Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Miley Cyrus, Whores, and personal responsibility

My last blog, I said this blog would be where what I believe has taken me.  Well, that’s a big story and I am still writing it.  So let me pause for a moment to say something else.  Three months ago I wrote a post on Miley Cyrus.  I still get comments from time to time telling me she was was a good girl, but now is a bad girl.

Now, let me ignore the larger trend of morality being defined by massive business conglomerates as sexlessness and go straight to the other issue here.  I want to say to all the men who thinks that a nice girl becomes a bad girl when she puts on more revealing clothes and dances…

A woman is not bad because you want to do bad things to her. You are.

By bad things I don’t mean sex. Its normal and healthy for a straight man to desire sex with women.  By bad things, I mean exploitive things, thoughts more like “I want to have sex with her outside of any context of mutual respect.”  Or worse still “She made me feel a certain way, and now she owes me sex.”  Or maybe worst of all “I can do with her whatever I want, because she wants it anyway.”  Now that I have clarified what “bad things” are let me say again…

A woman is not bad because you want to do bad things to her. You are.

Fellow men, have I made this clear enough? If you look at a woman and want to degrade her or hurt her through sex the person with the problem is you, not her.   Calling names doesn’t change this.  You can call a woman a slut, or a whore, or a ho if you like, but it won’t change the fact that…

A woman is not bad because you want to do bad things to her. You are.

I wish I had never done that blog on Miley Cyrus.  I wish I didn’t have men writing me every couple days and saying “Miley Cyrus made me horny for a 16 year old and now she’s a filthy little slut.” because it’s sick and sad and depressing.  I say one last time to the men of the blogoshere…

A woman is not bad because you want to do bad things to her. You are.

Maybe if I say it enough, somebody will get it.

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November 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How I became a happy Atheist

Every year after my birthday, I try to reassess my life. I write down this reassessment so I can read it. I’ve found my memory slants things in my favor and only by writing down my thoughts can I later be sure of exactly what I was thinking at the time. So this post is primarily for me, put out publicly for anyone who might be interested. In essence, I’m reintroducing myself to myself. If you want to get to know me again, this would be a good thing for you to read, if you don’t there won’t be much you haven’t heard already.

I spent most of my life with what you might call a divided self. To some people, I was a good and serious Christian, to others I was a very liberal Christian, to myself I could be either of those two, but there was also a private life hidden from both my serious Christian friends and my nominally Christian friends. There were two parts to this private life as well: there was young man that desired nothing but the satiation of the flesh, and finally caught in the tension of all of this and man who truly hated his very life, and struggled constantly to avoid physical self harm and deep feelings of worthlessness. I was deeply ashamed that I, a Christian felt that way and struggled as much to keep people from finding out how I felt like trash as I did to overcome those feelings.

It made for a complicated life. I thought my parents were the greatest parents on earth and I loved them. At the same time, sometimes I hated them so much it was purely my fear of the punishment of God for disobeying them that kept me at home much past my 16th birthday. If I was going to choose one word to describe my young adult and adult years it would “confused”. I was never sure who was the real me: the serious Christian, the liberal Christian, the sex freak, or person who was prevented from suicide purely because whenever he put a gun to his head he saw his family around his hospital bed as he was in a vegetative state, clucking their tongues and saying “Couldn’t even get that right, could you?”

I was always on the look out for someone who had the answer of how to live the Christian life. I wanted to truly be a Christian more than anything on earth. Adolescent angst turned into adult depression. Frequently, I would wake up before my alarm went off and stare at the ceiling trying to will myself into facing another day of failing to be the man I was supposed to be. Usually I could. Sometimes I could not, and it cost me more then one job.

This would lead me to join a radical Pentecostal group who claimed to have a corner on knowing God. Some would call the group cult-like, and perhaps it was but, in the end it was good for me. For the first time in my life I was honest with people about the feelings I had about myself and others. There was an enormous rush to being that intimate with people emotionally. The feeling, though sexless, is not entirely unlike the feeling of being courted. (I’ve talked to a few cult survivors who say this remains a feature of their live that they now miss.) When the novelty of those wonderful feeling wore off however, I was largely the same person. This became an increasing source of frustration. Further, the church talked a very radical, revolutionary game, but when I started to ask hard questions about when this so called revolution would start, I was ostracized.

A pivotal moment in all of this, was falling in love with my wife’s best friend. Of course, being 24 and her being 22, part of these love feelings including an intense and acute desire to make love to her. Which at first, made me hate myself more then I knew was possible. It would hardly seem that this could work for good? But it did. Through long conversations with my wife about my feelings, we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t feelings that were wrong but the actions you took with them. That being the case, I just ignored the sex drive and enjoyed loving someone. Always I had seen my desire for sex with a woman I was not married to as sick and twisted, and myself as perverse for having such feelings. Now, I accepted those feelings and enjoyed them but chose not to act on them. This was the beginning of a life of much less self hatred.

This new life of believing that I was worthy of love changed what I expected from a church. I now wanted to be treated as a peer. This didn’t sit well with the somewhat cult-like church we went to. The last straw was when I quit my job (to avoid temptation, long story) and no one would help us. Further, I was reading the Bible as a whole document looking for the whole story rather then reading individual passages to see what I could make it say. Our church wasn’t even close.

We had moved to the inner city to be closer to the people we were supposed to be saving. I sat on the stoop listening to the gun fire and the sirens. I realized that every stupid thing I had ever done was because I thought someone besides me would take care of me, yet here I was unemployed in the projects of Kansas City. I had a high enough ACT score to get into MIT and I was waiting tables and living three doors down from a crack house.

I decided I would start taking care of myself, and that such a thing would glorify God. I also still wanted to help people in the inner city, and it looked to me (after 2 years of hearing about transformation that I never saw) that hard working people getting money into the crappy schools would go a lot farther then prayer meetings.

I joined the Air Force (same pay as the other branches but least chance of getting shot and most time at home). I joined a very sincere Christian who had reached one simple conclusion: If one was going to consistent with ALL of scripture instead of just the parts they liked, then God was a radically different person then most people thought.

It’s unfortunate in many ways that I deconverted after joining, because I think a lot of people have the idea the military experience is what made me an atheist. Not at all. I joined, as I said, primarily to make enough money to make a difference. I came into the military a Christian. It was not the Air Force life that deconverted me but careful study of Scripture and the history of the early church.

That study lead me to believe that one of three things must be true (1.) There is no God. (2.) There is a God but he actively hides from those who seek him (3.) There is a God and I personally can see no evidence because he doesn’t want me to. In any of those three cases, this life on earth is the highpoint of my existence as I am either bound toward nothing or hell.

Logic says to believe the idea which requires the least invention to work. I could invent a God that cannot be found with the scientific method, or say there is no God. I chose no God. I prayed a final prayer, “Lord if you are real, I came to this conclusion with the brain you gave me and the best facts I could get. If you are real and I am wrong, then please keep my daughter and don’t hold my sin against her. I’m going to be true to myself and admit I don’t see you.”

After this, everything got better. (A subject I have blogged on extensively.) I didn’t ache inside because I wasn’t failing anymore. I stopped pretending I was a Christian, so now I had one kind of friends: the kind that liked me for me. Three months later, I woke up and was getting ready for work. I felt strange and it took me some reflection to realize why: I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up so depressed that I couldn’t go to work.

I didn’t immediately “come out” as an atheist. In my life I have been many things and what I am really excited about today is not something that will necessarily have great meaning to me in 6 months or a year or 5 years. I quietly worked out things. One of the things I really struggled with was the meaning of life in the absence of God. Christianity is a pre-packaged world view, the paradigm equivalent of a Lunchable. Atheism is merely a theology. Eventually, two things would move me. The first was existentialism. Sadly, since most existentialists are big philosophy geeks, existentialism has a huge image problem. Existentialism does not say that life is meaningless (that would be nihilism), on the contrary existentialism says life can have great purpose: the purpose you give to it.

This helped me understand some of the great confusions of my life. What meaning did my relationships have? The meaning I chose to give them. Guilt I had carried over an ex-fiance for years melted away. But what of the indifferent universe that I now believed I lived in? Well, when I spoke of this to the very wise Doctor Karen Stollznow, she said, Israel, rocks and trees may be indifferent, but we as humans are generally surrounded by human beings who are as authentic parts of this universe as the sun or the earth. Because people can make the choice to care, the universe is not indifferent.

During this period (around this time last year) I began to really hate my parents. I was profoundly bitter with Christianity and I blamed my parents for raising me in it. That was stupid. We’ve talked since and worked it out largely. Though not bitter, I remain slightly miffed at Christianity. I’m 29 years old and it has only been the last few years that I have had a normal sexual relationship. I’ve been in a sexual relationship since I was 22, however it wasn’t normal or healthy until fairly recently as atheism and existentialism helped me come to healthy view about myself. Sex is not very important to some people and incredibly important to others. I am the latter, and it irritates me that I spent the first 25 years of my life when unhealthy, ineffective thoughts and actions regarding sex because of Christianity.

A note here, when I say “Christianity” I am not referring to a code of ethics based on the Gospels, but the unique expression of American, politically conservative protestantism as I understood it. I have talked to many people since deconverting that managed to believe psychologically healthy things as well as Christianity. They managed to believe everything I do, yet do so with a paradoxical belief largely at odds with scripture. More power to them, I’m not mad at them anymore either. (For awhile I was jealous of their ability to keep all the pleasant trapping of Christianity without the madness, but I’ve come to accept that they can do it and I can’t)

This is largely the complete story of how I got to where I am. Next post I will tell you myself (and you all) where here is.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Religion, Science, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

High School Sexual Culture

The trip had begun like most of our church youth group trips had, with me working on the 1970-too old, Dodge Crap-O-Van. Was it a new water pump that time or a bad alternator? I can’t remember. I do remember the crunch of gravel under my feet and the singing of the cicadas from the church parking lot’s only tree, so I know it was in August. I remember praying to God for the strength to get through the whole repair without using sinful language, but I prayed that prayer frequently working on old vans.

I can’t remember what the trip was for, either. Were we going to some Bible college? A Christian rock concert? Or was it the trip to Denver where we spent two weeks doing vacation Bible school puppet shows? It’s been so long since then, but those youth groups trips were incredibly important to me, at the time. My father’s post traumatic stress and my mother’s agoraphobia created a home where friends weren’t very welcome. We lived deep in the cornfields, where dad could shoot paper targets until the fear went away and mom could drink in the sun and trees until the strain of normal life was lifted. I came of age not at school, not hanging out with my friends, but at Bible camp, in Sunday school, and on the sticky vinyl seats of our church’s 15 passenger van.

For whatever reason we’d gone, I will never forget the trip back. We were exhausted, and all of us were fading in and out of sleep. The engine was a continuous roar, drowning out conversation and the tires droned out a hypnotic hum down the interstate. I was in the first passenger seat, in the middle between several thousand dollars of sound equipment on the right, and Darcy Trigg was on my left. I laid my head against the cold, hard fiberglass of the roadie boxes, and closed my eyes.

We hit bump and I awoke, conscious only of scratchiness across my face. I moved my hand up to the scratchiness, and confusingly found something soft and warm. The fog of sleep clearing, I realized that in my sleep I had turned away from the hard case, and turned instead to Darcy. My eyes fluttered open, and I froze. The scratchiness was the collar of Darcy’s sweater, stretching across my face from chin to widows peak. Not only had I turned to her in my sleep, I had laid my head on her chest and slid down. One eye looked down the front of her sweater, but the other was on the inside, her ample breasts and white satin bra, cast a warm pink by the sunlight shinning through her top.

She must be asleep, I thought, and there is no way, that if she wakes up she is going to believe this is an accident. She’s going to to know what a disgusting pervert I am, and no girl will ever talk to me again…I will be “that guy.” I closed my eyes, and very carefully and very slowly moved away, sitting perfectly straight, and not opening my eyes until I was in a position to stare straight ahead. Then, and only then, did I slowly turn my head to Darcy.

Her chin was in her left hand, her elbow on the window sill, watching the cornfields shoot by. She’d been awake the whole time! Clearly she hadn’t pushed me off or woken me because she was mortified with embarrassment. I was so ashamed, and yet I didn’t want Darcy to think that I thought she was ugly. I wanted to say that I thought she was beautiful but at the same time I was terrible sorry for violating her. My mouth was dry and I felt shaky.

“Darcy..” I whispered loud enough for her to hear, but too quiet to carry over the road noise to any other listening ears, and leaned towards her for greater privacy.

“I…I was asleep…I…didn’t…” I stammered.

She turned to me slowly, her eyes big and kind, bashful from underneath her brow, a slight smile upon her lips. She leaned toward me, closing the space between us I’d made by sitting up straight, and laid her hand on my knee.

“I didn’t mind,” she said softly. She searched my eyes, her serenity and kindness pitying my confusion and fear. Squeezing my knee, she sighed contentedly and returned to watching the landscape out the window, giving me a last over-the-shoulder smile.

I sat in total confusion. Darcy was the kindest, most gentle soul I knew at the time. Growing up in a world that divided women into nice girls and sluts, Darcy’s credentials as a nice girl were impeccable. She was quiet, demure, modest, and serious. She knew the Word, and walked the walk…and she told me that I had done nothing wrong and she enjoyed me having my face down her shirt. I realized then that maybe good girls did want to be kissed, held, and touched. Maybe, just maybe, good girls might have sex drive, and maybe a girl could want me, the geeky guy with the thick glasses, because I was OK, and not because she was screwed up.

November 11, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, feminism, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, Slice of life, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Open marraige contintued,

In my last post, I told a story.  I told the true story of how I came to no longer see open marriage as evil. Included in that story was the fact that ultimately, my wife and I don’t have what most people call open marriage.  I told this in story form, because I thought it would help people identify with what was going on.  It would show them a journey that made a little more sense of how a person who used to be a Christian came to think open marriage could be an option, before he de-converted.  Instead of making it easier for people to understand I seem to have made it harder so let me try again, laying out the principles I wanted to make clear last time.

First off, all marriages are open. There is no magical force imbued in the marriage license that “closes” your marriage.  Every person in every faithful marriage is so for one reason only: their feelings.  Even if a person says “No, no, no! I am faithful out of a sense of duty!,” it is their feelings about duty that make them think duty is a worthy reason to be faithful. If they felt duty was a pointless concept, they wouldn’t believe it was a worthy reason to be faithful.  Being faithful is choice every married person makes every day, based on how they feel about it at the time.  As such, ALL marriages are open because everyday, either partner can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want,   The fact that most people chose not to says that most people feel that the consequences are greater then the benefits, not that marriage is magically a “closed” relationship.

Second, if any readers are familiar with personal property rights, they will know that what makes private property “private” is not only the right do do what you wish with it, but also the right to exclude others from doing anything with itMarriage is as much about who is excluded and from what as who is included.  This is why marriage is a legal status, and not just a relationship one.  The government is aiding the contract holders (the married people) in enforcing their legal right of exclusion of all others.  Because of the difficulty in pinning down anything else, legal marriage is what defines this right of exclusion primarily on the act of coitus.

The problem is when people carry the legal definition as a relational definition, because sexual monogamy is a road, not a point. The confusion is because sexual intercourse and sexuality are not the same thing.   Most married people have a huge problem with their spouse having sexual intercourse with someone else.  Very few married people have a problem with their spouse speaking to someone else.  However, whats the line between chatting and flirting?  Not a whole lot.  When does flirting (which implies a lack of serious interest) become dirty talk?  And at what point does dirty talk become virtual sex? Where is the line between a friendly squeeze and a grope?  When does a pat (noun, usage 2) become petting? (usage 2)  When does chit-chat become opening your heart?

My point is not that by creating infinitely fine gradients the difference between behaviors is erased.  For instance, there is huge difference between chatting and phone sex, and everybody knows it. My point is that each couple has to determine how far down the road of non-monogamy is “too far” for their individual relationship.  You will find few people to whom fidelity means merely refraining from coitus. (Bill Clinton famously among them.)  This is because despite popular usage the word “fidelity” has no intrinsic connection to sex. Webster’s says fidelity means faithful.  So what does Webster says faithful means? Steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty.  Even the dictionary confirms, couples work out what faithfulness means in their own relationship.  As long as you adhere to the promises you made to your spouse, and observe the duties that you agreed to, you are being faithful.

There are intimacies of different kinds, including but not limited to emotional and physical. Since marriage is about excluding others as well as about including one, each couple has to work out where that line is crossed and others aren’t being excluded anymore.  I know couples where each person doesn’t have any opposite sex friends because, for them, even a friendly conversation crosses the line of exclusion.  I know couples where each person doesn’t look at pornography or read romances because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.  I know couples that don’t sleep with people of the opposite sex until their spouse has met them because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.

Stereotypical open marriage means at least one spouse sleeping around with the consent of the other spouse.  My point was not that that is something positive, but that I no longer see it as something implicitly negative .  My claim that it is not bad does not mean that I am saying it is good. I am saying, above all, that fidelity is something every couple gets to work out on their own terms, and no person has a corner on what a “good” marriage is.

So, having realized (1.) Every relationship is open anyway. The legal status of marriage does not change this fundamental reality of relationships.  (2.) Every couple has to work out their own working concept of fidelity together, respecting both voices.  (3.) As such, a loving, healthy, and respectful marriage can include another person.

Understanding that lead to make the MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE BLOG: “Love fearlessly.”  Don’t let the fear of intimacy, be it of the emotional or physical prevent you from making the choice to fall in love with someone–just keep your spouse aware the whole time of what is going on. You are being faithful as long as you don’t cross the line of exclusion.  When your spouse says “stop” because you hit that line, then stop, and you remain a loving, faithful spouse.  Cross it and you are unfaithful, because when your spouse asked you not to, you did anyway, not because of the nature of the act you were asked not to do.  No person has a right to say where that line is but you and your spouse, so don’t fear crossing anyone’s lines but the one you and your spouse marked out and said “This is ours.”

LOVE FEARLESSLY! That was the point.

Now, a note here on my marriage: The legal status of our marriage is merely a tax shelter; it has no say whatsoever on what makes marriage sacred to us.  Sacredness comes from feelings.  Whether you believe your marriage is sacred because of your feelings about a deity or because of your feelings about yourself and your spouse, either way the sacredness comes from your feelings.  My wife and I consider marriage a partnership, a meeting of equals for mutual gain.  We hold our marriage as sacred.

We decide the “line of exclusion” on a case by case bases after much discussion.  If either partner says “I don’t feel comfortable with X” then X stops. Because to us, the day we desire an act with another person more than the whole hearted approval of our spouse, our marriage dies.  The tax shelter would live on, but the sacred union dies.  To me that is the only moral foundation for our marriage.  When I talk about “open marriage” that is the context I am referring to.

And a note here on open marriage.  Other people can define “sacred marriage” how they wish, but I find the way most people live out open marriage would absolutely not be sacred for me.  In most of the open couples I have meet, the man can have sex with whoever he wants, and the woman (if she is allowed to have sex outside the marriage at all) is only permitted other women.   If I were to live that way, I would be lying to myself and my wife to make such a life appear sacred to me.  I can’t say that is the case for other men.  But again, when I talk about “open marriage” the normal version is not what I describe. I call our relationship open because we don’t rule out or accept behaviors with others based on a preconceived notions, but on a careful study of facts, our emotions, and mutual consideration and meditation.

Will our marriage go toward the ultimate conclusion of openness with either of us actually having coitus with another person (assuming I am not bound by the UCMJ at the time)?  I doubt it in the extreme.  But, the point is, it would be ruled as crossing the line of exclusion by both of us, after long discussion and consideration, and not by one person for the other, and most certainly not by arbitrary social limits drawn by strangers about certain acts regardless of context.

I say again, LOVE FEARLESSLY!  Please, if you didn’t read anything else, or don’t remember anything from this, remember this:

Love everybody.  Fall in love whenever you can.  Sometimes you will run into fences, like being straight and/or married.  Those fences are there for a reason, don’t cross them.   Sometimes you might need to move a fence out a bit, like saying its OK to have emotional intimacy.  Sometimes you will get hurt, or run into consequences and realize you need to move a fence back a bit.   The important thing is not the fences.  The important thing is this: Don’t let the fear of hitting the fence keep you from loving people.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, feminism, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment