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Posts tagged ‘love’

Christians and Pagans and Atheists and Einstein

There is a great song by Dar Williams called Christians and Pagans. If you’ve never heard it, have a listen:

Back in 2009, when I was reeling from the shock of loosing my life-long faith, scrambling to reconstruct some semblance of a worldview, and aching over the huge gash that had been torn in the safe, warm, loving fabric of my family relationships, this song was my catharsis.

And my hope.

I would sit and listen to it on repeat, fighting tears, aching inside for the all of the parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents and friends throughout human history who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves on opposite sides of a dividing line.

Having one’s heart strings stretched across the brick and mortar and barbed wire and chasms we’ve constructed between various ideological camps – it hurts.

When I lost my Christian faith, I didn’t stop loving my Christian family. And they didn’t stop loving me. And while I understand the reasoning and experiences that have led them to their conclusions, I have had other experiences that have led me to mine. Ones that can be explained in words, but not fully transmitted.

How can I expect my parents to follow the winding trail my mind and heart have travelled since I left home? And how can I begin to understand the lives they lived before I was born, and even after, inside their own minds and hearts, that have forged and strengthened their own convictions about life?

I can’t. We are all stuck inside our own heads, and there is only so much that can be shared through words.

And that leaves us in this awful tug ‘o’ war between love and pain.

I hope that someday it will be like it is in the song – that my family and I will be able to gather around the table, hold hands, celebrate the beauty of life, and choose to respect each other as equally intelligent, good, legitimate people, accepting each other’s differences and seeming crazy-ness in spite of our mutual inability to comprehend, understanding that we are all just trying to “[make] sense of history and [draw] warmth out of the cold.”

I guess we are pretty close to that already, maybe even farther along in some respects. And I am so thankful for that – for my parents’ determination to stay in my life and love and support me, to allow me to participate in theirs; for their growing willingness to engage me in conversation on philosophical topics, to ask what I really think, to clarify what they really think. I am thankful for my siblings’ continued support and communication and care.

I know at times it would probably be less painful for all of us to just go do our own things and check in occasionally to discuss the weather and other innocuous topics.

I’m so thankful that’s not my family.

The one thing I am wishing these days is that they could identify with this line from the song that I love so much, the one that goes, “And you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere.”

There is magic in life. There is beauty and awesomeness and mystery. I experienced it as a Christian. And I experience it now as an naturalist, perhaps even more profoundly. And it is those who live in light of this magic, wherever they find it, that, I think, tend to be the kind of people that other people want to be around and who, little by little, are loving the world to a better place.

Albert Einstein probably said it best:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

I, of course, believe that the most accurate, whole, and satisfying perspective from which to experience this awe is a naturalistic/humanistic one.

But whether you consider yourself a Christian, a pagan, an atheist or anything else in between, I hope you are finding it – that magic, that sense of wonder, that keeps your inner spark alive, that makes life worth living.

If you are not, don’t waste another minute. Life is short. Go get it. And don’t be afraid of boxes and lines. Crossing them might be painful. It might stretch some cords. But love is amazingly elastic. And amazingly strong.

And the wonder is worth the pain.

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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.

Romanticizing Reality

I am an advocate of getting-in-touch-with-reality, for sure.

It only makes sense to me that we human beings, if we are going to fix (or at least improve on) our many flaws and foibles, and figure out how to live life best, must first understand The-Way-Things-Are.

Unfortunately, we have this very strong tendency to believe what we wish to be true. And that is a problem. You’re going to have a rough time and waste a lot of energy, for example, if you believe you have the voice of an angel and should spend your time sharing your gift with the world, when in actuality you sound like Grover from Sesame Street.

If your wheels aren’t on the ground, they’re just going to spin.

So, first-things-first, we need to – both individually and collectively – get a grip.

Once we’ve done that, however, and our “wheels” are making good contact with a solid surface, we’ve got to turn around and put those rose-colored glasses right back on…at least this is what I’m thinking today, and I will explain why.

We are very tactile, short-sighted creatures, really. We are easily bogged down by the immediate, mundane details of our lives. Happy moments of the past and future are hard bring to mind when we are faced with today’s sadness or boredom or frustration. The present difficulties seem more real than anything else, and it makes us want to give up the fight.

Considering the large percentage of our lives that are consumed by these mundane details, you’d think we’d be pretty much screwed.

BUT…there is this other funny little quirk in the human psyche that is our saving grace:

We are compelled by story.

Much more so than we are by facts, statistics, dissertation or rational analysis, however true or relevant they may be. Stories move us, stay with us, and help us make meaning from our existence.

Every now and then, for me, something happens in my life that enables me to take a step back from it and see it all as part of the grand human drama…one that is headed toward some sort of resolution in which good triumphs over evil and all the pain and tedium turn out to be the stepping stones that get us there, if we use them positively.

I’ve realized this about myself repeatedly – how much more clearly I see and think, how much more graciously I act, how much more forgiving and loving I am toward others when I am looking at my life from this outside, cosmic point of view.

That is what I mean when I say “putting on rose-colored glasses” or “romanticizing reality.” Not living in denial of what is, but looking at it through a lens of hope. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but it is something we must try to do – all of us – if we are going to bring good out of the chaos.

I’ve had something pretty crazy happen to me this past week. And, yes, it has to do with love. (What else is a 29 year-old, single girl gonna talk about?)

That boy, C. (aka Mr. Love), after two years of absence, is back in my life. (Perhaps I should clarify that “in my life” includes such activities as kissing and texting me.)

This is rather mind-blowing, as I have spent so much time longing for this. And it is producing one of those moments in which I look back at my life and see all the heart-ache and questions as plot twists in my own life’s story.

Of course, if there is one thing I have come to believe over the past couple of years, it is that life is full of twists; that it is so NOT predictable; that it will take you places both painful and joyful that you never could have anticipated.

Since my wishing and wondering over whether or not I would ever see C. again has been answered, it has inevitably been replaced by the next big question…will we end up together? But that is a silly question to ask, really. Because even people who “end up together” (i.e. get married) just have to keep asking themselves bigger and bigger questions.

Will I stay with this person today? Tomorrow? Ten years from now? Will I have children with this person? Will we spend our lives pursuing the American dream? Or Chasing Adventure? Or Fighting for World Peace?

Having this one current, significant question answered in my life has made me realize that life, the future, will always be one big question mark. And if I’m going to enjoy the journey, I’m going to have to embrace that, embrace uncertainty. And be okay sitting back and watching the story unfold.

Whether C. and I fall in love and get married and have kids, or whether we date for a while, have a great time, and decide we aren’t really compatible, it will all just be part of the story – my story, his story, and the story of the universe we are both effective entities in.

But I think that, no matter what happens, I will be able to navigate it all gracefully if I sort of levitate above it all, seeing the events and circumstances that come from a universal perspective…

…believing that in the end reality – even with all its harshness – can have a happy ending, if I, if WE, believe it can and are willing to take action accordingly.