Skeptics’ Circle #76

CarnivalSkeptics’ Circle #76 is up at Aardvarchaeology. My piece in this circle: True or False? Helpful or Harmful? The Two Different Arguments About Religion. My favorite other pieces in this circle: Section the second: The Evil Dictators Argument by Whiskey Before Breakfast, on why the 20th century was not the bloodiest century in history — and why the regimes of Stalin and Mao, appalling as they were, don’t compare with crimes against humanity from previous centuries. And in a lighter vein, there’s Better Than Sylvia from Skeptico, summing up his “psychic” predictions for 2007… and comparing them to predictions made by actual self-proclaimed psychics.

If you’re a skeptical blogger and want to participate in the Skeptic’s Circle, here’s the guidelines, schedule, and submission info. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

“He would have talked me out of it”: When Religion Refuses to be Questioned

Jane_fonda_and_ted_turnerSomething jumped out at me when I was digging around on the Celebrity Atheists List. It bugged me, and I want to talk about it.

It was in the page on Ted Turner — the part talking about his divorce from Jane Fonda. Apparently, one of the main reasons Fonda and the atheist Turner broke up was that she had become a Christian. I quote:

Fonda’s divorce papers, however, were filed on the same day the New Yorker published an interview with Turner in which the 62-year-old media mogul said he and Fonda split up partly because of her decision to become a Christian.

“She just came home and said ‘I’ve become a Christian,’ ” Turner told the magazine. “Before that, she was not a religious person. That’s a pretty big change for your wife of many years to tell you. That’s a shock.”

But that’s not the disturbing part. Here’s the disturbing part:

Replied Fonda: “My becoming a Christian upset him very much — for good reason. He’s my husband and I chose not to discuss it with him — because he would have talked me out of it. He’s a debating champion.”

I’m going to repeat that:

Jane_fonda“I chose not to discuss it with him — because he would have talked me out of it.”

I chose not to discuss my newfound religious faith with my husband — because he would have talked me out of it.

I would rather get a divorce than allow my faith to be seriously questioned.

Or to put it another way:

I know that my faith probably doesn’t stand up to reason. I know that I could be argued out of it. But I still want to have it — even if it means divorcing my husband of ten years. I’d rather get the divorce than be convinced that my faith is mistaken. I’d rather get the divorce than even take a chance on being convinced that my faith is mistaken.

How fucked-up is that?

Jane_fonda_bioI used to have a fair amount of respect for Fonda. Not anymore. And it’s not her Christianity that made me lose respect. I have respect for a lot of Christians, and other religious believers. But I have no respect for a Christian faith — or any other religious belief — that consciously and deliberately refuses to allow itself to be questioned. And I really don’t have any respect for a religious belief that would sacrifice a serious relationship — a marriage, a friendship, a family relationship, whatever — simply to protect itself from an argument against it.

Some religious believers welcome questions and robust argument. Fonda is apparently not one of them. Too bad for her. That’s gotta be one weak-ass faith.

Male Dom Female Sub

Please note: This post, and the post it links to, discusses my personal sex life — or to be more accurate, my tastes in porn — in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Has anyone else noticed a drastic shift in kinky porn in the last few years?

Bettiepagewhip7It used to be that the most common trope in kinky porn was the dominant woman. Madame Cruella, Mistress of Pain, Kitten with a Whip — these were the themes and images that dominated, if you will, the world of SM porn, both in writing and in visual art. It was a cliche, even: everyone knew the cliche of the powerful business executive who paid to get beaten and humiliated once a week — or who built a library of fem-dom porn to help him fantasize about it.

Carries_story_2But in the last few years, I’ve been seeing a definite shift. In the kinky porn that comes across my path (and a fair amount of kinky porn comes across my path), I’m seeing less and less porn starring dominant women, and more and more starring submissive women and dominant men.

I’ll admit that I haven’t studied this trend with any scientific rigor: this observation is very much anecdotal, and I could be talking out of my ass. But I really don’t think so. I was actually so used to the prevalence of dominant women in SM porn that it took me a while to realize that they weren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be.

And now I’m wondering: What’s that about?

Born_to_obeyYou could argue that this trend is sexism at work. Most porn is still aimed at a primarily male audience, after all. And while men were happy to fantasize about powerful women with whips back when it was overwhelmingly a man’s world, as women have been gaining more and more power, men are fantasizing more and more about taking that power away.

Hes_on_topI suppose there might be something to that theory. But it can’t possibly be all there is. Because women are having these fantasies, too. In droves. Women writers and artists are creating a lot of this male-dom female-sub porn — and increasingly, a female audience is sucking it up. Myself included. I eat it up like popcorn.

In fact, you could argue that this dynamic is happening because of the opposite of sexism. Women have had submissive and masochistic fantasies for ages, and porn is finally starting to cater to our goddamn fantasies of being the helpless, vulnerable center of attention/ object of desire — not just men’s.

But I think there’s something else going on here, something that’s key. Again, I haven’t studied this with any kind of rigor, so I’m just going to speak for myself, on the assumption that what’s true for me may be true for others as well.

Hawaii3I think that we fantasize about what we don’t have. Stressed-out city folks dream of tropical paradises and bucolic rural getaways; bored small-town folks dream of the excitement and glamour of the big city. Unhappy single people dream of true love; unhappy married people dream of being footloose and fancy-free. Etc., etc., etc. That’s the whole point of a fantasy, isn’t it? Even if your life is generally good, you’re still not going to fantasize about the things you already have.

So what does this have to do with male-dom female-sub porn? After all, we still live in a sexist world where women have less power than men. Wouldn’t women and men alike be fantasizing about men in shackles and women with whips?

In the much broader and more obvious sense, of course that’s true. We’ve made a lot of advances, but the world is still very sexist indeed. But — again, speaking only for myself now — in a more immediate day-to-day sense, the reality that I want a fantasy escape from isn’t sexism.

It’s the fight against sexism.

BacklashIt’s the constant vigilance against the stupid sexist indoctrination that’s been sunk into my head since I was an infant. It’s the constant struggle to be assertive when I’ve been taught to be compliant, to speak up when I’ve been taught to be a good listener, to argue when I’ve been taught to be agreeable… all without turning into an asshole. It’s the constant half-second arguments I have in my head every time a guy says or does something sexist — is this particular battle worth fighting? Do I respond, or let it go?

Lucy_needs_a_firm_handIt gets exhausting. Not just for women, but for men as well, who’re contending with the flip side of gender indoctrination and changing roles and expectations. And I think a big part of the appeal of the male-dom female-sub fantasy is that it offers a break from the fight. It offers an opportunity — whether in a role-play scene in real life or a masturbation fantasy in your head — to take a vacation from the battle, to briefly
wallow in the familiar roles, in a safe place that’s separate from your everyday life.

VacationAnd like most vacation spots, for most people it isn’t the place where you’d really want to live. Sure, there are people who do 24/7 male-dom female-sub relationships, just like there are people who sell their houses and move to Tahiti. But for most people, part of the pleasure of a good vacation is how happy you are to come home from it, the fresh perspective it gives you on everything you love about your everyday life. The indulgence in a fantasy of a masterful man and a compliant or helpless woman gives you a break from the struggle against sexism in your everyday life… so you can emerge rested and refreshed and ready to do battle once more.

“Let Them Make Up Their Own Minds”: Bringing Up Kids Without God

This one’s for everybody. But it’s especially for (a) godless parents, and (b) people who were brought up by godless parents.

It has to do with how to teach children about godlessness.

ArgueMy parents were both agnostics. (A fact for which I am more grateful every week… whenever I read the sad and awful stories in the atheosphere about fights and rifts between atheists and their religious families. Both my blood relatives and my in-laws are non-religious, and while of course we have our conflicts, the fact that I’m a loud, outspoken atheist blogger isn’t one of them — in fact, it’s a source of family pride.)

Making_up_your_mindBut back to my parents. My dad actually became an atheist years before I did, my mom’s been dead for a long time so I don’t know what she’d be now — but when I was growing up, they were agnostics. And when it came to bringing us up, they were very much of the “let the kids make up their own minds about religion” camp. They were pretty clear about their own lack of belief — but they didn’t teach their non-belief to us in a dogmatic way; they exposed us to a certain amount of religion (occasional church with grandparents, mostly); and they made it clear that religion was something that was up to us to decide for ourselves.

All of which I’m grateful for.

But they also did something that I now think was a mistake. I’m sure it was well-intentioned, I can understand why they probably did it; but I do think it was a mistake.

They never explained to us why they didn’t believe in God.

Talking_with_kidsWe barely discussed religion at all when I was growing up. (It’s not like it was a taboo topic or anything; it just rarely came up.) So I never really found out why my parents didn’t believe in God; what they had been taught as children, and why they left it behind. I knew they didn’t believe in God (they called themselves agnostic, but it was clearly the “you can’t be 100% sure of anything” version of agnosticism) — but I didn’t know why they didn’t. They never taught us that.

CrowleythothdeckAnd I think that left me vulnerable to woo.

I’d picked up a natural resistance to conventional religion from my parents. But I didn’t have any natural resistance to Tarot cards, to reincarnation, to synchronicity, to trickster spirits, to the idea that the Universe arranged itself to teach me lessons about life.

BreakingthespellBecause while I wasn’t taught religious or spiritual beliefs, I also wasn’t taught critical thinking about religious or spiritual beliefs. I wasn’t taught about confirmation bias; about assuming the thing you’re trying to prove; about contorted apologetics and the human ability to rationalize just about any belief; about our tendency to see what we want/ hope/ expect to see; about our tendency to see patterns and intentions regardless of whether they’re there; about the problem with ideas that not only haven’t been tested but can’t be.

CapricornAnd so while I didn’t grow up believing in God, I also didn’t grow up understanding why belief in God — or Tarot, or astrology, or free will in subatomic particles, or whatever — was problematic. It took me years — many, many years — to figure out that, “God/ the soul/ etc. can’t be definitively disproven” didn’t mean, “It’s okay to believe anything I want.”

Years wasted believing an embarrassing assortment of stupid woo bullshit.

DogmaAlas, I can’t ask my parents now what they were thinking back then, or why they did things the way they did. My mom has been dead for many years, and my dad’s stroke has left him pretty much incommunicado. But my guess would be that they didn’t want their godlessness to be dogmatic. They didn’t want us to be godless just because it was what they taught us. They wanted us to decide for ourselves.

All of which is admirable. All of which I get. I don’t think atheism should be taught to kids as if it were a fact they shouldn’t question, another true thing that your parents know and that you just have to trust. I think my parents were totally right about that.

Swimming_poolBut I also think that if you want kids to decide for themselves, you need to do more than just throw them in the deep end of the religion pool. I think that if you want kids to decide for themselves, you need to give them tools for critical thinking. I think it’s not enough to let kids make up their own minds about religion.

I think you have to teach them how to do that.

Brain_question_markBut maybe there’s a fine line here. Maybe there’s no way to teach kids to think critically about religion without teaching them to be non-religious. Maybe there’s no way to teach kids, “It’s not okay to believe an idea that can never be tested” without teaching them, “It’s not okay to believe in religion.” And if you believe in letting kids make up their own minds about religion, I could see not wanting to do that.

So I’m curious. If you’re a godless parent, how do you handle it? If you were brought up by godless parents, how did they handle it — and how do you feel about it now? This is on my mind; I don’t have kids and don’t plan to, but I have kids in my life now, and I’m starting to think about it.

Carnivals: Humanist Symposium #12 and Carnival of the Liberals #53

Carnival_1Blog carnival time!

Humanist Symposium #12 is up at Evanescent! This is probably my favorite blog carnival of all, and I always look forward to it eagerly — it’s such a perfect refutation of the idea that atheism is a depressing, negative, self-centered philosophy. My pieces in this Symposium: “A Relationship Between Physical Things”: Yet Another Rant On What Consciousness And Selfhood Might Be, and If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be? My favorite other piece in this Symposium: On Patriotism at A Load of Bright.

And Carnival of the Liberals #53 is up at Neural Gourmet. This is their “Best of 2007″ edition — and so I’m extra-special pleased and proud to be part of it, with my piece Good Cop, Bad Cop: Atheist Activism. My favorite other piece in this “best of the year” carnival: Was Martin Luther King, Jr. a terrorist? by Engage: Conversations in Philosophy.

If you’re a humanist or a liberal blogger and want to get in on the hot blog-carnival action, here are submission forms for Humanist Symposium and Carnival of the Liberals. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

“Trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers”

CartoonFrom USA Today comes this story about coloring/ comic books that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is handing out to children to warn them about sex predators. (Click on the image to see it in its full glory.) I quote:

The Archdiocese of New York is handing out coloring and comic books that warn children about sex predators, the first such effort by a U.S. Roman Catholic diocese. In the coloring book, a perky guardian angel tells children not to keep secrets from their parents, not to meet anyone from an Internet chat room and to allow only “certain people” such as a doctor or parent to see “where your bathing suit would be.” In a comic-book version for children over 10, a teenager turns to St. Michael the Archangel for strength to report that two schoolmates are being sexually abused. The books have been distributed to about 300 schools and 400 religious education programs to use as a resource. They also can be viewed online. Some critics, while applauding the intent, say the books should say explicitly that trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers. (Emphasis added.)

My first reaction to the “some critics say the books should say explicitly that trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers” part was this:

Gee, ya think?

In_the_shadow_of_the_crossIn the wake of a widespread global scandal about priests molesting children as a common occurrence — and the Church acting to cover it up, even when it meant exposing children to known child molesters — do you really think it might be a good idea to warn children that priests, specifically, are among the adults who might be sexual abusers?

Gosh, what on Earth might have made you think that?

(We need a sarcasm font. Imagine the above three paragraphs in a sarcasm font.)

But then, it occurred to me.

RatziOf course the Catholic Church can’t tell kids that priests, specifically, might be abusers, and that they shouldn’t automatically trust them.

Once you start telling children that priests are fallible human beings and that you can’t necessarily trust everything they tell you…

…well, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

BreakingthespellOnce you start telling children that you can’t necessarily trust everything the priest tells you, you undermine the whole foundation of your religion. As Dennett and Dawkins and countless others have pointed out, the survival of religion depends on the indoctrination of children. The single biggest factor, by far, in predicting what religion you are is what religion you were brought up in. Children’s brains are designed, for very good evolutionary reasons, to trust what adults tell them. It’s like that Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

The perpetuation of religion depends, not only on teaching children your religion, but on teaching them that religious leaders and teachers are special and trustworthy, that they know more about God than the rest of us, and that they deserve a special level of respect and trust. If you tell children not to automatically trust priests, the whole house of cards falls down.

Betrayal_frontBut it’s completely half-assed to to warn kids about generic abusers without pointing out that the adults most likely to abuse them are adults they know and trust — including parents, teachers, coaches, and, hello, priests.

This doesn’t read to me like taking responsibility for the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. It reads to me like PR. It reads to me like yet another case of the Catholic Church covering their own ass — at the expense of children’s actual safety.

When Life Hands You Cliches…

Life handed us lemons this week.

Lemons_2

In a very literal way. We get a weekly delivery of organic groceries and produce from Planet Organics (a service that we love, btw), and normally we custom order to get the particular produce we want. But this week I forgot to custom order, so instead we got the produce that they picked for us.

Which included four lemons.

Lemons that we didn’t really want or have any use for. Also, we have a lemon tree in our backyard, so they were superfluous as well as being unwanted.

So there was really only one thing I could do:

I made lemonade.

Lemonade

Hot honey lemonade, to be precise. What with the weather being so cold and all.

I mean, what the hell else was I supposed to do? Life had handed me lemons. I don’t really see that I had a choice here. The opportunity was just too perfect.

When life hands you lemons, you damn well make lemonade.

And when life hands you cliches, you gas on about it in your blog.

Are You A Sex Addict? The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This post, and the post it links to, discusses many different aspects of my personal sex life, in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

Dont_call_it_loveI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. A two parter, actually. In the piece, I take an online test designed to determine whether I’m a sex addict… and I go after it with my laptop in one hand and a bayonet in the other, pointing out all the ways that the test pathologizes (a) unconventional sex, (b) sex that other people are shocked or upset by — regardless of whether they have any right to be, and (c) people who make sex a high priority in their lives.

It’s called Are You A Sex Addict? Part 1 and Part 2, and it begins thus:

Are you a sex addict?

Probably.

I seem to be.

Via Dr. Marty Klein’s excellent Sexual Intelligence blog comes news of this Sexual Addiction Screening Test from SexHelp.com, a site designed “to help those affected by sexual addiction and compulsivity.” The site was created by Dr. Patrick Carnes: inventor of the term “sex addiction,” founder and designer of multiple treatment programs for sex addiction, and author of several books on sex addiction.

According to Dr. Klein, Dr. Carnes admits he has no training in human sexuality. But let’s not focus on that just now.

Because according to this test, I have a problem.

Which is a bit odd. My life is good; my sex life is great. Things in my life are stable and flourishing, and sex is a happy part of that.

So I don’t actually think I have a problem.

I think this test has a problem.

To find out more about which questions I answered “yes” to on this test — and why I think the questions are the problem, not my answers — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (And if you take the test yourself, please let me know how you scored!)

Friday Cat Blogging: Catfish Waiting for the Heater

And now, a cute picture of our cat.

Catfish_waiting_for_heater_2

This one requires a little explanation.

Catfish’s favorite thing in the world is to sit on our heater. When it’s off, the pilot light is still on, so the top of it is a little bit warm all the time. We put a placemat on it so she can sleep on it, and she pretty much never wants to do anything else. She treats the heater like it’s Shangri-La.

But when the heater’s on, of course, it’s much too hot for her to sit on. And when it’s been turned off, it still retains a fair amount of heat, and it’d be dangerous to put the mat on it right away. So when we turn the heater off, we have to wait for several minutes for it to cool down before we can put the mat back on.

This is Catfish sitting next to the heater, impatiently waiting for us to put her mat on it.

Really. When the heater’s been turned off, she sits on that little bookshelf next to it, and glares at us until we put the mat on. The moment we do, she’s on it like a shot.

“Pulling the Strings”: Greta Interviewed by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: You really, really do not want to read this post. At all. This post goes into quite a bit of detail about aspects of my personal sex life that you almost certainly don’t want to know about. If you don’t want to read about that stuff, please don’t read this post. Thanks.

Best_sex_writing_2008The “Best Sex Writing 2008″ anthology is due out soon, and since I have a piece in it, the book’s editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, just interviewed me about my essay.

PayforThe gist of my piece is that, having edited a collection of advice by sex workers for sex work customers (Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients), I thought I should experience the sex work relationship from the other side. I wanted to see for myself if the advice in my book was actually helpful. And I was simply curious — both intellectually and sexually — about what visiting a sex worker would be like.

Originally published in Other Magazine, the essay, “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive,” discusses in detail what becoming a sex work customer was like — before, during, and after. The editor’s interview with me goes into these ideas in a little more depth, and I thought y’all might be interested in seeing it.

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