Literally

No, this isn’t about literal interpretations of the Bible. It’s about the word “literally.”

Language_instinctFaithful readers of this blog will know that, when it comes to language, I’m a fairly ardent usagist/ descriptivist. I think language is a biological function that depends on constant change in order to work. I tend to embrace changes in the language rather than resisting them. I think grammar books would be more effective if they taught the rules of the language as it actually is, rather than as the authors think it ought to be. And I think that arguing “that’s not what this word really means,” when it’s how the majority of people using the language use it and understand it, is absurd. There is no objective, Platonic form of the word “nice” — it means what we understand it to mean.

MagritteBut while I am a passionate descriptivist, I’m not a hard-line one. I understand that, while language has to change in order to work, it also has to have some consistency in order to work. If we don’t agree on what the words we use mean (as well as on the structures we use put them together), then language becomes nonsense. And while I think it’s silly to resist changes in the language just on principle, I think it is worth discussing whether any particular change is necessary, desirable, comprehensible, and/or graceful.

Which brings me back to “literally.”

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Shout-Outs to my Godless Homies!

WritingA couple of shout-outs to some great godless bloggers. There was a standout piece in this week’s Carnival of the Godless, a deceptively simply little ditty from Spanish Inquisitor titled Why Didn’t Jesus Write?

This question — and the whole host of questions that it raises — is so obvious, I’m slapping myself on the head for it not having occurred to me before. The guy was supposedly God. He could turn water into wine, feed the multitudes with a couple of loaves and fishes, heal the sick, raise the dead. But he couldn’t write down his teachings, to avoid twenty centuries of squabbling and warfare about what he really meant? Brilliant. Go read it.

El_greco_the_repentant_peter_3I also want to say Howdy to Ed Brayton and his wonderful peanut gallery over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. He has a great post on the Wiley Drake/Mike Huckabee kerfuffle, in which Baptist minister Wiley Drake endorsed a candidate for President (big no-no — religious leaders and organizations can’t do that if they want to stay tax-exempt), got called on it by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State… and is now calling on his followers to pray “imprecatory prayers” against the AUSCS, prayers asking God to hurt or kill your enemies. Quote from Drake: “God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God’s church… The Bible says that if anybody attacks God’s people, David said this is what will happen to them… Children will become orphans and wives will become widows.” Quote from Ed: “Very nice, Reverend; I’m sure that’s just what Jesus would do.”

SopranosEd’s piece is excellent, as always… but the comments are off-the-charts hilarious. People have compared Drake to a mob boss and God to a hit man; have pointed out how committed to family values Drake must be to call for wives to become widows and children to become orphans; have wondered why Drake is calling for imprecatory prayers against the AUSCS instead of, say, Al Qaeda; and, in my very favorite comment of all from Zek, asked this question: “So… God told him to tell people to tell God to kill people?” Excellent, hilarious point, and from now on every time a preacher says God asked him to call for prayers, it’s going to be stuck in my head.

DuererprayerWhile I’m at it, Daylight Atheism also has an excellent and hysterical piece on the prayer attack against the the AUSCS, in which he mentions (among other things) a call for counter-prayers from Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, and drily points out that, “While I appreciate Dr. Prescott’s concern, I can assure him that his efforts are unnecessary.”

Bible_book_of_isaiah_2Finally: A huge, heartfelt “thank you” to Ebon Muse of Daylight Atheism and Ebon Musings. He not only came through in a recent comment debate here on this blog with an eloquent and thorough demolition of the supposed accuracy of Biblical prophecy; he then posted that demolition on his own blog. Thanks, dude. You totally hit it out of the park. Greatly appreciated.

Carnival of the Godless #73

CarnivalCarnival of the Godless #73 is up at In Defence of Reason. I submitted two pieces for this round, and asked them to pick the one they liked best; but instead they just ran them both, “Someone’s looking out for me”: God and the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, and Eternal Fire: What Jesus Says in the Gospels About Hell. I’m not sure if they really liked both pieces or were just too lazy to pick, but in either case I’m grateful and am not going to argue. Thanks!

A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside

(Quick explanation: I’ve been in some frustrating debates with religious believers lately — one in particular — and it seems like the point-by-point squabbles have been missing the point. This piece is an attempt to step back from that, and look at the whole disagreement from a larger perspective.)

Here’s the thing, Rev. Cawley. I’m not dying to continue the point-counterpoint debate on the points you raised.

Cross_in_the_sky_2Instead, I want to step back for a moment and give you an idea of what your arguments sound like to someone who isn’t already a Christian. Not just to someone who’s a pretty convinced atheist, but to someone who doesn’t know what they think one way or another, who’s looking at different religious beliefs and deciding what to think. You seem to be at least somewhat sincere about wanting to understand non-believers, and I want to give you, and other believers, an idea of what religion — and religious apologetics — looks like to us.

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“A magnetism that will not let go”: The Drooling Homophobe Series, Part 764

Do these people listen to what they say?

Don’t they know how obvious this “lady doth protest too much” thing is starting to get?

Pass_the_saltPandagon has the story of right-wing Christian extremist Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries, who, with his flock, has been on a crusade to disrupt the church services of gay-friendly churches. But that’s not even the best part of the story. As is so often the case, the best part of the story is in an almost offhand remark.

In a Bible-spewing homophobic rant earlier this year about a visit to the Gay Pride Parade, Daubenmire had this to say:

“The ‘meat’ on display will forever change the way you view homosexuality. Sin has no boundaries, no clutch, and no emergency brake. Once you dip your toe into the pool of sin, especially sexual sin, there is a magnetism that will not let go.” (emphasis mine)

Ummmm…

Gaypridesaopaulodrags_fullLet me put it this way. The straight guys I know who visit the Gay Pride Parade do not describe the event as having “a magnetism that will not let go.” Their reaction is more along the lines of, “Nice dress, dude.” They describe it as interesting, entertaining, touching, hilarious, kind of tedious when the “polo-shirted employees of boring corporations” contingents go by, etc. But they do not describe it as a pool of sin with a magnetism that will not let go. The straight guys I know are not forever changed by the sight of gay male “meat on display,” and they are quite capable of resisting the magnetism of homosexuality. They find the magnetic pull of homosexuality pretty gosh-darned unmagnetic. That’s kind of what makes them, you know — straight.

Ted_haggard_3So I just have to ask: Do Dave Daubenmire, and Ted Haggard, and all the rest of the right-wing Christian leering brigade, really not know what they sound like? Do they really not see that frothing at the mouth closely resembles drooling?

Dream diary, 8/18/07: The cats’ PR rep, and the half-assed prison

Cats_3Dream #1: I dreamed that our cats Lydia and Violet had hired a PR representative to improve their public image. I was reading either a press release about them or a magazine article based on a press release, and realized that their publicity was being handled very professionally.

PrisonDream #2: I dreamed that I was visiting Ingrid at her new job in the prisons (in the dream, the Chino prison she’s been going to all the time was only about 45 minutes from San Francisco). When I arrived, it seemed that the prison was very small (only about 20 prisoners), and security was very lax. The guard asked if I could help push a patient in a wheelchair in to see Ingrid, and when I left, the guard very casually asked if I could lock the door behind me on my way out.

Perfect Porn and Other Myths: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This piece, and the piece it links to, includes references to my personal sex life, specifically my taste in porn. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that… um, don’t.

Perfection_book“I’ve definitely griped about porn because it either didn’t push all my erotic buttons just right, or because it grated on some of my squicks. I’ve griped when it hasn’t fallen into my perfect window: the perfect amount of artistry without sacrificing spontaneity, the perfect amount of teasing and buildup to get me worked up without getting me frustrated and bored, the perfect degree of roughness or kink to be convincingly real without being terrifyingly brutal.

“And I — along with every other porn consumer and porn critic — have to acknowledge that this really isn’t fair.”

That’s the teaser from my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, Perfect Porn and Other Myths. In it, I meditate on an observation from spanking model Adele Haze: “To get a video that pushes all your buttons and doesn’t grate on any squicks, you have to win the lottery and produce it yourself.” To find out why I think this is important — not only for porn consumers and critics, but for porn creators as well — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“What are we afraid of?” NJ State Senator Raymond Lesniak on Same-Sex Marriage

SenlesniakI cried when I read this.

I’m crying again now as I re-read it.

This is a person who gets it. He didn’t always get it — he didn’t always support same-sex marriage — but he gets it now. Not just as a matter of fairness or justice, not just as a matter of rational public policy. He gets it about why it matters.

It’s New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, in a blog post on the NJ.com blog titled Why not gay marriage? And I’m just going to quote the whole damn thing.

What are we afraid of? That we’ll tear the fabric of society apart?

Seems like the fabric of society is already torn apart. Fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce. Less than 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. There’s rampant corruption in government. There are random acts of violence in Virginia and Newark, random acts of violence committed every day in our cities and our suburbs. Religious figures commit sexual assaults. Anti-gay political and religious figures are caught in the same sexual trysts they condemn in their public pronouncements.

I love my church, being raised a Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church does wonderful charitable works for the poor throughout the world, yet when I attended Mass recently, the priest gave a homily condemning those who do not follow the rules of the Church. Not a word about the gospel of the day, a beautiful reading from the gospel by Matthew on loving thy neighbor as thyself.

I left after the lecture and waited for my friends in my car, crying and feeling abandoned and not loved. But I digress.

Civil unions in New Jersey give committed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. Except the right to get “married”. The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married. Outcasts only because of their love for each other.

Allowing gay couples to marry is not going to repair the fabric of society, but it’s not going to tear it apart either.

To paraphrase John Lennon, let’s give love a chance. We might just find out that it works.

BTW, to the folks in this blog who have been arguing that civil unions should be the legal contract and marriage should be the religious ceremony — for everyone, not just same-sex couples — I’d just like to repeat what Lesniak said:

“The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married.”

That’s the part that keeps making me cry.

VowsI don’t just want a legal contract that mimics marriage. I want the experience of marriage. Marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture, in a way that civil unions simply don’t. Separate but equal is not equal. It never has been, and it never will be.

And I am touched beyond words that this Catholic state senator from New Jersey gets it.

Showtime’s “Californication”: Well, There’s Promiscuous and There’s Promiscuous

CalifornicationYou’d think I’d be irritated by it.

You’d think that Little Miss Sex-Positive Culture Critic would be foaming at the mouth. Another goddamn pop-culture depiction of promiscuity and casual sex as a sign of immaturity and instability and low self-esteem. You’d think I’d have my boilerplate rant all ready to go.

But I’m not. I don’t. I’ve only seen one episode of “Californication” so far — but so far I love it. And I’m dying to see more.

Californication_2Quick precis, for those who haven’t seen it: “Californication” is a new series on Showtime, starring David Duchovny as Hank, a messed-up writer in Los Angeles with writer’s block, a divorce he’s unhappy about, a whole passel of emotional problems, and a good book that got turned into a lousy movie. He has a passive, bemused, almost happy-go-lucky attitude about the life that’s going down the toilet
 and he deals with, or doesn’t deal with, his despair and fucked-up-edness with casual, wildly promiscuous sex.

Now, I’ve definitely had a bellyful of the “casual promiscuous sex as sign of emotional problems” trope. I’ve seen it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, and a big part of me never wants to see it again.

But I’m cutting “Californication” a whole lot of slack. It’s smart, and it’s funny… and most importantly, it’s obviously trying to be true. And it’s obviously trying to be true, not just about life in general, but about sex in particular.

Californication_6I was pretty much sold in the first five minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV show that featured, in the first five minutes of the first scene of the premiere episode, a conversation about the clit. Where it is; where it isn’t, how to find it; what to do about men who can’t find it. That sort of thing. (Oh, they probably talked about it on “Sex in the City.” I’m guessing: I never made it through more than two episodes of that damn show. But “Californication” makes the glib, smirking fakitude of “Sex in the City” look like… well, glib, smirking fakitude. It puts it to shame.)

And I’ve definitely never seen a TV show with a conversation about the clit that was anywhere near this funny. I love the moment where Hank and the woman he’s going down on are about to be caught by her lousy-lover husband, and he says, “Well, maybe I should hide under your clit. He’ll never find me there.” (And I love even more the scene where he gives the enraged husband a lesson on female sexual anatomy.)

Californication_3It just gets better from there. I’m tempted to tell you all the good bits, all the funny and freaky and trenchant sexual moments. I’m tempted to describe all the scenes where Hank’s sexual passivity, sexual vengefulness, and honest desire for sexual pleasure and connection, come crashing together in a snarky, detached emotional mosh pit. I’m tempted to describe how he uses both his fame and his self-deprecation about his fame to get women to tumble into bed with him. I’m tempted to describe his defensive unease about his daughter’s emerging sexuality, and thus her emergence into a world full of asshole men like him.

But I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’ll leave it at this so I can move on: This is a TV show that is intelligent about sex, funny about sex, perceptive about sex… and, as far as I can tell, trying really hard to be true about sex.

Which brings me back to the whole sex-positive thing.

Californication_4I’m not an idiot. I get that drama requires conflict, and a TV show about a casually promiscuous guy who’s overall pretty happy with his life and doesn’t have any real problems would make for some profoundly boring drama. And I’m not an idiot, Part 2: I get that sex is complicated and messy and irrational, and that people don’t always handle it very well. As much as I hate the narrow, luridly moralistic vision of sex that pop culture usually hands us, I’m not looking for sex-positive propaganda either.

Californication_5Of course I’d like to see more genuinely positive images of sex in popular culture. But much more importantly, I’d like to see more sexual truth in popular culture. Sex-positivity isn’t about being a cheerleader for sex, all sex, all the time. Sex-positivity is about seeing sex as an essential part of human life: as diverse as the human race, as ecstatic and sad and absurd as the people who are doing it.

And that’s exactly what “Californication” does.

At least in the first episode. I can’t wait to see more.