Bless Me, Physical Universe, For I Have Sinned

ConfessionalA couple of other atheist blogs have been doing this (Friendly Atheist and No More Hornets), and I thought I’d get in on the fun.

It’s the Atheist Confessional.

I’ll get the ball rolling.

Bless me, Physical Universe, for I have sinned.

When I engage in one of the most central and profound secular activities of my life — namely, having sex — I can’t seem to shut up about Jesus and God. I say/scream “Oh God,” “Oh Jesus,” “Jesus Fucking Christ,” and so on, probably dozens of times in the course of an evening.

I go out of my way to find things about religion in the news to get angry and worked up about — just so I can blog about them.

And when I’m visiting other atheist blogs, I go out of my way to bring up sex, whenever it’s even remotely relevant.

So what about the other godless heathens reading this blog? What godless sins do you have to confess?

This Week

Here’s a dirty story. (Family members and others who don’t want to read my porn: Now would be a good time to stop reading.)

I wrote this story a couple of years ago, and it’s become one of my favorites. (Not that the list is that long — I don’t write fiction nearly as often as I do non-fiction, since… well, that’s the subject of another post.) FYI, while I usually illustrate my blog posts with lots of pictures, I’m not going to do that here. I want you to be able to picture the characters yourself, the way you imagine them, so I’m leaving this one picture-less. This story originally appeared in the anthology “Naughty Spanking Stories A-Z 2″, and was reprinted in the collection “C Is For Coeds.” The world of erotic fiction: A class act all around.

This Week
Copyright 2007 Greta Christina

Here’s what it is this week. A girl, a college student, is being spanked by her college professor. She’s young, nineteen or twenty, young enough to be in college, but old enough to have some sexual knowledge. He’s older, of course, probably in his forties, dressed casually but with dignity, a trim beard with a hint of gray. She is dressed, not in the schoolgirl outfit of porn cliche, but in regular modern clothing that merely implies the schoolgirl look: a short skirt with a flare, a simple blouse, white panties. The white panties are important. She is bent over his lap with her skirt pulled up and her panties pulled down, and he is spanking her with his hand.

Here’s how they got there. I think of the girl as the instigator of the scenario. I think of her sitting in this man’s class: admiring him, becoming excited by his ideas and his authority and his ease with his body. I think of her feeling flustered in his presence: not stupid, but young, and acutely self-conscious of her youth and her limitations. And I imagine these feelings coalescing into the simple image in her mind, the lap and the bare bottom and the hand coming down again and again. I think of her, not coolly deciding to act on her thoughts, but doing it impulsively, not even entirely consciously; just coming to him after classes for help and advice, putting herself in his path, waiting to see what happens next.

Now. I imagine her going to his house after a test, a test on which she had done fine but could have done better. She goes to his house, dressed only somewhat on purpose in the short skirt and simple blouse and white panties. She goes to his house, apparently upset about her less-than-ideal test score, telling him that she clearly needs more help. She works herself into an agitation, a frustration about her academic performance that even she half-believes. At the same time, she’s deliberately, or semi-deliberately, being provocative, displaying her body, putting herself in poses both seductive and submissive. She talks about how lazy she is, how little self-discipline she has, how she needs external discipline to succeed — and she drops something on the floor and turns away from him to pick it up. She says she can’t achieve her best unless she fears being punished, says a B+ grade isn’t enough punishment to drive her to excel — and she bends over his desk to examine a knick-knack on the far side. She uses the word “punishment” again and again, and she keeps finding ways and reasons to turn away from him and bend over.

He’s not an idiot. He’s an adult, a middle-aged man of the world, and he can see what she wants. He wants it too; she’s a lovely girl, she makes him feel powerful and wise, and the thought of bending her over his lap makes his dick twitch. At the same time, he’s not an idiot. He knows how much trouble he could get into if he’s guessing wrong, or for that matter if he’s guessing right. So he’s careful. He asks her if she wants his help, if she wants him to provide this external motivation she’s missing, to give her the punishment she needs when she fails to reach her potential. She breathes a deep breath of relief and excitement, says yes, please, can he help her. He asks again: are you sure you want this discipline, are you sure you want to be punished for not doing your best, are you sure you want me to do it. She begins to pace around the room, agitated and anxious, saying yes, yes please, that’s why she came here, this is what she wants.

He looks at her face, steadily, until she stops pacing and looks at him back. They’re no longer speaking in code.

Do you want this, he says. Do you want me to punish you.

She nods. She can’t say it out loud.

Alright, he says. Come here.

She walks over and stands next to him. He pats his lap; he can’t say the words either, and he needs her to make the gesture on her own. She stares at his lap, and at his hands, and she awkwardly kneels on the floor and crawls over his knees.

He’s done this before. Not often, but more than once, and he knows what he’s doing. He pulls up her skirt, not slow and sexy, not rough and impatient, but deliberate, matter-of-fact, getting the job done. He waits for her breathing to relax, then puts his hands on her waist and pulls down her panties. He moves a bit slower this time, but his manner is not teasing or sensual; the slowness is methodical, patient, done with calm authority. He looks at her bare bottom, listens to her breath, waits.

He doesn’t caress her — this isn’t about that — but he does rest his hand on her bottom. She flinches, then realizes that he hasn’t started yet, and tries to relax. He waits again. And then he begins to spank her.

His first blow is a real one. Not extreme, but she knows right away that she’s being spanked. He waits, and delivers another blow, exactly the same. And then he begins to spank her in earnest. The spanking is slow, she can feel it each time his hand strikes her bottom. She begins to squirm; she’s embarrassed now, self-conscious about what she’s doing and how she must look, a grown woman being punished on her bare bottom like a child. And it hurts, it’s hard now and it hurts, she wasn’t expecting that. But she can’t bring herself to say anything, she’d feel like a fool just quitting in the middle… and now it’s lighter, and she thinks she can take it a little longer.

He says nothing. He concentrates on the spanking, watches her body, listens to her breathe. His cock is getting hard, it’s telling him to squeeze her tits and then spank her as hard as he can; but he ignores it, tells it to be content with her warmth and her wriggling, and he centers his attention on just how hard he’s spanking her, and what exactly she’s doing about it.

She’s squirming harder now. She feels how warm her bottom is getting, she can picture how pink it must be by now. She’s getting agitated, and confused. The hard ones make her flinch and curl up — but the light ones give her time to think, and to feel: how small she is, and how flustered; her fear of the next really hard one; her uneasy frustration when the hard ones stop; her excitement; her shame at being excited; her hips wriggling against his lap. A good hard one comes down out of nowhere, and she cries out in relief and arches her back.

He still says nothing. He looks carefully now at her arched back and clenched fists, listens to the change in her voice. He stops, pulls his hand up high, and gives her five hard smacks, very hard, as fast as he can.

He listens as her cries of outrage subside into gasps. He considers starting again; he considers giving her a comforting pat on her pink bottom; he considers putting his hand between her legs. He’s pretty sure he could do any of these things, and she’d respond. But he’s nervous now, and doesn’t know how far he wants this to go. So he pulls up her panties, carefully, not touching her skin. He pulls her skirt back down over her bottom, and then puts his hands behind his back.

She scrambles to her feet right away, looks down at the floor, her face red. She mumbles something — “Thank you, Professor,” he thinks — and waits expectantly. “Good,” he says. “That was very good.” She stares at the floor for a moment, then scrambles for her things, mumbles “Thank you” again, and scurries out the door.

Here’s what happens next. They meet once a week at his house. They don’t discuss it, they don’t make a plan; she just shows up at his door the next week at the same time, as if they had an appointment. She puts down her things, and she tells him about her schoolwork, the week’s successes and failures. He congratulates her on her achievements, and then he analyzes her failures, explaining exactly what she did wrong and why it matters. And then he pats his lap.

It always has to be a punishment. She can’t simply walk in the door and say “Okay, let’s get to the spanking.” And neither can he. They can’t quite acknowledge what this is, they find it easier to think of it as instruction, discipline. Anyway, it’s more exciting this way. So he begins to write tests, every week, just for her, tests for her to make mistakes on. She’s a bright girl and she wants to please him; so he has to make the tests hard, hard enough that she’ll miss at least one question and will need to be punished. She takes the tests very seriously, studies hard for them. She does, in fact, become a better student during this time, in all her classes, not just his. And she never misses a question on purpose. She would consider that cheating, and she is a serious student, appalled at the idea of cheating. She’s always excited when he points out her errors and pats his lap; but she’s always a bit disappointed as well, upset at herself for failing, and believing, at least somewhat, that she really is being punished, and that she deserves it.

As the weeks go by, they become more accustomed to each other. Their rhythm becomes more fluid, the ritual more detailed, the spankings longer and more intense. He begins to talk during the spankings, sometimes lecturing in detail on that week’s failures, sometimes just chanting, “Bad girl! Bad! You can do better! You need discipline! You need to be punished! Punished! Bad!” He knows by now the words that set her off, the ones that make her whimper and arch her bottom in the air — and he knows the ones that make her freeze up. He knows how hard she likes to be spanked… and he knows how hard is just a little harder than she really likes, how hard is hard enough to make her feel that she’s been bad, and is being punished for it.

As more weeks go by, he begins to ask if she needs any special punishment, something extra to make her pay closer attention. The first time she doesn’t understand what he’s getting at, she says no thank you, Professor, please just punish me. But she gets it later, alone in bed that night; and the next week when he asks again, she has her answer ready. Yes, she says. She fears that his hand isn’t a hard enough tool for serious discipline, doesn’t make her fearful enough or sorry enough for what she’s done. She says she needs to be punished with something harder, something that will make her more afraid to fail, something to really hurt her and make her feel ashamed. He asks her to be specific — he always needs her to ask for it, always needs it spelled out — and she’s learned by now to speak up. She asks him to please spank her with a ruler, wooden or maybe metal, or with his hairbrush. He tells her to fetch his ruler — the hairbrush is too personal for him — and she goes directly to his desk and takes it out of the top drawer. She knows exactly where he keeps it.

And as still more weeks go by, the special punishments become both more elaborate and more central to the ritual. The bare-bottom over-the-knee hand spankings, once the entire reason for them being there, now become prelude — neither of them will call it foreplay — to the special punishments she asks for each week. She asks him to spank her with a rolled-up newspaper. She asks him to make her say out loud what a bad girl she is while he spanks her. She asks him to make her get on her hands and knees and kiss the floor while he spanks her. She asks him to use the ruler to spank her between her legs. She asks him to keep spanking her until she cries.

She never asks him to fuck her. He never does.

The end of the semester draws near, and both of them are a bit at a loss. She has one more year before she graduates, and no more classes with him. She starts asking about her final exam; her questions are anxious, restless. He’s pretty sure he knows what she wants. With some regret he begins crafting her final. He spends every spare moment on it. He knows it has to be perfect.

She comes to his house for the final, wearing the same short skirt and simple blouse and white panties she wore for their first lesson. He hands her the test, and she takes it without a word and begins immediately, working fiercely and steadily like a buzz saw. When she finishes, she hands it back and waits silently, tapping her fingers on her knee.

It’s perfect, he says at last. No mistakes.

They both sit still, somewhat taken aback, sitting quietly together in the empty space that has just opened up. He guessed exactly right, this is what she wanted. But neither of them had thought about what to do next.

So, he says. No punishment today. You get punished for making mistakes. What do you get when you’re perfect? Do you get a reward?

She doesn’t know what to say. She’d imagined in detail how the test would go; a serious challenge, just barely within her abilities. She’d imagined her struggle to get through it, the rush of pride when he told her she was perfect. But she hadn’t thought any further than that.

A reward, she says.

She could ask him to kiss her. She could ask him to fuck her. She could ask him to spend the afternoon feeding her tea and cakes and telling her how much he admired her. She could ask him to take off her shirt and play with her nipples, could tell him exactly how she wanted him to do it, and then she could make him get on his knees on the floor in front of her and lick her pussy. She could ask to sit in his lap, the lap she’s been bent over so many times, and have him stroke her hair and tell her what a good girl she was. She could ask him to make her masturbate, make her lie back and spread her legs and show him how she did it, and then make her turn over onto her belly and keep masturbating, while he punished her hard on her bottom for doing it. She could ask him to give her all her special punishments over again, one after the other until she’s weeping and raw, and then pin her down over his desk and push his cock into her ass. She could ask him to make the decision, to take the initiative, to for fuck’s sake, just this once, not make her come to him. She could ask him to take her over his knee, and pull up her skirt and pull down her panties, and spank her bare bottom with his hand one more time.

I’m getting all A’s this semester, she says. Every class. I think I’m going to make the Dean’s list. And I got a special summer internship, a really good one. She tells him the professor she’s interning with, and he’s impressed, and a little jealous. That’s great news, he says. I’m really pleased to hear it.

A reward, she says. I don’t know. Let me think about it. She gathers her things, says, “Thank you, Professor,” in a clear voice, and quietly leaves, shutting the door behind her.

Super Geek – the lyrics

Willow_rosenbergA friend asked me to send her the lyrics to this, and I realized I’d never posted it on my blog. It’s dedicated to all the hot geek girls I know. Who are legion. You know who you are.

Super Geek
by Greta Christina

She’s a very geeky girl
The kind you cheat off of in math class
And she will never let her teachers down
Once she takes her SAT’s

She likes the boys in the chess club
She says that Spassky is her favorite
When she makes a move, it’s rook takes bishop, check-mate
She’s very hard to beat

The girl is pretty bright now
(The girl’s a Super Geek)
The kind of girl you read about
(In Omni Magazine)
The girl is pretty brainy
(The girl’s a Super Geek)
I’d really like to test her
(Every time we meet)
She’s alright, she’s alright, she’s alright with me, yeah
She’s a Super Geek, Super Geek, she’s super-geeky

She’s a very special girl
From her glasses to her Oxfords
And she will help me study AP math and physics
And AP bio, too

“Live long and prosper”‘s what she says
“Back in the chem lab I’ll be waiting”
When I get there, she’s got Number Two pencils
It’s such a geeky scene

The girl is pretty bright now
(The girl’s a Super Geek)
The kind of girl you read about
(In Omni Magazine)
The girl is pretty brainy
(The girl’s a Super Geek)
I’d really like to test her
(Every time we meet)
She’s alright, she’s alright, she’s alright with me, yeah
She’s a Super Geek, Super Geek, she’s super-geeky

P.S. For those of you who don’t know, the pic is of Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I tried to find a picture of her looking really nerdy, but most of the pics I found in the Internet were of the later, more stylish Willow. This was the nerdiest one I could find.

Attack of the Giant Prehistoric Chicken!

Gigantoraptor

“We have a gigantic chicken!”

This is about the funnest thing I’ve seen all week.

We all know that birds evolved from dinosaurs, right? But until now, the fossil record that we had showed that the creatures got smaller and smaller as they evolved away from being dinosaurs and into being birds.

Not this baby. This baby is more than 26 feet long and 16-1/2 feet tall, and is estimated to have weighed at least a ton and half. And it was a young adult — so it wasn’t even the biggest one of its species.

And it’s a bird.

(Well, okay, a “bird-like species.”)

My favorite quote is from the paleontologist who discovered it, Xu Xing: “When I went back to my geologist colleague Lin Tan’s lab to check the skeleton, I was shocked. I said to Tan, ‘It is not a sauropod, it is not a tyrannosaurus, it is a tyrannosaurus-sized oviraptor. We have a gigantic chicken!'”

This makes me happier than I can put into words.

(Via SFGate and Pharyngula. SFGate has a couple more pictures. The one above is the most scientific, but I personally like this artist’s conception the best. It somehow manages to make the thing look both ferocious and campy.)

Dinosaurs

No Sex Please, We’re Democrats: The Blowfish Blog

CongressSo a a House subcommittee recently voted, not only to continue funding abstinence-only sex education, but to increase funding for it by $27.8 million.

To see me rant about this — er, analyze it and put it in context — come visit the Blowfish Blog. Here’s a taste:

Very few people — and even fewer politicians — are willing to look at teenage sex and say in public, “It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.” Very few politicians are willing to say, “We have bigger issues to worry about than 16-year-olds having sex.” Very, very, very few politicians are willing to say, “You know, I had sex when I was 16, and it didn’t do me any harm.”

Check it out. And then write your Congressperson.

“Many are finding welcome relief…”

Dilatherm

“Many are finding welcome relief through the gentle vibration, adjustable soothing heat, and dilation provided by the Dila-Therm.”

Yeah, I bet they are.

I think this is hilarious. I knew about the history of vibrators, and how early/ vintage vibrators were marketed to women as health and beauty aids — in language that barely disguised their real intent. But I had no idea until now that, at the same time, there were butt toys for men being sold in the exact same way.

Now, I do understand that this might actually work as a treatment for prostatitis — in that anything that makes you come on a regular basis can be an effective treatment for prostatitis. But given that the ad was found, not in a medical journal or health magazine, but in a 1949 copy of “Detective World Magazine”… let’s just say that I have my doubts as to the device’s real intention.

Via Majikthise. Which, by the way, is the coolest blog name ever.

Joined At the Brainstem: Relationships and Privacy

Speak_2Several years ago, I read a piece of relationship advice that always stuck with me. (I wish I could find it now; but I can’t, so I’m going to have to paraphrase.) It was by a lesbian relationship adviser, and she said that in the first six months of her relationship with her partner, they had a rule that, if one of them asked, “What are you thinking right now?” the other had to answer, completely honestly and spontaneously.

BrainstemThe advice writer said that, while this obviously was difficult and painful at times — both for the asker and the askee — it “worked.” At the end of the six months, she said, “we were joined at the brainstem.”

This was before I got together with Ingrid, back in my single days, and at the time, I remember thinking, “What a bad idea.” In fact, it struck me so strongly as a bad idea that I remembered it all these years.

But now that I’ve been in a serious relationship for close to ten years, my feelings have changed somewhat. Now I think about the idea of sharing every passing thought with your partner on demand, and I don’t think, “What a bad idea.”

I think, “What an appalling, unbelievably stupid, extraordinarily horrible idea.”

Brainstem_2Okay. Two reasons. First, we have the actual stated goal of this little exercise: joining with your partner at the brainstem.

Why is that a good idea? Why is that something you’d want?

Brain2I like that Ingrid has her own brain. I like Ingrid’s brain. It’s a good brain. And it’s good in ways that are often very different from my own. The fact that Ingrid has her very own brain means that she can surprise me. She can make me think about things differently. She can make me question my ideas and assumptions. And possibly more important than any of this, she can make me laugh.

None of which she could do if we were “joined at the brainstem.”

After close to ten years together, of course we know each other very well indeed. Of course we sometimes finish each other’s sentences, sometimes know exactly what the other person is going to say. But not always. And while of course I treasure how well we know each other and how close we are, I also treasure the fact that, nearly ten years into our life together, we’re still learning about each other.

Second, and maybe more importantly:

Brain4Having your own thoughts and feelings — which you can share with others or not as you choose — that’s one of the central defining characteristics of being, you know, a person. An individual. A being with some sort of selfhood.

And the idea that you should give that up when you get in a relationship gives me chills.

Now obviously, when you get into a relationship, you give up a certain amount of privacy. The closer the relationship gets, the more privacy you give up. And of course, different people need different amounts of privacy. Some couples are fine having their partner in the bathroom with them while they pee; others need to live in separate apartments.

PrivacyBut the privacy of the inside of your own head? That’s really basic. That’s a huge part of what makes you who you are.

Why would you want to take that away? Either from your partner or yourself?

BitchAnd I’m not even getting into the potential rudeness and hurtfulness of the exercise. I mean, it’s not as if every fleeting thought that passes through my head is one that I really stand by, or even think is true. If I have to hurt Ingrid by telling her something she doesn’t want to hear, I bloody well want it to be something that matters — not some petty, selfish, mean-spirited bitchiness that happened to be crossing my synapses at the exact moment she was asking, “Honey, what are you thinking?”

Telepathy2Maybe I’m being unfairly judgmental here. Maybe this “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing is just a greater degree of intimacy and a lesser degree of privacy than I’m personally comfortable with. But it just seems like an unbelievably bad idea. Especially for lesbian couples. Lesbian couples already have enough of a tendency to merge, to lose their individual identities in each other and in the couple-identity. And the whole thing that’s cool about a relationship is that it’s a balance between intimacy and selfhood. You can’t have intimacy if you don’t have different people, with different identities, to come together and connect. The idea that more closeness is always better in a relationship is, IMO, a seriously dumb one.

So am I being too judgmental here? Have any of you ever done the “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing in a relationship? If so, how did it work out? If not, is it an idea that appeals to you? I’m weirded out — but I’m also curious.

Humanist Symposium #3

The Humanist Symposium #3 is up at Black Sun Journal. This is a neat blog carnival devoted to positive atheist blog posts around the blogosphere — i.e., posts about atheism that talk about what’s good about atheism, rather than what’s bad about religion. There’s some good, smart writing in the carnival, and if you’re interested in atheist ideas but don’t like all the griping, you should definitely check it out. They were kind enough to include my two-part “Atheist Identity” ramblings, Not a Butler, Either and Stranger in an Increasingly Strange Land, on what it means to have an atheist identity and why I think it’s important. So thanks, humanists.

Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God

I cite this piece a lot on my blog, so I decided I should post it here. It was originally published in the Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 29 #2 (March/April 2005).

HandSo here’s the problem. If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife; or if you believe that the existence of God or an afterlife are fundamentally unanswerable questions; or if you do believe in God or an afterlife but you accept that your belief is just that, a belief, something you believe rather than something you know — if any of that is true for you, then death can be an appalling thing to think about. Not just frightening, not just painful. It can be paralyzing. The fact that your lifespan is an infinitesimally tiny fragment in the life of the universe, and that there is, at the very least, a strong possibility that when you die, you disappear completely and forever, and that in five hundred years nobody will remember you and in five billion years the Earth will be boiled into the sun: this can be a profound and defining truth about your existence that you reflexively repulse, that you flinch away from and refuse to accept or even think about, consistently pushing to the back of your mind whenever it sneaks up, for fear that if you allow it to sit in your mind even for a minute, it will swallow everything else. It can make everything you do, and everything anyone else does, seem meaningless, trivial to the point of absurdity. It can make you feel erased, wipe out joy, make your life seem like ashes in your hands. Those of us who are skeptics and doubters are sometimes dismissive of people who fervently hold beliefs they have no evidence for simply because they find them comforting — but when you’re in the grip of this sort of existential despair, it can be hard to feel like you have anything but that handful of ashes to offer them in exchange.

PeaceBut here’s the thing. I think it’s possible to be an agnostic, or an atheist, or to have religious or spiritual beliefs that you don’t have certainty about, and still feel okay about death. I think there are ways to look at death, ways to experience the death of other people and to contemplate our own, that allow us to feel the value of life without denying the finality of death. I can’t make myself believe in things I don’t actually believe — Heaven, or reincarnation, or a greater divine plan for our lives — simply because believing those things would make death easier to accept. And I don’t think I have to, or that anyone has to. I think there are ways to think about death that are comforting, that give peace and solace, that allow our lives to have meaning and even give us more of that meaning — and that have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of God, or any kind of afterlife.

TimeHere’s the first thing. The first thing is time, and the fact that we live in it. Our existence and experience are dependent on the passing of time, and on change. No, not dependent — dependent is too weak a word. Time and change are integral to who we are, the foundation of our consciousness, and its warp and weft as well. I can’t imagine what it would mean to be conscious without passing through time and being aware of it. There may be some form of existence outside of time, some plane of being in which change and the passage of time is an illusion, but it certainly isn’t ours.

Willow_treeAnd inherent in change is loss. The passing of time has loss and death woven into it: each new moment kills the moment before it, and its own death is implied in the moment that comes after. There is no way to exist in the world of change without accepting loss, if only the loss of a moment in time: the way the sky looks right now, the motion of the air, the number of birds in the tree outside your window, the temperature, the placement of your body, the position of the people in the street. It’s inherent in the nature of having moments: you never get to have this exact one again.

Waltzing1And a good thing, too. Because all the things that give life joy and meaning — music, conversation, eating, dancing, playing with children, reading, thinking, making love, all of it — are based on time passing, and on change, and on the loss of an infinitude of moments passing through us and then behind us. Without loss and death, we don’t get to have existence. We don’t get to have Shakespeare, or sex, or five-spice chicken, without allowing their existence and our experience of them to come into being and then pass on. We don’t get to listen to Louis Armstrong without letting the E-flat disappear and turn into a G. We don’t get to watch “Groundhog Day” without letting each frame of it pass in front of us for a 24th of a second and then move on. We don’t get to walk in the forest without passing by each tree and letting it fall behind us; we don’t even get to stand still in the forest and gaze at one tree for hours without seeing the wind blow off a leaf, a bird break off a twig for its nest, the clouds moving behind it, each manifestation of the tree dying and a new one taking its place.

IciclesAnd we wouldn’t want to have it if we could. The alternative would be time frozen, a single frame of the film, with nothing to precede it and nothing to come after. I don’t think any of us would want that. And if we don’t want that, if instead we want the world of change, the world of music and talking and sex and whatnot, then it is worth our while to accept, and even love, the loss and the death that make it possible.

Whole_earthHere’s the second thing. Imagine, for a moment, stepping away from time, the way you’d step back from a physical place, to get a better perspective on it. Imagine being outside of time, looking at all of it as a whole — history, the present, the future — the way the astronauts stepped back from the Earth and saw it whole.

Timeline1Keep that image in your mind. Like a timeline in a history class, but going infinitely forward and infinitely back. And now think of a life, a segment of that timeline, one that starts in, say, 1961, and ends in, say, 2037. Does that life go away when 2037 turns into 2038? Do the years 1961 through 2037 disappear from time simply because we move on from them and into a new time, any more than Chicago disappears when we leave it behind and go to California?

ParisIt does not. The time that you live in will always exist, even after you’ve passed out of it, just like Paris exists before you visit it, and continues to exist after you leave. And the fact that people in the 23rd century will probably never know you were alive… that doesn’t make your life disappear, any more than Paris disappears if your cousin Ethel never sees it. Your segment on that timeline will always have been there. The fact of your death doesn’t make the time that you were alive disappear.

GalaxyAnd it doesn’t make it meaningless. Yes, stepping back and contemplating all of time and space can be daunting, can make you feel tiny and trivial. And that perception isn’t entirely inaccurate. It’s true; the small slice of time that we have is no more important than the infinitude of time that came before we were born, or the infinitude that will follow after we die.

But it’s no less important, either.

Fetus_da_vinciI don’t know what happens when we die. I don’t know if we come back in a different body, or if we get to hover over time and space and view it in all its glory and splendor, or if our souls dissolve into the world-soul the way our bodies dissolve into the ground, or if, as seems very likely, we simply disappear. I have no idea. And I don’t know that it matters. What matters is that we get to be alive. We get to be conscious. We get to be connected with each other, and with the world, and we get to be aware of that connection and to spend a few years mucking about in its possibilities. We get to have a slice of time and space that’s ours. As it happened, we got the slice that has Beatles records and Thai restaurants and AIDS and the Internet. People who came before us got the slice that had horse-drawn carriages and whist and dysentery, or the one that had stone huts and Viking invasions and pigs in the yard. And the people who come after us will get the slice that has, I don’t know, flying cars and soybean pies and identity chips in their brains. But our slice is no less important because it comes when it does, and it’s no less important because we’ll leave it someday. The fact that time will continue after we die does not negate the time that we were alive. We are alive now, and nothing can erase that.

Carnival of the Godless: Lost Secrets

CarnivalThe new Carnival of the Godless is up, this time at Action Skeptics, and they were once again kind enough to include my blog in their round-up, this time with my piece on Barack Obama. (This week’s Carnival of the Godless has a very funny “Lost Secrets” theme, a la the Dead Sea Scrolls/ Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

MagazinesBTW, it’s been called to my attention that I haven’t explained very clearly what these “carnivals” are that I keep gassing on about. So let me explain. A blog carnival is a sort of round-up of recent blog posts on a particular theme or topic. It’s a little like a magazine, a way of sorting through the kajillion blogs in the blogosphere and finding the stuff that interests you. There are blog carnivals about comics, salsa dancing, Harry Potter, small business strategy, homeschooling, pizza, military history, knitting, feminist science fiction and fantasy, HIV and AIDS, left-wing politics, right-wing politics, Bible studies, spirit channeling, global warming, cats, and… well, you know. It’s the Net. Everything. (Of course, this being me, so far the ones I’ve been part of have been about atheism and liberal politics.)

TrafficIf you’re a blogger, carnivals are a good way to draw traffic to your blog — I wish I’d tracked onto them a whole lot sooner. If you’re interested or just curious about what carnivals are out there, check out this Blog Carnival index. (If you’re a blogger trying to find a carnival for you, be sure to focus on the ones that have a “next edition” date listed — if they don’t, they’re probably moribund.) Have fun at the circus!