Geraldine Fibbers’ “Richard”: Atheism in Pop Culture

Geraldine_fibbersI’ve been paying attention lately to pop culture depictions of atheism. Not so much to the usual dumb stereotypes of atheists — cynical, hyper-rational, dismissive of emotions, unable to make a leap of faith, yada yada yada — but to pop culture that seems to be depicting an atheist or atheist-friendly viewpoint.

One that’s been leaping out at me lately is the Geraldine Fibbers song “Richard,” off their “Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home” CD. The song as a whole is a “devil wreaking entertaining havoc” song, interestingly mashed-up as a lesbian love story with a happy ending. But the second verse is the one that’s jumping out at me. At first listen, it plays like your basic obscure, enigmatic, magic realism. But when you remember that “fish” is/are a common symbol for Christ and Christianity, it all falls into place. The verse goes like this:

In an hour and a half the devil was down by the sea
working strange mischief on her bride to be.
Seems the pretty girl was laughing as her world was filled with doubt,
she laughed as her own head was chopped off
and the fish came spilling out.
Watching the fish swim into the sea through a river of red, she said,
“I’ve been wondering what’s been troubling my head.
And I thank you for expelling those irritating pests,
now if you’d slap me back together I’ll be at my very best,
and we can go you devil, we can go.”

I just love it. Especially the girl laughing as her world is filled with doubt; going “I’ve been wondering what’s been bugging me!” as the fish pour out of her head; and flirting with the devil-girl who cut off her head and emptied the fish out of it. I like this girl, and want to meet her. She’s saucy.

And speaking of contra dancing…

Contra_2Contra dancing is easy to learn, friendly to beginners, and welcoming to people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations. And it’s enormously, boisterously, ecstatically fun. It’s grand DIY non-corporate fun, a natural anti-depressant, a chance to meet and mingle with folks of all ages and genders and sexual orientations, in a friendly, attitude-resistant environment, with no alcohol or flashing lights or thumpa-thumpa house music.

Swing2At least, it is the way we do it at the SF Bay Queer Contra. The last dance of this season is coming up tomorrow (Saturday June 30), so this is your last chance until the fall to come check it out. All the dances are taught and called, and typically a good half of the people on the dance floor are beginners; so if you’ve never done it before, you’ll be in good company and you’ll be well taken care of. We dance to lively live music, which makes it all even better; and you don’t need to bring a partner, as changing partners promiscuously throughout the evening is a traditional part of the fun. Cheap, too — admission is $10 or pay what you can. And while the dance is aimed at the queer community, we genuinely welcome queer-friendly folks of all orientations.

BalanceThe June 30 dance will be at the Women’s Building in San Francisco, 3543 18th Street between Valencia and Guerrero in San Francisco, near the 16th Street BART station. There’s a parking lot on 21st Street between Valencia and Mission that usually has parking in the early evening. The doors open at 7:30 and the dance starts at 8:00; beginners are encouraged to arrive early, since that’s when most of the teaching happens. For more info about who we are and what exactly we do, or to see more photos of it, visit our Website. Hope to see you there!

Getting Older Means Never Having To Care About What’s Cool

American_idol_logoA friend recently sent me a YouTube video clip from American Idol, and I was struck for about the eighty zillionth time by how out of touch I’ve become with contemporary pop culture.

People_magazineWhen I was in my twenties, it’s not that I liked every top 40 recording artist or Top 10 movie. But I pretty much knew who or what most of them were. Now I look at this American Idol montage of celebrities lip-synching to Staying Alive, and I’m lucky if I can identify one out of three. Same with People Magazine. Not only do I not recognize the famous people, I don’t even know who they are when it’s explained to me. “Oh, she was in ‘Five’s a Crowd’ for a season, and ‘Houseboat Surprise,’ and that miniature golf movie with Adam Sandler.” Huh?

Now usually, my reaction to this has been, “Oh, I’m getting so very very old.” I’m 45, and the world of pop culture is passing me by. Pop culture is aimed squarely at the 18-24 set, and I am losing my coolness by the minute. I am already less cool now than I was when I started this post.

But as I was watching this silly American Idol montage, it struck me: There’s another reason I don’t know who these people are.

I don’t care.

Modern_brideWhen Ingrid and I were planning our wedding, I picked up some bridal magazine at the hairdresser’s, and it had all this stuff about what bridesmaid’s colors and cake flavors and honeymoon destinations were “in” this year. And I remember thinking, “It’s your wedding! What could possibly be less relevant that what’s ‘in’? Who cares what colors and vacation spots other people like? It’s your fucking wedding! What do you like?”

This_film_is_not_yet_ratedAnd that’s the other side of getting older. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten significantly better at just liking the things I like, and not giving a shit about whether they’re cool. I like contra dancing, documentaries, cat-eye glasses, graphic novels, spanking porn, comfortable cotton clothing, Richard Dawkins, Harry Potter, atheist bloggers, weightlifting, The Office. And I don’t give shit if any of it is on the Vice magazine What’s Hot list.

Radiohead_ok_computerNow, I do resist some things about being a codger. I make a conscious effort, for instance, to listen to at least some music made by bands and musicians who are still playing. I never want to be one of those people who only listens to music they listened to in college… and who insists that popular music has all gone downhill since then. In fact, some of my favorite music — Radiohead, Iron & Wine, Low, White Stripes, DJ Danger Mouse, Be Good Tanyas, yada yada yada — is made by performers who are still playing.

MadonnaAnd it’s not like the twenty-something people I know are mindless pop culture drones. They aren’t; no more than I was when I was twenty-something. This isn’t about liking or conforming to pop culture. It’s about having a baseline familiarity with it. Knowing about it, having an opinion about it, having it be a reasonably big part of the world you walk in. That’s what’s changed. For me, anyway.

Circle_of_two_arrowsI’m not sure what’s the cart and what’s the horse. Do older people respond less to pop culture because it isn’t aimed at us… or is pop culture not aimed at older people because we don’t respond to it as much? The former is at least partly true; what with the whole disposable income thing, and our youth-obsessed culture in which young people set the trends.

ContraBut I think the latter may be true as well. Speaking for myself, getting older has meant getting to know myself and what I do and don’t like better. And it’s meant getting to know the world a little better and what it has to offer. I’ve seen more of the world’s nooks and crannies than I had at 25, enough to have found ones that hold my interest more than the broader cultural brushstrokes. I know the world well enough to know that contra dancing is in it… and I know myself well enough to know that I think contra dancing is wicked cool. And I’ve wasted enough time in the past — and have little enough of it left — to waste any of it caring who Ryan Seacrest is.

Tag, I’m It! Eight Short Posts About Greta Christina

TagSusie Bright tagged me in one of these damn online tag games. Actually, I kind like these blog tag games — they get me thinking in different ways, and they give me something to blog about when I’m running dry. This one is peculiarly intense, though, and took a fair amount of work.

Here are the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

LotterySo here are my eight things. They’re obviously not random in any literal sense — it’s not like I put every fact about myself into a paper bag and pulled out eight. So I’m interpreting “random” to mean “things that people
who read my blog might not know about me, on a variety of topics, most of which I wouldn’t normally blog about.”

They are:

Lab_school1. I once dated a guy who was about ten years younger than me, and it turned out that we had briefly gone to the same school — him when he was in kindergarden, me when I was in high school. I didn’t have a problem being in my thirties dating a guy in his twenties; but when it occurred to me that I probably saw this kid playing on the jungle gym when I was sneaking off behind Rockefeller Chapel to get stoned — and was now fucking him — it was a little weird.

Bridezillas1dvd2. When Ingrid and I were in the midst of planning our wedding, I became briefly obsessed with the TV show “Bridezillas.” I stopped watching when I realized that I was becoming increasingly sympathetic with the women on the show.

Muni_bus3. When I’m on the bus and I hear people laughing, my first reaction is to assume that they’re laughing at me.

Billboard4. In 1992 I won the use of a billboard for a month. (Context: I was a mildly rabid baseball fan in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and for a couple of years I was a mini-season-ticket holder for the Oakland A’s. I won the billboard in a 25th anniversary sweepstakes they had for season ticket holders.) I think they assumed the winner would have their billboard say “Happy Birthday Mom” or “I Love You, Sheila, Will You Marry Me?” But it was an election year, so I had my billboard run in October, and I had it say:

Over 45,000 Americans have died of AIDS.
One of them was my friend Rob Tyler.
Who are you voting for?

Pink_flamingos_dvd5. I first saw “Pink Flamingos” my freshman year in college, and was so upset and outraged that I walked out after 20 minutes — and wrote an outraged letter to the editor of the college newspaper, lambasting my fellow students for laughing. (I should have known that, poetic justice being what it is, I’d grow up to be a perverted porn writer, not to mention a John Waters fan.)

1st_waltz_16. Ingrid is not the first person in my life to tell me, “If you’re upset with me, I want to know about it.” But she is the first person in my life to make me believe that she meant it.

Lsd_sheet7. I once had an LSD trip in which I hallucinated that my self — my consciousness — had somehow gotten separated from my bank of memories and feelings and ideas. It felt very real and was extremely frightening, and I spent the rest of the trip — several hours — painstakingly picking through this enormous body of stuff that seemed to be floating around underneath me, and trying to decide which of them were really me, and which were just flotsam. (“Do I really feel that way? No, that’s just something my mother used to frighen me with.” “Do I really believe that? Yes, I think I do. I’ll hang on to that.”) It was an exhausting emotional wringer… but at the end of it, I felt incredibly liberated, like I’d lightened myself of a huge load of useless crap that had just been gumming up the works.

Magritte8. One the best Halloween costumes I ever did was the year I dressed as a Magritte painting. I wore a double-breasted suit and a bowler hat, and painted my face sky blue with clouds.

And finally, a bonus round:

9. I like big butts, and I cannot lie.

Swan_wingAnd now for my tagees. I cheated here and emailed people beforehand asking if they wanted to be tagged, but I could only round up seven players. I feel a bit like the girl in that fairy tale who knitted shirts out of nettles for her seven brothers to turn them back from swans to people, but didn’t have time to finish the last one, so the youngest brother was stuck with one swan’s wing. But I’m tired of asking around, and I want to play this damn game and get it over with. So if you want to be the eighth blogger in this game, holler. First come first served. Thanks to the excellent bloggers who said they’d play! They are, in alphabetical order:

C4bl3Fl4m3

Friendly Atheist

Letters From a Broad

Literate Perversions

Lusty Lady (Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Reverse Cowgirl

truthpleasuretikkun

The First Good One: The Blowfish Blog

I have a new piece up at the Blowfish Blog, and this is how it starts:

We talk a lot about The First Time. As a society we’re a little bit fixated on it. Losing your virginity, and the person you lost it with — it’s a rite of passage that we’ve made important to the point of making it a fetish.

But as rites of passage go, the loss of virginity can be dicey. It was for me, anyway. Sure it was important; but it was also awkward, depressing, and anticlimactic. Emphasis on the “anticlimactic.”

And I think that experience is not uncommon.

So I want to talk about something else. I don’t want to talk about the first person I had sex with

I want to talk about the first person I had good sex with.

That’s the teaser. The rest of the post is now up at the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy! And when you’re there, be sure tell me about the first good sex you ever had.

Note to family members and others who may not want to read graphic details about my sexual history: This post contains graphic details about my sexual history. Just so you know.

Lost Girls: A Review

I wrote this review for Adult FriendFinder magazine, but for some reason the publication got delayed, so the reprint rights only recently returned to me. Enjoy!

Lostgirls_15

Lost Girls
by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
Top Shelf Comix, ISBN 1-891830-74-0. $75.00.

It’s not just that it’s surprising — although it is. The first printing of “Lost Girls” — 10,000 copies — sold out in a day. The second printing, also of 10,000 copies, sold out in advance two days later. The day the book went on sale, it hit Amazon.com’s “Top 20.” And it’s gotten passionate rave reviews, not just from the adult press, but from places like Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today, Kirkus Reviews, Variety, Booklist, and many, many others — and from individuals ranging from Neil Gaiman to Brian Eno to Susie Bright.

A pretty surprising response for a book of pornography — and even more surprising given that it’s essentially a big, beautifully-made dirty comic book.

Lostgirls_09It’s not just that it’s groundbreaking, either — although it is. I’ve been reading (and writing about) adult comics and graphic novels for many years, and not only have I never seen anything like “Lost Girls” — I’ve never seen anything that comes close. “Lost Girls” is a full-length, three-volume, adult graphic novel that attempts to be both pornographically hot and artistically substantial… and that overwhelmingly succeeds at both. Now, I’ve seen excellent work in adult comics before — fun dirty comics with good stories and good art, comics that gave me new perspectives on sex while they were making me shove my hand in my pants. That’s not new.

Lostgirls_11But I’ve never seen anything this ambitious, with this much labor lavished on it — Moore and Gebbie spent sixteen years on the project. And I’ve never seen an adult graphic novel with anywhere near this much depth and breadth. “Lost Girls” has single-handedly raised the bar on dirty comics and graphic novels, destroying with a single stroke every snarky, dismissive assumption about what the genre can do. It’s profoundly important for that reason alone.

Lostgirls_01And it’s not just that it’s ravishingly beautiful — although it absolutely is. A hefty, hardbound, three-volume deluxe boxed set printed on thick, archival paper, the book is a sensual treat just to pick up and hold. Then when you open it up, the sensual treats pour out like a river. The elegant, luscious color art, influenced by Victorian and Edwardian illustrators of all genres, is both finely detailed and lush. And the exquisite beauty of the art takes the explicit images — explicit, excessive, wildly promiscuous, profoundly filthy, often perverse images — and makes them seductive and intriguing, like an upper-class courtesan or a handsome rake.

Yes, “Lost Girls” is all these things — surprising, groundbreaking, stunningly beautiful. But it’s also — and perhaps most importantly — all these things… while at the same time remaining blindingly hot.

Lostgirls_04There is way too much erotica in the world that’s artful and touching but completely forgets to grab your cock or tickle your clit. “Lost Girls” isn’t among them. Co-creator Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “From Hell,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) has said flat-out that “Lost Girls” is not erotica — it’s pornography. It’s a story about sex, not love. And it’s clearly meant to get you off on almost every page. The first-rate storytelling and superb artwork are in service to the lewd, sybaritic sex … every bit as much as the smutty sex is in service to the story and the art.

Lostgirls_08In fact, the art and the smut aren’t separate. They’re intricately entwined, each supporting the other. This isn’t one of those art-smut books that alternates between plot and sex scene, plot and sex scene. Not only does the smut not conflict with the art and the story — there’s never a hint that they should conflict. When you read “Lost Girls,” the all-too-common idea that porn can have quality or heat, but never both at once, seems like a fading memory of a truly ridiculous bad dream.

Lostgirls_03Gosh, I’ve told you all this stuff about how great the book is, and I haven’t even told you what it’s about! “Lost Girls” is a re-imagining of three characters from classic children’s stories: Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” Wendy from “Peter Pan,” and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” All grown up now, Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy meet at an elegantly decadent Austrian hotel just before the start of World War I. The three women — a decadent and seductive older Alice, a repressed and conventional middle-aged Wendy, and a young, adventurous, exuberantly horny Dorothy — soon discover that they have similarly bizarre sexual pasts. In the midst of seducing one another — along with the hotel staff, other guests, and anyone else they can get their hands on — they tell each other their histories… illustrated, of course, in full detail.

Lostgirls_12I won’t spoil things for you by telling those stories here. I’ll let you discover them for yourself. What I will say is that each of the stories is inspired by the children’s book it’s based on. Wendy does her sexual exploring with an innocent band of lost urchins; Alice does hers with a dizzying cast of fascinating but often selfish or cruel characters; and Dorothy does hers with an assortment of farm hands in sore need of brains, heart, and courage.

And when entwined with the women’s present-tense lives and explorations, their histories become more than just porny flashbacks. They become complicated ballets of the shaping of sexuality, sagas of sexual trauma and sexual healing, with the women’s libidos becoming stunted or nourished or twisted — or a little bit of all three.

Lostgirls_06On a purely smutty level, of course, the sexual images in “Lost Girls” are intensely compelling — a diversely perverted medley of lesbianism, heterosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, foot fetishism, orgies, sex toys, sadomasochism, dominance, role-playing, game-playing, and more, with a side story of male homosexuality thrown in for good measure. But both the sex and the story are made even more compelling — and more erotic — by the fact that, despite the sybaritic fantasy world the women lose themselves in, the sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sex is a powerful force in “Lost Girls,” with the power not only to create the ecstasy of a moment, but to drive and shape an entire life. Unlike so much porn that somehow dismisses sex even as it places it center stage, the sex in “Lost Girls” is never trivialized. It matters.

And that, all by itself, makes it a rare and important piece of work.

Now, before you go running to the bookstore with your credit card in hand, there’s something important you should know about “Lost Girls.” And that’s that it depicts underaged characters having sex.

Frequently. It’s not just in a scene or two — it’s all over the book. In fact, it’s one of the central themes of the book: how sexual experiences in youth can shape not only your adult sexuality, but your entire adult outlook on life.

Lostgirls_10Now, I happen to think that “Lost Girls” deals with this subject tastefully and thoughtfully, in a way that acknowledges the sexuality of minors without exploiting it. And when I say “minors,” I’m not talking about five-year-olds — the underaged characters in “Lost Girls” are, for the most part, in the fifteen-to-sixteen year old range, not legal in most states but not children either. More importantly, while the sexual play among minors is generally depicted as joyful and healthy and even innocent, the book has nothing but harsh words — and pictures — for any predatory adults who tamper with them.

But I realize that this topic pushes huge buttons for a lot of people — not unreasonably — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And in fact, it raises a crucial question: If it’s profoundly fucked-up for adults to be messing with minors, what makes it okay for adults to get off reading this smutty graphic novel about minors?

The authors don’t ignore this apparent contradiction — they deal with it head-on. In the third volume of “Lost Girls,” the proprietor of the hotel — and the creator of a pornographic book that he’s thoughtfully placed in every room — discusses this very question, in a voice that sounds suspiciously like the authors explaining their own erotic philosophy.

Lostgirls_07“You see?” the hotel owner says of his lavishly perverted porno book. “Incest, c’est vrai, it is a crime, but this? This is the idea of incest, no? And then these children: how outrageous! How old can they be? Eleven? Twelve? It is quite monstrous… except that they are fictions, as old as the page they appear upon, no less, no more. Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them… You see, if this were real, it would be horrible. Children raped by their trusted parents. Horrible. But they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence. Why, they are almost innocent.”

Lostgirls_14In other words, pornography, by its very nature, is consensual. Certainly pornographic writing and drawing is. The creator consents to make it; the audience consents to look at it; and nobody else has to be involved. Getting excited by immoral acts in a porn story is no more immoral than getting excited by immoral acts in a crime or horror story — and it doesn’t violate anyone.

Lostgirls_05_2Of course, the sex in “Lost Girls” isn’t uncontaminated by effect and consequence. It’s not some silly Victorian smut novel where incest and rape happen blithely with no repercussion but the reader’s orgasm. The women in “Lost Girls” are real characters, and while their sex lives are definitely on the fantastic and implausible side, you still care about how they feel and what’s going to happen to them next.

Lostgirls_13But that’s one of the things that makes “Lost Girls” so brilliant — not just artistically brilliant, but erotically brilliant. It makes the more twisted and perverse parts of the story that much more intense, by making you believe in the characters and care about how they turn out. Yet at the same time, it explicitly gives you permission to get off, even on the seriously fucked-up stuff — by reminding you that porn is fiction, and fiction is always consensual.

I could nitpick the book if I wanted to. I could point out that Dorothy’s Midwestern farm-girl accent doesn’t ring true. Or that some of the parallels with the original children’s stories are cutesy and awkward. Or that not all of the art is consistently stunning — some of it is merely lovely. I could even nitpick about how the deluxe oversized printing makes one-handed reading a challenge (the books are a bit too heavy to read with one hand, and they’re far too pretty and expensive for you to want to get goo all over them).

LostgirlsBut none of this matters in the slightest. Of course I could nitpick on “Lost Girls,” and if there were more books like it, I might be more inclined to do so. But “Lost Girls” is a first, an important and groundbreaking book as well as a beautiful and blisteringly hot one, and I have no desire to lay anything on it other than praise. “Lost Girls” hasn’t just raised the bar for adult comics and graphic novels — it’s grabbed the bar and raced up the stairs with it, and is now dangling the bar over our heads from several stories high, waving it triumphantly and daring everyone else to chase it. And I passionately hope that its success — both artistically and commercially — inspires other serious comic artists to dip their pens into the murky but fertile well of pornography, and see what they come up with.

(P.S. Quick conflict-of-interest confession: I work for a company, Last Gasp, that sells Lost Girls. That’s not how I found out about it, but it’s how I managed to get my mitts on a first printing.)

The National Porn Sunday Elephant

No, really.

I swear, I am not making this up.

ElephantIt sounds like one of my stranger dreams. “I dreamed that a right-wing Christian organization was trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town.” I was almost tempted to file it in my dream diary.

But this is a real thing. There’s an anti-porn Christian-Right campaign that has selected October 7th as National Porn Sunday, a day to draw attention to what they see as the national problem of pornography. Because they see porn as the “elephant in the room” (or the “elephant in the pew”) that nobody talks about, they are publicizing National Porn Sunday by taking a 25-foot inflatable blue elephant on a 20-city tour.

The National Porn Sunday Elephant.

I have been having giggle-fits about it all day.

Monty_pythonThe thing that keeps striking me about the National Porn Sunday Elephant is how much the phrase sounds like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A collection of adjectives and nouns that are grammatically correct, and yet apparently selected almost entirely at random. Like a phrase someone would say if they had brain damage in Wernicke’s area. Noam Chomsky composed a famous sentence (I believe it’s in Bartlett’s Quotations) to demonstrate that a sentence can make perfect syntactical sense without making any semantic sense: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” That’s what the National Porn Sunday Elephant sounds like.

I’m not going to get into the actual hysterical absurdity of trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town. I’m certainly not going to get into the assumption that the existence and use of porn is a problem. I’m not even going to ask why the National Porn Sunday Elephant is blue.

I’m just going to say over and over again:

ElephantNational Porn Sunday Elephant.

(Via Feministing. The finest source for all your porn Sunday elephant news.)

The Problem of Suffering

Note: In this post, I do something I don’t often do — namely, make an argument for why I think religion is mistaken. Or classic Christian religion, anyway. If this is something you think you’ll be offended by, now might be a good time to stop reading.

Touch_of_evilThe classic big argument against the existence of God — or at least, against an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God — has always been the problem of evil. If you’re older than ten years old, you’ve almost certainly heard it: Why does evil exist? Why did God create us with the capacity for evil and the desire to do it? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Free_willBut for me, evil isn’t so much the problem. Evil can be more or less answered by free will: God wants us to have free will, so he has to allow us to do evil things. I don’t think it’s a tremendously good answer, and it’s one I ultimately don’t agree with; but it’s not an entirely unreasonable answer, and it’s one that takes a certain amount of debate and back-and-forthing to really counter.

The big problem for me is the problem of suffering — suffering that’s NOT caused by people.

TsunamiTsunamis. Droughts. Birth defects. Painful, drawn-out illnesses. Five year old children with cancer. That sort of thing.

This is not suffering caused by people with free will. If you believe in God, then you believe that this is suffering caused by God.

Blake_god_1Now, the usual answer to these things is “God moves in mysterious ways.” Yes, God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good (let’s call it APAKAG from here on out) — but we can’t possibly understand his plan. Maybe he wants these bad things to happen so something good can happen later, or to build character, or for some reason we can’t understand because we’re not as all-knowing as he is.

This, unlike free will, is an entirely unsatisfying answer. And not just because so many people use it in such a weasely way, explaining every good thing as being proof of God’s benevolence and every bad thing as mysterious ways.

It’s unsatisfying because it renders the entire concept of good and evil meaningless.

Far_side_god_1If God behaves in ways that would be considered unspeakably cruel and brutal if any of us did it, and yet is still considered good — not just good, but the apotheosis of good — than what on Earth does it mean to be good?

For God, or for us?

If you’re going to say that God causes these sorts of suffering, on purpose and with the power and knowledge not to do so — if you’re going to say that he has the power to prevent or stop this suffering, and doesn’t — and you’re still going to say that he’s good, then what possible meaning does the word “good” have anymore?

TornadoIf you say that, then you’re pretty much saying that what it means for God to be “good,” and what it means for us to be “good,” are such radically different concepts that the one has virtually nothing to do with the other. If our human understanding of good and evil have any meaning and any basis in reality, then God has pretty much got to be evil — brutally, cruelly evil. But if God causes horrible suffering for the duration of people’s lives when he has the power and know-how not to, and yet is nevertheless somehow good, then what it means for God to be “good” is so far removed from what it means for us to be “good” that it becomes an irrelevant abstraction.

And I don’t think the concepts of good and evil are, or should be, irrelevant abstractions.

CreationNow, you could argue that God doesn’t cause these things to happen. He merely allows them to happen. You could argue that God set the world and its physical laws into motion, but intervenes in that world only rarely.

HurricaneritaBut that just begs the question. If you have the power and the know-how to prevent or stop suffering — if in fact it would be easy for you to do so — and you merely stand by and do nothing… I suppose it’s not quite as evil as causing the suffering, but it sure is in the same ballpark. And besides, if God is APAKAG, why did he set the world into motion in a way that results in tsunamis and birth defects and pediatric cancer? Even a non-interventionist APAKAG creator god is still, by definition, morally responsible for the world he created.

Polio_vaccine_2And you could make the pet or parent comparison. Sometimes pet owners or parents have to do things to their pets or kids that cause suffering — taking them to the vet, pulling out splinters, not letting them eat whatever they want, etc. — in order to bring about some other good.

CatfishBut the problem with that is omnipotence. I’m a pet owner, and if I could avoid pinning my cat down, sticking her in the back of the neck with a sharp needle, and dripping 150 ml of fluids under her skin, every day for the rest of her life, you’re damn well right I’d do it. I do it because I’m not omnipotent — I have limited power, and that’s the only thing I can do within my extremely limited power to keep her alive and healthy.

Heaven_south_parkAnd you could argue that heaven is for eternity and this lifetime is an eyeblink, and the suffering of this lifetime compared to the eternity of bliss in heaven is like one stubbed toe in a lifetime.

NeedleBut again, I make the pet owner comparison. We only spend a couple minutes a day sticking a needle in the back of my cat’s neck… but she really really hates it, and she doesn’t understand why we do it, and if I could avoid causing her that suffering for that two minutes a day I would.

Sistine_godIf I — a reasonably good person, but very far from All Good — would avoid sticking my cat with a needle for a couple of minutes a day if I could, then wouldn’t an All-Good God avoid visiting people with tsunamis and droughts and birth defects and childhood cancer if he could?

It doesn’t make sense. And in order to try to make it make sense, you have to redefine the concept of goodness so radically, twist it around in such contortions, that it bears no relation to any kind of human understanding of goodness.

Willow_treeWhat makes sense is a world without an APAKAG God. As Julia Sweeney says in her performance piece “Letting Go of God,” “The world behaves exactly as you expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.” What makes sense is a world in which tsunamis and droughts and birth defects and childhood cancer happen, not because of some God who could stop them from happening if he wanted to but mysteriously doesn’t, but because of the laws of physical cause and effect, the laws of physics and meteorology and biology and genetics.

None of which needs to be explained in terms of good and evil.

Jesus Cry and Cream Pie Sex: How Did You Find My Blog?

Cream_pieI’ve started looking up the search parameters people use to find my blog, and I thought I’d share some of the funnier ones with y’all. Just today, we had:

“what does jesus cry mean” (linked to Mitt Romney: Gay Marriage Makes Baby Jesus Cry)

“barack obama illuminati” (linked to The Erotic Illuminati! — wow, are people still paranoid about the Illuminati? That’s so quaint!)

“sexual cream pie” and “cream pie sex” (linked to Dream diary, 5/21/06: Cream pie and Star Trek)

“boys blouse punishment” (linked to This Week)

And my very, very favorite — one that actually crops up in one form or another on a fairly regular basis –

Fred_flintstone“flintstone sex” (linked to How Fred Flintstone Got Home, Got Wild, and Got a Stone Age Life — what does it mean?)

Mostly I just get a perverse giggle imagining people’s reactions when they’re searching for, for instance, “sex in parking garage” and wind up with my critique of the Ninth and Bryant parking garage as “a Dadaist masterpiece.” And Dog only knows what the cream pie people think of my dream diary. I just hope some of these people stick around for more.

But now I’m curious. How did you find my blog? I mean, if you’re a friend or co-worker or family member, you don’t have to explain — I pretty much shoved it down your throat. But if you’re someone I never met: How did you stumble upon this blog? Was it another blog, a friend of a friend, a Google search for cream pie sex — what?

And by the way, can I just ask: Blouse punishment?

Christian Spanking Porn: The Blowfish Blog

(I don’t really talk about my own sex life in this piece, but it may still be too much information for family members and others with, you know, boundaries. So be advised.)

HandThis one is a doozy, folks. If you read only one piece I write this week, make it this piece.

It’s Christian Spanking Porn. One of the stranger cultural twists I’ve come across in some time. It’s got sex, religion, kink, gender politics, questions about consent… all mixed up in a fascinating, disturbing, completely bizarre stew. And I blog about it over at the Blowfish Blog. The gist of it… well, here’s the teaser.

BeltA CDD (Christian Domestic Discipline) marriage is “set up according to Biblical standards; that is, the husband is the authority in the household. The wife is submissive to her husband as is fit in the Lord and her husband loves her as himself… He has the authority to spank his wife for punishment… ” Etc.

There are, of course, websites. And this website (apparently the main one) has advice, information… and spanking fiction.

“Romances,” with spankings at the core, labeled for sale by how heavy the spankings are (“contains moderate spanking,” “moderate to slightly severe spanking,” “the spanking in this novel is very mild”).

In other words — spanking porn.

And it creeps me out.

So I’m trying to decide whether that creeped-outedness is fair.

Fascinating. Disturbing. Completely bizarre. Check it out.