep it in them and off the bed, but nothing helps. The pillow feels like a floor that hasn't been swept for weeks against my face; like what you see when you move your refrigerator for the first time in six months.

I'm surrounded by myself all day long. I am covering the chairs, the table, the desks, all the furniture. I am all over every page I read, every page I write, every pencil or pen or stylus I use. I am in the cracks on my keyboard, in the lens of my camera, in the corners of every screen of every electronic device I touch; kindle, DS, cell phone, net book, camera, mp3 player, watch, printer, air conditioner. I shudder to think of what a couple months of me has done to the air conditioner's filter.

I am in the most unlikely of places; I cake the inside of the toilet bowl, turning it gray with collected filth. I am in the towels, the washcloths, stuck in and on my own clothes, leaving white splotches and film. The smell of my skin oils is everywhere, every fabric I use or touch. Even my husband's clothes are covered, simply from being washed in the same machine as mine.

I can sweep the floor every day if I like, but the soles of my feet still turn a grayish white from the dead cells that collect on the floor and then stick to my feet. I am afraid to leave anything important sitting out anywhere. I can dust and just a day, or even hours later, everything is covered in the dust that is constantly clouding off of my body. I am walking dirt. I am literally and metaphorically a walking mess.

And that is only the beginning. I itch, almost constantly. I itch so much I don't even notice the fact that my skin itches until it gets to be completely unbearable. I itch almost everywhere; face, ears, neck, shoulders, back, chest, breasts, nipples, armpits, arms, stomach, hips, thighs, crotch, butt, butt crack. I itch in places I can't itch, places I shouldn't itch, places I better not be caught itching in public. I itch and itch and itch and still I itch. I itch until I bleed, but I can't stop itching.

And when I don't itch, I hurt. I hurt when I lay on my back, my stomach, my side. I hurt when I slouch, I hurt when I stretch, I hurt when I sit or stand or bend or twist or reach. The tightness burns, almost all of the time some days, although at this point I only ever notice it when I move. Sometimes it hurts to sleep, to ride the bus, to write or play games or make love. Sometimes I take tylenol, but mostly it doesn't help. Sometimes I put lotion, aloe, baby oil, vaseline, all over my body. But then my husband can't touch me, can't put his hands all over me. I make his skin break out just by making myself comfortable in my own skin.

They put me on medicine, strong medicine. It made me a normal color again, no longer lobster red or oompa loompa orange. I'm only slightly splotchy, but now it's so light people don't stare at me on the bus anymore. No one asks me if I got horrible sunburn or have a skin disorder. I begin to notice for the first time in months that people treat me normally when I go out in public. I no longer feel shame in the shopping line (except for when I have to use food stamps, but that's different). I no longer avoid going out because I look different. I don't have to waste away trapped in a prison of my own disorder.

But I still lose skin. I flake, peel, fall like snow onto everything around me. My seat in class is marked for me, so is the place I sat in the doctor's office, on the bus, at my employment training appointment. I know which side of the bed is mine, which seat at the table is mine, which towel is mine, which plate and cup and bowl are mine. I know my phone a mile away. My net book is unmistakable. My purse, my sweater, my folder, my hat, my wallet, my keys, my jewelry. Even much of my jewelry is unmistakably marked by my bizarre and rare disorder.

Almost all of it. I had one piece of jewelry that managed all at once to be a unique expression of me and of the right material to resist the marking of my skin. My sister had made it for me, mailed it thousands of miles just to surprise me. It made me feel close to her, and loved, and safe, and like myself. Until, of course, it fell and broke. The first week I had it. In that moment the one thing in my life that at once described and defied me was lying shattered on the floor. I cried. I cried for at least an hour. My dear, dear husband took the afternoon off to hold me, and then to clean the glass off the floor while I looked the other way. She's making me another one, but I still felt shattered with the tiny glass bottle on the floor.

The fatigue and listlessness are starting to leave, along with the coloring, although it is still touch and go with the depression. For the first time in weeks I can think about taking out the trash without wanting to cry. I can wash my breakfast bowl without wanting to take a nap before and after. I can write for a couple hours without needing to take a break every five or ten minutes. I can actually manage grocery shopping every couple of weeks.

Of course, all this would have been easier if my husband hadn't had his hip broken and required a major surgery just a week after my diagnosis. But that is a whole different story, even if the threads of it are tied up in those of this story. We both had to go through trauma, depression, feelings of uselessness and helplessness. And we couldn't even help each other, except to hold each other at nights, taking turns crying into each other's helpless shoulders.

But perhaps there is very nearly a light at the end of this tunnel.

Questioning Everything

It's something every good philosopher must do. They must do this, or they are not truly a philosopher, but a talker and maybe an occasional thinker (from time to time). A true philosopher can discover nothing if they begin from their assumptions, because they will always end in the same place (or at least similar places). If you begin your assumptions believing there is a god, you will wind up in one place. If you begin your assumptions believing there could not be a god, you will wind up in a specific place. And if you begin your assumptions not caring less about the question and ignoring it completely, you will wind up somewhere else[s] entirely.

I have always begun with the belief that, whether or not there was a god, I wanted there to be one. I determined early on that there was in fact, a god, and it wasn't until much later on that I decided I didn't care if there was a god or not, I wanted to believe in one anyway. After all, it never hurt anyone to believe in something like god, right?

Of course many have and do argue that believing in god actually has done people ill, and they are only partially correct in this. Generally speaking, it is the religion that people put their faith in, the ones providing them with their god, that brings ill to people's lives. Rarely does one witness a belief in god outside of religion that in and of itself causes harm. Even in the cases of the insane who believe things about god or believe in a god that causes them to harm themselves or others, it really is the psychological illness, not the idea of god, that is the poison. They could just have easily believed in the CIA or FBI or republicans or suburban moms and done the same thing.

So why is god such a big deal? Why are people so willing to fight and hurt each other over the arguments for or against the existence of god? Why will people smear each other's morals, intelligence, and ability based on this one belief that they hold (or don't)? We don't kill each other over our beliefs about how long we should date before we marry, or how old we should be to bear children, or what kinds of shoes are the most comfortable (unless, of course, one is absolutely and legitimately crazy). What is it about this belief that seems to bring out all of the worst things in people?

I suppose that religion's history might have something to do with it. If one is religious, one sees a history that has mistakes, yes, but has brought much comfort and goodness to the lives of many, bringing much needed direction and support for communities. If one is non-religious (especially if one has a belief in the non-existence of a deity) then one tends to see all of the wars, the violence, the corporal punishment, and the nitpicking over religious ideals that has gone on and does go on. And these are both legitimate points of view.

Of course this also begs the question, why do religious people bicker among themselves about the smallest details of religious and theological belief and practice.

So far the only answer I know of is, because everyone else is arguing about it. We've grown up in a world where the idea of god is still a powerful one, for good or bad, for a lot of people. I was raised to believe that not believing in god was the worst possible thing for anyone's life, so of course the idea of not believing in god still terrifies the shit out of me, no matter how rationally I try to approach the issue. And the thing is, even if I do eventually decide to believe in the existence of a god, if I can't stop believing long enough to really think it over, than am I really believing or just being coerced out of fear into saying something that I know I'm supposed to believe? I think that the latter is true, and has been true pretty much my whole life. This isn't to say that I didn't genuinely believe, but I think that faith that is not got at genuinely, that is not genuinely chosen from an informed and coercion-free state of mind, is not real faith. It's brainwashing. So even if there is a god, and this god has the power to make my life infinitely better if I will just have faith in this god, I don't think I will be able to access this mystical spiritual power if my faith is little more than powerful psychological conditioning.

And then comes the question, if there is a god, what the hell would a god be like? The problem with the current model of god held by most religious people in the U.S. is that it is so damn outdated. If you take a look at what most Christians (to pick a religion I'm familiar with) think and believe about god, you will find that it matches up best with Greek ideas of the perfect being (and, quite frankly, the Greeks were off about a helluva lot of things; like who constituted a citizen and what kinds of sex were and weren't acceptable--their standards on anal sex and when it was and wasn't okay are frankly disturbing).

Then there is the issue of a person-god. I mean, how arrogant is it to anthropomorphise everything we see and make it like us? We talk about our pets like their people, and animals in general, we tend to assume other people think like us, and even god has been made out to be a person like us. We talk about god's hands, arms, face, and then there are god's myriad emotions; god is sad, angry, disappointed, happy, rejoicing, grieved, jealous, and quite frankly very fickle in most of the bible.

Plus there is the undeniable fact that every, and I mean every ancient culture that I have ever read about had some theological or magical/mystical way of explaining everyday events around them. We know for a fact that they were wrong about almost everything else that comprised their understanding of the world around them. They didn't understand sex, procreation, illness, healing, proper food preparation or storage, psychology, anatomy, the earth, the stars, the moon, the sun, the universe, the weather, or pretty much any of the stuff that (we think) we understand now.

As we evolve I would expect at the very least that if god was a real concept with a real application, whatever that might be, our understanding of god would and should evolve along with our understanding of everything else that make up our world around us.

Honestly, there is no way of believing in god that does not seem kooky, bizarre, weird, out there, crazy, insane, and absurd. I have at least come to terms with that fact. What really bothers me, though, is the fact that there is no way for us to understand our universe and the world around us that is not absolutely nuts. We currently have zero, and I mean zero theories for where our world came from and how we got here that make any sense at all (if you don't believe me, just take a philosophy course; preferably not at a religious institution though, they tend to be very, very heavily biased). There are theories that we came from something tiny, an atom or a sea of goop, or something; but then, where did that come from? And where did the thing before that come from? You see? So either this universe has simply always existed, or something that created the universe always existed, or it came from nothing whatsoever. And quite frankly, the idea that the universe came from an atom that always existed is no more absurd or logical than the idea that the universe came from a god or deity or life force that always existed, or that it came out of nothing. This universe, quite frankly, has stumped us all.

I have no idea what I believe, and sometimes I wish I could just be a kid again and not think about it. Ever. But I'm not a kid and these are the kinds of questions that haunt me, questions I will likely never find a concrete answer to. I wouldn't be surprised if no one ever did. And in the end, it takes just as much faith to believe the universe came from nothing as it does to believe it came from an atom, or from an unseen life force, or just always was. It is all equally absurd.

Welcome to the madness.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Questioning "Education"

I think I spend most of my time in boxes. Unfortunately, most of those boxes are not boxes that I choose or have any control over. Most of my life is spent in other people's boxes. You may say, "Well, quit living up to other's expectations, do your own thing, break free, live a little." And you may be right in one way. But in another way the very people most likely to break out these sort of platitudes tend to be perpetuating the very boxes they tell me to break out of. After all, breaking out of a box because "that's what my generation does" is a box of it's own.

The Great Big Box that I struggle against is the box of "education." I use quotation marks around the word education because anyone who actually knows me knows that education is one thing I have in abundance. What, then, is the problem? My education is not one that is written down on a piece of paper. It isn't entered into a computer somewhere, or hanging on the wall of my office. It's not an education I acquired in a room full of people, or in a series of lectures. I am one of a growing group of self-educators.

There is a growing movement of self-educators in the U.S. that call themselves "unschoolers." This is partly to distance themselves from homeschoolers who basically just take a traditional school curriculum and schedule and apply it in the home. Unschoolers, unlike their structured counterpart, do not even tell their children what they need to learn or should be working on. They simply cultivate an environment that encourages and helps children to teach themselves anything and everything they are interested in learning.

While my homeschool experience was somewhere in between these two (I was the oldest of six and my parents didn't catch on to the unschooling thing until I had graduated), the unschooling principles are ideals that I had already begun to apply in my own life, most notably during my free time and over summer breaks. My Dad was always an avid reader, and he made available to us a wide variety of books, and over the summers my parents rewarded us for reading a large volume of classic and non-fiction books (at the end of the summer we'd get to go to a waterpark). Since I already loved to read, this was not hard for me, and I find that now I still prefer to read classics and non-fiction over many other types of literature.

And, honestly, if one of the former president's of our country is looked up to for being so intelligent because he taught himself from books, it doesn't make sense that my experience should be discounted as learning because it is harder to measure or verify. But that is unfortunately the way things are for now. And this may sound ironic, but I find myself facing a pressure to give up my self-educating in favor of "higher-education" so that I can actually do something to change the system. Apparently you have to be well-versed in the system to have any say in how it's not working.

And I am really struggling with the idea of completing a course of "higher-education." On the one hand, I would love to finally get some recognition for what's inside of my cranium. On the other hand, it feels a little like selling out to get a degree just so people will listen to me. That doesn't mean it would be wrong, but I don't think it would be authentically me either. I would love to be able to meet people more intelligent than me, to pick their brains and debate things with them. It would be amazing to have conversations about things that matter most to me with people who know tons more than I do; imagine how much I could learn! But I freeze up every time I think about going back to college. I've attended three different colleges now, and every time I get burned out on our "education" system somewhere between the first and second semester.

Am I just spoiled by all of the years of enjoying self-education at my pace? Am I forgetting some key value to "higher-education" that would make it worthwhile to me? And the biggest question, one that has been haunting me continuously; do I really have to have a Ph.D. to change the world?

On the one hand, it is good for the someone to regulate certain spheres of education. I wouldn't want an uneducated doctor or nurse or dentist working on me. I'd move out if I found out the engineer of my building had no training. But do I really trust the work of an artist more if they have a BA? Do I find a writer's character's more believable because of their graduate degree? Are the arguments of a philosopher or theologian or social advocate more compelling because of their doctorate? Now, I'll admit sometimes detractors will try to tear down their opponent's credibility on the lack of these things, and that is something that I would have to fight against were I to try to change the world on the basis of my self-education.

But is it worth it? Is it worth it to fight these things for the right to be myself in the world? Is it really easier to sacrifice my sense of self simply to gain the recognition and respect of society? Can something potentially soul-killing be considered "easier" or safer? Where is the boundary between giving up your preferences and giving up your personhood?