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Don’t Be A Fundie, Be A Kid

I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I used to believe that The Bible was the inerrant word of God; that it was the clear, explicit, absolute, ultimate Truth, never to be questioned; that those who believed otherwise were either ignorant or intentionally turning a blind eye.

At least, I thought that’s what I believed.

When I had my “quarter-life crisis” and started really desperately searching for Meaning and Purpose and Answers, and started really studying the Bible in depth for the first time, I realized that I had been basing my life on one interpretation of the Bible that existed among thousands, one that was selected for me by the chances of birth and education.

That realization was partly what forced me to open my mind and consider that I could have it wrong; that somewhere out there among the billions of other people who believed billions of other things, there could be someone who had it more right.

I consider that dawning to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I was home for Easter a couple of weekends ago. I spent time with my parents and brother, sharing meals and goodnight hugs, talking in depth on topics that are too touchy for over-the-phone conversations, attending Sunday service with them at my old church.

And I had a horrible wake-up call: I realized I was in danger of becoming a fundamentalist all over again. Not as a Christian, this time, but as an atheist.

When I was young, the certainty with which I held my Christian beliefs was perpetuated by the homogeneity of my social circle. I was never forced into close contact with anyone who thought much differently than I. Everyone I knew and trusted supported me in my perspective. We all believed the same thing. We all talked in the same terms. Our beliefs were affirmed and reinforced daily as we continued to talk mostly with each other.

My world now is much less homogeneous. I live in the middle of a large and ethnically diverse city. I come in contact daily with people from many different backgrounds and persuasions. I have friends who are gay, friends who are Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist; friends who are older, younger, single, married.

You’d think this would keep me pretty open-minded.

But here is the problem. Deep down, I want to be affirmed. I want to be right. And so I gravitate toward those friends who make me feel that I am. They are the ones I am most honest with, most vulnerable with. They are the ones I spend the most time with, the ones I really let into my heart and mind.

And that is not good.

Because it isn’t until you really let someone in, really learn to love them, that you can really understand them. And without understanding, it is far too easy to let our tribal nature take over and turn the Different into Evil. We need understanding. We may not always agree with a person, but we do need to try to see where he/she is coming from.

Being at home with my family and old friends, I remembered again how the world looks from their perspective. And I remembered that, just as my beliefs are the product of the chance encounters and experiences life has brought my way completely apart from my own volition, so are theirs.

I have a good Christian friend who went away to grad school and fell in love with a “flaming liberal.” It totally took her by surprise. And it was really a shock for him too, to find himself in a relationship with her. We he left his hometown for the school (which happened to be in the South), his friends teased him about falling for a “fundie,” which is pretty much what she was at the time.

Oh Life, you are so ironic.

Though the relationship didn’t last, and involved the hurts and complications that many relationships do, I think it was good for both of them – to come face to face with “The Enemy” and realize that underneath the unfamiliar style and mannerisms and terminology, they really both wanted the same things: to be happy and healthy, for the world to be happy and healthy, to be forgiven for their shortcomings and loved unconditionally.

I wish every person could learn to love someone different; someone they might once have thought unlovable. I think it would make the world a much better place.

In closing this post, I need to say two things:

First, to Christians or theists reading this blog, I apologize if I have ever made you feel belittled or stereotyped. I may not agree with you about some things, but I understand why you hold the convictions you do, and that just like me you think what you think and you do what you because you believe earnestly that it the most best/right thing to think and do.

Second, to Christians and atheists and people of all creeds and colors, let’s not be “fundies.” Let’s not pridefully and unbendingly assume that we have it all figured out and the rest of the world are idiots. Let’s honestly and humbly engage in conversation and try to understand each other.

Let’s try to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all part of one tribe. If there is an enemy to be fought, it is the tragic need we have to protect our own egos and cling stubbornly to absolutes that bring us a false sense of security.

We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to be free.

In Matthew 18, Jesus urges his audience to “become as little children.” No matter what you believe about the Bible and it’s origins or the identity of Jesus Christ, that is good advice.

Because the thing about children is that they are free; free of shame, of fear of judgement, of the need to judge others; free of assumptions and certainties. They recognize the incompleteness of their own knowledge. They live with humility.

In their unassumingness, kids build bridges. Fundies build walls.

Let’s be kids.

Why This Atheist Still Gets Up In The Morning

monks

Sometimes, even on sunny Saturday mornings, I have moments when I feel like quitting.

Which is ridiculous considering how easy my life is compared with most. I have a clean, warm home; a closet full of clothes; plenty of food to eat; a job and health care and friends and family to love; and on top of all that, nobody shooting at me. That is a lot.

But still, even when life is easy, life is hard. It is hard in other ways, inside.

You see the never-ending conflict and hurts and injustices between people. You carry the guilt of collective practices that are damaging the earth. You experience and/or anticipate the inevitable pain and frustration and limitations of aging. And, in very lucid moments, you realize the immanence of your own death and the deaths of those you love.

And you just can’t help thinking…what’s the point?

When I had these days as a Christian (and I had plenty of them), I would collapse into a heap and throw myself onto the mental safety net of God’s omnipotence. I didn’t know how he was gonna do it, but I had complete faith that, somehow, someday, he would make everything right.

There is a quote by Julian of Norwich in her work, Showing of Love, referencing the ultimate end, that says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I came across it in my universalist days (which turned out to be, for me, the gateway to atheism), and it brought me a lot of peace, believing that no matter how much I screwed up my own life or humanity screwed itself, God would fix it. He would make everything okay.

I would remind myself of that, and stand up, put my head down, and just keep going, and hoping.

I think the emotional need to have this fail-proof back-up plan of The-Salvation-Of-Everything is a huge part of why so many people are compelled to believe in some sort of god concept.

We don’t want to be ultimately responsible for ourselves. We want that cosmic mommy/daddy out there who will pick us up, dust us off, pay the bill, change the tire, and reassure us that everything is under control; that we are safe.

If you were lucky enough to have an earthly parent or two who did those things for you, you know as I do what a gift that is. It makes the transition into adulthood much less painful.

But it is still painful.

At some point, we all have to grow up. And growing up means learning to be your own parent: your own fixer and protector, your own last resort, your own safe place. It means being responsible for your own life.

And if you, like me, happen to not believe in a personal god with a will and the unlimited power to manipulate this reality, it also means being responsible for ALL of existence – this miraculous, inexplicable, self-existing, crazy, beautiful phenomenon that we are privileged by our consciousness to witness. It is a precious and fragile thing, life. And if there is no god, it is up to us to preserve it.

That is when things get really weighty. When you realize that.

Now, when I have those what-is-the-point days, I can’t just throw up my hands and trust that “All shall be well.”

But I can still hope. And I can act.

I read a story recently (a true one) in a book by Joanna Macy, about some Buddhist monks in Tibet who were exiled from their country by the Chinese and only decades later were allowed to return. They, their homes, monasteries, and communities had suffered terribly during the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the fifties, and seven years after returning, they were still rebuilding the center of culture and education their land had once been.

The political atmosphere, however, remained volatile. No one could predict what might happen in a year, or ten years.

The following passage from the story explains a revelation the author had while she and her husband were there in Tibet, observing the monks’ efforts, and wondering about their will to continue in the face of unlikely odds. It was revelatory for me, as well.

As we stood on the outer wall, I watched Bon-pa Tulku smile calmly as my husband queried him about Chinese policies and the prospects of another period of repression. I saw that such calculations were conjectural to him, as were any guarantees of success. Who knows? And since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will get built. You persist. Through the vagaries of government policies you persist, because in the long run it is persistence that shapes the future.

When I have my giving-up days, now, I still do the same thing I did as a Christian: I stand back up and keep going.

It could be that in spite of my efforts, our efforts, the world may not improve much. And I’m pretty sure it’s never going to be perfect. So I’m left to choose between two evils:

I can plop my butt down and live out my days in selfish hedonism, starved for meaning and fulfillment, depressed that life isn’t the way I want it to be.

Or, I can pull myself up by the bootstraps, head back out into the fray every day, do the little bit I can in my little corner of the world, and hope for the best.

Both options are hard, and either way, life is going to suck a lot of the time.

It makes more sense to me to do the hard, sucky thing that MIGHT produce some good – some positive change that could benefit our children and grandchildren and maybe even alter the course of evolution and consciousness – than to do the hard, sucky thing that is guaranteed to find us a hundred years from now squatting in the same dark hole, or worse.

And I see enough good, enough beauty, enough creativity and awesomeness and love in humanity to make all the frustration and set-backs and agony of the journey worth it, to make life worth preserving.

I hope you do too.

Because it is not “persistence” as a vague notion that shapes the future, but persistence lived out by individual, real people – like Bon-pa Tulku, like you, like me – who together form communities and societies and countries and the human race.

If humanity is going to persist, you and I must first.

The Homage Of Reason

Thomas Jefferson, who was not a Christian as some think, but rather a Deist, once made the following statement: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

Religion is a funny thing. It requires us to believe the incredible; to accept on faith a whole panoply of assumptions that are often seemingly arbitrary and sometimes even contradictory. And then it asks us to turn around and reject all other religious claims as bogus, usually on the basis of reason. We are encouraged to observe and think critically when it comes to other religions, but when the light is shone on our own, a point inevitably comes at which we must swallow our doubts and “just believe.”

It is a very good thing that, throughout human history, there have been numerous individuals unwilling to do that. For in the arena of ideas about the nature of reality, observable, verifiable fact and reason are the only standards we have by which to measure whether or not an idea is (or could be) true. Reason is what has allowed us to better understand our world and harness its resources and functionality to solve problems and improve our lives. Reason is the universal language by which we can have conversations across cultures and religions and differing personal experiences. Reason is the only place we can begin the search for what is true.

If you are here, reading this, you have likely taken the step of “boldness” that Jefferson advocates, and that takes courage and humility. To hold your deepest convictions with open hands and honestly consider another point of view or new piece of information, and to ask yourself, “What makes the most sense? What is the most reasonable explanation for these facts? What is the most good and right?” and to be willing to accept ANY answer, to change your position, if necessary, even if it will hurt, even if you will lose face, for the sake of truth…that is no small feat.

If it is one you have undertaken, I commend you, and celebrate the victory of reason over fear in your life.

Freedom to Love

I ended my last post with a hopeful view of what love and marriage can be, should they ever come about in the life of a given individual. However, I spent the majority of it moaning about the complexity and overwhelming-ness of finding and choosing a life/marriage partner.

And now I am feeling a little sheepish.

Never once in the midst of all my agonizing did I stop to consider what it might be like to be denied the freedom to undertake this “task” at all, one that is, perhaps, among the most profound of human pursuits and most significant sources of human joy and meaning.

And yet, that is the reality for possibly ten percent of people alive today.  Should they be fortunate enough to birth and grow the kind of deep, irrational, vulnerable, and committed love we all long for, they are still not guaranteed the opportunity to live out that love publicly or be accepted as part of society.

Considering recent political events surrounding gay rights (i.e. signing of the same-sex marriage bill here in Washington State, and the passing of a similar bill in the Maryland House of Delegates) I’m hoping this won’t always be the case.

But right now, if you happen to have romantic affections for a person of your own gender, things look pretty grim.

And this is tragic.

I mentioned a while ago, in the first installment of my Why I Am Not A Christian series, that probably the earliest major issue I had with Christianity – one that played a large part in my deconversion journey – was the idea of Hell.

Homosexuality was a close second.

Growing up in a very rural, very conservative, relatively homogeneous community, I did not come in contact with many openly gay people. So it was relatively easy for me, for a while, to accept the teaching of my church that homosexuality was a sin; that it was a sinful life-style chosen by sinful (or deceived/deluded) people.

But then I started volunteering with a church youth group and began mentoring a young girl who happened to have two moms, who were some of the kindest, warmest, most welcoming people I had ever met. I was baffled at their kindness and grace toward, and the freedom they granted their two daughters to participate in, an organization that looked down on, even condemned, the love that formed the foundation of their shared life…a life that appeared to be as full of love, understanding, forgiveness, consideration, selfless-ness, wisdom, temperance, and all-around good family values as the most exemplary heterosexual Christian marriages/families I had witnessed.

I couldn’t wrap my head around what could possibly be bad about that love.

According to 1 John, after all, “Love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love” (Ch. 4. vs. 7-8).

I was blessed to be born to parents who knew how to love each other and their children. I grew up witnessing real love in action every day. And what I saw happening in that girl’s family between her moms, between her and her siblings, was no different than the deep love I saw pass between my own mom and dad, and as a result among my brother and sisters and I as well.

Then there was my dear friend in college, a Christian, who revealed to me that he’d struggled for years and years with homosexual feelings. I was baffled. He was one of the most faithful, courageous, upstanding, passionate Christian people I had ever been privileged to know. There was no question in my mind that he would ever have chosen to entertain those feelings or ideas by his own volition.

I began to consider the possibility that scientific findings of genetic predisposition toward homosexuality might have merit. But that left me questioning God’s character. How could crippling my friend with this condition that He supposedly condemned, possibly bring Him glory? It had only been, thus far in my friend’s life, a source of self-loathing, isolation, alienation, paralysis, and pain and torment of all kinds. Why would a good god allow that?

(Years later another dear Christian friend, this one female and one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, analytical people I know, came out to me. The conversations we had about her childhood feelings toward men and women, combined with my knowledge of her character and some reflection on how I had experienced my own sexuality as a child, finally quashed any possibility remaining in my mind that homosexuality is a choice.)

Then I moved to Seattle. I met and made friends with many more people like my youth group mentoree’s mothers. Some single, some in relationships. Some “preppy” and highly educated. Some a bit “stoner” and unambitious. Some hipster. Some jock. Some philosophical and thoughtful and analytical. Some younger. Some older. Some more emotional and irrational. Some kind and generous. Some self-centered and cynical…

…basically running the same gamut of human beauty and ugliness and quirkiness I had witnessed among the heterosexual people I was formerly solely familiar with.

And then I got to know Christians – real, dedicated, Bible-believing ones – who not only welcomed openly gay people into their communities, but actually viewed their love as another equally beautiful, right, and good manifestation of the love of God.

And then I discovered there is very little in the Bible that actually addresses homosexuality. Much less, in fact, than there is addressing issues of dress and clothing and hairstyle and diet and many other details of daily living which we completely disregard or interpret as being directed to certain people in a certain time and place but not applicable to current life.

And I began to think more about some of the objections to homosexuality put forth by those who oppose it, asking whether they made sense, whether they were valid. And I found that they didn’t, that they weren’t.

For many people, I think, regardless of what their religions or philosophies tell them, there is an negative “knee-jerk” reaction to homosexuality, simply because it is foreign to them. Most people (90% is the estimate) are genetically pre-dispositioned toward heterosexuality, so it is true that homosexuality is not “the norm.” Most people cannot imagine being attracted to someone of the same gender. It feels as unnatural to them as an attraction to a sibling or parent. And that rarity of homosexual people in the general population has been hugely compounded by social pressure. In many cultures of the world for the past two thousand years, homosexuality has been condemned, forcing gay people to remain “in the closet.”

And as human social behavior has proven over and over again, ignorance breeds distrust. We automatically fear what is unfamiliar to us. And that is an unfortunate quirk of the human psyche that we really need to get over.

Those who continue to entertain this instinctual aversion often attempt to support the “unnatural-ness” of homosexuality by pointing out the fact that it produces no offspring.

That is, of course, a fact. However, heterosexual partners participate in all sorts of other healthy, normal sexual activities that likewise produce no offspring. Heterosexual couples have sex at all periods of a woman’s menstrual cycle, despite the fact that she may not be in her fertile window. Sterile couples also have sex, even when there is no hope at all of conceiving. Couples who are using natural methods of birth control enjoy each other’s bodies in sexual ways that are physically gratifying and expressive of love and intimacy.

Should sterile couples not be allowed to marry because they can’t produce offspring? Should heterosexual couples only touch each other when they’re ready to make a baby?

Neither should a homosexual couple’s inability to produce offspring be used as reason to prohibit their sexual expression of love and intimacy.

Some people might stop me here and say, “Well, if we allow this ‘unnatural’ form of sexual expression, what is to prevent bestiality, or pedophilia, etc.?”

While it hurts me to legitimize this suggestion with a response, I will nevertheless point out that human sexual behavior must always be (is usually, in psychologically healthy individuals) regulated by our consciousness and volition in such a way that justice is done by all involved.

Our government exists for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms and welfare of its citizens. We have laws against pedophilia and bestiality in order to protect those vulnerable and less powerful (children and animals) from physical and psychological harm. An adult man wooing and sexually using a young girl who is physically and emotionally immature and unable to make a free, reasoned, healthy decision about what to do with her body, is a much, much, MUCH different thing than two adult men or women who find each other attractive choosing to act consensually on that mutual attraction.

It may be true that manipulation and abuse occur in homosexual relationships, but they occur as well in heterosexual ones all the time, and nobody would therefore conclude that heterosexual sex is bad because it can be used to control and hurt people. Neither should we allow the instances of unhealthy homosexuality to discredit homosexuality in general.

Others may object to homosexuality because of its ramifications on a societal, rather than individual, level. They say that children need a stable home life, with a loving mother and father providing resources and guidance and protection, to grow and develop optimally.

And I believe they are right…mostly.

Research has shown that children do do better in two-parent homes where these needs are met. What it hasn’t shown is that these two parents must be a male and a female, specifically. Most of the research out there has been done comparing single-parent homes to two-parent homes, and most of the two parent homes existing in our historically anti-gay U.S. society happen, not surprisingly, to be heterosexual.

By my own afore-mentioned experience, a family with two moms can be just as loving, healthy, and secure a place as a family with a mom and a dad. If research has been done comparing mother/father homes with mother/mother or father/father homes, I would be surprised if it showed any significant differences in child outcomes when extraneous variables are controlled for.

Another argument that often comes up but makes very little sense to me, is the idea that homosexual marriage somehow devalues heterosexual marriage.

Marriage has meant many different things to many different people over the course of human civilization.

Perhaps you are a Christian who believes, based on your particular interpretation of the Bible, that God ordained it as a sacrament to signify an eternal commitment and bond between one man and one woman, as a reflection of his love for us and as a means of populating the earth and bringing glory to him. Is your belief or commitment, or the beauty you find in it, diminished by the vastly different views and marital practices of an aboriginal tribesman in Africa or your Buddhist neighbors next door? I don’t see how it could be.

The love and marriage and type of commitment shared by two women who happen to live down the street, should have about the same amount of affect on the value and sanctity of your own marriage as the love and marriage and type of commitment shared by two twenty-somethings in India whose parents betrothed them as children: absolutely none whatsoever.

The beauty of America, the thing that has made it unique among nations, is the great degree of freedom we have here to live exactly as we see fit. It is true we must reach consensus on certain issues if we are to live peaceably, but beyond those essentials we must all – for the sake of our own interests – adopt the motto of “live and let live.”

For what if the tables were turned? What if you were in the minority?

You may feel your point of view on life, your chosen life-style, is the best and most right. And many may agree with you. But those who don’t hold their own beliefs with equal conviction and earnesty. Why should another’s way be required of you if your way is not hurting him nor impeding his ability to live out his convictions? Why should yours be imposed on him?

If you value your own freedom to believe that homosexuality is not a good way to live, you must value the freedom of your neighbor to believe the opposite.

If you value your right to pursue life, liberty and happiness in whatever way you see fit (within the bounds of civil behavior, of course), you must value the right of your neighbor to do the same.

And of all the avenues by which humans pursue happiness, the road to love – real, true, committed, intimate, love – is undoubtedly the most travelled, the most promising, the most fundamental.

The fact that so many people are denied this pursuit, essentially because it makes some others uncomfortable…it breaks my heart.

May the 21st century bring to the human race greater wisdom, greater understanding, greater acceptance and grace for those who are different…

…and the freedom, for ALL people, to love.

Disney vs. OkCupid: The Paralysis and Power of Online Dating

I used to think there was a man out there in the world somewhere that God had picked out before the beginning of time to be my husband. I used to pray for him, even. I believed, in general, that God had a perfect plan for every aspect of who I was to be and what I was to do, and that if I was seeking His will for my life this pre-ordained and perfect plan, including the perfect man/marriage, would come to be…and I would live happily ever after.

As my Christianity became more reasoned and “flexible”, and even after it was gone completely, I still held onto a vague, lingering idea of “soul-mates” or “destiny”…

…which isn’t too surprising, considering that the largest percentage of our society does also…

…which, in turn, isn’t too surprising, considering most of us were raised with some flavor of theism and, perhaps even more significantly, on a steady diet of Disney movies and romantic comedies.

It just recently occurred to me as I was watching The Little Mermaid with the two-year-old I care for (and having all sorts of qualms about the messages it might be sending to her impressionable young mind), that one of its biggest and most blatant questionable messages, one I had never before stopped to consider, is this very idea of soul-mates.

In every Disney movie I have ever seen, there is only one man. There is only one prince. Only one possible outcome.

Ariel’s social world, for example, consisted entirely of her family and three friends who, though all male, were excluded outright from her list of potential lovers per the unforgiving reality of the species barrier (Sebastian = crab, Scuttle = seagull, Flounder = well…flounder).

So from the second she first laid eyes on Prince Eric (who was, seemingly, genetically related enough), Ariel knew. Though she might have been distracted by the other human males she observed on the ship had the playing field been equal, it was not. Prince Eric was clearly the most handsome, clearly the sweetest, clearly the most thoughtful, funniest, best-dressed. Clearly, The Prince.

There were never any questions of political leanings, life-style preferences, religious beliefs, geographical constraints, or medical conditions addressed. And there was no doubt about sustaining long-term chemistry or commitment. There were no other options, so it was a given that, once princess and prince had overcome the obstacles and been united in love, they would live, of course, happily ever after.

And it is the same in almost every romantic comedy and book and love story I can think of that are icons of our American (and perhaps Western hemisphere, first-world) experience. No real decisions ever have to be made. The relative merits of one potential life partner over another never, or rarely, come up.

This glaring inconsistency with reality was magnified by my recent excursion into the world of on-line dating.

In the past four weeks I have looked at probably a hundred profiles and interacted with numerous potential mates – all intelligent, attractive, fun, thoughtful, talented men – and while it has been an adventure getting to know so many new people and a great boost to my ego feeling wanted and admired, it is also rather overwhelming

I have only been out on actual dates with four different people, and already I feel I have too much to evaluate and decide between, and too much more still to learn about these individuals in order to make a good decision.

In real life, there are thousands of “princes” out there (or none, if you are a glass-half-empty kind of a person). None of them are perfect. None of them are going to be perfect for you, nor you for them. They, like you, are human and unique. You will not see eye-to-eye on everything with any one of them. There is no crown atop one man’s head blinking like a homing beacon to signal that he is “The One.”

It is really rather unfortunate. It makes this whole process of finding a long-term partner MUCH more complicated than you grow up expecting it to be.

All that to say, I don’t believe in soul-mates any longer, at least not in a pre-destined sense. I believe we choose a person – probably rather arbitrarily – and then MAKE them our soul-mate over time as we continue to choose them again and again, continue to change them and be changed by them, continue to learn who they are and understand more and more how they see the world.

But choosing is much easier said than done.

Living in the world today, we are faced with SO much more choice when it comes to almost everything – food and material goods of all kinds, education, occupation, geographical location, even physical appearance, and now dating – than our grandparents and great-grandparents ever could have imagined. We are forced daily to make hundreds of decisions, large and small, that they never had to consider once.

And psychologists, sociologists, economists and observant people in general are beginning to realize that all of this choice is not a good thing. It is paralyzing and breeds discontent.

And I’m beginning to understand this as it pertains to romantic relationships. When the whole world is your “sea” the perfect “fish” could still be out there. And that makes us – makes me – hesitant to commit.

But here’s the thing: I could spend the next five years, probably, meeting potential partners from Seattle alone, and really do very little to increase my chances of marital happiness…

…because another quite poignant observation people have been making is that we don’t actually know what we want. We don’t know what is really going to make us happy.

So basically love, like life, is a crapshoot, and you just have to do your best to eliminate possibilities that you are pretty sure will make you UNhappy, point your feet towards ones that you suspect might bring you some sort of intrinsic joy, and then MAKE THE MOST OF IT!

In other words, find someone you respect and admire, whose company and conversation you enjoy, whom you find physically attractive, whose values and life goals are compatible with your own; do your best to understand and acknowledge their weaknesses and be honest with them about yours; prepare yourself for the inevitable loss of “sparkle” with the passage of time and increased familiarity, and take steps to keep adding that sparkle back in; and then, finally, take their hand and say,

“We are both two crazy human beings who just happened to run into each other in this big, broiling mess of 7 billion, who don’t really know what we want or how those wants will change in the future, who don’t really know, completely, how to be happy. But we’ve decided we like each other enough to commit to navigating this giant experiment of life together, and we’re going to do our best to navigate it in a way that will allow us to keep liking each other and keep choosing each other, flaws and all, over all the other imperfect people out there who may or may not temporarily make us happy.”

Perhaps some will see this logical, realistic approach to relationships as cold and unromantic. Some might even make a rather cynical (but very good) joke of it.

But I view love and marriage now with as deep and wide a sense of beauty and magic as I ever did – not in spite of its randomness, but because of it.

You could have met any one of 7 billion people, but you met him. Your life circumstances and experiences could have caused you to take one path, but you took the one that led you here. Those same experiences could have predispositioned you to value and choose another, but you chose her.

That kind of love – one that basks with wonder in the miraculous occurrence of near-zero-probability events – and looks with gratefulness on the joys those events brought to life, in spite of the inevitable accompanying pain and grief…

…that kind of love is so much more alive, so much more real, so much MORE than any happily-ever-after Disney story I have ever heard.

And unlike a Disney love which requires a princess to sit around waiting for the stars to align or The Prince to get his castle and trusty stead in order, this kind of love can be actively sought, grown, and chosen by any two people willing to seek it.

For me, that is freeing. And empowering.

More On Truth: Pontius Pilate’s Age-Old Question

Every heard of Pontius Pilate?

If you’re a history buff, you likely have. If you were raised in any sect of Christianity or studied the religion even briefly, you DEFINITELY have.

For those of you who are neither, poor old P-dawg was the unlucky guy reportedly responsible for the authorization of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The book of John in the New Testament relates the conversation that took place between Jesus and Pilate, in which Jesus explains that he “came into the world to testify to truth,” and claims that “everyone on the side of truth listens to [him].”

These assertions prompt Pilate to shake his head resignedly (as I imagine it) and ask his famous question: “What is truth?”

As I suggested in my previous post, while I do think ultimate, objective truth exists, I do not think human beings are completely capable of detecting it. But it is a question we have been driven to ask since the beginning of recorded history. And a really weird question, when you really think about it.

Anyway, I wish Pilate would have had the chance to read Professor Eric Steinhart on this topic. I referenced his article at the end of my last post, before I’d had the chance to read it, and now that I have, I must recommend it again. He talks about Truth, and what it is, expertly and thoroughly, but in a way that is understandable even for a layperson like me.

Is there a greater food for thought than the question of truth!?!?

I get goose-bumps just thinking about it…

Truth Is Not My God

I just read a great interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Doctor of Philosophy at Fordham University in New York State, over at the blog Anything But Theist. Both interviewer and interviewee consider themselves atheist, but, as is always the case with any two individuals, each holds his own unique combination of perspectives when it comes to the details.

The question they were addressing in the interview was the value of truth. As Dr. Fincke asked it, “Just how much should we prioritize truth over other goods?”

I have to admit this question stopped me in my tracks.

Even as a Christian I valued truth above all else. As a child and young adult I equated God and my particular perspective on him with Truth. My God was the most valuable thing. My God WAS truth. Truth was by far above and beyond the most valuable.

When I came to the realization that my religion did not have a corner on truth, in fact diametrically opposed so much of what was objectively and verifiably true about reality, I stripped Truth of its Christian paraphernalia and kept it alone – naked, purer, bigger, grander than any religion – as my God.

It wasn’t until reading the interview just now that I questioned that unconscious choice of value (though in reality, I haven’t practiced it).

While much of the atheist/agnostic literature I have read over the past couple of years has urged free-thinkers to proclaim objective truth to the masses of believers, I have never felt comfortable with that. Ironically, I have experienced the same sort of guilt over my failure as an atheist “evangelist” that I did over my failure as a Christian one.

In my experience, the people of faith that I know and love are living very good, productive, happy lives…in certain ways more so than my agnostic friends. And while I don’t believe that they are living from the most accurate understanding of reality, I have rarely felt the need to challenge their perspectives (except on certain topics related to sexual ethics).

And I guess that is because I am a pragmatist at heart. I ask myself, “What works?” and then I go with that. What actually, in practice, helps create the best possible world? It takes some trial and error, but I think this is the most functional M.O.

Theories about the way things should be and how they should work are great, but if, when you apply them, they don’t, then what is the point?

My friends and family are intelligent people. They have thought about what they believe. And they still believe those things. Just as I can only believe what my life experience has lead me to believe, so it is with them. And their lives have not yet led them to a place in which they can look objectively at Christianity. And there is nothing I can do about it.

And if I am going to promote peace and love between us (which I believe promotes peace and love and health and happiness on a global scale, ultimately), it is not going to be by trying to shove my rationalism down their throats.

So yeah. I guess I’m going to have to remove truth from slot number one on my list of values, and slide it into second place underneath human health and happiness (which is really the way it has been in practice all along).

I’m also going to be done feeling guilty about it.

And I’m also going to thank Dr. Fincke for freeing me up to not feel guilty.

It is very rare and very refreshing to hear an atheist acknowledge that atheism can become a dogmatic system of thought just as much as any religion. As he and Nietzsche, whom he frequently references, point out, no human being, regardless of philosophy or commitment to objectivity, can be completely objective. We are subjective, feeling creatures. We are swayed by our emotions and personal experiences.

As my very wise dad often reminded us kids growing up, “The mind justifies what the heart chooses,” and that works both ways, in every direction.

None of us are free from bias. Ever.

And if that is the case, maybe there IS no such thing as ultimate, objective truth, since we – the only conscious beings in existence able to consider the concept – will never be able, completely, to detect it.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. But maybe we just shouldn’t get too hung up on it either.

And I think that’s what Dr. Fincke, a man infinitely more educated in these matters than I, was saying also. (My apologies if I’m wrong about that, Dr.)

Just FYI – Dr. Fincke blogs regularly over at Cammels With Hammers. I highly recommend you check it out. He has some really great things to say.

In fact, I’m planning on next reading a short guest post there by Eric Steiner entitled, “Do Atheists Worship Truth?”  and I think you should too. From my quick perusal earlier, it promises to be  meaty.