It’s a Baby Woman!

Welcome to the world my niece, born this morning, Monday June 4, at 5:45 am. 8 pounds exactly. (Sorry, no pictures yet. Don’t worry — I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll be getting plenty of them in the coming months, and indeed years.)

It’s funny. When Ingrid’s sister told us she was pregnant, and I was all, “Yay, I’m going to be an aunt,” I had a brief moment of wondering, “Hang on. Am I, in fact, going to be this kid’s aunt?”

And then it immediately occurred to me: Of course I am. Every bit as much as my Uncle Joe, my Aunt Susan, my Uncle Bob, are my uncles and aunt.

When I was a very little kid, I don’t think I even understood that there was any difference in relationship between my Uncle Joe and my Aunt Marcia, my Uncle Owen and my Aunt Susan, my Aunt Phoebe and my Uncle Bob. They were all just my aunts and uncles. And even when I got old enough to understand that there was a difference between aunt or uncle by blood and aunt or uncle by marriage, it’s not like it was a difference that made any difference. If that makes sense. They’re still all my aunts and uncles.

And that’s how I feel about my niece. I am this baby’s aunt. Every bit as much as if she were my brother’s kid. And every bit as much as if Ingrid and I were legally married.

I can’t wait to meet her.

Not a Butler, Either: An Atheist Identity

Atheist_buttonIn a couple of recent comments on this blog, Eclectic posed what I think is a worthwhile question and one that’s worth gassing on about. Namely: Why is it important for atheists to have atheism as a positive identity?

DebateWhy do we have intense discussions and debates among ourselves about what to call ourselves — atheist, agnostic, skeptic, bright, freethinker, naturalist, etc.?

Richard_dawkins_netAnd why is atheism central to our identity at all? Why would anybody identify themselves — and form organizations, and join online forums, and gas on in their blogs — because of what they don’t believe?

AlfredPertinent quote from Eclectic: “I just don’t see how someone can define themselves in terms of atheism. I’m not religious in the same way that most people aren’t butlers. You probably haven’t noticed the lack.” Second pertinent quote: “What activities do you engage in because you are a naturalist, as opposed to say, a lapsed but nominal christian or jew?”

I’d like to answer that question in two ways. First, in my regular voice, and second, in a sort of silly high-pitched whine. (Sorry. The Monty Python references have just been getting to me lately.)

First: Philosophy.

End_of_faithFor me, being an atheist isn’t just about what I don’t believe. In fact, this is one of the reasons that, while I prefer it to most alternatives, I’m not that crazy about the word “atheist.” (The other reason is that “atheist” actually isn’t strong enough for me. It’s not just God I don’t believe in — I also don’t believe in the soul, or reincarnation, or telepathy, or the ability to magically attract the things you want in your life just by thinking about them.) I personally prefer “naturalist” (i.e., someone who believes the natural, physical world is all there is)… but most people think that means, like, a park ranger or a botanist or something, so “atheist” it is.

BeliefSo atheism isn’t just about what I don’t believe. Atheism is about what I do believe — a philosophy of life that I think has some real differences from most theistic philosophies (although I also think there are areas of overlap, and the possibility of understanding and connection). It’s more than just a belief that there is no God, no soul, no metaphysical energy, no afterlife. It’s a belief in…

…what? I could gas on about that for hours and still not be done. But here are some of the high points:

AtomI believe that the physical, natural world is all there is — and I believe that it’s enough. To me, the idea that, out of just atoms and molecules and time, galaxies and life and consciousness and self-awareness and creativity have somehow arisen… that is just awe-inspiring. When I hear people say things like, “There has to be more to the world than what we can see around us,” I sometimes think to myself, “What more do you want?”

EvolutionI believe that the physical, natural world is all there is — and I believe that I am a part of it. I don’t believe that humans have been set apart from the rest of the animal world with some special spiritual quality or purpose. I believe we are an animal species, in the vertebrate subphylum, in the mammalian class, in the primate order. I believe we have unique abilities — but other living things have unique abilities as well (like coral and spiders and bats), and the fact that we have unique abilities doesn’t make us unique. If that makes sense. I believe we have a unusual ability to radically transform our environment (and are often phenomenally short-sighted and stupid about how we go about this) — but other species can and do radically transform the environment as well. (Read about earthworms sometime. Freaky. Plus there’s the whole “plants were poisoning their air with that horrible toxic oxygen until animals evolved who could breathe it” thing
)

DnaI believe that we are essentially an animal species — and that therefore, genetic hard-wiring plays a significant role in how we behave, how we feel, how we think… in short, who we are. (We don’t, for instance, swim upstream to our birthplace to spawn…) I think we have free will as well — although I’m not sure exactly what that means or how it plays out in a natural cause-and-effect world — but I think our brains and behaviors are, at the very least, powerfully influenced by genetics, both as individuals and as a species. And I think it’s foolish of us to deny that.

ShuffleI believe that I was unbelievably lucky to have been born at all. I believe that I was born, not because of some divine hand who wanted me to be here, but because of the larger process of natural selection, and the more immediate shuffling of my parents’ genetic decks. I believe that the odds of me being born at all — me as me, not as the sister or brother that could have been born instead of me — were astronomical, and that it’s entirely conceivable that I might not have been born at all.

And I therefore believe:

Galaxya) that on the cosmic scale, I’m just not that big a deal — that while of course I’m the center of my own life, I’m very much at the periphery of everyone else’s, and in the vastness of time and space I’m pretty much a dust speck on a flea. I believe that even if the universe were conscious and had the capacity to care about anything, it wouldn’t particularly care all that much about me.

Paying_for_itb) the flip side of that — that if I want to be a person the world cares about and have the world be different because I was here, I bloody well have to make that happen myself.

Lotteryc) that, as Richard Dawkins said, “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” I believe that just having been born makes me astoundingly, astronomically lucky — and that therefore, griping about the fact that I’m going to die someday is like winning a million dollars in the lottery and griping about the fact that it wasn’t a hundred billion.

RandomnessI believe that luck and random chance play an ENORMOUS part in our lives — much larger than any of us (including myself) really like to acknowledge. And I therefore try not to feel too smug and entitled about every good thing that happens in my life — or too guilt-ridden and responsible for every bad thing. (In particular, I try to remember that, as a white, healthy, middle-class, college-educated American, I pretty much won the privilege lottery when I was born, and that griping and whining about the petty annoyances in my life is really kind of pathetic. Not that I don’t do it anyway… but when I catch myself, I try to knock it off.)

SeattleI sometimes think about the places I might have ended up living in instead of San Francisco — Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, London. And I think about the people in those cities who would be my dearest friends now, who would have been my dearest friends for years, if I’d lived there instead of here. There’s a part of me that wants to know those people, that feels the lack of them in my life — and that recognizes how lucky I am to have the dear friends I have today, and how much it’s a matter of chance that I know them at all.

Meaning_of_lifeBecause I don’t believe in a divine hand that put us here, I believe that the question “why are we here?” is essentially meaningless — that we have no purpose in life except whatever purpose we make up ourselves. I don’t, however, think that this makes our lives meaningless. It just makes meaning something we create for ourselves and one another, not something handed to us from outside. And I absolutely don’t think that this somehow absolves us of moral obligation — in fact, I think it underscores that obligation.

Scientific_methodI believe that the human mind has a tremendous capacity for self-deception — and that therefore, when we’re trying to understand the world around us, we have to be very careful to quintuple-check our work. And I believe that the scientific method, while far from perfect, is, in the long run, one of the very best tools we have for doing this.

ReincarnationI believe that this life is all we have — so we damn well better make the most of it. In my woo-woo hippie days, if I missed out on some great experience, I used to say things like, “Oh, well, I’ll do that in my next life.” I don’t say that any more. And because I don’t say that anymore, I consider the opportunities I run into a lot more carefully than I used to. I take advantage of them more than I used to; I try harder to really experience them and be in the moment of them… and when I do pass on them, I let myself feel the loss of it, so I’ll remember it the next time I’m facing an opportunity, and can make a better decision as to whether I should take advantage of it or not.

Helping_handI believe that this life is all we have — so we have a moral obligation to improve it for each other as well as ourselves. I don’t think there’s any pie in the sky for the homeless guy on the corner… so I try to help him out in this life.

Question_markI believe there are enormous, important areas and aspects of the world that we don’t understand — and that, while that can be profoundly unsettling, it’s ultimately okay. I don’t feel a need to fill in all the blank spaces in the coloring book with a blue crayon and call it God or divine energy or anything else. I am, of course, intensely curious about all the things we don’t know, and one of the things I grieve over the hardest when I think about mortality is the fact that the central mysteries of our age — what is consciousness, how did space-time begin — are questions that I may well never know the answer to. But basically, I feel pretty okay looking at big questions and saying, “I don’t know.” And I think that, as a species, we stand a better chance of eventually answering these questions if we acknowledge that we don’t already have the answers.

*******

Religious_symbolsNow, of course I understand that at least some religious and spiritual believers have reached at least some of these same conclusions. There are religious believers who feel a moral obligation to make the world better; who try to make the most of their short lives; who feel lucky and grateful for the chance to be alive at all.

Gods_planBut — and I could be wrong here — I think there are very few, if any, religious believers who share all or even most of these beliefs. (Especially the ones about the universe not putting us here on purpose and not giving a damn about us one way or the other.)

No_godsAnd I think — although again, I could be wrong — that a good number of atheists share many or most of them, if not all.

Atheist_tshirtSo that’s the first part of my answer to the question, “Why is my atheism so important to my identity?” The second part has to do with politics and society… but this post has already gone long enough, so I’ll save the rest for tomorrow. (Don’t worry — tomorrow’s post is shorter.)

Baffling Porn: Naked Girls Smoking Weed

I don’t get it.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. I just don’t get it. I find it profoundly baffling.

Naked_girls_smoking_weedWe got this book in at the place where I work (Last Gasp, a small press and alternative book and comic distributor and mail-order company). It’s called Naked Girls Smoking Weed: Best of 420 Girls, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title: photos of naked and half-naked girls, smoking weed, or posing with pot plants.

And I just don’t get why that’s hot.

Radiohead_ok_computerAdmittedly, I don’t smoke weed much anymore. But I don’t think I’d be turned on by pictures of naked girls drinking bourbon, either. Or naked girls eating roasted chicken. Or naked girls listening to Radiohead. Or naked girls reading Richard Dawkins.

Okay, strike that last one. That last one is hot.

Peanut_butter_cupsBut you see what I mean? It’s not like two great tastes always taste great together. So why these two tastes? Why pictures of naked girls with marijuana?

MarijuanaIs it that marijuana is something of an aphrodisiac? It never was for me, but I get that it is for some people: it relaxes you, lowers your inhibitions, all that good stuff. So maybe it’s hot to imagine being stoned with a naked girl — or being with a stoned naked girl — with either or both of you being all relaxed and uninhibited and mildly aphrodisiaced.

ManhattanBut booze does much the same thing — relaxes, uninhibits. I actually find it more of an aphrodisiac than weed — at least, if I can catch my tipsiness in that all-too-fleeting stage between friskiness and sleep. And again, I really don’t think I’d be turned on by photos of naked girls drinking Manhattans, or posing pertly in distilleries.

So what’s the attraction? Can anyone enlighten me? I’m really not scolding or judging. I’m just baffled, and entertained by my own bafflement. Inquiring minds want to know.

Dream diary, 6/2/07: Thermonuclear missile

Nuclear_missileI dreamed that in college, some friends and I as a prank had stolen a thermonuclear missile, and that I was the one who had gotten stuck with hanging on to it. In the dream, it was the present time, and the missile was stashed in a van in a woodsy area behind my house. I was getting ready to move to a new house, and was trying to figure out what to do with the missile. I was afraid that if I tried to move it I might drop it and set it off. Most of the dream involved struggling with the missile, and while I was frightened that I was going to set it off, I was mostly just annoyed that I was the one who was stuck with the damn thing after all these years.

“Silly”: My Debut on the Blowfish Blog

BlowfishThis post includes a little bit of information about my personal sexuality; family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please hang up now.

If you like my sex writing, you’ll be happy to know that I’m going to be doing a lot more of it. I just started a new gig, blogging weekly for Blowfish, the mail-order sex products catalog where I worked for several years (in an assortment of capacities, ranging from filing clerk to vice president and general manager, with my most consistent job over the years being toy and video buyer).

My first piece for the Blowfish Blog is titled Silly, and it begins thus:

Lucy_needs_a_firm_handIt just seems so silly.

I mean, spanking. Please. How seriously can you take it? Yes, sure, there are thousands of psycho-socio-philosophico-political treatises on hundreds of forms of sexuality, on intercourse and bondage and sex work and masturbation and so on. But getting your bare bottom paddled? How are we supposed to ponder it and not fall into fits of the giggles?

To read the rest, visit the blog!

This does mean that I’ll probably be writing a little less about sex here in my own blog, since even I only have so much to say about sex, and will naturally be saving the juiciest pieces for the paying gig. But I certainly don’t plan to give it up entirely… and I’ll be sure to let you know every time I have something new on the Blowfish blog. Enjoy the piece!

A Sex Writer’s Defense of Visual Porn

Originally published in Good Vibrations Magazine, May 2006. Please note: This post includes information about my personal sexuality; family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please hang up now.

Paying_for_itI’ve been writing about sex for over half my adult life. Sex writing makes up the vast majority of my writer’s resume, as well as my professional reputation, and my body of published fiction consists entirely of erotica (a.k.a. smut). I’m an ardent supporter of the burgeoning field of erotic fiction, and a passionate admirer of many of my fellow sex fiction writers. I believe that the last decade or two has seen a remarkable Renaissance in erotic writing, a flowering of first-rate talent both developed within the field and venturing into it from outside. And I feel strongly that erotica is an undervalued genre with tremendous literary potential.

SpankAnd when it comes to getting off, I want dirty pictures. Or videos. Period. Almost without exception.

I want to talk about why.

*****

Beautys_punishmentFirst and foremost, there’s a fundamental problem with sex writing — namely, that I’m unbelievably picky about it. In order for a sex story to get me off, it has to be at least somewhat well-written… and it has to push my own particular erotic buttons. But my own erotic buttons are very particular indeed. My inner masturbator is a fairly devoted sadomasochist, and if a dirty story doesn’t have some element of power or pain, she just doesn’t want to know. I can respect, appreciate, even enjoy sex writing that isn’t about my kinks — but while it may open my mind or tickle my aesthetic fancy, it probably isn’t going to make me reach for my vibrator.

Carries_storySo I need my porn to be kinky — and I need it to be well-written as well. That’s not just snobbery or persnickitiness. Badly written porn is simply less hot. Even if I didn’t care about literary grandeur, I do care about clear images, vivid emotions and sensations. I care about whether the story gets me inside the heads and bodies of the people in the story. I care about imagination, about scenarios that tap into classic sexual iconography without just re-treading it. And I care about writing that, at the very least, doesn’t get in the way, writing that flows smoothly and doesn’t stop the reader mid-sentence to figure out what the hell is going on.

Macho_slutsAs I weren’t picky enough, my porn fiction doesn’t just have to be well-written and kinky. It also has to be realistic. My libido is almost 100% uninterested in fantasies about sex that couldn’t really happen. Give me a sci-fi smut story about kinky telepaths, or a dirty novel about a kidnap victim who’s raped and tortured but learns to love her submission, and I’ll be flipping the pages so fast it’ll start a dust storm. It’s not that I’ll be upset — I’ll just be bored. I like immediacy in my porn: I like to feel like I’m right there, in the story, like I’m inside the skin of the characters (at least one of them, if not all at once). Or else I like to feel like I’m right there watching, like I’m on the other side of a one-way mirror, drooling over the filthy goings-on and shoving my hand in my pants. And it’s really hard to feel that way if I’m picking holes in the backstory or thinking, “There’s no way she would do that.” I realize this is a personal quirk: I understand that porn is often meant to depict fantasies, not realities, and there’s nothing wrong with unrealistic fantasies. I just don’t get off on them.

Three_kinds_of_asking_for_itAll of which makes for a tough sell. Between my need for plausible premises, competent writing, and at least somewhat perverted content, other people’s erotic stories are almost never as hot for me as the ones I come up with in my own head.

*****

PlayboySo what’s different about visual porn? Is it any better made? Is it more likely to be kinky, or to be realistic? No, absolutely no, a thousand times no. There’s plenty of thoroughly vanilla imagery in visual porn, plenty of straight-up pictures of people just being naked or having plain old regular sex. There’s plenty of impossible fantasy imagery, especially in dirty drawings and comics. And God knows there’s plenty of unimaginative mediocrity, steaming heaps of unimaginative mediocrity, in sex photos and videos and comics and art.

Stainless_ladiesWhat’s different about visual porn is that it’s more open to interpretation. There are very few visual erotic images that can’t, in some way, be adapted to fit a wide range of fantasies and preferences and kinks. Take photography, for instance. If the model in a photo is bending over or on her hands and knees, I can imagine that she’s about to be spanked or whipped. If a model is disrobing and not completely nude, I can imagine him being ordered to strip, following precise instructions about what to remove and when, trembling slightly at the voice of the demanding autocrat with the complicatedly specific sexual tastes. Even in the most vanilla, soft-core, soft-focus photos and videos, there’s usually some way to tweak it to fit my kinky brain.

Stripped_nakedIf nothing else, I can imagine some sort of dominance relationship between the photographer and the model (or models). That’s another way that visual porn — photos and videos, anyway — are adaptable. You can project yourself into the scene that the image is depicting… but you can also project yourself into the photo or video session. You can imagine yourself as the model: exposed and vulnerable, or relishing your power over your audience, or subserviently putting yourself in poses to fulfill the photographer’s fetishistic whims. Or you can imagine yourself behind the camera: cool and controlling, or drooling and lecherous, or hungry and worked up with longing for what you can see but aren’t allowed to touch.

BanquetAll this is true even if your fantasies aren’t as stubbornly kinky as mine. There’s nothing in the story telling you that none of this is really happening. There is no story. You get to make the story up yourself.

But visual porn is obviously not just about making up your own stories. If that were the only appeal, I could happily invent jack-off stories in my head all day long (even more than I already do). There’s something else about a visual image, something that curls itself into a fist and punches me in the gut. What is it?

Ecstasy_in_berlin_1926A lot of it is the immediacy of visual porn, the realism, the ability to make me feel that what’s going on in the porn is real, here and now. This is an area where photos and videos have it all over any other kind of porn. It’s so much easier to feel like dirty pictures or movies are real — because they are real. Photos and videos document real sex acts — real people actually did those things, in the physical world, with their actual bodies. Photos and videos are real in a literal, physical way, which no other porn can match.

Lostgirls_01But not all visual porn is like that. In stuff like drawing, or painting, or comics and graphic novels, there are no real people. It’s all made up with the artist’s head and hands. It’s no different from fictional porn in that regard: there isn’t anybody who’s really there. And yet dirty drawings — as long as they’re done with a reasonable degree of competence — have almost the same clit-wrenching immediacy for me that dirty photos do.

Sugar_high_glitter_cityBesides, the immediacy of visual porn isn’t just about feeling like the people in the pictures are really there. It’s about feeling like I’m really there. The pictures don’t just make it easier for me to imagine the scene — they make it easier for me to project myself into it. Having a picture thrust into my brain makes me feel like I’m there; like I’m one of the people in the scene, or a new person wedging myself into the goings-on, or even an invisible voyeur watching it all up close. And that’s true whether the pictures are photos of real dirty people doing real dirty things, or drawings of dirty people doing made-up dirty things that an artist thought up.

Naughty_spanking_stories_a_to_z_volBut here’s the weird thing. I’ve been talking to a bunch of people about this question, and people who like dirty stories say exactly the same thing I do about dirty pictures. Fiction is more immediate, they say; it’s less distancing, it makes it easier to project themselves into the scene. I’d always assumed that people who prefer written porn like it in spite of its lack of visceral immediacy — but here these people are, saying that visceral immediacy is exactly what they like about it.

Best_american_erotica_2003So I’m starting to think that a preference for visual vs. written porn may be hard-wired, just a matter of the way our brains are built from birth. I resisted that idea for a long time, mostly because everything I’d read on that topic was gender-focused in a completely narrow and stupid way: men are wired to get turned on by images, women are wired to get turned on by stories, with all the accompanying “men are from Mars” bullshit about how women just want emotional relationships and men just have dirty minds. I knew that the gender stuff wasn’t true for me, so I’ve tended to dismiss the entire hard-wiring theory. But maybe it has some validity.

Pride_and_prejudiceIt isn’t just about being a “visual person,” though. For one thing, my intense preference for visual erotic art doesn’t translate at all into the non-erotic arts. I’m certainly very fond of visual art; I’ve seen paintings and sculpture and stained glass and such that have moved me nearly to tears. But as a general rule, they don’t have the same death-grip on my brain that books do.

Innocent_college_studentAnd there’s more overlap between the two forms than I’m letting on. After all, when I look at dirty pictures, one of the first things I do is start making up stories about them. When I masturbate, I usually start with a visual image that’s struck my fancy… but if I’ve hit on an image that packs an unusual punch, I find myself working out who these people are and why they’re there. I think about the dirty things they were doing before they got there, and the even dirtier things they’re going to do next… and soon my mind is slipping around between a whole assortment of images, all within this one story.

C_is_for_coedsEven as a writer, the two forms overlap. When I write porn fiction, I tend to start with an image in my mind — a woman bending over and offering her ass, a female college student being spanked by her professor, a peep show dancer talking to a customer through the glass. But then I fill in the backstory: who they are, how they got there, what’s getting them off. Writing porn for me is like an extended, tightly focused, carefully crafted version of my masturbation fantasies. And like a masturbation fantasy, it starts with an image, and then quickly turns into a story.

Best_american_erotica_2005Which brings me back around to the big issue: the fact that I’m unbelievably picky about written porn. See, I’m a writer, not a photographer or a filmmaker or a painter. I’m picky about writing because it’s my medium. I know more about writing, both erotic and otherwise, than I do about photography, or filmmaking, or drawing or painting or comics. If I knew more about visual art, I’d probably be a lot more picky about my visual porn. I’d be more familiar with the cliches, more put off by mediocrity, more annoyed by sloppy work. If I were a photographer or something, I might find it a lot harder to look at dirty pictures without my critical reflexes zooming into my forebrain and kicking my libido out of the way. I might find it easier to relax and enjoy dirty stories, just as a consumer, without immediately analyzing them as a professional. And I might well be ranting and musing about why, with a few exceptions, erotic photography is so distancing and hard to identify with, and why erotic fiction packs so much more of a punch.

Even If It’s Wrong: Barack Obama, Religious Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage

Barack_obama_1There was this piece about Barack Obama in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. And it had a comment in it — about both same-sex marriage and religious faith — that chilled me to the bone.

Barack_obama_2“If there’s a deep moral conviction that gay marriage is wrong, if a majority of Americans believe on principle that marriage is an institution for men and women, I’m not at all sure he shares that view, but he’s not an in-your-face type,” Cass Sunstein, a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, says. “To go in the face of people with religious convictions — that’s something he’d be very reluctant to do.” This is not, Sunstein believes, due only to pragmatism; it also stems from a sense —

and here comes the kicker, people –

that there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it’s wrong.”

I’m trying to think of the best way to put this:

No_2No, there isn’t.

No, no, no, no, no.

A wrong moral feeling is not — repeat, NOT — made worthy of respect by being either strong or widespread.

Danger_poisonI don’t just think this idea is wrong. I think it’s dangerously wrong. I think this idea — that even if a belief is wrong, if a lot of people share it and hold it passionately then it has somehow earned gravitas and respect — this is among the most destructive ideas that human beings have come up with.

Why? Because it is essentially a self-perpetuation machine for bad ideas.

LynchingDo I even need to explain this? Think of all the evil, harmful things in human history that have been supported by a strong and widespread moral feeling. Slavery. Clitoridectomy. Imperialist wars. Religious wars. The disenfranchisement of women. The censoring of information, and active disinformation campaigns, about birth control and sexual health. The Salem witch trials. The Inquisition. Genocides ranging from the Trail of Tears to the Holocaust. Lynchings. Putting queers in jails and mental institutions. Do I need to go on?

And every one of these events and institutions was made stronger and more durable by this “worthy of respect” idea — everyone else thinks it’s okay, so how bad could it really be?

Witch_burning_monty_pythonThe idea that a strong and widespread moral feeling deserves respect, even if it’s wrong… it’s morality by mob rule, by popularity contest. It’s an idea that enables people to not think about what’s right and wrong in the world, but instead to let everyone else think for them. It’s an idea that makes it possible to not question received wisdom, even if that wisdom is blatantly contradicted by the reality around you. It’s an idea that makes people vulnerable to skillful demagogues who are experts at manipulating strong feelings and fears — especially the fear of being left out, of not being part of the group.

Ted_haggardAnd it’s one of the more troubling aspects of religious faith — the idea that holding strong, passionate religious beliefs is by itself a good thing, regardless of what those beliefs are, regardless of whether they’re demonstrably untrue or demonstrably harmful. The idea that being a “person of faith” is an admirable trait, one you have to give at least grudging respect to… even if you find that person’s actual faith itself to be bigoted, evil, stupid, and/or insane. The idea that a lot of people believing the same thing together at the same time is a beautiful thing — regardless of whether the thing they believe is in any way based in reality. (BTW, before everyone writes in — yes, I understand that this isn’t the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one. And I think the “faith ultimately trumps evidence” nature of religion makes it unusually susceptible to this way of thinking.)

Bill_clintonAnd I don’t want a President who thinks that. That’s what we had with Bill Clinton — a weathervane President who was unable to take an unpopular moral stand, on same-sex marriage and about a billion other issues. And as much as I would give ten years off my life to have Bill Clinton be President again right now (how depressing is that?), as much as he’s pretty much been the best President of my conscious lifetime (and how depressing is THAT?), I sure as heck wouldn’t vote for him in a primary, and I don’t want another President like him.

WeddingBecause the upshot is this: Ingrid and I want to get married. Legally. But a whole lot of people have a strong feeling that it’s wrong — and that feeling is supposedly deserving of respect. Even though that feeling is based on ignorance. Even though that feeling is based on hatred and fear. Even though that feeling is being manipulated and taken advantage of by corrupt, power-hungry frauds. Even though that feeling completely disrespects us. We’re still supposed to respect it.

NoAnd I say yet again: No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Fuck that. We have to do nothing of the kind.

Barack_obama_3(P.S. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that these are not Obama’s own words — they’re the words of a colleague describing her his understanding of his ideas. But it’s a colleague who seems to understand him very well. And given the positions he’s publicly taken on same-sex marriage (he supports same-sex civil unions, but opposes same-sex marriage because “marriage is a religious bond”), it seems pretty damn plausible that “worthy of respect even if it’s wrong” is an accurate representation of his position on religious homophobia.)

It’s Not Fair! The Helsinki Complaints Choir

It’s official: This is the funniest thing I’ve seen online all week.

It’s the Helsinki Complaints Choir. And it’s exactly what that sounds like. (BTW, the video isn’t really eight and a half minutes long — it’s more like six and a half, for some reason there’s two minutes of blank space at the end.)

Apparently this complaints choir thing is a growing and worldwide artistic movement. If you go to YouTube and do a search on “complaints choir” (or just go to the complaints choir website — damn, i love this century!), you’ll find a bunch. But the Finnish one is by far the best. I think my favorite complaint in the whole song (probably because I was just talking about it) is “Old forests are cut down and turned into toilet paper/And still all the toilets are always out of paper.” It sounds so lyrical and haunting in Finnish!

Thanks to Pharyngula for the tip… and for the hilarious conversation afterward. We really need to get the Atheist Complaints Choir going!

Upbeat Atheism and Dirty Stories: A “Humanist Symposium” Shout-Out and a “Perverts Put Out!” Reminder

SunriseFirst, a shout-out and thank you to the latest Humanist Symposium, a neat and smart blog carnival collecting positive atheist blog posts — i.e., posts about atheism that talk about what’s good about atheism, rather than what’s bad about religion. They were kind enough to include my piece Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence in their latest roundup. So I wanted to say thanks, to both Confessions of an Anonymous Coward for hosting this latest carnival, and to Daylight Atheism for starting the carnival in the first place.

Best_american_erotic_2005And a quick reminder: I’m going to be reading tomorrow (Friday, May 25) at the Perverts Put Out! series of sex readings. I’m planning to read my very nasty story, “View from the 14th Floor,” originally published in On Our Backs and reprinted in Best American Erotica 2005 — and it looks like I may be tossing a snarky sex toy review into the mix as well. Come by and say howdy!

Perverts Put Out
Friday, May 25
7:30 pm
CounterPULSE
1310 Mission Street, San Francisco
$10-15