Secular synthesis and why we need it – or, Hello Freethought Blogs

You already know that I’m a #FTBully. Of all the letters after my name (admittedly, there aren’t very many), those are the ones I’m proudest of. My feeling is, that tells you all you need know about me. Keep reading though.

I’m 22, secular, British, poly, queer, tall, ex-Christian, “left wing and long-winded”, a nerd, a graduate and a keyboard warrior. What that actually means is fallacious discourses piss me off, and so do faulty ideas they transmit. I’m skeptical, you might say, in that sense.

The backdrop to my joining this network is an organised skepticism more divided than ever, teetering toward civil war. I have no problems with that division. If our blogosphere and the community around it become the dogfight expected right now, things will get worse before they get better – but they will, I think, get better. There are problems in our movement – racism, misogyny, transphobia, harassment, wage theft, corruption – that we need to fix, and any chance we take by addressing them is a chance for self-improvement. Should skepticism implode in the coming weeks or months, there’s no point letting it implode again a year or several down the line: the time for staring down internal conflicts, all of them, is now.

Because of that, there won’t just be posts here on UK atheism – that is, on why our image as a godless paradise is unwarranted, our secular community underdeveloped and our strains of fundamentalism growing. There won’t just be posts on leaving extreme religion – how Hallowe’en once terrified me, how my niece was an evangelical at four years old and how I thought aged eight that Satan had possessed me. There won’t just be posts about mainstream and LGBT culture’s myths of sexuality, about sex and relationships, about the nerdsphere or about far-right religion’s fast-forming grip on UK campuses. There will be all of those, sooner or later, but not just those.

I named this blog Godlessness in Theory because I think we need new secular dialectics. I first encountered things like feminism and social justice largely through the atheist scene – I came of age reading Skepchick, Butterflies and Wheels and Greta Christina’s Blog – and I think it’s valuable, vital in fact, to view our movement through those kinds of frameworks. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s enough to switch between discourses as I’ve found myself doing; to blog on atheism some days and queerness others. The most exciting thoughts I’ve had in skepticism have been listening to Pragna Patel, Sikivu Hutchinson or Natalie Reed, in whose work secularity and social justice collide and complete, coherent modes of thinking germinate which speak to both. I love these writers’ work, because this is more than intersectional action; it’s an innovative, synthetic analysis. Pursuing secular synthesis as they have – bringing godlessness into theory, and vice versa – is my long-term stated aim. That’s what I’m here for, and what I think can repair our movement – even, perhaps, make it stronger than ever.

Wish me luck.

For the moment, an overview: if you haven’t read anything by me before, or you’ve read a post or two and you want to read more, the following ten posts are a good place to start.

I’m looking at archiving the rest of my past writing here; to stay updated in the mean time, go and Like this blog on Facebook. If you feel like you still want more, browse through my writing in the areas linked or see my blogroll here for the people I like reading. You can also drop me a line via email or Twitter, and believe me, I’ll be reading the comments.

Hello if we don’t know each other. Hello again if we already do. And hello Freethought Blogs – you’re the greatest network of them all. I’m thrilled to be here.

More creationism at the Keswick Convention

Remember the ‘Scale model of Noah’s ark‘ creationist exhibit, from this time last year in my hometown?

The Keswick Convention is in full swing again, and a friend just linked me to this footage from the local marketplace.

Watch out for more young earth creationism, threats of Hell, the blood of Jesus and salvos against gay sex, unmarried sex and internet porn. (None of these, of course, are any different from lying or stealing.) Richard Dawkins gets a mention, as he always does, and there’s a happier ending than you might expect, even if I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

[Edit: it turns out the preacher here is Dale Mcalpine, who ended up in hot water three years ago over similar events.]

A transcript follows. I’ve done my best to get everything, but there are words I can’t make out; if you catch them, or you spot an error, let me know in the comments.

P.S. I should mention I don’t know if this was official Keswick Convention preaching, or whether (like last year’s exhibit) it was independent evangelism, capitalising on the religious hunting season.

* * *

Audience member #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning?

Preacher: Sorry?

AM #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning? I seem to survive.

P: See, this is what happens. When someone is born again, what that means is that someone is changed from someone who loves their sin, their sinful nature, and follows a lifestyle of sin – sin that offends God – to someone who loves God. [Inaudible] …how do I survive?

AM #1: How does the person in sin survive?

P: Well, sinning isn’t a requirement of breathing. [Inaudible] You’ve had your turn.

AM #1: I believe in God!

P: The Devil believes in God, so believing in God is not going to help you on the Day of Judgement. You need your sins forgiven-

AM #1: I know but I’ve got to get by before that…

AM #2: The guy’s right. [Pointing to AM #1.) Why would you have to repent if you didn’t sin in the first place?

P: -and the only way that your sins can be forgiven is if you’re soaked in the blood of Jesus Christ because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.

AM #1: …how do I survive until then?

P: What d’you mean ‘survive’? I don’t understand your question.

AM #1: Well how do I live without sinning?

P: You can’t: you can’t do anything but live a sinful life, unless God supernaturally transforms you and makes your spirit that loves to sin – your nature that loves to sin – makes it alive and gives you a new nature. That’s why the Bible says if any man is in Christ, he’s a new creature. So if you’re still… if you’re professing to be a Christian today, and you’re still the same person that you’ve always been, [if] you haven’t been set free from the power and consequence of sin, then you’re not a Christian. You’re not born again, because the Bible says that you should be changed.

AM #1: Nobody [inaudible]

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day, mate.

P: God saved me-

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day.

P: God saved me five nine year ago, and he can save anyone out here today. If you’ll humble yourself, and call upon his name.

AM #4: …still say that slavery is okay.

P: …call upon the name of the Lord-


AM #5: Surely there’s a better way of going about it than standing on there and embarrassing Christians? I’m a Christian and I’m slightly embarrassed by the way you are doing this!

P: Okay.

AM #5: I’m a Christian, okay? I’m a Christian… she is my friend… I’m a Christian, okay. There’s a way of going about it-

P: Sure. And the way to go about it is God’s way. If the Bible-

AM #5: I’m not ash-

P: And the Bible says… the Bible says-

AM #5: I’m not ashamed… I’m not ashamed of what I believe in!

P: Well what do you tell people?

AM #5: I do!

P: Do you preach the Gospel-


AM #5: I don’t… [inaudible] God gave us a choice.

P: No, of course not, because you don’t know it. You see you can’t live what you don’t know, and the Bible says there are-


AM #5: So you’re saying I’m not a Christian because I don’t talk… you’re saying I don’t believe that God came down, sent his son down, and he died for my sins? You’re saying that I don’t believe that because I don’t sit there, stand on there, and go ‘Hey everybody! Everybody listen to God’? You’re saying that I’m not a Christian?

P: The Devil believes that God came down and died for people’s sins. The Devil believes that. So you’re still going to Hell on the Day of Judgement. Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian.

AM #5: So are you…

P: Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian. Unless you’re changed and set free from the power of your sin, whatever sin that might be, unless you’re changed anew, you live a holy life-

AM #5: Yeah, I do… [inaudible] I live a holy life, and my non-Christian friends around me see me and listen to me, rather than standing on there and being like ‘All Christians are like this!’ Not all of them.

P: But is your nice personality enough to save people from the wrath of God?

AM #6: Is yours… what you’re doing now, are you going to save people by standing up talking?

P: Is your nice personality, the way you live your life, what God says that you must do in order for men and women to be saved? [Continues]

AM #3: …you enjoying it, pal? [Aside]

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #3: I’ve been watching it from the beginning. Here come the police to look after him.

P: -preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of this message, is the power of God.

AM #2: You know you’re not preaching… you’re not opening the Bible once.

P: Well… [Continues]

AM #3: Can you not arrest him for heresy?

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #8: [Inaudible] Do you believe that science and Christianity can coexist?

P: We believe in good science, it’s that evolution and the Big Bang is bad science. Did evolution make a monkey out of you?

AM #8: So the two can’t coexist then? You don’t think that they can just [inaudible] each other and [inaudible] Christian?

P: See, science can’t exist without God. God gave us laws of logic, laws of astronomy, laws of thermodynamics – God set off these laws of science in motion. And when you reject God [inaudible] knowledge. See, because the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. See? So without God you can’t know anything!

AM #8: Do you believe that Christians… there are Christians who can believe in evolution and believe the Bible?


P: …God, and they need to read the Bible, because the Bible says… the Bible says that God created the world in six literal days and he created a man and a woman from dust. He didn’t create a man and a woman from a pond life [sic] that evolved over millions of years. That’s not what the Bible says. So these people there, the theistic evolutionists, are wrong, and they need to read the Bible.

AM #5: But how do you not know… how can you not know… you know the Bible, in Genesis it says it as a poem – if you read it in Hebrew, the creation of the world is a poem – that is not then actually seven whole days. That could be millions of years, so God could… the evolution process that we know of could actually be God’s way of actually making animals? We don’t know that. We won’t know if he existed… so if God could actually have planned evolution, and you know, planned that… [inaudible] …like this, like that, and therefore things evolved…

P: Let me stop you there, that’s a fair question: could God have used evolution to create mankind? Well here’s what the Bible says: the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. Adam’s. Before Adam sinned, there was no death. So things couldn’t have died out to progress. So there’s a contradiction. Either you believe God’s word, that God created us in six literal days, or you can believe [inaudible] who the Bible says the wisdom of this world is foolishness. See Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin, according to God’s word, are fools. And the wisdom of this world is foolish.

AM #8: God has never mentioned Charles Darwin! God never mentioned it. He never mentioned him. What are you talking about? Is Charles Darwin in the Bible? [inaudible] That’s not true…

P: Well, I mean we know it’s true because that’s what the Bible says. And the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. The wages of sin is death. Sin is…

AM #9: Charles Darwin…

P: …before sin came into the world there wasn’t any death. So there couldn’t have been a process of evolution where things die out and progress. And people who teach that are in error, even if they’re you’re favourite preacher and if they’re nice people they’re in error. The Bible says that you can know the truth, and these things are written so that you may know them and have eternal life. How do you have eternal life? Through the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no other way to peace with God. There’s no other way that your sins can be forgiven other than by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness of sin. Your good personality, your good deeds can’t help you on the Day of Judgement.

AM #10: As a Christian…

P: Being baptised and going to church won’t help you on the Day of Judgement, because your good works [inaudible] If you have any problems with that, any questions about the Gospel message being preached today, I’d be very happy to answer all your questions.

AM #10: D’you not think that Christianity or any other religion is just a way of being, basically, scared of dying? D’you not think death is just a black, [inaudible] nothing? And that this has just been put on us, just ‘cause you’re scared?

P: No, I think that atheists are scared…

AM #10: No no no no no, I’m asking, d’you not think you are scared – you are scared?

P: I’m telling you what I think. I think that atheism is a crutch for people who are scared of Judgement Day, and they… they cling to the… the… the ridiculous lie of evolution in order to silence their conscience that tells them they are guilty before God, and that they know that they’re accountable because they’ve lied, stolen, looked at porn on the internet, when they’ve slept around, sinned outside of marriage. All sex outside of marriage of one man, one woman, is a sin against God. That’s what God says. Now that’s unpopular today. People in churches believe and tell us that homosexuality’s okay, they were just born that way – that’s a lie from the pit of Hell.

AM #10: Oh, really?

P: Yes.

AM #10: Really?

AM #5: Oh don’t even start…

P: [Inaudible] They feel in their heart, they’re not born that way. They’re not helpless. Homosexuality is an abomination-


Unknown sources: Shut up! Disgusting!

P: -sin against God! And Jesus Christ said unless you repent, you will perish, so… [Continues]

AM #11: You don’t have a busker’s licence – I am on the town council, listen to me. I am on the town council, listen to me sir. Please… please sir listen to me, please sir… you do not have a busker’s licence. SIR! You are now [inaudible], you don’t have a busker’s licence, you are not welcome in this town, you are a bigot sir. I am on the town council and I think I’m very right in saying that we do not want bigotry in this town.

AM #3: Hurray to the town council! Hurrah!


A queer atheist’s survival guide: thoughts from my friends’ church wedding

Four days ago, for the second time this year, I went to church. Some months ago an elderly friend died, through whose funeral – an Anglican affair, dusty and impersonal if dignified – I sat with family members; it was the first I ever attended, and on Saturday, also for the first time, two friends of mine got married.

Both knew me via interfaith exchanges and had wondered, I later learned, how likely my attendance was. Though I’d met them through a project which meant much to me, considered them good friends and was touched to be invited, despite our differences, to an event important to them, those differences remained: they were evangelicals, wed in Oxford’s most evangelical church, where I was an atheist hostile (and happily so) toward religion – moreover, a queer, polyamorous one of anti-marriage politics. It’s hard to imagine anything more contrary to my principles than a church wedding – but nonetheless, my friends’ was meaningful for them, and I was honoured to be invited.

With any luck, you’re beginning to sense cognitive dissonance. I attended this wedding to share in my friends’ happiness, not disparage its origins. Unliksie at my old friend’s funeral, or Christmas services through which atheists sit to please their parents, it wasn’t enough to put up with the ceremony – I wanted actively to enjoy it, and the point of my write-up here is to relate how it felt to attempt this. It’s one thing to let sermons fly over your head in secular passivity, putting aside the impulse to roll one’s eyes; it’s another, as a queer atheist marriagephobe in the pews, to grasp for a slice of the happy couple’s joy.

Without wishing to disappoint the groom, then, who asked that my account hold nothing back, this piece isn’t about what I found objectionable, but about my attempts to negotiate and ignore them while enjoying the proceedings and finding joy in them. I hope if you’re an atheist, or as uncomfortable at wedding services as I am, this post provides some thoughts on experiencing them with positivity, and that if you’re planning one as a serious believer, it helps you relate to your secular guests.

I doubt I’d succeed at either of these goals, though, if I didn’t outline what felt alien or uncomfortable.

To a great extent, all marriage involving the state makes my knuckles itch: to recognise some relationship structures as worthier than others (via the civil register or reference in law), or otherwise assume the state has anything to say about the legitimacy of our sexual and romantic choices, makes me uneasy. This goes for all state marriages (and civil partnerships), whether in churches or not, however secular or ‘progressive’. It’s a broad gripe, and not one overtly bugs me at weddings or stops me enjoying them, but a gripe I think bears mentioning nonetheless.

To a greater extent still, there are tropes and memes embedded in our marital traditions which I find unsettling, and which often appear around wholly secular nuptials. There is sexism, of course: in the idea of the bride’s white dress denoting virginity-therefore-purity (and, before that, wealth-therefore-beauty); in words like ‘husband’ and ‘groom’, suggestive more of an animal-keeper than a lover or partner; in the general heteronormative asymmetry of the bride and groom’s gendered roles; in the clichéd proffering of an engagement ring during proposals, as if to purchase love with shiny items of jewellery; in the possessive notion its presence will discourage unwanted suitors; in the ‘giving away’ of its wearer by her father, and his traditional payment for festivities, the relics of a time when daughters were commodities for trade.

There’s monogamy-worship too – the implicit treatment of lifelong, two-partner exclusivity as the only valid way to live and love – in our customs of congratulating the recently engaged and of applauding their marriage’s pronouncement, as if forming such a relationship were a greater achievement than forming a different kind; in our reference to friends’ wedding days as ‘the happiest of their life’, as if no one ever married more than once; in our statements the couple will be together ‘for the rest of their lives’, when half of marriages end in divorce. Our kidding ourselves about this suggests the dissolution of a marriage is shameful or humiliating, rather than a natural, often faultless development, and contributes to the idea relationships which don’t last till we die are worthless failures.

And it’s true, as well, that the religious elements at this wedding – the references to existential sin and shame, the implicitly homophobic, transphobic descriptions of marital relationships depending on ‘male’ and ‘female’ anatomy, the assertion of divine insistence that wives submit to husbands, and the direct instruction of the bride to speak to hers in a soft voice – made relating to it hard for me. There was the statement no married or loving relationship could succeed without God, the readings from scripture, the hymns involving blood and sacrifice; the question, directed at the congregation, will you pray for and support them in their marriage?

For all but the wateriest non-realists, prayer requires spiritual beliefs, of which I hold none – I wouldn’t be capable of it even if the idea appealed. While I hope my friends’ time together is filled with joy, and to be there for them if ever they should need me, I’m an atheist, and any claim I planned to pray for them would be a lie. I could no more join the collective We will in good conscience than the hymns or actual prayers of the ceremony, for which I remained quietly seated, head unbowed.

My instant urge is to defend myself from accusations of disrespect or spitefulness. I’ve witnessed discussions among atheists on how to conduct oneself in church for loved ones’ funerals or weddings, many of which inspired this post, and some of which involved the instruction to sing along, avoid making a scene and not be a dick. On entering the church, in fact, I sat discreetly in a small pew toward the back corner so as not to draw attention or seem hostile, curmudgeonly or insincere; the ceremony, after all, wasn’t about me.

Still, there are two things I’d ask here.

Firstly: why is atheists’ partial non-participation in rituals like these interpreted as spiteful, aggressive, insensitive and generally typical of negative atheist stereotypes – why did I fear I’d be perceived this way on selecting my seat, and why have I seen this characterisation of it elsewhere – when identical behaviour by non-Christian believers is viewed as peaceful, pious and worthy of respect? If I’d refrained from worshipping Christ because I was a devout Muslim or Jew, I can’t help feeling no one would doubt this showed my principles’ integrity, not disdain for the Christian couple or congregation; as an atheist, I worried I might give the latter impression. I don’t think all beliefs are equally valid (the contradictory ones couldn’t be), or claim to respect ones I think are false (the acid test for respecting beliefs, one can’t help feeling, is adopting them), but why is the conscientious value I attach to secular convictions deemed less legitimate than that which any believer attaches to their faith?

Secondly: given my friends knew on inviting me that I was an unbeliever; given they’ve heard me speak at length about why this is, and how little love I have for Christianity’s claims, surely to stand praisin’ Jesus among the crowd would be an insult? Surely it would ignore the reality of our friendship, which centres around our conflicting beliefs and has grown because of, not in spite of them? Surely the person they invited to witness their marriage was someone they knew to be secular in the ‘aggressive’, tabloid-paper sense – surely they wanted me there, and not a pretence? That ceremony was important to them. While I don’t share their belief in the ceremony’s sacredness, at least in a theistic sense, I can acknowledge it; and to lie to my friends on a day sacrosanct to them, behaving with no integrity, seems like a desecration – a transgression almost akin to blasphemy. (Almost.)

As it turned out, there was much about this wedding which I enjoyed, and which I focused on appreciating. One half of the couple was American, the other South African, and the service mixed national customs intriguingly: the wearing of dinner jackets to weddings, a U.S. habit which continues to mystify me, was dispensed with in favour of traditional morning dress (albeit it outfitted with a large, rather striking white rose instead of a carnation), but the maid-of-honour’s distinctive procession – bobbing recognisably down the aisle before, not after, the bride – remained in place. Brooke Fraser’s ‘Love is Waiting’ was sung, deftly, in place of Mendelssohn or Handel, as novel and interesting a departure from tradition as the playing of James Brown to close the service, and on standing for the entrance of the bride I was aware the church was unusually bright and airy for one of its age.

Of all the spaces I might have been in, this was a good one, and I blocked out the Jesus-songs to concentrate on appreciating that, besides the pleasant music and the happiness of my friends. (While I abstained from all the hymns, some were better than others; I should probably admit a soft spot for ‘Be Thou My Vision’.) Afterward, undulating through buffet tables laden with cakes and appetising, unusually plentiful soft drinks, which spread end to end across a tennis court sized room, I thanked the musicians for performing as well as they had, wished the newlyweds the best of times together and socialised with mutual friends, bumping occasionally into their family members.

To focus on drawing enjoyment from all of the above and not the elements which troubled me, so as to share a portion of my friends’ happiness, took a certain amount of cognitive effort. It was, after all, a situational compromise. When I attend religious events, as I did last summer, it’s usually to provide secular commentary and criticism, and I think in general that preachers who teach existential shame to children (several were present) and advocate poor gender politics deserve to be challenged. But this wasn’t for my presence on Saturday, and would have come between me and what I was there to do – namely, sharing an important moment non-judgementally with people I like. Dwelling on the less comfortable aspects was an intuitive but undesirable temptation, an itch not to be scratched, and devoting concentration to the positives meant assuming a perspective very unfamiliar to me, like squinting or tilting one’s to the side in a museum so as to appreciate a work of art’s hidden details. Squinting mentally for the best part of an hour, especially when bombarded with things you’re used to scrutinising with a burning stare, is difficult: it required a degree of self-awareness and mindset-control rarely asked of me.

And this is why, when the person in the next seat began to evangelise, my temper frayed.

As I waited for things to start, he had asked if the place was free, and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. When my hometown came up, so did his attendance of its annual evangelical convention, and to stem any awkwardness should he assume I was a Christian, I casually volunteered my atheism. Beyond being told he was an atheist but became a Christian, there was little follow-through until after the service, when he asked if I was secular-minded for any particular reason. My response – that in the absence of a God-shaped hole inside me, I simply don’t find religions’ claims convincing – seemed not to satisfy him, and he took to asking which churches in Oxford I’d attended and how many times, before inviting me to the weekly Christianity Explored discussion group. (I shan’t be going. He might be glad of this.)

In other contexts, I wouldn’t mind so much. I’m a believer, on the whole, in defending the beliefs by which we live, and not against arguing about who’s right. In the meetings from which I knew the bride and groom, I was hotseated more often than anyone, and I didn’t resent this – I enjoyed it, in fact. But isn’t there a time and a place for this? My statement I didn’t believe wasn’t an invitation to grill me, but a heads-up, a (perhaps too) subtle message not to engage me in prayer or worship should the time come, an attempt to have my partial non-participation read as an act of sincerity, not spite. If he’d really been desperate to take me to task, I’d have happily supplied my e-mail address or directed him to this blog, but as it was, I attended this wedding to honour my friends, not defend my worldview or interrogate theirs, and the energy it took not to breathe fire on him for doorstepping me this way was energy I needed to focus on mental squinting; on forgetting about worldviews and enjoying my surroundings.

If you should find yourself the believer in this scenario, non-atheist readers, don’t interpret your neighbour’s statement of atheism as summons to interrogate them; it’s likely that at this moment, beliefs are the last thing they want to discuss. Don’t raise the standard of your former non-belief as a smug, I-used-to-be-an-atheist standard – just because you changed your mind doesn’t mean you should have – and don’t imply you therefore understand their perspective while acting in a way that shows you don’t. And don’t assume, without a shade of self-awareness, that your interlocutor was never a believer or knows nothing about your religion, inviting them to come and think about what Bible says.

In any case, I’m glad I attended – whatever the cause, two thoroughly happy friends was a pleasing sight on my last weekend in Oxford. All that remains is to say what I would have said, if asked to offer a secular prayer for the ceremony.

As an atheist, I don’t think love can last forever. As a skeptic, I don’t believe in any ultimate design for our relationships – whether God’s, the fates’ or the aligning planets’ – and I recognise it’s significantly likely any marriage will end in divorce.

I know: you’re glad I didn’t say this there and then. But there’s a serious point to be made about our mysticism around partnering: when people are forthright and realistic about relationships, we deem them unromantic and cold-hearted. This is what the atheist comedian Tim Minchin discusses in his song ‘If I Didn’t Have You’; we imagine that the only proper way to acknowledge love is with grandiose, wildly improbable declarations about destiny or everlasting emotional bonds. I think, conversely, that acknowledging love’s own wild improbability is a promising means by which to celebrate it.

The odds of live on earth in the first place are wicked slim; add to that the challenge of being born, and the startling unlikelihood of matter, memory and experience assembling into you, and individual selfhood for a start is a thing uncanny. It seems at least doubly unlikely, then, to meet another individual so well suited to you that you want to share large portions of your life with them – and yet it happens, again and again.

No, these kinds of partnerships don’t last forever, and most don’t last for life, but meeting partners with whom we want to form them is itself phenomenal. I’ve practiced polyamory in great part because I’m not the best fit for many people, but am a good fit for plenty, and have shared parts of my existence joyously with them. For however long their marriage lasts, and whatever its passage entails, it’s pretty extraordinary that my friends should find one another as complementary as they seem to. This kind of total, permanent monogamy is a comparative erotic neologism – it flies in the face of our species’ history and our brains’ evolution, wired on the whole for something broader and more various. Love like this is always star-crossed, in a sense, ignoring its own improbability in human flesh and an indifferent universe, occurring nonetheless. That, one might say, is almost miraculous. Almost.