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.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog about open marriage for a while. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to post it on this blog or an anonymous blog I maintain, and I decided I wanted to share this openly. (If you read both, please don’t reveal that here.) It’s a sensitive topic, and I’ve waited so long to write about it to make sure I said exactly what I wanted to say. I want to say why this topic matters to me, even though as anyone who knows me is aware, my wife and I are now, as we have been through out our marriage, sexually monogamous. We have every plan of being so for the rest of my military career (to do otherwise would be a violation of the military code of justice, Article 134).
To understand why open marriage matters me, you have to know a little bit about me. A man is the alloy of his past. I am not just an atheist. I am an atheist who used to be a Christian. It is doubtful to Christians, I’m sure, that a man who can look at a sunset and say honestly, he sees no fingerprint of the Almighty, once believed that in the same God they do, and did so with all his heart.
I was never good at it, but I sought Christ and to be his follower with all my heart. Despite my later de-conversion, I was as sincerely a Christian as I could be. God ways were at the core of everything I thought, and when what I wanted overpowered want I knew I should do I felt an agonizing guilt. Thus at the advanced age of 12 I decided I needed to start looking for a wife!
It was only logical. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 7:9 it is better to marry then be consumed with desire for sex, and around puberty I was consumed. The fact I was 12, unemployed, and hadn’t even started (let alone finished) highschool wasn’t import. God said it was better to marry then to burn, so I needed to marry. This was especially important since I looked lustfully at women and masturbated. To obey God fully, I needed to poke my eyes out and cut my hands off. (Mathew 5:27-30). I felt terrible for so lacking in faith that I couldn’t make myself obey God with regards to mutilation. By seeking marriage, I was able to obey God, yet not hurt myself.
I thought I would never be able to wait till I got married. When as a young man, I was in my first serious relationship (that is to say one where the woman was in as big-a-hurry to get married as I was) I was able to refuse her. Later, when I would meet the woman I would later marry, I found a new dimension to desire that I hadn’t known before. We were both interested in the institution of marriage to get sex, so desire was obviously a component, but there was something else. There was this feeling that I was incomplete and I wouldn’t be complete until I was with her. You’d think that would have made us hop in the sack, but actually it made it easier to wait, because it was something special and we didn’t want to wreck it.
Like all good Christians, waited till we were married. It was (and is) groovy and I don’t regret it waiting for it. The thing is, both of us approaching marriage as God’s blessed vehicle for sex, we didn’t really get the intimacy aspect of it. We’d wanted sex so much, but we’d wanted it as novelty, the way person wants to drive car they’ve only read about. It took us years to understand the intimacy aspect, the way you could love someone so much that you needed to be part of them in the most intimate way possible. When I’d first met my wife, as a product of my Christian upbringing, I didn’t understand how you could feel love and lust for the same person at the same time. Eventually, I would understand the line between merely hungering for sexual release with someone I cared about and needing to drown in her soul.
What of open marriage? Well, my story begins, as I’m sure many men’s do, with my wife’s best friend. She wasn’t just that though. She was one of my best friends too. She was an aunt to our child. She called me brother and I called her sister. She was family, by choice and not by chance. She was part of our life, we all loved one another. I’d been terrified at first, when I realized I loved her, but how could I not? My wife loved her, she loved my wife, she loved my daughter, my daughter loved her. What was I so scared off? Scared of getting hurt? Of disappointing God or myself?
I turned to the Bible, seeking to understand God’s heart about love. What I found was that what made the church different was love. The Bible never says “don’t have close relationships with people of the opposite sex you aren’t married to” that’s a decision the church has made because often such relationships often end badly. Being who I am, that wasn’t enough for me. Morality means doing whats right, regardless of the personal cost. Doing whats right only when its costless is the morality of a sociopath. God commands us to love on another. So…I did.
It was beautiful. I hurt when she hurt. I was happy when she was happy. She was a little ray of sunshine in our lives. A source of continual surprise to me was that I had no desire to have sex with her. It turned out I could love a woman and not be consumed with a desire to screw her! I was ecstatic to learn that. It was wonderful to learn that I wasn’t as broken inside as I thought.
She was a very physical person. She hugged a lot, play fought a lot, flopped onto one of us on the couch a lot, and all the normal things that people who love each other do. It was all just good, clean love. When I finally realized I did want to sleep with her, it was such I totally different feeling then I had expected that I didn’t know when it had started.
I didn’t want to screw her. I didn’t want to ruin what we had or even just have a sexual release with her. I just wanted all of her. As a young man I wanted sex with a woman I loved as a guilt free upgrade from Rosie Palm. As a man who had been married for several years, I wanted sex with a woman I loved because of the incredible power that sex has to bond people who love each other together.
I knew such an act would be a sin, of course. Though the Bible does not forbid polygamy, the Bible does say you must follow the law of your land (Romans 13:1-4) excepting when it tells you to sin (Acts 5:29). Polygamy is illegal in the US, so it would be a sin to do it. What I also knew was the desiring her was not a sin. I didn’t want anything wrong. I wanted to be more deeply bonded to a woman I deeply loved. As I had felt that for my wife, I felt it for our friend. My wife and I talked about it, frequently. When guilt snuck up on me, she would remind me there is no such thing as a bad feeling. Feelings are good, it’s the actions we take that are good or bad.
Eventually, this feeling became so strong that I had to tell her about it, not because I expected her to be comfortable with it, but because there comes a point where if something is on your heart, you have to share it with the people you love. To do otherwise becomes a sort lie by lifestyle. Though I didn’t want tell her, I told her. Knowing it made her horribly uncomfortable which was fair and reasonable.
What wasn’t fair and reasonable we her insisting the desire was wrong. I didn’t mind being told “no” or “Ew gross”. I minded very much being told that I was somehow broken for wanting to be deeply connected to a woman I was in love with. We worked things out but, not perfectly. At some level, she thought I was a pervert for desiring her. When the person you love looks at your insides ands sees damage in the places that make you love them, well that hurts a lot. We drifted apart over the years and my atheism (when I de-converted) broke her heart and scared her. As an atheist, I wasn’t just a man who desired her, I was a man who desired her and no longer had the holy spirit to help control his lusts. Again we tried to keep going…but in the end it just hurt too much. We got sick of hurting each other, and parted ways (mutually and peacefully) each hopping the other person would change.
So, in the end, loving two woman (even though I was only sleeping with the one I married) didn’t work out. Nor do I think it works out for most people. Why, oh why, would want to talk about this? Because I loved. Most relationships don’t “work out”. Very few of the people we are friends with are going to be there forever. People move. People change. People grow. People live and people die. That’s life, and life is better when we love.
I feel for her because I let myself love her. There is an easy solution: I would have never wanted to make love to her if I hadn’t let myself love her first. I could have had safe, empty, riskless, shallow “friendship”. Instead I let myself love, and that love and my honesty about it ultimately cost me the friend. But I would have never had that friend in the first place if I had never loved. The three of us had a great three years together. I wouldn’t trade that for three years of nothing with no heartbreak at the end.
I loved courageously. It was beautiful. I won’t do it the same again, and I highly, highly doubt there will ever be another like her again. I will probably die having never made love to any woman but my wife, and I am totally OK with that. It’s just, I understand now how two people could love someone else so much, that they want that person to part of their marriage. It was so great, even in the little, chaste way we experienced it, I would love to meet a person like that, even as I am at peace with the fact the chance of it is nigh impossible.
Ok, so I am almost done with my Health Care V post. It’s a honking 2k words and I need to edit the crap out of it. I’ve actually found some false conclusions and mis-facts that I hadn’t caught the first time, but I will probably leave those in because the concepts are right, and the type of polishing I need to do will probably be part of larger project where I rewrite the whole US system. It probably doesn’t have a chance of getting published but I would like to do the kind of editing that published work gets, so you all get the 2nd draft instead, in a couple more days.
Being a full time student has changed the way I view the passage of time. My life is broken down into 8 week blocks, and I can keep alot better track of when I feel good and when I feel like crap. I am nearing the end of pretty pleasant 3 weeks. This Monday I just couldn’t get excited about going to work. The day drags on, I seem to get head aches easier, and I am tired all day, but then can’t sleep when I get to bed. The petty irritations of social interaction with strangers weighs on me.
Times like this…
are when porn seems like a great idea. Porn is a substitute but not a very good one. The way I feel after hitting up porn because I am sad is the same I way I feel when I haven’t eaten all day and late in the night eat a bag of Dorittos. Satiated, but still empty.
are when I wish I could go home. I’m not sure why, but I checked out when I was around 15. My parents did their best to make a home, but from about 15 all I could think about was leaving. I’ve been on the run from myself every since. It’s only been very recently I decided that when my enlistment is up I am going back to Iowa and I am going to build a real life there.
are when I wish I could still pour my soul into a six string the way I used to.
are when I wish I could be as broken on the outside as I feel on the inside and be taken home by a well meaning woman to sleep pathetically beside her. Me feeling blessed by her presence, and her by my tears. It’s a primal feeling that I can never entirely shake. It’s not about sex, just acceptance. (The strength of that feeling is why I don’t get drunk, and why I don’t frequent bars, btw.)
are when I wish I could still go the community art class I took in highschool, and turn out delightful abstract nonsense on the potters wheel.
are when I wish the claims of religion had evidence, so I could believe them.
Some of these things have consequences I will not risk. Once upon a time, these feelings made it hard for me to hold down a job, but I’ve learned to live with them. It is rare, this early in my blue swing that I will wake up tomorrow and feel better. Once this starts it takes about two weeks to work out. But, it will get better. There will be moments of dark clarity, moments of where melancholy poetry is possible, moments where, because of frailness a single kind word will carry me up to the sky.
It’s not bad to be me. Sometimes it’s just harder than others. I will not say there is something wrong with me because this happens to me. I’m not damaged, just different. Sometimes I look at sunrise and I see the glory of a new day. Sometimes I look at sunrise and I try and find those happy hopeful thoughts, but all I can feel is the pressing blackness of another day of struggle. Regardless of whether I see darkness or light, I’d rather be the me I am then try to be someone else.
Maybe that someone else, that perfect Christian self who didn’t feel those ways was the person I was running away from for all those years, and “home” was wherever I didn’t think I had to keep up the masquerade.
Every kid wants to be a hero. We all ran around the house with a bath towel cape at one point, thwarting our imaginary nemesis, enlisting an annoying little sibling or long suffering family dog for our trusty sidekick. At some point, we lose the towel and the spider-man underoos but for at least few the dream never dies. Some us do grow up to be everyday heroes: firemen, cops, EMTs, etc., but most of us don’t. We go to college or get a good union job in the local factory and with time we stop thinking that we sold out. We change our definition of success until the daily grind meets it.
For me the desire to do something great and noble that I could truly be proud of never left me. I believed in a great story, written by the unerring hand of God and that God had a role for me in his unfolding drama. God was the decider of human affairs. If I was to amount to anything in this world, it would be by the hand of God. I’ve been a very relational person my entire life, always aware of my emotions and the emotions of others. I could be carried up to the heavens with a single compliment or beaten down with a single harsh word. However, I had deep sensitivity to reality, an almost hyper-awareness of how feeling that something is true does not make it true. I poured myself into Christianity because it was the only context I had for greatness.
Adolescence didn’t cure me of these thoughts, but it did change me in two ways that weren’t compatible with Christianity. First, I became sexually aware. I thought about sex constantly and frequently while masturbating. Also, I began to struggle with occasionally despondency. God’s commands about sex and sexual fantasy are clearly withing marriage, and a Christian should be full of peace and joy, even in the midst of anguish, echoing Job’s “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.” Relational as I way, this deeply concerned me. Love is shown in actions, sin “nails Christ to the cross again” so every time I was lusting I was hurting my friend and savior. I wanted a girlfriend and friends, and had none and few respectively. Christianity teaches that ones relationship with God is the fount from which all relationships flow, so when I was hurt, and lonely, and blue my pain was magnified by my additional failure to be totally content with God.
When high school was over, I was a full blown neurotic. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do with my life was to be great. I had heard college was full of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. To me, my inability to shut off my sexual desire showed my lack of self control. I knew the guilt that I would feel if I partied and slept with strangers, and out of fear of suicide in response, I went to Bible college instead.
Like so many young men away from home for the first time, the next part of my story begins with “So, I met this girl.” She was a little blond butterfly, social, friendly, and bouncy. I was so proud that she would even talk to me. At the same time, sensitive as I was, I knew she’d be hurt badly, torn apart inside. I could see it on her like a shadow. Now in part I pursed her because she was cute, in part because she was aching. And I pursued because she was wounded in part because I wanted to help her, but in part because I hated myself. I thought I was trash, and thought when she realized what a filthy, disgusting person I was, only if she was desperate for man, only if she was broken inside, would she not leave me.
However, in the end, I broke up with her, believing her not to be a part of God’s plan for my life. I came home, and got a crappy job, followed by some random college classes. This became a pattern: work pointless jobs and fail out of college classes. I worked talentless, pointless jobs for almost nothing. I did it for two reasons. First, because I believed this was my path to greatness, from the lowly and humble to the top of the company by hard work and godly decisions making. The other reason I believed this was because I still thought I was trash. I needed approval so badly and handled rejection so poorly that I took jobs any sane person would have turned down, because only when my peers were drug addicts, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill did I feel I was appreciated enough in comparison.
During this time, I met the woman I am now married to. We did marry for love, but alloying that love was lot of desperation. For sex on my part and to get started having babies-for-Jesus on hers. I failed out college a last time, saying God needed me somewhere else, not that I hadn’t been proactive enough with my advisers about my needs as a student. We were called to an inner city mission in Kansas City. The pain of previous failure would be worth it when we got to partner with God to save the city from Darkness. My daughter was born.
We went to that inner city saving church for 2 years. In many ways they were good years, but in the end, the church was a lot more interested in feeling like they were changing the world then changing it. Also the work environment I was in was filled with pornography, dirty stories, drugs, and cursing. To obey God and flee temptation, I quit my job, fully expecting God to give me a job that paid better, perhaps one SO nice, we wouldn’t have to take welfare anymore. The whole church prayed for us, but no one would help us.
Needing to hear that I had done the right thing, I called my brother, a pastor. He called me a fool and said that I was a failure as a father and husband. I hung up the phone and sobbed like a little girl for three hours. When I could breathe again, I walked outside and sat on the porch. I looked at the clean new Cadillacs and broken beer bottles. I watched the drug dealers and the prostitutes mingle. I thought of my little girl upstairs. And the weight of it hit me. I was twenty five years old. My life was a third over and I had shat it all away.
In the words of Social Distortion “Well I’ve searched and I’ve searched/To find the perfect life/A brand new car and a brand new suit/I even got me a little wife/But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere.” It was all my fault. I had done this all to myself. I was everything that Christianity said I was supposed be, possessing all the values that the Bible said I should have. I had lived in constant, slow, misery trying to find my place in God’s plan. I said out loud “American Christianity is a black hole. It’s never going to change anything. I’m going to find God on my own, and I am never trusting anyone else to take care of me or my family again. I’m never taking anyone’s word on what Truth is again, because the people that told me to obey God are sitting on their asses with good jobs and safe homes and I am sitting in fucking hole with loaded shotgun behind the door.” Three months later, the Air Force paid me for the privilege of moving all of my belongings to a prestigious a training school in Southern California.
I kept a promise to myself to truly understand scripture on my own. I read the Bible cover to cover and investigated the history of the early church. A child could tell you it’s all just make believe. I didn’t make the cut in the 95% fail rate program, and for the first time in my life, the failure didn’t crush me because I didn’t care. I’d made my decision, I’d done my best. I took another career in the Air Force. I studied more and more about the Bible and began to study the things the Bible had argued with science. Science won.
And then I told my dear sweet wife, the one who had married me to raise sweet little Christian children with that I was atheist. It broke her heart. She would not have married me 5 years previous if I had been an atheist. I told her she could leave me, if she wanted a divorce I would give her one and she could have any portion of my income she wanted as long as I got to keep my daughter with me. She declined, and instead we began to get to know each other. And she fell in love again with the new me. The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.
And with time, the questions she had always had about Christianity became insurmountable to her. She progressed from Deist, to agnostic, to atheist. For the first time in our lives, our future was what we made of it, not what our God ordained leaders said it was, not what the Bible said it should be, not what the Church said it was. Our future was whatever we made it to be. We worked our asses off. We got out of debt, became full time students, and began saving money. We started writing our own story.
That’s the key to atheism. I’m not a nihilist; I don’t think life has no meaning. I’m an existentialist. I think my life has the meaning I give it. For the first time in my life I am writing my own story. The things I did, the things I valued never belonged to me. Atheism has not cured me of occasionally struggling with despondency or even the rare depression I fall into. Importantly, neither did Christianity. Atheism gives me the freedom to accept occasional bouts of blue funk without feeling like a moral failure. Nor does atheism require to me to reject my emotional sensitivity and relational orientation as not manly enough. It takes away the right for others to tell me the best way to be…me.
Am I happy? Yes and no. As I said, atheism and existentialism have not cured me of situational depression or high strungness. What is had cured is my belief that I need to be cured of my own identifying characteristics . I will make no apologies for what I am anymore, and ultimately, being content with who I am is a long way toward happiness. My whole life I wanted to do something great, something noble, something worth remembering. Now, I am. I am making something wonderful: me.
I am worth working on. And starting from that single point, my dreams matter and are worth making real.
I like to invent things (even if only on paper) and I do so in spurts of enthusiam for different things. For the last year or so, my enthusiam has been about religion and government.
General, cultural Christianity as well as my personal upbringing, instilled in me the paradoxical idea that government is (omnipresent) God in abstentia, along with some other conflicting ideas like freedom being a gift from God, but only for good people not for undesirables like homosexuals or the inner-city poor. These ideas were among the many that burned off like fog in the sun when I de-converted.
But it left me with a ticklish problem. If the purpose of government wasn’t the “or else” in the statement “Obey God’s rules, or else!” what was it? I studied different ideologies and rejected them one by one. Some ideologies contained more truth than others, but ultimately I found a lot of them were based on false premises, and unconfirmable or unconfirmed data.
Since I’ve been fascinated by revolutionary movements since I was child (When I was 9, I planned out an eloborate and violent coup of my school giving it up not out of moral qualms but because I realized ultimately, any resistance I offered adults would not result in children being granted our constititional rights, but serve as pretext to steal the few we had.) I had decent working knowledge of revolutionary movements, further enhanced by some pretty hard reveiw of revoltionary movements I undertook to offer advice to my so called “revolutionary church”.
This knowledge served me well, as world history is the story of the revolutionary movements that worked. Even within the scope of revolutions that effectively won, most revolutionary movements struggle enormously with the task of switching from David to Goliath.
War represents a reversal of normal values. Normally killing people and taking their stuff is socially condemned, in war, it is applauded. Civil war is worse because it is more specific. Normally killing your neighbor is socially condemned, in civil war, it is applauded. The same key that increases a revolutionary movements’ chance to succeed increases the revolutionary movements’ chance to successfully transition for revolutionary movement to rule. That key is how the members respond to the entrenched ideology of the existing government.
People gather together around ideologies, from NASCAR tailgating parties, to the ritual cannibalism of the Eucharist. If a revolutionary movement gathers under hating the existing system, it is gathering around hate and no change of system will change the organized , systemic, rage. Most likely the hate will destroy unit discipline within the revolutionary cabal and it will collapse into organized crime and terrorism. (Al-qaeda and the Tamil Tigers). Should the the hate-based group stay organized under a strong and ruthless leader (such as Lenin) as well as defeat the existing government, it will transition to power by entrenching the existing system at the point of a gun. This is why so many revolutionary movements become everything they abhor.
Contrariwise, if a revolutionary movement gathers around the postive change that it wants to make, it can often become a competeing voice in the existing system, growing in legitimacy and power. Should it succesfully overthrow the incumbent government, it has a post-revolution plan. Since the people revolting were gathered around something besides destruction they tend to have better idea of what to do with power once they have it. For an object lesson on this, juxtipose the American to the French revolution.
The government classes I had studied as outstanding young Christian gentleman were centered on what was wrong with the existant American system. They offered no plan, no system, no roadmap for post-change improvement. It was believed, I think, that no roadmap was nessisary. When things were “made right” God would magically make everything work. Question: Why did terrorists attack? Answer: Because we we’re too soft on queers and babykillers. When we stopped allowing shows like “Will and Grace” to be broadcast and made abortion illegal, or at worst difficult to get, then the terrorism situation would improve in the total absence of systemic change.
So I addressed my desire to understand government, and the flaws I percieved in various ideolgeous by trying to invent a new government. I won’t make any argument against the componants of the existant system until I can offer a better peice. Not a peice I feel better about, mind you, but one that does the componants’ function better.
And finally, it must be remembered we speak of a system here. By definition, systems are interconnected. If 3 foot rail gauge is better than Standard for a rail system, you can’t make one line narrow gauge and expect improvement. Systems must be integrated fully to function at all. Thus, I can’t offer a single better peice to governmental theory. In the absence of total systemic improvement, individual peicemeal improvements are actively destructive.
I’m trying to invent a whole new government from the ground up, with consistancy and reason throughout. It’s the largest, and most encompassing inventing I’ve tried.
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. Fasting is hardship. It’s not nearly so bad as starving, but it’s an experience that few westerns have had. Shared hardship builds tight social bonds, and fasting is no exception. We hadn’t eaten in three days. The first day is easiest, you don’t even feel it till supper, really. The second day is harder at breakfast, but easier in the afternoon. The third day is pretty hard. I’ve talked to people who’ve fasted for weeks, and they say the third day is the hardest, that your body is learning how to fast, metabolically.
Wednesday night we had all had supper together, and none of us had eaten since. Eating together also forms bonds between people. The early church broke bread and praised together in houses Acts 2:46 and so did we. Everyone had brought something, a casserole, a dessert, finger food, prepared with shaky hands and growling stomachs. Have you ever prepared food when you haven’t eaten in 70 hours? The anticipation is almost crushing.
There was so much food it was overflowing the table, crock pots were circled around outlets like campers around a fire, and chairs were loaded down with platters and bowls. We stood around the table, hand in hand. It was strange how we looked at each other. Our eyes were shinning like lovers as we looked into each other’s souls shamelessly.
We prayed in a babble of tongues for a time, each person worshiping God in an inscrutable language he blessed them with, and then stopped, looking at each other breathlessly. We ate, at last. We talked, we laughed, we loved. We all loved each other.
Finally it’s time for communion. Communion is a joy, but also serious business. Many modern Christians have forgotten that God punishes those who take communion unworthily with death and damns them to hell (First Corinthians 11:27-37). This same passage also tells us that to take communion is to be in unity. We knew that. We had chosen this communion to be special.
This was our standing before the lord as one. We took communion together that night not only because we loved Jesus, but because we loved one another. That night, before we took the cup, we each affirmed that we loved each other, and that we bonded ourselves together, to care for one another as Christ cares for us.
The next post I write will tie this and Super Atheist together. Thanks for reading all, and thanks for the comments, both for and against my position.
I have an online acquaintance who is disabled. She speaks often of a struggle she has, which she calls the “Super Cripple” complex. (Read her blog here). Are you familiar with positive stereotypes? A positive stereotype is a belief which infers imaginary abilities to a group or subgroup, such as black people being better at sports or Asians being better at math, etc.
She deals daily with the struggle to accept herself as she is, rather than a Hallmark Movie caricature of herself crafted of positive stereotypes. She calls this caricature “Super Cripple”. SC never gets tired of campaigning for human rights. SC can wheel-up gradual stairs. SC is super, she doesn’t need help from ANYBODY! The reality, of course, is that disabled means “less able” and she does need help. The real strength is accepting the reality of needing help, rather than trying to pretend she doesn’t by playing the fictional part of SC. Accepting this every day remains a challenge for her.
My struggle, or one of them, is to not be Super Atheist. Super Atheist finds purpose and joy without God or religion. Super Atheist doesn’t need faith; Super Atheist has reason! Super Atheist never believes sincerely with one part of his mind something that another part of his mind knows is actually false. Super Atheist finds happiness in holidays like Easter and Christmas, because even though he knows there is no God to celebrate, he is with his family and that is what really counts. Super Atheist never wants to go to church, or take communion, or pray for the broken of the world. Super Atheist can do anything!
But the thing is, I’m not Super Atheist. I miss the comfort of the God hypothesis. The idea that I am here for a capital “P,” Purpose, a participant in a grand narrative. I miss the afterlife hypothesis. The idea that what we do on earth has a greater meaning than the handful of lives we touch, and that evil which is not caught in the here and now, will someday be punished in the after life.
I miss crappy church. I miss getting dressed up and going and singing once a week. I miss real church…a lot. I miss sitting in a room full of adopted family, and singing and praying and feeling loving and loved.
I miss speaking in tongues and the emotional high that it brings. Actually, come to mention that, I really miss it. Someone would come forward and we would all put them in a group hug. We’d all go around the circle and “pray a message of God’s heart for that person” which amounted to telling the person how valuable they were, how loved, how special. It felt great to do and to have done to you. Then we’d pray in tongues. The reason part of the brain idles down, and the emotional part revs up. I’ve never taken 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (Ecstasy) but speaking in tongues seems to have the exact same effects. From wikipedia:
- Mental and physical euphoria
- A sense of general well-being and contentedness
- Decreased negative emotion and behavior such as stress, anxiety, fear, and paranoia
- Increased sociability and feelings of communication being easy or simple
- Increased urge to communicate with others.
- Increased empathy and feelings of closeness or connection with others
- Reduced insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of emotional injury
- Decreased irritability, aggression, anger, and jealousy
- A sense of increased insightfulness and introspection
- Mild psychedelia (colors and sounds are enhanced, mild closed-eye visuals, improved pattern recognition, etc)
- Enhanced tactile sensations (touching, hugging, and sex for example all feel better) Ask any married Pentecostal if you don’t believe me, by the way, sex after praying in tongues is an amazing spiri-sexual experience.)
And I miss them all. Above all I miss feeling like I was apart of something really special: a 2000 year old Royal guard, still fighting the rebels to have the kingship of the true and most high King recognized. There is a romance to words like “Kingdom”, “Knight of the Cross”, “Sacred purpose”, “Most High” that words like “country”, “community advocate”, “special reason”, and “President” simply cannot match. Though administratively identical, they are rhetorically worlds apart.
I am not Super Atheist. I confess, I have a desire in my heart to gather with believers, to sing songs of worship, reverence, sorrow, penitence, and heroic victory. I long to kneel, to dip the broken crust in the wine, to speak the words of my heart to a friend and Lord. My only caveat is that he not be imaginary. I desperately want to sing, worship, kneel and gather my community around a real God.
I long for a god, a religion, a purpose, and grand narrative. I long for everything worthy religion gives man. My disbelief in God is not the result of a lack of longing, but a lack of God.
I know when you say “I am atheist” people think, “Ah, you don’t believe in spirituality at all.” Actually I do. I believe, with the existentialist, that things, in general, have whatever meaning you give them. From time to time, I have these incredible dreams. One such dream is one of the first things I blogged back on my crappy Yahoo360 account and can be read here.
I was in little cabin, a shed almost. The wood was weatherd a dull, lifeless gray . Sunlight was pouring the open door, and I was looking out into these green, rolling hills. My wife was out there somewhere, waiting for me, but I couldn’t make my self go. Some darkness, some inner dread, kept me from walking out the door. I turned back to the cold fireplace, the fire long gone and stared at the ashes.
There was a captain ladder behind me to the attick and I heard the squeek of someone coming down. I turned, and behind me stood three women. The first was my highschool sweetheart. The second the woman I dated in college, and very nearly married. The last, a stranger to me. They were all beautiful, but etheral somehow.
They smiled, bitter sweet, slightly hurt smiles as they walked towards me. The two I knew gave me a speech, and it went something like this.
Dearest, we are your ghosts, ghosts of relationships long dead. You have kept your ghosts well and held our memories dear. But it’s time to grow up. Please let us go. Stop keeping the memories alive. We’re not real. The women you remember are long gone, and we can’t ever be them again, not in body, not in spirit. You can’t ever be the man we loved again.
Darling, you don’t need us anymore. You’ve held our memories because you were sad and broken then. To a broken you, our love, our compliments, our attention was the greatest thing you ever had. It’s not anymore. You are loved now, respected, treasured. You don’t need us anymore. Let us go.
The one I didn’t recognize stepped forward. She touched my face, gently. As I looked I recognized her. When I got kicked out of Bible college she was the waitress who offered to take me home at the end of her shift, the girl who folded my laundry when I forgot it at the laundry mat, the CNA who rubbed my shoulders as I charted the worst shift ever, the girl who put my arm around her at a hayrack ride in youth group when I was too chicken to do it. She was evey female that ever made me like I was someone special instead of trash.
They all held me.
“Goodbye, my dears,” I said.
“No hard feelings, beloved. Goodbye.” They said
I stepped to the door, and woke up
First of all, the modern Church could not exist without the New Covenant as it is properly called). I am fascinated by the Bible as a human artifact. First off, the Bible is open source. Think about it. There was no top down command structure that caused the Bible to be developed on certain lines. The “design” was open source. All kinds of people wrote their stories, their advice, their point of view. The word Gospel means good news, but it doesn’t just mean that in the sense we mean it today. It was a common way for a traveler to begin a positive story. The Gospel according to Mark could be changed into the expression “The Big story, according to Joe”. Tons of people wrote original work, many more people copied the original work and made minor changes. A lot of the original work was not that great and many of the changes were pointless. The really good stuff was kept and the not so great stuff discarded. Eventually a certain writing style, presentation, and language developed. Sound familiar? was the original wiki! (You might consider the Koran the original Linux. The source document was written by one vision, but the most of the Koran is actually inspired commentary on the source. The inspired commentary was written by experts of the source document in collective, co-operative, and Darwinian manner.)(Or
Then there is the early Church. The church began with a handful of true believers, profoundly affected by what they had seen. Each formed his own following, a small group that respected and obeyed him. In modern middle eastern cell ideology this called the cell ring: the core cells in the center of the org chart that basically independent but lead with a connection to each other. The churches under them met in houses, this would be the secondary cells. Rituals began to develop that encouraged a sense of intimacy and family between people who had not previously been related. (The siblinghood of all man under God and through Christ encouraged this.) Then, increasing notoriety and public knowledge resulted in increasing religious cleansing. The movement went underground. The leaders began to die, and the split into two separate cultures depending on local tradition and local acceptance. One was leaderless resistance movement, where the cell don’t communicate much, but work independently towards the same basic goals. The other movement became more of a top down cell group structure of a Western rather then middle-eastern tradition. Sound familiar? It’s the same with every small group of political or philosophical resistance fighters world over. It is how terrorists organize their cells, how the special forces organize theirs, how the NVA fought in Vietnam, how the Communist fought in China, and so on. It is the premiere method of organization for asymmetrical warfare.
Then, when the church became accepted, the western style bureaucratic cell structure prevailed, gradually absorbing the leaderless cells, and setting up a chain of command. There was the individual, the decons, the elders, and a bishop. Due to the social welfare provided by the church, a geo-political government formed, with a chain of command and hierarchy. Everyone paid the church (tithes were not voluntary, making them de facto taxes), but not everyone one in leadership. The church was divided between clergy and laity. The low level clergy had some say in political issues, and were appointed from the top down. Because this was a source of wealth and power, becoming part of the clergy was the route to wealth and power. Sound familiar? It’s the communist party in Russia. Just as junior level party members had some power, and high level ones all the power. The discongruous enormous personal wealth, power, and luxury of senior level party officials was identical to that of senior level Church officials.
Then the Church grew into a machine that took and took. The message of all the world under one cross was taken to the farthest corners of the world, and the old states of the Roman empire became the Satellite states of the Church. The Church provided military aid and advice to accomplish it’s goals. Improper expressions of the Gospel (ie, ones that didn’t pay tithe to Rome or refused to serve the Church’s armies) were viciously eradicated. Sound familiar? Soviet history anyone?
During this time the Church maintained itself as the world’s first multinational brand, with immediately recognizable franchises in every city of any importance in Europe, and small branch centers is smaller towns and villages. (Read the history of McDonalds)
Then, the Reformation. The massive bureaucracy was unable to respond to the new paradigm of freer, more democratic leadership selling a religious experience for the individual rather than the city or village. (IBM vs, Cars vs. Trains, landlines vs. cell phones)
Everything you need to know about business, about management, about wealth, about power, about technology, about organization, about counter culture, about revolution, about change, is all there in the.
I stumbled onto a blog the other day called Textual Fury. It’s the daily musing of a woman named Kateryna. I wish I could say the blog is great, but I’m afraid that if I just said it’s great, you might get the wrong idea. Kat is a truth speaker. Sometimes truth is beautiful, sometimes it’s as ugly as death. Because she just writes the truth, the subject matter is occasionally ghastly.
I’ve written about my parents before. I spent about three blogs attacking them. Upon reflection, I realized that wasn’t fair or right and publicly apologized. I’ve said before my parents never abused me, not verbally, not emotionally, not physically, not sexually. Kat’s parents did, frequently and regularly. While my parents weren’t perfect (none are), anything my parents did wrong was well meaning harm, rooted in sincere love. Kat’s father was a monster, and her mother both enabled the physical and sexual abuse as well as actively pursuing her own emotional abuse. I was never anywhere near anything that compares.
Yet when Kat talks about how she felt about herself and what she did to herself, self loathing, self harm, suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions, she could be reading my journal entries from not so many years ago. She is survivor and a victim of abuse of a kind I could not even imagine had I not read her blog. I try to wrap my mind around this. I carry almost none of the scars that she does, yet had the same level of self hatred and self destruction. I, with my basically good family, her with her sick one, both came to believe that we were trash. What possible environmental condition could we have shared?
We were raised in Christian homes. Her father wanted her raised in a Christian home to make her easier to control and harm. My parents wanted me raised in a Christian home because they love me and wanted to protect me. I think most people who are Christians and want their kids to be Christians do so with true hearts of love. It is this love, and not scripture, which is good for children.
The beauty that can be made of Christianity in spite of scripture, does not, however, change what scripture says. It says first that you are worthy of eternal torture. Let’s look at the torture first. Burns are one of the most painful things the body can experience. The Bible, in too many places to mention, says hell is a place of eternal fire. Imagine being doused in gas and lit on fire. Now imagine that it never stops. Imagine as your flesh burns away, it is healed so you can keep enduring it forever. As you scream and cry and besoil yourself…remember, you deserve this.
The most foundational aspect of Christianity is that you deserve to be burned alive forever. What do you suppose truly believing such a thing does to a person? You can’t believe that you are valuable, special, or worthy of love and believe such a thing.
Ah, the Christian contends, surely not. You accept that Jesus loved you before you were even born. So, to accept that, you must accept the fact that love can include torturing someone almost to the edge of death, then stopping at death so you can torture them some more. After all God said you had to go there and he loves you.
Having accepted that, you may now rejoice! If you believe that Jesus is God you are saved, accept you’re not. Because the demons in hell believe that and tremble at the mention of His name. Faith must be shown in works (James 2). Do works save? No. They reveal what is inside. Real salvation is accompanied by a real change. But how much change is “real change”. The Bible says that people have raised the dead in Jesus name and still had to go to Hell. You’ll never know, so you will have to keep working and working, constantly asking yourself, “Is this enough?”
So, you are a horrible disgusting murderer (you killed Christ), the greatest love includes the threat “Or I’ll burn you alive for ever.” And finally, you will live under the constant threat of hell. You will never know if the actions you are taking are personally costly enough (actions taken in God’s name to advance yourself rather than God are punishable by death). You will keep suffering and suffering, waiting for God to pour out his promised blessings upon you.
This is a recipe for madness. Convincing people of a horrible guilt, twisting the meanings of common concepts like “love” or “justice” until they mean the opposite, and creating constant stress of never knowing what is going to happen next are text book methods of control. It worked for Stalin.
Does this mean all Christians are evil? Not at all. Most Christians are wonderful people who really want to the make the world a better place. They subconsciously focus on the best parts of scripture, the savability of man, universal love, and the siblinghood of all people. But Christian doctrine in its raw state, rather than sanitized for mass consumption, is a road of worthlessness and self harm to the individual and manifesto of abuse to the predator.
Accidentally and in spite of the hard work and compassion of rank and file believers, the doctrine of the Bible when practiced literally, rather then re-written by modern psychological norms, is a doctrine of violence and abuse.